Once completing this flat stretch along the bay I’m back on Route 16, heading slightly inland and climbing some rolling hilly terrain that steepens toward the top. It’s less than a mile climb, with a fairly rapid descent on the other side (Note to self: That rapid descent will be a steep climb on the return leg). Then the road winds gradually down into an almost idyllic little marina that looks and feels like a quiet fishing village. Boats and launches predominate along the water, and again one sees little fishing establishments and people wearing rubber boots and carrying fishing gear.
After my refreshing stop in the neighborhood park, I continue my run along a thriving commercial area that includes a baseball batting range and three Wal-Mart/Target/Lowes look-alikes: Homes, Livin, and Ave. The going here is a bit congested with a constant flow of Japanese frequenting these shopping complexes by foot, bicycle, or automobile. Cars are the least threatening because the driveways are controlled by Japanese sentries with their lighted batons that resemble light sabres. Aware of my approach, they resolutely stop the traffic when I’m still a good 20 yards away. I always smile and say, “Arigato”, and they always smile and bow politely.
Shortly after the enclave of home shopping malls I pass a large commercial fish market and then an inlet featuring several small fishing enterprises. Japanese folks in rubber boots and coveralls hustle about with tackle and gear. In the summertime there might be seaweed drying in the sun, soon to become nori. Logically perhaps, I good looking sushi restaurant appears just ahead.
About a half mile after the fish market I turn around an apartment complex and leave the road for the boardwalk (okay, cement walk) that runs next to Tokyo Bay for about a mile. To my right is Maborikaigan, a residential neighborhood where quite a few American naval officer families live. This whole area is built on landfill, and it is one of the more picturesque places I’ve ever run. On a nice day, people sunbathe on the rocks, but even on a cool, overcast day like today a few people are fishing from the edge, taking photos, or just out for a stroll or run. The bay is a panorama of water in motion, small islands on the horizon, and a plethora of ships and boats of all sizes and shapes. In spite of its beauty, this stretch along the water can challenge a runner, because it is unprotected from the climate, and leaves one vulnerable to whatever wind or weather whips off the bay. Today it was a crosswind, so even though it was cool it was not as annoying as the cold winter winds that blow directly in your face and cut your motivation in half. Enjoying the crispness of the breeze washing over me from left to right, I did wonder what I would find here on my way back.
The Tokyo Marathon is less than three months away, so it is time to get down to serious training. That means a long run every two weeks, increasing the distance by 2 miles from the previous long run. If all goes according to plan (which it never does) I’ll complete runs of 20, 22, and 24 miles before taking on the 26.2 mile marathon on February 28. This weekend I needed to do a 14 miler, so I revisited one of my favorite courses from our prior tour here. The run from Yokosuka Base to Kannonzaki Lighthouse is not only a good run, it’s also a neat cross-sampling of the country and culture.
One challenge of running long distances this time of year is deciding what to wear. It is not a fashion thing…Lord knows I’m never to be confused for one of those guys on the cover of Runners World magazine. The trick is dressing right for the weather, which can be variable and unpredictable. The standard gouge is to dress for the end of the run, meaning that if you are comfortable for chillier conditions at the start, you will likely overheat as the body and ambient temperatures warm up. Well, today’s prediction was for intermittent rain showers later in the afternoon, with a northerly breeze to make the 54 degree high feel more like something in the forties.
I added some long running pants and light jacket to my shorts and long-sleeved shirt and headed out the door. The out and back distance from the Base to Kannonzaki is roughly eleven miles, so I planned to do three miles around the base first. I had barely gotten started when the sun came out and the breeze lightened up. After two miles I was already hot, so I circled back home, shed the jacket and long pants, and resumed my path to the gate. By the time I egressed from the base it was overcast again.
Running left from the gate one first passes the Kanagawa University of Human Services, which houses schools of dentistry and nursing. Typical of any Saturday, students were coming and going from classes. School at any level in Japan seems to be six days a week.
Mikasa Park sits just beyond the Kanagawa University. This park features the Battleship Mikasa that was the Flagship of Admiral Togo Heihachiro during the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 – 1905. This park is a favorite gathering place of the local Yokosuka citizens, complete with fountain and bandshell, and is also frequented by Americans from the nearby base.
After Mikasa Park the run heads out onto the ubiquitous Route 16, which seems to be everywhere in Japan. One first passes a very large parking lot that is a staging area for newly manufactured automobiles to be loaded onto ships to countries where the driving configuration is opposite Japan’s. Strangely, this huge lot that could accommodate several football or soccer fields was completely empty today. A sign of the economic times?
Continuing along Route 16 a family park nestles between the road and the bay. On a nice day many people are there, playing basketball, riding bikes, or just enjoying family time. When I that park the weather was turning more overcast and chilly, so little was happening. It’s one of my favorite sites along this run because it sports a very nice public restroom and a water fountain where I can refill my water bottle. I always stop here.
To be Continued….
Last September when our ship was in Noumea, New Caledonia, a colleague asked me if I’d go with her to the Tjibaou Cultural Center, which I understood to be a museum of the history of the island. Thinking that I might pick up some good information on New Caledonian culture that I could share with family and friends, I agreed to go. We were fortunate to avail ourselves of the car and driver provided for the use of our Chief of Staff, who was hopelessly tied up with work on the ship. And thus began a unique adventure in sightseeing.
Our driver, a New Caledonia native of French lineage named Eric, was probably bored to tears sitting around waiting for “Number One”, as he referred to the COS, to decide to go somewhere in the car standing by just for him. So he offered to give us “a leetle tour” en route to the Cultural Center. This little tour turned into a 4 ½ hour in-depth excursion throughout Noumea, including many places where tourists and visitors never go, as well as a full accounting of Eric’s personal history and philosophy of life, the latter being more interesting than the former.
Eric grew up in New Caledonia, the son of a Sicilian mother and French father, and later traveled and lived abroad. His first wife was Turkish, and they lived for 13 years in Germany. He has a daughter, Jamilla, who is 19. Later he lived in California, which he didn’t like because he thinks the people are too phony and nosy and status conscious. But he loved his visits to Arizona because climate-wise it is most like New Caledonia of any other place he has lived. I felt that on my long runs there, which reminded me of the terrain around Lake Pleasant just outside of Phoenix. The climate is very similar, warm and dry; not hot and humid like Guam.
I’ve forgotten all the details of Eric’s subsequent sojourns, but he is now back in New Caledonia where he works as a driver and tour guide, particularly in demand for German tourists since he is fluent in their language. His current wife is Polynesian. Three weeks previously she gave birth to premature twins at 26 weeks gestation (near the lower limit of viability). The wife, whose name sounded to me like Asuncion, was still in hospital and the baby girls were still in neonatal ICU. Meanwhile Eric was working 18 hour days driving VIPs and giving tours and philosophy lessons. Two things were clear: He is deeply in love with his wife, and he is a deeply religious man. He is both a philosopher and theologian, and his French gift of gab, accent included, makes him very entertaining. For him, a highlight of the trip was taking us to a shrine overlooking the city, sporting a statue of the Virgin Mary entitled, “Notre Dame du Pacifique.” This shrine was built entirely by private citizens, and Eric proudly proclaimed that she is named not just Our Lady of New Caledonia, but of the whole Pacific! “Thees is only right, because she was built by zee people, and we are all ceeteezens of zee Pacific, no?” He then smugly described how he and his wife attend Mass on this hilltop every Sunday. I thought of our drafty church back in D.C. with the poor acoustics, and figured that in this shrine one could better feel the presence of God.
When we finally got to the Cultural Center it was closed for the holiday. Undaunted, Eric talked the guards into letting us in anyway, without paying the 500 Frank entry fee. So we got a (lengthy) privately guided tour where we learned all about Melanesian life and work, as well as a healthy dose of Eric’s personal philosophy about race relations and local politics, which could be briefly described as “live and let live.” We also learned that this New Caledonian Renaissance man has a bit of medical knowledge as well, because he adroitly steered us away from low-lying wetlands as the time of day approached peak feeding time for mosquitoes. “Vee have some Dengue here, you know?”
So the short excursion to the cultural center for some photo ops turned into a 4 ½ tour, but the price was right ($0) and the car was air conditioned, and I did learn a lot and appreciated this quasi-theologian’s fresh outlook on life and love. We finished with a private tour of Kanak homes and beaches, as well as a very idyllic beach resort area that became my favorite running destination for the remainder of the port visit.
So you just never know when a person or place is going to unexpectedly enter your life, and impact you in an unanticipated yet memorable way. Though we will likely never see Eric again, that day we made a friend. He was on the pier when the ship departed, and we waved to him enthusiastically. I was personally hopeful that with us out of his life he could finally devote his time to his wife and newborn daughter.
I rode my bike in Vietnam a couple of weeks ago. Our ship was in Da Nang for an historic port visit. One day some friends and I rode our two wheelers to China Beach and back, making a bit of our own personal history.
That may not be such a big deal. We had ridden together in several prior ports and enjoyed the exercise, sightseeing, and camaraderie. This ride was different, and for this particular cyclist incredible: Vietnam, me, friends, bikes…and happy Vietnamese people enthusiastically hailing us as we passed. I never dreamed I would experience any of that.
As a new college graduate forty years ago, any vision of myself in Vietnam included a helmet, a rifle, and the risk of not leaving the jungle alive. Several of my high school friends had been exactly there. Were it not for my (belated) acceptance into medical school in the summer of 1969, I very well could have found myself cleaning a rifle in the hot jungle instead of poring over purple stained slides in a chilly histology lab on the other side of the world. By the time I graduated from med school the war was all but over, and the doctor draft a thing of history. Nevertheless the Vietnam war was a powerful force in my life and in those of many of my contemporaries.
Whether or not we ever actually set foot in Vietnam, my generation of baby boomers often knew it as a source of intense agony and ambiguity, a painful coming of age. Our transition from optimistic children of the fifties and early sixties to disenchanted and bewildered young adults of the late sixties and early seventies was a trauma that persisted well into our later years. Raised by parents of the “Greatest Generation” in a time of peace and prosperity in America, we boomers had embraced their core values of patriotism, old time religion, loyalty, devotion to duty, and a belief in the just rewards that any American could expect from faithfully adhering to those values. The Vietnam war and the division it caused across our nation deeply sullied that dream. The resultant disillusionment affected my generation in ways we could not begin to understand, let alone assuage. Vietnam was our inherited original sin, a national shame, proof that Americans can sometimes be ugly, and that the difference between right and wrong is not a thin, distinct line, but a broad span of gray.
Many of us wasted a lot of time and psychic energy in our subsequent adult lives in fitful starts and stops trying to restore that peaceful serenity of our childhood and adolescence. But it always eluded us. Vietnam had happened. America had not only finally lost a war, we had lost our honor, our integrity, and our pride. Vietnam symbolized a failure of the American dream, and it was therefore a place, virtually if not actually, where many Americans swore never to go again. I was one of them.
In my mid-twenties, voting in my second presidential election, I cast my ballot in vain for the Democratic challenger to the Republican incumbent. We wanted out of that Vietnam era. We wanted change in America. We got “four more years” and more disenchantment.
I steadfastly avoided military service largely because of the scars Vietnam left on our nation and our military. For sure, those core values instilled by my greatest generation parents did occasionally remonstrate me for not serving my nation, but I needed only to conjure up images of that terrible conflict to quickly put those noble thoughts out of my head. Then all of a sudden Desert Storm happened, and I witnessed a picture far different from what I had seen in those Vietnam newsreels years ago: a professional, poised, and compassionate military that quickly earned the respect and support of Americans, even if we were not entirely sure why we needed to liberate Kuwait in the first place. Less than a year later I was a newly commissioned medical officer in the United States Navy embarking upon a life change and adventure from which I have never looked back. Some 18 years hence that adventure brought me and my bike to Vietnam where I rode with my friends to China Beach and met friendly, enthusiastic Vietnamese all along the route. And in that instant I felt a bit of that same tranquility that I had known so many years ago. It was an unanticipated and welcome sort of closure.
An American sailor riding a bike in once war-torn Vietnam does not change history. But that simple event does show that very little in this life is forever, neither peace or war, neither success or failure, neither good events and people or evil events and people, neither suffering or happiness, neither pain or joy, tears or laughter. What remains, then, is to transcend the inevitable ups and downs through adherence to true constants of life and to take joy in simple things, like being able to ride a bike at all.
And what are those true constants of life? Well, in their youth our greatest generation parents had experienced their own terrible world war. And although they seldom really talked about it, afterwards they steadfastly rebuilt their personal American dream by living those core values that they tried to teach us baby boomers. Turns out, they had it right all along.