Suffering is living

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Based on my experiences during a cycling trip versus my experiences of working / living the daily life, I infinitely prefer the life of the cycling trip. Cycling triggers strong emotions in me, both positive and negative, and a week of cycling inevitably ends up being more memorable than a week of grinding the day job. It's not just that: cycling holidays give me a feeling of serenity that I just cannot get anywhere else. It's the combination of physical exhaustion, seeing new sights, the possibility of unexpected things happening, being in full and sole control of everything I do all day, and not having to worry about possessions, obligations or anything else.

The best way I can describe this feeling is with an anecdote. When I'm at home I always need to be doing something: I need to play Minecraft, I need to do house chores, I need to learn some new programming technique, I need to pay some bills, I need to do some work thing. Even if I force myself to 'do nothing' for an hour and just sit on the couch trying to clear my mind, it has little effect. It's real life in progress. There's many things to be thought about. My mind cannot rest.

Here's the contrast: yesterday I went cycling to a mountain lake I know very well, and a mountain pass that leads up to the ocean at the end that I've cycled once or twice and have really good memories about. The sun was high in the sky, not a cloud to be seen, and I had the mountain path all to myself with hardly a car passing me by all day. Just me, nature, a tough-but-not-too-tough uphill and a superfast downhill with a gorgeous view. That's all I needed to think about all day. Not a single 'real life' thought entered my mind that day. At the end of the pass I was pleasantly exhausted and had a rest at my favorite beach spot. And then I just sat there, for an hour, thinking of nothing much in particular. My mind was at rest. I did not feel the need to think about something, to solve something. I was just content with being there in that particular moment. Real life provides me with so much things to think about but the beach is just.. the beach.

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During the past few years of my life I have made some important life choices; choices that at first glance might seem to take me away from that serene moment at the beach. I cannot pretend to know what I'm doing with my life, nor that I am doing the right thing at this very moment, but every once in a while, thanks to cycling trips like these I get to insert a little moment of serenity in my life that allows me to evaluate my life choices in a more detached manner. Having done that, I can say that I am not disappointed at all at the choices I made so far. I think for me the key lesson of this trip was:

You will never truly appreciate something unless you have suffered for it.

This is a mental thing, and nothing anyone can tell me can convince me that it's wrong. It's just hardwired into my brain. I have experienced both sides of it: sometimes I get something without making an effort, or the slight effort I make has a huge payoff and I pat myself on the back for being clever. But emotionally speaking, it's a billion times more satisfying to work really hard for something and then finally get it in the end.

And that's the irrational part. Human beings are irrational. Logically speaking there should be absolutely no need for us to prefer the working-hard version over the get-things-for-free version if the end result is the same. But human beings are not wired that way. Our emotional payoff is triggered by irrational things, so we must adjust our logic to sometimes prefer the irrational instead. I could optimize my whole life so that I never have to work hard for anything ever again, but I would hardly feel a thing about it. Why would I want to lead a lifetime of meh versus a grand drama of emotional ups and downs? Sensations, that's what life is all about. Experiences. You need to feel in order to be alive. That is the one truth that needs to take precedence over rational thought. Otherwise you're just a machine.

To moderate and contrast that last statement a little: my little cycling trip of beautiful physical and mental ups and downs was paid for entirely by mind-numbing machine-like labour, done in a rationally optimized way to be perfectly efficient with the time I had available to me. I'd like to think that I do my job well: I don't waste time, I use all of my brain to keep track of everything that's going on and I always try to deliver quality work. It's kept me employed so far in a deadliney environment so I must be doing something right. It's not bad at all; I'm quite passionate about how to do my job right. But somehow all of that pales in comparison to the intensity of a cycling trip. If people would pay me to cycle without telling me what to do I would absolutely choose that over my current job.

But nobody does, of course. Also, nobody would pay me to be an astronaut or a formula one driver. Which is exactly why my current life style is as rational as it gets. I get paid for something I am really good at and also quite enjoy, and I use that money to finance the things that I couldn't possibly do without. And then some things on the side too, because why the hell not.

I blogged previously about the mental fog that I was in before and when I started this trip. This kind of statement, this kind of clarity about my life and what I will go back to, is easy to see when you're on a bike on a clear-blue day, cycling some lovely country lane towards a mountain, but it will be tough to keep a hold of when the daily drudge comes back and I'm commuting to work on a cloudy, rainy day. That is also why I write: to be able to read this back again later so I can draw inspiration from it. They're a way of realigning my future self to the path that I know is right, my way of saying "Trust me, dude. We know what we're doing".

And on that note, I'm flying back home tomorrow. I won't be using the word 'drudge' or 'grind' to describe my life any time soon; we've got a lot of fun things planned in the months ahead. And thanks to this trip I'm completely mentally ready for anything. Bring it on!

Posted in Cycling , Thoughts | Tagged

Zen and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance

Hi blog, it's been a while. This is going to be a long one.

Let's start at the end. Two days ago I stood with my bicycle on the bridge connecting Kitakyushu airport with the mainland, on my way to catch a flight back to Tokyo, and later back to the UK. Despite all the troubles I've experienced on this trip, which I'll talk about more later, I realized that I did not want it to end. Every single cycling trip I do starts with deadening preparation and a start so tough that it makes me think "Yup, this will definitely be the last one". Then the end nears and I just don't want to stop, and I know there's going to be another one after this. It's become what I do and who I am.

Cycling trips are my way of staying sane. I recently read The Martian by Andy Weir. A brilliant book. Spoilers following: the book has a great contrast between the main character being stranded on his own and taking care of everything himself, versus him being in contact with NASA and them doing all the complicated stuff for him. I love cycling trips because they force me into a situation where I cannot rely on anyone else to do things for me. I'm the one who needs to plan, who needs to fix the bike when it's broken, who needs to deal with route changes, bad weather and everything else that could possibly happen. It's a good feeling, that of doing everything yourself. And unlike in The Martian there's less risk of death. So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

There's so many things I want to write about now that I'm in the mood for writing. I really want to write about the trip but I need to get something out of the way first: why did I not blog for the past few months? I could come up with many reasons here, but the main reason is that I have been a braindead coward. I'll elaborate.

First, the braindead bit: I have been utterly fulfilled in my daily life for the past few months. Our apartment purchase finalized without issue and I have been living happily together with my girlfriend. We've done all the critical housy things needed to make the place our own and are now no longer in such a hurry for further improvements. Things are good. Not much happens in my life. And when stuff does happen I have the opportunity to fire off a real-life status update to my girlfriend immediately, so it goes out of my system before I have a chance to even consider blogging about it. Which is probably a good thing, because most of the stuff that's happening to me is just boring, personal, house life stuff, like comparing various types of blinds, discussing best methods of hanging up shelves or figuring out where to put the exercise bike. It's all stuff that has been occupying my mind, but I never once thought it would be worth sharing with the outside world.

That sounds happy, right? It absolutely is, but a lack of variation in experience does dull the brain. I have only myself to blame for this: in addition to the 'normal' housy things, I have also been pretty enveloped by Minecraft. Whenever I feel sleepy or absent or otherwise reluctant to focus my full attention on something, I play Minecraft. I create massive worlds with elaborate backstories, and there's always something more to do. It's the most gratifying 'game' I have ever played, especially in the long term.

But I digress. The point was to illustrate how a lack of variety in experience dulls the brain. I pretend it doesn't. I tell myself "Sure, I play Minecraft, I don't have a social life any more, I don't have much other hobbies, but that's ok because I can change my life any time and mold my brain into something else whenever I want to". I tend to use planned holidays as an excuse because I know that exactly what is happening now, will happen: here I am sitting in a cafe in Japan typing this up, a clear achievement of a brain that is once again creative and out of the Minecraft trap. I know trips have this effect on me so I let myself indulge in mind-numbing activities before the trip. Then after the trip finishes I tell myself it won't happen again and I'll stay in that creative first-person real-world mode this time for sure. I don't think that's ever worked, but there's always a next trip to reset me.

So that's the braindead part of the 'braindead coward', what's the coward bit? A braver me of the past explains it better than I could.

The internet has changed. In 2005 you could write whatever the fuck you want, in my post of 2011 I mention the possibility of potential employers stumbling upon something they might not like. In 2015 writing on the internet is downright toxic for your career no matter what you write. It's a given that people will find out everything about you before they consider you for an interview, and it's foolish and naive to assume that they'll take the time to consider your full background and context of whichever remark you wrote that caused them to scratch you off the list. I've made the mistake in the past of writing stuff in the heat of the moment that could really only have negative consequences for me. When I was confronted with that I deleted my blog for a while, thinking it's better to have nothing at all than something that could be used against me. But, against my better judgment and what I think is rational, it just doesn't feel right to censor myself on the internet. I'm having trouble constructing a useful train of thought for my wanting to keep my blog online, which is probably proof that it's not rational. But my gut feeling tells me I should keep it, so I'll listen to my gut. It hasn't betrayed me yet. I can't promise that there will be frequent future updates, but I will try.

Right, back to the cycling trip.

London had been grey and terrible for weeks when I left for Japan, bike in bag, driven to the airport by my lovely girlfriend. Well before the trip started I had cycled a few times a week on our exercise bike, but lost motivation about 2-3 weeks before the trip. I was incredibly overweight, and unfit. This, like letting the mental fog take me over, is another thing I thought I could get away with because I had a trip coming up that would 'fix' it. Because I only had a little under two weeks available for this trip, and very fixed inbound and outbound flights, I decided the only useful way to plan the trip would be to pre-book flights and hotels, which meant fixing my route and the minimum amount I would have to cycle each day. But, given the location of start and end airport, that there might be rainy days and that I would have to allocate myself some extra daylight time to fix potential mechanical mishaps, the distance cycled each day was not actually that much: anywhere between 40 and 80 kilometers per day. Quite manageable. In fact, for the first few days, I arrived at each hotel very early in the afternoon, giving me plenty of time to think, which is usually a bad sign. And because I already had accommodation and didn't  to cycle more, I didn't bother to take a longer scenic route or cycle to somewhere else after checking in.

I need to elaborate on that, because it wasn't just a lack of motivation, it actually involved a fair amount of physical pain. Partly because I am overweight, but mainly because of a bad saddle angle, being on the bike for longer than 30kms caused me to have incredible saddle pain, which also carried over to the next day. It made cycling utterly unenjoyable because all I could focus on was the saddle pain. The worst thing was that I didn't realize at the time that it was because of the saddle. I just assumed that I was hopelessly unfit and just really fat; I couldn't get any power down on the pedals because every time I did I would feel the pain in my behind. Because of this I would take it easy, go slower and coast a little more, but even when coasting I'm sitting on the saddle, and it's actually only making it worse because I'm not spreading the load between my legs, arms and butt: it's just my butt that's supporting my weight.

The worst day happened early on in the trip: it was a beautiful blue sky day. I was cycling along some perfectly flat coastal roads; not much traffic, with some nice scenery on the side. I didn't have to go too far that day so I took it easy. It should have been the perfect cycling moment, and I recognized that as well, but somehow I could not make myself enjoy it. My mind was in a fog from spending too much time in hotel rooms and not on a bicycle, and my body was just hurting from the saddle pain which at the time I had not identified as being worse than it should have been. I just could not get my brain to reset and appreciate the moment, which led to frustration, which led to more frustration at being frustrated even though it was a prefectly beautiful day. I felt clueless and helpless.

It took me a long time to realize that my saddle angle was wrong because a) I had a plausible explanation in the fact that I was overweight and unfit, b) I had taken the time at the start of the trip to finetune every bit of my bike (gears, saddle height, brakes, fenders, chain), so my mental image of the bike was that it was perfect. And finally, c) the saddle angle actually slipped back more as I cycled along because the bolt was not tight enough. Later, much later, during the second-to-last day of the trip, I finally learned of all these things. The day before, after reaching my destination, it occurred to me that maybe my saddle could be angled a bit more forward. I thought it would make a minor difference, but when I made the adjustment it immediately solved all my saddle pain issues! It was an incredibly liberating moment because I could suddenly put all my power on the pedals again and go much faster than before. I was not as unfit as I previously thought after all. It was the best feeling of the entire trip, and I'm sure that one single moment of adjusting the saddle triggered the mental reset that I so desperately needed.

It's not a magic solution of course: I'm still overweight, so adjusting the saddle angle just put a lot more stress on my arms, but they had nothing to do for the entire trip and could use the extra work. I can tell that I'm not nearly as fit as I was for last year's trip, but I'm definitely not as unfit as I thought during the beginning of the trip either. After making the adjustment I was finally able to cardio-exhaust myself, no longer being limited by the saddle pain. It felt great.

There were many other mechanical mishaps during the trip. Fresh off the plane, when I first set up the bike, I noticed I couldn't get the rear wheel into position at all: the two rear bits of the frame were bent inwards even further than they ever were in the past. I had to use brute force to bend the frame open again, which was probably a very bad thing to do, but I didn't really have a choice at the time, since I didn't want to abandon the trip. When I finally bent the frame back enough for the rear wheel to fit in, I noticed that one of the rear brakes was pressed against the wheel, preventing it from turning. Looks like my bending wasn't exactly even and now the rear wheel was not quite in the center any more. I didn't want to take it out again after all the effort and brute force I'd gone through just to get it in, so I took out all the spacers from the side that was hitting against the wheel, and put them on the other side. It actually resulted in a very usable rear brake.

Then I found out that the rear luggage rack didn't quite fit any more, probably because of the bending. Lacking the tools to adjust it, I asked the taxi driver to help me out as I used yet more brute force to push the rack into a position where the screws would fit onto the holes in the frame.

There were some more minor mishaps as well during the trip: two of the bolts connecting the fender spokes to the actual fender fell off because I didn't tighten them enough when building the fenders back home. With the bolts gone I just duct-taped them into place and it's worked fine since. The gears have been surprisingly fine considering the amount of stress that the rear derailleur has surely been through during transport. The front derailleur needed a minor adjustment to prevent the chain from running into it at high gears, but it worked fine without the adjustment as well. Lastly, for some reason my handlebar-mounted gear lever came loose near the end of the trip. I haven't quite figured out why this has happened, but rotating it 90 degrees tightens it again, so I've settled on that for now. I can fix it properly when I get home.

I could talk about many travel-y things here: how the skies were so blue and nice, how the roads were beautiful and quiet and devoid of traffic, how chilly it is in the morning. Or about the random guy who gave me a drink while I was having my morning conbini break. But the main focus for me during this trip was the mental fog and my struggles with the saddle and my unfitness. It may sound petty, but that stuff affects me a lot. In the beginning of the trip I was mentally sheltered and avoided social interaction. As the trip progressed I gained confidence again and began to sort-of return to my old self. Everything just came naturally again. An odd example of this: when the trip started and I first unpacked my bike at the airport, I took a long time to set everything up and eventually had to enlist the help of a nearby taxi driver. I hesitated for a long time before initiating the interaction. At the end of the trip when I had to unpack my bicycle, once again at an airport with nearby taxi drivers, I was swift, efficient and was not phased at all by a nearby taxi driver who seemed to scrutinize my every move. As soon as I first assembled the bike and returned from a test lap I crossed eyes with the driver, smiled and lifted my thumb up. I would never have been able to do that at the beginning of the trip. I can do many things when I am confident.

So here I am. Once again in Atsugi, the inevitable final destination of every Japan cycling trip I do. Yesterday I cycled from Haneda airport to Atsugi, via Enoshima. It was tougher than I thought; the damage done to my butt from the bad saddle angle isn't quite healed yet, and the adjusted saddle angle did get painful near the end, but the feeling of returning 'home' quite compensated for that. I say 'home', but I've been back so many times and have settled into the UK life so thoroughly that Atsugi really does not feel like home any more. Nor any of Japan, for that matter. Japan is no longer mine, but I am content with occasionally returning to check up on it. It's looking good so far. I've changed far, far more than it has.

I think it was on that worst day of the trip, the day that I just couldn't get myself to enjoy, that I started a re-read of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Barely a chapter in the mental fog lifted from me and a lot of things made sense. I have been paying way too much attention to the classical aspects of everything and not at all on the romantic. I'm getting all the technical details right, planning everything in advance with just the right safety margins, etc., but I never once thought about the romantic aspect of the trip - how to enjoy it - until I was on the bus to Haneda. The moment was brief, but amazing. I remembered what I was here for and it filled me with giddy excitement. It's only now, near the end, that I feel like I've connected with the romantic aspect of the trip. I can see the bigger picture again.

Today I've booked a bus and a taxi so I can get home again on Saturday. I've still got two days left. I'm planning to cycle to my favorite lake, over a mountain pass and then back down again to the sea. On the second day I might climb the big mountain, but perhaps not. It's not important what I do, as long as I enjoy it.

Every time I go on a cycling trip I find out what I truly need.

Posted in Cycling , Thoughts

New year, old habits

Today, for the first time this year and for the first time since almost 6 months, I cycled. I finally put on some new handlebar tape, pumped some air in the tires and tightened the brakes. This is where I went.

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I've been coming to this road for quite a while now, ever since I moved to my current place almost 3 years ago. This road is just about the perfect distance; the same as the distance I used to cycle to the seaside back in Japan. That said, the current track is way more difficult because there's some serious uphills and downhills.

Usually I cycle a bit further than this road to end up at the Denham airfield, but I can never find a decent place to have a break there. There's people, planes and horses in the way. So this time I just stopped at this road, put my bike to the side and had a seat in the grass. It was an amazing view, and for once there was no one else around so I could enjoy a moment of peace. The feeling of sitting on top of a hill looking at amazing scenery after a tough workout is one of the best feelings I have ever experienced. Nothing I could experience in a car could come close. It's just an entirely different feeling.

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A brilliant feeling. My body hurts like hell. I should do this more often.

 

Posted in Cycling , Daily Life

The cycling spirit

The cycling spirit is gone. I caused it myself, by getting a car. Although I've still got my bike, and I keep it in ready condition, the need to get out there and cycle around is ever decreasing. That feeling I used to have, that of "I can go anywhere by bicycle" is kind of gone. Not completely, mind you. And I'm sure it will come back next spring, but right now I just feel more comfortable in a car. That feeling makes it even less likely for me to go out and cycle, because it somehow feels like a mental betrayal to other cyclists. I'm not 'one of them' any more, at least not at the moment. I still want to do long-distance, fully-loaded cycling touring, but I've gone from being "an infrequent cyclist who does cycling trips" to "a car owner who sometimes does cycling trips". It feels different.

Maybe I'll just give up on cycling for a while. England's not the country for it anyway. England takes cycling way too serious. I miss the casualness of Japanese cycling.

Posted in Cars , Cycling , Thoughts

Finally got hit by a car

It had to happen after years and years of cycling: I finally got hit by a car. I went out for a cycle today to escape the scorching desert that is my room, which just can't get enough ventilation no matter what I do. During the hottest hours I go out to cycle, and so it was today. I headed north to Watford, cycled through town a bit and then got to the other side of Watford, where there's a couple of roundabouts where two fairly big roads meet.

I tend to take roundabouts quite fast because I don't want to spend a long time in places where cars are likely to hit you, but today I was cycling for escapism so I wasn't going too fast. There were hardly any cars on the road, and I saw the silver MPV approaching from miles away. Well, figuratively speaking.

The car was already slowing down so I kept going at a reasonable pace (I was doing about 20kph according to Garmin). Things would have worked out fine if the car had kept slowing down, but the driver must have been sleeping behind the wheel because she only noticed me a second before she hit me. No offense, but that's fucking shit driving. I already saw it coming and tried to evade, but couldn't get out of the way fast enough. I was prepared to fall down on to the asphalt after a hard bump from her car, but I somehow managed to skid-step off the bike as it got cobbled up under her front bumper. I magically escaped without a scratch, thanks to the driver waking up in the last second and actually starting to brake.

My first impulse after realizing that I was somehow still standing in the middle of a roundabout was to make sure that this asshole driver didn't try to escape, so I made sure to block her path as I guided her to the side of the road. That's where I realized that she was just this poor Indian woman who totally had no clue what she was doing and was visibly quite shaken.

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I tried rolling the bike to the side but that didn't work at all, and you can see why in the above photo. I definitely need a new rear wheel. At first I was worried that the frame was bent and the front wheel was damaged, but it looks like it's just the rear wheel that took the hit.

As we got to the side of the road, I noticed that my legs were actually shaking a little, and I couldn't figure out if it was because of the sudden shock of nearly getting hit by a car, of perhaps a muscle spasm or twitch from the awkward way that I dismounted my bicycle. I've never thought of myself as a shock-susceptible person, and the speed at which I was hit was quite low, but I can't completely rule it out I guess.

A witness showed up who was driving behind the Indian woman, but he turned out to be an acquaintance of hers so I'm not sure that'll do me any good if they decide to make trouble. I don't think they will though, they were nice people. And I'm far more likely to make trouble for them if I claim injuries or psychological trauma. There'll be CCTV footage as well if I need it. But we settled on her paying for the bike repairs and that'll be all.

What a strange day. I nearly committed to renting a new apartment yesterday, but ended up calling it off in the morning after having a second look at the place. Then I go cycling and get hit by a car, yet somehow remain unharmed. Two big things could have turned out a lot worse for me today, but I managed to get through it alright. I guess that makes this a good day.

 

Posted in Cycling , UK

One with the bike

After cycling every day for a month, there's so many things I wish I could convey to others about cycling, and touring in particular. But words don't convey anything, the only way to understand is to do it yourself.

  • That feeling when you approach a minor hill at speed and manage to use your power to get up it without shifting down.
  • The satisfaction when you've been going up, down, up, down all day, slowly climbing, and finally at the end of the day it turns into a windless downhill just when the sun breaks through the clouds.
  • That moment when you reach a conbini after a huge hill, sweaty and tired, and everybody just looks at you in wonder, and you're just too tired to even care.
  • The feel of the bike when you're nearing a traffic light, and the weight of the trucks has made the asphalt stand up on the edge of the road, and you zigzag on and off it to feel how high it is to decide which side you should be on.
  • Pulling up to a traffic light and trying to time it just right so that you don't have to come to a complete stop before the light turns green again.
  • The smug satisfaction that comes from overtaking the same car/truck several times when there's several traffic lights in a row.
  • The 'brace yourself' moment when it's a windy day on a narrow road and an oncoming truck passes you at great speed, the gust of wind nearly knocking you over.
  • The reverse moment when the road is wide enough for a truck going in the same direction to pass you at speed and you try to catch as much of its wake as you can.
  • When you seat yourself firmly in the saddle after a lunch break and realize that your butt doesn't hurt because you've gotten used to your bike.
  • Quickly reaching under your saddle to turn on your rear light when approaching a tunnel.
  • Awkwardly reaching under your saddle for five seconds to turn off your rear light after a tunnel.
  • When it's actually quite cold and windy but your cycling efforts are exactly enough to keep you warm.
  • When there's rubble on the road and you know exactly which bits not to hit and zigzag around them with perfect timing and confidence.
  • Checking behind you to see if your luggage is still there, after every minor bump.
  • Slightly jumping up and down on the saddle while looking down at your rear tire to see if it might have gotten softer, after every minor bunp.
  • That downhill moment on a relatively quiet road when your speed and concentration suddenly increases and you start taking a wider line to ensure that you have enough space to maneuver safely in case of an emergency stop or evade.
  • The nod you give to a truck driver for making a very polite pass. You'll never know if he saw it.
  • The fifth time you hear a truck rapidly approaching behind you on a narrow road, and you decide to take a very wide line to prevent him from passing because the previous four trucks cut you off rather dangerously.
  • The scenery when you decide not to take a tunnel for a change, and the side road turns out to be beautiful and quiet.
  • The feeling of being rescued when you're near the end of your strength and switch from progress mode to search mode, and happen to find the perfect restaurant/conbini/camp site.
  • And my favorite one: the feeling of the warm wind blowing on your face after a huge descent from chilly cold temperatures into a warm summer breeze.

You must cycle.

Posted in Cycling , Spirit of Japan 2 , Thoughts

Evaluation

The first few days have been interesting. I had definitely forgotten about two of the most serious problems (for me personally at least) during cycle touring: sunburn, and the incredible stress of random camping. I learned my lesson in a fairly controlled environment, fortunately, still in familiar territory. Which gives me a chance to do things better when the trip begins 'for real'. I pretty much know what to expect for the mainland part of the trip, and I'm guessing the conditions will become somewhat different when I reach Hokkaido. By then I'll have gotten used to things a lot more.

In terms of cycling, there seems to be a balance between power + efficiency on the one hand, and comfort on the other. The higher the saddle position and the more aggressive the angle, the faster you can go and the more power you can put on to the pedals. But that's just not the best thing to do when you're touring. The higher the saddle, the more annoyed you'll get at every street light for not being able to reach the ground with your feet without falling over. You can't balance 20kg worth of luggage on your toes. As for the angle, if it's very aggressive then you'll find yourself not really relaxing when you're coasting, since you'll be exerting a lot of force on your arms and hands to try and keep yourself upright. I also found that the more aggressive angle makes me choose higher gears and lower cadence, since that means I can use my legs to keep myself in position rather than relying on my arms to push myself back. I've obviously over-adjusted it and need to tone it down a little, but it'll be tricky to find a comfortable angle for coasting while still avoiding crotch numbness issues during long rides. It's a process I'll have plenty of time to fine-tune.

I'm back in Atsugi now. The only way I can describe it is 'surreal'. Already when coming to Japan from Europe, everything feels 'gentler', less offensive. Coming back to the life that I used to have four years ago only adds to the fairy-tale-like quality. That said, I definitely don't belong here any more. It's been four years since I lived here, and it's been eight years since I lived here. Atsugi has moved on, and so have I. With that in mind, I'm not feeling as much wanderlust I had during the last trip; I feel more like I want to reach my goal of getting to Wakkanai. Not necessarily in the quickest way possible, but certainly with the intent of challenging myself.

Rules for unexpected camping (perhaps mostly applicable to Japan):

  • Never camp near people!
  • No tourist spots.
  • No urban areas.
  • Local people always show up even if you think you're in the middle of nowhere. Especially people walking dogs.
  • Never camp too close to the sea. It's goddamn loud.
  • Never camp next to a major road.
  • Never camp in tall grass. Your tent will be damp in the morning.

I realize that most of these are quite 'duh', but they really are rules, not guidelines. Any one of these things could ruin a good night's sleep.

Posted in Cycling , Spirit of Japan 2

The ones that matter

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In 2007 I did my first ever bike trip. My friend and I had just bought brand new discount touring bicycles and we were eager to try them out in Kyushu. It being our very first cycling trip ever, we had no idea what to expect. In retrospect, nothing we could possibly have expected would have been as amazing as the actual trip. That's when I knew I was hooked to fully loaded touring.

The years after that I've done some smaller trips, but never anything that had the same impact on me as that very first trip. Until 2010, the year I left Japan. I was determined to go out with a bang, and, not knowing whether to stay in Japan or not, I decided to just go cycling instead and see what I would come up with along the way. It was the first tour I ever did by myself, and it was as novel an experience as that first trip back in 2007. Since then I've done several smaller trips: the Netherlands, Spain, Sicily, and bits of the UK. Most of those were not fully loaded as I wasn't carrying a tent with me, or was carrying it but did not use it.

I have a constant feeling in the back of my mind that I did not quite 'finish' Japan. There's many ways in which you could consider a cycle tour of Japan 'complete'. The most common definition seems to be that of the "一周" (issyuu,): one lap. Traversing the entire coastline of Japan, or as much as is allowable by roads.

I'm not going to do a lap around Japan, but I have decided on something else: this year, I will finish cycling Japan from North to South! I've done Tokyo all the way down to Kyushu, this time I will do Tokyo all the way up to Wakkanai. Fully loaded. I've planned the first few days of the trip but I will let randomness guide me for the bulk of the trip. I'm not planning to know how to get back to Tokyo until I reach Wakkanai. I have my girlfriend to thank for this idea: I was planning to do a two-week trip myself, pre-booking hotels and staying around the Tokyo area. But she convinced me to bring my tent and do some camping, and that made me realize how long it's been since I've done a proper adventure cycle.

One month until the trip. I have a lot to do.

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Posted in Cycling , Spirit of Japan , Spirit of Japan 2

Just cycling.

I bought a magnetic cycling trainer thing the other day. You attach your bicycle to it on the rear wheel, connect a roller and it uses magnetic resistance to let you work out indoors. It's shit. I gave it a try today and did not like it. It's noisy and does not feel comfortable at all, nothing like real cycling.

Fortunately for me the day's misery ended in the late afternoon when it stopped raining, so I went out for a proper cycle. I did not regret it. I remembered once again that it doesn't really matter how cold it is outside, as long as it's not raining. Just go out and cycle. It certainly made me feel a lot better after being stuck inside with a cold for 2 days.

Posted in Cycling