A long, straight, flat road, newly tarmacked to a smooth, shiny finish, with bright white stripes down the middle; a chain so well oiled that it makes no sound and slides smoothly from sprocket to sprocket; a lightweight bike with a comfy seat and handlebars like the soft arms of a sofa; a gentle tail wind to propel me forwards and a few fluffy clouds in a bright blue sky; no humidity, no rain, and just enough sunshine to keep me warm without straining my eyes or burning my skin. I awoke from dreams of a fantasy ride in fantasy conditions, with no hardship, no pain and not a motor vehicle in sight.
Cycling back around the lake towards Nagayama, I began to sing to myself, on this occasion The Hollies’ He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. But I couldn't manage more than a couple of lines without crying, such was my sadness at the thought that everything I did today would be for the last time: the last time I packed up the Snow Peak; the last time I checked to make sure that I had not left anything behind at the campsite; the last time I rode off my early morning aches and pains; the last time I tied my tenugui to the panniers to dry; the last time I cycled from A to B, rather than A to B and back again; the last time a new day would bring places I had never seen before, and people I had never met.
Over the course of the summer I had put together a kind of internal compilation tape, which many an unsuspecting bystander heard me sing as I cycled past, and most of whose tracks came to me because of lyrical associations. He Ain’t Heavy…, for example, begins with the lines, ‘The road is long / With many a winding turn / That leads us to who knows where / Who knows when’, and the rest of the track listing was as follows:
1) The Long and Winding Road (The Beatles) – For even more obvious reasons than The Hollies.
2) Stoned Me (Van Morrison) – This one was given an airing whenever the skies began to look threatening, as in, ‘Half a mile from the county fair / And the rain came pouring down…Oh, the water / Hope it don’t rain on me’, or whenever I passed a ‘mountain stream’.
3) Bird of Prey (Fatboy Slim) – Ditto, whenever I saw a bird of any kind ‘flying high’ above me.
4) Mother Nature’s Son (The Beatles) – Anywhere green or rural.
5) Baba O’Riley (The Who) – Conversely, anywhere drab or grey that might conjure up the words ‘teenage wasteland’.
6) My Way (Frank Sinatra) – ‘I’ve travelled each and every highway…Each careful step along the byway’.
7) Big Spender (Shirley Bassey) – Bizarrely, this song came to mind every time I changed gears on the front cog, whose mechanism made four clicks in an identical rhythm to the first four words of the line ‘Let-me-get-right to the point’.
8) If You’re Not the One (Daniel Bedingfield) – This surfaced as my thoughts turned to seeing Mrs M again, but for the life of me I couldn't recall the transition from verse to bridge, and became increasingly annoyed at having to jump straight to the chorus every time I sang it.
In my memory the next few hours are a blur, and I remember little except that the sun came out and the roads were quiet. By early afternoon I had rejoined Route 6, and recalled practicing my Japanese as I cycled along the opposite pavement six weeks before.
Oh, the joys of Japanese efficiency!