I learned something this weekend: it is very difficult to bike up a hill into the wind. If my weekend was an essay, this would be its title, the clever gesture towards a point not fully explicated until the thesis statement, a couple of sentences on. I can look back over the preceding couple of days, the lead-up, the 'partly cloudy,' the going-out on my bike, the riding with the wind, that semi-inflated pride I felt, sitting on the curb at Seicomart, at having made it from Yubetsu to Monbetsu in such a short time, yeah, okay, with a tailwind, but how much difference could that make?
The thesis statement of my weekend, now that we're through with the intro, is, A person feels most alive after a steady, serious appreciation of death, having realized that the threat has passed and has translated into growth. But more on that later.
Before this weekend, any kind of distance riding beyond maybe four or five kilometers hadn't really been my quote-unquote Thing. I had, when I was maybe ten or twelve years old, spent a Canada Day weekend with my cousins in Ottawa, who, with no television or video games in the house, were at the time foreignly, no, alienly outdoorsy & athletic, preferring the company of trees and mud and rubber (boots, bike tires, running shoes, &c.) to Diddy Kong and Star Fox, childhood friends of mine. Over this fateful Canada Day weekend a decade ago we excursed bikewise across the suburban sprawl that is Ottawa -- in my memories Ottawa never really like coalesced into a true city, being even in what was meant to be downtown little more than a busier suburb -- towards museums and various Centers (e.g. Science, Technology, Space, whatever, I don't remember), playing tag and hide-and-seek among the exhibits, one of which was I think I remember a huge interactive cultural thing meant to like exposition all of the countries of the world -- or at least the important ones. I remember returning home at the end of the day totally spent, physically decimated, unable to move or perform or interface materially with the world, stunned at my ten- or twelve-year-old's body and the energy that it pulled from places I knew not like whence but which dragged me by bike across my God could I actually believe it eight kilometers of suburban Ottawa.
And this was something I was proud of for an inordinately long period thereafter, growing into a thirteen-, fourteen-, fifteen-, even unto sixteen-year-old carrying the memory of those eight exhausting kilometers with me, never bragging aloud about it, of course, quietly proud of it nonetheless.
And I guess there came a point, probably in the past couple of years, after significantly more time than should have elapsed, where I realized that eight kilometers is small potatoes in terms of distance, spanning barely any territory at all, being the sort of walk some people go on after dinner for maybe to digest food or something, the kind of quick hustle that people all over the world cross in twenty minutes on a bike, just for fun; and here I was carrying this as a medal of some sort.
Well so time passed and I got marginally healthier and now by that margin I s'pose I'm a healthier person than I was when I was younger, and come this springtime I ran, over the course of a little more than an hour, some ten kilometers, and damn that felt good, and all of a sudden those eight kilometers from when I was twelve were no longer a medal to me -- just another delusion that I carried with me for too long (among those: the reality of Santa Claus, the needlessness of picking things up and putting them down, and the undeniable superlativeness of Apple products (oh boy)).
And it felt good. Not in the moment, no -- that felt really, really bad -- but after I had done it I felt significantly better about myself -- like, way better than any living being should feel for crossing the cosmically microscopic distance that is ten kilometers, on foot, in a society which has mastered the automobile. But dangerously good. The kind of endocrine ecstasy that accompanies that first teenage sense of invincibility, that danger of standing on the edge of something very high and knowing that you couldn't possibly fall off, that reckless sensation of life.
So I've been doing it more. Gonna run another ten kilometers with a whole bunch of other people real soon, been hiking, climbing, lifting, moving, going, doing -- basically letting Hokkaido's gravitational energy pull me around towards the various things to do here -- and I feel good. So I decided to mount that bike up -- the same bike pulled out of storage last fall by the superintendent of schools here in Yubetsu with the hand-off explanation, "It's too big to give to anyone else here, so take it," -- and ride to Monbetsu. Yeah, okay, this is only 30 km (wait wait -- each way! omg) but last time I tried to ride for any distance it took me all day and I only got eight kilometers. I was twelve. And for ten years I hadn't been on a bike for more than maybe twenty minutes at any given time.
So &c., &c., it took me a certain amount of time and energy to get to Monbetsu under the power of the wind, and I stopped at a Seicomart and ate a bag of almonds and drank down a bottle of Orangina, and Instagrammed the moment (because no one can resist Instagram under the woozy high of a tailwind, thinking you're stronger than you are) and got back on the bike with my face into the wind, with my whole body into the wind, with my aerodynamics stupid and broken and probably pretty inadvisable as far as physics goes; but I pushed down on those pedals, and I leaned forward to jam my chest up against my pinkish, pumping knees, and I put on Vampire Weekend which as everyone knows is great music for biking (or at least the more manic songs are) and I rode.
And I rode.
And then I stopped for a bit for water and to give my sore bottom a break and to check Facebook, and a man in a bus slowed down and gave me a questioning thumbs-up, like Are you alright? and I gave him a reassuring thumbs-up, like Yep, just checkin' Facebook, cuz I'm a foreigner & that's what we do, is Facebook.
And I rode.
And by and by I was home. Out of breath, legs a little shaky from the last into-the-wind sprinted kilometer, splattered a little from the dirty pools of water this past week's rain has left us, my water bottle a little broken (but not unusable). Whole and alive. More alive, somehow, than when I left, despite the hand- and ass-pain, despite the leg-weakness and what I would learn the following day were trap-DOMS from holding my head up, which let me tell you your head gets heavy after 60 km.
I think there's an understanding of, not quite death, but something very close to it, when your body is pushed to a place it hasn't been before. And it takes serious, concerted effort to move yourself to that place, because your literal existence is predicated on the distance you can keep between yourself and that place, which explains why sitting on the sofa eating potato chips and generally being the archetypal Lazy American feels so good. Why lying in bed, doing nothing at all, is many people's answer to serious pain/stress/trauma: because it widens that distance between us and the limits of us, because it puts us right at the center of the great big circle that is our capital-C Capability: the easiest thing to do in the world, the most comfortable, &c. But that concerted effort is necessary for real life, because though our bodies reflexively believe that everything beyond our Capability is death -- the place that we can't go, the things that we can't do, that which lies beyond us -- we all know, realistically, that what lies beyond our Capability is growth, is a stretching of that circle, an expansion.
And I'm really glad that we live in a place where the natural gravity of the island pulls us out of ourselves, pulls us inexorably from our centers. So come on, Hokkaido. I wanna go expand.
P. S. Oh another thing I learned: the abbreviation 'uoeno' is now American slang for 'you don't even know,' as in "My God it's been raining here for weeks, uoeno." But I don't know how to pronounce it, and frankly think it's a bit of a stretch.
P. P. S. Between the writing of this blog and right now, I've learned that it has something to do with Rick Ross, which pretty much explains the absurdity of it.
P. P. P. S. Author's note, 07/09/23: It's been almost exactly 10 years since I wrote this and I'm probably only marginally better at running and cycling now than I was then, and I still miss that Fuji Espree every single day.