September 24, 2003
Well, I WAS supposed to leave today. However, the weather right now sucks. According to Weather.Com and other sources, heavy thunderstorms are on the horizon for tomorrow and Friday. Still, even if I leave Saturday, I should have no problem completeing the trip on schedual.
On the plus side, the has given me a chance to prepare more. I’ve set up this website, for example.
September 26, 2003
Tomorrow I leave. But first, some thoughts I’ve been having about the trip…
THE BOON AND BANE OF TECHNOLOGY AND THE ADVENTURER.
Somebody asked me why I’m not taking a cell phone with me, and I quite simply replied that I didn’t want one. It felt wrong. However, working on my mini laptop here, about the size of a paperback novel, with a highly detailed encyclopedia and atlas built in, roving internet access, and websites already stored for hostels and ferries across Japan, I end up thinking of two things:
First of all, I’m living in the future. Sure I don’t have that jet pack I always wanted, but aside from that, I feel a hairs breadth away from a William Gibson novel.
Secondly, I’m cheating. I mean, come on! What kind of self-respecting adventurer has the equivalent of a home office (or what a hundred years ago would have been an entire governmental department in term access to information, communication, processing and publishing power, etc… ) in a shoulder holster? Where is the sense of the unknown? Where is the sense of roughing it when you can just click online and find out where the nearest four star restaurant is (along with the most convenient route from your present position)? I bet if I managed to go back in time and had to travel through darkest Africa with Dr. Livingston I wouldn’t last five minutes! I’m not an adventurer… I’m a glorified tourist!
However, some things have occurred to me. First of all, Columbus would give his right testicle and half of his left one to have access to what I have. Adventurers do not “rough it” because they like it, they take the best and most durable tools they can afford. Any sense of “roughing it” to us is really more a matter of what meager luxury they could scrape out for themselves… but if they could carry a portable mansion with them, I’m sure they would.
We buy brass telescopes because they are quaint, they bought them because they were state-of-the-art.
Secondly, there has been a definite progression to my travels thus far. When I went to Halifax, it was as bare bones as you can get. The cheapest bike, tent, sleeping bag, you name it. All I had was a note pad and pen to keep track of my journey on, and post cards to keep in touch with. By the end I was in extreme pain with a bike that was almost falling apart and never once had a dry nights sleep (even when it never rained), and half of my postcards arrived after I got home.
On my next trip I learned from my mistakes. Better bike, tent, and sleeping bag. Good enough quality that I’m still using them three years later. But the real change was the PDA I brought, that kept me in touch with the world. I was able to send emails every couple of weeks and got responses from friends and family during the trip. They got to share the adventure.
This trip is the logical progression from the first. This time, I have the best that Japan has to offer, so I might as well run with it. Adventuring 21st century style. Watch it, I’m got a webcam and I’m not afraid to use it! I only wish I had a GPS attachment for this computer, to go geocache hunting with. Well, maybe in Europe!
So I admit that I am not as hard core as the adventurers of old… but that doesn’t mean that I can’t, or that I won’t. It’s just that this time it just feels right. Japan is about the past and the future, a collision of worlds… a clash of ideas. What better way to explore such diversity than on a bicycle first designed in the 1800s with a mobile computer workstation?
Day 1 – September 27, 2003
Time Riding: 6:19:53
Average Speed: 15.6 km/h
Maximum Speed: 46.5 km/h
Total Distance: 98.5km
Location: Outside Oyama
And so, it begins….
(Spot the Babylon 5 fan, boys and girls!)
This is not the kind of day that inspires confidence.
First of all, before any adventure, you want to have a “moment” Something that lets you feel this is special and has purpose. For Halfax it was getting up and going without a word to anyone. For Canada it was the coincidental fanfare that occurred at Mile 0 for a completely different group of bikers. By the time I arrived, though, there was nobody there, just some banners and balloons flopping around in the breeze. I’ll take what I can get.
Then, as I finally left home, and waved goodbye to Gillian… I heard her call out something. I didn’t hear what, so I stopped and asked.
“Did you remember your sweater?”
Okay, it wasn’t a sweater, it was something else, but the feeling was the same. I shook my head… that is not a good “moment” to start a trip on.
Finding Route 246 turned out to be a bit of a chore… I knew roughly where it was but had to ask several people several times for directions. Once on it, I figured it was smooth sailing.
Where do I even begin with my complaints about Route 246? First of all, it constantly changes from highway to freeway (the difference being freeways you can’t bike on). I had to get on and off the highway so many times I lost count… along with the number of times I thought I was lost as a result! This added to my overall distance without actually getting me anywhere.
Secondly there were times that I didn’t realize I had entered the freeway zone! Imagine my terror as the curb disappeared, cars were going faster, and a tunnel was up ahead that I KNEW I wasn’t supposed to go into! Then of course there was the time that there was a tunnel I WAS supposed to go into but didn’t realize it, tack on a wasted twenty minutes and half a kilometer to figure that one out.
The highway itself is dangerous. Not terribly life threatening dangerous, but enough that I stick to the walkways whenever I can.
All of this was because I wanted to reach Gotemba, which is right between Mt. Fuji and Mt. Hakone-yama. Why? Because there is a hostel there and I wanted my first night on the road to be in relative comfort.
Of course, I never made it there…
Let me explain. First of all, I was exhausted by 5:30pm…. I had totally overestimated my abilities… it’s been three years since I did anything like this, after all, and the most I did this year was half hour to an hour long bike rides around the mostly flat Tokyo central area. So one 5% 5km climb later and arm and neck sunburn (I forgot sunblock… DOH!) and I realize that I wasn’t as prepared as I would have liked….
I became even less prepared when my tent disappeared.
Yep… somewhere around the 30 or 40 km mark, my tent up and flopped out of the harness behind my seat… Never did that once in Canada. Here it happens on my first day…. so, now I figure I HAVE to make it to the hostel tonight… but what if I don’t? And what about the night after that? Will I be able to stay in a hostel EVERY night?
Time to find an equipment store.
I had just passed two not ten minutes before hand… and now? Nothin. Typical. I asked directions from a bike mechanic (who spoke surprising good English) and gave me directions to a Victoria Sports shop about five klicks from there. I get there and… yep… no camping goods… the gardening shop across the street had only big bulky ones for families.
EVENTUALLY I found something… this is where my luck started to change, because it was better than my last one in terms of size and weight (though naturally it is a bit smaller and I was quite fond of my Coffin… I only hope a homeless person finds it and jury rigs some poles for it.). It cost me 25 gold pieces… er I mean 25,000 yen. Fortunately this tend fits inside my napsack, so at least I won’t have to worry about losing it again!
Now, back to the perils of Route 246… it only got worse the more into the mountains I got… I got on the wrong road three times! And then, around 5:30, I decided I had enough. I had to pack it in. It was starting to get dark and overcast, and despite my reflectors and flasher and crap I did NOT want to ride that way.
Near Oyama I found a quiet truck stop… that is the truck stop was quiet, but everything else wasn’t, since it was right beside the highway. I figured… what the hell, it’s as good a spot as any and asked if I could pitch my tent by the big rigs.
Up to now I was fairly lucky, everyone I spoke to spoke excellent (for Japan) English. Now my luck ran out… but their son understood enough that I was able to explain the situation and get permission. It was starting to rain (damn weather forecast said it was supposed to be great all week) and I had really had enough.
They agreed and no I rest… checking my maps, wondering what next.. I still have to go to Gotemba… it’s the only way the road goes… hopefully I’ll get a decent view of Fuji at least… After that I’ll definitely go to Shizuoka… but after that I’m not sure. There is another hostel in Kanaya, but that’s by the foothills… A coastal route will be longer, but probably easier… decisions decisions… Oh well, leave it for morning… no matter which I choose I have to go to Shizuoka first.
A little bit of a side note here… last night, I was scared. But not because of the trip. A good guy once told me that I am an excellent communicator. I won’t argue with that. I’m not being smug here. You see last night I realized that’s what I was scared about! In Canada, any time I had a problem, I always knew what to say and how to say it to get help… it’s a talent. I’ve only been refused help once or twice in all my travels. In Quebec it was a problem, and I don’t relish the idea of repeating it. Now I don’t have that safety net. I have to rely on the communication equivalent of a fig leaf, a phrase book. In this situation, that’s scarier than you might realize.