Loss met with kindness/Efforts with miles covered/Arrive at stealth camp
This morning we wake early and rested, ready to tackle what is supposed to be one of the hardest climbing days if we were on schedule. I need a snack before we cook our breakfast of “apple pie”-dear friends gave us the wedding gift of homemade gourmet dehydrated camp meals, one of which was our dinner last night (herbed cheesy chicken pasta with sun dried tomatoes and green beans, yes it was as good as it sounds)-and Jason reminds me that there is tropical trail mix. I reach outside of the tent for the bag of meals. It is missing. I remember waking in the night to the sound of our tarp being walked on. The kindness of the Japanese people thus far and the euphoria of last night’s sunset made us forget, or rather dismiss, our camping 101 knowledge—always hang your food to prevent critters from scavenging it. The night before we had inventoried the contents of this bag like children opening a Christmas stocking, the glee building with each item. Every night after I crave the beans, rice, and salsa; the pudding. Japanese critters are no different than those in America. They do not concern themselves with human notions of respect and morality; only survival. What a score. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t well up from our loss. We comb the beach in desperation. No luck. Another day, another “Soyjoy”.
As we break down camp a ranger, who I mistake for a fisherman since he is fishing along the beach as he makes his rounds and is not uniformed, comes by to collect $16 for our one-night stay which included sinks and bathrooms. We use gestures to tell him of the thief and ask who it could have been. He responds, “Rascals.” Indeed. He draws in the sand with a stick and we exclaim as he stripes the tail “Raccoon!”. We share a laugh (though still dying inside). He moves on and Jason is off to birdwatch. When he returns he is carrying a discarded remnant of the raccoon’s booty-plastic wrapping labeled “apple pie”. The ranger located it straight back in the woods from our beach site. Also in hand, a bag with two cans of coffee, chocolate bar, and two packages of ramen all gifted to us by the ranger. Warm breakfast after all. We give him our favorite coffee from Chicago that Jason wrapped in cheesecloth beautifully for us to give as gifts, “kohi” (coffee).
(Climbing the scenic byway)
We head out on a scenic byway which begins with a climb. Once at the top we embark on a long glorious descent twisting and turning beneath blue sky and green as far as the eye can see. I wish I could put into words the feeling of cruising downhill, smooth pavement and gentle turns beneath tires, the wind of clean air grazing cheeks, natural beauty all around you, adventure behind and ahead. All of this with someone you love who shares the same sense of adventure as do you.
The descent levels out and we enter a town. We stop at a convenience store to get a lighter for future meals. We locate a grocery store and purchase camp food-ramen, dried squid, more Soyjoys, almonds, raisins, apples, tea, coffee-and lunch. I learn that the word for chopsticks is “hashi”. We ride to a park nearby and eat- grocery store squid balls, onigiri, Chinese noodles, fried meats on sticks.
Now we’re heading to the coast so things are mostly downhill. Mostly because Japan is never entirely downhill or flat, as far as I can tell. We have reached the intended starting point of today’s ride but I wouldn’t trade anything for yesterday’s setback and resulting sunset campsite. We have 20 miles on a major road with headwind. This is where I come in. I pull our paceline of two along the industrialized coast. There are sections with bike path but most of it we ride on narrow shoulder with cars and trucks passing close by. We devour the miles. It may not be classically scenic, despite glimpses of the sea, but it is Japan. All of the signage is in kanji and so the names of businesses and buildings look like artwork to me. Despite the proximity of traffic and density of development, the lack of, for us, readable words truly gives the brain a rest and allows it to disconnect; no processing subconsciously hundreds of advertisements, written messaging. There is restfulness in this that is noticeable throughout the trip.
(This one is to scare mom).
We cover the miles more slowly as the wind picks up. Finally we turn off and pull over to a Seven-Eleven. The bathrooms in places you’d least expect are particularly clean. Most are equipped with seated toilets that have buttons to operate the bidet, heated seat, peaceful sounds of waterfalls and birds to encourage privacy and your call to nature.
(Peak elevation for the day 1,500 ft).
We reassess our goal for the day having started behind and with major climb ahead. It is already 2:30pm. The climb begins. We pass roadside shrines and hot spring resorts until there is nothing but road and trees and incline. We make our climbs solo and at our individual paces. We meet at peaks and share the thrill of descents together. We climb 1,200 ft in 8 miles. We pull off at a hot spring village and descreetly pass through and over a footbridge to an abandoned and overgrown road to set up camp. Stealth camping in Japan, night one.
Jason goes to the river that brought us here to purify water but the maintenance man washing a bus let’s him use the hose. We eat ramen and finish with hot tea and chocolate-covered almonds. We pack up the kitchen and food to hang from a tree. We’ve learned our lesson too late but still we must follow through. Sleep.