After a rainy night I wake to find that there are again plenty of fellow travelers at the michi-no-eki. I am pitched quietly away from the main crowd on a patch of fresh grass under a tree. I’ve run out of cocoa and tea bags so am grateful that the vending machine has hot milk tea available. It kick starts my day as I pack my gear and head over to the nearby 7-Eleven for breakfast. Today is just going to be a ride-through to Mito where I have booked a cheap room at a business hotel for two nights. My body and mind need a rest. I have some physical niggles in my lower back and left achilles but nothing that a rest day won’t help ease.
The sun is creating pretty reflections off the rice paddies as I set off from the 7-Eleven for the 95km ride to Mito.
I spend the day riding from town to town along the shared pathways that run alongside the main road. Most of it is good quality or at least passable. In some places I join the traffic but when I don’t have to, I just cruise along slowly on the pathway. I am traveling slowly (average moving speed of about 14-16kph) and Japanese drivers will just sit behind a cyclist until it is absolutely safe to overtake. So there’s no point holding up traffic. Every 10km or so I stop to use wifi at the now frequent 7-Elevens. I am definitely close to Tokyo now and the riding feels a lot like riding around Brisbane’s scattered outer suburbs. The ones that sit right at the place where rural farmland meets industrial factories and suburbs where car yards are more common than shopping malls.
I stop a few times to watch the Japanese rice farmers planting their crops. Some use cute little tractors like the kind I saw in South Korea but these wider slightly less technologically advanced models are more common. It’s a far cry from the poor old rice farmers in Indonesia who plant every seedling by hand.
The ride itself is totally uneventful. I enjoy the ease of riding on flat country after a few weeks riding through mountainous country. I don’t even mind riding in urban sprawl because it gives me a chance to stop regularly to continue conversations with Paul and my family at home through Facebook Messenger and What’s App. It’s a luxury that I am enjoying while I can. The urban riding also lets me indulge for the second time of this trip in my favourite cycle touring food: McDonalds. Yes, that’s right, when I am tired, hungry and feeling a bit empty energy-wise there’s nothing like the familiarity of a high calorie hamburger and chips from McDonalds. It’s pretty much the same worldwide (except in Malaysia where they use palm oil, which has a distinctively disgusting taste to my pallet).
I don’t expect much when I arrive in Mito. I have seen that there is a lake near my hotel so it will make a good navigation point. I turn towards it and discover that today is an important cultural day in Japan. I think it’s Children’s Day so there is a little fair and many families taking rides in the pedal swans on the lake.
I feel incredibly happy as I sit there on the shores eating some snacks that I’m carrying watching the families spending time together. Children feed pellets to the swans and fish. Fathers pedal little swan boats. Mothers hold babies (is there a baby boom in Japan right now because I have seen so many babies). It’s funny how simple things can bring up such strong emotional responses when you are tired but content.
I make my way to the small fair where I buy some food and a rainbow icy. Children look jealously at my icy while parents roll their eyes at this foreigner doing something so childish. But I don’t care. I want a rainbow icy and don’t feel constrained by my age (mid-30s).
An hour later I am slowly rolling my way around the lake towards my hotel. I find it easily because there is a Denny’s downstairs and the Denny’s sign stands out from ages away. I check in, take a long shower, put my clothes in the coin washer, walk down the road for microwave food from the convenience store, and flop into bed with my laptop and mobile phone. I have no intention of moving again tonight. That’s what hotel rooms are for: total relaxation.