I write from the headquarters of the Adventure Cycling Association in Missoula, Montana. It’s been a few weeks since I last wrote.
I left Japan with a sense of urgency, a bit fed up, a bit bored, tired and with a cracked bicycle frame. Waiting for me at the airport in Vancouver was my uncle, I have family all over the world and this was an opportunity to meet some members that I’d never met before. The lack of formality when I arrived was great, it appears that family, regardless of how distant is still family and I was treated like a son; home cooked food and home comforts revitalised me and brought me back to life.
Canada is spectacularly beautiful, perhaps even the most beautiful place country I’ve ever been to and a great place to ride a bicycle. The road from Vancouver to Whistler and on through Jasper and Banff national parks is filled with spectacular views and more wildlife than I’ve ever seen outside of Africa; moose, bears, elk, deers, eagles, foxes, and squirrels are potentially lurking behind every corner.
Almost everybody I meet asks me the same question, ‘Why did you decide to ride your bicycle all this way?’, I always answer with something like, ‘I’m young and have no responsibilities so thought that it was a good time to see the world’. This suggests that adventure is only for people in my situation, but as I cycled away from Vancouver I met lots of cyclists who did not fit my stereotypical cycle touring mold.
Father and daughter team Mike and Elaine, in the last picture inspired the title of this blog post. As we cycled together on a short section from somewhere to somewhere else on a hilly, gravelly, muddy track, with the rain coming down, Elaine called to her father, ‘do you feel alive?’. This was a her quoting a documentary on the famous ‘Barkley Marathons’: a brutal ultramarathon that pushes runners to the absolute limits of their own ability. This quote resonated with me and my journey and made me realise that the times that I have felt the most present, the most awake and the most ‘alive’ were the times when I was pushing myself; when I was climbing a huge hill, cycling at high altitudes, extreme temperatures or doing long days in the saddle. So it is from this thought that I have decided that I will attempt to cycle all the way to New York city from Vancouver; my flight is on August 19th, I am going to go to Yellowstone first. I will have to average higher mileage, push harder, but the end is near, the thoughts of work and home plague my thoughts and to remain present is vital.
I’ll sign off once more with a request for a donation for AgeUK. This is the charity I have attached to my ride, 15,000 miles of cycling across 25 countries is hopefully enough to convince you to donate what you can to this amazing cause that helps the elderly in the UK to have a full and happy life.
It has been almost fifty days since I arrived in Japan thirty days of cycling covering 3,500km. My thoughts on the country have changed a lot and I write about them here. My start in Japan couldn’t have gone much better, cherry trees were in bloom everywhere. I initially felt very much at ease with so many things in Japan reminding me of the UK, a happy melancholic reminder of home, life here is easy.
In my last post I commented briefly on the earthquake, I thought I hadn’t been affected, but now a month down the line my sleep suffers; tsunami, falling buildings, broken roads and aftershocks plague my dreams, a normal consequence of going through any kind of trauma. Although the nightmares are becoming much less frequent and will I’m sure soon disappear, I think of all of the people in the world that have really gone through trauma, I wonder whether they can ever sleep well and I wonder why I have literally no idea about mental health.
I am a zombie on a bicycle, I am tired so end up arriving in places with that thought of ‘how did I get here’, I had this same feeling in my first year of teacher training, I also had recurring dreams. I occasionally get shaken out of my sleep walking state through interaction with other humans, something beautiful or something sad, but never by noises, there isn’t any sounds in Japan except that of flowing rivers, birds and talking machines; the ‘sound of silence’ never meant anything to me before I came here, I imagine to be on the moon would sound something like this, but at least there would be cheese.
Despite the tiredness, I cycle further and faster than normal. I cycle to the southern tip of Japan and then head to the ferry to get to Shikoku. I meet with two cyclists Charlotte and Eric who I met in China five months earlier. I spend the day with them cycling, it’s great my mind is at ease, I am not worried about anything. I sleep well. Shikoku appears to be a utopia.
I visited a school in Okawa and spoke to some children about my journey. It was a fascinating, eye opening experience for me, and probably a little boring for the children. Now I have to try to tell you why; writing is difficult.
On a Sunday I sit down with my family for breakfast. On one of these mornings when discussing something, my father told us a story of a man;
A man had gone to see a witch doctor and had found out his future including the date that he would die. The man was a man who believed strongly. The day that he was meant to die came around and he found himself in a car with an erratic driver, the man terrified by the thought that the prophecy would come true and his death brought about by a car accident opened the door and jumped from the car, only to run over by an oncoming vehicle.
I guess you can take what you need from a story like this one. I am going to take the part about the knowing your future, but ignore part about the inevitability because it is depressing. I was reminded of this story in this school. The school had thirty children and almost thirty staff, the population is aging and there aren’t any children. The staff had ten days of holiday in a year and all worked seventy hour weeks and worked on Saturdays. They have no rights, they live away from their families because they get deployed to different areas to work and they literally drop dead from exhaustion and nobody talks about it. This is a country where mental is intertwined with the word arithmetic and nothing to do with health. Everything in Japan is designed for convenience to negate the need for thought, to keep the workforce working and not thinking, you don’t even wipe your ass in Japan. I had the feeling that I was in the future of the UK and did not like it.
I leave Shikoku on the famous Shimani Kaido bridges, a beautiful bike route that hops across small islands to the main island of Japan. The traffic free cycling ends at the end of these bridges, this is where more than eighty percent of the population ‘lives’.
I’m suddenly in Hiroshima the Atomic Bomb Museum. My focus flickers between my own reflection and the contents of the glass box. I haven’t seen myself for about a week, my beard is slowly conquering my face, by eyebrows losing their plurality and my expression is pained, the burnt school uniform in the display brought to life on a mannequin gives me a sick and sad feeling but I feel wide awake for the first time in a while. The UK has nuclear weapons. I move on to the next box.
It would appear that Japan was not always a place of restraint and lack of indulgence. Everywhere in Japan you will find abandoned hotels, hospitals, theme parks and houses, evidence that the people of Japan once lived. Here are some pictures from an abandoned theme park I snuck in called ‘Dreamland’, it is now an ironic name I guess.
Back on the bike, Honshu is rubbish for cycling compared to Kyushu and Shikoku, there are of course some nice roads, but the parts that I cycled were in general not much fun but got me to interesting places. For me the nice part about Honshu is Kyoto, Mount Fuji and Hiroshima.
So that’s it from Japan, I’m heading to Canada in search of the next adventure. I am still trying to raise funds for AgeUK, it truly is a great cause. Click the link to donate. Thank you for all of the donations so far.