After more than a year off the bike in South Korea, for the second time in three years I slipped the shackles of a comfortable life and made myself intentionally homeless. My flights were booked from Japan to Alaska, giving me just under four weeks to see as much of Japan as possible. I would follow the classic ‘Length of Japan’ route between Fukuoka (on Kyushu, in the south) and Narita (east of Tokyo, in the middle).
In Japan I straddled a cusp between two worlds. Almost behind me now was the Oriental world, where I had wandered for the last three years. Before me, across the empty hemisphere of the Pacific, were the Americas, where my journey would continue. Leaving South Korea into Japan felt like crossing a threshold. I was cycling out of the past, still heavily freighted with memories and attachments, and into an uncertain future, free from obligations.
For the first few days I ran a daily gauntlet of distraction. I was slowly processing the events of the last year, trying to understand the lessons from my time in South Korea [see previous article]. More pressingly, I was also trying to get a handle on what I needed to know before I found myself on the shores of the Arctic Ocean in a few weeks time. But I couldn’t have picked a better place to be preoccupied. The lush, hilly countryside, the tranquillity and the convenience of Japan all helped me zone-out of my over-busy mind, and fostered a sense of calm presence.
Before I could start getting Zen, I had to take the overnight ferry from Busan, Korea. Familiarity diminished the novelty of the experience and imbued it with bitter-sweet nostalgia. I’d previously made this boat trip exactly one year before, while swapping my tourist visa for a working visa. Back then, I had felt wretched about committing to a job that was becoming a nightmare, and having broken someone’s heart in the process. But the universe wrong-footed me, as usual. On the boat I met someone who brightened my life for a time, but later wrapped my heart round a lamppost. (Just is the wheel!).
This time around I had no such luck, just parties of half-cut Koreans who invited me to stay up drinking with them. I declined in favour of an attempted early night. We arrived smack dab the middle of Japan’s rainy season. I rode through heavy downpours to the northern tip of Kyushu island. Following the ‘red line’ GPS route through the urban sprawl of Kitakyushu city was tedious. I improvised and found myself funnelled onto Wakato Bridge; the ‘no cycling’ sign positioned way past the point of no return on the approach ramp. The bridge is a single-span humpback with a steep gradient. It has three lanes of fast traffic and no shoulder. In heavy rain, I had no option but to hold my lane and pedal for my life. Down the other side I was jazzed to have survived, but the traffic police were waiting for me. Wild gesticulation and head-shaking convinced them that it was an error I would not be repeating. The two affable cops had to file a report with my passport number, but they helped carry my loaded bike down steps to the safety of a side street.
I had heard that wild-camping in Japan was as easy as in South Korea. On a hill overlooking the Strait of Shimonoseki I found a park, dotted with shrines and secluded seating areas. I spied a covered shelter with room for my tent. Normally I would not consider a camp in plain view on the first night in a new country. But I was dog-tired from the busy-ness of exiting Korea, then a sleepless night on the boat and a long day in the saddle. This was about as good a place as I could hope to find, so I decided to risk it. It proved to be a sound decision. The rain intensified throughout the night, but I stayed bone dry. Next morning as I made breakfast and packed up, park maintenance staff worked around me, clearly unconcerned by my presence.
Once on Honshu (the biggest island of the Japanese archipelago), I bailed off the main drag and threaded between rice paddies and moss-covered temples. Rural Japan worked a serene charm. The noise and visual assault of urban life in South Korea was starting to fade into memory. After fourteen months of close confinement, I was easing back into touring mentality. By the time I reached the seaside fortress town of Hagi I was completely won over. The empty white sand beaches and crystal clear water beckoned me in like sirens. All pretence of pushing through 100km a day to keep to the ‘official’ route evaporated. The weight of the past fell away, and the future could take care of itself.
Japan furnished me with several near-as-dammit perfect days cycle touring. What constitutes a perfect day on the bike? For me, it would have to include a physical challenge – a decent climb or solid distance. It also suggests an adventurous element, some small jeopardy where the outcome is not assured – perhaps a route that may or may not exist on the ground, or may prove too technical, perhaps a tunnel that I don’t know if I’ll be allowed through, or just a plain ambitious distance to cover.
The perfect day also needs some kind of natural wonder, preferably vegetation – whether forest, lake, valley, mountain or coastline, there must be green! The mythic day also has some random interaction with humanity, an encounter with a stranger or a friend you haven’t met before. And it ends with a great wild-camp in a beautiful location, away from noise, roads and buildings; ideally with fresh water on site.
Physicality, adventure, nature, connection and sleep. To be fair, more days than not have most of these elements. Pedalling a heavy bike is inherently physical. And finding water and a wild campsite lends some small uncertainty to the end of every day. Physical effort and a problem to solve helps to place my mind in the moment, focused on the task at hand. Next to hill-running, athletic cycling it is the best meditation I know. Sustained aerobic effort leaves little energy for useless abstraction. Fully inhabiting the physical world, observing the sensations in my body, I find the mental chatter quiets down and I can pay attention to my surroundings.
Riding in traffic or down a fast descent can also have a concentrating effect, it’s true. But then the focus is tighter, the intensity higher and more draining. (At my level of competence, I also include skiing, motorcycling and rock climbing in this category). Attention narrows down to the sole purpose of staying alive. Out of immediate danger, it’s easier to pay attention to your environment. Attention broadens out.
And day by day, Japan supplied minor challenges, vistas, and some of the best wild-camping sites of my career. On pebble beaches beside gin-clear rivers, on fallow fields and wild-flower meadows, in groves of gnarled pines that gave onto wide, empty beaches – Japan is a wild-camping paradise.
Well, almost a paradise. Late in the afternoon near Hagi, the hills and humidity had made me woozy. I stopped for an emergency snack break, shoving peanut butter sandwiches and potato crisps into my face, slapping mosquitoes all the while. Climbing again, I noticed blood trickling down my legs from several small wounds. There had been some big flies amongst the mosquitoes that had buzzed around when I rested. I thought I’d shooed them all away, but evidently not. And evidently they were horseflies, or abu in Japanese. Each bite caused a 10cm area of inflammation. There were now several angry-looking welts on my calves, shins and thighs, all hot to the touch. More worrying was my left ankle, which had sustained bites all around it, and was now a livid red grapefruit. Next morning the swelling was so bad it was painful to flex my ankles and legs for the first few hours. It lasted for about a week, with occasional crusty discharges. I was seriously thinking about seeking medical attention.
As recompense, if the insects were hostile, the humans of Japan were extremely welcoming. Soon after I wiped the blood from my legs, a car pulled up nearby. The driver spoke no English, nor I Japanese. But his tone and gestures conveyed concern and encouragement. He handed me two bottles of chilled ice tea, raised a fist next to his head and said ‘ganbatte!’ (good luck!). The friendly tone was unanimous. By the time I reached Hiroshima, I realised I hadn’t had a single close pass in five days. Japanese drivers are the best in the world. I admit, this took some getting used to. I ride defensively – I never assume any driver has seen me. So the habit of Japanese drivers to give way to cyclists was often confusing. I was never able to let go of my instinct that someone was going to cut me up. But they never did. I literally could have pedalled off pavements with my eyes closed and I would not have come to harm.
All that courtesy started to rub off on me. No one in Japan ever honks their horn at cyclists, so sometimes it took a minute for me to notice that a queue of traffic had backed up behind me. Then I would find a way to get off the road, to repay their patience. This changed the whole tenor of interaction into a genuinely chilled experience. Crossing Hiroshima, one of the few cities that I couldn’t avoid on my route, might have been a chore in another country. But in Japan, motorists and cyclists harmoniously coexist. Or so it seemed as I breezed through the city on a balmy Saturday afternoon. Cycling is an integral part of urban Japanese culture, and cyclists there are a diverse bunch: kids on BMXs, students on fixies, old people on boneshakers with baskets and boxes, young families on cargo bikes, business suits on step-through bikes. The sporty brigade is heavily outnumbered by utility cyclists in Japan.
I took the passenger ferry to Miyajima island to visit Itsukushima sea shrine. I hurried to secure my bike at the dock and grab my valuables before the boat departed. As I stood up, my already threadbare shirt snagged on the saddle, and ripped from armpit to waist. The boat was about to leave, so there was no time to change. It’s only in touristic locations that I notice how shabby my appearance has become from travelling. But I long ceased caring whether I look out of place. Travelling in foreign cultures you get used to being stared at. Even apart from the bike – which is itself a crowd-magnet in many countries – it is impossible to blend in completely. By contrast, in tourist locations like Miyajima, virtually any exotic oddness is unremarkable. Sure, at first I felt a little self-conscious amongst the coiffed and perfumed jet-set, with my shirt shredded like I’d just been attacked by a tiger. But once I realised how glued to their selfies and making kissy faces every other tourist was, I could relax and forget my untidiness.
My visit to Miyajima left me with a lot of ground to cover to get clear of Hiroshima city and find a camp spot. I laboured up steep hills north of the city in the humid darkness. The narrow, twisty road clogged with traffic behind me, but there were long stretches where I couldn’t move off to let them past. In another country this might have been awkward. But that night no one revved their engine, no one honked their horn, no one tried an impatient overtake. It was a strange experience. Still I felt slightly on edge, as if something was going to break the concord, but nothing ever did.
Over the hill I found only more suburbs, not the rural plateau I had envisaged. I picked a side street and started scouting for niches to place my tent. Having been in Japan several days now, I was much more relaxed about the prospect of a semi-urban wild-camp, but it’s always my option of last resort. Eventually I found a vacant lot next to a woodland. The other sides were bounded by houses and a carpark, but I could find no sign forbidding entry. I was slow getting started in the morning, so my breakfast was surveilled by nonplussed locals from the car park. In these situations it is always best to take the bull by the horns. I got up from the tent, smiled, waved and said a friendly ‘konichiwa‘. An old lady with long black plaited pig-tails and a wrinkled-raisin face waved back. She stepped tentatively closer, chuntering away in Japanese. Smiles and bows go a long way in Japan, as anywhere else. Five minutes later she returned with her husband, who also wanted the tour of my camp. Five minutes later she returned with a bottle of vitamin energy drink for me. Ten minutes later she was back again, this time with two cans of beer for me! I was invited to their house, and got my first glimpse inside a Japanese home while the old gentleman filled my water bottles. His tiny, orderly garden was full of miniature trees, hydroponics and aquaculture tanks growing plants and fish for the table.
The late finish the previous day left me with little in the tank. The overcast sky induced a corresponding flatness in my mood. But the memory of the friendly encounter with my neighbours that morning brought a smile whenever I recalled it. With a day of heavy rain forecast I booked into a travellers’ hostel in Onomichi, a pretty town facing out across the Seto Inland Sea. As usual any attempt at catching up with writing was swamped by more pressing matters – resting, eating and socialising with other guests (this last as important as the former two after a week without speaking English). Scrutinising a wall map in the hostel kitchen, I noticed several ferry services connecting islands and peninsulas up the west coast. From the look of it I could bypass all the mega-cities that stood between me and my exit point from Japan.
Now that I had ditched the prescribed route, I relished my freedom to wander. No more red line! I would follow my nose up the west coast, follow hunches and listen to the omens. I idled along the bridges and islands of the celebrated Shimanomi Kaido, stepping stones to Shikoku island. At a stellar camp on a pine-fringed beach at Imabari, something called me across the island to the town of Kochi. My randomly chosen route delivered another essentially perfect day on the bike. A steady slog brought me up to the Kanpuzan tunnel. At five and a half kilometres, it was the longest continuous tunnel I’ve encountered on my bicycle (Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, China and South Korea all had long tunnels, but I don’t recall any as long as this one). The road was lightly trafficked but had no shoulder and an uphill gradient for the first half. Every approaching vehicle raised a cataclysmic din like the end of the world.
Glad to be clear of the tunnel, I tipped into an immense descent down the Niyodo River valley. As usual, my goal was simply to cover as much distance as practical while enjoying the scenery, and find a campsite before dark. I followed a raised dyke that gave me a vantage point over a river bank. My hunch paid off. With half an hour of daylight left, I found a perfectly secluded spot on a pebble beach beside the river. The clear, warm water was perfect for an evening bath. The fading purple dusk light reflected on the silky surface of the river, giving it the look of electric ink. Despite a late start, I had booked 120km over the mountains of Shikoku. I had started at one perfect wild-camp and ended at another. Everything was timed to perfection for daylight. I had food and water aplenty. I was lulled to sleep by the burble of water ploshing over cobbles and the plonk of fish jumping in the pools. Tall grasses swished in the breeze and birds and insects chirruped agreeably. Days like that bring a complete satisfaction.
Next morning, I got my first view of the North Pacific Ocean. I sat on the storm wall above the beach and ate fresh strawberries, surveying the great breakers that came crashing in. In Kochi, I ran the gauntlet of a Japanese supermarket to restock for a few days. In a curious reversal of national identities, Japan’s supermarkets are blighted by grating, headache inducing pop music played loud over the PA system. South Korean supermarkets, by contrast, are mellow and subdued. Their jingles are positively charming by comparison to their Japanese counterparts. The reverse is true on the high streets of these countries. Only their supermarkets appear to have been switched.
After a storm-lashed night on a headland, I was braced for a windy day on busy roads. But traffic and the wind were magically spirited away, leaving me to enjoy the horizon-bending views on Japan’s own great ocean road. I was so blissed-out by the time I reached mountain-flanked Toyo beach that I couldn’t resist a long swim in the warm shallow water of the bay, followed by a hot shower. That night, in my quest for a camping spot near Minami, I was shooed away for the one and only time in Japan. Two elderly security guards approached me, pointing to a sign that seemed to say the beach was a protected site for nesting sea turtles.
As darkness fell I found what I thought was a suitable spot on an empty quayside. Late in the night, headlights lit the area around my tent. A light truck had parked up on the edge of the quay and stayed all night, the driver fishing from the harbour wall. But unexpected neighbours were the least of my worries. I had not been able to stake out the tent on the concrete dockside, and the calm evening had turned into a very blustery morning. During the early hours I awoke to find the tent flattened against me and lifting up off the dock at the windward edge. I dragged all my bags inside to weight the groundsheet, so that I could exit and start dismantling the poles. It was a close call – had the wind been much stronger the tent could easily have ended up in the sea. With me in it. I resolved, for the umpteenth time, to try to remember that the weather conditions when I make camp may not be the same ones I wake up with.
In Tokushima I kicked myself for going to the wrong ferry terminal and missing my boat across the Kisuido Strait. It meant the loss of an afternoon’s riding. I found a quiet corner of the waiting room and started pulling together the photos and video I had taken during my last days in South Korea. Seeing the happy faces of the kids from the academy where I’d taught for thirteen months cheered me up immensely. The four hours wait until the next boat disappeared in the blink of an eye. How strange, the feeling that I already missed a life I had been so desperate to leave behind. It seems my capacity for sentimental nostalgia only grows stronger with age.
We sailed into Wakayama with the last of the evening sun, a wake of treacle fanned out behind us in the bay. In a woods on the outskirts of town I found a ‘good-enough’ camp spot. But humidity, insects and noise from a nearby road were not conducive to sleep. Next day I tapped out easy miles up the Kino river valley, into the mountainous bosom of Nara and Mie prefectures. I tried to stay present, in the moment, despite a persistent low-grade headache that lingered for two more days – the result of accumulated sleep deficit from two consecutive sub-par campsites. I promised myself a better location that night, but searching around Yoshino Lake was unfruitful. The steep, densely-wooded valley sides either gave directly onto the waterline or onto irrigated paddies. There was a grazing common in the hamlet at the head of the lake, but the thought of another night in an exposed location, subject to disturbance, was not appealing. I was ready to throw in the towel after 100km uphill in warm weather. But not here. I had settled for less than ideal spots the previous two nights and paid the price. I had to do better.
As I forlornly pushed off to try the next valley, I spotted a steep side road through the trees, so acute to the main valley road that I hadn’t noticed it on my first pass. Despite the forbidding gradient, it was worth a look on foot (I always prefer to scout on foot). It soon gave access to a large clearing in the hillside forest, now an overgrown field. There was a derelict farmhouse and several rusting, wheel-less cars in a sunken area at the back. Despite the slight creepiness of the homestead, with trees growing through its windows, this was a tranquil place. I made camp and drifted off to the soothing thrum of birds and insects. In the night, I was jolted from slumber by blood-curdling shrieks from the trees, repeated at ten second intervals. My heart raced, and my mind cast about for likely culprits. I managed to convince myself that it was a frisky sika deer rather than a macaque monkey, of which I had seen several in recent days. Monkeys are worse than dogs for making trouble at campsites.
My tent and bike survived the night unmolested by simian assailants. But I had not slept well again. Never a champion early riser, I dozed in the grey dawn. The universe rejected my plans for a lie-in and vigorously shook me until I was wide awake. An earthquake! The drizzle and humidity and now three nights’ poor sleep left me decidedly out of sorts. But if I have a mantra for travelling it is ‘keep going and it all comes good sooner or later’. Right enough, after a choresome day I descended from the blanket of cloud into mood-boosting sunshine near the town of Ise. While I picked up water at a 7-Eleven an interested customer was curious about my bike and my trip. He gave me a cold beer and wished me ‘ganbatte‘. It seemed a good omen.
I desperately needed a quiet night. The map showed a gridiron of minor roads stretching for miles around the city; irrigated arable land, unsuited to camping. An empty area on the map next to the Miyagawa River looked promising. It was a good hunch. After hauling the bike over cobbles and rocks, I found a flat spot for the tent a few feet above the river. I grabbed my soap and jumped in for a reviving bath and quick laundry. After several days riding in heavy humidity in hill country, just the feeling of clean skin and clothes in is itself restorative. I cooked a huge pot of pasta and beans, sank my good-luck beer and finally got the rest I longed for.
From Toba I took another ferry across Ise Bay to the Irago Peninsula. A great storm was blowing in off the Pacific. I deliberated my options for camping on the coast, weighing the wind and rain against my chances of a comfortable night. I decided a far better plan was to push out 70km that evening and stay in a hostel in the city of Hamamatsu. Home to several of Japan’s most famous companies (Suzuki, Honda, Yamaha, Roland), Hamamatsu was surprisingly pleasant and easily navigated, even at night when physically tired. The hostel was an unusual place, a mixed use development for guests and permanent residents. In the middle of the week in the rainy season it was so quiet I was given an eight bed dorm to myself.
It was time to bite the bullet and tackle the perennial admin. My departure from Japan was less than ten days away. I still had to figure out the logistics of getting myself and my bike to and through three airports to Deadhorse, Alaska, via a week in Hawaii and a supply stop in Anchorage. Also, my credit card had been blocked again (my fault this time for forgetting my PIN code, unused the whole time I was working in South Korea, where I had a local bank account) and my health insurance needed updating for North America. Equally important, I needed to set up my USA visa waiver, find a cheap sacrificial flight to allow me board my flight into the USA, and find a Warmshowers host near my point of departure from Japan. Finally, it seemed imprudent to arrive clueless in the land of grizzly bears and grey wolves. So a spot of research was in order (up to that point the sum of my preparation was watching The Edge, in which Anthony Hopkins dispatches a rabid grizzly using a sharpened stick, and The Grey, in which Liam Neesson gouges the eyes of a giant timber wolf while wrestling with it. Both very instructive films, recommended for all adventure cyclists).
Funny thing about rest days. While I’m on the bike I can cycle day after day without noticing any real change in my energy levels for weeks, so long as I keep to a sustainable daily distance, and eat and sleep enough. But the first day I stop for a break, the bottom drops out of my energy reserves. I have to take special care to prioritise eating on those days, as my mood rises and falls in direct relation to blood sugar. I have in the past been teased for adding ‘eat food’ to my rest day to-do list, but it’s a real priority! It is all too easy to get caught up in the backlog of energy-sapping ‘to-do list’ tasks that get postponed until a day off – admin, errands, laundry, repairs – and get little rest at all. In an ideal world, there would be time for a ‘zero day’, to focus entirely on rest and eating, before tackling all the logistical conundrums, maintenance and catch-ups. I sometimes think I should try to schedule calls back home for cycling days, when I am buzzing with mental energy from the exercise and adventure.
Mindful of the challenges that lay ahead in North America, I was keen to test my legs in the mountains. I hadn’t enough time to reach the Japanese Alps, so I took the opportunity to detour through the Minami Alps, the foothills of Mt Fuju. I made a bid to clear the 1400m Abe Pass in a day. The Abe River valley was lush with tea plantations and stands of bamboo. At Umegashima hotsprings the road kicked up hard and climbed switchbacks through steamy jungle. At the summit I found the road was barred down the eastern slopes. I climbed round the gate onto the closed road. It was overgrown with moss and littered with rocks and vegetation – clearly it had not been used by vehicles for a couple of years at least. This was just the adventure I needed after several days on the relatively busy coastal roads. I caromed for an hour down my own private downhill. Free of traffic, wild-life had started to reclaim the area. Serow (a kind of stocky goat-antelope native to Honshu), macaque monkeys and even a black bear cub flashed past my peripheral vision as I descended.
Later, as I made camp in a wild-flower meadow, I realised I had just experienced another near-perfect touring day. One of the chief pleasures of solo bicycle touring, of getting a bit lost, of pushing your luck and biting off just a little more than you can comfortably chew, is that it confers sufficient intensity to the present moment to displace all thoughts of past and future. There is only this. Only now. Clock time becomes irrelevant, only daylight is of interest. In these conditions, I feel more rooted to reality than during any intentional act of meditation. When one fully inhabits the physical form – conscious only of the body’s homeostatic status, of its relative position and direction in space – the grasp of physical laws becomes both intuitive and acute. The senses are sharpened to an almost supernatural degree. And joy and positive energy flows throughout one’s being.
In Japan I came as close as I ever have to the state of naïve wonder that Hermann Hesse described in Narcissus and Goldmund: “Open to every whim of fate, the homeless wanderers lead their childlike, brave, shabby existence … Out of heaven’s hand they accept what is given them from moment to moment: sun, rain, fog, snow, warmth, cold, comfort, and hardship … A wayfarer…is always a child at heart, living in the first day of creation…his life always guided by a few simple instincts and needs.”
To live in such splendid immanence is still a dream for me. I have never maintained it for more than a day or two before some petty discomfort or anxiety impinges. My rational, cognitive faculties just can’t keep quiet indefinitely, it seems. Sooner or later rumination finds a foothold. But to live in gratitude for what is received – gifts ‘out of heaven’s hand’ in Hesse’s beautiful phrase – is a wonderful thing while it lasts. Even if only for a few days, hours, or even minutes at a time.
Next morning I climbed more switchbacks to Lake Motosu, hoping to catch an eyeful of Mt Fuji reflected in the lake – a view so iconic they put it on the 1000 Yen note. But fate and the weather had other ideas. Heavy rain swept across the lake, the cloud so low I couldn’t see across it. The road to Kawaguchiko was a torrent. Passing cars and buses threw waves over me. Out of options for a wild-camp in the tourist town I trusted to luck and pitched in the municipal park. All around me in the morning families were setting up a Sunday farmer’s market, but no one even gave me a second glance. I never did get my close-up view of Fuji, so I was doubly grateful for the surprise view that I enjoyed on my descent from Abe Pass. This is often the case with iconic sites – the memorable moments happen on the way there.
That evening I spent with my first Warmshowers hosts in Japan, Joan and Rich, university teachers in Kanagawa. This was the start of my transition out of Japan, out of the Orient and across the Pacific to the continent number four of my adventure. The next weeks would be timetabled and rule driven, and I had to get my head around what was required of me. This is where the Warmshowers community has repeatedly been like a network of guardian angels. Time and again, kind hosts have helped me out with advice, practical assistance, lifts and most important of all moral support during the stressful process of getting myself, my bike and all my stuff safely on and off aeroplanes and through borders. I am slightly ashamed at how much of a stress-monkey flying turns me into, and forever grateful for the patience of my hosts.
With a masterplan hatched at Rich and Joan’s, I put in a final big day to Chiba city, 50km from the airport. Big tour veterans Yuji and Aya had graciously agreed to host me despite a busy work and family schedule. All that remained was to spin up to Narita city and pack everything at a local bike shop where Rich had reserved a box for me. Then the final hurdle was to persuade a bus driver to let me on the airport shuttle with all my stuff. As is so often the case, the anxiety that precedes these missions is worse than the reality. The box wasn’t the right size for my bike, but I made it work. The bus driver was all smiles. At check in, my bike box was 2kg over-weight, so I braced for bad news (US airlines are notorious for stinging customers with heavy fees for additional weight). But the cute check-in assistant just smiled and hip-checked my bike box onto the edge of the scale, bringing it to within the permitted amount. Then asked if I would like the emergency exit seat with more leg room.
My star seemed to be in the ascendancy, but I touched down in Honolulu red-eyed and slow-witted. I hadn’t slept a wink on the overnight flight. Now on the other side of the International Date Line it was time to do 28th June all over again (I had left Japan at 9.30pm on 28th and arrived in Honolulu at 6.30am on 28th). In my stupor I strained to work out if I could game this system to cheat the reaper indefinitely. But apparently it was just a one-off rebate for all the hours I’d surrendered eastbound across Asia on the bicycle.
My logistical quandary in Hawaii was what to do with my bike box and packing materials? I would be on Oahu for a week, so I wanted the bike to tour round the island. Again the Warmshowers network came to the rescue. Brother from another mother Mike scooped me up at the airport and took me to a nearby coffee shop where we put the bike together. He generously kept my box for the week, going one better and replacing it with one that actually fit my bike. Bike rebuilt, my first order of business was a swim. So haste ye to Waikiki.
I was spoiled rotten the whole week in Hawaii. First with Tyler, who introduced me to the local raw fish and rice delicacy of poké, and traded stories from the road. Next day I stayed with first-time hosts Brycen and Steven who treated me to a superb birthday breakfast. From there I enjoyed another near as dammit perfect day on the bike, around the North Shore of Oahu to Kanehoe. I cruised past surf beaches, snacked on fresh pineapple at a roadside shack and joined WS host Will for a swim in the Pacific, a few local brews and a home-cooked dinner. As birthdays on tour go, that one goes straight into the number one spot (out of four). It will take some beating.
I spent another day with Will, fine tuning my logistics for Alaska. I would have less than 48 hours in Anchorage to organise everything I needed for the remote ride down from the Arctic Ocean, so preparation was key. And then to my fourth and final WS hosts in Hawaii, Steve and Tamara who generously offered me three nights at their beach house, including their fourth of July Independence Day celebrations. Steve and Tamara’s story was irresistibly romantic and inspirational – dangerously so, for an impressionable fool like me. They first met on the beach outside the house they now rented, and soon after cycled the world together on folding bikes. I would have thought it risky to nonchalantly jog up to someone you know only by sight and plant a kiss on them. But apparently that’s where I’d be wrong – or perhaps the lesson is that some risks are worth taking.
Steve and Tamara also gave me one of my favourite all time soundscapes. As I read by lantern light, a warm breeze blew through the curtains of my bedroom window. There was the gentle crashing of Pacific breakers and the rustle of palm fronds a few metres outside the window. When things get crazy, this is a happy place where my mind returns to centre itself. If it all sounds like a dream, it was about to seem even more unreal. My traverse of the empty hemisphere was almost complete. Within 24 hours I would be in Alaska, about to cross the Arctic tundra.
If you read all the way to the end, or if you just scanned the photos, you may also like the video I shot of my travels in Japan: