I wake to a glorious morning. There’s a river bubbling it’s way past the campground. Mountains rise up above me in all directions. And the tea plantations glisten with small glossy green leaves. I feel happy and ready for a short 50km ride to Shizuoka where I hope to find a hotel for the night.
I cross the Shiogo Dam wall and start to roll down the hill towards the coast. This is one of the joys of riding in the mountains; the opportunity to roll out of them. Sometimes you get lucky and can just ride downhill for a long way. I don’t even have to pedal. Sure, there are some small inclines but nothing like the mountains I have been riding through. Along the way I see this “lady” in a village. It’s kind of funny. She can’t tell me why she’s standing here doled up like this.
I see one of my favourite signs. It marks that there is a michi-no-eki up ahead. Usually they have wifi but this one doesn’t. What it does have is a really cool Japanese guy in his 50s or 60s who stops me to talk bikes. He has the coolest 40 year old frame that he rebuilt 26 years ago. The frame is Japanese and all the other components on the bike are European. He has old school toe clips, a Carradice seat bag that he attaches to his Italian leather saddle. But most interesting is his French groupset. It’s a brand I’ve never heard of before. He reminds me of the Audax randonneurs I used to ride with at home in Brisbane. He even has a proper route sheet and map marked up with all the information any randonneur worth his or her salt would carry (this should have been a clue to me that I am no randonneur because I rarely prepare directions or information for any of my rides). He doesn’t speak English and I speak very little Japanese (though I have picked up maybe a dozen words now). We talk for about half an hour because we are both cyclists so certain things don’t require words. It’s a really cool encounter.
And then I am off again, riding through the tea plantations while the sun shines down on me.
I am in cyclist heaven for about an hour until I hit the suburbs that make up Shizuoka. Now life is a barrage of advertising, heavy traffic and bumpy cycle ways. It is the first day of Golden Week, that fantastic week in Japan when almost all the hardworking Japanese city folk make the most of a flurry of public holidays to escape the cities. And Shizuoka is no exception. The roads are busy and the usually considerate Japanese drivers are all in a rush to get somewhere. I actually get beeped at a few times when I need to jump back out onto the road. That’s so un-Japanese.
What started out wonderfully turns into a frustrating day in the saddle. I am following a road that should lead to Shizuoka just 16km away. But then a sign tells me I need to turn right so I do and am suddenly lost in suburbia. Obviously this was not where I was meant to turn. So I try to correct when I find road 213. I follow this down towards the coast where road 150 could also take me to Shizuoka and I believe it might be less crowded, being further from the expressway and all. But no, road 150 is worse than the road I was on (road 1). I put on my helmet and start to pedal. After-all, I now only have 14km to go. That’s less than an hour at this pace. Until I reach a 3.2km long tunnel that has a very clear “no bicycles” sign on the outside. Not that I’d dive into that beast with all this traffic roaring in my ears. I’d be deaf or squashed before I got out the other side. There’s a steep road over the mountain through which the tunnel runs but I don’t have the legs or heart to try it. So I check Google Maps and there is another smaller coastal road that will take me around the tunnel. I head out optimistically trying to maintain my composure (I’m almost at my limit). The caved in tunnel that blocks the coast road causes me to lose my sh*t (excuse my French but there’s no other way to describe this moment in time). The rain, broken pannier and snapped tent pole were all find. I could work through them. Finding my path blocked when I am tired, fatigued (they are different) and desperate for a hotel bed but unable to find something available in my price range is too much. I stamp my feet, swear out loud and throw my baseball cap on the ground in disgust.
There’s nothing for it but to retrace my steps back to road 213. At it’s end I find that road 1 has now become a secondary highway where bicycles are not permitted to ride (despite the huge expressway just meters away). Fortunately, there is a work around that doesn’t involve the prospect of caved in tunnels. So I head back into the mountains riding through urban farms.
There is a pass to climb here too so I walk because I’ve had enough. What should have been a 50km downhill cruise has turned into an all day slog. It’s already after 2pm and all I can do is force myself to see the beauty in small things. Like the way the Japanese are so adept at mountainous terrain, using short ladders to climb up everything from waterfalls to the walled surrounds of their tea plantations.
Creeks flow everywhere, creating a soundtrack to this country that is hard to ignore.
And then the pure joy of a switch backed downhill ride. Oh this was so much fun. There were about a dozen tight switch backs to swing my loaded bike around. I think I appreciated it more for the challenge in getting here. And if I’d taken the direct route I would have missed these five minutes of bliss.
I am tired when I reach the main road that will lead me into Shizuoka. So much so that when I find a 7-Eleven with free wifi I expand the price range of my hotel search from my usual limit of about JPY4,000 ($40) to JPY10,000 ($100). And would you know it, right there on the way out of Shizuoka almost at the road I will need to take tomorrow to Fujisan is a hotel with a high review rating. It’s JPY9,150 but looks like a million dollars. It’s drizzling now so I can test out my new Japanese raincoat, which I like both for the bright colour and because it keeps me dry during the 15 minutes that I need to wear it.
As I cross the massive wide river bed leading into Shizuoka proper I feel content again. I have a warm bed to look forward to and feel like I am giving myself a present by booking it.
I smile again as I pass a soccer field where children are practicing their art. One boy in particular is very good. He stands alone keeping the ball alive on his feet and head for ages before dropping it to dribble it around and then kick it up again. Life isn’t so bad after all is it? I mean, I chose this life of travel and all that comes with it. And here I am, watching kids play realising that I’m having the ultimate kid adventure of freedom, camping, new sights and few responsibilities.
I know for sure that my mood has improved because I giggle at these pizza delivery trikes. I’ve seen pizza delivery cars and scooters before but never trikes. They look like mobility scooters but I bet they go much faster.
This part of the city is very much land of the cyclist. The footpaths have dedicated cycle and pedestrian areas that most Japanese seem to abide by. Bikes are just parked anywhere and everywhere. It’s so handy that they all have stands and wheel locks. The style is not cool but it certainly is functional. And I guess it has a certain level of retro cool. I ride most of the way on the footpath but then, with about 6km to go I just want to get to the hotel so I crank it out on the road.
I only stop at traffic lights and to wait to take a photo of the Shinkanzen as it races past. I have seen it many times today on my ride but only during that period earlier in the day when I was unhappy and frustrated. Then it annoyed me with the ease that it sped along to and from the destination I hoped to achieve. Now I can admire it happily and know that I have seen that which is one of Japan’s most famous things: the bullet train. Perhaps I will have a chance to ride it at some point. Or maybe I will stick to the bike and admire the speed and grace of the Shinkanzen from outside it’s doors.
And then, exactly 100km after I left camp on what should have been a 50km day, I arrive at Vista Hotel. This place is a bargain by Australian standards. At $100 a night (for one person) it has a comfortable bed with crisp white linens that always lead to a good night sleep. It has a bath tub, which I promptly fill with warm water to soak my weary muscles. And an amazing view over the city (I believe some rooms also have ocean view but when you take the second last available room you can’t really pick or choose).
Across the road there is also a really awesome car park. These might seem normal to those living in densely populated cities but we don’t have these there. I watch with fascination as people back their cars in and the elevator takes them up to their park. I must seem strange watching but my sense of humour has returned and I am enthralled.
Unfortunately, I stay in the tub too long and by the time I go out looking for food the only place that is open is McDonalds. I probably need the calories anyway. And besides, this way I can do takeaway and head back to the luxury of my room where I plug my laptop into power and press play on a television series I bought off iTunes. I eat, watch a short amount of my movie and fall asleep feeling content.