It was whilst atop Mt. Norikura, amongst a dirty grey mist, that I stumbled across a graveyard of abandoned racing bicycles. It appeared that the ‘Racing Carnival’ was no more as up to 100+ of some of the most expensive bicycles on earth lay strewn across the mountain top, not an owner in sight. Their abandonment made me feel somewhat nervous; no sane cyclist painstakingly trudges some 2,750 metres up a mountain to skip out on its adrenaline infused descent. Something was incredibly wrong. Freewheeling slowly amongst a showcase of shiny carbon frames and their wafer thin tyres, I wondered if it was perhaps time for an upgrade; the pelting rain however discouraged my criminal intent.
I breached what felt like the vertebrae of Norikura with caution, visibility poor. Cornering a huge rising piece of rock, facing north, any visions of the perfect descent were instantly and utterly dashed. A violent wind suddenly ripped into me and jolted me uncontrollably. ‘Fuck!’ I exclaimed as I battled to regain control of the steering, whilst continuing to pedal pointlessly at the rate of about 0.01mph. This must have really hacked Mother Nature off, as several seconds later she’d throw everything she had at me.
It was a wind that, to this day, I can still feel tearing through me. There wasn’t even time to exclaim this time as my helmet flew off my head and its support straps began to throttle me. I piled on the breaks and stomped both feet on the ground, as firmly as possible whilst the wind howled viciously. Absolute control was now in the hands of the mountain goddess; I was a pathetic sack of skin against her fearless wrath. Putting my head down into the wind I tried to remain as static as possible, whilst trying to conjure up a rapid counter-measure. The horizontal rain smashed into me, as I struggled to stand firm; every second felt like a personal vendetta.
The best option was to get off the road, for one side was a sheer drop and the other a rock face. As I threw one leg over the top tube of the frame to get off my bike, the wind took my grip away from me and my bike crashed to the ground. I tried to raise it but under its weight and the pressure of the wind my efforts were futile, so I was forced to drag my steed to the side of the road, like a wounded soldier. There I would crouch and wait it out, my only option. Again I was completely soaked through, how long I could stick it out was unclear. By the side of the road, I was blown around like a ragdoll; the wind so fierce that the front of my bicycle began to levitate up and off of the ground, as if possessed by some demonic force. Thankfully, the heavy load to the rear of the bike prevented it from actually taking off and being cast into oblivion. This was one of the few times that I was thankful for the burden of a heavy rig.
In the face of danger, I was surprised at how calm I was able to remain; in my earlier years I might have gone mad and jumped off the cliff edge, like a half barmy lemming. Yet now, as I crouched marooned on a mountain top, I somehow felt that I was being taught a valuable lesson by Mother Nature; her cruel ways testing my reactions to new challenges. In the flatlands of Cambridgeshire these challenges were just completely unimaginable. She was giving me an adventure. Yet I won’t lie when I say that I could have thought of a whole array of better places to be in at the time. Apart from the adrenaline, the only other thing keeping me warm atop the mountain was the thought of being back home; looking after cheery cows and calves upon the calm of the Washes. Just one year previously, life just seemed so very normal. And whilst thinking of home so many, many miles away, an amber glow began to emerge through the thick grey murk.
The hazard lights drew closer, until they stopped in front of me. From my crouched position, I looked up to a small white mini-bus. An aged band of heroes peered back at me; a side door suddenly slid open as an elderly gentleman ushered me in. I didn’t have to think twice, I grabbed my front pannier of mostly valuables and my all-important speedometer and dived in, the door swiftly closing behind me.
The venomous wind rocked the minivan from side to side as everyone inside groaned with uncertainty and awe. The driver in his late 70’s, one of the three elderly stewards who were helping at the day’s racing event, escorted us down the mountain slowly as we passed a number of other deserted bicycles. The wind was tossing them about, as if they were mere particles of sand. I feared for my own bike, what may become of it and all of my other possessions, whilst at the same time feeling robbed of one of the grandest descents in all of Japan. Yet if there had been no ‘Racing Carnival’ on this very day, I dread to think what may have become of me. I was grateful.
We were dropped off a third of the way down the mountain in safer climes, where 100’s of other cyclists were waiting anxiously on the return of their bikes. All cast their eyes up into the mountain’s fearsome summit, it’s surrounding black clouds gruesome. An American from Utah scoped me out and we related our stories to one another like excited school children; both cold as our teeth chattered manically. The Utah chap had just about made it to the summit before the weather took a sudden turn. He told me that he would’ve still descended – despite the hairy conditions. But then one look at my face and demeanour had him change his mind quite rapidly.
Two hours later, all the cyclist’s bikes were returned to them. However, the chills would continue to eat away at me and by then I was shaking uncontrollably. The evacuation buses had been sent back up into the mountains to fetch all the contestants’ prized possessions – plus one. It was an uncertain and anxious wait and it was the furthest apart that I’d actually been from my bike since purchasing it. So to see it getting unloaded from the bus was a joyous moment, even more so when all of my bags and panniers were returned unscathed – including my camera and laptop.
Before leaving, I tried to find the elderly band of heroes who had plucked me off the summit, to say thank you. I failed however as they were off someplace fearlessly committing themselves to another good deed. If I should ever make it to my 70’s, I could only aspire to be as helpful as the stewards had been at today’s event; but sadly I fear a retirement of mostly farting my pants to pieces and shaming my family is a more than likely scenario.
I pressed on some 40 klicks west to Takayama; my head constantly relaying the day’s madness over and over. Luck or destiny? I couldn’t decide, or I just didn’t want to. Checking into a hostel in Takayama, I took a long hot shower before throwing on the last of my dry clothes. I then headed out to the nearest convenience store to grab myself some much needed beers.
Whilst in Circle K purchasing my booze, it started to rain heavily, so just outside the convenience store, I waited it out under some dry eaves as I knocked back one of my beers. In the car park, I witnessed a moth flapping about and struggling in a shallow puddle, as the rain crashed down around it. I’ve never been too certain about karma, but in some small part I felt that I had to offer thanks for my safety. Walking out into the pouring rain, I scooped the little guy up out of his soggy coffin and brought him back under the shelter with me. He gripped tightly to my thumb, shaking frenziedly. I delicately removed a couple of droplets from his wings as I let him continue to sit upon my thumb. Once I’d finished my beer, his shakes had subsided somewhat, so finding a small, dark, sheltered cove to the side of Circle K, I set him down – upon a piece of brickwork and hoped he’d survive the night.
Dates: 12/07/2014 – 13/07/2014
Total miles traversed: 3,346 miles
Total time in the saddle: 348 hours and 22 minutes
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Tokyo to Tokyo
by Daniel Doughty
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