Gaijin on a Push Bike – Day 43

Gaijin on a Push Bike – Day 43

Wednesday 31st August 2005 – Lake Kasumigaura to Mito (霞ヶ浦水戸)

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.

Outside the reality was more prosaic, and once dressed I set about tidying the barbecue area, which had been left in something of a mess by whoever was here before me. The Japanese are encouraged to take their rubbish home from hiking trails, picnic spots and the like, but this place was littered with cigarette ends, empty beer cans and half-burnt bits of food, which I collected in a plastic bag and disposed of at a nearby conbini. One can of coffee stood out in the hot cupboard by the cash register, being the same price as the rest but fifty per cent bigger, and as soon as I popped the ring-pull I realised why, as its ingredients included milk, sugar and water but seemingly no coffee at all. I forced it down in the car park while examining a spectacular example of the kind of souped-up truck my supposed stalker might have driven. Every available piece of bodywork and both sides of its trailer were covered with airbrushed fantasy art, the cab was adorned with a flowering cluster of air horns, wing mirrors and chrome-plated add-ons, and each alloy wheel had a kind of metal blade protruding from its hub, like the tyre slashers on James Bond’s Aston Martin. Known as dekotora – a combination of the English words ‘decoration’ and ‘truck’ – these can be even more impressive after dark, as many are fitted with multi-coloured neon lights and their exhausts rigged to sound like an approaching squadron of army helicopters, although I wasn’t quite courageous enough to ask the driver for a demonstration.

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.

I stopped to photograph the sign for Mito city limits, and for one last lunch at a family restaurant, my excuse being that the fridge would be empty when I arrived home. Across the Route 50 Bypass, under the sign that pointed a hundred and ten kilometres back towards Tokyo, and left before the Naka River into the narrow streets of Joto, the apartment was exactly as I had left it. No earthquake had struck, no pipe had burst, and no burglar had broken in to steal my computer. Barely ten minutes after arriving, with dirty clothes and camping equipment strewn across every available surface, there was a knock at the door. It was a postwoman, with the parcel I had sent to myself from Yufuin, way back on the twenty-fifth of July.

Oh, the joys of Japanese efficiency!

6 thoughts on “Gaijin on a Push Bike – Day 43

  1. I really liked your page, places like this that became my dream, I wanted to find peace here

  2. With Japanese canned coffee, it’s not the sugar that puts me off, it’s the skim milk taste.

    1. I’m a soya milk man myself so I know where you’re coming from. I didn’t mention it in the post, but the coffee in question is called Max Coffee. Because it’s made in Ibaraki there’s even more of it round here than elsewhere in the country, and by the sound of it, if you drank the stuff you’d probably vomit immediately!

      1. The black non-sweetened stuff I think is the best, although in the middle of winter on top of a mountain and there happens to be a vending machine there, I guess anything is okay if only to warm up your hands.

      2. Here in Ibaraki, at least, Max Coffee is still alive and well, and I like it even less now, as since I went on the Gaijin on a Push Bike tour, I’ve started to drink my coffee black with no sugar.
        (Thanks for dropping by, by the way, and glad to see Video Ichiban is still going strong.)

      3. That Max Coffee in the small cans yeah was really everywhere years ago. Have you seen any since 2016?

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