Flat land and tall bridge

Today, while I was sitting in a park having a break, a guy noticed me and came up to me to make conversation. A funny question that brought me back to reality was "why [of all places] are you coming here?". The 'of all places' was very much implied in the way he said it. I didn't really have an answer, other than "it's on the way to Tokyo which is where I'm headed". That doesn't really answer why I'm heading to Tokyo by bike though. It's just a thing I do, apparently.

The other question he asked me was: "Is it fun?". I told him 'sometimes'. The truth is, a lot of the things about a cycling trip are not fun at all as you're doing them. They only become fun once they're over. Once it's over and you're on your way to the airport you suddenly notice that you've become so accustomed to your bicycle that you're really going to miss it, and the daily routine of packing up, cycling, conbini lunch, checking in or camping, and so on. It's a hassle while you're doing it, but after it's over it's just become this amazing experience. There really is nothing else on this world that makes me feel as alive as this.

That said, I'm right in the middle of the experience right now, and there's just no possible way for me to make myself believe that it's amazing when it's cold and grey and windy and my nipples are chafing and I'm starting to feel sweaty despite the cold and getting worried about sweat chills and getting worried about rain.. All this stuff goes through your head when you've pre-booked a hotel that's still 70 kilometers away and you've already committed to paying for it. Once again, booking.com app, a big minus in practice, because simply calling the hotel reserves you a spot without any commitment to paying. Or I could just lighten up, don't take things too seriously, and Be Bird. I know, I know..

I've noticed a trend in this area: when the weather report says the weather will be clear, it's not. It's extremely hazy, sometimes even dark, until late in the afternoon, when it finally clears up. Oddly enough it only seems to get colder throughout the day (at least until it clears up).

I decided to cycle north around lake Shinji since that seemed like the least direct route to get to Yonago, so hopefully there'd be less cars. It was indeed fairly quiet today. There was a brilliant cycling road leading straight out of Izumo all the way to Matsue, which I quite enjoyed. There were quite a few other cyclists, since it was Sunday and this was clearly a tourist spot. At one point I passed a cyclist who was looking at me quite intently as he passed me. A second later I heard a loud 'CLUNK' and when I looked around he was still in the process of hitting a metal pole at the side of the road, and narrowly avoided smashing head first into the asphalt. I asked him if he was okay but he just looked embarassed and was eager to get going again. It was like a scene from a slapstick movie.

Matsue was a bit muh, and I got lost trying to cycle around the castle. I ended up at a McDonalds and decided to have an early lunch. After telling the cashier in Japanese what I wanted, and having gone through several menu options and questions, she suddenly got confused when I said 'hai' when she asked if I wanted to eat in, and did the dumb gaijin handling routine on me and started pointing at things because she thought I didn't understand. This was kind of frustrating, especially after you've already shown that you can speak Japanese, but then again, McDonalds is not known for hiring the best and brightest.

Every day I have at least one despair moment. Today it came when I was cycling towards a hopefully scenic island full of traditional Japanese stuff. I was following the signs, which led me completely needlessly up into some hills, which pissed me off a lot because there was a perfectly fine coastal road available. In the middle of the mountains I noticed that following the signs would mean making a massive detour, and again on a mountain road, so I took a crappy road back down to the coastal road. Some time lost there. When I found the long bridge to the island, which mostly turned out to be a bit of raised land with only a road on it, it was just so far from what it could have been that I got annoyed. Completely irrationally, I know. Who am I to complain that some random place doesn't look like it did in my imagination? But I was 50 kilometers into the day, my butt hurt, the supposedly clear weather was not clear and the 'traditional Japanese' island turned out to be a windy coastal road with not much to see. I probably missed out on some of the nicer bits of the island because of the shitty signposting. Did not like.

But there's a point of light at the end of the tunnel, though I'm not sure you can call it light, and it wasn't a tunnel, it's a bridge: the Eshima Ohashi bridge. Infamous for its ridiculous steepness. When yesterday's me planned the day he thought it would be an awesome idea to get the achievement of having cycled the steepest bridge known to man. Today's me had saddle pain and kinda just wanted to get to the destination. Before seeing the bridge in real life I had been really worried that I would have to go in my super-lowest gear and wouldn't be able to stop because the bike would fall over, which would be really risky. Instead, what I found was a casual gradient of 6% at the most, which did not compare to the 8-9% of Japanese mountain roads, and especially not the ridiculous incline of the hotel slope at Hagi. In case of the hotel slope I really was down in my lowest gear and could not stop for fear of falling over. The bridge was a piece of cake, even with luggage. Achievement unlocked!

I mentioned this yesterday, but I thought about it again today: there's practically no randomness to this trip! I pre-plan a day in advance, I know what I'm doing, and my face doesn't look innocent enough any more for random passers-by to offer me a helping hand. Less camping in general, definitely less camping at random places. I know it sounds weird, but I'm kind of ok with just paying more for (cheap) hotels. That said, I would definitely not pass up an opportunity for randomness if it presents itself. We'll see what happens.

Random thought: you're only ever in doubt about something if the options you have are nearly equal.

Posted in Spirit of Japan 3