Solana Travel Writing, Spring 2021
Erika J. Worley
While living with my host family, I rode my bike by the lake everyday to and from class. The waves stretched on forever, like the ocean, yet on clear days I could see mountains on the other side. Through the aether, they looked blue and so different from the flat stretch of highway I followed along the curve of Lake Biwa. On my side, there were hundreds of square fields with squat little trucks parked here and there to carry the farmers back to civilization. They wore white coveralls and boots, and pretty much ignored foreign students like me when we cycled past. With a castle in the middle of town, foreigners and tourists had just become part of the scenery.
Looking ahead, I could see the castle in the distance. It sat atop a hill that towered above the flat plain of the town. It might have been a tiny mountain once. Buildings, then fields, spread out from the castle compound until they splashed up against the sandy beaches or the mountains on this side of the lake. These peaks soared into the sky so suddenly they looked unreal to me, as much as the ones beyond the lake did. As I pedaled, I remembered seeing the Rocky Mountains for the first time as a child. They had been so far away despite being visible for hours and hours before we were anywhere near them! And yet here, just a few miles away, the Japanese mountains overlooked the lives below. Short and steep, all covered in trees and telephone poles, they took my breath away.
Chill autumn air rolled in off the water. I snuggled my face into my scarf and kept riding. There were houses and shops along the highway, standing between me and the beach. I rode past a wedding chapel and a Shinto cemetery filled with tall, stone grave markers. I thought about stopping at the bakery for a chocolate cornet or at the convenience store for a croquette. When I did stop, I walked my bicycle between houses and set it up on its kickstand under a tree. Everything was quiet save for the sloshing of the water. I walked out onto the damp sand to gaze at the lake.
Far to the left, the beach curved to where I could see some of the downtown. To my right, I could just see the green roof of my school a couple kilometers back the way I came. And in front of me, the expanse of Lake Biwa lay between me and the mountains on the other side. They stood tall and dark against the evening clouds. Would I ever get used to seeing the land arch its back towards the sky? I could see mountains from my bedroom, from my classroom, and on my route back and forth, yet months later they still felt like dreams.
Just then, as I side-stepped around a pile of washed up seaweed, I saw some kind of message in the sand. I looked up and down the beach to see if anyone else was around, but I was alone. Walking closer to see by the failing light of dusk, it was a moment before I realized what the message said and I couldn’t help but smile. Written in the sand was one word:
Chuckling to myself, I returned to the pavement. I climbed onto my bike and clicked the nightlight on as I pushed off. My feet pumped the pedals round and round, and the lazy highway carried me into town where ramen shops and grocery stores glowed and office workers made their way to the train station. Thinking of the train that would carry me home, too, and the dinner waiting for me, I smiled again.