I slept better than I anticipated. At breakfast I doubled up on eggs and tofu and made sure to get my fair share of rice. I went to my room, stretched, put on my gear and headed to the lobby.
The sun was shining and the air was warm but perfectly crisp as we walked over to collect our bikes. We couldn't have asked for better weather.
Once we were all organized we walked down to the ferry to start our journey.
The short ride took us over to the next island, where we began, single file, passing houses, fields and farms. I thought to myself 'This is what it means to be alive,' and was surprised by the ease with which I was riding.
I sang loudly and smiled, yelling "Konichiwa!" as we passed locals.
When we reached the hills heading to the bridge I found myself being one of the first to climb up, and when my friend from Mexico, Miguel, told me I was a natural rider I yelled back at him "That is one of the best compliments I have ever received!"
Just as we were all starting to get tired, we stopped at a sweet shop for wagashi - a Japanese confectionary made from glutinous rice - stuffed with local citrus. The texture was pillowy soft and the orange inside tasted freshly picked.
The rest of the group enjoyed big bowls of ramen and the kitchen whipped up a special gluten free meal for me - fried rice with eggs and ham! I love meals like this and vowed to make more like them at home.
After some good laughs and massages, it was time to hit the road again.
As we rode I breathed in heavily. The air in Japan is like nothing I've ever experienced. There is something so pure and sweet about it, and I find myself feeling better than I ever normally do.
I couldn't help but think that I would never have experienced a day like this if I hadn't gotten over my fears. If I hadn't sobbed two years ago when I attempted to ride for the first time and realized how much shame I'd built up over riding a bike. To me cycling represented a million things in my life I had failed at or couldn't finish - learning to drive, my marriage, all the things I couldn't say or do.
Today I let all of that go. I just rode.
Our many stops along the way made the ride really easy and enjoyable. We even stopped at a bicycle shrine where we were greeted with a special purification ceremony, tea and cold towels.
As we cycled along I got to know some of my travelling companions better. They all have a great sense of humour, enthusiasm, and a sense of calm and joy that seems to come with a life well travelled.
Near the end of the ride everything started to hurt. The jet leg started creeping in and the last hills were especially challenging. At one point I went to scratch my nose, head in the clouds, and completely tumbled over. The young man behind me, a well known actor from Thailand, helped me adjust my seat and make sure I was ok. I thanked him, brushed it off and kept going, trying to shake any fear and self doubt the incident had created.
From here the rest of the ride was easy. We went over another bridge while the sun started to set, then raced down the hill and back onto the road. When I was starting to get tired again, the perfect pit stop arrived.
Fun fact: Japanese dairy is amazing! I dug into a small cup of milk and sea salt and chestnut ice cream with glee. I need to do more active vacations because it makes eating that much more rewarding. Everything we ate just felt like added fuel under my belt.
And because our food journey couldn't stop there, we rode another ways to a small village where the group stopped for hot fish croquettes. While I couldn't eat any, the owner - a small elderly woman - requested a photo alone with me and made my day. I also got a picture with our fearless leader...Yuji-San! This man has endless energy and so much love for what he does.
Before I knew it we had arrived at the ferry to take us home. I had completed my first big ride. 35km, one small scrape, a lifetime of fears faced.
I celebrated with my French Canadienne with drinks from the vending machine and an epic sunset as we waited for the boat.
Eventually the small ferry arrived and took our tired bodies back to our hotel, where we freshened up and headed out for a tempura dinner.
I never thought I would complete a ride like this, in Japan no less. With all the bizarre twists and turns my life has taken - this has been one of the best.