Japan

Day 35-42: Northern Honshu

Because I’m pretty behind on my writing and want to catch up in one go, let’s try another format where I give you short snippets for each day.

Day 35: Out of Akita

Well rested after a double restday we hit the road again, but it is hard to leave the comfort of the hotel. We linger around forever, and navigating out of the city is slow with lots of traffic and lots of traffic lights. The city roads spew us out on the coastal road, still busy, but with a strong wind that is leftover from the typhoon and…it’s a tailwind! Yay! We speed along but although it is nice to sometimes see the sea this road is no fun, too busy, so after lunch we decide to head inland. There all the clouds are stuck on the hilltops and within minutes it starts raining and within seconds we are soaked all the way through. No matter, it’s warm, so we pedal along in our shorts and rainjackets although the latter are pointless. After two days in the city it’s nice to be moving again, slowly going into the mountains, and the rain changes nothing about that.

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Day 36: Crushing it

The tailwind from yesterday is still there, the hills are not so high and before we even realize it we pass the midway point for the day waaaay before lunchtime. So what is there to do but keep going? Which is exactly what we do, and we end our first (and probably last, lol) 101km day in Tendo with time to spare to enjoy the local onsen (can’t say no to a ¥100 bath), a discounted bento box from the 24-hr supermarket before we pitch our tent in a cute little park in the middle of town where people are walking their dog at night and enjoying the sunrise/coffee/a cigarette early in the morning. No one cares about these two sleepy looking gaijin emerging from a little green tent in the morning. So easy.

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Day 37: Deadline

I thought I slept well last night but I am sooooo groggy this morning. Maybe it’s the 100km from yesterday? It seems more of a mind-thing than a body-thing though, so once we’re out of the city I just put on some music and tune out. We are taking a mountain road to avoid the busy (flatter) main road so we are slow, but we are also on a deadline to make it to a specific restaurant that sells a specific local dish in the next town over, and have to make it there before it closes for the afternoon. Not really helping to lift the mood, but I’m not sure what would at this point.

We arrive there on time only to find out that it is closed for the entire day. Ugh. Antonio does some quick google-fu to find another restaurant in the same town that also serves this local specialty while I try to keep my cool – fairly successfully I must say, but now I am groggy and hungry and annoyed, a dangerous combination.

After, -finally- a delicious meal of spicy miso ramen I feel much better. Maybe I was just hungry all along? The rest of the afternoon is easy. We arrive at Onogawa onsen and pitch right next to a free rotenburo (outdoor onsen) that is already closed for the evening, but surely this way we’ll be the first customers when it opens at 6 in the morning.

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Day 38: Into the dark

We are the first customers indeed, but the women’s bath is too hot to keep even my feet in for longer than 20 seconds, the hottest onsen ever, so I just pour buckets of water over me that I let cool off first. Whatever, it still gets me clean and it reminds me of Indonesian showers.

In town we strike up a conversation with some other visitors as we fill up our bottles with cold onsen spring water, which tastes funny but not bad. Everyone we meet is so amazed at this thing we are doing, and their excitement gets other curious passer-bys involved. One of them gives us two onsen eggs as energy for on the road. Yup, that’s exactly what it sounds like: eggs boiled directly in the hot hot hot sulphurous onsen water. Way too gooey of course, so Antonio slurps up both.

At the end of the day we have a climb. We know this, but because the app that we’ve been using to plot our altitude profiles has suddenly stopped working, we don’t really know how much. Turns out it is a lot of vertical gain, and darkness sets in while we plod up the steep hill with an unimpressive 5km/hr. Then the wind picks up, headwind of course, and we are nowhere near the summit and there’s no place to camp, not with this wind, so we stuff some chocolate into our faces and keep going. After an hour of darkness we arrive at our destination: the michi-no-eki looking out over Lake Hibara, except of course there is no view now, we are tired and hungry so pitch, eat dinner and fall asleep.

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Day 39: Lake to lake

Today will be short so we are in no hurry to leave. While we have coffee and breakfast a man shows up with a fancy looking camera, asking if he can take a picture of us. Then he asks for our address, not our email, but our postal address! So he can send the photo! I wonder if we’ll ever see it, but if we do it will be a great memory of one of the many random encounters we have.

Today is hot, almost 30 degrees, and even though we have a >1200m mountain pass to climb we don shorts and t-shirts. Later we learn that it is one of the hottest October days ever recorded in Japan, caused by a lot of hot air being pushed north by yet another incoming typhoon. We don’t worry about that today though, and take our sweet time eating soba noodles and soba icecream (yum!) before lazily pedalling onwards to Lake Inawashiro.

Tomorrow we’ll have our restday there, while waiting out this next typhoon. It’s not supposed to be as bad as the previous one so we think we can camp, but pitch our tent behind a low wall and reinforce it as much as possible, just in case.

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Day 40: Rest

When we wake up it is sunny, but the wind is howling. Still, as long as it is not pouring down rain I think we’ll be good, and we try to ride our bikes into the wind to a konbini 4km away, which is hilarious. It is good that there is no other traffic because it is impossible to keep our bikes straight, we get blown from left to right over this little road. Definitely the right decision to not ride with luggage today. On the way back we have tailwind though, which is also hilarious, because now we’re getting blown uphill at 25km/hr without even pedalling. Ha!

I’m kind of relieved to find our tent still standing when we come back, and for the rest of the day there is not a lot to do than chill out, make coffee, have naps and chill some more. Oh, and do some bike maintenance, because two of my gears have been fucked since we landed in Sapporo and I have been really lazy about it, but soon we will be in the Alps and I will need them. Antonio has a go at fixing them (because he’s done this before) and he does, but mostly by moving the whole thing so now two other gears are not working. But those I only need on downhills so at least that is a better problem to have.

Day 41: Where are we?

There is no sign of the typhoon the next morning, and it is a beautiful ride. The road we want to take is closed, but that hasn’t stopped us before and it won’t stop us now, so we navigate past/over/under four roadblocks. This tiny mountain road is perfect. No traffic and autumn leaves and a crystal clear river that we follow upstream, and then another one downstream on the other side. Life is good, although it gets dark much earlier now, or we end up doing more kms than planned, or we are just slow? Because the last 40 minutes we ride in the dark again. Oops.

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Day 42: Road to nowhere

I feel gross. I haven’t showered in forever, the bucket bath was the last one, and then I couldn’t even wash my hair, so I feel So. Gross. Ew.

Tomorrow there will be relief. Tomorrow we will be in onsen paradise. Tomorrow we will stay in one of Japan’s most remote ryokan resorts, because you can’t get there by car or any other private vehicle. You either hike 90 minutes into the mountains or ask your hotel to pick you up from the last bus stop.

But first we have to get there, and that involves a very long but very steady climb back to ~1200m again, along a road full of cute little towns and restaurants. We watch a geyser doing its thing, which is cool. At the last bus stop we sleep inside the bus station from where we will be picked up for the transfer to our ryokan around midday. One more night of filthy hair and sticky skin and dirty nails I can do. Only one.

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[Edit: forgot to add all the Relive visualisations of the days but added them now, for if you’re into that sort of thing.]

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