Sunday, March 27, 2016

Cycling Across the Seto Inland Sea

When I look across Japan's Seto Inland Sea I see small islands, distant volcanic hills, ocean-going ships, sleek bridges, all sitting on a bright palette of blues and greens.

The Inland Sea has energy: it connects three of Japan's main islands (Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku), and the Pacific Ocean with the Sea of Japan. I've crossed this sea on fast trains and slow ferries, always an observer.

This week a rented bicycle turned me from observer to participant in this scene. I pedaled across the sea from Shikoku to Honshu on six bridges, quiet island trails, and rural roads.

At the end of each bridge the trail gently spiralled or zigzagged down towards the sea and rural island life until the next spiral or zigzag.
The ordinariness of cycling made me feel I was sharing a common experience. I stopped at a Lawson convenience store to pick up a coffee and a donut. Standing beside my bicycle, sipping coffee, I felt right at home.
At home, I use my bicycle to go about my daily life. On islands on the Inland Sea, it was no different: people were cycling to run errands and meet friends. Parents shouted encouragement to their children as they cycled together. Older kids cycled home from school.
Then a bridge tower would poke into view, and I knew I would rise back up, away from ordinary life.
The views were anything but ordinary.
Periodically, I had to remind myself the rear brake lever was on the left. The rear derailleur control was on the right, where I expected it. I had no difficulty remembering to cycle on the left.
Towards the end, the hard bike seat started to take its toll. I found myself walking short stretches, which allowed me to take in the world around me in a different way.
The 45-mile ride ended at a little ferry which took me the last few hundred yards into town. A schoolgirl scooted over to give me a seat. A man collected 80 cents for my fare, and 10 cents for the bicycle.
Back on dry land I found the bike rental shop where I was awarded a certificate and a button.