Every trip has its ebbs and flows. The action-packed peaks, connecting with dull valleys. The ever-evolving road of adventure doesn't have a GPS or well-detailed itinerary.
At some point, a plan or two is going to come flat. Unfortunately, today started as one of those days.
In the early minutes of a 3-hour trek, a poorly placed nail got the better of my front tire. I can't say I'm surprised that I got a flat, I just didn't expect one today.
With the DZed pulled off to the side, I untether some of my belongings and reach for the tool kit.
Depending on whether the nail punctured the tire alone, or with the tube, a patch may be enough to get by.
After an initial inspection, it looks like the puncture got the better of the tire, but not through the tube. Regardless, it's a matter of time before the patch gives out and I have more issues.
I decided to work my way back into Nikko and get another front tire/tube from a local shop.
Days like this are a great reminder to have plans in spades, as you never know what a trip is going to throw at you.
After a few hours and some mishaps with a tire spoon, I finally get back on the road to today's location.
Speaking of which, the agenda for today is to head over to the Gunma prefecture and check out the Kusatsu hot springs.
Between the distance and altitude change (the hot spring is a few thousand feet above sea level), there's no way my original tire would have handled the trip.
During today's route, I begin to realize something about Gunma prefecture. Because of the mountainous terrain and winding roads, this stretch of land is famous for downhill drift races.
Much has been made about that history of racing in the Prefecture, regardless of the legality.
I don't know if I'll get the chance to see some of these night drifts in person, but that would certainly be a sweet way to end this monotonous day.
By late afternoon, I find myself pulling into the Onsen that I've heard so much about. Like the Onsen in Tohoku, Kusatsu Onsen also has a host of Ryokans to stay in.
Considering how nice the last experience was, I didn't hesitate to book another stay in one of the traditional Japanese Inns.
This particular hot spring resort has been around for hundreds of years. It's become somewhat of a local legend that the hot springs can cure any ailment, except lovesickness.
With the miles of travel racking up on my body, I'm ready to put that claim up to the test.
After checking into my Ryokan, I walk about the Onsen town and see what else this place has to offer. Immediately, my eyes are drawn to the large space of water right in the middle of the town.
Often referred to as the "yubatake" (hot water fields), this stream is provided by nearby Mount Shirane.
This active volcano serves as the distributor for all water-related activities in the area.
Because of the minerals and high acidity in the water, this source has been known to cleanse the pallet in a way that other hot springs cannot.
Perhaps that's why it was such a coveted source of water from former Shoguns back in the Edo Period.
As I stroll my way through the city center, I meander into a nearby hall to watch a typical "cooling" practice. In this exercise, workers use wooden planks to stir the water and help it down.
Today, I caught them doing this while moving the planks to match the rhythm of a song.
The synchronizing motion between the workers moves in perfect concert with their tune of choice. I'm sure they've had countless tries to gain fluency in this exercise.
While the obvious thing to do would be to add cold water, the people here at the Onsen insist on stirring for a method of cooling as the water retains all of its minerals this way.
Regardless, I'm ready to submerge into these hot springs and get a feel for myself. I take a dip in one of the public Onsens. As you can imagine, the feeling was nothing short of sensational.
The murky, steaming water is doing wonders on my physique. Whether or not the "minerals" are a placebo effect is irrelevant.
The sheer presence of this water smothering me is more than enough of therapy for my body.
With nobody around me, I close my eyes and begin to recollect my thoughts.
Being lovesick is the one thing this place won't cure. That's unfortunate, as the occasional thought of her sometimes hangs over my conscience like a thick, volcanic cloud.
The connection we had was unlike any that I've had before. Like those ladies churning the hot spring water earlier, there was a synchronicity between our hearts.
Bonds like that can't be described in one word, let alone a letter.
The days I wish I had with her will forever climb through my thoughts. Unfortunately, there's nothing I can do about that now.
Perhaps the thought of her, in conjunction with that stirred spring water, can give me a creative spark with the six-string...
Before I head to bed, I went over to one of the shops here at the Onsen and picked up a pair of tamagos. They're eggs that were boiled in one of the hot springs here at Kusatsu.
They should serve as a nice roadside snack for tomorrow.
Speaking of which, I'm heading over to the source of this water tomorrow and will get a closer look at Mt. Shirane.
This will be the first time I get an up-close look at an active volcano, so I'm excited (and slightly terrified).
Thanks and I'll see you soon!