The northernmost point

Last night I cycled around the town of Hamatonbetsu, hoping to find a cafe or restaurant where I could recharge my electronics, but there was absolutely nothing. The few restaurant-like places all looked extremely local and weren't open yet, so I returned to the camp site. Later I wandered into the Wing hotel next to the camp site where I had a nice onsen and a very good Hotate meal. I felt like congratulating myself :). In the end the camp site cost me 200 yen, the onsen 500 yen and the meal 1200 yen. Still twice as cheap as the cheapest business hotel.

When I woke up the wind had completely died down and lake Kuccharo was beautifully still. Unfortunately my tent let me down again, and the inside was filled with moist droplets, some of which had dripped down on my sleeping bag, which was slightly wet on the top. Sigh. Since no one was around yet I dragged my tent out of the shadows, dumped my sleeping bag onto a picknick table to dry and put my tent up-side-down with the wet sides facing the sun. I had no food left for breakfast so I just stared at the lake while I waited for stuff to dry. Sleeping bag note: the thing doesn't work very well if you're sleeping on your side. The butt bit is very thin. Best to force yourself to sleep on your back and get used to that. Oh yeah: ants. Ants everywhere. So annoying.

While waiting for stuff to dry I checked the offline map and found an interesting tiny road that ran north along the lake and beyond. After stocking up at the only convenience store I checked it out, and it turned out to be a beautifully smooth former railroad line! An excellent start of the day! The cycling path was straight, flat and hardly went near civilization, so I saw a lot of nature. I couldn't help but feel as if I were cycling in Holland, on a proper cycling path next to a lake, with similar trees and bushes. There's a Dutch theme park in Kyushu called Huis Ten Bosch in Kyushu, but that's an utterly ridiculous misrepresentation of Holland. This north part of Hokkaido is a lot more similar, and kind of made me miss my lake in Holland and cycling around it.

I kept following the railway path north, but eventually it started getting narrower and narrowed as foliage encroached on the path. I had to plough through the last kilometer or so before reaching a road again. The path continued after that, but was completely overgrown. I optimistically shouted a war cry and proceeded to storm the foliage, but had to give up after 50 meters because it was just too thick and showed no signs of letting up. So I took the road from there and eventually ended up at the seaside again, near a convenience store. I didn't need supplies so was planning to cycle on, but then I spotted another touring cyclist having a break there, so I went in to buy a drink and had a chat with him. Kenta, a Japanese guy a bit younger than me, was also headed to Cape Soya and was eating his breakfast. He didn't seem too eager to cycle together, so I went on ahead. He said he'd catch me up and/or see me at Cape Soya.

So I went on by myself along the desolate coastal road. There wasn't much traffic but the winds were insane. They were partly in the right direction, but came in sudden gusts and were hard to deal with. About halfway the road climbed up steeply out of the cover of the cliffs and I had to cycle with a massive side wind for a while. I nearly got blown off my bike twice and had to go really slowly, leaning massively into the wind to stay upright. Eventually the road started to go down again, and the remaining bit to Cape Soya was flat and not too windy. Great!

The northernmost point of Japan, Cape Soya, as the wikitravel article says, is commemorated by a "largely uninspiring" Northernmost Point Monument. I bet that whoever wrote that article didn't CYCLE ALL THE WAY ACROSS FUCKING JAPAN TO GET HERE. For me the monument was a marker. It means: from now on, things will get easier again. I've reached the coldest point in Japan. I've faced mountains while less fit than I am now. I've made mistakes in camping that I won't be making again. The training period is over now. I can return as an experienced touring cyclist. It's my graduation day!

As I sat next to the monument contemplating life and the lack of open restaurants in the area, Kenta showed up. Naturally there was much rejoicing and photo taking. Then two other cyclists showed up from the other direction: a German guy and a Japanese guy. The Japanese guy had a sign on his bike saying that he was traveling since 2012. Impressive.  The German guy, Karsten, had just finished Japan from south to north. So there was even more rejoicing and photo taking. Cape Soya might not be much of a monument to visit if you're coming by bus or by car, but for touring cyclists it surely is one the holy grails of Japan. It was great to see so many of 'my kind' gathered together in one place. We're a rare kind, touring cyclists. Best to treasure these moments.

Three of us, Karsten, Kenta and I cycled the remaining 30 kilometers of coastal road to Wakkanai together. The winds were at times quite insane, and progress was slow. Our faces got sandblasted quite a bit, and sand got in everywhere. But it all didn't matter. We did it. We were done! It turns out the three of us had another thing in common: our love for Sukiya. Much to my surprise there was a Sukiya in Wakkanai, and we ended up eating and talking together for a long time, eventually joined by a mysterious Irish touring cyclists who also had some brilliant stories to tell. The traveling spirit was absolutely with us today.

When we finally left the restaurant it was slowly getting darker, and it was starting to get cold. Kenta left to find a coin laundry place, Karsten went back to a rider's house to prepare for his journey back to the ferry, and I wandered around town to see if there was any reasonably cheap hotel available. It didn't take long to find an acceptable one, and near the station too. Not that there's much around here: I wandered into the main shopping street later that evening and everything was closed. The only interesting thing I saw was a fox, who sat stubbornly in the middle of a side road, not budging even when cars and people passed it. I think the Japanese people are too kind to wild animals, it's not teaching the animals to stay away from humans.


So, I'm done! In retrospect, the three-day consecutive camping days were among the best of the trip. The routes were interesting (although long), and the camp sites memorable. The lack of internet was hardly noticeable, except for one thing: the weather report. I found it really useful to get accurate weather info before setting out each day. It tends to be quite accurate. Still, a minor inconvenience. Even without access to the weather report things will work out.

What now? I've accomplished my goal, sort of. I've reached the northernmost point. As far as the trip 'definition' goes, I could hop on a plane or a train and head back home right now. But that just doesn't feel quite right somehow.

I have to cycle back.

"When in doubt, choose the option that is the most fun". Lugging my bike around in a bike bag is absolutely not fun. Cycling is fun! So let's cycle back. To be honest I'm quite done with Hokkaido so I won't be going to the east. Temperature is no longer an issue, it's plenty warm here, but wind and general lack of change is. You'll pretty much stay on only a few roads each day, with nothing much changing along the way. I'd rather cycle straight down to Sapporo and then catch a ferry back to Honshu from Tomakomai. Where in Honshu, I'm not sure yet. Right now my mind is set on starting from the top, but I'll formalize that decision later, after I get to Sapporo. Hopefully the warm east coast of Honshu will provide me a good opportunity to do PADI on the way.

I feel like I've only just gotten re-used to touring cycling. I'm at the prime of my power, in the perfect location. I can't let this moment go to waste.

.. and I should lose some more weight >_<;

Posted in Spirit of Japan 2