Header image for Biking for Sugar and Bread


It’s me, Craig Mod, the guy who ran that Q&A a couple weeks ago about memberships. Thanks to everyone who popped in. This is Ridgeline, the newsletter (sort of) about walking (kinda).

I’m deep in Book Mode. It’s been a while since I’ve been in the Writing Phase of Book Mode. Last time I was explicitly writing about making books in Ridgeline was back in May 2020 with “A Book from Pizza Toast — Part 1.” Which, of course, became Kissa by Kissa.

Naturally, the book at hand is the followup — book two in the “How to Walk Japan” series. It’s a strange book, very different from KxK in many ways. Strange may it be, this new book focuses somewhat pragmatically on my walks on the Kii Peninsula (i.e., Ise-ji, Kumano Kodō adjacent routes, et cetera), of which I’ve done many many many. I’m writing a (nearly) daily members-only writing diary newsletter about bookmaking / writing / taxes called Nightingalingale. All SPECIAL PROJECTS members (monthly / yearly) get the sign up link as soon as you join. We’re about forty issues in (!!).

But, today, I want to draw your attention to a piece I wrote for Papersky Magazine a couple months ago. Part of my electric bike series.

Part 1: “Donuts on My Mind” followed us from Kamakura down the coast to Misaki Guchi and the end of the world in search of one good doughnut. Part 2: “Anything for Sourdough” has us biking part of the Tōkaidō (which I walked in November 2020), from Totsuka to Ōiso for the best sourdough on the peninsula.

About Ōiso I write:

Finally, I arrive at Ōiso, the strange jewel of the coast, the antipode to most of what I just rode through. Why is Ōiso so wonderful? It’s difficult to say. I’ve visited only twice, the first time in the summer of 2020. The town emanates an immediate sense of refinement. Perhaps it’s the sudden abundance of trees, or the simple stateliness of the homes, the lack of industrial smokestacks. Perhaps it’s tiny Mount Sengen, rising up behind town, giving it a richness the flats leading up to it lack. There’s a sense of power to Ōiso that outstrips its smallness. Spend time here and you begin to understand why this was where power itself once congregated. The station is but a tiny blip of a building, but it bustles and you feel a pulsing of life all around.

Murakami Haruki also has a home there. He’s sort of the celebrity phantom of town. On Margins Buddy Sam Anderson wrote a wonderful profile of him and the town over a decade ago (!).

It was interesting, biking the thirty kilometers or so I had walked a year earlier (almost to the day). It simply made me love walking all the more. I, mean, I love biking too — it’s magical, incredible, one of the most amazing mechanical feats of humanity (truly! certainly in terms of pure utility / accessibility / daily impact), and the electric edge adds so much more joy to the whole experience — but walking is just so much more intimate. I was thinking back to the folks I chatted with and the barbershops I stuck my nose into on that Tōkaidō walk, and even the strip of land itself.

It’s not beautiful land, a beautiful walk. In fact, it’s pretty dour. So biking has that advantage — to zoom past the muck. But coming into Ōiso back in 2020 was like a balm to the soul and that feeling — the contrast, “touching” the way cities and town expands and contract — gave meaning to the “lesser” sections.

Regardless, the goal was Lee’s Bread, which is just a killer bread shop that happens to be in Ōiso.

On the bread:

I buy a quarter loaf. The bread is divine. It’s one of the best sourdoughs I’ve ever had, never mind just in Japan. Anywhere. Reminds me of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. You could play Lee’s loafs like bongos. Tapping the crust lets out a thick bass note of carbohydrates and love. Inside, the off-white open crumb feels impossibly light and silken in hand. I am tempted to hollow out fistfuls and fill my cheeks with its sour holiness, suckling it like chewing tobacco. But, no, I eat it like a normal human. I am sated and feel joy and I am spent and so, in that very moment, decide to spend the night in Oiso.

I’m enjoying these Papersky pieces as a forcing function to go out on these strange little rides. They’re also getting me more intimate with the benefits / limitation of electric biking. I have much more to say on that, some day. I’m heading out on the next ride in a month (was going to do it this month but then remembered the mental crush that is taxes and pushed it out).

For now, back into the book. I’ll be writing more about that here in due time, but first: hammer the drafts into respectable shape, and share that adventure on Nightingalingale.



Not subscribed to Ridgeline?
(A weekly letter on walking in Japan)