Maiko Biker prepares to invade Japan
In January I discovered that a Japanese biker friend –Koh Kitazawa– won the ‘bid’ for this year’s singlespeed world championships , to be held in Hakuba at the Iwatake Snow Field on Oct 10-11. Having missed the SSWC 2012 ,2013, 2014 (South Africa, Italy and Alaska) I just couldn’t let another year slide past.
I might get out of shape.
Anyone can race singlespeed at the “world level”: for the moment at least, you simply send in your fee and get to work on your elaborate costume. Sometimes there’s a lottery, but not this year. Perhaps the snow field can hold 2000 bodies…..This location is where the first mountain bike events took place in Japan thirty years ago…and alas I was not part of that trip (Charlie Kelly, Denise Caramagno, and Tom R were invited, wined and dined). I imagine it’s possible the corporate ruination process could hijack this frolicsome 15 year tradition to serve its own purpose ( associating companies like Chevron, BP, Dupont, and various automobile or drug companies with our healthy, peaceful pastime).
As the self-inaugurated global ambassadress for women, I figured speaking reasonably intelligible Japanese might help me diffuse the Women’s Mountain Bike & Tea velosofy.
Which is: An hour on a bike is an hour in perfect balance.
January 20, one day into Spring Session at COM, I decided to take a class. College of Marin is nothing if not accomodating. Why Japanese? Because it’s reputed to be a difficult language to learn, and I figured wrestling with it would do what bike schooling does for my students: returns them to youthful innocence.
Thankfully nobody laughs at a sixty year old student; they mostly scratch their head and shrug, then revert to texting when teacher isn’t commanding their attention.
I pedal right into the classroom, past the teacher’s desk (“Konnichiwa!” and a subtle nod) and hop off, lean the bike on the far wall, unclick helmet and drag the messynger bag with its 10 lbs of textbooks, notebook and three sharp pencils to my desk. I’m wayyyyy up front (even though there are only about 8 students, they huddle behind me). I got this issue with hearing ‘s’ and all unvoiced consonants.
The kids range from 15 years old (middle school) to 21.
Even though “furui” is the wrong word for a human, I AM a “furui kaban” (old bag).
The senseis are phenomenal. I have two because, with my crappy hearing, i need a second helping of every lesson for vocabulary retention & grammar seepage. It’s been a very intense 3 months. My brain hurts, and I even lost weight. Back and forth to COM 4 days a week. Worth it ! I can read a soy sauce label now.
For my final speech (a three-minute digest of who I am, my age, major, what I like & hate, etc) do it up. I pulled a ratty silk kimono from the clothing compost heap, wrapped a Therma-rest sleeping pad round me for a pretty reasonable ‘obi’ cinched with tres chic white nylon climbing rope. Costume designer Pat Leo lent me water-based white makeup. My route to school has lots and lots of flowers on fences. Charlie mollified a chain for a bit of jewelry. Genuine passion flowers, genuine jasmine. Couldn’t find tabi (toe-socks) or 3 inch tall wooden clogs, but the bike shoes are equally impractical to walk in. Watch this space to see if I can get into a summer program, and if they let you attend classes in costume.
Pictures by Joy Sassoon, Gary Leo and Fredde Foster, who I THINK will be competing at SSWC with the rest of the wild costumed folk….