Stopping for Milk

Mikuni Pass Motorcycle
Motocyclist topping the high point of Mikuni Pass, Chichibu, Japan, 1994

Motorcycles don’t usually impress me all that much, especially when they roar through the backroads where I’m trying to get away from the noise of the city on my bicycle, but this one moment has stuck with me.

It came after a grueling 12 hour grind up the “wrong” side of Mikuni Pass… the side which even four-wheel drive landrovers had a hard time negotiating because of all the ruts, protruding rocks, and gullies. I had figured that the climb would take only about 6 hours, but halfway through, with half of the time spent shoving the bicycle up the steep gradient, I knew that I wouldn’t make it to the top before evening fell.

All through the day all terrain vehicles and motocross motorcyles came bouncing by, occasionally spraying gravel or spitting pebbles like bullets that had to be dodged. I wasn’t too thrilled then, when, reaching the top of the pass and just wanting to stop and take my breath amidst the stillness of the lowering evening, yet another motorcycle puttered up behind me. But this driver took his time. He stopped, switched off his engine, and stood beside me as the sun set. Neither of us said anything. When it began to grow dark, he mounted his motorcycle without a word and slowly zoomed off down the other side of the mountain.

I decided to set up camp in this lonely location, along a side road overgrown with susuki grass and kudzu. After that motorcycle the place fell into a different kind of solitude. The trees seemed to loom larger and noises amidst the underbrush at the side of the road grew more distinct. I heard rustlings and chirrups and pattering of feet. Insects seemed to multiply into millions of crickets and katydids and buzzing, bumbling cockchafers and whirring sphinx moths. A shadowy ghost of what I figured must be an owl stitched its way amidst the shadows of the trees above. I set up my tent in the middle of all this and made dinner.

I hadn’t noticed earlier, but from back on the main road an eerie, white light glowed over the thicket there. I picked up my flashlight and sauntered over to check it out. Upon rounding onto the main road I was surprised to discover a lone vending machine, humming in the darkness, its flourescent light illuminating the new asphalt pavement that started on the other side of the pass.

I walked up to the vending machine and peered at its contents. Would you believe it? Milk! Four different kinds of milk! Plain, strawberry, chocolate, and banana. I pondered this a moment, weighing my policy about not relying too much on convenience when out in the mountains. But, this was too much. A vending machine? Here? Milk! Who would ever have thought…?

I dug in my pocket for some change and bought a chocolate milk. The carton tumbled into the tray and I picked it out. Stabbing the hole at the top of the container with the provided straw, I shuffled back to the campsite, humming the tune to the Christmas carol, “The Boar’s Head”.

No one but the insects heard the satisfactory slurp as the straw sucked out the last drops of chocolate milk.

2 Responses

  1. Miguel

    No, really I’m not. Just love photography. And love really looking at things. I guess that’s the secret to good photography, stopping and looking. And I have a long long way to go with that. I’m still not a good “people” photographer because I don’t look at people’s “moments” very well. Henri Cartier-Bressan and Ernst Haas are still two of my favorite photographers in that regard.

Leave a Reply