Lazy day to Sounkyo and a sneaky camp
We wake up early in Toma, but take our time and have a relaxed breakfast in the konbini across the road, leeching their internet while sipping our coffee. Today will be a short day, 55km or so, with a very gentle climb along the river to Sounkyo where we will have our first rest day. So, today there is no hurry.
As we browse the morning news we learn about a typhoon, Jebi, heading for southwestern Japan. We are all the way on the other end of the country, but all the forecasts and predictions rely heavily on the ‘probably’ and this thing looks huge. And since we planed to do a rest day anyway, we book a hostel in Sounkyo for our second night there, when the typhoon is expected to pass Hokkaido. Probably.
For now, the sun is still out, it is easy peasy cycling along a cyclepath (!) along the river. We take an hour break in a random park/toiletbuilding combo to eat second breakfast and, because sun, do a little sink laundry. Because we stink. Oh man, do we stink…the bath yesterday might have done wonders for our bodies, our clothes are absolutely foul.
The whole scenery reminds me a bit of home, with the dyke and the fields and the herons and the river, except from the hills in the distance that are slowly closing in, until we are cycling in a canyon, criss-crossing the river. We see deer on the riverbed and birds, but luckily the only signs of bears are…well…signs warning for bears.
Bears can be found all over Japan, but Hokkaido is home to the brown bear, whose reputation is slightly more ferocious than that of its black cousins. They are in this area for sure, and part of me wants to see one, but from like, a really safe distance, not in the middle of the road when we come round a corner or, worse, in our campsite at night. Huuuuh.
We arrive in Sounkyo mid afternoon and head to the camping at the far end of town, to find out it is closed. We consider pitching there anyway, but see a police car pulling out the driveway. Apparently they check for people doing exactly what we had in mind. Fair enough.
Back in town a kind woman at the Mount Kurodake visitor’s center informs us that people sometimes camp in the parking lot 3km out of town. I guess that’s our best option, although we also spotted a really cool looking park across the river.
However, sleeping is for later, and we’re not gonna set up camp on a parking lot in the afternoon anyway, so we grab an early dinner and head out to the communal onsen (bathhouse) for a soak. This one is a bit different: indoors, for starters, and sex-segregated, which means we have to split up. Finally, some time alone! We have travelled like this before and we are fine, but after nearly a week of 24/7 together it’s also nice to have a little alone time. And I can finally wash my hair! Small things in life!
After an hour and a half we are totally pampered, relaxed, clean and lazy. When we start pedaling towards our parking-lot ‘campsite’ (so romantic…) there is suddenly a fierce headwind that would make it hard to steady our tent, since we can’t exactly drive our pegs into the tarmac. Luckily, it doesn’t take long to convince Antonio to pitch in the park instead, although I have to promise that I will pay the fine if the police finds us there.
Climbing Mount Kurodake
We were warned for shitty weather in light of the upcoming storm, but we wake up to sunshine and still a strong wind. No police, of course. Sounkyo is the gateway to climb Mount Kurodake (1984m) and we already counted on not being able to climb it because of the weather, but now the sun is out we’ll give it a go! The first bit we cheat with a ride up the cable car, and then a skilift. From there it’s an hour and a half climb to the top, but we crush it in an hour. We’re feeling strong! Our legs are amazing! The views are great!
At the top things are a bit different; the wind is obviously coming from the other side and we nearly get knocked over. Also the view is gone, because we are now literally in the clouds! No spot for second breakfast here, so we hike down and snack on our bananas a bit further down.
Almost all other hikers, mostly Japanese, are wearing bear bells to warn the bears of their approach, but the only animal we see is a cute little chipmunk munching on some flowers.
When we come back down (again with the skilift & cable car) we find out that they’re no longer taking people up the mountain due to the strong wind. Great timing! The rest of the day is spent chilling, eating, napping, eating and more eating at the hostel we booked for the night to seek shelter for whatever nasty weather Jebi will throw at us. We sleep like roses.