Thursday, 29 August 2013

I now know why rally drivers have navigators.

Thursday 22nd August 2013

MP3 track of the day: Shut up and drive – Rihanna

Weather: Not bad; the day was overcast meaning that it was pretty cool in the car.

Most of the day was just like a normal day at work. I arrived at work around 7:30am, taught four lessons in the morning before having lunch, After lunch I had no classes therefore I studied Japanese, within the teachers room, until 4pm (my contract states that I have to stay at school until 4pm). Normally this wouldn't annoy me but, today was different. After school I would be driving to Niigata which, according to Google maps, was a nine hour drive away. Watching the minutes tick by knowing that, leaving even thirty minutes early would be extremely beneficial (as I would miss the 'leaving work traffic'), was doing 'my head in'. At 3pm one of my colleagues came to me to ask for help; a girl in the 2nd grade was entering an 'English reading competition' and they wanted my advice. I therefore left the teachers room and sat down in front of this girl. Annoyingly she was excellent; her pronunciation needed a little work but the speed in which she read the piece (which was a typical Japanese story; i.e. cute but boring) was excellent and her change of voice, plus change of pitch, was faultless. It was fantastic and the reason it was annoying was because, in class, she is extremely quite and it's difficult to get her to put her hand up or volunteer for anything. Anyway, I gave her some exercises to work on the two pronunciation areas she was having the most difficulty with ('th'; as in the, this, that etc and 'er'; as in water, dipper etc). Once this was done I returned back to the teachers room and looked at the clock. Only 15 minutes to go.

As I sat their I wondered if I'd forgotten anything. For the last two days I'd been preparing for this moment. I knew that from 4pm to 7:30pm was the most crucial period of my trip, as these were the hours where traffic would be at it's most dense. I'd therefore planned a route which avoided 'heavy used one-lane roads' (until after 8pm), by-passed urban areas and avoided as many traffic lights as possible. I had filled up the car, bought a big bag of snacks and gone to the toilet. I'd also split my route up into rally stages. My route would take me west before heading south to Tono (stage one). Then I would head west again to the boarder with Akita (stage two). I would continue west before heading south (stage three) to Yamagata (stage four). The final two stages consisted of me leaving Yamagata and heading towards Japan's western coast (stage five) before heading south and into Niigata (stage six). These stages were put in place so that I could keep an eye on my progress and, if need be, switch to the faster 'Express ways' (motorways) which are all tolled (and they cost a lot). Finally 4pm came; I gave the quickest goodbye ever and ran to my car. With the engine started I knew Iwate would either 'make or break' my journey. I had to get out of Iwate as quickly as possible. With that thought in mind I turned left, out of the school car park, and, in front of me was a logger truck.

Using a few 'sneaky short cuts' I by-passed the logger truck however, I came across another truck. Finally, as I was leaving Miyako, the truck turned off and I was left alone on the '106'; a one-lane road. With a clear road in front of me you would have thought I'd be happy however, with the 106's many twists and turns I knew another lorry could be waiting around any corner.

Unbelievably the road remained clear of traffic all the way to where I was scheduled to turn off the '106' and onto the '340' to Tono. You may be thinking that this was a good thing however, the '340' has a lot of road works with temporary road closures; I'd arrived at 4:15pm and the road wouldn't open for another forty-five minutes. I therefore had no choice; I altered my route and stayed on the '106'.

As I drove further and further along the '106' it remained clear. With my steering wheel in one hand, and my map in the other I was desperate to find an exit south before the '106' came to it's terminus; Morioka City. Looking at the clock I would hit Morioka around 5:30pm and, with the combination of traffic and traffic lights, I knew it would take a long time to get across the city. Finally I found a 'minor road' which, after climbing a small mountain, looked pretty straight and would take me south to join a road south-west of Tono (the road I should have been using). I still had reservations about this road however, as I neared Morioka the traffic increased and my speed decreased. I therefore went for it and took the '22' south.

It didn't take long to realise that not a lot of traffic used this road. The tarmac was in perfect condition and the vegetation, on either side, had grown so much that it was hitting my car. My final confirmation came when I saw two black bear cubs playing in the middle of the road; they were cute, but I didn't want to wait around until 'mummy bear' arrived. After the bears came a beautiful view; this was 'all-well-and-good', but today was about speed. With no other traffic I was able to race around the 's' bends however, looking at my speed-o-meter, it rarely went above 40kms.

Finally I got to the end of the '22'. In front of me was a lake and a T-junction. I only had a few seconds to look at my map and I was sure 'right' was the correct way to go. It wasn't. Still, I realised that this road was heading in the 'westerly' direction I wanted (I would just be a bit further north than I wanted to be).

Finally I emerged at the boarder town between Akita and Iwate Prefectures. Annoyingly this town was spread over two pages within my map, resulting in constant flicking between the two pages. I'd arrived at 5:50pm (exactly when I was supposed to arrive) however, due to constant 'map flicking', traffic and traffic lights I got lost; seriously lost. I finally joined the '107' (heading west) midway along it at around 7pm. I actually didn't want the '107', I wanted the express way which ran parallel with it however, I was halfway along it now so I continued on my journey. After about twenty minutes I met a 'car carrier' which, after a very dangerous overtake (if I'm honest it was stupid and it annoyed me for the rest of the journey because, I don't usually make stupid over-taking moves) I was able to put my foot down and complete 'stage 3'. I was forty minutes behind schedule.

Thankfully I was now out of Iwate and into Akita. Akita (and Yamagata) have a lot of 'free express routes' which allowed me to fly south. The time was around 10pm; I'd made a brief 'rest stop' and still I'd still managed to reduce the gap to being twenty minutes behind.

Coming close to completing 'stage 5' (i.e. I was close to Japan's Western coast) I'd clawed back all the time I'd lost (and I'd also stopped for a re-fill of fuel). It was here that fate played a cruel card and, due to a sign being in Japanese, I missed the entrance onto another 'free express way'. This lost me time and after another 'rest stop' I was only on the outskirts of Niigata when the clock stroke midnight.

As I reached the outskirts of Niigata's city center I had two thought's whirling around within my head. Firstly, where had it all gone wrong. I was now fifty minutes behind schedule and, ironically, I think it was right at the beginning where I arrived too early at the '340'. It might have been quicker to wait thirty minutes for the road to open as I wouldn't have spent ages on minor roads trying to get 'back on track' (which included getting lost on the Iwate / Akita boarder). Also missing the turns for the 'highway' in Akita, and the 'free express road' in Yamagata / Niigata, didn't help. Still I'd made it to Niigata but one things for sure; when 'rallying' across northern Japan, a navigator is extremely useful.

The final thought within my head was that; was it worth booking a hotel for 6 hours sleep? I estimated that, now, I would arrive at 1:30am, be asleep by 2am and then have to get up at about 8:30am. I'd seen people park in shopping center car parks and 'nod off' (doing that it would have saved me £40). Also, Lets talk about the hotel I was staying in. It is apart of the 'Tokoyo Hotel' chain which, within Japan, is my usual choice of accommodation if no hostel is available and yet, it has a characteristic which I hate. When I traveled around the world I stayed in many hostels all of which were different (sometimes different in a good way; sometimes different in a bad way but yet, always different). Tokoyo Hotels are always the same no matter where you go. The wallpaper is the same, the bed is the same, the room layout is the same, the foyer is the same; hell even the art work and WiFi address are the same. I could be in Tokyo, I could be in Sapporo and, from the hotel at least, I would have no idea where I was. The character of where you stay can define your holiday experience and, from traveling around the world, I have tails of grotty hostels, but many more of excellent ones where I met some great people, Still as I pulled into the hotel, parked up, check-in and walked up to my room, maybe there is a place for blandness. I'd stayed in a Tokoyo Hotel before therefore I knew the bed would be comfortable, I knew the room would have air-conditioning and I knew the WiFi would work (I didn't even have to input the address as my MP3 player remembered it from a previous Tokoyo Hotel). As I lay their, at 1:45pm, I realised that on the odd occasion, after a ten hour trip, reliability is bliss and the £40 was well worth the 6 hours of sleep I knew I would get.

Toodle Pip!

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