When you arrive at your destination at 5 AM after a sleepless night on the vinyl covered board of the second class E deck, including a nice hangover, your first impression of the new shores has a tendency to be rather negative. In case of Miyakejima, add a level 3 gas alarm, the penetrating smell of sulphur in the air and a completely deserted port with dilapidated house left and right. This feels like the morning after the night of the living dead.
Is this the Japan of „Uebergestern“? Did we see already what the country is facing, in thirty years from now when the population becomes less and less and older and older so that whole areas will be deserted and bare of human beings?
The Positivo Espresso Team checking in at the lobby of the Miyakejima hotel.
The arrival at our hotel room did little to dilute our first impression. This hotel has seen better days and there was little attention to the details. The rooms smelled of mould and the alternative would have been to open the windows – and let the sulphur gas in. But hey, after some hours of sleep, the distribution of gas masks and a trip to the beach everything looks different. The beach was full of black pebbles (resent research has calculated the number of pebbles as 8,601,767,493 in the top 10 cm layer). The water was just warm enough (for Brits and Germans) and we re-enacted a famous scene from a James Bond movie. Just wonderful.
And our impression of Miyakejima started to soften. The day then continued with the first race of the weekend, a 3.6 km 150 m elevation difference „hill climb“. After successfully conquering Fuji, Wada Toge and Jerome’s hill this year, that seemed to be a piece of cake. I met Stephen at the start who stayed and slept at the hotel. David and Juliane didn’t make it back in time to the start (David because I told him a wrong starting time and Juliane wasn’t interested too much) so we were the only Positivo members to attend.
The start was by class and race number and in 15 second intervals, so I was the first starter in the D class field and Stephen the last one. Miyakejima is somehow hilly. There are no big heights to conquer but there is constant up and down. The hill climb started with a flat piece of road, wonderful to accelerate and I almost made up the distance to the last starter of the C class field. I was soooo fast. Hey, that’s how hill climbing is supposed to be, I said to myself. Unfortunately I got immediately very much slower once the slope started. I never saw the C class rider again. The next 1.6 km consisted of a 8 – 10% slope which brought me almost to my knees. I was never in danger of giving up, but my speed dropped to 10 – 15 km/hr. There was a flat part after that where I could accelerate and the remaining portion was 4 – 6% thereafter, so I could go faster. But I had no orientation where I was in relation to the goal, so I could not make an all-out attack towards the goal line on the last meters as the goal was behind a curve. One more D class rider overtook me.
At the goal I waited for Stephen to arrive and also Juliane and david just made it back from the beach to watch the last groups of riders coming up. In the end I made a respectable 77th place out of 110 riders in the overall standing and an excellent 8th place in the D class. There was even an Irish rider finishing behind me. Later I checked my CICLO data, I had an average speed of more than 20 km/hr, was running at constantly more than 300 Watt and rode up at 14 m/min. This is pretty good, compared to Fuji HC ad other tours, even faster than Jerome hill which is a similar ride.
Anyway, as usual, I could have done better but overall I wasn’t too unhappy. Sometimes I feel like Mario Basler (aka as Mr. 85%), a German soccer player who constantly said over the full 15 years of his entire professional career and after virtually every game: „I am still only at 85% of my potential performance.“
On top of the hill a group of unfriendly policemen, fully equipped with ceremonial riot sticks („Gewabo“ = Gewalt [German for brute force] + Bo [Stick]) rounded the unruly pack of riders and forced them to descent in one big group. Being the uncooperative foreigners, Juliane managed to have a mechanical on which grounds we successfully managed to escape.
Enjoying mechanical problems
It took four adults considerable time and effort to fix a front wheel flat. This time we had a) a pump b) spare cartridges c) offered prayers to the various deities of the roadside. But we manged to rip off a valve from the first exchange tube. And luckily d) we had another exchange tube.
We skipped all of the official entertainment program, although „Le girl“ Enka singing and „360 degree monkeys“ comedy shows are not only events which should definitely be missed but also to be listed in the appropriate annex of the Geneva convention. Instead we opted for the local Onsen which was still empty of riders, followed by a very tasty dinner at hotel mildew. David was excited all day long whether it would be possible to get some dishes of fish and rice and believe it or not, that was exactly what was being served.
While Juliane and David fought with giant anacondas and mothers in cars full of dogs in their sleep respectively, Stephen and me went to the local bar where the local misfits gathered and were being served by a girl having the approximate body shape of sponge bob plus half visible tattoos at various locations.
After a good night of sleep, all Positivo members went to the race track where we checked out the course and made some training laps. The track has not too many flat parts. There is an ascent after the start, followed by a long and more or less straight descent followed by a crazy ascent to the start line again, all in all 2.5 km long. We were pretty impressed that such course is possible, having expected something more nicely flat. So while we were previously discussing our race strategies, for example when to break away from the field, we were now quietly considering our options how to get out without loosing face. One proposal was to raise hands in victory one lap before the actual finish, getting congratulated by Juliane and quickly leaving the place before the real winners arrive.
Anyway, we didn’t had to think too long, because before too long an announcement was made and the race was cancelled. Too much poison gas was coming from the volcano and we were kindly asked to wear our gas masks during training. Sad. Despite what we have thought previously we were all very disappointed not being able to race.
But the Positivo Espresso team is always good for new ideas. So we started immediately to compensate for the loss of cycling time by making one tour around the island. Actually this is a lot of nasty up and down and as we were going very fast, we were pretty exhausted when we arrived at the black pebble beach again. In total it took us 1:14 hr to make one full circle around the island, which is about 32 km.
After that we had another splash in the local Onsen, packed our bags and left for the port. I have to say I was quite moved by the departure ceremony as we threw long paper ribbons from the ship towards the pier which tangled up in a big colorful mess. Suddenly everybody seemed so friendly and warm-hearted. Even the policemen waved us good bye.
So when we arrived back in Tokyo after spending the whole ship journey on the upperdeck (meaning, no bulkheads in our way and no deckheads above our heads) looking at the seascape on star, after, port and foreboard, our opinion of Miyakejima has significantly changed.
When we arrived in the first place we were excepting a group of zombies trying to stop our bus or at least giant mutant mango turtles hunting after us. When we departed we all had respect for the island and its inhabitants facing the fate that has been dictated by natural forces. It’s not an easy life down there, but nevertheless we encountered many friendly and helpful people. This memories will stay, while those of zombies, anacondas, mildew and cars full of dogs will vanish like the smell of sulphur is earased by the inshore winds of the sea.