HAD I FORESEEN THAT THE CAR ahead of me would stop so abruptly, I wouldn’t have slammed my bike and body into its rear door.
Waking in our tents near a rural elementary school, we headed out with a big goal of reaching a willing host who lived about 220 km away. Although a lofty aim, we had both a plan and motivation. Today, we formed a rotation where each team member took an hour leading and then dropped back for a rest. This worked really well to keep progress consistent and morale high. The morning was cloudy with the kind of brisk wind that stings your face. We stopped briefly around 10:30am to celebrate our 3000th kilometer of the total trip. Also, I had a nostalgic moment when I noticed dandelions on the side of the road, which I haven’t seen since the last time I was home in Maine during the summer in 2009.
As noon came around so did the sun, but to our chagrin, the wind persisted. Biking through the hills of Route 37 we passed several tempting strawberry stands. Fortunately for the team, Scott gave in to his craving and bought a carton to split. The friendly owner chatted with us about our trip and even gave us some delicious mutant berries that were the size (and shape) of several berries put together. Pressing on, we finally got past the mountainous section of today’s leg, which hopefully was the last set of inclines we’ll tackle on this trip. After a quick lunch break, we were back on the road, enthusiastic to reach our host at the expected time.
Suddenly, as we were passing a side street, I heard a yell from Scott as an unaware driver nearly turned into him on the side street. I was just behind this turning car, and my course assumed that the car would keep turning. However, noticing Scott, the driver screeched to a halt. With little time, I squeezed my brakes and swerved.
I heard a sound similar to that of a trunk being aggressively slammed shut as I collided with the back door of the Honda Cube-like car. It must have looked somewhat comical as I bounced off the vehicle, tottered for a split second, and then went down. Right away, I knew I was fine. Nothing was really broken or even scraped except a gouge on my left Achilles from my gears. My bicycle had minor scratches, the handle bar was turned parallel to the wheel, and the front wheel was slightly out of true. They were all minor issues.
The driver was apologetic, and we reassured each other that we were both fine. The was basically closed when the police arrived. At first, there were just two of them asking questions and filling out countless papers. Quickly, though, two more came to thoroughly document the accident. Endless questions, clarifications, and photos cruelly consumed the next 120 minutes. Our hopes of making it to our host that evening dwindled and eventually disappeared. When all was said and done, five officers and a translator had gone over every conceivable detail of the event backwards and forwards. If it wasn’t killing our day, the absurdity of their thoroughness would have been laughable.
Finally, after everyone was satisfied, we were free to head out. Our rotation still intact, we pressed on with the sun drifting toward the horizon and the biting wind tearing at our resolve. The battle had begun. How far would we go today? Our bodies are in excellent shape and can propel us about as far as we have gumption to persevere. With the cold of the Hokkaido night upon us, we fought hard to keep moving. Unlike this morning, the terrain was flat and straight. The procedure was simple: don’t stop pedaling. Although easy to suggest, in the gusty 8-degree Celsius darkness, pushing forward eventually became too unbearable, especially once the rain started. After a total of 155 km for the day, mostly done after sunset, we stopped under an overpass and made camp. It was a tough day, but I also have a strange sense of accomplishment looking back at the obstacles we dealt with and the distance we advanced in spite of them.