The sun was setting and the lights were coming on in the Tokyo telecoms tower that is a landmark on Tokyo's horizon.

About a dozen people were exercising their dogs on the grass, and a few joggers went past with earphones plugged in. Besides them, the river was turning inky in the twilight and the only sound was the steady roar of the traffic along the flyovers. People are very quiet in Japan. You don't hear a lot of shouting or horns.

Which meant that we really stuck out. There we were on the river bank, spraying champagne over each other, yelling and clapping, kissing and crying, taking photos, hoisting bikes up into the air. It was over. After 17 weeks of training, we had made it 2, 000km from Fukuoka to Tokyo, a place most of us had only dreamt of.

For ten days, our lives had been shrunk into a narrow focus. The challenge T-shirts, the chocolate spread sandwiches, route cards and bandages. Waking up at 4am, sleeping bags, flip flops for the communal showers, comparing snores, looking for places to hang your laundry.

For ten days, mornings were when you realised how badly you had scraped your elbow when you fell, how inflamed your knee was, how tightly clenched your hands were from gripping the handbars. It was looking no further than the road ahead of you, only looking up every now and then, realising with a jolt that you were surrounded by stunning scenery, trying to take a mental snapshot of it because you cannot stop to take a photo.

It was the sound of your breathing, the pounding of your heart, as you pedalled, pedalled, pedalled for 15, 16, 17 hours every day. And now it is over.
All the cyclists made it safely to the finish, and they are now dismantling their bikes and packing them for the journey home, silently pledging that this will be their last challenge, that they sacrificed too much of their family time, work, social life.

After living in such close proximity for so long, they long for a bit of space and privacy, for time to waste and silence. And for a few days, they will slide gratefully back into their normal routine.

But every now and then, they will zone out and shudder, thinking of what they achieved, how far beyond the boundary they pushed they bodies, how deep they had to dredge to find the courage to keep going.


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