I had made it through the mountains and to the Naruto bridge well in advance of sundown, at the small cost of bloody palms and a makeshift brace for my bad left knee. No sweat. Er, actually, a lot of sweat.
When I first saw the coast over the last horizon I was so pumped from the rush of success that I scarcely noticed it. I guess that makes sense, because there was nothing to notice. Nothing at all.
No bus station, no ferry station, no gas station. The mountains simply opened up to the water. It was a good forty minutes back through the grueling mountains to the last populated area I had passed, and even if I were able to get there it wouldn’t help me make it across to Shikoku.
So I took a gamble. Instead of back-tracking, I turned onto an unmarked side road that was going in the general direction of a small town down by the water. I didn’t have any particular plan in mind; I was just clinging on to a hope that some sort of solution would present itself.
And what do you know. It did.
Before reaching the town I passed a small bus terminal whose sign indicated that a highway bus across the bridge would be passing by in an hour. I bundled up in my winter clothes and waited. And when the bus driver arrived, I begged him in the most polite Japanese I could muster that I be allowed to bring my bike on the bus.
The young Japanese girl next to me found the whole ordeal immensely entertaining. Apparently a single gaijin standing at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere with a bicycle and begging the driver to allow him to ride a long-distance bus for one stop is not so common an affair. Five hundred yen and three minutes later I was on Shikoku for the second time in my life.
Now, when I rode through the last town in Awaji I had no idea how long the stretch of mountains that lie ahead of me would be. Nor could I have anticipated the hour wait for the bus. I was hungry to the point of pain. So the second I got off the bus I charged into a Daily Yamazaki across the street, and upon noticing my UC San Diego sweatshirt the attendant grew eager to tell me all about his trip through California when he was younger.
We chatted for a bit, and then I asked him if he could point me in the direction of Tokushima. He happily explained the route with the help of a folding wall map.
I exited the store, and the man’s friend who had been unloading a truck throughout our conversation offered me his own personal umbrella before I left. He explained that there was a chance of rain later, and I shouldn’t be caught outside without one. I thanked him for his kindness but politely refused.
Then something strange happened. I rode my bike for about five minutes, and suddenly the nice man from the store was standing on the road in front of me! I almost fell off my bike. Then I saw his car parked just to the side of the road; he looked at me and held out the wall map, neatly folded in front of him. “A present.” He said. I told him that he had already been too kind and I couldn’t possibly accept, but he said that I should consider it payback for all of the kindness with which he was treated while traveling through California.
The man left the store and drove in his car to give me a wall map so that I wouldn’t get lost. Welcome to Japan.
Thanks to his help, I shortly arrived in Tokushima. It seems like this unplanned adventure has been one Deja Vu after another: first Hirakata, then the food court in Kobe, then the Naruto bridge, and now I was riding past the very same tree in Central Park, Tokushima under which I slept during the Awa Odori Matsuri that I came to see this summer. A suitible “good-bye” trip to this country that has taken such good care of me over the last year.
I continued South through the city to the isolated hostel recommended by my Lonely Planet guide, arriving just as the sun finished setting. Like the day before, the timing was perfect.
But before I even had time to brush my teeth I had passed out and awoken the next morning.
Time to pull out the maps again. What should I do next, I wonder?