Pedal for peace
Cross-country cyclist stranded by crash
BY ROBB FREDERICK
It was just talk -- five guys what-iffing a bike ride across the United States.
What if they each went a different way, starting from a different state?
What if their routes, laid out on a map, formed letters: a "P," an "E," an "A"?
And what if those letters, put together, spelled "peace"?
What would that say?
They even mapped it out. The "P" reached from Seattle to Los Angeles.
They agreed. They would do it.
Then they went to bed. And that was the end of it.
Except for Hayato Tokudome. He looked hard at that map. He traced his finger over the letters. He imagined the Grand Canyon, the Badlands and Huck Finn's Mississippi; the snake-boot Texans and the white steps of Washington, D.C., where the wars that had so occupied America -- and that had spread to his own friends, talking in that apartment in Hyago, Japan -- had begun.
Yes, he said. He would do it.
All of it.
He cashed in two years of savings -- his take from a job in the cell-phone industry. And, at 29, he bought himself a bike.
(Chris Sigmund / Erie Times-News)
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He landed in Los Angeles.
He rode, alone, up the coast.
"In a sense, as a youth, I perceived wars and peace as somebody else's business," Tokudome says.
He is sitting in the kitchen at the Erie City Mission. He has lost his clothes; his collarbone shows over the stretched neck of a borrowed T-shirt.
"America is depicted as a powerful nation," he says. "I wanted to see the real America."
He almost did it.
He got to San Francisco. He rode to Eureka, Calif., through Coos Bay, Ore., and into Olympic National Park. He turned east, across Washington state, then went into Oregon, and back to California.
He rode 60 miles a day. He carried three sets of clothes, a camera and an ATM card. He spent $15 a day.
He slept in campgrounds, setting a tent next to air-conditioned RVs.
He pedalled into the desert.
"There is nothing there," he says, speaking through an interpreter. "It's dry. It's very flat. There were ghost towns.
"I was happy to see the shadow of a human being."
He got to Salt Lake City. He went to Twin Falls, and on to Phoenix, and then to Las Cruces, in New Mexico.
He had finished two letters -- "P" and "E". The third took him across the heartland -- Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, the Dakotas.
He carried 5 liters of water. He showered once a week.
"It is easy in the heat," he says. "All you need is water to splash here and there."
He started on the "C." Suddenly there was too much water -- five straight days of rain. And that was all he saw of Chicago.
He pushed on, from Wisconsin to Minneapolis. He got to Omaha; Kansas City; Tulsa, Okla.; New Orleans.
He took pictures. He inked big pink letters on his ripped-up map.
And so it went, from Louisville, Ky., to Fredericksburg, Va., and on to Washington, D.C.
He did not stop at the Lincoln Memorial. He never saw the White House, or the headstones at Arlington, or the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which has long drawn bikers of another kind.
There was no time. The sun was going down.
He rode north, through Harrisburg, Williamsport and Corning, N.Y. He turned west and went to Buffalo.
On Nov. 11, after seven months on the road, he approached North East. He was at the top of the last "E" in "peace."
The bike had reflectors. But the sun was down, and his jacket was dark.
The driver never saw him.
Tokudome remembers nothing of it. He woke at Hamot Medical Center. His left side was swollen, and his cheek was torn open. The hole was as big as a quarter.
There were stitches in his neck.
He went to the City Mission. His clothes were gone. His bike was pretzeled, hauled-off by the tow-truck driver.
Since then he has been waiting, filling out paperwork, trying to line up his insurance, a new bike and an extension on his visa, which expires on Dec 3.
He would like to complete the ride.
"He has some apprehensions about this," says the translator, Keiko Miller. "But his spirit wants to finish it."
It's odd for him, sitting, going nowhere. It is not his nature. His name, Hayato, means "moving fast."
"I am feeling the impact of this pause," he says. "I am trying to make it a valuable time, reflecting, assessing and planning."
Still, he second-guesses.
"I question it," he says.
"Is the goal to finish? Is that the only thing? Or is there something else that I should learn from this experience?"
The answer to that, he believes, is in Altura, Calif., where a couple in an RV told him he could stop at Walmarts without fear of being run off. It's in Tulsa, where a woman gave him water, and in Erie, at the City Mission, where he got a clean T-shirt.
"I am beginning to understand where peace lies," he says, the map spread out in front of him. "It is not in these letters. It is in the hearts of people, when they open up and give to you. That moment when they offer water, or say, 'Come on in' ... That is peace."
He looks down at the map, where the bottom half of his last "E" fishhooks into Florida. He wonders if he will ever see it.
ROBB FREDERICK can be reached at 870-1733 or by e-mail.