Tour of Hokkaido, Day 7, Sapporo to Asahikawa.

1:20pm. The JR Limited Express Super Kamui 17 from Sapporo rolls into Asahikawa Station in typical boringly on-time Japanese fashion.  1 hour and 20 precise minutes. 4,680Y (but luckily, all-inclusive with my handy JR Pass).

It’s still a cool, cloudy day. The station is surprisingly quiet. In minutes, the BF is ready to go. I’d taken note of a recommended campsite outside Asahikawa and that’s where I’m heading this afternoon.

For such quick commutes, I only fold the bike, remove the front wheel, and bag it. No problems.

Outside the station, I try to figure out the best direction and road to take. I decide to pop into a Koban (police station) nearby. They are very friendly and helpful, all smiles, unlike our generally dour men-in-blue. One of them even comes out with me to the junction and gives me clear instructions to my destination.

Google streetview, outside Asahikawa station:

The campsite is about 10kms away in a small town called Nishikagura. A short 2km on the 219, then left onto straight-as-an-arrow national highway 237.

Nice, friendly Japanese cops

It’s lunch time. This time it’s a Lawsons.

Complete with clean toilets.

I decide to go Italian for lunch. 398Y.

This is one of the few kombinis to offer a proper place to enjoy their food

And of course, hot coffee. Only 180Y.

237 is not too busy. Coupled with the agreeable weather, I take my time heading south-east towards Nishikagura. Along the way, there’s nothing much to interest me until I come upon one the many roadside shelters that I see on every major road. But this one is different. Someone had lovingly nurtured a flower-bed of dazzlingly bright plants and flowers.

White gloves, smartly pressed white shirt, shiny shoes — your typical Japanese uncle-on-a-bike

I crossed the road and stop there for awhile, just admiring it all. An old man on a bicycle comes by; stops, casually lights a cigarette and quietly observes me. ‘Konichiwa’, I say to him. He surprises me with ‘Where are you from?’. But my surprise ends there; turns out that’s about the only English phrase he knows. He’s a charming fellow and we set to having one those English/Japanese/sign-language conversations that I always enjoy with a local. Oji-san is still having a go with his English and tries to impress me with his reading skills.

‘Bee-ker-fer-lee-day’, he points to the BF’s sticker. Not bad….. I cheer him on.

‘Boo-look-so’, he points to the badge on the Brooks saddle. I give him a standing ovation.

Before we parted ways, Oji-san tells me exactly where the park and campsite is, about a kilometre down the road on the left.

I find it easily enough. It’s a small park, meant for the enjoyment of Nishikagura’s folks. I ride in and see a few tents but no sign of the campers. I call in at the park office. No one seems to be about. After I hello-ed, a man comes out and I tell him I’m camping. I ask him how much and he says it’s free. He points to the park and says I can camp anywhere. Brilliant.

The entrance to the park is located opposite the post office

To Nishikagura Park and campsite, 4oom.

Entrance of the park

It’s a beautiful park but highway 237 is only about 100 metres down the slope of the high ground that the park is located. The park’s trees block out much of the traffic noise so it’s not too bad.

I pick my corner, away from the other campers. It’s as perfect as any park campsite can be – partly shaded under tall trees, lovely moss and grass on the ground, a gazebo with table and bench, a drinking water fountain and, about 10 metres away, the toilet.

My very own private water fountain, kitchen sink, shower, laundromat … Water is icy cold though.

Before I set up camp, I make a dash to the Lawsons just outside on the main road and stock up for the night and tomorrow morning. I’m lookng forward to enjoying the rest of this slow, lazy day.

Noodles, beer, snacks and breakfast.

Warm, cosy lighting at night

Dinner. Cup noodles with real wan-tons!

Delicious.

Tomorrow, it’s a longish ride to Lake Shumarinai where it will be another night of lakeside camping which I’m really beginning to enjoy.

================================================================================

Distance to day: 10 very lazy kms

Distance to date: 403km

Blue: JR Limited Express Super Kamui 17
Red: Bike Friday

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When the pain is gone.

A broken bone is no fun. That’s a fact.

But, there’s a certainty that can be expected of every broken bone. In time it will heal. That and after numerous visits with the orthopedic surgeon, my good friend Doctor Ong from Sri Kota Specialists Centre in Klang, and the hospital’s physio-therapist.

The pain is a distant memory now. My wrist is healed; well, as much as it can be healed given the circumstances. It’s not as good as before; flexion, pronation and supination is maybe 85% of its original condition. Unfortunately, I’m also not at the fitness level I was before, in spite of the running I did when my wrist was still healing and didn’t hurt as much.

If I want to erase a couple of inches off my girth, I’d have to ride a little harder.

The dreaded start to my physio sessions — the molten wax treatment, to soften the wrist.

Fully covered with wax. To know what it feels like, simply drip candle wax on your arm … a lot of it.

Wrapped in plastic …

and then a towel to slow-cook it for 15 minutes.

Pre-exercise measurement.

Strengthening the fingers

The closest I ever got to pedalling during recovery

Now, I’m happily riding my bikes again, both pedal- and petrol-powered ones.

My Kawasaki Versys, which I use mostly for commuting to work (and which only had its engine revved up once a week just so it got a workout standing still) is splitting the car-congested lanes again.

Even my trusty Land Cruiser off-roader, which had been languishing under the tree these past months, have had its much needed dose of mud slathered all over its wheels and underbelly recently.

My Titus is shredding Kiara’s twisty technical trails again, my Giant is racking up the miles on the tarmac again and my Surly…well, it only gets taken out for cycle-tours. A 2-week trip has been planned for Hokkaido in August but this time, the Surly may have to stay hung on the wall. A contender is in the house – a Bike Friday Pocket Expedition folding bike, courtesy of Alvin Lee of lovethefold.com. We’ll see how it goes.

My first ride on my Giant road bike. It wasn’t comfortable..the wrist couldn’t flex enough and I had to ride gingerly over bumps

My first ride in Kiara (here on Bar-a-kuda trail). I craved the rush and adrenaline but…prudence prevailed, that and the slight pain I’m still feeling so I took it easy.

The Bike Friday is on loan from my dear friend specifically for my Hokkaido trip. The easy access to Shinkansens, or Bullet trains, dictates that folding bikes are the best 2-wheelers to bring if you want it to be legally carried aboard as hand-luggage (have to be bagged, though). That and the fact that it’s a 1,000km plus one-way ride and not a loop.

My rear has long been spoilt by the fully-broken-in shiny Brooks so I transferred it over from the Surly, as well as the Time pedals, without which, I simply cannot pedal smoothly.

So yes, life has gone on.

Life is good.

Again.

A painful start to the Dragon Year

A split second is not much; it’s the time it takes to put into place the semi-colon that preceded this sentence, or the comma that came after it. But it was all that was needed to see me fly through the air, land on the ground with my hands instinctively outstretched and, the radius of the forearm bones connected to the wrist, painfully broken.

I was home in Penang with my family for the annual Chinese New Year celebrations, and as always, my mountain bike came as part of the entourage.

After 3 days, I’d already clocked a decent ride on the notoriously fast Mt Erskine downhill trail, just 5 minutes from my mom’s house where we stayed. Dotted with big jumps (which I smartly avoided seeing as I’m cross-country rider, not a downhiller) and corners so tight and fast that only the centrifugal force of a near-horizontal bike in motion could keep it glued to the wall of the berm. The thrill is addictive.

The Mt Erskine ride was a quick afternoon jaunt. I’d ridden up the relatively short trail (a 23-minute climb) and flew down it, and then up and down twice more, without incident. It was Chinese New Year, and every night saw us out at one dinner or another, so no long rides for me.

The end of the Mt Erskine trail by bike. From here it leads all the way to the Botanical Gardens..mostly on foot...and some portaging if you want to continue biking.

Today, the first day of the Year of the Water Dragon, I set out for another ride. This time it would be up my favourite hill – Penang Hill. I’m fortunate that living in Fettes Park means all my favourite rides are within ‘a few pedal strokes’ away – no hassle with loading the bike up on the car.

By 4.15, I’m at the foot of the hill outside the Botanical Gardens. The plan is to be back by 6.30 and get ready for another dinner party. I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends at Philip’s house.

The sealed road up Penang Hill is only 5 kms, but it’s an unforgiving beast with some painfully steep, knee-busting sections that can only be survived with the use of a granny gear; in my case, a 22-34 combination. I love climbing this hill.

Oh yes...30% gradient at some of the steeper sections.

One hour later, I emerge onto the top of the hill, and I’m immediately deluged by a big weekend-crowd. I feel like I’m at an ASEAN summit – Indons, Bangladeshis, Myanmars, Nepalis – they’re swarming all over the place, clicking away with abandon. We are such a pitiful foreign-labour-dependent nation.

I stop at a viewing point to take a panoramic photo. It takes me a few tries to get it right. 2 Indon guys with a girl in tow come up to me and ask, “Bang, boleh ambil gambar dengan abang tak?” (Can we take a photo with you?). I’m flabbergasted that anyone would want to take a photo with me. I oblige anyway and pose with them. The guys take turns grabbing me around the shoulder like a long-lost brother, sweaty jersey notwithstanding and, making sure that my bike is visible, they have their pictures taken with me, with the vista of Georgetown and the mainland in the background.

The girl smartly declined.

The ride down to the bottom usually takes about 20 to 25 minutes, and it’s freewheeling almost all the way. As always, it’s a blast. I know this hill by heart – every corner, every tight switchback, even the off-camber bends that are dangerous when wet. But it’s CNY. It’s hot and dry. I’m confident going down, but not so cockily confident that I would hit 80 kph on the steep straight stretches. Yes, once upon a time, I was that foolhardy….

The evening sun is on the leeward side of the hill so the road is in the shade. The air rushing over me is cool and dries up the sweat quickly. I feel light-headed going down. It’s been some time since I last rode this hill so I’m consciously enjoying everything that’s whizzing past me. There are no other sounds except the sharp ratcheting of the noisy Hope hubs and the occasional skid of the back tyre as I over-brake the rear wheel approaching a switchback.

The brakes are working overtime at every switchback and I know for fact that the rotors would burn any flesh that unwittingly comes into contact with it. Once, I’d even worn out the front brake pad and ended up comically stopping the bike with my feet. Thankfully, I’d already slowed down enough to do so, and ended up walking the bike down the rest of the way.

Not surprisingly, the road is also sparse of the usual walkers, making the run down smoother.

About 300 metres from the bottom, I slow down and begin to corner into a tight double-switchback, the first of the last 3 to go before I’m home free.

I never heard it coming – the single-rider kap-chai chugging its way up the steep bend. In that split second, as I come face to face with the motorbike, all I can see and hear is the rider wide-eyed and yelling “Wohhhh!!!”. In retrospect, there was absolutely nothing I could do. It was a corner going downhill, and even at that slow speed, it was impossible for me to avoid him.

And so, I crash into his front wheel and went flying over the top. I land with a sharp pain on my left wrist. I get up and sit on the ground wincing in pain. I take one look a my wrist and I know without a doubt that it is broken. There is a slight protrusion where the bone is broken, and all I can say is “Oh, shit”.

Thoughts flash through my mind as I sit there – no more biking, pain, hospital, arm in cast … and no more biking. Oh shit, indeed. I mean, damn it…I’ve done this ride countless times, always without incident. Why? Why?

The guy asks me if I’m alright – dumb question, seeing as I’m holding my hand and wincing in pain.

“Would you like me to take you to a hospital?” he asks again. I tell him no, just take me home if you can.

“What about your bike?”

“Saya boleh pegang, tak apa” (I can carry it, no problem)

He looks at me, incredulous that I can still think about the bike.

I realise then that apart from the broken wrist, there isn’t a single scratch on me. So, there I was, one hand out of commission, and with the other, I grab my bike and rest the saddle on my shoulder, and I get onto the pillion. A photograph would be priceless at that moment but thankfully, it never crossed my mind.

It’s evening so the roads are choked with cars out for dinner. If I had called Lilian to come and fetch me, it would have taken her at least an hour to get to the base of the hill which takes me only 15 minutes by bicycle.

We weave through the endless stream of cars moving at turtle-speeds and reach home in 10 minutes. My mom is duly shocked when she sees me, but my wife is only half as shocked, mainly because there’s no blood and I’m still standing, trying my best to look normal. She’s somewhat used to the aftermath of bike crashes that I have sustained over the years, but this time, she doesn’t know that the injury is serious.

The Adventist Hospital is also near but it takes us 45 minutes to get there. En-route, Philip gets a call to expect 2 less guests for the night.

Before surgery

Anyway, I see a doctor in out-patient who tells me I need to see an orthopedic surgeon who, after looking at the xrays, tells me it’s best to operate and get a metal splint in place. The next day it’s done and the day after, arm still swollen from the surgery and in a sling, I check out. It has cost me RM9,500 but fortunately, insurance will cover it.

After surgery

I like titanium as much as the next mountain biker but this isn't quite what I had in mind. I'm told it's surgical grade titanium, no worries of setting off the airport metal detector alarm.

The nice nurses giving me a post-op cryo-cuff, a sleeve with iced-water running through it wrapped around the wrist to reduce swelling

Squeamish to look at, yes...

What can I say? Que sera sera...

It will probably be about 2 months before I can ride again. Meanwhile, all I can do is lick my wounds and bide my time. But I take comfort in the Word which tells me that I should “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is His will for you”. I guess I’m thankful that I’m still alive. If only I can see the silver lining in there somewhere ….

Yessir, a split second is all it takes to turn your world upside down. Damn…if only those Indons had not asked to have their photographs taken with me. Or if only I hadn’t stopped to take a shot…or if only I had started earlier… or if only I had started later… if only… if only … if only….

Damn…

Rest is good. Forced rest is not good.

I’m in the latter category now. And I’m really suffering — not from the pain of a serious sprain to my left ankle, but the fact that I’m grounded for 4, maybe 6 weeks ….. sigh. No biking, no running or any activity that imposes a load on the joint; besides walking, that is.

It all happened in a split second — while trail-running inside the lush  Kota Damansara Forest where a newly-built biking/hiking trail had just opened for public use.

The plan was simple — mountain bike a few rounds then run a few rounds around the 2 km or so tight and twisty circuit. The biking was great, after which, I loaded the bike back onto the pick-up and swapped the SPDs for running shoes. So far, so good.

As I reached the end of the trail, coming down a gentle incline, my left foot slipped and the ankle twisted outwards. A sharp pain coursed through it, and I had to sit down for a few minutes. The only thought that came to my mind – ‘darn, there goes Xterra … and I was so looking forward to it’

This wasn’t the first time I had sprained my ankle, but it was the worst I had ever experienced. According to runner-doctor, William Chan, whom I consulted the next day, it was a grade 3 inversion sprain — the worst … compounded by torn ligaments.

Oh well, relax la … at least I can still swim, albeit with a pull-buoy.

Xray

Nice calcium

Xray

Getting ready for the ice-pack and the 'electric shock' treatment

Xray

Cold and shocking at the same time... quite nice, actually.