As a followup to the last post, here’s the story of my first ever long touring trip, which turned out to be both more of an adventure and more of an ordeal than I had bargained for.
I bought my first bike, a 400cc Honda TransAlp, on the advice of Makoto, a tall Japanese guy on my basketball team. Makoto also offered to take me along on a trip to his hometown in Kagoshima, Kyūshū, and show me the ropes of the whole touring thing. So a week after getting my license, with no riding experience whatsoever, I hopped on the ferry to Miyazaki.
In the Kagoshima dialect, ぼっけもん (bokkemon) means “daredevil, reckless person”, and I got called that many times whenever people heard that I had made the trip after just getting my license.
After riding together to Makoto’s parents’ house, Makoto pulled out his touring map and showed me the roads to Cape Toi, suggesting it would make a good solo day trip for a beginner. I was nervous as hell, but with the help of the maps I made it out to the cape and saw the wild horses, and even got to watch wild monkeys stage a protest in the middle of the road, jumping on tourists’ cars and demanding tribute. Mere weeks after taking my riding test, I was finally doing what I had dreamed of, seeing parts of Japan I would never have reached without wheels, and it felt good.
Then came the rains. Sudden, torrential rains. I threw on my brand new raingear and discovered something else new: the tourists were all scattering to their cages and huddling under umbrellas, but in my rainsuit and helmet I was invincible. Ha Ha! Your ineffectual showers do not concern me, for I am a Biker! (Nowadays I feel significantly less invincible.) After a leisurely bath at an onsen on the way back, I returned to Makoto’s house feeling like a conquering hero.
I then resolved to see as much of Kyūshū as possible before getting back on the ferry, so I set out to see the famous caldera of Mt. Aso and take a mud bath at Jigoku Onsen (literally “Hell Hot Springs”). I got there late in the day with a heavy mist on the mountains, so I went straight to the campground by the onsen, and this is where I had my first experience with the camaraderie of Japanese bikers.
I rolled into the campground and the riders who were there before me started welcoming me, telling me where to park my bike and set up my tent and inviting me to dinner. There were only around six bikers and two bicyclists, all of us meeting for the first time, but we talked long into the night like old friends about riding and the joys of the road.
I woke up in the morning with a high fever. I couldn’t spend another night in a wet campground, and the inn was booked solid. The management found a kind elderly man who was willing to share his room with me, but he was hard of hearing and only spoke a mumbling Kumamoto mountain dialect, so our conversations all followed this pattern:
Old Guy: <something unintelligible>
Feverish Gaijin: I’m sorry. I don’t understand.
Old Guy: What?
My fever meant the end of my Kyūshū expedition, but I somehow made it back to the ferry in one piece. I saw less than half of what I had planned, but I learned far more about the world of Japanese riders than I had expected.
I never did get to see that caldera.