Ol’ Bill

September 13, 2019 § 7 Comments

Gonna miss Ol’ Bill when I leave Vienna.

When I moved in here at the Sommerhotel Don Bosco I was impressed with how quiet the neighborhood was. It was off the main streets. You just opened the windows and let the breeze flow in. Nighttime was quiet, with the distant sound of the city wafting in as you nodded off to sleep.

Pretty sweet.

Until about 2:00 AM. Because that’s when Ol’ Bill would get started. At first, you know, it kinda got your attention pretty regular.

In fact, you’d sit up in bed like you’d just heard a mass murderer calling your name. Because that’s pretty much what Ol’ Bill sounded like. He’d get going and wind it up, screeching to beat the band with it echoing all up and down the street.

Did I mention that he’d kick off the party at 2:00 AM?

Anyways, he’d kind of calm down after a couple of hours, take a nap maybe, and then give a couple of half-hearted hollers before turning in for the night. Or day, because by now the sun was just a little while from coming up.

Since Ol’ Bill got after it good every night I got to wondering what other folks thought about him. They had their windows open, too. So I moseyed down to the front desk one morning at about five o’clock, seeing as I was up and not going back to sleep anytime soon.

“Say, there,” I said, just as simple as could be.

“Yes, sir?” the nice gal said.

“I got me a question for you.”

“Yes, sir?”

“What’s the story with Ol’ Bill?”

“Who?”

“Ol’ Bill.”

“Who is he, sir?”

“He’s the feller who starts caterwauling every night about 2:00 AM, like to wake the whole damn city.”

The girl blinked. “I don’t know who you’re talking about, sir.”

“I kinda think you do, honey. Screeches like a cat done got his tail caught under the rocking chair. Goes off reglar like happy hour. Hollers fit to be tied. Ever single night, and don’t shut up til daybreak.” On cue, Ol’ Bill let out a monstrous howl.

She blinked again. “Oh, him.” She trailed off.

“Yeah,” I said. “Him.”

“Oh, well, he has some emotional issues.”

“You don’t say?”

“But he is harmless, I can assure you.”

“Well, honey, I carry an 8-inch frogsticker that is sharp enough to gut a log, so I ain’t real worried about that part of the math problem. I was just wonderin’, you know, the back story so to speak.”

“The building across from ours is a facility for people who cannot live without assistance due to emotional issues.”

“Nuthouse, huh?”

“We in Vienna attempt to integrate people into society rather than exclude them. It creates understanding among all members of society about those who are less fortunate and it normalizes the lives of those with impairments.”

“You know what else it does?”

“What is that, sir?”

“It damn well guarantees you ain’t gettin’ any shut-eye after about two in the morning.”

“I’m sorry, sir. We all must adjust to it.” She didn’t look like the adjustment was goin’ too well because she had bags under her eyes big enough for Santa Claus.

Since I was already up and it was daybreak, I moseyed down to the bakery for a coffee. There was a feller sitting on the corner begging. We looked at each other for a minute and I dropped a buck into his cup.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Don’t mention it,” I said. “Least you ain’t hollerin.'”

END


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Can Seth come out and play?

September 12, 2019 § 3 Comments

I am not much of a luxury traveler. I’ve been subsisting almost exclusively on rye bread, butter, jam, salami and coffee for two weeks now, with the occasional box of cookies, bar of chocolate, or sausage dinner.

My Innsbruck digs were mostly like my ones in Vienna; cheap. The Innsbruck place was also a dorm of some sort but I wasn’t clear exactly for whom. There was one room on my floor that was a lounge for “Studentinnen” only, which means “girl students.”

Yesterday I got back from my Alpine odyssey beat to shit, and my right Achilles tendon was feeling like it had been immersed in a hot acid bath filled with nails. I had kept waiting for my new boots to get broken in but it seemed like my feet were going to break before the shoes.

I was two days in on the t-shirt so I stank like a vintage Euro, and I’d skipped a morning shower in order to hit the trail early. Back in my room I shucked off everything except my underwear and got ready to get into the shower.

That’s when I heard a knock at the door. “What the fuck?” I wondered. Nobody knew me there or even knew I was there. There was no peephole so I figured the worst it could be was the cops, and they’d probably seen lots worse than a skinny, smelly old man in his undershorts, so I opened the door.

A kid was standing there, about twelve. We looked at each for a second. I don’t know which of us was more surprised, but I do know which of us was scarred for life.

He began talking to me in Tirolean at blitz pace. The only word I caught was “New.”

“Just a minute,” I said. “Let me put my pants on.”

There are few things worse than climbing back into nasty jeans and a nasty t-shirt, but I did, and re-opened the door and stepped outside.

This time there were five kids and one of them had a soccer ball. The gang leader went at it again, and this time I mostly understood what he was saying, A pair of pants will do wonders for your foreign language cognition.

“Hello, sir. We saw you were a new resident and wanted to know if you wanted to come out and play?”

“Sorry?”

“We always like to welcome new residents in the home. Can you come out and play with us?”

My Achilles screamed “Hell, no.” But I didn’t.

“Well you see, I’m not really a resident. I’m just here for a couple of days.”

“Oh,” the boy said. Then he brightened. “Are you any good at soccer? You can be on our team.”

“I’d love to but I’m no good. At all.”

They looked relieved that I’d told them the truth. Their gambit to recruit a star soccer player having failed, they said thank you, wished me a happy trip, and hurried off.

It brought back memories of having always been picked last on every team I ever played on, and made me happy that this time, at least, they’d thought I was a ringer.

END


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Heidi, Heidi, ho

September 11, 2019 § 14 Comments

I don’t know the difference between the Swiss Alps and the Austrian Alps, but now that I’ve been to Tirol I have a hard time imagining that the ones in Switzerland are any prettier.

Check out my hotel room. It has a view of the mountains. In the corner is a tiny TV. This is the correct ratio of screen size to room square footage anywhere, but especially in Innsbruck. If you are such a moron that you have to watch TV while faced with one of the most spectacular vistas on earth, you deserve the muck that you’re being fed. I especially like the TV’s location because to properly view it from bed you need to have your neck broken in at least two places.

I’m a messy sleeper.

Here is a map of the route I took today. The goal was the Saile summit but like most goals it remained unreached, at least by me. That’s because I’m weak and because I started my hike at my hotel instead of taking the bus to the base of the climb. In Innsbruck the minute you leave the Inn River, you go up. Steeply. Immediately. So even though I spent five hours hiking uphill, I never got to the top. Next time.

It’s an even longer way to Tipperary, I am told.

Before I got too carried away with exercise, I stopped at a cafe and had a cup of coffee and a custard-filled-something-or-other. It was the best pastry I’ve ever had in my life, but thankfully it had zero calories as it was made of broccoli.

Health food

Here are a bunch of trail pictures. The scenery is amazing but you really need to be in shape to enjoy it. Otherwise you will be like me, happy but miserably tired beyond any words.

The Tirolean Alps are very civilized. You march up the steepest stuff until you think your legs are going to fall off, and then you get to a little hut that serves food, coffee, beer, wine, and scenery. And in summer and fall, they serve perfect weather, too. The one on the right even had WiFi, so you could log in to be reminded how hateful it is to have to work, and how pleasant it is to stroll around without purpose.

It took forever to get down from that second hut; the trail was steep and muddy and rocky and treacherous. Plus, my legs were beat to Jell-O. At the bottom there was a road with a bus stop. I prayed to dog for a bus, and one came. See? There is a dog! The bus took me about five miles down and then I had to hoof it another three miles in order to experience what was certainly the most beautiful sight of the day:

Yum.

I pretty much ate it pretty much quickly and reflected that I’d hiked for eight hours on nothing but two pieces of bread, some butter, half a box of cookies, a broccoli pastry and two coffees. So I sat there not feeling guilty and pleasantly killed time until I had to hike the remaining two miles home. I was pretty satisfied.

Not winning any beauty contests here. Or anywhere.

END


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Facebook or a walk in the park?

September 9, 2019 § 2 Comments

A new, rigorous study, or at least more rigorous than the slap-dash crap done heretofore, confirms more common sense: The more you use Facebag, the worse you feel. There are different theories as to why this might be so, but I break them down into two basic explanations:

  1. It sucks looking at an endless stream of happy people even when you know it’s bullshit.
  2. Narcissism makes you unhappy.

It’s a bit of a long story but one that can easily be shortened. I was all packed up and ready to go on a big bike trip, when I decided to do the bike trip without the bike. It has so far worked out great. I’ve non-biked in some great places and seen things I would have never seen were I not non-biking.

Yesterday I non-biked out of the town of Baden, and took a hiking trail up into the Wiener Wald. The first part of the trail was along a bike bath, so technically I did get some biking in, again, minus the bike.

I have a couple of cyclist friends who have done a lot of non-biking lately, Junkyard, who is non-biking his way from Canada to Mexico on the Pacific Crest Trail, and CG New Girl, who has been non-biking all over the country the last couple of years, up and down mountains, camped out by scenic lakes, and stomping around in non-biking boots.

The non-bike ride yesterday started out cool, damp, overcast, and threatening rain. I non-biked on. My #fakesurfer shoes with smooth soles which are oh-so-comfy for padding around the mall didn’t work out so great on the steep trail sections covered with mud, wet leaves, and mossy rocks. It would have definitely gone better with a cyclocross-type non-bike setup.

On the way back I stopped at the Scharzenberg overlook. Just then the sun hit, blasting away the clouds. I sat down and ate some from my loaf of bread. The rock warmed up, and so did I. Next thing I knew I was asleep in the sun on a rocky ledge.

The number of newsfeeds I reviewed, statuses I updated, posts I got my panties wrenched sideways about … that would be zero. I guess the formula is Non-bike > Facebag, or something like that.

END


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On foot

September 7, 2019 § 9 Comments

If you want people to think you are homeless, the best way is by walking. I took the train this morning to Klagenfurt, a small town in Austria, which is redundant.

I have read so many travelogues waxing eloquent about the joy of train travel, but my appreciation of trains is limited to toy trains, which I hate. The worst thing about train stations in Austria are the bicycles. You see all these happy people pushing their bikes through the station, and there you are knowing you are going to wind up sitting on the stupid train, and then taking a taxi, or a bus, or some shit like that when you reach your destination whereas they will get on their overloaded bike, ride 20 miles, park in front of a sunny café, get drunk, eat too much food, and call it a day.

I had a knapsack and a paper shopping bag from the grocery store with bread and salami in it, along with Austria’s number one homegrown product, bitter chocolate for a bitter nation. Somehow my hotel was 3 miles from the train station, so I mistakenly walked in the wrong direction to downtown, realized it was like every other Austrian downtown, filled with restaurants, cafés, and people who had stopped working on Wednesday, begun drinking, and who weren’t about to take their foot off the gas until late Sunday night, if then.

I realized my mistake and returned to the station. There was a family of five on touring bikes; the parents had gone to check the train schedule, as they were finished with their tour and were going to take the train back home.

“How far have you been riding?”

The middle kid, a girl, said “250 km.”

“Where did you go?”

“We started in Italy, in Tirol, and we are finishing here, and taking the train home to Graz.”

Just then the parents reappeared, and were not pleased that their kids were talking to a homeless guy. I moved on.

The walk to my hotel was through a very nasty industrial area filled with putrid chemical odors. Since I hadn’t eaten lunch, I got very hungry and spied a train station after walking a couple of miles. I figured there would be a bench where I could sit down and eat my bread crust and salami. As I walked up the stairs a rat-faced boy and his tattooed girlfriend hurried by, eyes averted, obviously up to no good, which gave me hope for the younger generation. The platform was deserted, so I sat down on a bench. My foot pressed down on something squishy as I sat, and I noticed that it was a freshly used condom.

I tried to shake it off my foot, but it stuck good. Of course at that moment a pretty young lady with her young child walked up and sat down just as I was madly shaking my foot, with the gooey condom on my shoe whacking the ground.

It is precisely for such moments that small children were invented because the little boy asked, “What is on the man’s shoe, Mommy?”

The young lady was embarrassed, but pretended it was totally normal to have a wet condom dangling off the end of a shoe. “It is a piece of chewing gum, honey,” she said.

The little boy looked at the condom with the suspicion of a child who is accustomed to being lied to by adults and who knows damned good and well what a piece of chewing gum looks like. “What flavor is it, then?“ he asked.

At that moment the condom came free and went sailing over the bench onto the wall where it landed with a “fwap.” The little boy was impressed. The nice lady realized she had to go somewhere, and quickly left. I reflected that freshly used condoms in daylight mean that you are definitely staying in a fun town, and even if you aren’t, that and an endless hike through poison gas plants means you are for sure losing the Four Seasons crowd so, winning.

I continued on and after a long time got concerned because I didn’t have the address of the hotel and I wasn’t sure if I had remembered its name correctly, or the street it was on. A guy was coming my way on a scooter so I shouted at him, “Is this Ebenthalerstraße?”

I think he was afraid of me because he veered, but as he passed he shouted, “Yes of course it is!” as if I were a complete fool for not being able to read the giant sign in front of my face that said Ebenthalerstraße. It started to rain but I had a small umbrella that didn’t work except to keep the remainder of my bread crust dry, which was all I really cared about. I got to the hotel, which was shaped like a giant square, painted pink, and the room was super porny, actually a nice change after the spartan quarters in the dormitory room. By 2 PM I was dead asleep.

END


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Scenery
Good times waiting for the train
Come hither
Luxus
Bitter and good!
Louis Vuitton-ish
Staff of Seth

Memory

April 6, 2019 § 11 Comments

We are a concatenation of memory.

Without it we don’t exist, with it we are formed exactly as we are. Memory is a trap and a lie but it is also the touchstone of truth, sunk deep inside the paradox of never knowing which memories are real, which are only imagined, which are distorted, which are piecemeal, and which are the poisonous and mortal byproducts of nostalgia.

Memory is how we shortcut having to relearn, but also how we shortcut having to relive pain, beauty, happiness, and regret. Memory can be burnished, exercised, buffed, smeared with suntan oil and posed for competition, but it by definition degrades, crumbles, and does so randomly without even the courtesy of keeping the good and chucking the bad.

Memory leaves us with the damp and misshapen grains of sand that, formed early into castles, gradually dry out with old age and fall in upon themselves, leaving nothing but a smooth and level surface, inseparable and indistinct from the other billions of grains on the strand.

I remembered yesterday, or rather it was yesterday when I remembered, wheels spinning along roads I first rode in March, March 1987 … what were you doing then? Were the things that mattered to you then the things that matter to you now? How were your legs then? How were your lungs and heart? How many miles had you ridden, races had you won, defeats had you washed down in all their bitterness?

Did you know in March, that March, what lay ahead? Did you even suspect it? The births, the deaths, the marriages, the divorces, the illness, the recovery, the exploration, the plodding dull traces that you would fall into for decades, grinding out shit so that you could buy more shit, the mere possession of which forced you to grind the night soil even more?

March in those days was free from a melted nuclear plant a mere 60 miles away from this quiet city. Its poisonous fumes now circle the globe and the only thing that the world does in quiet complicity is watch while the powerless-that-be dump another daily hundred thousand tons of cold ocean water on the smoldering core that will burn for a million years.

March in those days was ruled by an emperor who presided over the bloody murder and rape of Asia, later venerated as the titular head of state, the tit that he sucked dry from cradle to grave, as honored in his butchery as in his dotage.

In that March, that March of those days, I was young! I wore no helmet and encountered nothing for it other than the wind through my hair, I was tied to no man or woman, I had no future, my past was too brief and irrelevant to merit mention or much thought, and the only treasure that poured through my fingers was the golden treasure of time, of today.

March in those days these streets were filled with bicycles, old people and young people and in-betweens, pedaling furiously in the fickle temperatures on their way to work, to school, to the green grocer because there was such a thing! Kobori-san sold fresh in bundles or singly, in season, imports unknown, and your teeth bit through the vegetables and fruits with zest.

Somehow the cold and snow and sleet, the last spurts of angry winter gave way to April, and my memory tells me this: It was thirty-two years ago that I first pedaled out west of town towards the mountains, direction a small town called Fubasami whose kanji I couldn’t read and from there to the even smaller burg of Okorogawa, equally indecipherable to an illiterate, and from there to the fork in the road, one way up the sheer mountain climb into Kiyotaki and Nikko, the other way a path I never took, not once, to the purgatory of Kobugahara and the copper mining village of Ashio.

The deepest memory trigger of all is smell, and if you have never read Jitterbug Perfume then you have missed the greatest trick your mind can ever play upon you, the trick of remembering through the flash of scent. Yesterday I ascended into the lower reaches of the cedar forests and wasn’t struck by the flood of memories that come from inhaling the deep wooded scent, no, I have been congested for decades and am blind to smell, mostly.

Instead I was struck by how much I love the cedar, the true emblem of this forest nation, so different from the cherry blossom! Cherry flower, fie on thee. You come briefly, in full beauty, you beguile us with a shimmer scarcely of this world, then you are gone as quickly as you came. Your bole is small, what house or temple was ever built from cherry? Your fruit are tiny and scarcely worth gathering, the sweet meat surrounding a bitter and hard pit that lies in wait to crack the enamel off your teeth should you bite it by mistake.

But cedar? Give me your cedar over your cherry flower any day, evergreen, massive, as useful in youth as it is after 400 years, wood that lasts forever, upon which giant temples, massive homes, shrines of antiquity, all were built. Give me your cedar in rows thirty miles long stretching all the way to the temples in Nikko, so giant and towering, silent and strong, green and sheltering whether rain, snow, sleet, or sun beat down. Give me your cedar whose high branches are home for birds, whose forested floor is home for every creature, cedar, imperious and impervious, mighty, enduring.

As I reached the road’s fork I turned left, towards purgatory, and the road does what it had been doing from the moment I left home, it tilted up, only this time it was a kick. For more than an hour prior there had been no traffic, not a car, not a truck, not a scooter, nothing but perfect tarmac laid out seemingly for bicycle tires alone. There was no memory here as I’d never passed this way before, but a few miles later the road dropped down, connecting with the road to Furumine Shrine.

That I remembered, but how? It went along a river that I’d been along before, and the giant torii that began the giant climb also rang my memory bell, but when? How? For what? I vaguely remembered hiking the mountain trails once, up above the shrine, but with whom? Alone?

And what about you? What were you doing in the mountains three decades past? Were you in the mountains at all? Were you skiing? Trying out the newly invented Board of Snow, the one with a rubber line attached to the tip that you held onto while “surfing” down the slope?

Were you camping? Snuggling in a tent? Fighting fires? Getting lost in the Sierras, stumbling along some rocky route in Sangre de Cristos, hiking the Rainbow Trail, angling for fish in some freezing stream?

My memory’s skein has nothing here but a big hole. I remembered the road, the torii, the trails above the shrine but what fit into the hole was simply the junk and detritus that I invented to fill it. This is memory at its worst, refusing to accept the hole as an empty thing lost forever, and filling it with shit, or worse, with photos from an album, or worst of all, with 1’s and 0’s.

Where my crippled memory still walks with a steady gait, though, is in its rejection of memory aids. I had no compulsion to stop as I pedaled and snap pictures with my phone, because I had no phone. Why do I need pictures to remind me of the past? The past is gone, and if it wasn’t strong enough or sweet enough or bitter enough to imprint itself into my web, then let the whole thing rot, I will save the strands in the web for something that matters, like death.

Oh, and this memory! How did I pedal these roads in a 52/42 x 13-21, gearing bolted onto a steel frame with 36-spoked wheels? Today the plate on the back was a gigantic 25, and the saucer on the front a tiny 36, little children’s gears, things that a baby could ride to the top of Everest with, and here I was, barely turning the pedals on this endless grade? I tried to remember what it was like to have legs and lungs that thrashed mighty gears up beastly climbs like this, but nought.

The road forked, which is what roads and lives do. They fork. And in the middle of this one was a shop selling noodles and ice cream, and so I dithered because the road ahead was long and steep and my stomach was growling and surely there was nothing between here and there. The proprietor ran out and motioned me in, pointing to of all things, a bike rack and a sign that said “Kanuma Friends of Cycling.”

He was old and said, “I don’t know you. I know all the bicyclists who come here. Who are you?”

I told him that I remembered. I remembered when shops like his didn’t know about bicycles or care, I remembered when drivers gave us a half-berth and a honk, I remembered when “cycling” in this provincial prefecture was as novel as piercing low body parts, but I didn’t remember him, either.

He smiled because he had been trumped, and he laughed. “We used to not care, it’s true. But we are friendly now because bicycles are good business!”

Ah yes, business! Why love a thing because it breathes and hugs you tight, why love a thing because it nurtures your soul and your legs, why love a thing because it makes you a woman or a man, strengthens you when you are alone, succors you when you are ill, accompanies you on the high roads, bombs you, heart in mouth, on the low ones, pumps you with speed and terror, thrill and disappointment, why do any of those things matter when it is good business?

Good business, too, is the smoldering nuclear bomb, exploding daily far beyond the lifespan of humanity itself. Good business is human trafficking, air pollution, harvesting life until it becomes extinct, Monsanto! Monsanto is good business, welcome Monsanto along with the bicycles! Park your Round-up here and tip a few grains into your green tea because, you know, it is good business!

My teeth sunk down into the cold soba noodles. They were good business too and my stomach growled appreciatively. A few coins later I got ready to remount, pointing my bike towards the tunnel, where clearly there was nothing ahead but bad business and much of it.

“Not there!” the host shouted. “Nikko is that way!”

“I’m taking the road to Ashio,” I said, but I thought “and bad business.”

“That road is farther. Much farther. And steeper. Bad roads. No bicyclists go there. This way is shorter and better.” He motioned precisely in the direction I had no intention of taking, reminding me of a similar occurrence outside the village of Shimogo, also thirty-two years ago, when I had ignored local advice and almost died on a snow-covered trail stuck high in the Fukushima mountains in April.

Here it was again April, again spring, again high in the mountains, and again local knowledge advising me against bad judgment and poor choices and bad business, and here I was again, utterly unchanged, ignoring facts and seeking something better, eagerly vying for the chance to throw my money and my life after what could only be very, very bad business.

The climb began slowly and slowed down from there, yet I had the confidence of a full belly and the memory of the map graven in my head, huge squiggles closely bunched together for twenty miles or more, up, up, up, bad business at ploddingly slow speed all the way. These are the times that you reflect on your chances if you flat or fall and bust your skull or break a leg. No cars, no trucks, no people, nothing, you will bleed out or go into shock and die and become a local headline. “Cyclist Ignores Warning, Dies.”

“Cyclist Hits Head without Helmet, Dies.”

“Cyclist Loses Way in Mountains, Encounters Snowstorm, Dies.”

“Cyclist Dies.”

Those headlines all reverberated but were drowned out by the counter-headlines that would never be published:

“Cyclist Ignores Warning, Has Ride of His Life.”

“Cyclist Rides without Helmet, Enjoys Incomparable Happiness.”

“Cyclist Finds Way in Mountains through Force of Memory, Pedals in Glorious Spring Weather”

“Cyclist Lives.”

A good wet memory smacked me hard, the memory of exploring these roads three decades prior without a phone, just like today. You can have adventure. You can have security. You cannot have both. After a time the road fell, then fell, fell, and fell some more. Turns were punctuated with loose gravel, sand, and carpeted cedar needles, and I have another question for you.

When is the last time you took a road whose end was unknown? When is the last time you wandered? When is the last time you were … exposed? The road went from tiny and narrow and twisting to impossibly so, the speckling from the sunlight hiding treacherous holes in the pavement, sudden tiny bridges over cascading mountain streams, brakes rubbing and burning and smoking, hands exhausted from the clenched brake levers, hoping that the tires held and yet enjoying the Paradox of the Terrifying Descent: It is terrifying, yes, but contains the kernel of joy from going downhill rather than up, and its corollary: The worst descent is better than the best ascent.

I have ridden more roads than you, likely.

I have ridden more miles than you, likely.

I have ridden more crazy rides than you, likely.

I have ridden more hidden roads in Tochigi Prefecture than you, certainly.

And I can tell you this: The leg from Furumine Shrine to the bottom of the climb up to Ashio is one of the most exhilarating, challenging, beautiful, gut-wrenching, spectacular pieces of bicycling I have ever done in my life or ever hope to do, and all of that before the third major pass of the day had even begun, a climb that put everything before into the deepest shade.

At the bottom the road does what such roads always do, which is go again up, this time the final climb to the pass at Kasuo. For a mile I climbed, slowly, out of the saddle, on a grade with only a few gradual turns until the road became so steep that the switchbacks began, and at the first switchback there was a sign with a number: Curve No. 1.

What would you think when you saw that? Well of course you would wonder, “How many more?” and I can tell you now without spoiling it because the chance you will ever ride this road is zero, the number of numbered switchbacks to the top is 38 … but that’s not really true because there are an equal number of turns that are simply not numbered.

These numbers reminded me of the lettered curves up the fabled Irohazaka climb, which pales in comparison to this monster. At the top the only thing that awaited was silence; this high up it was dead winter with the door ajar just so to let in the rays and tendrils of spring, here a chickadee calling, there a woodpecker hammering on the early feast. In addition to winter and exhaustion, the queen descent awaited, as poor a road with as treacherous a surface as you could wish on your poor 25mm tires, pot holes, stones, gravel, sand, speckling, off-camber switchbacks, collapsed guardrails, and another 30 hairpins to the bottom for ten very long kilometers.

What should I more say than that the road spread out at the bottom into another untrafficked, perfectly paved highway with a howling tailwind and a gradual 10-km climb to the tunnel that dropped you down into Nikko? The day was mostly spent, my legs were wholly shot, and the final 45 km though downhill came with a stiff, in-your-face headwind. From start to finish it took 8.5 hours, including well over an hour at the noodle shop and at the convenience store before the tunnel.

In those hours I relived the things I have lived before, memories soldered to new experiences which, at day’s end, had become memories themselves, memories to be written down here and shortly thereafter, except in fragments, to be forgotten, forever.

END

Review: Wanky Japan Cycling Tour

April 5, 2019 § 4 Comments

Hello. My name is Bill Smith. I am an avid recreational cyclist. Always up for a new challenge. Have done lots of bike tours. Love Trek. First class stuff. Great guides. Top notch food and drink. Amazing itineraries pegged to your fitness level.

I ran across the Wanky Japan Cycling Tour ad in a public toilet; looked weird but interesting. Can’t beat the price. $15/day, fully guided rides just north of Tokyo. Small city called Utsunomiya; easy to get to.

So.

I have to say I was disappointed. Half a star. Can’t recommend this, sadly. Lots of problems from the beginning; prolly easiest to make a list.

  • Guide, Mr. Wanky, totally indifferent to my needs.
  • Had transportation issues getting my bike from Narita to Utsunomiya. Wanky solution? “It’s your bike, not mine.” That was it.
  • Recommended hotel was cheap but everything was in Japanese. Asked Mr. Wanky for help getting checked in, finding out about breakfast, etc., but no luck. “It’s your reservation, not mine.” Kind of set the tone for the whole tour.
  • Day 1 ride not pegged to my ability. Mr. Wanky did a 4-hour ride with tons of hard climbing. I was cooked. Every time I asked how much longer the climbs were he said, “I dunno. And what difference does it make? You still have to get up them.”
  • Lot of riding by myself with zero encouragement from Mr. Wanky. Although he waited at the top of all the climbs.
  • Very little coaching on this tour. Mr. Wanky: “I suck. You suck. But you suck more.”
  • Got super hungry and asked about the restaurant/gourmet lunch stop (I love Japanese food). Mr. Wanky: “We are eating at convenience stores.” Really?
  • Knackered as hell after Day 1. Undergeared big-time. Needed some guidance finding a bike shop that could swap out my cassette. Mr. Wanky: “Google. See you tomorrow.”
  • Day 2 ride not pegged to my ability at all. Mr. Wanky: “Today is flat.” I guess so, but only compared to Day 1. Hilly AF. And windy.
  • Questionable guide skills! Mr. Wanky was lost A LOT. Stopped to ask locals directions A LOT. Ended up getting into arguments with them. NOT REASSURING.
  • Technologically illiterate! No cell phone, no GPS, just riding “from memory.” And Mr. Wanky’s memory is BAD.
  • Social media unfriendly. Refused to let me stop and take selfies. Mr. Wanky: “Your camera ain’t gonna pedal your bike, turkey.” He called me a TURKEY!!!
  • Three hours in I needed to stop and rest. Mr. Wanky: “I don’t GAF what you need. If you can find your way home, rest all you want.” Super hard. Hardest day on the bike in my life. Until Day 3.
  • Terrible route choice. Never asked how I felt, what I wanted to see, did I like convenience store food, did I want to stop and see some cultural things like shrines and such. Mr. Wanky: “If you’re here to ride your bike, cool. If you want a history lesson, go back to college.” JACKASS.
  • Major dinner disappointment. Crazy famished. Asked for sushi recommendations. Mr. Wanky: “Sushi is for wankers.” Oh, really? Wankers?
  • Day 3. Hell warmed over. Four major passes, 18,000 feet of climbing, 115 miles, 8.5 hours of misery. Don’t bother asking where you’re going or anything. Mr. Wanky: “It’s a surprise.”
  • Major coffee withdrawal. No coffee shops with lovely ambience, no, sir. Just convenience store coffee.
  • Zero help with clothing selection. Asked about the weather and what I should wear. Mr. Wanky: “Wear whatever you want. Do I look like your mother?” Froze my butt off on Day 1, melted on days 2 and 3.
  • Indifferent to my pollen allergies. Cedar pollen everywhere because spring. Asked if we could please AVOID riding through the cedar forests. Mr. Wanky: “No.”

You get the picture. An indifferent, rude guide, although it was the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever seen in my life. Also, I got crazy fit crazy fast. But I pulled the plug after Day 3. Not worth the frustration of paying good money and not getting the kind of kudos and encouragement that makes cycling such a fun activity.

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