It’s 4:10am and strange noises enter my dreams. I can hear banging of fiberglass. I have no iea where I am and it is cold outside. I try to stay asleep but the sounds are so strange that I can’t stand the not knowing. This is not a scared wanting to know what the sounds are but sheer curiousity. I hate to be left out of anything fun. A crazy scene awaits me. There are heaps of cars all parked right on the water’s edge (I have noticed all over Asia that people will just drive on beaches and rocks to get as close to their destination as possible). None of these were here when I went to sleep last night. They have all arrived early this morning.
It seems that there must be a fishing competition about to begin. A lady walks around with a clip board and fishermen (for the people in the boats are all men) are having their details entered into the book before they head out on the water. A photographer with a professional-looking set up is moving around taking shots. It must be a very official fishing competition.
The boats themselves are interesting. I have seen them lined up on just about every section of beach around the lakes. They seem to be fiberglass with wooden benches. When the fishermen hire them, a piece of shelving is placed at the back of the boat to act as storage for the fishermen’s gear. And let me tell you, these are no lightweight packers. Each fisherman has at least one if not more rods carefully packed in special fishing rod bags, a big square bag that looks like it contains an esky, a bucket and a backpack. They certainly are set for the day.
Once loaded the fishermen row the boast out to pre-placed lines where they tether themselves. I watch for a while and then decide that 4:10am is too early to be awake so I head back to my tent to sleep some more (well, it’s closer to 5am by now but still).
When I wake I eat some breakfast and pack my gear. A man who I spoke with last night comes over shyly to ask whether it is okay if he takes a photo of me with my tent and bike. Of course it’s not problem. One thing I have learned from traveling, especially when I travel lone by bicycle or motorbike, is that we are all part of each other’s stories. Just as the people I speak with become part of my life experience, so too does this crazy foreigner on a bicycle become part of theirs. The lesson: nationalism and bigotry are false because all people want to feel connected to each other and each interaction creates a new story for both parties. If the interaction is positive, we will draw positive conclusions about the other people with whom we share the earth. And then we will be kind to each other, smile, take photographs and be glad for having shared some moments together. The narrative that occurs out of each interaction is up to each of us to create.
Photo taken I finish packing and head over to my adoptive family to say goodbye. They take some photos, add me as a Facebook friend and then we say our goodbyes. I also say goodbye to the fishermen who are sitting still in their boats waiting for a bass to jump on the line. Some occasionally flick their rods to recast their lines but for the most part their meditative vigil is silent and serene.
I ride through the tunnel that separates Mt Fuji from the bowels of Japan. That’s what it feels like as I descend into a deep hot valley that is nestled between soaring peaks. The snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps tease me in the distance. Though I doubt I have the strength left in my legs to climb the 2,500+m to reach the snowline. I just can’t get the calories into me. I know I need to eat more but I get too fatigued to try. But this is normal for me and I just accept that until I get my food intake right, alpine riding is probably going to be a bit of a challenge.
I enter yet another of Japan’s many agricultural landscapes. This time a dry and dusty area where plumbs, peaches and vegetables are grown in a sandy-looking soil. The season has only just begun with many fields bare after the winter cover crop has been dug in. From what I can tell, this area is used to grow shallots, lettuce, tomatoes and leafy greens.
The sakura (cherry blossoms) are still flowering here too. I see them everywhere along the road, at the edges of fields and in the mountains. Where blossoms have ended the delicate pink petals lay on the ground forming an almost impossibly delicate carpet. There are more sakura here than in any other part of my ride so far. I guess it’s because I’m not at higher altitude despite being in a valley (I will later see a sign that says this valley sits at over 400m above sea level).
I eke out slow progress today. The road I have chosen is relatively busy and I need to do some tricky navigation to get through the mid-sized town of Kofu. Towns are always slow points in my progress because it takes time to stop and navigate between intersections and roads. Just before Kofu I make a slight navigational error that puts me about 5km (3 miles) past the town and I have to find my way back to where I should have been. It’s not a problem now that I have come to accept the reality of urban navigation. Once out of town the road climbs to over 800m above sea level. It’s a steady climb but I enjoy the sight of farms, mountains and distant snow-capped peaks. And then I come to the michi-no-eki at which I have decided to call it a day. It’s like a festival there with all these koi kits flying across the valley between the mountains. There must be hundreds of them in all shapes and sizes. A parking marshal instructs me to park in the bicycle and motorbike area but there is nowhere there to lean my bike (Japanese bikes all have stands but I removed mine from the bike due to the extra weight it added to the bike on flights). So I wait until he is looking the other way and sneak off to a place where I can park my bike out of the way (and out of the drizzle that has started to fall).
The koi kites are pretty. I don’t know the significance and my Japanese is too poor to ask (well, I could probably find the words to ask but understanding the answer is another story altogether).
There is a stage with a cover that no one is using so I take shelter there. My bike fits nicely between the backstage fence and the stage proper. As the sightseers start to leave I settle in for the night. There’s no point pitching my tent in the rain up in the carpark when this area is sheltered and allows for an easy get away in the morning. The cars you can see in the photo above camped at the michi-no-eki for the night too. Japanese people just sleep in their cars, no matter how small the vehicle. I read some university material, watch some television shows I bought off iTunes and fall asleep quite contentedly with my head under my sleeping bag hood to protect me from the cold (it’s about 3’C with a light breeze blowing).