Freedom is two wheels/Together most efficient/Bicycle and I
I begin day one of our bicycle tour with a 6am soak at the hotel “spa”. I wear the robe and slippers supplied by our hotel and take the elevator to the top floor. I remove my slippers and place them in the shoe cubby. My robe I remove and place in a small basket. The one other woman present does the same. We each enter the room with wash stations and indoor bath. I sit on the small stool and use the handheld shower head to rinse my body and hair. I use the shampoo and soap provided and scrub myself with the washcloth. It feels luxurious but I realize now that this is simply a function of being present to the ritual of washing-and yet today I am less present than I will be in future visits to the onsen. Today I am self conscious and hope that I am doing it right. The distinction is made clear the next time I bathe at an onsen following three days of physical exertion. Then, I am present physically, mentally and spiritually with every fiber of my being. Grateful. As a massage therapist in the US I notice that many people are disconnected from their bodies and the moment, myself included, more often than not. The difference in eastern and western philosophy is told in an onsen. I could go on but I digress.
I exit to the rooftop bath. I massage my muscles and look to the blue sky. The other woman enters and I think of my tattoos. I will address this more later but the feelings around body art that the Japanese have has an interesting and important impact on my psyche.
I am back to our room by 6:30am. We pack, clean and organize the things that will be forwarded to the Rapha employee in Osaka by Yamata, or Black Cat. The front desk takes care of this for us. It costs us about $42 total for both boxes, duffel bags inside. We retrieve our bikes from the hotel room and check out. We entered as suitcased tourists and leave mobile travelers.
Our last stop in Sapporo is at the grocery for bodily fuel and the gas station for camp stove fuel. We are leaving a bit late, noon. We navigate streets and back alleys to a bike path that will take us out of Sapporo. Freedom, joy, forward momentum.
Once out of the city, the path takes us by backyards and through neighborhood parks. We enjoy this thoroughfare for 20 miles until we reach an intersection and it is time to take a two-lane road. There are hills that become mountains. Initially we are passing through a business district where I happen to drop a water bottle in front of a convenience store. We stop so that I might retrieve it and meet fellow cyclists who are making one last stop before heading to a camp site for an overnight escape from the city. We exchange name cards and photos.
The five of us continue on and conquer a long and steep climb together. At the top we stop to laugh and breathe. They seem a bit skeptical of the distance we intend to travel today. They are not wrong to be but not entirely right either. We intended to ride 55 miles today but did not really know how to factor for the slower speed that 1,700 feet of climbing requires. We fall short by some standards but by others we are winners.
We say our good byes. Jason and I must keep moving. We conquer climbs I never imagined I would attempt and with relative ease, despite some huffing and puffing. It reminds me of the roads and terrain I traversed through the Green Mountains of Vermont when driving to Syracuse, NY from New Hampshire for college. Jason impresses me and I impress myself.
(The highest elevation of the day at 1,900 ft)
Each climb is rewarded with an exhilarating descent. Jason clocks us at 30 mph even with application of brakes. When we stop hours later at a viewpoint our rims are hot. I am thankful that we gave my bike new brake pads for the trip. Lake Shikotsu lays out below us. Soon we are riding along its peaceful waters.
We continue along the lake into a small town. Jason is out of water. I see a woman outside of a building cleaning acorns from a drain beneath a faucet. I pull over and greet her and motion “drink”. She shakes her head no but stands and asks “Water?”. “Hi! Arigato!” (“yes, thank you”). I call to Jason and she stops her work to lead us inside. She puts out two pairs of slippers. We remove our shoes and she leads us to the faucet. We tell her we’ve come from Sapporo and that her lake is beautiful. She is proud, “Number one lake beautiful Japan”. We give her our name card. I don’t have to tell you what happens next. Her name is Mikako. We say our good byes. Onward.
We are losing steam and daylight. We are 15 miles short of our campsite and realize we’ve also forgotten a lighter. We’ve been subsisting on “soyjoy” energy bars since the grocery store onigiri at lunch. We reassess the Mapple, a necessary tool for motorcycle and bicycle tourers alike. Within eyeshot is the trailhead for an alternate camp site. It is downhill and covered in fallen leaves which flurry behind us as we whiz along. Jason is smiling again. The beach appears and is spotted with tents and fires. Tonight we will have a warm meal after all. We are exactly where we are meant to be.
(After building camp)