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Dampened Confidence

A brief typhoon passed over Tokyo the last two days with a wet sheen, rain pulverized to mist by the slow weight of the storm. This is the weather that drives readers to their books and cats to their blankets. But for the traveler, adventure continues, as evidenced by the pile of umbrellas outside each hostel for the guests to borrow.

I’ve pushed into the tourist itinerary, exploring a number of parks, landmarks, and wards of Tokyo. I’ve seen an hour’s worth of a sumo tournament, tried a number of new foods, and biked to the used bookstore neighborhood in Jinbocho. I’ve had to move to a few different hostels, and spent a good hour and a half today lost within a quarter mile of my latest residence.¬†Wandering through the gardens of Ueno, Senso-ji, Hamarikyu, and the Imperial Castle takes the edge off feeling overwhelmed. And I admit, I’ve been feeling the low boil of overwhelming hiccups here and there.

I’ve been practicing my rudimentary Japanese often, and I’m finding some phrases work well for opening people up to helping me out. Still, there’s been lots of times when my minimal sentences and their interpretation of my broken fragments only confuses us both. I haven’t been able to get Hermes checked out yet because the cycling shop owners didn’t know any English, and I’m starting to feel those deep vibrations of worry that I’ll run into times when I most need help and I can’t get it.

Mostly, though, I think my wavering confidence comes from having not gotten on the road yet. Without a clear itinerary and only a vague understanding of how to get up to Hokkaido, I’m more afraid now than I probably will be once I’m on the road. Like waiting on a rollercoaster, the chick-chick-chick of the climbing track stopped and making way for the jittery silence of hanging over the edge, the small voice of worry starts thinking, “What are you doing? What were you thinking? Oh god, get me down from here.”

I haven’t gotten to a full-fledged freak-out. I think this is one-third because I know that so many others have done this journey and loved it, another third because I am so well-connected to the folks back home, and a third that calming voice of the wonderful present moment that’s pulling me back from obsessing about the future. But I do feel like I’ll have a number of times where I’m in some huge loop-de-loop in the Japanese Alps screaming my face off for joy and some mild terror, wondering what have I done (and, hopefully, thank god I’m doing it).

In terms of the day-to-day, all is otherwise well. The weather matched my mood this morning, but by the afternoon it had mostly cleared up, reminding me that I am as fickle as it is. I’ve made a few friends here and there (Ryan of Toronto and Fran and Helen of London, what’s up!) and I’m a pretty decent city cyclist after navigating the major roads today. I still struggle with the meat base in most of the food here, having been vegetarian for three years and not knowing enough Japanese to avoid it yet. A few more stomachaches, and either I’ll get used to it or learn to order something clean.

Thanks for reading! I’ll document more of the sights I’ve seen via photo. I figure a “how’s your brain?” post every few days will put a list of activities into perspective.

Deep Breaths

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

I will be boarding a flight to Tokyo in two hours, and I’m starting to freak out, just a little bit and quietly, in the back of my mind. A full-on freak out will only be unhelpful in the time I have left to prepare, ¬†so I’m trying to keep it under control. But as I repack my panniers and take stock of what I’m bringing to a continent I’ve never seen, I have a small person pacing in my mind exclaiming “What are you doing?!?!” with all the intensity of Christopher Lloyd waiting for Marty as the storm coalesces. If only I could know a little more about what’s in store in thr next few days, weeks, months…

“No! We already agreed that having information about the future can be extremely dangerous. Even if your intentions are good, it can backfire drastically!!”

Alright then, Doc, here goes nothing- Whoooooo wheeeeee whooooo wheeeee. Where we’re going, I hope there are good roads. (See what I did there?)

The Myth of Processing

My journal and I are in a cooling off period, one of the many minor breakups we go through before a wild and constant stream of fresh love and entries. I’ve already acknowledged how valuable it is to me for the past few months, as the impossibility of the first leg of the journey has only now begun to crystallize, a month after it’s completion. I will need something to remind me that it was real and profound, populated by real and powerful people, and filled with more landscapes and abstract emotions than the Met. This distance I feel mentally, though, can be excused by the even greater surreality that, after a four and a half hour nap, Los Angeles is once again 4,000 miles away and I am back in Durham.

I’m taking my two weeks to say hello and goodbye, and the welcoming embrace of North Carolina humidity and crape myrtles and ivy has my heart singing a familiar song. While I bask in this place, though, I’m mindful that I will be putting my wheels down in Tokyo in two weeks, and I have, as of yet, no shred of itinerary.

I’m not worried about finding my way. Really, my only fear is that I know so little that I’ll miss out on fantastic opportunities simply because I can’t read the signs and don’t know to ask about them. But I trust that, as with my week’s ride down California, I’ll learn quickly and barriers that seem intimidating now will become familiar, at least, if not shorter. I’ve picked up a book on Japanese grammar and writing, so at least I’ll have something to point to.

On that note- the ride down from Monterey to Los Angeles went by smoothly, as adventures go. I did have a night of sleeping out on a beach illegally and regularly snuck into state parks to spend the night, but the ride itself was magnificent. Anyone driving or riding in central California must include Big Sur in their plans, from north to south to be as close to the edge as possible. Truly magnificent sights.

Back here in Durham, the pattern of student life carries my upperclassmen friends through their own version of senior year. As I’ve walked around my alma mater this weekend, seeing the absolutely baby-faced first years squawking and parading their new independence, overhearing party and study plans, I don’t feel as far removed from Duke as I would have expected. Much of this is due to a year of living off-campus and generally finding my roots elsewhere while I was a student. Even so, I believe that the truth of my ambivalence isn’t that I don’t care, but rather that I don’t need to.

With so many hours on the bike, it’s easy to believe that I will make significant headway towards “processing” life events of the last four, eight, or twenty-two years (NB: I’m sure, someday, as a forty or fifty-something, I’ll smirk a bit at my admittedly short, current timeline of life events). Boyfriends, girlfriends, faux pas and fuck-ups, strife and unresolved conversations and grievances- everything will be figured out after a few hours of concentrated thought. Right?

In reality, a brain can only come up with so many ideas when it’s being watched, and quickly mine was spinning in circles to the rhythm of Hermes’ wheels. I kept chewing the same gristle of memories to find if any sinew still needed “processing,” only the hear myself listing the same conclusions again and again.

And now, with another summer brimful of new memories, people, connections, and motifs, I’ve seemingly added a stack to the inbox for future “processing.”

But here’s the purpose of this entry, and a close to it’s lengthy exploration, a conclusion I’m far from the first person to express: I’m not sure if thinking has any impact on processing. I suppose I say that I’m processing experiences when I don’t know how to describe or interpret them, or what feelings I would attach to them. The only experiences I feel are processed fully, though, are the ones that no longer directly inform my life. Their impact is distant enough that I can relate them with as much finality as any human can ever claim, and so time becomes as important a factor as any amount of active mental energy spent trying to “process” something. And processed experiences, ultimately, are ones I don’t spend time thinking about, since they’re no longer on the top layers of sediment.

So, with my bags dumping their few unnecessary contents on the East Coast and my eyes sizing up Japan, I don’t expect to consider anything processed from this year or the next until I’m in a radically different lifestyle again. And, as for the last four years, the campus life and many of the priorities I had here are so removed from road life that I don’t feel the pangs of “needing to process” as I once did. I appreciate them all as they are and look forward to drafting a new set of experiences to heap on top.

Those are my thoughts for now. I suppose I’ll go write them in the journal eventually.

For the present moment, here’s some logistical things I’m considering:

  • Route in Japan: To include a stretch down Kyushu, which I have a basic itinerary of. If you have sites to suggest from Tokyo through the main island, message me your ideas!
  • Hosts in Japan: Similarly, if you know cool people over there, put me in touch!
  • GPS system for the bike: With my iPhone being irregularly useful in the States, it’s time to step up to a real system so I’m not lost at the worst time.
  • To Kindle or not to Kindle: I love my printed word so much, but the weight of Shantaram alone added a good pound to the gear.
  • HOW ON EARTH DO YOU LEARN A LANGUAGE? I used to know this process, but it’s truly foreign now.

In Gratitude for Two on Four Wheels

Just one week ago, on February 13th, 2013, Mary Thompson and Peter Root, the authors of one of my favorite RTW cycling blogs, both died in a car accident while cycling just outside of Bangkok. Their site, Two on Four Wheels, is full of an abundance of information they’ve accumulated over their long cycling trek. I’ve turned to it many times in deciding to embark on this adventure, and the news of their deaths struck me with a resounding quake. I haven’t been able to ignore its echoing resonance in my thoughts for the last few days. Honestly, I’m scared.

It’s incredible how morning’s bold exuberance can fall apart when faced by evening’s lapping nightmares. For every fifty places I’ve pointed to on my wishful map, I’ve imagined a hundred ways that I might be harmed doing this trip. I read about Mary and Peter, or recently about Sarai Sierra, and I feel a wash of cold dread drip throughout my body cavity, chilling every brave organ with its heavy rain. I hear the tiny voice whispering, “It’s really dangerous, you shouldn’t go.”

But this is not fair. This is not fair to the Two on Four Wheels and the work that they put out for others to use and learn from. In fact, while it’s a very understandable human reaction, extracting fear and doubt from the news of the death of fellow travelers is downright selfish of me.

Worrying about my own possible death or injury because I’ve heard others have been hurt washes away the brave and joyful example that they have impressed on myself and others. I’ve been focusing more on an inevitable and unpredictable event (made no more so than before hearing terrible news) than on the exhilarating and (somewhat) mapped future between me and that date. Ending my fledgling journey because another’s was prematurely cut short is a cheap excuse.

Thinking about it, what’s most scary about this story is what I’ve always known- that one of these days, I’m going to stop being. Most days lately, that thought terrifies me to my marrow. But what makes it especially gripping is the possibility that I won’t be ready when it happens. The fear of having last regrets sticks just as potently as the existential, afterlife crisis aspect. Will I have told my parents recently that I love them? Will I have been honest about my feelings for someone? Will I have thought to tell my sisters how beautiful they are, today and every day? Will I have created or shared anything that will continue forward without me?

The big, “infinity is too long,” “what’s after this” fear is too unwieldy for most mortals (myself definitely included there). But, the fear that I won’t be ready is more or less up to me. I have the choice of moving through my day making sure to do what I want to finish before I’m done. The question tonight, just as I’m crawling into bed, is: If I were to die before tomorrow’s dawn, what did I do today that would make that okay?

From what I can tell of Peter and Mary’s blog, every day and new sight answered that basic question. They seemed to really enjoy their journey on the road together, and they passed that on through their blog to many people like me needing guidance and reassurance. I want to take the time to thank them for their legacy and courage, and to put aside creeping fears that want to strip away the dream. I don’t think I celebrated them first.

I apologize to Mary and Peter’s family and friends if my thoughts seem to exploit the loss that they are experiencing. My heartfelt condolences go out to them in this difficult time.