The city of light at the foot of the mountain

I'm in Yamaguchi prefecture, which roughly translated means 'foot of the mountain' (technically it means mouth of the mountain, but you get it) in a town with the beautiful one-kanji name of Hikari, simply meaning 'light'. Such a nice name. I'm sure you're all dying to know about what horrible hardships I suffered today, but there will be no such thing. Today can be described in one word: perfect!

But if I'd describe today in one word that would be a rather short blogpost, so here's a rundown of what happened today. I got up this morning in my soft nice bed at the youth hostel, saw the dreary weather outside and considered staying another day. I've never been so glad about my decision of moving on as I am today. Somehow I get up and at 8:30 I was eating breakfast in front of the A-bomb dome, which looks even more depressing when it's cloudy. Having memorized some of the road names based on Google Maps, I took off in the south-west direction and followed route number 2 westwards.

Being immobile for the past two days I really enjoyed getting back on my bicycle and seeing new places again. I put on some music, zigzagged between traffic (Hiroshimans really believe that red lights are there to ignore) and managed an awesome pace on the completely flat road, reaching Iwakuni in no-time and skipping Miyajima completely because I had been there before and the weather sucked. It's strange, really. Before starting this trip I really wanted to check out a beach on Miyajima that I had found on Google Street View, but now that I'm actually here I find that it's not really necessary. Considering all the other places I've seen on this trip suddenly that one place doesn't really matter any more. Besides, if I had stopped at Miyajima today I wouldn't have reached the incredible place from where I am typing this blogpost.

Reaching Iwakuni I had a choice of following the big road 2 through the mountains, possibly reaching my destination faster but suffering a lot. I chose to go south on route 188 and hug the seaside road all the way until middle afternoon, when I reached a T-junction. My destination was towards the right, but a potentially beautiful park area lay to the left. Curiosity got the better of me and I turned left to explore the park area. It wasn't 500 meters later that I discovered a beautiful lane of Torii (gates), and as I stopped to take a photo another cyclist caught up with me and started a conversation.

This cyclist, who didn't want his name published on this blog, I will refer to as Panakuro-san. Panakuro-san works at a factory, sometimes night shifts, sometimes day shifts. Yesterday was his night shift so he had the day off today. He said he could show me around the park area, and we could cycle together to the next city where he lived. He'd been cycling casually for most of the day, whereas I had been speeding like a madman (but comfortably). It turns out our averages were the same. I can keep up with lighter cyclists if they're not really trying very hard :D

The next town was about 20 km's away, and it was around 16:00 when we reached it. Panakuro-san told me he knew a very nice place I could camp tonight, but that the uphill to get there might be a little bit tough (kitsui kamo shirenai). I assumed that he was underestimating my super-saiyan strength and I told him not to worry, as I could easily handle a little hill. Obviously I was wrong.

Panokura-san showed me a nice road in the area, between the seaside and the main road. It was flat, nice and not much traffic around. We made good progress when suddenly he turned left towards what I thought was the sea, but then suddenly an island appeared in the distance. The only way to get to the island was to climb a nasty bridge that had a very steep uphill and no space cyclists. The good part about this particular island is that it's a dead-end destination and almost nobody lives there, so there's not much traffic. I was very impressed by the view from the bridge, but things would get even better. Well, after they got worse.

The place Panokuro-san knew was a camping area known in Japanese as 'auto-camp'. In other words, you drive there with your car and bring your (huge) tent and all kinds of camping equipment with you. When we arrived at the 'gate', which turned out to be at least 2km's from the actual camping area, we saw that the camping season only starts in July, and the camping would be closed. Noticing that the road went steeply uphill from there Panukura-san asked me if I wanted to give up and find someplace else. Not wanting to be a weeaboo I told him that this kind of hill is also an easy climb for the awesome man from Holland, and that we could simply cycle to the place and see if anyone was there. Pan-san went up ahead and I didn't see him again for 20 minutes as I was out of breath all the time, suffering my life away as I tried to get up the impossibly steep hill. What a horrible waste of effort it could turn out to be if I really couldn't camp there.

Well, if that had happened I wouldn't have called this day perfect, of course :D It did take me forever to get there and I was in the lowest gear all the time and soaked with sweat when I finally arrived. The camping area was conveniently located on top of the highest mountain on the island, which made it terrible to reach by bicycle but offered a view of the surrounding area that I again have to describe as perfect. It's one of the most beautiful places I've seen on this trip and in Japan. I'm a landscape freak by the way, in case you didn't know that already.

As we looked around for someone to ask if it was okay to camp we suddenly spotted a person coming towards us: the gatekeeper. He was the only person there, and he was just about to leave to close the gate, as it was 17:00 already. The gate would close for cars but bicycles could still get through along the side, he said, so no need to worry. He told us that normally a night's stay at this place costs 2800 yen, about as much as a night in a youth hostel. Since there was nobody around it was not possible to camp here, said the gatekeeper. Then he said: "But since I'm leaving now and closing the gate, there will be nobody here between now and 8AM tomorrow, so if you leave before 8AM (when a different gatekeeper will open the gate again) I'll just pretend I didn't see you". Awesome! I've got the whole camping area to myself, and it's the most beautiful place I've stayed at so far! This is truly a perfect ending to a great day. I spent the last two hours just looking out at the bay area towards the mainland, where all kinds of ships are coming and going, and towards the west where there's more tiny islands, and a beautiful sunset as well. Today could not possibly have ended any better. And I owe it all to Pinocchio-san.

Cycling note: I broke my own distance record and average speed record: 122.57 kilometers at an average speed of 20.70kph. I don't feel very tired even, probably because the road was incredibly flat. The tire held out well today, and there were no heavy bumps on the road at all. I'm still a bit worried though.

You're probably wondering where the photos of today are. Well, I didn't want to spend time choosing which ones to share, so I shared all of them on Picasa instead. Hope you like them. I'll spend the time saved on not choosing and editing photos on stargazing, as the night sky is beautiful today, and so is the city skyline that I am looking at as I type this blogpost :)

(Actually it's only the photos taken with my S90. I'll share and edit the DSLR photos later when I have more time. )

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