Uluru was beautiful, but Kata Tjuta truly amazed me.
The last time I shot old-fashioned analog film was back in the early 90s, when I was less than ten years old. It wasn't old-fashioned back then. But after my girlfriend gave me an old SLR that fits my Canon lenses and promised to develop the film, I quite fondly took it with me on a cycling day and took some photos.
Analog is tedious! Shutter times matter a lot, whereas with digital I'm used to using a bit more risky shutter times and just shooting a couple of photos, knowing that usually at least one of them will be sharp. With analog I'm constantly worrying about not wasting film. It helps with the composition and thinking about what you're doing, but I doubt that it beats the brute force of digital. Not to mention the fact that with digital you can immediately see your result and make adjustments.
One thing I will say about analog is that the colours and the contrast is pretty unique, and very distinctive to look at. The images have such a different characteristic that I can hardly apply anything from my usual Photoshop routine of touching up photos. It'll probably take me a while to figure out how to improve analog photos.
Depth of field is fantastic with a 50mm f/1.8, better than I get with my DSLR since that has a crop factor. More experiments to come. (Slowly, because it's analog :p )
I'm not quite used to my new camera, and I think my editing skills have dropped as well. Still, practice makes perfect.
Today was pretty much the opposite of yesterday. Yesterday got worse as the day went on, but today got better as it neared sunset. Then again, it started out pretty bad.
Sleeping in a tent seems to have reset my jetlag somewhat. I slept at 8PM because it was getting really cold and there wasn't really anything else to do, but somehow I managed to keep on sleeping until 6:30 ish. My tent was very damp on the inside, as it usually is. It's not a very good tent, but it is a very light and small tent. I'd left my phone out in the tent rather than stuffing it into a bag, and it felt quite moist in the morning. It seemed fine after using it to check out the route for the day.
So I set off, turned into the scenic route road after 2 kilometers, cycled along a bit and then checked my phone to see which way to go. My phone was dead. It kept restarting almost immediately after booting up. This meant a disaster for me because the phone is where all my offline maps are stored. Japan's road signs are pretty damn good but I'd have to stick to only major roads if I didn't have maps. I need maps. I somehow managed to open the maps app before it restarted again, only to find the maps app asking me if I would like to download any offline maps, since it had no maps available. FFFFUUUUUUUUUUU
I took out the SD card on a hunch, since my phone's had problems with sd cards twice before in the past, and indeed the phone booted up normally this time. Not with maps though, because they were stored on the SD card. Well, shit. The scenic route I had planned wasn't going to take me anywhere near internet for a long time, so I decided to give the route a go just based on the map outline and my placemarks, which had somehow been preserved. That didn't go so well. I took a wrong turn not long after, but it took several kilometers for the wrongness to show up on the zoomed-out map on my phone. At that point I did know which way had been the right way, but I wasn't planning on doing a several-kilometer-long detour every time that happens. So I turned back to the main road. 10 kilometers lost. With serious climbs too. Shikattanai.
Back on the main road I turned on the GoPro and some music and started cycling. It was pretty tough, but also satisfying to make good progress. As I went along I kept my eye out for conbinis, which I hadn't seen since yesterday's lunch. Almost a record for Japan standards. The 7-11s usually have free wifi, but for some reason the 7-11 that was my very first conbini spot after a day, did not. Oh well, at least I had a chance to stock up on supplies.
Free wifi really isn't as easy as Japan pretends it to be. No matter where you are, somehow even in the middle of nowhere, there's always this '.FREE_Wi-Fi_PASSPORT' network. Unfortunately it doesn't work for shit. You're supposed to call a phone number on your phone while using Softbank as your phone provider, and then they'll give you free internet for 2 weeks. Sadly, no matter how many variations of the number I try, none of them connect. I am not impressed, Softbank. The 7-11 wifi is way better. It's even free to use longer than a limited time right now because of the Kyushu earthquake. Very well done, 7-11.
Fortunately for me the second 7-11 I passed did have working wifi, and I used the opportunity to re-download the map of my area and book a hotel for later in the day. Very pleasing! That moment really did seem like the first thing that went right ever since I chose not to go back to the first campsite I found yesterday.
With navigation restored I decided to take another scenic route to get to Hagi. This time the GoPro stopped working though. It had plenty of battery and storage space, it just decided to stop working and just showed '1' on the display. I've had a look at the footage I made so far and it looks amazing. Great quality, and somehow it seems faster on video than when I was actually cycling it. But the GoPro hero's controls are by far the worst and most unreliable I have ever come across on a device. The thing only has two buttons, and I only need to use one: the record button. Press it once, it records. Don't do anything else and nothing can go wrong. Except it does go wrong all the fucking time. It's a shit interface and I get frustrated every time I use it. It never does what you expect it to do, and what you expect it to do is just really really simple.
The scenic route to Hagi was indeed extremely scenic, and took me to some serious mountain roads. It was a lot more ups and downs than I expected, but the scenery easily made up for it. Perfect weather, perfect roads. I had a great day. To make things even better, as soon as I was done rolling down the mountain road that finally led into Hagi I drove straight into a Sukiya. The perfect lunch!
It turns out that Hagi is a castle town and a world heritage site. I did not know that prior to coming here. Ignorance is full of pleasant surprises! Loads of houses in Hagi look castle-like, and the castle-like district is very accessible by bicyce, so I had a pleasant cycle through all the little streets. There was a lovely beach as well where a bunch of people were walking around. The only thing I could think of was to finally sit down and relax. The places other people go to move, I go to rest.
As I cycled on to my hotel I realized I could see it from afar, which is not good. The climb to get up to it was easily the steepest I've cycled on this trip, and I was exhausted and sweating when I reached the ultra-posh reception. The hotel staff treated me kindly and provided a safe place inside to put my bike. It's quite a contrast with the shitty camp site from yesterday, and I don't regret it one bit. The view from the room is fantastic and I had lovely dip in the onsen just now, also with a great view. It was a good ending to the day. Things are back on track again now. The setbacks weren't fun, but when it's over it does help me learn to accept bad outcomes. And even then, bad is better than boring.
I'm not quite sure if I've thought of a purpose for this trip; something to keep my brain busy while I cycle and post-cycle relax. For the first big trip it was easy: figure out what to do with my life and whether to go back to Holland or stay in Japan. For the second trip I'm not sure if I had one during the trip, but in retrspect it's quite clear to me that the second trip was about testing my physical limits. I was very fit back then, and I did that trip way too efficiently. I will try to allow for more distractions during this trip. That's not quite a goal though. For now, I've settled on this as a goal: lately my beliefs about myself seem to be getting a bit detached from reality. It's best if I update those. I am not as fit as I thought I was. I am fatter than I thought I was. I'm probably dumber than I think I am. I'll think of some more while I cycle.
A lot of things happened today, and that's good. Even if some things were not good. But most things were amazing.
Let's start at the beginning. I'm still jetlagged and woke up way too early again.I checked out at 7 and started cycling north. I was expecting to go rural immediately but Shimonoseki's suburbs stretched out for quite a bit, and for a long time I was cycling parallel to a busy road. It was very windy and I had to lean into the wind quite a bit. Fortunately that got a lot better later in the day.
I veered off the main road to try and find the westernmost point of Honshu. It was a good 3 kilometers that I had to do twice, since there was no other way back from there, but it was absolutely worth it. A spectacular view with no one else around. At least, not at first. I was soon visited by first a biker and then a random guy, who both, when I told them that I was intending to camp tonight, told me that no camp site will be open since it's not July yet and it's too cold. Bullshit.
Still, I kept it in mind as I cycled along and decided to play it safe, stopping at the first camp site I find that is not closed. I headed north again on an amazingly beautiful road through a nice valley, with mountains on either side and large Japanese houses. The weather was perfect as well, which made it just one of those golden moments of cycling trips, where everything is perfect. It's the exact moment I was hoping for when I was planning this trip. You never know if the combination of route and weather aligns in this way, but today it did, and I was cycling along with a big huge grin on my face.
Wilflife: I saw a tiny shiny dark red frog today. And also what I think was a Japanese Giant Hornet, who didn't appreciate it that I parked my bicycle next to its bush.
After the pretty valley road I was back on the main route going north, and I was starting to feel some saddle pain. Despite my training I still seem to get sore-ish at around 30km. But this time it didn't get much worse throughout the day, which is good. I had a long lunch break at a conbini where I forced myself to sit still for at least 30 minutes before continuing. I think that helped a lot.
As I reached the northwestern corner of Honshu I investigated a campsite that I put on my map before I left. It was indeed very closed, but also in the middle of nowhere and with a perfect view. It seemed like an ideal place to camp, so I made my mind up to stay there tonight. It was only 2AM though so I figured I might as well cycle along a bit further and visit the bridge to Tsushima. It was only a few kilometers further but it was a tough cycle, with some steep climbs, and I was starting to run out of energy.
I decided to cycle on a bit further to a nearby port time in the hope of finding a conbini or supermarket, since I didn't have a proper meal for the evening yet. Unfortunately there was absolutely nothing there. I took a different way back which should have taken me to the main road first, which I could then cycle back on to get back to my chosen campsite, but I missed a turning and ended up even further away from it. So far that going back felt like a chore, and since it was still early I decided to cycle onwards and try my luck.
It was a few kilometers after deciding that that fatigue really set in. I had to take a break because my legs just didn't feel like doing anything anymore. Some bread and chocolate helped recharge me, but I was still feeling pretty drained for the rest of the cycle. I came across a nice park but was told that I couldn't camp there. There were some more potential opportunity camp spots, but none of them exactly brilliant. In the end I came up to the next camp site that I had marked on my map, just around 4PM.
The camp site was open and the two old men running it were very happy to set me up with a spot. Not surprising given that they charged me 1600 yen, or about a third of a hotel room, for a night's stay. What a ripoff. But I was too tired to care. They asked me if I wanted to use the shower and seemed extremely surprised when I said yes. They were very difficult to understand and kept switching back to their local accent.
Shower surprise number one: it's a coin shower. You'd think that for 1600 yen the damn shower is included, but no. Surprise number two: the hot water didn't work. So I went back to the reception where the two oldies were just leaving and I asked them if they could fix the shower. One guy stayed behind and let me try many times in many different showers, all the time slipping me 100 yen coins back every time it failed. It never did succeed in the end, and I had to do with deodorant towels. I should've just showed up here after 5PM and stayed here for free. The place provides no added value.
Still, the view from here is pretty damn amazing, and I enjoyed a nice sunset while eating my dinner of beef jerky and curry bread. I'm in my tent as I'm writing this and it's getting really cold. Good thing my sleeping bag is quality. That was definitely a worthwhile investment. Also, I lost my sunscreen somewhere. I think I left it leaning onto something on my bike and then cycled off, so it must have fallen off. I rummaged around in my panniers and found another smaller bottle of sunscreen from a previous cycling trip. Lucky, ish.
Tomorrow should be interesting. I kind of stopped the detailed map-planning midway into the area I will reach tomorrow. I'm pretty sure I'll be looking for a cheap hotel, but it depends on the circumstances I guess. I might end up camping again. I might not have a choice since I'm pretty far away from convenience right now. The last time I saw a conbini was at lunch, and that's an eternity for Japan standards.