Category Archives: Diary

June Diary

It’s been a great June. We’ve done some riding, some planning and some interacting with other cycle tourists. Our summer tour to Hokkaido grows closer each day, and we’re getting more and more excited. This is what we’ve been up to this month.

Bikes, tents, beautiful scenery: it's why we do what we do.

Bikes, tents, beautiful scenery: it’s why we do what we do.

The month begain with an overnight trip to nearby Lake Inawashiro. We sent our gear in the car with our friends, and rode our unladen bikes over the Ou Mountains. On the other side, we camped for free on the shore of the lake. We ate amazing barbecue food, drinking beer and playing cards as the sun went down. There are some pictures here. A week later, we rode past the same spot on day one of the charity event Cycle Aid Japan. Over the course of 160km of riding, we made some new friends, and gave ourselves some pretty impressive tan lines. It was exhausting, but very satisfying. You can read our report here.

It was his butterfly handlebars that made me suspect he was a cycle tourist. It turned out that Ushijima-sensei has cycled all over the world. He gave us details of his homepage.

It was his butterfly handlebars that made me suspect he was a cycle tourist. It turned out that Ushijima-sensei has cycled all over the world. He gave us details of his homepage.

Things are falling into place for our summer trip to Hokkaido. Our bikes will make the journey there by courier, and we’ll take a slow train over a couple of days. Our travel plans are here. Exploring the volcanic Shikotsu-Toya National park is how we’ll spend the first week of our tour. Clare and Andy, our friends in Hokkaido, will join us for a weekend of riding, then our destination is Rishiri Island in the far north. More details here. Preparations are going well – we’re just waiting on a few deliveries right now. It’s only three weeks away, and our excitement is starting to build.

We’ve had some interaction with other cycle tourists this month. Stefano got in touch with some questions about cycle touring in Tohoku during August. We answered them in this blog post. Eric and Amaya from World Biking arranged to stay with us via the Warm Showers network. The idea of hosting them really excited us; we were looking forward to hearing stories from their seven years on the road. Unfortunately, the visit fell through. Maybe our paths will cross some other time instead.

Lastly, we’ve been experimenting with some other online services. Byron from the excellent Tokyo By Bike blog introduced us to Flipboard. This is an example of a cycle touring magazine we’ve curated. What do you think?

We’ve had a great June, and we’re looking forward to a great July too. Next month is all about Hokkaido. We’ll spend the first part of the month getting ready for the trip, and the last part riding around a beautiful national park. We can’t wait.

Reading List

Each month we collect a few articles that we’ve enjoyed reading lately into a list. Here are our picks for June.

Our top pick is Cycling Dutch Girl’s post about her trip to Hokkaido, Avoiding Bears, Finding Beers and Going Bare. We loved the photos, especially as we’re visiting many of the places pictured on our own trip.

Joe Cruz at Pedalling in Place wrote about an amazing day in the Dolomites. Find out here how he got on with his folding bike amongst a peleton of thousands of road bikes. Again great pictures, and a great article.

We really enjoyed this article by Devon and Charlotte of Travelling Carrs. Their two days in Albania were manic, it seems, but also a huge amount of fun. Very entertaining.

Finally, in the light of our CTQOTW about bear safety, we recommend reading Nick’s post about how he survived a bear attack. It’s harrowing stuff. Find it here.

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Please Mr Postman

Most of our equipment comes from retailers outside of Japan. This is partly because of availability. Our local outdoor store is more dedicated to wilderness chic than to real adventuring equipment. Our local bike shops cater for either road bikes or mami-chari city bikes, rather than expedition touring bikes. If we want a choice of sizes, colours or models, we usually can’t find them nearby. Partly it’s because of cost. Even with import taxes and delivery charges, we can often find what we want for a much cheaper price if we buy from Europe or the USA. And partly it’s because of our lack of Japanese language ability. Reading a product description in English is much easier for us than asking a shop attendant in our stuttering, stumbling Japanese.

Japanese_post_box

Image by FlickrLickr bot via Wikipedia.

Shopping online has been how we’ve bought pretty much everything except our bikes. With three weeks left until we set off for Hokkaido, we’re fast approaching the cut-off point for ordering any extra gear we need for the trip. We’ve already started. Right now, there are at least two packages heading our way.

Package one, from England.

We’ve ordered some adventure sandals from Keen that can be fitted with SPD cleats. We both have double-sided pedals, so we’ll try clipping in and see how we get on. The sandals should be comfortable in the warmth of the Hokkaido summer. This package, from Dave’s sister, will also contain a Kindle Keyboard 3G. Dave broke his original Kindle, and Amazon sent a replacement (to England) for free. This model includes free international 3G web browsing forever, which is going to be really useful for our journey across Asia and Russia next year.

Package two, from Germany

Laura wants more pannier space than she had on our trip across Honshu, so we’ve ordered a front rack and some panniers from Bike 24. We’re confident in the products we’ve chosen: the Tubus Ergo is the same model as Dave’s front rack, and the panniers are from the Vaude Aqua range that Laura likes so much. An Ortlieb drybag completes the expansion of Laura’s carrying capacity. We think her sleeping bag takes up too much pannier space, so we’re planning in stowing it, inside the drybag, on top of the back rack. We’ve also ordered some specialised headlamp brackets that fit around our cantilever brakes.

For the next three weeks, we’ll be leaping up every time the doorbell rings, running to the door, and hoping to see the postman standing there with a parcel. Two packages. Three weeks. Will everything come in time?

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Hokkaido Countdown

This time next month we’ll be in Hokkaido at the start of three weeks of cycle touring. Here’s an update on our plan so far.

Getting there:

We’re using the Seishun 18 Ticket to get to Hokkaido. It’s an amazing deal: unlimited travel on local trains for just over ¥2000 per person per day. We’re taking a leisurely journey from Fukushima to Hokkaido over the course of two days. Our first day sees us travel from our home in Koriyama to Aomori, travelling 512km in just over 10 hours.

Ten hours. Better find a good book or three for the trip.

Ten hours. Better find a good book or three for the trip.

The next day, we’ll travel through the Seikan Tunnel to Hokkaido, and then on to Date-Mombetsu via Hakodate and Oshamambe. We’ll collect our bikes, then begin the cycling part of our trip.

Cycling Part One: Shikotsu-Toya National Park

We’re spending the first part of our trip exploring the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. The park is an area of volcanic activity, with plenty of cool stuff to see. Its two large lakes, Lake Toya and Lake Shikotsu, give the park its name. We hope to explore the lava dome of Showa-shinzan, and to climb nearby Mt Usu. There are opportunities for canoeing on both lakes, which will make a nice change from exploring by bike. Volcanic activity means there are several onsen in the area, where we’ll be able to enjoy a soothing mineral bath. This guidebook can tell you more about what’s on offer in the park.

Shikotsu Toya National Park Map

Shikotsu Toya National Park Map

Cycling Part Two: Iwamizawa and beyond

Our friends Clare and Andy live in Hokkaido. They are pretty much the reason that we came to Japan. Their decision to leave England and sign up for the JET Programme inspired us to take similar steps a year later. In an unexpected twist, they have also developed an interest in bicycle touring during their time here. We’re aiming to get to their place in Iwamizawa by the 25th or 26th so that we can ride with them over the weekend. We’re not sure of a direction or a route yet, only of the fine company we’ll keep.

Cycling Part Three: Northwards to Rishiri Island

The final part of our trip is the most loosely planned. We’ll work our way up the west coast to Rishiri Island at the far north of Hokkaido, passing through other national and prefectural parks, and camping with our tent facing the sunset over the sea. Rishiri Island rises from the Sea of Japan, so we’ll get there by ferry from Wakkanai. If we have time, we might explore further, to nearby Rebun Island, or down the east coast of the Hokkaido mainland.

Getting home

We’ll send our bikes home by courier, in the same way that we sent them up to Hokkaido. Our general plan for getting ourselves home is also much looser. We’ll probably take several local trains using the Seishun 18 ticket, or maybe we’ll hop on a ferry to Sendai. We’ll decide nearer to the time.

The excitement is starting to build. Slowly, as things fall into place, I’m starting to look forward to our adventure more and more. Of course, we have a to-do list that’s as long as my arm. But for now, I’m just enjoying the anticipation.

Let us know your thoughts about our plans in the comments below.

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Cycle Aid Japan 2013 – Report and Gallery

Last weekend we took part in Cycle Aid Japan 2013, a mass-participation cycling event to raise money for victims of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster. Twelve rides of varying lengths were scheduled over two weekends. You can find out more about the event online (website in Japanese here). We chose two rides that were nearest to our home in Koriyama, and our friend Brad joined us.

On Saturday we started behind the Hideyo Noguchi house in Inawashiro town, and made a clockwise circuit of the lake.

Riders left messages of support on this poster at the start of the course.

Riders left messages of support on this poster at the start of the course.

A range of different bikes took part. As well as our touring bikes, there were several road bikes, a few mountain bikes, and a handful of single speed track bikes.

A range of different bikes took part. As well as our touring bikes, there were several road bikes, a few mountain bikes, and a handful of single speed track bikes.

We started to the sound of traditional taiko drumming.

We started to the sound of traditional taiko drumming.

The aid station, after about 22km, offered water and snacks. We ate soba noodles and grilled shiitake mushrooms.

The aid station, after about 22km, offered water and snacks. We ate soba noodles and grilled shiitake mushrooms.

Low clouds over Mt Bandai, across the lake.

Low clouds over Mt Bandai, across the lake.

Laura made honey and peanut flapjacks. Delicious!

Laura made honey and peanut flapjacks. Delicious!

Brad loves flapjacks.

Brad loves flapjacks.

Riding through the rice fields.

Riding through the rice fields.

A course steward follows behind us as we face the only climb of the day.

A course steward follows behind us as we face the only climb of the day.

Brad arranged for us to stay at a lakeside onsen that he knew. We made friends with Hideo in the hot outdoor bath, and enjoyed chatting with him as the sun came down over the lake.

The view from our room, over the lake. The outdoor bath looked out in the same direction.

The view from our room, over the lake. The outdoor bath looked out in the same direction.

Endo-san, our host, took care of us as we enjoyed a delicious meal at the ryokan. Brad and Sonoko have known him for many years.

Endo-san, our host, took care of us as we enjoyed a delicious meal at the ryokan. Brad and Sonoko have known him for many years.

As we relaxed in yukata, more and more food arrived at the table. We ate until we were stuffed.

As we relaxed in yukata, more and more food arrived at the table. We ate until we were stuffed.

Hideo joined us on our ride the next day, from Inawashiro town to Fukushima city. Most of the pictures here were taken by him or by Brad.

Hideo camped near the onsen. This rucksack contained all of his things. It was shipped from the start line to the finish of the course, so he didn't have to ride with it.

Hideo camped near the onsen. This rucksack contained all of his things. It was shipped from the start line to the finish of the course, so he didn’t have to ride with it.

L-R: Laura; Dave; Brad; Hideo

L-R: Laura; Dave; Brad; Hideo

Hideo also rides a Surly. His is a Cross Check. Nice handlebar tape!

Hideo also rides a Surly. His is a Cross Check. Nice handlebar tape!

The marshall gave us a countdown to starting to ride. Unfortunately, the Japanese word for “five” is “go.” I'm sure you can guess what happened.

The marshall gave us a countdown to starting to ride. Unfortunately, the Japanese word for “five” is “go.” I’m sure you can guess what happened.

Laura enjoying the morning sun.

Laura enjoying the morning sun.

Brad and Hideo on the cycling road by Lake Inawashiro.

Brad and Hideo on the cycling road by Lake Inawashiro.

It was a beautiful morning. Later in the day, the temperatures would climb to around thirty degrees.

It was a beautiful morning. Later in the day, the temperatures would climb to around thirty degrees.

The bright sun cast clear shadows.

The bright sun cast clear shadows.

Taking a break at one of three rest stops.

Taking a break at one of three rest stops.

The forest carpets the hills outside Bandai-Atami in green.

The forest carpets the hills outside Bandai-Atami in green.

Waiting in line to be checked out of a rest stop.

Waiting in line to be checked out of a rest stop.

It was his butterfly handlebars that made me suspect he was a cycle tourist. It turned out that Ushijima-sensei has cycled all over the world. He gave us details of his homepage.

It was his butterfly handlebars that made me suspect he was a cycle tourist. It turned out that Ushijima-sensei has cycled all over the world. He gave us details of his homepage.

The day ended with a steady climb of 300m over around 6km. Not too bad in itself, but exhausting after the 80km+ we'd already ridden.

The day ended with a steady climb of 300m over around 6km. Not too bad in itself, but exhausting after the 80km+ we’d already ridden.

At the end of the course.

At the end of the course.

The festival at the end of the course featured several cycling suppliers, as well as food and drink stalls.

The festival at the end of the course featured several cycling suppliers, as well as food and drink stalls.

Musicians performed in the auditorium, sponsors and organizers gave speeches, and tired cyclists watched.

Musicians performed in the auditorium, sponsors and organizers gave speeches, and tired cyclists watched.

We had a great time during Cycle Aid Japan 2013. It was a great way to see a beautiful part of Japan, and we enjoyed meeting other cyclists on the route. Best of all, we were able to spend time with friends, and to make some new ones too. What a great weekend. Now, where do we sign up for Cycle Aid Japan 2014?

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Inawashiro Overnight Trip

Some friends organised a camping trip to Lake Inawashiro, and we decided to go there by bike. There’s no way to avoid the range of hills between our home and the campsite, but luckily our friends offered to take all of our camping and cooking gear in their car, which made our ride much easier.

The rice fields are planted, and the first shoots are starting to grow.

The rice fields are planted, and the first shoots are starting to grow.

"The next seven km has quite a lot of climbing." "No problem."

“The next seven km has quite a lot of climbing.”
“No problem.”

The lake is on the other side of those hills.

The lake is on the other side of those hills.

We left home on a familiar road, past the Culture Park and towards Naganuma. At the Laurel Valley golf course, we turned on to local route 67, and began to climb. The road narrowed as we pushed on uphill into the forest, and soon it became barely wide enough for a single vehicle to pass. It grew steeper and steeper still, and before long we’d worked through our gears, and were exhausted. We stopped and rested, then started again.

The road became steeper as we climbed the hill.

The road became steeper as we climbed the hill.

The road was narrow, and quiet. We only met a handful of vehicles as we pushed on through the woods.

The road was narrow, and quiet. We only met a handful of vehicles as we pushed on through the woods.

The forest on the west side of the hill had ferns amongst the evergreens.

The forest on the west side of the hill had ferns amongst the evergreens.

David is probably still a little heavy for this top.

David is probably still a little heavy for this top.

The twisting course of our route and the high trees made it difficult to get any sense of progress towards the top of the pass, so we relied on the speedometer to judge how far we had to travel. Eventually, the gradient defeated us, and we decided to get off and push our bikes over the final kilometre or two. The downhill route was full of blind corners, so our descent was measured and cautious. We broke out of the forest, to a stunning view of Mt Bandai in the distance, and a long straight road ahead of us.

Mt Bandai in the distance, along a glorious straight downhill road.

Mt Bandai in the distance, along a glorious straight downhill road.

There's still snow on the top of Mt Bandai.

There’s still snow on the top of Mt Bandai.

The hill we'd climbed over is in the background. With its gradient of 7% over 7km, it was probably a category 2 or 3 climb.

The hill we’d climbed over is in the background. With its gradient of 7% over 7km, it was probably a category 2 or 3 climb.

Through the small town towards the lakeside.

Through the small town towards the lakeside.

We camped on the south-east shore of the lake, in what seemed to be a semi-official but entirely free of charge campsite. There were toilet facilities, a dishwashing and grilling block, and a big parking area. But there was no office, no signpost, and nobody collecting camping fees. A family with a huge frame tent were set up in the woods, and not far from them were a group of younger people with small dome tents. We chose a quiet spot where the grass of the woods merged with the sand of the beach and set up our tents.

Our tents, at the edge of the grass and the sandy beach.

Our tents, at the edge of the grass and the sandy beach.

Eric grilling alongside Mt Bandai and Lake Inawashiro.

Eric grilling alongside Mt Bandai and Lake Inawashiro.

Bikes, tents, beautiful scenery: it's why we do what we do.

Bikes, tents, beautiful scenery: it’s why we do what we do.

Our barbecue was a feast: spiced belly pork; a whole chicken, spatchcocked, Jamacian jerk style; gourmet sausages; tender beef steak; garlic prawn and chorizo skewers; whole mackerel; langoustines. We played cards and drank beer as the sun went down.

Mist rolled across the lake at dawn, hiding the mountain from us.

Mist rolled across the lake at dawn, hiding the mountain from us.

The red buttons are hot drinks, the blue buttons are cold drinks. Let's have a coffee!

The red buttons are hot drinks, the blue buttons are cold drinks. Let’s have a coffee!

Our campsite was at the 5 o'clock position on the lake.

Our campsite was at the 5 o’clock position on the lake.

The next day we decided to go home a different way, so as to get to know two routes through the hills. We took local route 6, which is more direct, but goes through a long-ish tunnel. We climbed gently from the lakeside, stopping a vending machine for a hot coffee, and soon arrived at the start of the tunnel. A narrow pavement meant we pushed our bikes the full 1365m of its length. Once we’d cleared the tunnel, it was downhill all the way home. We stopped for sandwiches made from barbecue leftovers, and let gravity guide us back to our front door.

The tunnel took us through, rather than over, the hills.

The tunnel took us through, rather than over, the hills.

Tunnels often have decorative metalwork at the entrances and exits. Can motorists see them, or are they going too fast?

Tunnels often have decorative metalwork at the entrances and exits. Can motorists see them, or are they going too fast?

The metalwork boats on this tunnel wall show that the lake is on the other side.

The metalwork boats on this tunnel wall show that the lake is on the other side.

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May Diary

The highlight of our month was a Coast to Coast tour across Honshu. We booked a little time off work, and spent a week travelling through Fukushima, Miyagi, Yamagata and Niigata prefectures. Our route took us over some tough hills, and through some pretty hairy tunnels. The fields of rural Japan were finally waking up to springtime, and the last of the cherry blossoms were slowly fading away. We had the chance to try out all of our gear, with our rainwear getting an especially thorough test in the wet conditions at the end of the week. Despite the bad weather, we had a wonderful time. If you’d like to read more about it, you can see out CGOAB diary here, and a set of photos we put onto Flickr here.

We left the bikes against this pile of wood at the harbour, and climbed up to look at the sea

We left the bikes against this pile of wood at the harbour, and climbed up to look at the sea


We’ve also been on several day rides. The botanical gardens at Sukagawa are only a short hop away down the river, so we invited some other English teachers from our area to join us for a group excursion and picnic. It was a beautiful day, as you can see from the photos at our gallery page here. We also went out for a couple of afternoon rides, including a fully loaded training ride to Miharu Dam, and a quick dash along the Konan highway. It feels very satisfying to say that we have been out on our bikes every weekend this month.

When we’ve not been riding our bikes, we’ve been busy planning our summer tour to Hokkaido. Japan’s northernmost main island has a cooler climate than the rest of the country, and is a very popular cycle touring destination during the humid summer months. We’re planning to meet up with our friends Clare and Andy, who live just outside Sapporo. They are also keen cycle tourists, so we’re looking forward to riding with them for a few days. There’s a little more information about our plans so far at this page, including a few interesting links to do with cycle touring in Hokkaido. We’ll add an updated plan as we make more choices nearer the time.

Warm Showers is a hospitality exchange network for cycle tourists all over the world. We signed up as hosts in February, and this month we had our first hospitality request. We’re really excited about hosting Amaya and Eric from World Biking as they travel through Japan. Eric and Amaya are on a quest to cycle in every country on the planet, and we’re glad to be able to support the Japan leg of their epic mission.

Tom Bruce’s amazing journey through the harsh Karakalpakstan desert featured in our March reading list. This month he released his book, Every Inch of the Way: My Bike Ride Around the World, and we couldn’t wait to get our hands on it. Our review is available here.

June is another busy month for us. As well as hosting Amaya and Eric, we’re participating in the charity cycling event Cycle Aid Japan 2013, so we’re riding around Lake Inawashiro on June 8th, and then from Inawashiro town to Fukushima city on June 9th. We’re cycling out to meet some friends for a spot of lakeside camping on June 1st and 2nd, and on June 15th and 16th we’re going on a road trip to Akita. In June we’ll also be putting together a more detailed plan for our trip to Hokkaido, and picking up any extra gear we need for our summer trip.

Reading List

This month’s reading list includes an amazing touring story. We also develop the discussion of some topics we’ve covered in previous posts, and look at a new one.

Our pick of the month is a tour journal across Lake Baikal in Siberia. Andy and Waltraud cycled on the frozen surface of the lake for more than 1000km, in temperatures that reached 40 degrees below freezing. Their site includes videos and kit lists. Jaw-dropping stuff.

Further to the article by Shane Cycles about touring with folding bikes in our April reading list, we recommend looking at Tom Allen’s assessment of touring on the Tern Link P24h folding bike.

We talked about cycling with technology in a Cycle Touring Question of the Week recently. There’s a comprehensive breakdown of dynamo hubs, solar panels, power supplies and batteries over at Cycling About. If a fuller exploration of cycle tourists’ charging options exists, we’ve yet to find it.

The Adventure Cycling Association wrote an interesting piece for cycle tourists on how to be a good guest.

Finally, we recommend checking out Japan By Bicycle, an excellent touring journal. As well as a blog, the site includes a video documentary and a free 300 page ebook. It’s easy to get lost in all the detail they’ve included.

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Honshu Coast to Coast – Gallery (part 2)

Here are some more pictures from our Honshu coast to coast trip that we made at the start of the month. You can read our quick report here, and our Crazy Guy on a Bike journal for the trip here. These pictures cover the second half of our trip. If you haven’t already, you should check out part one as well.

The shadowy outline of Mt Zao in the early morning

The shadowy outline of Mt Zao in the early morning

Dave on the Yamabiko Suspension Bridge

Dave on the Yamabiko Suspension Bridge

Resting by an oilseed field in the foothills of Mt Zao

Resting by an oilseed field in the foothills of Mt Zao

The Nametsu Otaki falls

The Nametsu Otaki falls

The flowers of the mizubasho bloom only during late April and early May: we'd come at exactly the right time for them.

The flowers of the mizubasho bloom only during late April and early May: we’d come at exactly the right time for them.

The three-tiered pagoda at Takahata dates back to the Muromachi era.

The three-tiered pagoda at Takahata dates back to the Muromachi era.

The manager of the ryokan gave us a gift. Doburoku is homebrew style sake, with a soupy texture and a sweet taste.

The manager of the ryokan gave us a gift. Doburoku is homebrew style sake, with a soupy texture and a sweet taste.

Leaving our stealth camping location

Leaving our stealth camping location

We left the bikes against this pile of wood at the harbour, and climbed up to look at the sea

We left the bikes against this pile of wood at the harbour, and climbed up to look at the sea

The Sea of Japan, our final destination

The Sea of Japan, our final destination

Celebrating reaching the Sea of Japan

Celebrating reaching the Sea of Japan

Bikes are permitted on most Japanese trains, but they must be packed into a bag

Bikes are permitted on most Japanese trains, but they must be packed into a bag

Part two of two. You can see part one here.

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Honshu Coast to Coast – Gallery (part 1)

Here are some pictures from our Honshu coast to coast trip that we made at the start of the month. You can read our quick report here, and our Crazy Guy on a Bike journal for the trip here. These pictures cover the first half of our trip. Check out part two as well.

Pulling on a rain jacket just outside Koriyama.

Pulling on a rain jacket just outside Koriyama.

In Japan, decorative manhole covers are everywhere

In Japan, decorative manhole covers are everywhere

A tunnel next to the Abukuma river

A tunnel next to the Abukuma river

Lunch between two bridges at Marumori

Lunch between two bridges at Marumori

Our spot at the campsite looked over the rocky creek below

Our spot at the campsite looked over the rocky creek below

The curve of the tunnels makes it difficult to judge how far you've travelled, and how much further you have to go

The curve of the tunnels makes it difficult to judge how far you’ve travelled, and how much further you have to go

The path up to Shiroishi Castle was lit by sixty or so of these lanterns

The path up to Shiroishi Castle was lit by sixty or so of these lanterns

Shiroishi Castle

Shiroishi Castle

A mountain stream between Shiroishi and Yonezawa

A mountain stream between Shiroishi and Yonezawa

We saw this sign on Tuesday afternoon, and visted most of what it pointed to over the next 24 hours.

We saw this sign on Tuesday afternoon, and visted most of what it pointed to over the next 24 hours.

The cooking shelter at the Bungalow Village

The cooking shelter at the Bungalow Village

The Minamizao Alpine Bungalow Village, where we were the only guests

The Minamizao Alpine Bungalow Village, where we were the only guests

Move to part two.

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Honshu Coast to Coast – Tour Report

We took our new bikes on their maiden tour during Golden Week. Our route took us to the Pacific Ocean near Watari, and then across Honshu to the Sea of Japan at Murakami. Conditions were mixed, flat and hilly, warm and cold, wet and dry. We rode 375km in seven days. From difficulties we faced, we learned a lot, and there were some amazing highlights. This is a summary of our trip. We wrote up a day-by-day journal for Crazy Guy On a Bike, so if you want more detail, please click here.

Leaving directly after work on Saturday, we rode into the night to get from Koriyama to our friend’s house in Date. Riding in the dark wasn’t much fun, but it meant we could start our next day in relatively unfamiliar territory. From Date we headed north-east towards the Pacfic, following the stunning Abukuma river, and camping by a rocky creek near Marumori. We rode to the Pacific the next day. Watari district suffered severe damage as a result of the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami, and though reconstruction work has started, there was still a tangible sadness in the air. We turned west, and climbed up towards the castle town of Shiroishi. Climbing continued on Tuesday, as we followed route 113 into the hills of southern Miyagi, and through several harrowing tunnels, towards the vast dam at Shichikashuku.

Day 02 Two Shot

The second half of our trip began with some sightseeing. We visited most of the signed tourist attractions that we passed on Wednesday morning: a stunning suspension bridge; dramatic waterfalls; a marsh full of pale calla lillies; an ancient triple pagoda. We faced headwinds and rain in the afternoon, and were exhausted when we arrived at our campsite, only to discover that it had been abandoned long ago. We took refuge that night at an onsen-ryokan in Iide town, soothing our muscles in hot mineral baths. The rain didn’t let up at all the next day, as we left Yamagata and entered Niigata. We camped in a carefully chosen and well-hidden spot close to a parking area, only to meet two friendly guys with a similar plan, except that they didn’t bother trying to disguise that they were camping. We were shattered, and soaked, so we didn’t accept their offer of a drinking party that night. In the morning they brought us coffee as we packed away out tent. Our final day was an easy downhill cruise to the Sea of Japan at Murakami. We were almost too tired to celebrate, but we had finished our coast to coast journey.

Celebrating reaching the Sea of Japan

Celebrating reaching the Sea of Japan

We learned a lot on this trip. We’d tested most of our equipment before setting off, but it was illuminating to see how well it functioned in the bad weather we faced at the end of the week. Based on how we slept, for example, it’s clear that Laura needs a thermal sleeping bag liner to keep her cosy on colder nights. Our concerns about stealth camping have considerably diminished since we spent the night at the same parking area as the two friendly men. In spite of the difficult conditions we faced – bad weather, tough climbs, terrifying tunnels – our mental fortitude held true. At our lowest points, we supported each other. The highlights were accentuated as we shared them. The most important thing we took on the trip was each other.

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Abukuma River Ride – Gallery

On Sunday, we invited other English teachers in our city to join us for a relaxed ride along the river.

This kind of city bike is really popular in Japan. It's called a mama-chari, a granny bike.

This kind of city bike is really popular in Japan. It’s called a mama-chari, a granny bike.

JamesJussi

Best t-shirt of the day prize goes to Kristin

Best t-shirt of the day prize goes to Kristin

GroupPond

The breakaway now has a lead of 1"27 on the main peleton

The breakaway now has a lead of 1″27 on the main peleton

Fixing a snakebite puncture.

Fixing a snakebite puncture.

picnic1

Ride in the sun, eat in the shade. Life is good.

Ride in the sun, eat in the shade. Life is good.

Tori

These caves were carved into the rock next to the cycle path.

These caves were carved into the rock next to the cycle path.

Our destination: a botanical garden famous for its peonies.

Our destination: a botanical garden famous for its peonies.

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