Not moving, not thinking, just being

Cycle touring, decay, renewal, the mind

I rode for 1300km through Japan, one of many trips I have done by bike in this country but the longest one so far. This time I visited the most run down campsites and unremarkable towns and stopped to observe things; a giant moth, a shrine or a local cafe. One cafe was run by a surfer with an impressive sleeve tattoo. He dreams of surfing in the Maldives but remains here still and calm like the trees (his words), then there was a local community regeneration group who restore empty houses in a town with only half its former population. They run a hostel and cafe in their spare time, ‘take a coffee and put the money in that tin, don’t lock your bike, no theives in this town’ (his words), there was also a salary man turn pear farmer delighted to teach me a PUN about the kodama shinkansen variety of pear (新甘泉梨の小玉). I took a rest day and knitted a cat on a fence for a street art project and when I rested at night I did it in whatever way suited my mood. I have ditched my tent for a tarp to be more in touch with my surroundings. I had a slump at the start of the second week: my tarp was closed. At other times, weather dependant, it was open.

When I don’t stop, the things I pass catch my eye momentarily and then fade behind me never to be seen again. As do my thoughts. In a constant state of semi concentration (the road surface, interesting signs, stray grandmas, directions and listening for trucks) my thoughts have little choice but to fly past and then fade behind me. This is therapeutic. Sometimes I look at street signs and give absurd direct translations. The town to the left has lots of good lookers! But left is also with long... long what? Could be dangerous.

I begin to think less of those niggling anxieties and worries and let them pass. Thinking will not help. Things stay the same regardless of how you think about them. Instead, in my sweat soaked, endorphin pumped state, I am met with fleeting creativity and vivid dreams and a warm fuzzy feeling that goes down my arms (my brother jokes it might be a stroke :/) as I stand motionless in a hot onsen with no one else around, not moving and not thinking, just being. This is what I felt like a lot of the time, a passive witness to oddities and abnormalities and a willing recipient of what comes and goes. So unlike my real life.

Cycle touring has helped me with many things over the years. Anxiety was one. In hindsight, the reason I crossed USA by bike 5 years ago was probably an experiment to better deal with stress and things not going to plan, but there was also a need to prove something or compensate for some sense of inferiority or something... I think.

What about this time? Maybe it is an appreciation of the slow and languid or a reaffirmation of my love for a country which I have no need to love. I set out with the intention of making a low key documentary as a project to keep me occupied. Yet deep down the main aim was just doing something in my holidays for fear of feeling alone and meaningless in my dismal apartment.

In a decayed campsite I was lonely again, but I felt a sense of renewal. Actually, I was not lonely, just alone. It was a dismal, disused campsite where I walked and observed.

I was in a dream like state after a tough ride and gratifying river swim. The chirp of the cicadas filled the awkward silence of a couple bickering as they unpacked the car. The man seemed more keen on the camping trip than the lady. I walked up a hill to check out the moss covered facilities as a canoodling couple were quicky progressing to outdoor sex over the other side of the hill to the audible delight (maybe) of the woman. There were two couples and me. I was alone, as usual, but instead of being a drag to motivation, I sought comfort in being neither here nor there, no scale of bickering and canoodling to navigate between. I could just walk (walking is the equivalent of not moving in my fast paced world).

I passed a patch of grass with a small abandoned dingy where the dam water line once sat. A slide and an obstacle course were roped off, more by spider webs fallen leaves and vines than actual rope.

I come across many spider webs along the forest path winding between lost attractions of boom-time Japan. The spiders seem to be the same species I was seeing everywhere. Generally there were two on each web, maybe partners? This one however had 2 small ones and one big one. I dodged the web and shivered.

I saw a sign for a love bell (愛の鐘). I stared at it for a while wondering what it was. There was an open box at the back with dusty tangled electrical cords half pulled out. To my right was a lonely looking rest stop where the bickering couple probably professed their love for each other 25 years ago. Or so my imagination concludes.

I walked back towards the campsite and took a photo of some beautifully run-down wooden huts.

Someone has arrived. A motorcyclist. He has come from Shikoku (to here in Kyushu) by motorbike (and ferry I assume). His brother makes surf boards somewhere near the Gold Coast (Australia). I say ‘yoroshiku’ as he jumps on his bike and heads towards the nearest onsen (hot spring). He passes where the canoodling couple were. They have gone.

I notice a disused drinking fountain on the way to the observation deck and try to take an arty photograph as the sun begins to set. It was not very good. Another orange sunset. The sunset was good but not postworthy. I head back to the campsite, sit and let the thoughts swim through my mind as they do when I cycle, I stare at some moss. I sleep and my dreams are vivid. I am left undisturbed by bears, bats or insects. I sleep blissfully, not moving and not thinking, just being.