Well, dollars short and days late, here’s the next instalment of the tale.
Before doing any storytelling, I’m going to digress for a bit and break down exactly how heavy my stuff was. Let’s start with the bicycle itself. It’s a Made in China steel frame bicycle with huge oversize tubes whose only purpose is to mimic the large tubes of light, carbon framed road bikes that usually weigh less than 10 kilos. When you make the same size frame in cheap steel and add on fenders, baskets and the cheapest brand-named accoutrements you think will entice people to buy the bicycle (Shimano RevoShifters and Shimano derailleur/gearset, in my case), you end up with a bicycle weighing somewhere between 18 and 20 kg. I have to say “somewhere between” because the scale seemed at risk of breaking when I weighed it, so I can’t be too sure…
TOP ONE – SHOES, BIKES, WHATEVER YOU WANT, FROM CHINA. Bike logo reads “Find your soul.” Well, that didn’t work.
Now let’s add up the luggage!
- Bivy tent – 1.5 kg
- Sleeping bag – 1.65 kg
- Fleece blanket and sleeping mat – 1.41 kg
- Tools/tube etc. – 1.4 kg
- 20L capacity backpack with hydration pack – 4.7 kg
- Grand Total – 10.66 kg
Yeah…that’s nearly 30 kg…over half my body weight…if I were to do this again on the same 18 kg beast, I would take only one thing – a credit card in my back pocket. I understand why “credit card touring” is a phrase. Anybody riding a 6 gear human-powered locomotive should definitely choose this option when travelling more than 30 km.
But let’s get back to the story. Hitting the trail that morning meant first pushing those 30 kg up the steep spiral road and ramp to get back onto the bridge. I had to take a rest on the way up. By “take a rest” I mean I parked the bike beside the road and went for a very short hike in order to catch a glimpse of one of the fastest currents in Japan, called “ship-breaker.” Here’s a photo of the strait off in the distance…
FUNAORISETO (ship-breaking current), HAKATAJIMA
Eventually I did get back up onto the bridge. My muscles were nowhere near recovery – they were busy trying to transition from jelly stage to the full-on ache. They never got the chance. I had ‘em warmed up and feeling good in a jiffy, cruising along down the ramp to Oshima. I knew my legs were shot, but hey, I thought, there are a ton of cafes along the road on Oshima. I’m gonna stop for a leisurely coffee about halfway through the island, and then it’s just one more bridge before I reach Imabari on Shikoku. Now, here’s a free Japanese lesson for you. 大島 These two kanji mean “big” and “island.” I knew that before of course, but I’ve only driven across this island. When you drive the Shimanami Kaido, you essentially skim over top the highest points of each island. When you ride the Shimanami Kaido, you only use the same portions of the route as the automobile traffic on the bridges. Bicycles leave the nice, straight, level highway to ride along the local roads before climbing the ramp and rejoining the bridges on the other end of each island.
On I rode. I don’t know how many cafés I spotted, closed signs gleaming in the sunlight as I rolled on by, but by the time the slope began, I was more than ready for a stop. Just a little further, I told myself, and there’s sure to be an open café.
But no…it turns out that Big Island probably also meant Big Vertically High Gigantic Never-ending Slope Island in its original form. I’ll have to ask around. I nearly died on Oshima, and that’s no exaggeration. On the way up, I had no choice but to park the bike beside the road a couple of times and sit down for a break so my legs, lungs, and circulatory system could recover a bit. Now let’s talk about the mental game. Imagine you’re on a bicycle. You pass a throng of high-school aged boys wearing big hiking packs (3/4 empty, but still…) who seem to be hiking at least a portion of the Shimanami. Good for them, you think. I wonder how long it will take them to reach Imabari. On you go….and then you began to sense your heart giving out, so you stop for a rest. And the throng of young’uns goes by you and your bicycle. On foot.
As it turned out, the physical and mental struggle up the hill was a mere foreshadowing of my imminent demise. I reached the crest of the hill in a sort of grim, I-have-conquered-the-mountain-but-must-yet-descend-alive state of mind. I soon discovered how important this cautious, mindful attitude was. Down I cruised, the occasional vehicle passing me. If the cars were going 70 km/h than I would have been going about 50km. I’ve measured myself at 60 kms/hr on a bicycle before (not this one!!) and this was getting close. A concrete curb separated the shared foot and bicycle path from the road. I stayed on the road, knowing the danger of attempting to ride down the footpath with a throng of backpacking kids ahead of me. Soon I caught up to them, a herd of tired sleepy pheromonal boys running down the steep hill in a mob, almost tripping over their own feet. Imagine recently tranquilized elephants attempting to stampede. No, I’m not exaggerating. My speed increased. The traffic increased. Stopping was impossible. Managing my brakes without glazing them over (if you heat them up too much the rubber hardens and renders them useless ) became my priority. Suddenly there was a bumper-to-bumper line of trucks and buses and the odd car, locking me and my 30 kg bike into the small space along that pretty blue line and concrete curb. And then about 5 of the dopey stumbling morons hopped off of the sidewalk and blocked my path.
It was awfully close. My blazing white and orange and reflective-stickered-garbage-bag get-up was shooting down the steep slope like a cyclist express train to hell, my neon-yellow mini-gloved left hand hitting the bell trigger as often as I could while trying to keep the brake lever at a moderate level so as to not rip the brake pad out of its cheap holder or ruin my steering while trucks flew past about 20 cm from my right shoulder. I didn’t have enough time to think of something to yell besides the expletives on the tip of my tongue, yet somehow I managed to not yell those, which in hindsight was quite a massive failure on my part. I’m sure it would have given me much more time. We had about a 1 second cushion, if that. I nearly got one boy’s back with my handlebar. Boys jumping, tires skidding, the last one barely got his dopey arse out of my way and I let go of the brakes to just let that abused bike coast all the way to the stop sign, however many kilometres ahead. It was either that, or stop and have a serious altercation/freak out with/at a bunch of strangers who in all fairness were probably more exhausted than I was BUT JUST ABOUT KILLED US ALL! This is the sort of thing you figure no one is stupid enough to do, until you see it, and you want to stop and lock the perpetrators up with accident videos and knowledge tests until they’re qualified to walk in public again. OMG. m_O_m OMG. Definitely my closest call in Japan. Or anywhere…I remember hoping my helmet wouldn’t work so I wouldn’t be paralyzed for the rest of my life…LOL. Seems funny now. Kind of.
Oh, and there were still no open cafes. At that point I figured I’d just been handed another chance at life, so I’d better just keep soldiering on. After all, there was only one more bridge between me and Imabari…and then I reached the bottom of that bridge, and this is what I saw:
YES, THE BRIDGE IS SKY-HIGH AND ENDLESS, BUT WHAT’S A BIT MORE SUFFERING AFTER A NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE?
The ramp up to the bridge is pretty long and therefore gradual, thankfully, and it really shouldn’t have been too hard, but anyone that’s ever had a terrifying experience will know the physical effect that the adrenalin rush has on you – after it’s done, your body crashes – luckily, only metaphorically. I met a bunch of Filipinos at the entrance to the bridge. They stayed at the rest stop and I said goodbye and headed off. They passed me about five minutes later, on their mama-charis, and I didn’t care one whit. I didn’t die today. Whatever.
The “one last bridge” I referred to above is actually a series of joined suspension bridges called the Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge, which just so happens to be the world’s longest suspension bridge structure. *maniacal laughter*
Roughly half way along the series is an island called “Horse Island” (Umashima). Way back when, somebody with too much money and too little brainpower thought raising warhorses on a tiny rocky outcrop was a brilliant idea…obviously, that failed, but the name stuck. LOL. I love Japan. Anyway… people still live on the island, so for scooter and bicycle access (no car access from the bridge) there is actually an ELEVATOR down to the island. Yes, an elevator. You take your bike in with you, press down, waaay down, and poof, you’re no longer on a high, cold, windy bridge – you’re on a magical island where it’s warm and sunny! The Kurushima Strait is also one of Japan’s fast currents, but at this point, do you think I cared? No. But there’s picture below. And so I had a picnic, and then I laid back and had myself a little nap. I don’t know how long I was there, but you may recall a herd of dopey boys walking along…
Back up the elevator I went, and rode along the bridge until the shipyard cranes of Imabari loomed up before me. The descending ramp and the shipyard backdrop is spectacular, to put it mildly. Anyway, I was taking it slowly and carefully going down the ramp, which was quite busy with foot and bicycle traffic and even a couple with a baby stroller, but of course everyone following the rules of the road…
Until whom should I see again, but the herd of boys. Which is fine. I’d calmed down by this point. But the complete morons did it AGAIN. The ramp is about 2 metres wide. The edges are shoulder high concrete. And they bunched up and blocked the entire ramp. Well, I let one expletive out earlier in the day when I nearly died. I wasn’t going to let this inanity get to me now. Instead I rang that bell like it was dinnertime and death-glared them on the way by. Yeah, I’ll show them. Ding-ding-stare. LOL. Should have stopped, cuffed them all on the head and demanded forehead-touching-ground apologies and maybe a case of beer and some firstborn children or something. But I’m a softie.
Now, my original plan was to spend the afternoon at Imabari onsens and retire to a campground later in the day…but all I could think about was sleeping and getting to Matsuyama. So I found the campground, pitched my tent, and waited for the sun to set before collapsing. I should mention that the campground felt quite a bit farther away from the Shimanami Kaido than it looked on the map, and there were absolutely no restaurants or convenience stores nearby, and I ate peanuts and jerky for supper when all I wanted was some proper food…but hey, I wasn’t dead. Yet. You gotta look on the bright side.
HEY, IT’S THE BRIGHT SIDE! ROCKS THAT LOOK LIKE WHALES, WOW!
Day 3. Coming sometime in the near or not-so-near future.