I awoke at 7am in my hostel just outside of Kobe. After briefly examining the extent to which I had damaged my body by riding there from Kyoto on a run-down shopping bike, I got out my small map book and studied it one last time. The only logical thing to do at this point would be to start the long ride home.
But if you look at the map above, you will notice the island of Awaji to my immediate South. I could see the magnificent 6km suspension bridge connecting its Northern end to Honshu, Japan’s main island, right from my room’s window. The similar bridge connecting its other end to the Southern island of Shikoku was the very bridge from which I observed the Naruto Whirlpools during my Mega Trip this summer. I estimated the distance across the island to be 110km, almost exactly as far as I had come from Kyoto to Kobe.
Should I do it? Should I try to ride my bicycle to Shikoku?
According to the sparse information I had on hand there are no train lines on the entire island, and only a few small towns along the way. If I decided to go for it, it would be Shikoku or bust. I had to entertain the possibility that something might happen to my already shifty bike, which could easily result in my sleeping in a freezing-cold rice field in the middle of nowhere. I was bruised, tired, and severely wind-burned. I had virtually no provisions, and had only packed clothing for one night away from Kyoto. Not to mention the fact that I was hauling a computer around in my backpack. It didn’t look promising.
But I remembered something I read on Heather Meadows’ blog a few days ago. When filling out one of those online personality surveys, one of the people she listed in the “heroes” section was me, for “living my dreams.” I was shocked. For some reason it just popped into my head, and made me think to myself, “do I really want to go back to Kyoto or is it just easier to go back? Will I regret it later if I don’t just go for it, do my best, and hope for the best?”
I think I would.
So I bundled up and set out over the bridge. Not even ten minutes passed before the police came on over the loudspeaker: “You, on the bike! Stop! Stop!”
Apparently neither bikes nor pedestrians are allowed on this particular overpass. I simply assumed that because it’s the only way between the two islands, and there’s an enormous shoulder, and there’s an elevator up to the platform, that it would be okay.
Thankfully, after a quick explanation the two officers kindly gave both myself and my bike a ride to the opposite side, warning me that I should be more careful in the future.
Now, have you ever heard of the phrase “one-horse town?” Awaji-shima is without a doubt a one-horse island. Nothing but tiny, sparsely populated neighborhoods; no trains, no taxis. At least from what I saw. I didn’t pass so much as a single Starbuck’s or Mc Donald’s the whole time. In Kyoto there are two to three convenience stores on every block, but here I found myself filling my bike’s basket to the brim each time I passed one. I got more curious, wide-eyed stares in that one day that I have over the last year in Kyoto. Somehow I don’t think too many foreigners make it out there very often.
But what the island lacked in population it made up for in scenery. It was fantastic. Rolling hills and rice fields to one side, a deep blue sea to the other. For the first half of the ride I skimmed the coast so closely that I could hop off of my bike and dip my feet in the water without fear of losing any time at all. And while the weather was chilly, it wasn’t nearly as bad as it had been in Kyoto. I even found myself taking my gloves off every now and then.
But all of that changed after I passed a town called Sumoto. Highway 28, which I had taken the whole way through the island, turned away from the coast and headed straight into the mountains. The remaining 50km to Tokushima (my destination city in Shikoku) suddenly looked a whole lot more challenging. And since I was already half way through, turning back didn’t really seem like a feasible option.
So I rode. I rode until my muscles burned and my veins pumped battery acid. Then I rode some more.
At one point my bike started making an unnerving noise from the front tire and the breaks started to rub. “Great,” I thought to myself. “Just what I was afraid of. The bike’s going to die on me in the middle of nowhere.” But a swift kick seemed to put it back in place. I really did not want to get caught up in these mountains after dark; with little more than a small map the police had drawn for me on the back of a napkin, I was riding almost entirely on intuition, meaning that the likelihood I’d make a mistake was huge. And time was starting to become an issue.
On top of that, since leaving Sumoto civilization seemed to have dissappeared almost entirely. There were long periods when I wouldn’t see so much as another car, let alone a gas station or convenience store.
But I kept on pushing, and eventually I did make it to the other end of the island. As it turned out, sunlight was the least of my problems. As expected, bicycles are not allowed on the Naruto bridge. But unlike the Kobe side of the island, there’s no ferry. Or bus station. Or even a way onto the highway. I was stuck in the middle of nowhere. I had made it before sundown, but if I couldn’t get across, there would be no hope of making it back in time.
So what did I do? Tune in next week. Same bat time, same bat channel!