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Akita’s hidden surprises – Part 1

As we travelled further south, we realized again, that the time had come to embark on a search for a new set of tires. All previous contributions from enthusiastic bike shop owners happy to be rid their rubbish had ended disastrously. The ‘big boys’ we had received in Hokkaido, while certainly fulfilling their moniker in appearance (they were the tread from a wheelbarrow), lacked the stuff that would take us the distance, usually disintegrating after the second day. Our next offerings from Aomori, ‘the red duds as we referred to them, were even worse, disappearing literally before our disbelieving eyes. They had carried us this far, but after changing them as often as we changed our underwear, enough was enough, and we were now after some more, and desperately as we were on our last pair.

We came across a grocery store owner, who informed us that there had been a bicycle store in the town once, but that the owner had died some years ago, leaving his wife to close up what was left of it. She was sure however, that if we went and asked, there might be some old tires leftover somewhere in the garage. While harassing old widows for their husband’s older tires has never been one of our favourite things to do, the condition of our rubber had left us no choice and so, reluctantly, we went and wrapped on the door of what we were hoping was the right house.

After a few minutes, a kindly looking older woman emerged from behind a sliding screen door, looking over us a little suspiciously. Who would blame her? We were sweaty and dirty from a day on the stilts and more than likely, a little too desperate looking considering she was our only hope in a town with nothing much else. As always, Miki’s tender manner convinced her of our intentions, however to no avail. Having discarded all the old tires after her husband’s death, we were out of luck. With no tires now to cover the base of our bamboo footings, our challenge had come to an abrupt halt, in the middle of nowhere, and our faces seemed to show the gravity of our predicament.

“Well, there might be some somewhere out the back,” she offered having seen our expressions drop.
As we stood expectantly outside her front door, she embarked on a tour of her garden, acting on a hunch that there may be some buried under her tomato bushes out the back. Sure enough, ten minutes later, she returned victorious, a smile covering her face, holding aloft a tire covered in dirt. While its age and state probably placed it somewhere below our red duds in the durability department, we didn’t want to risk dashing the smile from her face and so we graciously accepted, knowing full well we’d be on another search in a few days time.

The Michi no Eki, or driver rest stop, was an oasis in an otherwise barren coastline, complete with its own beachside restaurant (which we made full use of), and one of the most accommodating managers we had found. Having seen us on the news, he took a keen interest in our stilts and our plans for the evening, which we tried hard to keep from him on account of the fact that they involved a plan to camp out the back of his establishment. However, there was a reason he was the manager of a place frequented by travelers stowing away in his building’s recesses. He knew precisely the type of person likely to do so. As such he had cottoned on to our intentions even before they had left our mouths, but it didn’t seem to matter. He had taken a liking to us and to our challenge and from that moment on, made it his responsibility to ensure our stay there was as comfortable as he could make it. After storing all of our gear in his office, he showed us where we could rest and then, once it closed, where we would be safe to sleep. Under his capable charge, we were able to relax as well as we had done all trip, enjoying all that the rest stop had to offer.

posted by Mick and Miki Tan @ 5:29 AM,

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