A straightforward day with a bittersweet ending – I got to Kyoto, but some parts of my bike didn’t.
I woke at 5.15. I’ve been trying to get up with the sunrise and be cycling by 6. This means I can cover about 30 miles by mid-morning, before it gets hot or the traffic gets to heavy. It also feels good to have a more natural body clock, though I need to work on the night time bit a little more. I’m an early morning person and late night person, this can result in not a lot of sleep.
I reached Nara without too much problem. Quiet roads, a few climbs, fairly familiar settings. On the outskirts of the city I stopped at a large cycle shop to have my rear wheel straightened, for the third time. Although I prefer to go to small, grubby little places run by old, possibly wise men, my experience hasn’t been great, both repairs done by these veterans haven’t lasted long. What this place lacked in character it made up for in efficiency and service.
I leave the bike and wander into Nara. A city i’ve been to before but have next to no specific memory of, yet. I visit a shrine by the palace, notable for having a train track running right in front of it, which seemed to attract a lot of photographers poised for the train to enter the frame. I starting speaking to a guide who filled me in a little on the history of Nara, how it used to be Japan’s capital before Kyoto and Tokyo. He also jogs my memory of the place as he suggests a few sites to see. I decide to head to Nara Park once I have my bike back.
I walk through the grounds of the shrine back to the shop when a sign catches my eye: ‘FIELD NOTE’, written in large Futura in white paint on a fence. (presumably a rip-off pf Aaron Draplins Field Note books). It turns out to be just what I was looking for – a quiet, good coffee, coffee shop.
I order a coffee and sit in mid-century furniture outside in their little garden of potted plants. My coffee cup is white on a wooden saucer with a gold spoon. There is a tiny perfect jug with just enough milk in. Despite being just a few minutes from the busy highway which cuts through the city, it feels like a little pocket of calmness and hipster-dom. The shelves of carefully selected and arranged products like notebooks and socks remind me of the cities I feel at home in and I stay for about an hour.
I pick up my bike and continue to Nara Park. It’s Saturday and busy so I don’t stay long, keen to make it to Kyoto before dark, but I look at some of the deer and cycle around a few of the backstreets around the park.
On my way out of the city I stop to stroke a Shiba Inu by a vending machine. As it happened the vending machine stocked the melon cream soda i’d become addicted to, but is hard to find. Half a litre for only 100 yen. I thank the dog with pats on it’s soft head.
Most of the way between Nara and Kyoto is a riverside track for cyclists and pedestrians. It’s good to switch off and make up the miles. The morning sun has faded and the afternoon is a bit grey and gloomy. There are tower blocks and half built motorway bridges and morbid looking people.
I come of the track and join the road again, the route 1 into Kyoto, about 10 miles until the city center. I’m cycling on the pavement when something happens. It’s too quick to know what, like all accidents. Before I know it i’m jumping up over the handlebars of the bike as the rear wheel rises up. A land on my feet to the side. The front panniers come off and the bike crumples in a heap on the asphalt.
I woman behind me checks i’m ok, and fortunately, I am. This could have been a lot messier at high speed or on a hill. I’m still not sure how it happened but the rack which carriers my front panniers appears to have been sucked in by the front wheel as it spun, pinching the tyre against the rim. The metal is contorted like a squashed insect. I take my stuff off at the side of the road, flip the bike upside down and try and make sense of it.
I manage to get the front wheel off eventually, it’s trapped by the metal but through force and some handy work with a spanner, i’m able to release it. I throw the metal to the side of the road.
The wheel is dented and obviosuly not straight. My newly straightened back wheel is no longer such. The rack to carry my stuff no longer exists.
I’m amazed i’m not angrier or more upset but when you are on your own it only most feels pointless as there is no one to pity you. Calmly but quickly I replace the tube in the front tyre. The wheels turn and it will get me to my hostel if my patience holds up. I stand back and observe the bike as a whole again I realise the forks are bent. That will take more than just tools to fix.
I repack my stuff which i’d left spread across the pavement like a jumble sale. I put one front pannier on the rear rack, and carry the other with a strap.
I start searching bike shops on my phone but decide to get to my accommodation first. The 10 miles pass by slowly, I keep checking my map, and my shoulder aches from carrying the pannier on my bike. It gets dark and it’s raining a little but thankfully Kyoto has wide pavements for cycling and I make it one scattered piece.
I stop at a bike shop on the way, just to check, and it seems like replacing the forks might be more difficult than I thought.
I get to the hostel, it’s charmless, but well located in the Gion area. A large American man from Chicago makes small talk as I check in. I’m tired and dirty and his slow pointless voice and conversation sucks the last of my energy.
I decide to deal with it all tomorrow to try get some perspective. On the upside Kyoto seems as pretty as I remember it. I’m also over half way to Tokyo.
I go out later in the evening and walk around. It’s raining harder and people skuttle around the narrow streets between discreet bars and restaurants.
I go back to my room. The large American is snoring.