Friday, May 18, 2007

Getting Around to Getting in Shape

It was a warm, spring day in southern Hokkaido, and I was homeward bound on the Etomo peninsula, nearing the end of a 20-km bike ride. The low road follows the railway out the peninsula from Higashi Muroran station, and the ride is flat on a wide, uncluttered sidewalk as far as Misaki station. That’s where the hills begin. There are four altogether, and while none are very long or steep, all are substantial enough that, just a few short years ago, I would have been down to my lowest gear, standing up on the pedals, and sucking hard for air.

Not after nearly two years in Asia.

I cruised up the first hill, and when I was halfway up the second, I couldn’t help but break into an ear-to-ear grin. My legs were keeping cadence in the middle of my gear range, and I was shifting up to take the hill faster.

Coming from an asthmatic, un-athletic childhood (I played zero sports growing up), I couldn’t be happier – or more pleasantly surprised – with the level of fitness I’ve attained in Japan. The surprise comes because I didn’t come here looking for fitness. In fact, I rarely exercise for the sake of exercising. The change has come on a far more basic level.

In Japan, my wife and I don’t own a car. Five years ago, as a new college graduate about to embark on a Great American Road Trip, the thought of not owning a car was unimaginable. The automobile symbolized freedom, the ability to point myself down any open road and just go. And go fast. But after 80,000 miles in the next three years, I was burning myself out. So when Maureen asked if we should try to get a car in Japan, my response was, “No.” More than anything, I wanted to see if I could actually live without my own car.

Now, as we prepare to return to the U.S. this summer, one of things I’m most dreading is driving again. I’m dreading the stop-and-go traffic of rush hour, the looong suburban streets of endless traffic lights and stop signs, and the hours of my life that I’ll forever lose to focusing on the road. Books on CD will help there, but even so, they aren’t the same as actually reading, or writing on my iBook, or just staring contemplatively out the window.

One thing I hope I don’t lose is the firmness I’ve found in my thighs and quadriceps. Nights at the gym aren’t the answer for me. My only hope is by refusing to drive any distance that I’m able to cover on two feet or two wheels. That won’t always be easy in a country where many main roads don’t even have sidewalks, but I’m determined. I’ve already told Maureen that we can only get one small car for the two of us to share (and two nice bikes). She’s willing to try, but has her doubts. To tell the truth, I do, too, so for any of you who we’ll be seeing stateside in the months ahead, we’d really appreciate your support. For anyone else who happens to be reading, encouragement is always welcome.

All the same, I’m excited to try. Besides, maybe I’m looking at it all wrong. To turn this around, despite all the convenient public transportation in Japan, I was still able to get into shape. Just think of the exercise I can get in the U.S. without so much public transit.


Meredith said...

Yay! Happy to see new posts again! Looking forward to seeing you guys this summer!!!!!!!
love, mere :)

Tim said...

Nice post Scott, it's great to have you blogging again and I'll throw a link back up on my blog today.

I renewed my license the other day 30 months after it expired, but am still holding out against getting a car of my own. True freedom is the time to go slow.

Scott Lothes said...

Thanks for the comments, guys! I'm glad to be back online. Leaving early in the morning for an overnight campout near Niseko, my first of the year. May is waaay too late to be dusting off the tent for the first time. I'll have to make up for that in the coming weeks.

Anonymous said...


You can live in Moscow without a car; you can't, however, railfan in Moscow without a car. -Jim D.