WE’RE ALL A LITTLE BIT SICK OF THIS TRIP. Don’t get me wrong, we’re still having a blast and soaking in the once-in-a-lifetime experience. But being on the road this long, drifting from town to town, with mileage and schedules and weather constantly on the brain, it wears you down a little bit. So, with one day left, we all have a bit of a bittersweet feeling about the approaching end.
We began our penultimate day excited for a few reasons. First, we were excited that we had been lucky enough to have another great couchsurfing experience and sleep somewhere warm out of the overnight rain. Second, we were thrilled to find that the weather had cleared, and we were in for a sunny day with fluffy white clouds and a light tailwind. Finally, we were stoked knowing that only 260km lay between us and our ultimate goal, Cape Soya. Furthermore, those 260km looked almost completely flat, running along Hokkaido’s northwestern coast. We all felt like today would be a good day.
For once, we had none of our usual luck, and our day really did go more or less according to plan. The roads were flat, the sun shone just enough, and we managed to cut the distance to Soya in half. Sure, there were a few headwinds, and some tiring rolling bluffs along the coast, but compared to some of the challenges we’ve faced and overcome, they weren’t too bad at all. In the end, we called a stop a little earlier than we’d planned, not because we had to but simply because we knew we had the time, which is a luxury we’ve gone mostly without on this trip. So, we rolled into the little seaside town of Shosanbetsu, and after watching a picture-perfect red sun sink into the Sea of Japan, Andrew decided to treat the team to a celebratory bowl of ramen. As it turned out, though, we were all to be treated.
Telling the ramen shop owner our story over bowls of Shio Ramen, a specialty of Hokkaido, we found out that this ramen restaurant had seen its fair share of all-of-Japan travelers. In fact, they had a guestbook, stretching back 12 years, with all manner of travelers’ notes and stories. We left our own mark on an open page and, having received some campsite advice, gathered our things and prepared for a chilly night. However, in classic Japanese hospitality style, at the last moment the owner casually offered up his restaurant for us to sleep in, seemingly unaware of how much it meant to us. So, instead of writing this journal entry shivering beside the road, or outside a convenience store, I’m safe and warm in the restaurant with the owner and his friend, eating some graciously-made grilled mutton and onions, drinking some kindly-offered rice wine, and enjoying some genial conversation.
This is a perfect example of the kind of mixed feelings we have about this trip ending. We’ve had so many amazing experiences that were only possible because we’ve been traveling so far and long. That traveling has brought discomfort, but the end of that discomfort also means an end to these serendipitous stops. It will mean the end of this strange little world of bicycles and highways that we’ve created and the return to ‘real life’. Scott has an office job to return to, Andrew has a wedding to plan, and I’m moving cities two weeks after I get home. Right now, though, all any of us need to focus on is making the mileage and finishing the trip. The dream, even if sometimes it has approached a nightmare, will last at least that long.
Calves: Christmas Eve