There is a trick to cycling 140 plus kilometers in one day. After over a month of painfully forging my body into long-distance condition, I can tell you that fitness has little to do with it. I would wager my top three gears that my current thighs could easily push me past 300 km in one stretch if I could stay awake for such a prolonged effort. No, the trick isn’t “being in shape.” Nor is the issue to keep the bike running properly. Although important, with a decent base knowledge of most common cycle maintenance, a repair-free day is easily managed. The trick is simply to stay sane.
On average, I am conscious for 16 hours per day. Recently, over half this time has been spent sitting quietly on my seat listening to myself think. In some ways it’s nice to have time to mull over the conundrums of life. However, after 3 or 4 hours this internal conversation has a way of bending itself away from stability. I endlessly check my on-board mileage computer, question mental calculations about projected arrival times, and over-process any slight muscle tightening. “My calves are sore, should I stop and stretch? I’ll wait until the next convenience store since there’s ice cream there. But am I hungry? Hmm, I guess I could eat, but I should just forget about it and keep pedaling. … Did that bump just slow me down? If I hit one bump every minute for the next 40 km, how much time will I lose? Should I text tonight’s host to let him know we’ll be late? He said he’d take us out to dinner though… Am I hungry?”
As you may recall, yesterday’s journal entry left off at a playground near a shrine in Niigata with the team waiting to meet up with our couchsurfing host. After eating, we kicked a soccer ball around with an elementary school-aged boy and girl until they had to go home; then, we played cards and generally lounged until our meet-up time arrived. Our host was a friendly woman named Ryoko who not only spoke perfect English but is also fluent in Thai. The highlight of the evening was when she drove us to a ramen noodle restaurant where the noodles come boiling (literally) in a stone bowl right in front of you!
In the morning, she was trusting enough to leave us her spare key so we could pack up after she left for work. Getting on the road around 10:15am, we rode with focus. With about 155km between us and our day’s target town of Tsuruoka, there wasn’t much time for loitering. Riding conditions were as perfect as we could ever hope for with temperatures between 65 and 70 Fahrenheit, low humidity, and jaw dropping coastal scenes all day. I often forgot I was pedaling as I stared at the uncommon, gorgeous rock formations accented by quaint Japanese fishing villages. It was very pleasant. The final 40km turned inland with moderate hills but was nothing we couldn’t handle.
Now, we rest comfortably with an English teacher named Dan in his excessively spacious house in a rural town near Tsuruoka. After arriving here, we indulged in ramen again tonight and followed it up with a dip in the hot springs to relax our constantly tense muscles. Tomorrow, we have yet another couchsurfer host lined up in Akita City, which is only 120km away. I look forward to tomorrow.
Calves: Guitar Content