We were somewhere on the edge of Kiga when the storm finally broke. We’d been successfully outrunning the brute for the past 20 minutes, but in the final 5 before it had hit the beast had made more ground up on us than an Olympic sprinter, and looked to have all the tenderness of a boxer.
It was inevitable, of course. We had long come to accept the nature of our predicament, and as such we were prepared to get wet; but this didn’t necessarily mean that we wanted to. Like an Eskimo cast adrift on a slowly melting iceberg, the knowledge that you are eventually going to get wet is easy enough to come to terms with; it is the question of ‘when’ that bothers you.
Typhoon Roke had taken us by surprise, largely because - unlike the rest of Japan - we had chosen to ignore any and all of the warnings from the ever-cheerful weatherman on Channel 26. “It’s not going to be that bad”, a friend of mine had said the day before the storm clouds washed ashore, “Sure there’ll be some rain, perhaps even a little flooding, but ultimately the Japanese are worrying about nothing”.
Most anyone will tell you that they’ve experienced a storm of some nature, but I would bet good money that only a select minority have experienced one of such ferocity and wildness as the one that struck on that sodden evening, and fewer still whilst on a bike. 106km/h winds battered anything and everything in their path, Mother Nature unbiased as she laid waste to natural and unnatural structures alike; parking garage or pagoda, she didn’t care. Like a banshee the wind came up from the South and howled its way into every nook and cranny it could possibly find; overturning the famously tiny cars, upending vending machines, and tossing cherry-blossom trees about as though they were nothing more than chopsticks, their branches bare and lifeless. The sea churned itself into frenzy unlike anything I’d ever seen before, and it looked ever more likely that the mythical Kraken itself would rise from the murky depths to devour any men, women or child caught wandering the shoreline at such an unfortunate time.
And there we were. Two friends on our old pedal bikes who’d earlier decided - spur of the moment - to visit one of our good mate’s up in the Kiga Mountains, some hour and a half’s ride away. The day had been a grand one, and we had done all the things expected of friends; we joked and laughed about things that mattered and those that did not, and chowed down on a variety of fishy oddities from the local market. There were a lot of smiles. But now, caught in what appeared to be the very manifestation of God’s wrath, those smiles had vanished, and fear and fatigue had replaced them.
Indeed. It was a clear case of the mind is willing, but the body is weak. We struggled through blinding sheets of heavy tropical rain that lashed at our faces and sapped our remaining energy, whilst thunder clapped loudly overhead and lightning illuminated the nightmarish darkness that lay ahead. We could no longer see the coloured lanterns of downtown Hamamatsu, and the dynamo-powered lights mounted atop our small Japanese bicycles were about as effective as a one-legged footballer. Despite our best efforts, it wasn’t long before we sought refuge from the raging skies above.
Lumbering wearily on with what seemed like an impossible distance stretched out before home, the tree-line finally parted as we came across a solitary convenience store. Blinded by joy, we basked in the relief that our luck had finally turned. That is, until we realised the place was closed. This proved to us just how seriously the Japanese were taking the storm, for if you have ever visited the country you will know that ‘combini’ never close.
Pulling our bikes and ourselves up the curb and under the store’s overhang we hunkered down in our dank, dark sanctuary. With the rain pummelling the roof overhead and tiredness seeping quickly into our bones, we waited for the violent heavens to pass. It was here, her face lit eerily by the sporadically swinging bulb above, and with furrows of rainwater inching their way down our backs, that she turned to me:
“I told you we should’ve gotten the bus!” she quipped.