Getting punched in the face by the rain

Today was not as magical as I had hoped. I didn't have internet at the camp site yesterday, so all I could do was hope for the best when departing since I didn't have access to a weather report. I remembered that the rain was supposed to clear up later in the day, and I took a chance that when it started clearing up in the morning, I assumed it had just cleared up a little faster, and I was in the clear. Clearly I was wrong. I hate that paragraph but I'm too tired to rewrite it.

Yesterday didn't end as magical as I had written either. I had put my sleeping mat and bag up at the concrete slab and went to bed when it had gone nearly completely dark. Still not a single person had showed up, but something happened that put me on edge right before settling in. I had taken a walk on the beach just before going to sleep, and it was nearly pitch black dark already. Then I saw something running in front of me from right to left, really fast. It looked like it could have been a dog or a large fox, I'm not sure. It ran towards some trees in the distance and then I heard a horrible screech. I'd never heard anything like it before. I don't think it was a dog because no one was walking it and Japan doesn't have wild dogs. Anyway, not the kind of thing you want to hear just before going to bed.

As I got settled into my sleeping bag I started remembering all the scary excitement of sleeping in a place that's not really meant for sleeping. It takes time for me to learn to recognize all the sounds and lights around me. Only after that am I able to sleep. I'm really glad I invested in a good sleeping bag because I wasn't cold at all. I even had to take a layer off because it was too hot.

That's when the mosquitoes got me. The sleeping bag did a good job of protecting me, but my face was still sticking out. I'd made sure my orientation was so that my face was on the windy side, but no luck. I got bitten on my eyebrow, cheek, cheek bone and lip. The lip one really swelled up for a while. It's also the one that got me frustrated enough that I finally went and set up my tent. Goddamn mosquitoes.

I had a decent sleep and woke up at 6AM to the sound of rain.. lots of rain. So I slept more. At 7AM there was still rain. At 7:30AM there was still rain, but I figured I should get up and pack up, since I wasn't going to stay at the sad camp site for longer. Around 9AM it was still very cloudy but the rain had mostly stopped. It wasn't an unpleasant cycling experience.

At least, until I hit the first hill. The roads have gotten more and more severe as I'm getting further along on this road, and today's roads were just crazy. Constant 10-12% inclines, with some 15% ones stuck in for good measure. That's going a little bit beyond my fun threshold and well into my 'just constantly panting and focusing on not dying' threshold. Madness. It was still quite scenic though. It took me ages to even get through the first 10 kilometers. By then I was exhausted and soaking with sweat. 15% is just ridiculous..

My luck with the weather didn't hold. Before I reached 30km it started raining again, constantly increasing until the wind, which had also increased, was just slapping me in the face with raindrops. It was also way colder than yesterday, and I was not happy. I may have mentioned the word 'despair' before, but I don't think I've quite emphasized how strongly that feeling gets on a day like this. You know you've got at least 10 kilometers to go until the next town, you know there won't be any shelter up ahead, just massive hills and dangerous downhills, and it's likely that the next town will be some local yokel place with no conbini or hotels you could take advantage of. It's killing to know that you've put yourself in a situation where you can't just stop and pause the game, where you have to move forward in order to not lose. On a solo cycling trip that's not a feeling you can share with anyone. It's all on you. That feeling of despair is intense.

(On a lighter note: that feeling of despair always completely disappears at the end of the day when you've somehow gotten lucky at acquiring accommodation, and then suddenly it all seems a bit silly :) )

I found a roadside station where the restaurant was just getting ready to serve food, so I took the opportunity to have a break. My clothes were soaking wet and I changed into my last dry cycling shirt, though I had to keep wearing the wet undershirt. The food was great. First warm meal in a while, and it was all-you-can-eat, though I did not indulge too much for fear of upsetting my stomach. I waited a long time to see if the rain would let up, but it didn't. So I went out in the rain again, on to the next town. I was completely soaked again in less than a minute, more wind blasting more rain into my face.

It wouldn't have been that bad if it wasn't so cold. Being soaked is fine as long as the temperature's nice and warm, but if it's cold you really need to push your body to stay warm, and you end up just exhausting yourself. Not a fun feeling. I saw a sign for national road 666 while in this state, but could not be bothered to get out my camera. If the weather is so bad that you can't be bothered to take a scenic road or to take a picture of something, then that's probably a very good indicator that you shouldn't be cycling.

At this point I wasn't really considering going all the way to Amanohashidate, which is where I had been planning to end up today, but I didn't know if there was any place in-between that I could find a hotel at. I tried at Amino, where I walked into the train station building and asked a random person at a random counter if she knew of any cheap hotels nearby. Turns out I walked into a travel agency and she took it as a personal challenge to single-handedly call every single hotel in town. Amazingly, every single hotel in town was either fully booked, on holiday or way too expensive.

I had really not expected this. I considered just sucking it up and rain-cycling all the way to Amanohashidate, but really didn't feel like it. I asked if they knew any business hotels nearby, and finally had some luck: there were two.. but it was 8 kilometers away. Considering that my only other option was to cycle 20 kilometers to Amanohashidate I had no choice but to take it. As I walked outside with a map to the hotel in my hand I noticed my raincoat had fallen down from the bike and landed in a puddle. It did not seem any wetter than it had been when I wore it.

It's easy for frustration to creep in on a day like this. I get angry at the most ridiculous things. I get angry at the roads for being too steep, angry at the towns for not having hotels, angry at the rain for not doing what the weather report predicted.. All is of no use, of course, and the only person I could possibly blame for my situation is myself. But it's easy to forget that when you're on the bike.

The last stretch wasn't too bad. I pushed myself a bit, knowing that it was likely that one of the business hotels would have a room for me. And even if they didn't, I would be 8 kilometers closer to Amanohashidate, which is also not too bad. The rain did not let up, which meant risking my phone every time I had to take it out to look at the map. It's such a sad moment when you take out your phone, find out that it's wet so you reach for something to wipe it with, only to realize that every single piece of clothing you're wearing is completely soaked and would only make things worse. I ended up holding it up by the thumb and index finger of one hand while carefully touching it with my other. I should not have done that. If I lose that phone I lose all my maps, and I will be more miserable than I was today. No more rain cycling.

Also, I nearly crashed, just when I was nearing my destination. There was a long crack going along the road that seemed like it was equal height on both sides, but it turned out it wasn't. I was tired and maybe not seeing well because of all the raindrops in my eyes, or maybe I just didn't care enough any more, and went into it with too much speed, going downhill. When I realized I had miscalculated I immediately did a controlled emergency stop, but it was pure luck that made me get away with it. The bike could have slipped out from under me when going from the high side of the crack to the low side, or I could easily have locked up something while braking. Luckily everything went fine, and I took it as a clear sign that I had done enough cycling for the day.

I made it to the business hotel and am doing laundry while I'm writing this. It's a bit of a cargo cult business hotel: they've got all the things that make a business hotel business-y, but somehow they've all done them slightly differently, and slightly worse. But I am definitely not complaining. This place is paradise compared to continuing to cycle in the rain. I'm finally warm again.

Worst day of this trip. One of the worst days of all time in my cycling history. It can only get better from here.

Posted in Spirit of Japan 3