My Most Intense Travel Experiences #4

February 10, 2018

Hitchhiking to Nagasaki for a Half Marathon

There’s running abroad, and then there’s what I do. Why sign up for a half marathon 300 km away with no money to get there? Because, once a traveler…

I woke up just early enough on Saturday to give myself a leisurely 5-km jog and hearty breakfast before catching the bus to Kagoshima Chuo Station. Even though I had every intention of hitchhiking most of this journey, I couldn’t help but use trains part of the way – the highway wasn’t exactly accessible from downtown Kagoshima, and I wanted to reach the Shimabara Peninsula by ferry first.

One train, a bit of a walk, and a boat ride later, I was soaking my feet in an ashi no yu in Shimabara City watching the sun go down. With nothing to lose and needing to reach Nagasaki with enough time to eat and sleep (I had already reserved a Toyoko Inn), I started walking and sticking out my thumb.

Unfortunately, not too many people seemed willing to pick up a foreign hitchhiker in the twilight hour, and I was getting hungrier and more tired with each step. I did manage to get a lift to Ishaya. That’s when I noticed that there was a bus available directly to Nagasaki for under a thousand yen.

Did I mention I was broke? My next paycheck wasn’t scheduled to be deposited until the next week, and I had no credit cards that worked in Japan. Spending some yen to reach Nagasaki before I would be too exhausted to run the next day seemed like the only viable option at the time, so I did what I had to do.

After a dinner of Royal Host steak and potatoes, I was resting my head and mentally preparing for what I needed to do the next morning – check out and store my bag at reception, dress for cool weather, and try not to pass out. I had the Nature Valley granola bars I liked as a snack the next morning, because there was surely no way I’d be eating miso soup and rice before a race.

Weather for the Nagasaki Bayside Half Marathon that Sunday was perfect: not too sunny, just a little cool. Add to that a Japanese middle school band playing Eye of the Tiger 15 kilometers in and a final sprint between a Japanese runner and me, and it made for a great travel experience.

However, I had a problem. It was noon, and I had less than 4000 yen to get back to my apartment and sleep before work the next day, a journey that normally takes a few hours by limited express trains and shinkansen for about 10,000 yen.

I spend just over 2000 getting outside of Nagasaki and well on my way to Kurume, the transfer point to lines and roads heading to Kagoshima. My first ride not only took me out of his way – he was going north to Fukuoka – but also handed me some senbei as a snack.

Two more rides later, and I reached Kumamoto City well after 10:00 PM. It was dark, I was hungry (didn’t eat anything for lunch or dinner), and I was starting to think I would have to sleep outside, call into work the next morning, and wait to catch a ride when dawn broke – 200 km remained between me and Kagoshima, and I knew the last train departed at 11:00 PM sharp. I had 1000 yen and change in my pocket.

I can’t explain how I got so lucky as to encounter my next ride. I started walking on the road which connected with the highway to Kagoshima when an older couple picked me up, thinking I must have gotten lost heading to the station… not so much.

After explaining I intended to hitchhike to Kagoshima in the middle of the night (after 10:30 by then), they had a discussion amongst themselves which I couldn’t really understand, and then dropped me at the station. I was still grateful, because being there put me in a better position to catch rides, but before I could leave the backseat, the husband handed me 7000 yen, just enough for train fare to reach home. I couldn’t express my gratitude well in Japanese – just muttered my thanks and dashed out the door, because the train was set to depart in a few minutes.

Of course, even after I walked through the ticket gate in Kagoshima Chuo with a little swagger, my travels for the day weren’t over – my apartment was 16 km from the station and the buses had already stopped running. Taxis cost between 2000-2200 and I had no means to withdraw more cash. Still, it was a bit of a relief; if I was so inclined, I could walk home… after hitchhiking across the entirety of Kyushu and running a half marathon the same day. I started walking, and got about 4-5 km away before I spotted a taxi. Explaining I needed to go the rest of the way to Yoshino Town, he agreed to take me for 1000 yen. Success.

Think that was the craziest thing I’ve done in my travels? Not even in the top three! Stay tuned.

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