I learned something this weekend: it is very difficult to ride a bike uphill into the wind, especially after you rode 90 km yesterday and a further 70 km today, and have another twenty kilometers to go, two or three of which are on the hill you're charging up with your sore ass and your sore arms and your sore hands and your sore back and your sore legs. Not impossible, mind -- no, nothing's impossible in first gear -- but it's tough. It's something I couldn't have done a year ago, something which, in my first couple of weeks, back on Week 5, believing that experience is essentially opt-out-able, that giving up is always an option, a big red button under a plastic trigger-guard, would have been off the edges of the map. Week-5-Charles would believe that you could get off your bike and hop a train back to Nayoro and walk away with your like psychological composition more or less intact; but that's not how it works, in the end. Hokkaido is about hanging you up high and fiddling with the chemical broth of your psyche such that letting go, falling, is no longer an option, however much you want it to be, and that you have to jam out one more pull-up to get yourself out of your tight spot. If you haven't learned this yet, you will soon.
There's a reward, though, for this weird kind of brainwashing, for the sunburns and for the grime and the smells and the aches that last for three, four days afterwards, for the scars and calluses that you get to build up and wear like a uniform. Tony says, "The best way to get to know a country is by bike." (He says that he doesn't remember who said it; a Google search came up with nothing.) He's right. By bike you enter into a really intimate relationship with the road, with cracks in asphalt, with the yellowed creaking weeds that creep right up against the cars, with the bigger, dried-out bushes of long, thin, frondy leaves, with the spiky purple flowers growing there, with the shape of the wind blowing across fields and through trees. You get to know the kind of car that won't give you space as it drives by, the kind of car that leans on the horn as it passes you, the underlying tight snarl of engine noise that indicates the driver's not just letting you know he's there (protip: Toyota Crown Athletes and Land Cruiser Prados are the worst offenders; & the newer the car, the more likely they'll feel some sort of ownership of the road and ostensibly some kind of severe offense that you are taking up a part of it).
You really hear the sound of a tunnel, of vehicles and wind, of churned-up carbon monoxide through roaring traffic echoed every which way in the belly of a mountain. I imagine that with time this concoction of noise and smell, this cool air with teeth, becomes to you little more than an inconvenience, but on your first long-distance ride a tunnel will make you fearful that you need new shorts; and when you emerge into the warmth of the sun and the susurrations of the wind on the mountainsides you'll wonder why you're out of breath, realizing only hours later, looking at a graph of your tour, that you jumped up some 15 kph above your average speed during the length of the tunnel.
You'll feel forever a little bit less legitimized, stopping at a convenience store on a long road trip by car. A weary sense of I deserve this descends on you, half-defeated on the curb of a rural Seicomart parking lot with the heft of your backpack and tent and sleeping back stirring quietly above you, edges shimmering in the sun, the salty patina of sweat and dust on your arms and legs and face. A sense of, you've earned the gritty stuff caked on the back of your neck, the dirty cudge lodged in the little crevice between your foot and the top of your shoe -- that your exhaustion isn't something to peel and pick and wash off but something to wear proudly, something to show off for at least a day, something to own as evidence of your exertion.
You will develop a deep religious-like reverence for those who do this kind of thing further and more often than you, and you will wish in an only half-serious way that there was some sort of place to worship these kinds of athletes, and then you will remember why the Olympics are a thing.
You'll, if your idea of a post-ride meal is a Big Mac in Nayoro, which yes, that's my idea of a post-ride meal, you'll step onto an escalator with such a disengaged muscular substructure (your body is, remember, on the verge of failure) that you will feel your back over the full span of your spine compress as your forward movement is translated to upward movement. It will feel very, very weird.
And at night you will sit down in your chair to check some email, and you will find that you can't stand up again, and this will pose a serious problem because you need desperately to sleep. And when finally, through some miracle of sheer human will, you make it across your living room to your bed, you'll feel a brief moment of total looseness as your body, if only for a moment, decides to give up entirely, kinetically. You'll find that your body has like auxiliary muscles for moments like this, when you need to roll over in bed or lean over to turn off the light, muscles that don't get used except In Case of Emergency.
And your body will be so tired that it can't muster the necessary mental RAM or processing power for dreams, and you will sleep at the bottom of a very dark well, very inhumanly deeply, and you will not dream at all.
Author's note, 13/09/23: Strava activity can be found here.