Japan has an astonishing tendency to give you exactly what you want exactly when you need it the most.
I am too tired to even type this, and I didn't even cycle that much today. A combination of jet-lag and mishaps I guess. Continuing on where the last post went off, I boarded the plane just fine and arrived at Narita just fine. Normally the customs dude asks me to open my bag and has a rummage around, 9 times out of 10. But today, with a gigantic suspicious bike bag and a huge dry bag which could have been stuffed full of anything, they let me pass without even opening a single one. Oh well, all the more time for me to build my bike.
And that's where it kind of went wrong. Somehow my chain got mangled up and had a loop in it. I thought I was prepared, carrying tons of tools this time, plus the experience of fixing my bike in the past, but I am ashamed to admit that I was unable to get rid of the loop, even after half an hour of fiddling with it. That kind of put an end to the whole 'let's cycling!' thing, so I had to look for a plan B.
I finished putting the bike back together so that I could at least roll it, stuffed all of my panniers and other things onto a luggage trolly and went looking for a taxi driver to take me to a bike shop. That's when I realized that I hadn't picked up my mobile internet dongle yet, so I had to pass by the post office. Which was two floors up. Narita has tiny, TINY elevators. I somehow managed to stuff the luggage cart in one corner and then jammed the door with my foot whilst pushing the bike into the elevator in a vertical position. Incredibly cramped. Then I accidentally got off at the 2nd floor instead of the 3rd floor, which is where the post office was, so I had to get back into the elevator, except this time it was occupied for 5 times in a row by people going from 1st to 3rd, and there was no way in hell that me and my luggage would fit in there, so I had to wait. I did get my mobile internet in the end, and even managed to ride the elevator down again to get to the taxis.
There was only one taxi that looked remotely large enough to fit all my luggage, so I went and asked the guy how much it was to the nearest bike shop. Then the driver was like "why do you need to go there? I can fix it for you" and then he fixed it. Turns out his older sister is a bicycle enthusiast and he had some experience fixing her bicycle. Of all the random luck..
All in all it took a good two hours, getting all the bits and bobs mounted. I remember the bike shop guy from London complaining that he had a lot of trouble getting the Surly front rack mounted, but it was easy as pie. Even I could do it in under 10 minutes. I took a short break inside to eat and drink something, and then it was time to cycle!
Oh no! Forgot to put on sunscreen! 10 minutes after starting I had to take a break to put on sunscreen. Despite applying sunscreen 3 times over the course of today's afternoon, my face still got red, and my arms are burnt. Navigation was a breeze thanks to the offline maps, courtesy of the MapsWithMe app. I'd have preferred to use ViewRanger because it has a lot more features, but it's such a fucking pain to get the maps into it, whereas MapsWithMe just lets you download the entire country with one tap. Way better.
The first cycling steps were hard, but familiar. It took a few minutes getting used to the increased load on the front wheel, which makes turning a lot harder but also makes the bike way more stable when going fast. It'll take a few weeks to get used to the extra weight, because that's a killer. There weren't a lot of slopes today but there was a very strong wind pointing in exactly the wrong direction, and I really had to fight to make progress. I felt like I did on the first real cycling day of the Spain trip: somehow burning fuel from somewhere, but not generating a lot energy.
Around 16:00 I started to zigzag a bit, trying out some smaller roads, looking for potential places to camp, but (this bit of) Chiba is just way too flat and built-up, camping really was out of the question. So I figured I'd head into Mobara, the nearest town according to the road signs, but that turned out to be another 12km away. For about 20km I was following a road that was filled with giant outlet stores, massive car shops, giant supermarkets and all kinds of huge warehouse-like buildings. Not very entertaining.
Right around the time when the sun really started to show signs of going down, I wandered into a conbini and asked if there was any hotel or youth hostel around, as I hadn't seen any or even any signs for them on the way in. The conbini lady told that there was a business hotel just around the corner. Of all the dumb luck (x2). I arrived there, took the last room they had available and went out for a walk to take some photos. I'm not sure why I did this, it just came naturally. Must have been a programmed action that I still remember from the last cycling trip.
I need to sort out my luggage. I'm definitely carrying too much, though I'm not sure if I'll want to send something back over the course of the trip. Will have to do a couple more days to find out. But mostly I am having difficulty accessing the things I need. I started with my system from last time but things got jumbled up during the hassle of building the bike, and also because I've now got my big bike bag hanging over the front panniers, preventing me from easily accessing them. Another thing that bothers me is where to put my camera. I used to have simple compact with retractable lens, which would easily fit into the top zipper of my pannier where I could reach it in a split second. Now that I've switched to micro four thirds, that pocket is too small, and reaching inside the main pouch is just too tedious if you just want to take a quick snapshot while you're cycling around. I tried mounting my shoulder-strap camera bag onto the top of the big bike bag on top of the front panniers, which is a near-ideal position but the camera bag is too small and tedious to open, so I still can't take the camera out quickly. Might have to buy a new camera bag, or else a handlebar clip/mount or something similar.
That's all for today. More tomorrow? More tomorrow.
(Trying to avoid Twitter and Facebook for this trip. They feel too real-time..)