The last five weeks have been the toughest out of London so far, 200 days ago. Russia to Japan by bike and boat: physically, emotionally, logistically – it was one of the biggest efforts of my life and at no point a certainty that I would actually make it, my own body, weather and logistics throwing hurdles at every opportunity. Both in spite of the toughness and because of it, this leg also sits up there as one of the best, too. It has been beautiful, wild and rugged and to have made it through the battles, mostly healthy and mostly grinning, is a happy thing indeed; the tears and the grit and the wobbles now just written in memories, film and weary muscles. The completion of this first phase from Tower Bridge to Choshi, from where I will head out to take on the Pacific with Gulliver, is just a few weeks away. Then the winter and a rest await.
Noodling with sleep monsters
One of the greatest battles happened this last week – me versus the sleep monsters and my own body as I cycled south down the length of Hokkaido to make a tiny weather window for the final kayak leg to Honshu. For the first few days out of Wakkanai at the north of the island, Hercules and I trudged down the west coast into fierce headwinds and crosswinds whipping in off an enraged sea through landscapes much like the rural rolling hills of home, peppered with dairy farms and pastures.
Then the mountains arrived and with them a maze of roaring tunnels, transporting us into and out of the light. (I say ‘us’ as Justine joined me on a bike once the headwinds disappeared, providing happy company and a pretty fierce pace at times.) An overnighter with some lovely Kiwis in the capital of Sapporo set me up for a long climb out over the mountains – a welcome feast of rich colour setting off the lactate burn as I pedalled upwards, looping round and round into a crisp blue sky. A final day of cycling brought us to a little harbour in Hakodate at the southern tip, from where Tim returned to Sapporo in an overnight driving double marathon to get Hercules some TLC and return Justine’s bike, and she and I set off for Japan’s main island the following morning in our kayaks.
The Tsugaru Straits
That crossing was tougher than we expected. I was already exhausted and woke up feeling like I had been run over by a truck, my body not at all excited by the thought of a day’s paddle. The shortest distance from our harbour clocked in at 15 nautical miles so we anticipated a 4-5 hour crossing, helped by what we believed would be a strong east flowing current. But, alas, was not to be. After 8.5 hours of grunt we landed on Honshu, having been slowed by what turned out to be a very strong north and north easterly flowing current , meaning that every time we stopped to eat and drink and pee we were whisked away from our landing spot. Frustrating to say the least.
No time to rest, not yet
Ideally I would have rested a few days after that monster 39 mile paddle from Sakhalin but the weather out here is changeable at the moment and so resting for anything more than a night time sleep and the odd roadside power nap here and there sadly wasn’t an option. (That said, I did sleep for 90 minutes on a massage couch in Sapporo while a sweet Japanese lady kneaded my screaming muscles.)
Now though, the pressure has dissolved. I am currently in Mutsu, Aomori on Honshu for a few days of R&R with some new friends, having bade a sad farewell to Tim and Justine on Sunday as they drove to Tokyo ready to fly home. When I feel like getting back on to Hercules for the final miles south to Choshi, Chiba on the east coast I shall do so slowly, taking the time to stop at beautiful and interesting places, clocking miles rather more slowly than I have done this last two hundred days since I first splashed out under Tower Bridge.
After a quick dip in the ocean, Hercules and I will head up to Minakami, Gunma prefecture, where I have been kindly loaned a house for the winter, to snooze, recover and prepare for the North Pacific in the spring. Bring. It. On.
PS Thanks to Karel Vissel for his weather forecasting on the paddling legs
PPPS Thanks for all the ‘Ask Sarah’ questions lately and requests for satphone link ups with schools. Now I am safely in Japan we shall get back onto organising those in coming weeks. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like me to ring in to your classroom or if you have a question to ask