Dancing with the rain

Today was odd. By all rights, or rather, by my previous days' standards, it should have been a terrible day, but I enjoyed the hell out of it. I've gone from planning the day route but not the overall route to planning the overall route but not the day route, and it seems to have worked out great. Despite all the mishaps ... thanks to all the mishaps?

Every morning right after I wake up I check the weather report. I already knew rain was coming but needed to know the precise location. It seemed pretty light on the map, and since I wasn't going too far today I decided to cycle. That was definitely the right decision, although I pushed it a liiiitle too far, and the rain caught up with me later in the day.

Despite the looming threat of rain I set off in the morning in good spirits and headed for Tottori's sand dunes. Words cannot describe how disappointing Tottori's sand dunes are. I guess Japanese are not used to seeing lots of sand, but I didn't find it very fascinating. The weather probably had something to do with it too. Grey skies don't make for nice photos. I quickly cycled on.

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Today's coastal road was perhaps the toughest one yet. 8% inclines seemed common, 10% ones appeared a few times as well, and there were tunnels everywhere. Yet somehow, perhaps thanks to the break day, perhaps thanks to me actually getting fitter, or perhaps thanks to the old man inspiring me, I think today was the best day of cycling yet. The rhythm of the road already introduced itself a few days ago: climb up to a tunnel or peak, descend down into a valley with a little coastal town, then climb up again to the next peak. This rhythm has gone to the extreme today, with higher peaks, steeper inclines, longer ups and faster downs. It was fantastic. There was hardly any traffic because of the bypass road next to the coastal road. Tunnels aren't too bad if there's no traffic, and if there's rain outside the tunnel.

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There was rain. During the morning only a little, a few drops every once in a while, and it didn't bother me in the slightest. It's also finally gotten a little bit warmer, and the smell of rain on hot asphalt is just one of the best things in life. I usually wear a thermal/base layer and then a thin cycle shirt, but because of the rain I also wore my thin anti-wind coat for most of the day. I was worried I would overheat and sweat too much, but I ended up feeling a lot more comfortable than before. Three layers seems to be my preferred kit, even when it gets warmer. I do sweat more in my coat, but as soon as I take out it dissipates real quickly. It just feels more sustainable with the coat on.

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I had planned to do about 60 kilometers today to reach a place called Kasumi, or Kami, depending on who you ask. The reason I wanted to visit here was a weeaboo one: the town provided the inspiration for a town in an anime that I still very much like: Air (TV). The drawing style hasn't aged well but the theme song is still fantastic. When I arrived in Kasumi it was grey and raining lightly. I think I spotted a few places that I recognized from the anime but it certainly wasn't memorable. The town fit much more closely into the continuity of my cycling trip than it did in the continuity of the anime. Let's keep those two separate.

I had my lunch at the only conbini in town and asked the owner if she knew any cheap hotels in the area. Not much luck there, so I figured I might as well cycle on a bit and maybe reach Kinosaki Onsen, a town about 30 kilometers further away. I could definitely feel the saddle pain as I got on the bike again after lunch, but it wasn't too bad. I still felt motivated to go further.

As I rejoined the road again I cycled onwards on even steeper and higher hills. The valleys between the mountains seemed to get shorter, and most of the road was now either steep uphill or steep downhill, with even a few switchbacks for the really steep bits. I was eager to get a move on and reach Kinosaki Onsen in the hopes of finding a cheap onsen hotel or ryokan, but it was not to be. The rain started getting heavier and heavier, and soon it was just a massive downpour. I had to stop.

Yesterday I marked a few camp sites after Kasumi on my map, which came in very handy today. There was exactly one on my road before Kinosaki, and it was only a few kilometers after the rain started that I made it to the camp site. Wet, but recoverable. It was one of those typically Japanese camp sites with a bunch of roofed areas for barbecueing and washing things, yakiniku grills on one side, sinks on the other, a big slabby table in the middle and a nice view of the beach.

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I've been in this little barbecue building for 2 hours and have not seen anyone yet, except for an old lady who took a walk on the beach and somehow did not notice me, or pretended not to notice me. Setting up a tent seems like a hassle considering the ground is very wet; the rain has only gotten worse since I took shelter. I'll probably just stick my sleeping bag and mat on this concrete table slab and sleep in the barbecue building. I hope no one throws me out.

At least the rain has gotten worse. Now I don't need to doubt about whether I should have cycled on. It would not have been a fun cycle.

I've set up my plan so that I've got a few places I want/need to stay at, for touristy things or washing clothes things or for break day things, but have not planned out where to stay in the bits in-between. Today was an in-between day. Tomorrow will be a tourist end point. Since I've made more progress than I thought today tomorrow should be easier than planned. Unless it's still raining. A late start would be bad, but still better than wasting an entire day in this middle-of-nowhere place. I'm hoping to stay in a youth hostel tomorrow, but if that fails I might end up having to camp again. I'm ok with either option.

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The Aomori Ferry

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A quiet day

I don't have much to report today. I had a late start and a good breakfast at one of the good old restaurants I used to frequent when I lieved here. Then I went shopping in Machida and bought a wide angle lens for my micro four thirds camera and a big puffy camera bag that I've mounted onto the front of my bike, so I can have easy access to my camera and other things while cycling. I've also adjusted my saddle position to be in more of a 'casually enjoying cycling' position rather than a 'must go faster faster faster ouch everything hurts' position. It's probably still not right, but I'll keep adjusting it as I go along.

Hakuna Atsugi. It means no worries. Hakuna Atsugi. It means no worries.

There's this place I always used to visit, it's on the way to the big mountain alongside a small river. Just before the road starts to get really hilly there's this bridge, and a very large gravestone behind the spot from where I took this photo. I've been coming here for 8 years now, I find  it relaxing to sit there and ponder. But this time somehow felt different. I noticed different things. The haze made the mountains and the sunset less impressive than in my memories, and instead of focusing on the uninhabited bits of the grave and the narrow walking path next to it, I kept looking to the other side of the bridge, to the houses and the people living there, to the cars and the people commuting back home from work. I've seen all that before of course, but my mindset was different this time. My mindset is still full of worries. Worries about real boring life things that I never had when I was living my life here because I was naive and innocent.

I should not have come here so soon. I should've gone to Hokkaido first and then come back here. Now I'm still fresh from the plane with my mind wandering back to UK worries and my body not in shape yet. I realized this before I left the UK, but it was too late to cancel the hotel. So I've decided to challenge myself tomorrow with the Yabitsu mountain pass. It'll be a tough ride, even without luggage, but it will be good training for the mountains yet to come. Getting to Nagano from here won't be easy so I'll need all the exercise I can get. I hope I can improve my mindset as the trip progresses.

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Reality has hit

Reality has hit

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Car review: Peugeot 208

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Perhaps a bit unusual for this blog, but I felt like recording my experiences in driving the Peugeot 208. Last weekend my girlfriend and I went to France for a trip in the Pyrenees. We rented the cheapest model from Europcar, but since none of the cheap cars were available they kindly let us drive a Peugeot 208 instead. The twisty mountain roads in the Pyrenees provided ample opportunity to give it a good test drive.

My first impression: yet another nondescript French car. Both from the outside and on the inside it looks like any average European car manufactured in the last 10 years. Nothing at all stands out or is out of the ordinary. Except perhaps the gear stick, which just felt.. wrong, somehow. It was comfortable enough to use but it didn't feel like a proper gear stick. Too much plastic-y chrome, not enough leather. The GPS was easy enough to use and the center console screen was pleasantly large. Switching the French GPS into English mode provided much amusement with the French-accented guidance voice.

The engine of our rental car was petrol, but I failed to find out which one. According to the Peugeot website the 1.2VTi has 85 horsepower, whereas the 1.6 has 120HP. Our car felt quite responsive and didn't have any trouble at all climbing up hills, so I suspect we may have had the 1.6. The engine felt responsive and had a sound that lies somewhere between average and decent. The gearbox has a slightly higher first and second gear compared to most other cars I've driven.

Driving the car feels awkward. The steering and braking are extremely responsive, so it's easy to overdo it and drive in a very digital, on/off kind of way, rather than smooth and analog. Or, as my girlfriend described it when she drove it for the first time: "This car makes me sick".

The way the car handles is quite direct. The suspension lets you feel the road reasonably well, but the steering is so power-assisted that it feels rather dead, which perhaps also contributes to the feeling of nausea, as you don't get a lot of feedback from your actions.

Other stuff: boot size is average, fuel consumption is average (maybe even good, I didn't measure it very well), seats are average, dashboard is average, steering wheel buttons are average, navigation is average. Visibility is a bit less than average because of the tiny rear windshield when looking behind. The big rear-view mirror and thick front pillars block your view when you try to look left and right.

I wouldn't buy a Peugeot 208 myself. Of the cars I've driven that could be alternatives to a 208, I'd go for the Suzuki Swift 4x4 which I've driven in Iceland, a fun car with lots of character. The 208 on the other hand is just average. And when it comes to average, there's better alternatives from Germany or Japan.

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Racing

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About three weeks ago I received my old friend the G25 racing wheel in the mail. My parents had sent it to me on my request. I barely used the wheel in the two-ish years that I was in Holland: my desk was just too unstable to make racing an enjoyable experience. My current place, however, is perfect. So for the past weeks I've been racing down the Nordschleife once more in netKar, trying to keep the car on track. Whereas I used to play netKar 0.99 namie and a very buggy version of the Nordschleife, it's not easy to get it to work on Windows 7 so I've moved on to netKar pro and a much better conversion of the track. The experience of driving netKar's Nordschleife in the middle of the night with cheap Eurobeat blaring through my headphones is as close to meditation as I'll ever get.

As it turns out, it was good practice as well, as shortly after I received my wheel, Potato announced a go-karting event. Woohoo! I hadn't done go-karting in years but was eager to get some serious racing in. As you can see from the picture above, I emerged victorious at our outing at the Tower Bridge karting track, and I am way too pleased about that so I must mention it here on this blog many many times :D

The actual racing experience was just plain weird. I've raced go-karts before in Holland, Germany and Japan, indoors and outdoors. In all my previous races the experience was one reasonably close to driving a car, and very close to driving some simulation race games like netKar and LFS. But if I had to describe tonight's race I'd have to say that the physics were all wrong. It was like driving on soap. The surface had absolutely no gripping power and the karts were sliding all over the place, even departing from a standstill. Controlling the karts was ridiculously easy though, so you could pretty much drive the entire track in a massive drift without ever hitting anything. It was incredibly fun actually, and the race was hugely challenging. It was the first time I've ever done a proper race, with practice, qualifying and then a race with a grid start. I was a great experience racing with my colleagues, and I found out that some of them are in fact also quite interested in racing sims. I'll have to pursue that a bit further.

A good evening. I'm back in the race!

 

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Stats of a trickling personal blog

Here's Wordpress/Jetpack's annual report for this blog in 2012. Not many surprises there. These days my blog gets anywhere between 50-100 hits per day, and more than half of that is from search engines. It's about what you'd expect for a non-focused personal blog. In a way I'm pleased. Even without doing any SEO, even without promoting this blog anywhere, there's still people reading it.

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Give to charity! Help Ihsan Global Relief

Ihsan Global Relief is currently looking into building a school in Kashmir to help the poor and orphans to get access to secular education. In doing so, Ihsan Global Relief can help with the social mobility of those who may not be able to get the chance to enjoy a lot of the opportunities we in the west has access to.

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Country roads

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