This morning we headed South. Turning our backs on Sakhalin Island…and more…Alaska?
Cycle touring: when it’s good, it’s soooooo good! Today is good. Ruler straight roads. Low traffic. Summer. How do I describe it? Colours. Start with Blue. Everything is blue. Sky & Sea. To our right Blue. Look closer: specks of white foam; black sandy beach; white breakers; driftwood & flotsam colours. To our left is Green. Trees, grass, hills & mountains. Sparkling. So many shades. Look closer: dots of Alpine Wild flower colour (in full bloom today); a river; bird colours. So, not just Blue & Green after all: the more you look the more you see the more you want to look. The more you see…
A grey road. Leading, since January, to who-knows-where. Around a bend, over a hill, or as today, straight with it’s end squeezed together far, far, away. Concealing surprises that are revealed, slowly, rewarding the patient. In Scotland our rides are always loops. Familiar. The end is always a house with it’s list of chores. But here, in Japan, it’s point A to B cycling: chasing that elusive pot of gold. The more we cycle, the more we find, the more we want to cycle.
On these straight roads with views unbroken by dangling electric lines, we sometimes chat. Sometimes we don’t: my favourite bits. What is going through the mind of Sam, Joe, Heidi? Memories in the making: myths & legends. Perhaps no thoughts. Each of us pedalling alongside a blue sea with black beaches. Nothing else.
A kite leads us: tail twitching to keep the thermals. Cuckoos call. Three snakes and a fox. A caterpillar has very nearly managed to cross the road. I turn my handlebars and avoid squashing it. Another one starts it’s long journey to the other side. Splat. Oops.
20 days remaining:
Some cruel bastard decided to test the Tsunami Alarm system at 9pm. 7.30am we are loaded and ready to go. Rain forecast this afternoon, I set the agenda for the day, “Right guys, bit of a headwind, and rolling hills. But we can manage 95km. We did it yesterday. Then we camp in a nice sized village for the rain”…”Guys…GUYS! Wait for me. I was trying to tell you something!”..10.15am (about 45km)…I set the agenda again,”we’ve got another 50km today, so we only stopping here, at this Bird Conservation Centre for a quick break. Rains coming, we have a plan.”
CHANGE OF PLAN
19.00: we are on a tour bus. Surrounded by Japanese ‘twitchers’. Two very excited boys. Our tent is pitched on a small island 35km West of Hokkaido mainland. We are about to spend an hour watching thousand upon thousand of Rhinoceros Aulks come in from sea to land. 450 thousand black birds here on TEURI ISLAND. Close relatives of the Puffin. Designed more for swimming than flying. In the air they look like giant bumblebees: fat round body, little wings flap flap flap. We stand high above cliffs watching them come towards us out of the greyness. Flap flap flap. Little legs and feet dangling. Crash landings that make us wince and laugh. On the ground they run around looking for their burrow. Burrows close together in chaotic order like urban Japan. Seagulls hang around waiting to loot freshly caught fish from recently landed Aulks.
19 days remaining:
All night rain turning our campsite into a wetland. Heidi, Sam & Joe getting good use out of their new wellies. I prefer to wear sandals in the rain and just accept wet feet. Unfortunately I seem to have developed Trench Foot. Heidi disagrees and apparently it’s my own damn fault anyway. We went on a fishing-cum-tourist boat around TEURI ISLAND this morning. I added not wearing contact lenses to my list of regrets. Between the rivers of water flowing down my glasses I could make out what appeared to be cliffs & a few sea birds. The fisherman-cum-tourguide gave loads of information in Japanese over a malfunctioning loudspeaker. All a bit wasted on us. After enjoying the peaceful silence of finally getting off the boat, we hid from the rain in a bird Eco-Centre. For supper we visited a wee local fare next to the shrine and gorged ourselves on fire grilled octopus kebabs, noodles, thick pancakes stuffed with octopus, fried chips, banana & chocolate pancakes, and candy floss. We met some university students from Barcelona, New York, Tokyo, and Sapporo all on TEURI ISLAND doing some field work with the Aulks. A real treat to speak to someone (apart from H, S, J) in English.
We ended the evening with another bus ride to the nesting Aulks: magical again. I sat next to Sam on the bus, while the driver gave information in Japanese. My Japanese is pretty poor, but I know enough to differentiate between Japanese spoken slowly for foreigners and Japanese spoken fast for natives. The speed of his commentary was so fast I didn’t stand a chance. Imagine my amazement when Sam began updating us on what he had understood…Aulks fly at 60km an hour. Their burrows are about a metre deep. Some up to 5metres. They take 6months to build these, using feet & beak.
Back to the tent, squelch squelch. Brush teeth, squelch squelch. Final wee, squelch squelch. Tomorrow we leave Aulk Island and campsite wetland. A good few days drier weather forecast which we hope to take advantage of. Plan is to keep heading South, keeping Sea to our right, road ahead, and mountains to our left. Less than three weeks left to enjoy enjoy enjoy.