Into the heart of Hokkaido

This morning began my half day cycle to Iwamizawa, and it began in a fashion that is becoming typical for the Hokkaido phase of this trip: miserably.

The sky was covered in dark clouds and it was cold. I'm tempted to call it the first genuinely cold day of the trip. I had set up an easy route with some secondary roads as alternatives along the way. I marked the secondary roads because I thought that it would  be sunny so it would be nice to do a more casual/scenic route. The secondary roads did turn out to be useful, but not for that reason.

Since it was anything but sunny, I initially started out on the main roads to make some good progress, but I soon had to vacate the area because the trucks and the wind were very much not in my favor. With massive crosswinds it was difficult to keep a narrow driving line, and the roads themselves weren't really wide enough to allow cars to pass if I claimed half of the car lane. To make matters worse, in Hokkaido, dump trucks are not the only trucks that are assholes. The really massive trucks appear to have zero patience for cyclists on this island, and they pass you by way too close for comfort and at ridiculous speed differences. The massive gusts of wind they generate are just plain dangerous, so I could no longer uphold my "never lose your place on the road" rule today. I guess there have to be exceptions to every rule..

Side note: I wonder if there's a war going on between truckers and cyclists. I can imagine racing cyclists to be.. well, assholes, especially towards trucks, and I guess both sides are battling for the same turf: the slow lane. I'm not sure I like being caught up in that. Some trucks really cut me off aggressively or pass me by at breakneck speeds that any sane person could see would be dangerous to the cyclist. So either truckers are really fucking dumb, or they really hate cyclists.

Back on topic: the secondary roads were decent, yet not very scenic. The world I witnessed today was flat, grassy and full of farms. Add to that the cold and the clouds, and even a couple of canals, and it's as if I'm cycling in Holland. As I headed further north, away from the largest city but on the narrow stretch of civilization that connects to the second-largest city, I noticed a lot of European architecture. Newly built farms and houses often look quite similar to those in the Netherlands or the UK. Fuck that. If I wanted to cycle in the Netherlands, I would have cycled at home. Give me back my Japan!

With the sky getting even darker and some drops of rain appearing, I finally reached a road that was wide enough to make progress on, and was in the perfect direction to take full advantage of the tail wind. I sped up to 35kph, decreasing the speed difference with the trucks that were passing me, and managed to make great progress for half an hour or so. Then the road changed direction and narrowed, and I had to go on to the sidewalk and seriously lean in against the wind to avoid falling down.

It really was one of those days where the only traveler's luck you'd get is bad luck. During a break stop I suddenly noticed that my rear reflector has disappeared. I guess it must have broken off when I parked it somewhere. Later, after going over some bumps, my saddle came loose and starting shaking about, so I had to stop, reposition the saddle and tighten it again. Everything is showing signs of wear. The gears that were perfectly adjusted only a week ago are already getting out of sync again, though I'm managing to keep them adjusted this time. My winter gloves are slowly unraveling, with my right hand's index finger bit completely gone. It's quite handy actually for controlling my phone while cycling.

I arrived in Iwamizawa in the early afternoon. After cycling around for half an hour and confirming that there was absolutely nothing of interest here, I checked into my hotel and started planning. Because I've decided to go north via Asahikawa I get to stay in the thin layer of civilization for 2 more days. But already I feel that I'm moving from outpost to outpost. The cities are small here, and it only takes you 5 minutes to cycle out of their sphere of influence and back into the 'wild'. The contrast between the cities, which are still so typical Japanese, and the countryside, which changes completely every day, is fascinating. In Honshu the cities tend to be centered around the train station, but in Hokkaido the core of the city seems to be the major road that's running through it.

Nayoro is the last frontier before I reach the north. In what will surely be a terrible day, I have to cycle 120 kilometers through the mountains and to the seaside, after which it's likely that I'll camp out at a lake and be freezing cold. From there it's only 90 kilometers to Soya Misaki, the northernmost point of Japan, and Wakkanai, from where I'll be starting my return journey.

Speaking of which, I think I have a decent strategy on how to get back to Atsugi. My mind has been restless about the return trip for a long time, and every strategy I thought of just didn't feel quite right. But today I thought of a plan that feels very right. I'll let it grow in my head for a few days to see if it's viable.

With the right plan comes clarity.

Posted in Spirit of Japan 2