Saturday, August 1, 2009

Day 38: Sumo Super Stars

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Biked around 45km (25 miles) over 1 mountain pass to Takayama, stopping to take on a couple of sumo wrestlers on the way. Sho won. Charles was crushed like a paper doll.

I read Rudyard Kipling's Just So Story about the first alphabet to Sho last night, and on today's ride, he decided to create a secret language for the two of us to use on the trip. As we repeated the climb we'd given up on last night, we came up with short-hand words to represent complex thoughts. I'd share some, but then it wouldn't be a secret language anymore!

As we made our way to Takayama, we found out that the point where we gave up last night was on the final push before the top of the mountain pass. The campsite we were looking for was only another 2 miles away...

We finally left the mountains and started to see signs of civilization after an hour and a half of riding. We finally found a restaurant and hungrily gobbled up a much-needed breakfast before continuing on toward Takayama. By chance, we happened upon a sumo festival in a small town, and spent 3 hours enjoying the event. The festivities included a sumo tournament for elementary school age boys and a demonstration by a group of large, adult wrestlers.

Rain fell hard all day, but the sumo ring was protected by a large roof, and tents had been set up for spectators surrounding the ring. Sho was enthralled, and asked if we could return next year, so that he could compete in the tournament. After the kids' competition was over, the announcer invited spectators to have a go against one of the adult wrestlers. Sho immediately volunteered, and the massive wrestler he was paired with toyed with him playfully. After lifting Sho in the air, he set him down gently and let Sho shove him out of the ring.

The announcer urged me to give it a try too. "Why not?" I thought, especially given Sho's happy experience. It turns out that they treat adults somewhat differently...

My opponent weighed around 280 lbs, while I am down to a trim 155 lbs. As we squatted in front of one another in the center of the ring, I quickly explained that I am on a 2-month bike ride across Japan and really needed to avoid getting injured. He smiled at me, and a little voice inside my head said, "Oh shit." As we slammed into one another, I got a firm grip on his belt and pushed with all of my strength. He didn't budge, then lifted me in the air and set me down firmly outside of the ring. We squared off for a second round, and this time he toyed with me for a minute, letting me struggle uselessly against his massive strength, before slamming me to the ground with a move that literally spun me around twice on the hard sand of the sumo ring.

As I limped away, the announcer interviewed me briefly. I explained our cross-Japan ride and said that we'd biked over 2 mountains the day before. "If I hadn't been worn out from all the riding, I think I would have taken him," I joked, then slithered out into the pounding rain to wash the sand from my body.

"Your leg is bleeding," a helpful passerby observed. "And your elbow." My right big toe was also throbbing and seemed to be sticking out at an unnatural angle.

"Are you ok, Daddy?" Sho asked with genuine concern in his voice.

We rode another hour and a half into Takayama. When we saw a sign for an onsen public bath, Sho shouted out, "Yippee!", adding "Sometimes you're so happy, you cry." Spending 2 days struggling up and down mountains had given him an appreciation for the comforts of civilization.

We found a hotel, enjoyed a long, hot soak in the onsen, and relished the feeling of slipping into a comfortable bed, clean and dry. I taped up my big toe, applied bandaids on my ankle and elbow and made a mental note to self: "Sumo experience - check. Done. No need to repeat."


  1. Charlie and Sho, how are you doing? I want to check your route to Shimanami Kaido. Are you going from Onomichi to Imabari or the other way round? Can you by now tell around when you will reach Shimanami Kaido? Saga

  2. Saga,

    We are going from Imabari to Onomichi. It looks like we will ride on Shimanami Kaido on Aug 19, although that could change. We plan to ride from Onomichi to Hiroshima on Aug 20, and spend Aug 21 seeing Hiroshima and Itsukushima Jinja. When are you and Oko free again?

  3. Sho! I know you are strong, but I didn't know you are SUMO STRONG! Well done!
    Be safe!
    Ms. Novak

  4. charlie

    you're a slow learner if you had to go in the ring twice against a guy almost twice your size wearing nothing but a rag around his crotch to strike another activity off your wish list.

    but sounds like you've drawn real empathy from your son, so what the heck....