We had planned the 152 route through the mountains a week before we had got to it, Dan kept mentioning how small the road was, how quiet and how isolated. That we should buy groceries for days and that there were only the 2 tiny little towns along the 200km runway down east way through the Akaishi Mountain ranges. He was excited about the way the road stopped twice and there was a dotted line on the maps connecting it back to a road; we imagined roads so high and limitless that they became dirt and rocky and we would push our way across it to the connecting roads with endless mountain peaks 360 degrees around. We were excited about the prospect of adventure and exploration, I was actually mostly happy that Dan was in his element. He loved the navigation role and I was happy to plod along, enjoy the autopilot and not having to navigate.
Route 152 did in fact turn out to be a stunning delicate ribbon lying across a drastic landscape. It was a variation of isolation and new development, it was tiny roads leading to absolute peaks of mountains and massive tunnels kms long like a Very Hungry Caterpillar had chewed through the core of the mountain and continued on through the valley here and there, some of the tunnels 6 kms long. They were cool and dark and without much traffic, they were oasis after the heat of the dragging Japanese Summer.
I felt a ghostly presence of the landslides. I often tried to imagine the scene of one, the power, the sound it would make, what it would look like. Not having giving it thought before; so much moisture that a mountain slides like it slipped on a banana peel. The mountain ranges were pock marked with both measures to stop the mountains from collapsing and with the scars of already slid earth. As if the legs where taken out from underneath them, the trees lay flat to the mountain in pockets, some of the damage ran the length of the mountain, rock, clay and trees taking out roads and spreading into valleys, stopping the flows of rivers. And some landslides only carving a part of the mountain, which reminded me of the scar of my pop, where a tractor tore a chunk of muscle, flesh and fat the size of a steak out of his thigh. Once it had healed and aged it was just a hollow piece of leg about 2cms deep, surrounded by healthy, plump flesh.
We continued to travel along the 152, passing tiny towns where all the young people had left for a city and the aged were getting along without them. We were getting closer to the point of the dirt roads and routes that had been closed because of a landslide, but being cyclists we think that road closures don’t apply to us, how nimble and weightless we are.
The road had been closed for some time, not apparently worth the bother to repair it. There was an abandoned home at the foot of the mountain, I guess its abandonment was more then 10 years back by the look of how colourless, dusty and untouched it looked. Naturally, like good explorers we wanted to see inside, imagining the treasures of old dolls, forgotten wedding photos and what was left behind in the rumble of a landslide that could sweep it away like a boat in a sea. But there was only rubbish, broken wood and darkness. I still love to daydream of its history; what did it looked like? Who used it? Were they old and died? Did they abandon it because of the risk of living there? Was the lush and glorious misty mountain, so peaceful and old, too dangerous to be in?
It did feel like a delicate place. Wet moss upholstered the gutters and the cracks of the road were filled with healthy flowering weeds. The mountain was taking back the road. As the road continued the rocks littering the grey cement were getting denser and bigger, the trees were bent in looming over us, some dead and being held up by supportive friends, others adapting and continuing to grow healthy and crooked. The debris became a game, we followed a wiggling path through the rocks and sticks that I thought was made by someone using the road before us, perhaps a motorbike, but I began to realize that the pathway was made by a river of water, and no one had used this road in a long time.
We reached a caved in section. We heaved our bikes bumping, scratching and tripping our way over the ten-meter section of crumbled concrete and rock, not feeling light and nibble any longer. We continued on, on and off our bikes depending on how clear the way was. We pushed and slipped and climbed for another hour.
The road was becoming impossible but if I was asked to turn back I would of refused. You can’t go this far and not continue. I didn’t care if there was a Zelda style ‘defeat the monster’ at the top, I would continue, defeat that fuckhead and wear its skin like Guy Pierce on top of his bus (Pricilla Queen of the Desert) as I coasted down the other side of the mountain.
The ghostliness of the landslide was getting less enchanting and getting more intense, it started to feel dangerous, like we shouldn’t be there. Parts of the thin road had been gutted from underneath and we pushed and clambered over meter high piles of debris, sometimes taking our bags off our bikes and carrying one by one over the top. It was getting later and frustration was bubbling away underneath the surface of my mood. I started to feel stupid for thinking we were stronger and cleverer than a natural disaster.
The road stopped like we knew it would, but not quite how we imagined it, there was an enormous concrete river channeling system that had crumbled and stopped channeling the river after the landslide. There was nowhere to go. Dan and I split, looking for the road, he told me that he had found a path but it was hard to get to even by foot. I still refused to turn back, it was getting dark and we didn’t have any food left. We had to get over the mountain. And the previous night we had had a wild boar snorting and grunting around our tent, we were too scared to camp. We took all our bags off our bikes and planned to carry them up the rocky river where it was meant to meet the other section of the road. I asked Dan how far up? And he ran off to try to find exactly how far the road was away. He was gone for 15 minute but it felt like 3 days. The dusk and the silence and the spiders and the ghost of the landslide were seeping into my skin. I was getting scared. Being alone and the vigor of Dan’s run gave me paranoia that he had broken his leg and that we were in big trouble.
I started calling for Dan, yelling across the mountains, again and again and again for a few minutes, whimpers getting stronger after each one. My own voice cracking the silence frightened me even more, but Dan came running, smashing and kicking back into view. He was yelling back. I had gotten so scared while he was gone that I lost all of my power to climb the mountain and just wanted to turn back. Give up.
So we did. We rode back down the mountain, racing the evening, knowing we had no chance of dinner or breakfast and knowing that tomorrow we were to climb the mountain again, just the other way.
It was a pointless climb but Dan mentioned the spirit in which we started it, the feeling of adventure. These are the reasons we are riding for in the first place, and the ‘in hindsight’ sort of moments.
The next day however, on hollow, empty and painful stomachs, we climbed what was undoubtedly the hardest mountain climb I have done. It took over 2 hours although I wasn’t counting, I was swearing and crying and dying. So exhausted by the time I reached the top that it was cold and I was wet with sweat, I didn’t believe I had reached the top at all, not allowing myself the chance to be relieved in case it wasn’t over, but it was and I didn’t stop, I just wanted to get to the food. The descent was cold; my wrists ached with chill and trying to hold onto the breaks. I didn’t care, I was descending, and compared to that climb everything was pleasure; hunger was pleasure, cold was pleasure, and the landslide closed mountain pass of the previous evening was pleasure.
We finished the 152 route and continued towards the coast. We cruised through that area of Japan, basking in that post mountain fitness glow. We started doing more kms per day and having rhythm, we avoided Nagoya and started heading to Osaka, where a handlebar bag, sent by mum was awaiting us.
We choose a very difficult road into Osaka, it was heavily misting (which is just a good as rain) and the gradient was so steep we had to push out bikes up and down the otherside, amazed at how the roads were (a) ever constructed (b) used by the tiny cars that the Japanese use (c) how anyone could live up there considering the roads would be 100% impossible with the smallest bit of snow.
We walked our bikes down in the rain, and stopping at the shrines that littered the path downward. Until we caught the glimpse of Osaka, it was huge, grey and from that high up, it looked empty. As we made our way into the very edge of the city we rode straight towards the bike shop where my handlebar bag lay, hoping to have a warm coffee and warm hospitality as the owner was Australian and having a homeland in common is comforting while you travel. We rode the 10km through the city, hoping to see and wave to a few couriers, which feels very similar to the feeling of a fellow countryman, but there weren’t any, which I’m not completely sure why.
We stayed in Osaka for 2 nights, and then we continued on towards the ferry, which would take us to Shikoku.
Dan and I had fought our way to Wakayama to catch the ferry to Shikoku. We decided to ride alone after a while and meet at the ferry. I stewed and brewed and by the time I had gotten to the ferry I had only sadness at the state of our relationship.
We decided to break up, and go our separate roads, literally.
Dan rode off to find a new tent for himself and we were to meet back at the train station to swap some of the goods, camera equipment, cooking equipment etc. It felt like the end of the world. The sun became hotter, the air un-breathable, I felt like I was burning in flames, I cried and cried and cried where Dan had left me, and after a while as if to find a reason for anything I got on my bike and cycled in a direction, not knowing or caring which one. I stopped at the lights and watched a bunch of workmen working a man hole, which then burst into flames and they scattered. Without even blinking an eye I just said to myself, ‘that’s like my life’ and rode on. I started riding in the opposite direction whimpering, and feeling like I was dragging myself across tarmac face down rather then cycling. I bumped into the train station we were meeting in a few hours and I sat down and cried for the rest of them.
A man gave me a cold bottle of water, I lifted my head from my arms and the bandanna I had draped over my head and I rasped a ‘Arigatou gozaimashita’ but it was about 5 seconds too late and he had gone.
I knew I had done the wrong thing, I had driven Dan away, he was out buying his new tent and stove and we were going to go on separately, I imagined his sense of liberation.
We met and we grasped onto each other, or rather I was clawing at him trying to get closer, we took back Dan’s crap new tent and carried on.