Down and then up and then up and then up…

Because camping I woke up early. I always end up going to sleep early when camping because it’s just so cold outside, so I tend to wake up early too. I had left a bit of tent flap open so luckily did not have any issues with tent moisture today. After a little packing I was on my way to Matsumoto.

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Matsumoto is downhill! It was a very gently constant 1-2% downhill, which made for an easy cycle. The road I had chosen wasn’t too wide and there was a fair bit of traffic, but it didn’t bother me much. Not after yesterday. Those tunnels really put me on edge, but they also put everything else in perspective. I am able to relax more now.

Due to my early start and the downhill road I actually arrived in Matsumoto at 9:30AM. Can’t have that! I was planning to have an easy day, but that’s just a bit too easy. I used the station wifi to check out the route towards lake Suwa and booked myself a cheap hotel there. It was a good 35 kilometers away, but I have the whole day, so why not.

I don’t regret that decision, especially because I had planned to do Matsumoto – Kofu in one leg, but damn that was tough. I had chosen a fairly direct route via a smaller road, which was fine while I was in a suburban area, but the road eventually changed into a small side road parallel to the big highway, and that’s where the trouble began.

The big highway had a steady incline up to the mountain pass that connects the Matsumoto area with the lake Suwa area. The side road however, did not. It would go up extremely steeply to connect to a bridge over the highway, then go down extremely steeply again to a normal height. So instead of suffering normally on an 8%-ish incline, I did a 15% uphill, then a ±5% downhill, then a 15% uphill again. And again. And again. I was completely exhausted by the time I actually reached the mountain pass.

Since I had climbed that much already to even reach the mountain pass I was hoping that it would just go down again to connect with the lake area. After every hill, every corner, I hoped to see the end of the ‘slow traffic’ line that signifies a steep uphill road, and after every hill and every corner I was wrong. It was only at the very end of the mountain pass, when I was already able to see the lake, that the road started to go down again. According to the stats I’ve climbed 600 meters less than yesterday, but it felt a lot worse. At least yesterday’s road was gradual and predictable.

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It had been mildly cloudy all day but when I finally entered the lake Suwa area it really got gray. The cycling path around the lake was utter crap. It was full of bumps and side roads and steep edges. Definitely not the way you should design a cycle path. The dark clouds soon turned into rain just before I found my hotel. Hopefully it’ll be better tomorrow.

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The climb to Lake Kizaki

It’s been quite a day. Everything went exactly as planned, I guess, since the suffering and the long uphill road with all the tunnels was part of the plan. Yesterday was a day where I could almost get away with zero effort and still get to where I wanted to go, but today I had to go all out. You can’t half-ass a hill. Sometimes I plan out a route the evening before, and I tell myself ‘I should be able to do at least this speed on this incline’. But the next day, after an hour of climbing, I’m just doing whatever my body is capable of. So tired.

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I started out early and left Itoigawa to turn onto the long road leading to Matsumoto around 7:30AM. I had expected to have to climb immediately but the road went through a nice valley for about 10 kilometers before the steepness began. And the tunnels. I knew they were coming because I had scouted out the route, but tunnels are just never ever fun. They’re cold, dangerous and noisy. I had my blinkenlights on all the time, and later switched to a coat, because despite the uphill effort I still got cold. My early start paid off though. Until 9AM I hardly saw any cars, and the first tunnels were actually quiet and easy to cycle. Also, I saw wild monkeys near a tunnel entrance! Much nice.

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That changed as I approached Hakuba. There were several really long mildly-uphill tunnels that were pretty tiring, and by that time traffic was in full swing. It still wasn’t too busy thanks to golden week and probably because not many people start from Itoigawa to get to Matsumoto, but there was a fairly constant stream cars going past me now. One tunnel was 2 kilometers long, and when it was over you could already see the start of the next tunnel. Yesterday I had fun slacking off in the wind, taking side roads, enjoying the fact that there was no traffic, but today I really had to push for it. There’s only one road that goes to Matsumoto. If I want to go there that’s my only choice. (Well, that, or the /other/ road to Matsumoto that’s even longer and more difficult.)

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When the tunnel stage ended I was getting closer to Hakuba, and the climb got less steep. That’s when the wind got its revenge on me for yesterday. It wasn’t quite as strong as yesterday, but much more unpredictable. I don’t know what’s going on in Hakuba, but it felt as if winds from several directions were all merging and causing chaos right where I was cycling. It was still uphill, so I wasn’t going too fast to begin with, but with every sudden gust of wind I slowed down to a crawl. One of them nearly blew me off my bike when I was standing still to take a photo. The view of the mountains west of Hakuba was impressive, with rain clouds just hanging against them, unmoving. Some raindrops came my way but not many. I was heading towards the blue blue sky.

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The climbing never really got difficult again after Hakuba, but the winds didn’t let up until much later. My goal today was to reach Lake Kizaki, mainly because it’s near in the middle between Itoigawa and Matsumoto, but also because of yet another mini anime pilgrimmage. Lake Kizaki is apparently the inspiration for an anime called Onegai Twins, an anime that I watched a long long time ago and wouldn’t really recommend to anyone, but hey, why not right? Kasumi disappointed, Lake Kizaki did not. It’s beautiful. And rural, and not too busy.

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I went to the campsite I had planned to go, half expecting to be disappointed because it might be full, annoyingly crowded or expensive. It was none of those things! It only cost me 1300 yen to stay the night, and they let me camp anywhere I liked, so I chose a spot right next to the lake with a beautiful view. As I’m writing this the one noisy group of people has disappeared and only a few people with smaller tents remain. I still have not ever seen anyone else with an orange tent. After I set my tent up I went for a cycle around the lake without luggage, taking a bunch of photos along the way. It felt great to not have to hurry and not have to push all the luggage around, but at the same time my legs did feel a bit tired from the morning climb.

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After cycling around the lake I went back to the camp site and asked for a chair. They have chairs! I spent most of my time here sitting in the chair or walking around nearby, listening to music and taking photos. It feels really peaceful here. Every half hour or so a one or two-car train passes by the lake, passing by all the local train stations. There’s exactly one boat on the lake, with two old men in it, fishing. One guy lay sleeping at the tip of the pier for hours, while some kids were playing with their fishnets on the pier next to it. It’s all so wholesome.

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In all truth, I am freezing my bloody ass off right now. I’m wearing 4 layers and I’m still cold. It’s kinda hard to self-reflect and be all philosphical and shit if you’re freezing cold. Oh well. I’m very happy with the down sleeping bag I bought a few years ago. It’s amazingly warm. With my old sleeping bag I used to worry that I’d be too cold, but with the new one I know that that’s just not possible. While I sit outside on this chair though, I freeze..

I’m really glad I came here and camped. I don’t camp often, but when I do… it is kind of epic. I had a similar experience during the Hokkaido cycling trip, where I also didn’t camp too often, and had some bad camping moments too, but right near the end I had a perfect camping day. That’s what this feels like too. When camping is good, it’s amazing. It’s good to mix up the business hotels with other things once in a while. In moderation.

I remember reading an article about how one half of your brain is awake when you’re sleeping in a new place. There’s no way that that’s the case when you’re frequenting various Japanese business hotels. They’re literally all the same. It’s really all just one room in a parallel dimension that changes slightly every time you open the door.

Whenever I’m at a place like this I can’t help but wonder how it is best appreciated. Is it by the travelers, seeking a place to sleep while they’re going from A to B? Or is it for the people having social events? Or tourists, who go here by car, look around and then go home again? I also wondered, while looking at the awesome scenery, if I would be happier if I owned everything I could see, and then immediately thought ‘no’. Owning is probably the opposite of freedom. Some ownership is required to not die and have a certain standard of life, but beyond that I think it only weighs you down. Buying things is fun. Owning things isn’t. Coming back to who best appreciates a place like this camp site, maybe the people who own the least appreciate it the most? Something I will think about.

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Matsumoto isn’t too far now, and shouldn’t be as tough of a climb as today was. I’m not entirely confident in this, but it seems that Matsumoto to Kofu may be a fair bit downhill. So the next climb that will be tougher than today will likely be the one that takes me to the Fuji five lakes area. Let’s not think too much about that yet.

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Be Sailboat

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Today marks the last day of my coastal adventures. I had been expecting an average, perhaps slightly easy, day of cycling. It could have been raining, hilly and with the wind against me. But the universe gave me a break today. It was sunny, flat and the wind was powerfully on my side. Today was probably one of the most successful cycling days I’ve ever done.

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I started off cycling north towards the coast and noticed that there were hardly any cars around. This must have something to do with golden week, as well as some of the roads I’ve chosen. The roads were not the most direct route to the destination, and those roads are always the best for cycling. They’re quiet and lovely. Today I started out on a coastal cycling path and then switched to regional roads going through sleepy Japanese villages and wide-open rice field plains. Later the land became wedged between mountain and ocean and there was a bit of tricky coastal road, but it was all good fun. All thanks to the wind.

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That amazing wind. I encountered a few cyclists going the other way today, and they were suffering like mad. The wind was insanely strong. Without doing anything it would occasionally propel me to speeds of around 35kph, and in one instance it actually blew me up a 3% incline that I had began to slow down from. Even when the wind was less strong I had no problem keeping up a pace of around 30kph, with significantly less effort than it would have taken any other day. It was fantastic.

Of all the traffic participants I seemed to be the most positively affected by the wind. Walkers were annoyed by the wind, motorbikes slowed down a lot to avoid being blown over by sudden gusts. Road cyclists going my direction didn’t dare go fast because their bikes are so unstable, and one gust could blow them off the road. I, on the other hand, was cycling on a supremely stable sailboat with loads of surface area for the wind to blow on, and loads of very well-balanced weight to keep the bike stable. I had a blast. The best part was thinking to myself “I don’t have to go back the same way today”. I just couldn’t keep the smile off my face.

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It was tricky at times, especially when the road turned a bit and put me in a crosswind. If you’re not going exactly the right direction then the wind can be very quick to suddenly give you a nudge towards a gutter or into a car. But those bits did not come often and most of the time the wind was near-enough in my cycling direction. The best part was getting up to about 30kph, which must have been around wind-speed, because the sound of the wind disappears and everything just gets perfectly quiet. You can hear the wind shearing past signs and houses, and you can see it making waves in the water that lay on the rice fields, but at the right speed it did not affect my bike at all. There was just serene silence. And music. Excellent music.

When the plains ended the road became a bit more hilly, and a lot more tunnely. As I was about to head into quite a long tunnel I noticed a side road going around, so I took that instead. It led me onto an amazing walking path that ended up at a famous site which is better described here. It used to be one of only two ways to the west of Japan. It was an unexpected monument and it really me appreciate more the roads that I am traveling on. It also did a great job of making me feel like a traveler.

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Thanks to the amazing wind I did 80kph in 4 hours and ended up in Itoigawa quite early. According to the cyclocomp I’ve climbed 600 meters during those 80 kilometers, but I hardly have any recollection of it. The wind just made it so easy. I really almost felt like the day ended too quickly. But it was too late to do another 60 kilometers in the mountains and find accommodation.

I had planned to camp in Itoigawa because I couldn’t find any hotels online, but since I was in the center of town I had a look around. The very first hotel I went to was cheap and had room, so I reserved it. I cycled to the campsite anyway, but it was quite a climb. 10-15% inclines.. When I finally reached the top it turned out to be a posh holiday park thing with tennis courts and baseball courts, so I decided I was happy with my hotel room instead.

The end of the trip is nigh! It’s still a good week to get back, but I’m starting to feel the mood shifting towards an end. I’m a bit sad about it ending, but I remember when, at the end of the second trip, I tried to extend it by doing another stretch, which ended up just not feeling right after a while. A proper end must be had.

I am 50 kilometers away from Joetsu, which is where I took the ferry to Sado island on my second big trip. I’ll be in Matsumoto soon, where I’ve been once before, with good friends and great memories. After that it’s not long to the Fuji five lakes area, which is where I started my very first solo cycling trip, now over six years ago. I’ve been to the five lakes area many times, with many people, and it’s an area that’s hard to forget. I’ll be spending some time there before taking the same road back to Atsugi that I started on all those years ago. I’ve come full circle. Kind of. Minus a few bits of coast. But it’s the thought that counts

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Nope

Today was tiring. I started out heading towards the coast and found a lovely road that was wide, smooth and didn’t have too much traffic on it. Then I noticed a sign for a cycling road, but I was kind of happy on my current road so I ignored it. Then I saw another sign, and then another, so finally I followed the signs onto a steep bridge and then down again, and suddenly I was surrounded by big fat hornets doing suicide runs on my face. I managed to avoid them as best I could and reached the seaside cycling road just beyond the hornet danger. The cycling road was.. nonexistent. It was a sand path. What the fuck, Kanazawa? You think that’s a cycling road? Seriously poor show. I had to go back through the hornets to get back to the nice road.

You’d think I’d learn from that experience, but noooooo. A few decakilometers later I saw another seaside path that looked enticing, so I took it. It was really nice for the first 5 kilometers or so, but the next 15 kilometers were just completely monotonous pedal-pushing, with a noisy highway on the right side and a very dirty, garbage-ridden beach on the left. And nothing else. For 15 kilometers. To make matters worse the path that started out only slightly bumpy became worse and worse, and some bits were basically made up of independent concrete slabs that were not aligned very well, leaving a gap of several centimeters between them. So every 5 meters or so I would hit one of those gaps and my tires would cry, my luggage would jump and my butt would hurt. Seriously, Kanazawa, you call that a cycling path? You do not know what cycling means.

I arrived in the center of Kanazawa well before noon, and for a while wasn’t sure what to do. Should I cycle further or see if I can find some local hotels and laze about town? I decided to have a look at Kenrokuen first to see if it wasn’t too busy for me to have a look. But even before I got there I knew I wouldn’t stay in Kanazawa for the night. Trying to navigate through the center of town was just madness: tourists everywhere, entire classes of school children, various foreigners or various levels of annoyingness, and traffic stuck in a standstill full of tourists trying to find a place to park, packed so tight together that it was hard to even get around it by bicycle. Definitely not my idea of fun. I turned around and cycled the fuck out of there. Kenrokuen will have to happen on another trip. I would much rather prefer to be in a place that’s only 90% as nice as Kenrokuen if it means that there’ll only be 10% the amount of people there. People ruin places.

On the bright side, the weather was absolutely perfect today. It’s finally warm enough for me to not have to worry about being too cold, no matter what I do on the bike. I could be drenched in sweat from an uphill and it’ll just dissipate happily without me getting too chilled. Lovely. Well, partially lovely. I’d hate to complain even about this, especially considering I love this weather, but my body isn’t built for it. I cycled in shorts today because it was nice and warm, and despite all the sun lotion I applied to myself every few hours one of my legs got seriously sunburned. My face was already starting to come off from the sun from the days before, and today only made it worse. I took a sun break today mid-afternoon, not sure if it helped much. It was a good break though.

Side note: many strange insects have been on me. I’ve had something fly into my eye twice, despite my cap usually deflecting things. Today something managed to fly up one of my nostrils. I blew it out. Various weird and dangerous-looking insects have been stuck in my cycle shirt, but I always managed to brush them off. A lot of creatures seem to be doing suicide attacks on me and are specifically targeting my holes.

Since I was on the road again I decided to cycle on to Toyama, which was a good 60 kilometers away. I took a road that seemed like a fairly direct route, and also had a highway/bypass next to it so would hopefully not be too busy. The road was indeed not too busy. It was also way steeper than I expected it to be. I knew it would cut through a bit of mountain but didn’t think it would climb 200+ meters.. It was a pretty tiring climb, but good fun compared to the ridiculous climbs in the Tottori area. And after the climb it was all flat roads all the way down to Toyama.

Good progress was made today. I did three days worth of cycling in two, but I’m about to undo that. I cycled myself into a corner, sort of, although most of it can be blamed on golden week. It’s just so insanely busy everywhere during golden week that all hotels are either sold out or insanely expensive. Also, rain is expected with high certainty the day after tomorrow. I’m not confident that I can get decent accommodation at my next destination, and I don’t want to get caught by the rain in a shitty campsite in the middle of nowhere. Again. So I’m taking the next two days to relax, recover, not get sunburned and maybe do some bike maintenance. The brakes are the next part that needs some work. That, and maybe a new front tire.

I had real trouble finding a hotel for tomorrow. Today I got lucky because booking.com provided me with a last-minute discount, but trying to book a hotel for tomorrow on booking.com meant prices that were triple the nice rate. I could wait it out and hope for a discount rate tomorrow as well, but given how everything’s sold out already and there’s rain on the way I’d rather not risk it. I considered cycling to the next town and camping tomorrow, then booking a hotel for the (rainy) day after, but there’s no guarantee that’ll work either. There seemed to be no safe and comfortable option for me anywhere within cycling distance.

A solution presented itself, but I don’t know if I just got really lucky (I mean: used my fantastic hotel-finding skills) or if things just aren’t as fully booked as I imagined. I marked a bunch of hotels on my map and took a walk around town. The first hotel looked ridiculously sleazy and I didn’t even bother asking. The second and third hotel were fully booked. The fourth hotel had space, and was cheap, and had coin laundry, so I booked it for two nights. I’m quite pleased with this discovery. The hotel is in a meh location but it has all the business-y-ness of business hotels, and is way cheaper than anything I could find online.

I’m taking a chance on the weather report. If the rain hits early then I waste an extra day here. If the rain hits late then I’ll be cycling in the rain, or will have to take another rain day. If that happens I won’t have many slack days left. So let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

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A mad dash north

Today was a day that did not go according to plan. It went better than planned. Much better.

From Tsuruga about halfway to Kanazawa. That was the plan for today. I had intended to cycle along the coast for about half the day and then turn in to a mountain road that veered off towards the city of Fukui, inbetween two mountain ranges. The reason I planned it that way is because of trauma from the ‘coastal’ roads after Tottori, which were just utter shite really. Way too steep, way too zigzaggy, and nothing useful in ways of facilities along the way.

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Turns out, none of those things are true about the coastal road going north to Kanazawa. The 305 was a fantastic cycling route: extremely flat, beautiful scenery along the way and loads of restaurants and vending machines. The weather was great too: nice and warm, and with a slight tailwind cycling was good fun. On the fly I decided not to take the mountain road and just kept going along the coast. I had worried that it would take forever if the roads were hilly and the wind was against me, but everything was in my favor and I made excellent distance. Note to self: must take photo of caterpillar crossing the street. There’s always so many of them in the morning.

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Everything went great until I got to the end of the coastal road and back into populated area. There was a camp site I had marked which was a bit out of the way of the main road. That ‘bit’ turned out to be a 10 kilometer detour through a fairly hilly road full of annoying tourists and overcrowded tourist attractions. I was even stuck in a traffic jam for a few minutes. Yuck. You can definitely tell that golden week is in full swing. Tourists everywhere.

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When I got to the camp site it wasn’t very busy yet. I soon found out why: it cost 4500 yen. The only was I can describe my reaction to that price is: that is just fucking ridiculous. No motherfucking campsite is worth more motherfucking money than a motherfucking cheapass business hotel. No matter how fancy you think your shitty camp site is, there’s just no way it would be as nice to stay at as a hotel, so if you’re going to ask for that much money it’s pretty clear that you’re targeting rich-ass tourists. I literally told the guy: (accidentally in a voice that was probably a bit too loud >_<;)  “Way too expensive! I can’t do that. I’ll find someplace else”. So I did. And I didn’t.

I cycled on to the second (and last) camp site I had marked in the area, which was quite close to a massive theme park, which was clearly crazy busy. Unlike the camp site, which did not seem to exist. I didn’t mind much at that point. If it had existed it would likely have been expensive and touristy as well.

From there I had two options: cycle to a nearby town to find a hotel, which wasn’t quite in the wrong direction, but it wasn’t much in the right direction either. Or option two: just cycle on to Kanazawa and see what I’ll find on the way. With 95km on the cyclocomp I went for option two.

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After some inefficient cycling on some local roads I managed to get back on the 305 heading north. I saw a very direct road leading straight to Kanazawa and figured it’d be loaded with conbinis and other useful stuff, so I could make it a long cycle day without any issues. But when I got near the direct road it turned out to be the highway bypass road thingie, which means no cycles allowed. I changed direction and had to cycle another few kilometers to get back onto a road that actually went anywhere. Amazingly, just as I got to the junction, there was a lovely conbini waiting for me. I really needed a proper break.

With my mind still set on cycling all the way to Kanazawa I quickly checked the internet for weather, and snuck a peek at the booking.com app for nearby hotels. I didn’t except much from it really, and when the first hit was an onsen hotel 30 kilometers away for 90000 yen per night I was about to close the app immediately, but then I saw the second hit: a cheap-ish business hotel less than 2 kilometers from my current location! Woohoo! I did not expect that. It was in the wrong direction but I figured it was worth a detour.

So now I am in a place called Daishoji and I have no idea what’s there to see around here. My legs hurt like hell but I’m still kind of curious to explore the area. In the end I haven’t saved myself a day in terms of progress. Kanazawa is still a half-day cycle away, and any further destination would be just a little bit too far. Since I’ve got time I’d rather take some more interesting roads and zigzag around a bit, rather than rush to the finish.

JMA’s weather report keeps changing every time I look at it. Yesterday it said that Tuesday would be dry, now it says that there’s a 70% chance of rain on Tuesday. They’re kinda crap, really. Only useful for the immediate next day, and even then they can be pretty wrong. I’m not too worried for the next few days, since I’ll be in a fairly populated area. There’ll be places to hide under if the rain hits.

One last thing: biker gangs are bloody annoying. They ruin nature and every single place they visit.

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Dry and mighty

The morning started out with a blue sky and no wind. It was warmer than yesterday too. Yet somehow I just felt lethargic. The motivation only started to kick in after I had done the morning conbini run and put some music on. The road to Obama was pretty straightforward and even had a cycle road surprise near the end which was nice and scenic. At one point a policecar going in the opposite direction passed me, then moments later it overtook me with its sirens on. It drove very slowly for a while, nearly keeping pace with me, but keeping ahead of me a few car lengths. Then it pulled away a bit and stopped at a roadside parking space not too far ahead. I was sure they were going to stop me for something, but before I could reach them they started moving again and went somewhere else. Huh.

Since Tsuruga isn’t too far from where I was starting from I took the scenic route from Obama and followed route 162 along the coast. It was a very nice route, with a whole bunch of tunnels that, surprisingly, had quite a wide sidewalk area which was perfect for cycling. This went great for 4 or 5 tunnels or so, and then suddenly the next tunnel’s sidewalk was the usual narrowness again. Because I was already in motion as I was approaching the tunnel and didn’t want to bother getting off the bike to place it on the road I just kept going on the narrow sidewalk. Then the tunnel got darker and darker and I couldn’t see shit. It was like a balancing act. My front light really is only useful for others to see me and did not help me see at all. I somehow managed to reach the end of the tunnel without any issues. Lesson remembered: always stay on the road, never take the sidewalk..

I cycled along the western shores of lake Mikata and lake Suigetsu, intending to take the horribly squiggly scenic mountain road north of the lakes. But when I got to the north of lake Suigetsu I noticed a little path marked as cycling road which looked really nice, so I took that instead. It took me all the way around the lake to the other side, and a tough climb took me back into civilization. I wandered around the Mihama area a bit, exploring some random roads, and eventually cycled on to Tsuruga.

I’ve changed my plan for the next few days. I had been intending to get to Kanazawa by cycling along the coast on route 305, which is about 200 kilometers of indirect coast line. That will probably get boring, so I decided that tomorrow I’ll do about half a day along the coast and then take a semi-direct (but mountainous) road inland towards Fukui. Kanazawa is still a bit away from Fukui, but it should be doable in one day.

Must find chain spray. It’s squeaky.

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Back on track

There wasn’t much that could happen today that would make it worse than yesterday. And, in a shocking twist surprise, nothing bad happened! Well, almost nothing.

I really felt an urge in the morning to immediately take the nearest narrow mountain road, no matter how steep, to get back onto the road that I had wanted to take yesterday but ended up not taking because of the rain. The first mountain road turned out to be an excellent 5 kilometer climb with no traffic or other signs of life through a quiet and peaceful forest. It was amazing and never got close to being as steep as yesterday’s start of the day. I think I’ll have nightmares about that area..

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Climbing came easy this morning and I soon coasted down the road going into Yosano, the town next to Amanohashidate. Amanohashidate is one of the three most scenic views of Japan and I was really excited to be able to cycle it. I got there quite early in the morning and there were still a lot of clouds, but already there were some tourists wandering (and cycling) around. I started out at the non-touristy side and did a slow and leisurely cycle across the sandbar, stopping on the way to eat some of the food I’d brought and to look out at the scenery. It really is a fantastic place. It felt impressive, and old. My pictures didn’t turn out very well because of the lighting, and I wasn’t too happy about how touristy the area is, but I do want to emphasize that it is an amazing place and well worth a visit. I’m glad I saw it. (Unlike Tottori’s sand dunes which were just meh).

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It was still really cold today! Temperatures under 15C and quite strong winds made for a very chilly ride, but I managed to find my balance point, where I generate just enough heat to stay warm but not enough to sweat. Sweating is deadly when it’s cold and windy, it just immediately chills you down like crazy and then takes ages to dissipate while you’re shivering from the cold.

My goal is to reach Tsuruga in two days, leaving it open where to stop in the middle. I marked some camp sites and hotels on the way and decided to not do anything crazy, since I’ll be stopping in Tsuruga tomorrow anyway. As such I wasn’t feeling in a hurry today and kind of just enjoyed the cycle. I was cycling through Maizuru, which seemed like a lovely place, when I passed a bunch of naval ships, and moments later a gate with a guy standing there letting people in to take photos of everything. I couldn’t resist and had a look as well. Quite impressive, them big ships.

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The weather report betrayed me shortly after that. It was supposed to be cloudy but without rain. I felt raindrops, had to get off the bike and pack up my backpack for the rain. The rain was extremely mild and kind of went away again after a short while, until I exited a tunnel from a mountain pass and it just blasted me full-on in the face. It was maybe 10 minutes of extremely cold rain, enough to drench my pants, but my windcoat somehow managed to keep the rest reasonably dry. After that the rain stopped and the sun occasionally peered through the clouds. Combined with the strong wind I was dry again soon after.

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I reached a little town called Takahama fairly early in the afternoon. It was exactly halfway between where I came from and Tsuruga so I checked out my first potential accommodation: a generic business hotel. They had space, I didn’t push my luck, and Takahama became my final destination for the day. Since the hotel didn’t let me check in yet I cycled around the town and took photos. There’s some impressive coast line here, and a very nice park, right at the edge of the land, surrounded by ocean. I mildly considered cycling a bit further to the next town over, but there just seemed to be a stationary rain cloud blocking my path. I went in that direction two or three times today, and the rain always started exactly at the edge of town. Peculiar.

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Besides it being a bit chilly and getting caught in the rain once, every little thing today was just.. fun! Going up the quiet little mountain road in the morning, looking around Amanohashidate at a leisurely pace, the random naval visit, the decently-paced cycling roads, arriving early at my destination and exploring the area.. Everything quite contributed to a near-perfect day of cycling. Off the top of my head I can only think of two similar near-perfect days: the second day of my first Kyushu trip and the Hikari day on my first big cycling trip. There have been a lot more great cycling days, but those two come to mind first when I think of my best cycling days. Interestingly they both involve getting lucky with accommodation out of ignorance. Ah, the advantages of being unprepared..

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Earlier this trip I wrote about the cost of the hotels being on my mind. I had rationalized the expense, but at the time it still didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do. Now it does. I’m fully immersed in the trip and I remember how great it is to at least allow myself to stay in at least the cheapest of hotels. It gives me the option of camping, rather than the obligation, which makes it a hell of a lot more fun. Everything is more fun if it’s a choice.

Tomorrow should be a fairly short cycle. After that, two tough days with likely camping. Then probably a break day. Shimonoseki – Tottori was the start. Tottori – Kanazawa is the middle. Kanazawa – Tokyo will be the end. Long ways to go yet.

Posted in Spirit of Japan 3 | Leave a comment

Getting punched in the face by the rain

Today was not as magical as I had hoped. I didn’t have internet at the camp site yesterday, so all I could do was hope for the best when departing since I didn’t have access to a weather report. I remembered that the rain was supposed to clear up later in the day, and I took a chance that when it started clearing up in the morning, I assumed it had just cleared up a little faster, and I was in the clear. Clearly I was wrong. I hate that paragraph but I’m too tired to rewrite it.

Yesterday didn’t end as magical as I had written either. I had put my sleeping mat and bag up at the concrete slab and went to bed when it had gone nearly completely dark. Still not a single person had showed up, but something happened that put me on edge right before settling in. I had taken a walk on the beach just before going to sleep, and it was nearly pitch black dark already. Then I saw something running in front of me from right to left, really fast. It looked like it could have been a dog or a large fox, I’m not sure. It ran towards some trees in the distance and then I heard a horrible screech. I’d never heard anything like it before. I don’t think it was a dog because no one was walking it and Japan doesn’t have wild dogs. Anyway, not the kind of thing you want to hear just before going to bed.

As I got settled into my sleeping bag I started remembering all the scary excitement of sleeping in a place that’s not really meant for sleeping. It takes time for me to learn to recognize all the sounds and lights around me. Only after that am I able to sleep. I’m really glad I invested in a good sleeping bag because I wasn’t cold at all. I even had to take a layer off because it was too hot.

That’s when the mosquitoes got me. The sleeping bag did a good job of protecting me, but my face was still sticking out. I’d made sure my orientation was so that my face was on the windy side, but no luck. I got bitten on my eyebrow, cheek, cheek bone and lip. The lip one really swelled up for a while. It’s also the one that got me frustrated enough that I finally went and set up my tent. Goddamn mosquitoes.

I had a decent sleep and woke up at 6AM to the sound of rain.. lots of rain. So I slept more. At 7AM there was still rain. At 7:30AM there was still rain, but I figured I should get up and pack up, since I wasn’t going to stay at the sad camp site for longer. Around 9AM it was still very cloudy but the rain had mostly stopped. It wasn’t an unpleasant cycling experience.

At least, until I hit the first hill. The roads have gotten more and more severe as I’m getting further along on this road, and today’s roads were just crazy. Constant 10-12% inclines, with some 15% ones stuck in for good measure. That’s going a little bit beyond my fun threshold and well into my ‘just constantly panting and focusing on not dying’ threshold. Madness. It was still quite scenic though. It took me ages to even get through the first 10 kilometers. By then I was exhausted and soaking with sweat. 15% is just ridiculous..

My luck with the weather didn’t hold. Before I reached 30km it started raining again, constantly increasing until the wind, which had also increased, was just slapping me in the face with raindrops. It was also way colder than yesterday, and I was not happy. I may have mentioned the word ‘despair’ before, but I don’t think I’ve quite emphasized how strongly that feeling gets on a day like this. You know you’ve got at least 10 kilometers to go until the next town, you know there won’t be any shelter up ahead, just massive hills and dangerous downhills, and it’s likely that the next town will be some local yokel place with no conbini or hotels you could take advantage of. It’s killing to know that you’ve put yourself in a situation where you can’t just stop and pause the game, where you have to move forward in order to not lose. On a solo cycling trip that’s not a feeling you can share with anyone. It’s all on you. That feeling of despair is intense.

(On a lighter note: that feeling of despair always completely disappears at the end of the day when you’ve somehow gotten lucky at acquiring accommodation, and then suddenly it all seems a bit silly )

I found a roadside station where the restaurant was just getting ready to serve food, so I took the opportunity to have a break. My clothes were soaking wet and I changed into my last dry cycling shirt, though I had to keep wearing the wet undershirt. The food was great. First warm meal in a while, and it was all-you-can-eat, though I did not indulge too much for fear of upsetting my stomach. I waited a long time to see if the rain would let up, but it didn’t. So I went out in the rain again, on to the next town. I was completely soaked again in less than a minute, more wind blasting more rain into my face.

It wouldn’t have been that bad if it wasn’t so cold. Being soaked is fine as long as the temperature’s nice and warm, but if it’s cold you really need to push your body to stay warm, and you end up just exhausting yourself. Not a fun feeling. I saw a sign for national road 666 while in this state, but could not be bothered to get out my camera. If the weather is so bad that you can’t be bothered to take a scenic road or to take a picture of something, then that’s probably a very good indicator that you shouldn’t be cycling.

At this point I wasn’t really considering going all the way to Amanohashidate, which is where I had been planning to end up today, but I didn’t know if there was any place in-between that I could find a hotel at. I tried at Amino, where I walked into the train station building and asked a random person at a random counter if she knew of any cheap hotels nearby. Turns out I walked into a travel agency and she took it as a personal challenge to single-handedly call every single hotel in town. Amazingly, every single hotel in town was either fully booked, on holiday or way too expensive.

I had really not expected this. I considered just sucking it up and rain-cycling all the way to Amanohashidate, but really didn’t feel like it. I asked if they knew any business hotels nearby, and finally had some luck: there were two.. but it was 8 kilometers away. Considering that my only other option was to cycle 20 kilometers to Amanohashidate I had no choice but to take it. As I walked outside with a map to the hotel in my hand I noticed my raincoat had fallen down from the bike and landed in a puddle. It did not seem any wetter than it had been when I wore it.

It’s easy for frustration to creep in on a day like this. I get angry at the most ridiculous things. I get angry at the roads for being too steep, angry at the towns for not having hotels, angry at the rain for not doing what the weather report predicted.. All is of no use, of course, and the only person I could possibly blame for my situation is myself. But it’s easy to forget that when you’re on the bike.

The last stretch wasn’t too bad. I pushed myself a bit, knowing that it was likely that one of the business hotels would have a room for me. And even if they didn’t, I would be 8 kilometers closer to Amanohashidate, which is also not too bad. The rain did not let up, which meant risking my phone every time I had to take it out to look at the map. It’s such a sad moment when you take out your phone, find out that it’s wet so you reach for something to wipe it with, only to realize that every single piece of clothing you’re wearing is completely soaked and would only make things worse. I ended up holding it up by the thumb and index finger of one hand while carefully touching it with my other. I should not have done that. If I lose that phone I lose all my maps, and I will be more miserable than I was today. No more rain cycling.

Also, I nearly crashed, just when I was nearing my destination. There was a long crack going along the road that seemed like it was equal height on both sides, but it turned out it wasn’t. I was tired and maybe not seeing well because of all the raindrops in my eyes, or maybe I just didn’t care enough any more, and went into it with too much speed, going downhill. When I realized I had miscalculated I immediately did a controlled emergency stop, but it was pure luck that made me get away with it. The bike could have slipped out from under me when going from the high side of the crack to the low side, or I could easily have locked up something while braking. Luckily everything went fine, and I took it as a clear sign that I had done enough cycling for the day.

I made it to the business hotel and am doing laundry while I’m writing this. It’s a bit of a cargo cult business hotel: they’ve got all the things that make a business hotel business-y, but somehow they’ve all done them slightly differently, and slightly worse. But I am definitely not complaining. This place is paradise compared to continuing to cycle in the rain. I’m finally warm again.

Worst day of this trip. One of the worst days of all time in my cycling history. It can only get better from here.

Posted in Spirit of Japan 3 | Leave a comment
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