The alarm clock went off around 5am after a night when the heavy rain and thunder prevented us from sleeping more than twenty minutes at a time. We checked the weather forecast and it predicted an interval of good weather, that is, no rain, from 6 to 7am, prompting our decision to sleep a bit more and then pack inside our tent to be ready for it. Besides, we still needed to find someplace to spend the night as we had not gotten any response from our couchsurfer requests.
As we finally got out of the tent, we were surprised by a huge slide just above us. None of us had noticed it the night before despite being the largest dry slide (that is, not in a water park) we have ever seen. It was so long that it had small cylinders to help the kids keep on going. We wanted to try it but naturally the entrance was carefully locked.
We left our campsite and headed towards Noshiro hoping to reach the coast but we turned south a bit earlier and soon we were inside a sea of green cycling between endless rice fields that extended all the way to Akita (apparently Akita rice is famously good!). This soon became very tiring. It is hard to stay motivated when you pedal for hours and you don’t feel like you make any progress. There are no hills to overcome or landmarks to aim for that can provide any sense of achievement and assure you that you are indeed moving forward. All this homogeneity surrounding you and the simplicity and repetitiveness of endlessly turning the pedals enables your mind to wonder very easily and time appears to slow down as you think about everything and nothing at the same time.
It appears that Ivo was cycling on a similar mindset as in our second stop since we entered the “sea of rice” he told me that he had named his bike “Witts” – had he been talking to her? My epiphany came soon after: I had not felt any pain in my knee today! For the last five days I have been dealing with an incredibly annoying pain every time I put some weight on my left pedal. What started as a light pain had evolved into something serious enough to make me stop every 10km and preventing me from finishing rather simple climbs in one go. This was taking both a physical and psychological toll on me. Not only was my knee hurting, I was starting to put too much stress on the other leg and the asymmetrical pedalling style I developed was definitely not too kind on my back. Psychologically I felt like I was slowing everything down and that the time Ivo spent waiting for me at the end of each climb was becoming dangerously close to the time he had actually spent climbing it. I tried to brave through it with diclofenac massages and periodic intakes of paracetamol and ibuprofen but in the last couple of days their efficacy had not been great.
Eventually we started to see Akita in the distance and since we had not heard again from the couchsurfer we were supposed to stay with we decided to keep on going and camp somewhere to the south of it and take some kilometres from the following stage. We were now leaving the “sea of rice” and our progress was frankly good. Our average speed was increasing and I was really enjoying the new pain-free cycling experience. Still, as the sun went down, we decided to stop for a big meal. We knew that we still had 30km to do before a final 100+ vertical meters climb to the camping ground that was build right on the top of a hill.
The final stretch was an unlit road with trees on both sides and the pleasant smell of the sea we could not see or hear but could definitely feel. The cars were rare and I told Ivo that I had been feeling great about my knee today so we slowly started to pick up the pace. Soon we were completely soaked in sweat but we kept the pace and soon arrived at the final ascent where the forest got significantly denser and tackled the final 4 or 5 hairpin turns to the top.
It turns out the campsite was completely abandoned and after walking around searching for the tent area we thought existed we only found old wooden staircases diving into the deep forest with slopes over 45 degrees and dubious structural integrity. We just decided to wildcamp at the very top of the hill which, rather strangely, had no trees. This was probably the darkest place we had been so far and the sky was clear so, soon after putting the tent up and preparing everything, Ivo went out to try to take some photographs. He returned rather quickly with over 25 new mosquito bites on his legs and not a single usable photo. I fell asleep as he mumbled and grumbled while checking the results of his recent failed photographic endeavour and periodically scratching his legs.