Sunday, May 1st
Today was, more or less, the reverse of yesterday. It was largely spent in descent, leaving the beautiful Fuji lakes and mountains behind and ending up so close to Tokyo you can almost hear the neon buzz (in fact i’m 30 miles away and that buzz is one of the many mosquitos on the outside of my tent trying find a way in).
Last night’s was probably the most scenic camp spot yet. A perfect view of Mt. Fuji, for free, and more or less just to myself. The morning was clear and bright like the night before. I packed my things up early, speaking briefly and brokenly to a guy who i’d seen the night before, one of the many with tripods directed at the mountain.
It was my fifth night camping, a personal record, and I needed to charge my camera, phone, and batters, so I headed to the Starbucks about 4 miles out of town. I stayed just long enough to make sure i’d have enough power to get to Tokyo and left and before the free internet got the better of me. Outside were a row of 5 or 6 vintage looking motorbikes and Japanese men in Barbour jackets. One spoke to me as I went to my bike, he said all their bikes were from England, I could smell the wax jacket as he spoke. Without a doubt the best dressed biker gang I saw of many today. I told him my bike was from Japan and pointed at the name then at the mountain.
I went back into town to try and get the a ropeway up one of the smaller mountains which offers a view of Mt Fuji, but the queue was 40-50 minutes long according to a guy there. He told me something i’d forgotten, that’s it Golden Week – a week long holiday for the Japanese. No wonder the roads had been so busy yesterday.
So I went back on myself again, out of town, picking up some food at the supermarket on the way.
The first stretch of cycling was to Lake Yamanakato – the largest but also shallowest of Fuji’s five lakes. It was uphill for a while – it’s also the highest. The lake itself was fairly unremarkable at first, a few chain restaurants lined the flat edge of it. A boat shaped like a huge swan. It seemed to lack the view of Fuji which makes Kawaguchi so special. I kept going around, stopping at a small shop dedicated to racing bikes selling overpriced vintage jerseys, before following a track to the shore where the view of Mt. Fuji was revealed. It would be my last look at it. There was something comforting about it’s presence, like a lighthouse, and I would miss it.
I had been wondering in the morning, and the night before, if today would be mostly down or up. I felt like it had to be all downhill to Tokyo, but that would be too straightforward of course. And so I began a climb after leaving the lake, a hot and tough ascent for around half an hour.
But after that it was downhill. For a long time. I passed a lot of cyclists making the climb up, looking at their faces I got some idea of what I must have looked like the day before. This seemed even tougher for them though.
I took it carefully. Anxious about my damaged forks, and not wanting to miss a chance to stop if some kind of view opened up. There was also something a little sad about the descent. I think it’s because on a bike you work so hard to claim for it on the way up, so coming down almost feels like undoing all that effort and struggle you went through.
The downhill continued in the early afternoon. I stopped at a rest area overrun with motorcycles of various kinds. I sat by the river and ate a rustic lunch of bread and chicken listening to the engines as they came and went.
The sections following this were more varied. A lot of downhill, still, but some tough uphill too as the road wrapped it’s way around the mountain. Views were incredible throughout. I didn’t take many photos but made a stop at a narrow suspension bridge I spotted and got a better look at all the trees and the river on the floor of the valley below.
When there was a break in traffic it was calm and quiet. Nothing but road and trees and mountain.
Eventually the road straightened and flattened out and it it felt like the end of that chapter. I stopped for coffee and ice cream as I could feel myself getting tired. Outside the 7/11 were some plastic chairs arranged on fake grass. A cat was pouncing on bugs underneath the tables, and groups of bikers came and went.
I prodded at my phone and felt a bit deflated, I knew from here on out it would be more mundane, more familiar, less challenging and special. I messaged Nuno, my friend in Tokyo, and tried to focus on the city I had ahead of me instead of looking back.
I continued on for another hour, the city became more built up but I found a bit of green space, a park wedged between highways and large industrial buildings. The air had changed, it felt thicker and dirtier, and despite the relative quiet of the space i’d found, the dim sounds of traffic murmured constantly in the background.
I wondered why I hadn’t taken another day just to enjoy the mountains or the lakes. I always had this feeling each time I left somewhere and I realised it was too late to go back, and that whatever I had wasn’t quite enough. The more you travel the harder it is to be satisfied I think, you become normalised to the new surroundings you constantly find yourself in, it becomes harder to be amazed – easier to just accept them come, and to watch them go.
I’d covered about 930 miles, with the 30 or 40 to Tokyo tomorrow it’ll come close (almost) to 1000 since I stepped off the ferry almost 20 days ago. And i’m trying to comprehend what this means.