Kofu to Suwa

April 12, 2007
Mood: goGoGO!!!

Suwa is a lake town high in the mountains. It is reputed to be the second coldest place in Japan, but is at least partially known for it's temperate lake-side summers. It is also famous for it's temple, and a lake-side geyser.

The next day she took me to see some of the colorful peach trees near her house, and I headed off towards my next hosts house high in the mountains of Nagano prefecture. I had plenty of energy this day and now that I was allowing myself nourishment I maintained my energy all the way to Suwa! Well, almost. Remember, this was only my 3rd day with no training, and not having even looked at a bike in almost 4 months. So I did accept a quick ride from a guy who offered anyway, just to get through the ugly stretch of suburbs and road with no shoulder. But first, I passed through Kofu city and all it's fringe highways. I passed an interesting old complex but couldn't figure out what it was. I also passed a great example of the determined, un environmental, self-defeating attitude the Japanese hold so dear. They are terrified. They are terrified of earthquakes, fires, tsunami's, storms, the cold, the heat, influenza, foreigners, each other, driving, sitting in a room with closed windows, cities, wilderness, sharp edges, day-old-milk, public toilets, Japanese expectations, influence from outside Japan, the sound of pee, American beef, and everything in between (funny enough, they aren't afraid of cigarette cancer, AIDS, germs, STD's, any DSM IV psychological disorders, American junk food, kerosene heaters, pollution, or any myriad things they SHOULD be afraid of, but usually think they are immune to as a Japanese race). ANYway, so I see this ridiculous cliff next to the road I'm on. It's obvious it was cut out of the hillside to make way for the road, and they have cemented it over as all steep road-side hills/cliffs are in Japan. But just past the cement was what it looked like pre-"progress". It was an open gash in the hill. The dirt barely clung together and the whole thing stood precariously only 10 meters behind a house and shop. Just past the house the hill sloped down and I could see the whole story behind this hill's demise. The hill was covered in trees. Not just any old tree, but a bamboo forest. Bamboo roots are so strong they can hold the earth together when an earthquake tries to create a fissure in the ground. So surely they could hold this hillside together. But instead a little legion of Japanese "construction" crew were cutting down the entire forest - no doubt to cement it over. Concrete is like Japan's 'happy pill' or something. They must think they can make anything better with cement (they ARE really good at making faux log cabins, and log fences out of cement, though. it looks SO real, and must last 10 times as long). Maybe the Japanese emperor is actually the descendant of the cement god.

So beyond that ugly, but noteworthy site, the road out of Kofu was gross. There was no shoulder, and when I happened upon a bike path, it was just strewn with glass, and turned into dirt almost immediately. I've come to learn that all sidewalks, bike paths, bridge sidewalks, and tunnel sidewalks are almost entirely covered in glass, and car parts. Nice. So I obviously try to bike in the road as much as possible, but the Japanese infrastructure planners assumed bicyclists would use the sidewalks, so there is usually NO shoulder. Most cars and trucks give a wide berth, but the occasional bicyclist hater happens, and it's REALLY scary to be passed at 120 kph by anything that only gives 1/2 meter space - let alone a 22-wheeler truck. I don't think they realize they are creating massive suction at that speed, and the suction sucks me right into them! God! Assholes!!! I want to chase them down break their fancy circus lights.

So after I reached the dirt bike path I decided to get back on the road, but there happened to be a nice factory worker parked in the breakdown lane who wanted to chat me up. He offered a ride 10 km down the road, which got me through most of the truck traffic, and onto the wide streets at the foot to the Minami Alps. These are truly some fierce competition for the Swiss alps - both for size and beauty. The water runoff is where Suntory finds its water source for all their assorted spirits (yes, Lost in Translation was referencing a real whiskey brand here in Japan). I drank from a Suntory spring, and I haven't got sick yet! Better yet, it was good. Outside the Suntory estate I took a rest and watched all the factory workers going home. It was getting dark, and I was getting a second wind that I've learned is a peculiar norm for me. Everyday, no matter how tired I am during the day, and no matter how long I've been riding, I get my biggest wind when it gets dark. That's when I really haul ass. So as the sun went down I headed up the mountains. They were brutally long, but I never dropped below 10 kph and never felt tired or winded. Maybe its that at the end of the day I have learned the precise caloric intake, energy burn ratio or something. But then, I must forget it by the next morning so maybe that's a crap theory.

Anyway it was dark, and I'm all lit up like Beijing on Chinese New Year after the sun goes down, so there's no fear of not being seen. I find that at night every single truck makes a huge show of sharing the road with me. I'm sure cyclists just get on their nerves during the day, but they' ve probably never seen such a statement of blinking lights at night, so they don't know what to do, but sure don't want to fuck with me. Or that's what I'd like to think. The downside to getting a huge wind at night is that my headlamp is not built for high speed. I can see perfectly well 2 meters in front of me, but when you're screaming down mountains, often drafting Mac trucks, 2 meters warning just ain 't gonna do it. There are cracks and small potholes on the roads, but I jump over those with 2 meters notice. What I'm worried about is some massive road kill or a tire, or something like that. Hope it never happens, or that I don't continue getting in after dark every night...

After a long way up the mountains for a about an hour and a half, I reached the mountain pass, and from there on in I was flying. I tried to draft when I could, but it was as much of a rush just point myself downhill and go. I couldn't see shit, but it was at once peaceful, and a rush of adrenaline to know any damn thing could be coming, and I couldn't do anything about it. Lucky nothing came, except a few potholes I jumped over. I passed all the trucks and cars and beat them to the bottom, and my wind kept me going right through that city and on to the next city, where I was staying that night. I arrived so much faster than I expected that I thought it was 9pm. I emailed my host, Chris (-topher), because he finished work at 9, but he pointed out it was only 8pm. I had an hour to chill and relax before meeting up. I went to lock my bike up and realize - FUCK - I lost my LOCKS! How do you lose you locks??? Actually, once I was in Mongolia on the trans-Siberian express, when I caught a guy stealing my lock! I thought, "how ironic that he chose to steal my lock of all things". Well, the irony didn't escape me this time either. I called my last host, Lynn, but they were nowhere to be found. Shit. Luckily I still had my backup lock (the same one from Mongolia, actually), and there was no need for much security for the next few days of touring the mountains.

I'm glad I got the chance to relax and stop sweating because at 9 o'clock I looked out the window to see a smokin' hot chick waving at me with a big smile. I couldn't help but assume this was my host, but I was pretty confused for a bit. I was almost sure my host was a man, but enough of me was hoping this was Chris (-tina), that I was still lingering on the possibility even after she introduced herself as Mika. Chris was running late, and Mika was his friend who had cooked us some home-made Japanese curry. She seemed like she was chatting 1000 words a minute, but maybe that was just because I was used to the more subdued Japanese who value silence over communication. Mika was from San Francisco, but was half Japanese. I don't need to tell you my picture doesn't do her justice.

We went to her house and I tried to answer her questions about all sorts of shit from my old website, and previous travels. Chris showed up and was a very affable guy with a very literate background. He is a writer who is teaching English to pay the bills. Mika is a bilingual overqualified English teacher in Japan who wanted to come back to the Japan of her yester years but didn't want to be the indentured servant most Japanese office workers become.

Mika, and my host, Chris

I took a shower so as not to offend her cooking and we all sat down for an excellent meal and conversation. The two of them are very funny together, and it was nice being amongst people who share the desire to always keep the conversation going. I must have gone off on 20 or 30 tangents that night, but there just didn't seem to be enough time to get it all in. The Japanese have always frowned at my tangent-talk. They would prefer I spend a long time circling my way around one topic until I finally get to the punch line long after they knew what I was going to say. Japanese style. Chris had surprisingly strong feelings about semicolons, and prepositions. He blamed it on his English degree, but I think we all know the egg came first here... i mean ;;;

We finished up a great night of talk and Chris and I walked back to his place.


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