I should have started this blog twelve years ago, if such technology had existed in those days. For that was the first time I extricated the rusting mountain bike off my Tokyo balcony, panicked in the aftermath of my 30th birthday into doing something about my diminishing mortality. I went for a ride.
That first ride lasted three weeks (my initial plan was a couple of days) and took me across the entire island of Shikoku, over coastland, mountains and farmland, visiting each one of the 88 temples of it’s famous 1200 year old Buddist pilgrimage. With a rucksack on my back, supplemented by plastic supermarket bags tied loosely to a rear rack, I was woefully ill prepared, and inexpertly struggled up the steep mountain roads for which the pilgrimage was famous for, alternating a hundred metres of walking with every hundred metres of cycling. It was the middle of a Japanese summer, extremely hot and humid, and I had never felt such exhaustion in my life.
But I had also never felt so free. Cut loose from the fixed regime of trains and buses, I was in control, and felt an intimacy with the surroundings I’d never known before. Every day was more unpredictable: the weather, the landscape, the people I’d meet… I realised that to hit the highs, you had to experience the lows, and satisfaction came from not just overcoming the physical hurdles. I completed a thousand miles in twenty days, just one day short of my full three week vacation. Oh, there was no going back to the old ways of traveling now.
I bought a tent, a stove, pots & pans and some panniers. Over the following years I travelled the length and breadth of Japan, in chunks of anything between a few days to a couple of weeks. I loved travel and the bike was the perfect agent for it.In 2004 I spent two weeks in New Zealand, trialling a new touring bike I’d bought. That was in preparation for the following year, when I quit my job and returned to the UK – and then made my way slowly back overland to Japan by bike. I cycled 10,000 miles through 18 countries that year, through mountains and deserts, snow and searing heat, democracies as well as tinpot dictatorships.
Recently, it hasn’t all been about the travel – I ride for the pure joy of riding. The weekends and the holidays never come soon or often enough, but when they do I point my front wheel towards the mountains, towards the myriad of peaks west of Tokyo. And all the frustrations of everyday life, the stresses of the job, all those freaking politics of the office; it all oozes from the fibres of my muscles and the very air in my lungs, and it flows through my legs and into every turn of the cranks, dripping onto the cold morning tarmac, left like a smear of oil on the road. Nagging worries dissipate with the first beads of sweat wicked away from my body, evaporating into the air, and well before the road starts it’s upward incline I already know: I am free.
This blog is another way of reliving it all. But there is a lot to catch up – twelve years worth – and this I aim to do, in time. Digitize my fading photographs and type up my badly handwritten notes. Revitalize the old cycling memories; and work on creating new ones.
But if the updates don’t come as quickly as you’d expect, and the posts are perhaps brief and infrequent, please forgive me: I’ll be out riding. And I may be some time.