The second and third day Ulf rode through a less and less populated landscape.
He suffered from bruises after an ugly fall early the second day. Failing to respect his aching muscles he tried speeding up a curve, only to be rewarded by a visit into the nearest bamboo grove. At least going uphill made the fall less than fatal. It still reminded him he was mortal though.
Muscles he had forgotten he even had still ached well into day three, and always, always, the hurt concerning Christina followed him like a ghost.
He tried joking that he had finally become unfaithful to Maria to the degree where he didn't even miss her, but that only made him remember their dead daughter. So he shoved the memories of that life into the darkest recess of his consciousness, but that only had Christina resurface again.
Get over her! Start anew! But there was no getting over her. Some people you only met once in your life, and until he met Christina he always thought Maria was that one person. They spent a good life together after all, and he had loved her, but never with the burning intensity of the last year, or better part of a year.
Ulf ate at the cheapest restaurants he could find, drank from the vending machines whenever water was hard to find, and slept in another love hotel, even seedier than the last one.
There would be one more night in such a hotel. After that Ulf planned to make use of his bivouac. There were shorter routes to the Kansai area, but he wouldn't use them.
Japan might not have the generous unwritten laws about camping in the wilderness that Sweden had, but Ulf suspected he'd get away with squatting for a night at a time as long as he carried his gear out of sight from the road.
The main problem would be fuel for his kitchen, but petrol stations should have the alcohol he needed.
After two years in Japan he wasn't about to suddenly miss out on a decent cup of tea. Or his beloved espresso for that matter. That was his one piece of sheer luxury, a portable espresso brewer.
Ulf forced his way up a long slope. The northern route was a killer to his legs, just the way he wanted. When he arrived in Nagano he'd rest for a day in Matsumoto, after that small roads to Takayama. There he'd decide whether to bike south through Gifu or continue east through Ishikawa.
Avoiding the saner, southern route meant staying away from Shizuoka, Hamamatsu and Nagoya, each large enough to increase the risk of someone picking up on him visually.
Are they looking for me? Probably. Ulf allowed himself a little rest of the pedals when he reached the crest. From here downhill for maybe a kilometre, then another murderous climb. If they set up that secret organisation for us arrivals I guess they're not too keen on one if us vanishing.
He focussed on the road. Going down he quickly gained speed, and here in Japan he had to be careful so that he didn't break the speed limit. On a bike to boot. Still, forty kilometres an hour was nothing for him on a downhill slope. Curves might be dangerous, but he'd paid for a bike that would handle speeds twice that.
On both sides of the road wooded mountains reached upwards in that steep greenery he had only seen in Japan. Sometimes the greenery was broken by a patch of brittle pink where a lone sakura made itself reminded. Murderously heavy uphill of breathtakingly fast downhill his tour never felt boring like biking back home too often was. For that reason Ulf sought out the Alps during his more adventurous years.
He grimaced when a road didn't deliver what it promised. This was the third time he'd taken a wrong turn, and he had to backtrack for over half an hour before he hit the correct one. Without a GPS he'd lose well over a day, but turning on his phone would also squeal his position to anyone who was interested. Quite a few, Ulf guessed.
So he endured the hit and miss whenever he consulted his map. Besides, orienteering the old way was just so much more fun.
And, I won't be found this way. Only an idiot would bring a bike cross country right through the mountains like this.
Because, in a way, that was what he was. An idiot, and a craven one at that. For the first time in his life he ran away from a problem he brought upon himself. But I'm sick and tired of playing the guinea pig.
He grunted and wheeled into something too large for a village but too small for a town. Food. Hungry. Should be a ramen shop or something here.
There was one. While noodles might not be the best for nutrition he had more need of replenishing energy than anything else.
Ulf stopped, climbed off his bike and went inside. It was the usual diner style shack that promised a large bowl of something hot for almost no money at all. It made a burger joint look outright expensive.
South, Ulf decided as he wolfed down his bowl. South after I hit Takayama. It was a risk. He couldn't really avoid Nagoya that way, but there was a village inland of Yokkaichi he needed to go to. The village where his mother had been born. Well, not his mother in this world, but still a place he remembered, despite never having gone there in since his transition to this version of Japan.
Nothing rational, just a desperate need to connect with his own memories.
It doesn't matter if they've never seen me before. I'll remember, and I'll get to visit the graves even if they're not really my family any longer.
One way or another he'd make it there, make himself as unobtrusive as was possible in a village, and after that he'd continue his hike west.