Monday, June 9, 2008

The Road Less Traveled By

Today was made for a long bike ride: day off work, blue sky, puffy white clouds.

I set out with my iPod and a bottle of water, thinking that I'd do a quick 30-kilometer loop to the beach. But I quickly discovered that, while not so bad in a car, the route to the beach is, well, ugly. There's lots of concrete. Semi trucks whizz past at breakneck clips. And it smells bad.

After about 30 minutes of waiting in traffic and inhaling exhaust, I grew discouraged and headed back toward my apartment. This was not what I had in mind.

But, as luck would have it, I missed the turn that lead back to my apartment and found myself completely lost. I followed an unknown road, thinking it would lead me home, but instead, it led my further away, to the base of a mountain. Completely unknown territory. I pulled off to the side to consider my options: I still had the day off work. The sky was still blue. And there were still puffy white clouds in the sky.

I still needed to cycle.

So, with the kinda-clichéd-but-oh-so-true words of Robert Frost running through my head, I decided to take the road less traveled by. And it, of course, made all the difference.

The road wound through an adorable, straight-out-of-a-Japanese-countryside-calendar-picture kind of village with wooden houses separated by rice paddies and lines of laundry flapping in the wind. As the road continued, the houses became fewer and fewer, and eventually gave way to a forest of towering pine trees. I crossed under a covered bridge and then found myself cycling between a river and the base of the mountain. I turned off my iPod to listen to the sound of the running water and the wind in my ears.

No cars in sight. I was completely alone. Beautiful.

I continued to cycle along the river, under two more covered bridges, and then ended up in a second über-picturesque village. Lest the first be too cute, the second one-upped it with fields of wild daisies along the side of the road. Seriously. I cursed myself for not bringing my camera, but was pleased to discover that, this being Japan and all, my cell phone actually takes pretty darn good pictures (see above).

I followed the road to a T-junction, where it split into two intriguing options: right lead to a mysterious-sounding Senko-no-ie "Ancient House" and left would take me to a dam. Though I'd already been peddling for almost two hours, I decided that, having come this far, it'd be a shame not to try to see both places.

So I did. No poetry-for-the-ages-inducing choices necessary. Sorry, Mr. Frost.

The "Ancient House" was amazing, a centuries-old relic tucked away in a village where it already seemed that time stood still. All of the signage was in Japanese, so I have no idea when the house was built, but a subsequent Google search dates it back to the Edo Period (1603 - 1867). It's pretty darn old. The walls were made of thick adobe and the garden featured a still-working water wheel, the likes of which I'd never actually seen in person. Not too bad of a find, considering I completely stumbled across it. And there was nobody there -- not even a staff person -- so I was left alone with my thoughts and my cell phone camera.

The trip to the dam almost didn't happen. I left the house, cycled back through the T-junction and took the left fork, but promptly found myself at the base of a giant, ominous-looking hill (read: mountain). At this point, I'd been on the bike for nearly three hours and, frankly, was feeling lazy. But, being the stubborn gal that I am, I popped down to my lowest gear and chugged up to the top, where my efforts were quickly rewarded: the view was breathtaking. I cycled out across the dam. On one side was a deep-blue lake which was, well, dammed, and the other side was a spectacular pine ravine (see above).

Wow. Wow. WOW.

I was still completely alone, but that's what I said -- out loud.

In the spirit of giving credit where credit is due:

"...yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

- Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken"

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