Because a strong wind had whipped up overnight, packing the bike turned into a silent film-style comedy routine, in that every time I leaned over to pick something up it blew away and had me chasing around the campsite after it. The wind was so strong, in fact, that on the descent from a mountain pass above Kuromatsunai I reached my top speed of the summer, a quite literally eye-watering 63kph. For some reason, Mrs M wasn’t particularly impressed with this statistic when I told her about it on the phone, and instead started going on about the importance of road safety.
As the skies darkened in late afternoon I called in at a local shop on the coast road, where the doormat triggered a ping-pong chime and an old lady wearing the ubiquitous pinny appeared from the back room.
‘We don’t have a very big shop, I’m afraid,’ she said, and when I settled on buying an ice cream, totted up my change on a soroban (算盤 / abacus). ‘In the old days everyone used these, although in my case it’s because my fingers aren’t nimble enough to use a calculator any more.’
She proceeded to tell me a similar story to the one I had been hearing all summer: of how the population of Hokkaido is ageing because as soon as they graduate from high school, young people go to Sapporo or the mainland (two of her grandchildren were watching TV in the back room, and presumably she was resigned to the prospect of them moving away at some point), and what business there was has diminished even further because of the recession, the price of petrol and so on.
As I stepped outside it had begun to rain, and a little further up the road I stopped to take this commemorative photograph.
As I’m sure you can imagine, there’s plenty of time to think when you’re cycling all day, every day for weeks at a time, and in my more idle moments I had formulated a theory – you might even say a philosophy – regarding this glove counting pastime, which for want of a better phrase I shall christen The Way Of The Glove:
1) The Glove is more likely to be found in built up and / or industrialised areas, not in the countryside, and on main rather than secondary roads.
2) In 99% of cases The Glove will not be in the middle of the road or on the pavement, but in the gutter.
3) Do not pre-empt The Glove by trying to anticipate its appearance, for this will surely result in disappointment.
4) Conversely, you must not lose concentration in your quest for The Glove. The Glove will materialise when you least expect it, so you must, on a subconscious level, be aware of your surroundings and prepared for its appearance at all times.
5) Searching for The Glove on the opposite side of the road is not advisable, as this could result in The Seeker Of The Glove becoming distracted from their task and passing up a possible Glove-spotting opportunity directly in front of them.
6) You must not return to look for The Glove you thought was there but did not see clearly. This is a form of cheating and goes against The Way Of The Glove, which dictates that all Gloves must be observed from a moving bicycle while on one’s way to a specific destination further along the road.
7) In this sense, The Quest For The Glove can only be embarked upon as an incidental, secondary activity, and never as the primary goal of one’s journey.
8) Last but not least, if you sense that you are about to pass The Glove, you will pass The Glove! This is the essential mystery at the heart of The Way Of The Glove.
Like I say, there’s plenty of time – in fact, possibly too much time – to think when you’re on a cycle tour. (Oh, and for what it’s worth, among the many other roadside detritus I saw over the summer, used nappies came a very close second to gloves. As such, please look forward to a future blog post entitled The Way Of The Nappy.)