The journey from Aomori to Akita City is a long one, and after my experiences traversing the width of the country’s northern tip, I decided to take it more cautiously.
The first obstacle was the mountains that separate Aomori and Akita prefectures. I’d clipped the northernmost tip of some mountains on the way to Aomori, but looking at the maps suggested I needed to steam straight through these ones. There are certain parts of the trip where I had already determined that I was going to cheat and bypass particularly mountainous areas by train, and the temptation gnawed at me. With tunnels having replaced both bears and inclines as my primary fear, I spent the evening plotting how I was going to avoid those roaring black terror pits.
I decided to break the journey up into three parts, spending the first night in Odate, the second in or around Noshiro, and then push on to Akita City on Thursday.
The route to Odate threatened changeable weather and once threw an unexpected tunnel in my way (which I was able to work my way around rather than attack face-on), but the mountain pass itself clung mostly to valleysides. Instead, as I reached the highest elevation of the route, near Yunosawa Hot Spring, I started to see a lot of these signs around the place.
I didn’t think of them much at the time except as an amusing thought experiment. What would I do if one actually did wander into the road? Could my bicycle going at full speed down a mountainside outrun a curious black bear?
It was only at my hotel, safe among the trappings of civilisation, that the thought experiment began to grow claws. When I’m cruising through the countryside in the morning and afternoon, it feels completely natural and unthreatening a place to be. It’s only once I’m closed up within the thin walls of urban life that nature starts to feel unnatural.
Plans to camp the following night were shelved when a Google search of the campsite threw up photographs of even more terrifying bear warning signs. The route to Noshiro was flanked by mountains and hills for some distance yet, which the encroaching darkness caused me to populate with thousands of angry, hungry ursine manhunters. The streets of Odate seemed false – a facsimile of urban safety: a Potemkin Village constructed to place a comforting face on the terror that lurks in the dark forest.
Of course the next day it was glorious, the fear that had paralysed me the night before burned away in seconds by the morning sun.
The next stage, to the onsen hotel in Noshiro that Ground Control had booked for me at the last moment, would take me through one unavoidable tunnel. While fear of danger from bears seemed foolish once more, put into perspective by the sheer everything that nature or its agruculturally curated, man-mutilated equivalent throws at you, tunnels were real and tangible traumas.
The tunnel turned out to be about twenty metres long, there was no traffic, and it had a separate tunnel specially for pedestrians and cyclists anyway. I was either an idiot or Japan’s rural horrors were retreating to strike back at me later.
There is nothing in Noshiro except the sea, but the ocean carried a symbolic weight of its own anyway. From the Pacific coast at Hachinohe, I had reached the Sea of Japan.
The next day, I set off on the final leg towards Akita City. The four stages in which I had made the trip from Aomori City were of increasing length, and this one, while far short of my epic ride from Hachinohe to Aomori, would be the longest.
I set off amidst clouds of connected dragonflies, swarming around the low-lying farmland and drainage canals. They remained with me as I skirted the vast area of reclaimed farmland that had once been Lake Hachirogata, eventually being blown away into the long grasses by the winds that relentlessly tried to push me away from my goal.
As Akita drew closer, I felt like Apollo’s arrow, ever halving the distance to a destination I would never gain. This is why we invented gods: because every piece of shit nature throws at you feels like a personal affront. How could it exist if not through some malevolent will? The wind made every flat road feel like a hill, without the respite of a downward slope as my reward. For the first time in the journey, I found myself exclaiming, “Oh, for fuck’s sake!” over and over again. No hills, nor mountains, nor tunnels, nor bears had managed to pierce my cyclist’s zen, but the wind did. Fuck the wind.
I arrived in Akita. I don’t know anyone in Akita. I received a lot of recommendations on live venues and bands, but not much in the way of offers to actually meet me. The truth is that I can’t expect to blow into town and instantly make friends wherever I go, even if my tight schedule nonetheless requires me to expect it against all logic. At least I’m back in the city though. Any city.