Thursday, May 21, 2009

Kochi to Kyoto by bicycle: Day 5

Day 5
May 4, 2009
Start: Gojo
Finish: Nara
Distance: 70 km
Departed: 8 a.m.
Arrived: 2 p.m.

Nothing much happened on Day 5 of my cycling trip. This is probably not the best way to start a story. But a completely uneventful and unremarkable day is all I wanted after a very stressful Day 4.

I was worried my cycling adventure was turning into a cycling misadventure. So it was a huge relief that nothing much happened on Day 5.

I had originally planned to cycle from Kochi to Kyoto in five days, which meant today was supposed to be my last day. I was going to ride from Gojo straight to Kyoto. Gojo is about 110 kilometres directly south of Kyoto, and Route 24 would have taken me all the way there.

But Route 24 was a busy, congested road and I wanted to spend as little time on it as possible. After studying the map, I figured I could head east for about 20 km and then loop northwest to Nara along quiet country roads. From Nara, I could head west along the river and then loop northeast into Kyoto.

Detouring around Route 24 would add about 50 kilometres to the trip. Not a huge distance but enough to make me want to break the last day up into two days. Two short days of riding would be much more enjoyable than one tediously long day. Besides, I wasn't in any rush to get back to Kyoto. There were still two national holidays left before Golden Week was over.

Nara, the ancient capital of Japan, is halfway between Gojo and Kyoto and a logical stopping point. I put my name on the waiting list at the Nara Youth Hostel, which was booked solid when I called. Luckily a last-minute cancellation came up. And that was how a five-day trip turned into a six-day trip.

Splitting the last day into two days meant I could take my time as I detoured around the main road. There was a lot of lovely countryside and empty roads on the way to Nara.

Why so sad Mr. Snowman?

Inevitably, I had to do some riding on the main road to get into Nara. There wasn't much in the way of scenery. Unless you count soul-deadening suburban sprawl as scenery.

I think the sign in the following photo is grammatically incorrect.

Someone forgot to put an "s" on the end of "liquor." Foods and liquors (sorry, FOODS & LIQUORS) has a much nicer ring to it, don't you think?

Speaking of foods and liquors, I don't know what I would have done without 7-Eleven. Oh thank heaven for 7-Eleven. Seriously. I'm not making a cheap joke here. 7-Eleven was a lifesaver. I could always count on 7-Eleven for tasty food, cold drinks, clean bathrooms and help with directions.

No matter where I was, I was never far from a 7-Eleven. (Interesting fact: Japan has more 7-Eleven stores than any other country in the world. There are almost twice as many 7-Elevens in Japan than in America.)

Every 7-Eleven in Japan has the same slogan. Or maybe it's not a slogan exactly. But directly underneath every 7-Eleven sign there are always the same three words written in Japanese.

The first word 酒 is alcohol.

The second word たばこ is cigarettes.

The third word 銀行 is bank. (Put ATM behind the character for bank and you get, um, bank ATM?)

So, basically, the Japanese 7-Eleven slogan can be loosely translated as "Oh Thank Heaven for Booze, Smokes and Cash."

It has a nice hoser ring to it. It's a slogan that would work equally well in a Canadian trailer park.

Not only can you buy cigarettes at 7-Eleven, but they also provide large, upright ashtrays outside the front doors. The sides of these ashtrays are usually plastered with various philosophical musings related to smoking. Some are easy to understand, others are not.

"I moved to avoid him. But my smoke didn't."

What is the moral of the story? What kind of message are we supposed to take away from this? Don't bother side-stepping because even if you move to avoid him, your smoke won't? Or don't smoke because your dirty habit is forcing innocent bystanders to breathe in your second-hand smoke? Is the message pro-smoking or anti-smoking? I'm not sure.

After meditating on the magic of 7-Eleven while riding through endless suburban sprawl, I finally arrived in Nara. The city was clogged with cars and tourists. I'm a pretty shitty navigator so I inevitably got lost trying to find the youth hostel. I knew the hostel was on Route 44 somewhere. But the road signs were confusing. Turn right or go straight? Your guess is as good as mine.

After stopping at a 7-Eleven to ask for directions (see what I mean? the place is a total lifesaver and I thank heaven for it), I was on my way.

I arrived at the youth hostel early, which meant I had to sit around in my (offensively fragrant) cycling clothes for a few hours because "bath time" wasn't until 6 p.m. So I sat in the common room and watched TV with a group of Japanese senior citizens.

The average age of people staying at the Nara Youth Hostel was about 75. Which was great and everything. But it raised a question. Why are they called "youth" hostels? The name implies an age limit. Why not just call them "hostels"? Calling them "youth hostels" reeks of ageism. I hate ageism.

I'd way rather share a dorm room with a bunch of senior citizens who are in bed by 8:30 than with a bunch of drunk 20-somethings spewing obnoxious generalizations about some country they spent like a whole week in.

Calling them "youth" hostels is stupid. What the hell does "youth" mean anyway? Someone should start a petition to drop the word "youth" from youth hostels.

Anyway, all of this talk about 7-Elevens and so-called youth hostels is really just a distraction for the fact that I have nothing much to say about Day 5. It was a completely uneventful and unremarkable day. In a good way, of course.

The trip was quickly winding down and I was a little sad to think it was almost over. Tomorrow, I'd roll into Kyoto and right back into my regular routine of school, books, tests and studying. Tonight was my last night on the road. My last night of freedom. I celebrated in style by going to bed at 8:30 with my elderly dorm mates.

One more day to go . . .

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