Wednesday, May 30, 2012


In Japanese, there’s a word (sugiru) you can put on the end of another word to add the meaning of “too much.” I hear it a lot in kempo, attached to “far” or “close,” meaning, “You’re too close for that kick to work properly.” But you put it in verbs, too, like “eat,” and it means “to eat too much.”

So ganbaru is the verb for “to do one’s best.” In English it always comes out sounding a little weird, because we don’t have this exact idea. Sometimes kids will translate it as “fight!” which is occasionally appropriate, but in many contexts, hilariously not so. “Do your best!” Sounds a little patronizing and stilted, but it’s close to the meaning of the word. It means to strive to accomplish, I think, most especially in the face of difficulty.

Anyway, from time to time, I’d hear people sticking them together. Saying ganbari-sugiteru. That kid is doing his best too hard. Which was difficult for me to wrap my head around, because if you’re really doing your best, how can you over-do the best? It’s a superlative. If you aren’t giving it everything you have, then it’s not really your best, I mean, not to split hairs and stuff…

Of course it would fall beyond my grasp to get the idea of overdoing it. I like to overdo things. Overdo is how I DO, not always, but enough of the time that it seems normal to me. But that’s just in my nature, so for me, overdoing it a little is just how it gets done. It makes me a little nuts sometimes, but I’m pretty used to dealing with it. It does sometimes have negative effects, mostly stress things, but sometimes for me it’s just better to push myself harder than to feel like what if I had pushed it, but I didn’t, and I wasted an opportunity maybe.

Anyway, I’d like to tell the story of my latest ganbari-sugi adventure, because it’s the first one in my memory where I knew immediately that it was a ganbari-sugi thing; no retrospect necessary.
It started with the bus, the bike, and the broken car: I had a sore throat and a bunch of bike time under my belt that I was calling ‘training.’ I had a decision to make. If you’ve ever seen me make a decision, you know that this not only was painful but also took forever. I prevaricated right up to the train ticket vending machine, which is saying something, because to get to the ticket machine I had to drive an hour all the way to Himeji, bags packed and everything. Parked, packed, eye on the train schedule, I still wasn’t sure I was going.

I mean, I wanted to go. I wanted to meet new people, and spend a weekend biking because I never had before, and I was thinking about doing the PEPY Ride, and because I had worked up the training. I knew it meant a sore butt and legs, and probably sunburn, and that the trip there was expensive. The extra factor was that damn sore throat which had not gotten better, though it had not gotten bad enough to ground me entirely. I stood up and crouched back down about eight times. Finally, picturing what I might spend my weekend doing if I did NOT go, I bought tickets. Once I bought tickets I kind of had to go. So I went.

I’m not a cyclist, and I didn’t know much about the Oita Ride’s chosen charity before they mentioned it. I seem to get into a lot of bike charities, but it’s similar to my ski trips: I go because shit is worth doing. (That was the motto of the first Himeji Ride, actually: Shit is Worth Doin.) And if you don’t do it, you may never know HOW worth doin’ it is.

Our host for the night was a really nice volunteer, upon whose floor I fairly promptly passed out. She ended up hosting five people that night, and even gave us breakfast in the morning. On the train to the ride start area there were a lot of bikes in bags (apparently you have to take the wheel off for it to really be luggage. If you don’t, it’s just a bike in a bag) belonging to people with the t-shirts (or cycling jerseys) and stories to prove that they were far more serious cyclists than I.

We occupied the MaxValu parking lot in Sakanoichi, and although I was offered a road bike that would probably have made good time, I picked a mountain bike instead because I just liked it better. We weren’t going to be off-roading, but I prefer the solidity of the fatter tires and shocks to the nimble speed of a road bike.. I didn’t need speed, I was taking the slow scenic route. I never so much as considered anything else.
After orientation and information, route maps and optional detours were explained, and we were finally on our way. I fell in with another who didn’t really know anyone there who planned to take the slow route and we were joyfully off, glad to be on bikes moving down the sidewalk, hearing the sounds of several elementary sports day festivals as we went by.

At a road-station along the sea, where we encountered our first bike casualty.  I didn't have my camera (sand repairs post-Korea), so I took a couple shots with the phone.
It was like a cycling picnic for me. There were support cars that would park here and there along the route to provide directions, refill water bottles, pass out healthy (and not so healthy) snacks, and generally just give the sense that you were not on your own out there even if you were the very last of the riders (which we were not quite). Someone had made the most delicious cookies in the world (or so they did seem at the time) with imported ingredients from Costco, and there was fruit in abundance, along with Clif bars, and a bunch of other stuff I haven’t seen, much less eaten, in years. Spotting a support car was usually cause to hit the brakes. Woo! Snacktime!

This is them loading up in the morning.
We didn’t get lost and we didn’t feel beat that first day. The air smelled like blooming flowers and like the sea, the vistas were great, and the sky was overcast by turns, making it just cool enough to enjoy. I was riding with some cool people from different parts of Kyushu. Joanna and I made a detour to see the Stone Buddhas of Usuki, where it was nice to get off the bike and walk around a little.

With Joanna on the road. This is early in the ride because I'm still actually wearing the backpack.
There was one major hill on the route, which I wouldn’t call steep, because it was certainly bike-able, but it was a hell of a grind. I’m proud of myself in that I did the whole thing. I think I heard it was 12km altogether, 6 up and 6 down, which is grueling and seemingly endless upward, steep enough to put you in 1st gear and make you hate it. I did stop twice to drink some water, but I biked the whole hill at my own pace.

At the top of the hill was the hill tunnel. Now, we were informed that the second day would not contain the hill because we would take a tunnel instead. A very scary tunnel nicknamed TOD (tunnel of death) because it was a narrow thing 2km long with no sidewalks and peopled by drivers that didn’t give much heed to bikers. So we had a healthy fear of TOD, but since TOD has such a reputation, it was incredibly well-handled by our support cars this year. The hill tunnel was therefore the scariest thing ever.

On the way up the hill, I was loath to stop unless I really had to, because I just couldn’t let go of my momentum. There were cars on the hill but I skipped them. There was a car at the hill tunnel entrance, and I didn’t realize that the tunnel was the top or I might have paused in my relentless pursuit of the summit for a second to receive more information from them than “Wait! Well, just be really careful in the tunnel.”

It was dark. Most tunnels have some lighting, you see, dim orange glowing things set in the ceiling. Not so this almost makeshift looking hill tunnel. It was short, or fairly short, but very narrow. It wasn’t heavily traveled, but there were these trucks that would pass us on the hill going up or down, maybe coming from the cement factory on the other side. I went into the tunnel and I turned on my light. By its illumination I saw that some of the gutter covers on the far left were missing, which means the gaijin trap was set and open. I didn’t want to fall into THAT; it also made me realize that there might be pits anywhere in the road that I wouldn’t see. I moved more toward the middle (insofar as I could tell where the middle was), and then a truck entered the tunnel coming toward me from the far end. I swallowed and for the first time since I’d started the hill, a thought made its way into my mind. That thought was, I might die.

Luckily, the rest of me didn’t care much for this thought and just did what it had been doing for the last 6km, which was keep your head down, find the right path, go fast enough to get the ef out of there asap, but not so fast that you risk shit. And soon it was over, and I was back out in the sunlight, and more than that, the road was curving down. Sat on the side of the road to get my senses back, and until Joanna appeared out of the tunnel too.

The rest was kind of a blur. After the hill I felt more ‘done,’ and I could no longer take a deep breath without inviting a small coughing fit. I knew that didn’t bode well, but I also knew that if I needed it, there was a kei-truck into which my bike could be thrown, so we just kept on. Eventually after what seemed like (and was) a long way, we made it to camp, which was a collection of cabins on a rough beach. Stretched, showered, ate, tried to stay up socializing and avoiding mosquitoes, failed, and passed out on the small pile of blankets I’d folded up in my bunk.

Day one, complete.
Day two, staato!
Sunday though, Sunday. I didn’t feel fresh and hot to trot, but I knew that no one must really feel that way. Everyone had a sore ass already, who wants to mount up then? I did let someone know that my cold had kept up with me (I could take deep breaths again after I got warmed up that morning though) and I might not finish the ride. Then we rolled out! That day’s potential detour was the Marriage Rocks (Futamigaura), for which we missed the turn and I actually voted to backtrack to them because they were the only thing on my menu for that day other than just go back to the starting point.

They were nice.

The rest was just riding back, in a little more pain with a little less juice than the day before. While waiting for TOD, we met an old man with about four teeth who was digging up take-no-ko (“bamboo’s children” .. it’s a food) on the slope below our car pulloff area. He gave us a whole bag of them, and added he would give us the second bag, but he had to give it to his girlfriend or she wouldn’t let him do naughty things. Laughing, he drove away.

After TOD, I began to lag more and more behind our small group which was still one of the last one or two. I couldn’t imagine where they were getting the energy to keep up the pace they were going. At some point, I might have pulled over and given my bike back to the truck, rode along in one of the cars that stuck with us slower riders, cheering us on.. but I never did because I’m stubborn or stupid or tough or all three. By the very end, I was the second to last person to arrive back at MaxValu. I promptly began to cry, which is embarrassing but motivated entirely by exhaustion. I heard it being discussed that maybe they were tears of joy at having finished the ride, but I didn’t know how to explain that it wasn’t really joy, nor was it pain or sadness or any kind of negative thing.

 I didn’t feel negatively, nor positively.. didn’t feel hungry or much of anything else either, just tired. I had completed 140km over two days with a cold and during a bad time of month. It’s something to be proud of, I’m sure, but at the moment I didn’t feel that either. Normally after adventures I arrive home wanting three things: a shower, some dinner, and to go to bed. None of them can be done simultaneously, unfortunately. At that moment, though, I was almost too tired to sleep. It’s a really strange feeling that I’ve only had a few times in my life. I feel like there’s something special about giving it so much of your everything that by the end you really are just emptied.

All in all, I really am glad I went, and I would do it again (preferably in a better state, and maaaybe with more training under this belt), because that shit was definitely worth doing. Even over-doing.

I don't quite remember this..
When I got home to Shiso, I discovered a bunch of mosquito bites on my feet that I must have gotten while sleeping. For the rest of the week I looked like I had the pox!

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