Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Day 19 Lake Shikotsu to Atsubetsu (Sapporo)

Wednesday 27 June   Day 19
Lake Shikotsu to Atsubetsu (Sapporo)    (73km) total 1693km

I had a great sleep last night, tucked up inside my tent on the lake-front, and was ready to get started early (7:30am) so that I could make it to Ken and Katsumi’s place before mid-day (definitely before 2pm, because their daughter had a music recital then and nobody would be home until the evening).

 It was a lovely ride away from the lake to Chitose – through the woods and along a cycle-path that runs along-side Route 13 from Lake Shikotsu to Chitose.  Although, there was a rather stern reminder along the way that one might encounter a bear along the cycle road!

From Chitose, the roads became busier as I headed towards Sapporo but I pulled off the road and onto the Kitohiroshima cycle road at Kitohiroshima – it is a brilliant cycleway that runs from Sapporo City to Kitohiroshima – over 20km – and was well-used by cyclists and walkers.  The cycle road took me almost all the way to Shin-Sapporo station, with only a few kilometres back onto the road as I approached the station.  From the station, it was easy to follow Google Maps to Ken’s house, where I arrived around 11:15pm J

So, it took around 2 hours to cycle from New Chitose airport to Atsubetsu if I decide to cycle to the airport on Friday… I am still undecided.

After having a delicious lunch of miso soup, grilled salmon, rice and steamed greens, Katsumi and daughter left for the music recital, and I went for a walk to the nearby park, just to get some fresh air and a walk in the sunshine.  Tomorrow, I’ll catch the train into Sapporo city and check it out!

Day 18 Lake Toya to Lake Shikotsu

Tuesday 26 June   Day 18
Lake Toya to Lake Shikotsu  (92 km) total 1620

Last night camping on holiday, and last full day of cycling!  I had a really good day today, cycling between lakes: the weather was perfect – even a little too hot when cycling over some of the passes – and I followed a beautiful scenic route without too much traffic. Lovely!  And who can complain when you wake up to this (left)?

I had a nice relaxed start to the day and had a beautiful start with a cycle around the rest of Lake Toya and up a rather steep road out of the lake area.  I cycled through farmland and right alongside Mt Niseko until calling into the service centre at Rusutsu for a mid-morning break. I had a delicious strawberry gelato/ice, which was perfect on a hot morning. 
Then I continued cycling through beautiful mountains, and over a 600m pass to the service centre in Otaki for a delicious lunch of ramen/vege soup and curry rice.  Yum!   After returning to my bike, a cycle tourer from Taiwan, Lee, pulled in and we chatted for a little while – he had only just arrived this morning and had cycled from New Chitose airport!  He was travelling light, with two very small panniers and a backpack on an aluminium racing bike (Scott) and was going to stay in hotels so he wouldn’t need any camping/cooking equipment and could do laundry at the end of each day.  He was planning to cycle all the way to Muruoa, but as it was 2pm already and he still had 65km (to Toya Spa) and a significant pass to climb, I advised him to stay at Lake Toya Spa – it was very beautiful (much more beautiful than a port town, surely!) and had plenty of hotel options.  Hopefully he took my advice, otherwise he would have been riding into the night!
 Tonight I am staying at a campground right on the lake front of Lake Shikotsu.  It is really beautiful and has quite good facilities.  Plus, it is only 60km to Atsubetsu tomorrow!

Day 17 Tomakomai to Lake Toya

Monday 25 June  Day 17

Tomakomai to Lake Toya (97km)  Total 1528km

A fairly relaxed start to the day (after staying up to midnight skyping, blogging, emailing, and route-planning!) ended up resulting in a loooong day in and out of the saddle, only arriving at the camp-site at Lake Toya just before 6pm!  Plus, I saw a bear!

The hotel breakfast was quite good, and I ended up sharing a table with a nice man called Tsukioka-san from Tokyo, who was in Tomakomai for business.  We had quite a good chat, and he was very interested in my cycling around Hokkaido, because he had motorcycled around Hokkaido almost 20 years ago.  He even invited me to lunch, although I had to decline because I knew I had a jam-packed day planned already.  I was really tempted, though – he was going to a seafood restaurant… At any rate, Tsukioka provided me with his contact details and asked me to please let him know if I was in Tokyo, because he would like to catch up again and take me to lunch or dinner.  I gave him a postcard with my details J.

Today I was really interested in going to the Ainui village and cultural museum in Shiraoi.  I am so glad that I went – it was fascinating and I spent over 90minutes looking at the restored village and museum displays… I even got to see three bears (in cages, but still scary!).  I would certainly recommend a visit to Shiraoi to anyone staying in Sapporo or Niseko.  Ohh, and there is a café in the village that sells Hokkaido ice cream – how could I resist?  It was noon already and I still had 20km before reaching Noboribetsu for lunch…

I then cycled straight down the coast to Noboribetsu, a cute mountain-town where I had a yummy lunch of katsu pork, rice and curry sauce at a café near the station.  Yum!  By now it was 2pm.

Then, the real work began… a 22km climb on the way up to Sobetsu/Lake Toya (50km from Noboribetsu).  It was tough, with many sections 9-10% gradients. It took me 2 hours to climb and I drank 1 litre of water.  But, the view from the top was amazing and the ride down was exhilarating!  It was after 5pm by the time I rolled into Sobetsu, but luckily the information/service centre was still open and they were able to advise me on campgrounds around the lake.  Unfortunately the one in town was closed, so I needed to travel a further 10km (in either direction around the lake) in order to reach a campground.  Not really what I wanted to hear, seeing as I was feeling very ready to stop for the day.  Even more unfortunate, the shop in the service centre had turned off their soft-serve machine, so I had to settle for a packaged ice cream instead sob. 

By the time I limped into the recommended campground, it was 6pm, and I was DONE.  Happily, there was a really nice lady at the shop administering the campground and onsen.  So, I quickly pitched my tent and headed for the onsen to clean up and relax. Ahhhh! 

It was only when I returned to my tent just after sunset that I appreciated how beautiful this campground is!  It is right on the lakefront, and just has the most stunning view across to the islend in the moddle of the lake, mountains in the back ground, and at night you can see the lights from the villages on either end of the lake.  Beautiful!  It really is a special place.
Tomorrow is my last day cycling and camping before I return to Sapporo.  It seems to have passed so quickly, although I am really happy about how much of the island I have managed to cover.

Day 16 Hidaka to Tomakomai

Sunday 24 June  Day 16
Hidaka to Tomakomai (109km) Total 1431 

Despite the continual rain, I had a great sleep in my tent.  I must have been tired after the big climb yesterday!  I made the decision to cycle to Tomakomai this morning – I was looking for a town that was likely to have a hotel, around 100km away…

The cycle through the mountains to Mukawa was really scenic and lovely… lots of ups and down (although thankfully, more downs) and hardly any traffic.  From Mukawa to Tomakamai, I followed Route 38, which had a bit more traffic and was a bit less scenic, but still quite a nice ride. 

It was easy to find my way to Tomakomai station, and I immediately saw a Route Inn Hotel (the same as I had stayed in at Kusharo).  Unfortunately, they were fully booked up, but the Toyako Hotel just down the street could offer a reasonably priced single room.  It was 2:45, and check-in was at 4pm, so I left my bags and bicycle at the hotel, got changes into street-clothes, and went for a walk around the station and mall next door.  The mall had a supermarket, which was fun to look around (and I bought a delicious seaweed salad), and a western-style coffee shop where I was able to get a very nice latte to sip while killing some time reading.

The Hotel itself was really comfortable – a nice room, laundry facilities, and I found out that the price even included dinner (quite good curry rice), in addition to a decent breakfast.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Days 14 and 15: Kushiro to Hidaka

Friday  22 June  Day 14  Kushiro to Ikeda  (102km)  (Total 1211km)
Saturday  23 June  Day 15 Ikeda to Hidaka  (111km)  (Total 1322km)

Two long and rainy days rolled into one report!

The cycle from Kushiro to Urahoro was along an up-and-down and relatively busy road, but usually with a generous side-lane to cycle in.  The coast line between Kusharo and Onbetsu was particularly beautiful with relatively rough seas that had attracted brave surfers.

I was lucky to meet a Japanese cyclist (kyoo – sp?) from Osaka just as I pulled into the service centre at Urahoro for lunch (at 1pm, and I was starving!).  He spoke pretty good English and asked me if I wanted to join him for lunch at the adjoining restaurant to discuss our cycle trips, and I was delighted to do so!  He had been cycling in Hokkaido for four weeks, and had covered a lot of ground in that time.

He didn’t have a Hokkaido Touring Mapple, so was interested to check how far he was from Kushiro (almost 70km, unfortunately for him!) and see if there were any camp-sites along the way (there was one about 20km out of Kushiro).  We had a nice lunch (Katsu pork & salad set-meal for me!)  and said farewell.

The ride into Ikeda was lovely along Route 73, so there was hardly any traffic, although there were some steep up-down hills that taxed my weary legs all the way into Ikeda.  I didn’t know, but Ikeda produces wine and the information site in town is a “wine castle”, which is certainly worth popping into for those cycling past.  There was lots of yummy food on offer (including soft-serve ice cream and wine tastings/sales) I brought a small bag of semi-dried apples, which were delicious, and got directions to the town campsite from the helpful information desk.  

The campsite was basic, but included a clearly marked camping area, running water for washing up, and clean (squat) toilets.  There was a Japanese motorcyclist sharing the site with me, which I always prefer to camping alone.

Although the day had included some light drizzle, I was lucky that it didn’t start to really rain until the late evening.

Saturday morning started off drizzly and did not let up all day as I cycled from Ikeda to Hidaka. 

The 15km or so from Ikeda to Makubetsu were along a quiet road, but from Makubetsu to Shimizu, I followed the busy Route 38 (including through Obihiro).  There was generally a good side-lane to cycle in, but I never really enjoy cycling with lots of cars – I need to concentrate on my position on the road far to much to enjoy the sights and sounds I pass by along the way. 

Luckily, the cycle from Shimizu to Hidaka was along a less busy stretch of road, but included a significant Mountain mass (1050m+), which I did not know about in advance!  The cycle up the pass took a long time (90minutes+ climbing) but was not too difficult with a general ~6% gradient.  Once at the top of the pass, and on the way down, there were a lot of tunnels! 

Once in Hidika, I decided that I was cold, wet, and tired enough to justify a night in a Hotel, so called into the only Hotel in town.  Unfortunately, they were booked solid and the only other Hotel nearby was 15km away… so I decided to stick to my original plan and stay at the family campsite in town.  It is inexpensive (¥400) and includes well-landscaped camping areas, nice bathrooms, clean wash-up facilities, and a sheltered dining area.  Once I go my tent all set up, boiled some water to have a pigeon-shower in my tent, and put on some fresh and dry clothes, I don’t mind camping tonight :)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Day 13 Kawayu to Kushiro

Thursday 21 June
Day 13: Kawayu to Kushiro 108km (total 1109km)

I have had to alter my plans to stay at lake-side camp sites over the past two days because of rainy weather - while I don't mind cycling in the cold rain, I really feel that I need a hot shower and a warm dry roof over my head!

So, I am in Kusharo tonight - It is quite a large city, really, and has a good range of accommodation options. I am staying in a really nice hotel (Route Inn Hotel) in the inner-city (right across from the JR Station) for only ¥4900, and that includes breakfast!  Seriously, this is one of the nicest and definitely the best value hotels I have stayed in!  I am very happy after cycling 108km in cold and rainy conditions.

I cycled up to the viewing platform at Lake Mashu (20km round-trip) yesterday after leaving my panniers in my Hotel room, but it was very cloudy and I couldn't see much of the lake (which is a shame, it is supposedly one of the clearest lakes in the world). This morning, I cycled along Lake Kussharo on my way out of Kawayu and towards Teshikaga.  Even though it was rainy, it was a nice ride.

I am becoming quite aware that I need to move slowly but steadily towards Sapporo now, as I only have 6 days left of this holiday.  I am a bit sad to leave Japan behind soon, but also looking forward to seeing people on my return to Adelaide, and getting back into writing my thesis!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Day 12 Utoro to Kawayu

Wednesday 20 June 

Day 12 Utoro to Kawayu  78km (total 1001km)

Today was a fun and very pleasant day.  I decided that I could easily make it down to Akan NP today. So, I left Utoro around 8am and was cycling through Shari before 10am. Definitely in the mood to keep going!

I followed Route 1115 for most of the journey between Shari and Kawayu, and found it to be a really scenic and pleasant road.  Joining onto 391, I spun my way up Nogami Pass and down to the Kawayu turn-off.  Nogami Pass is not high nor a particularly steep gradient; it is just quite long.

I took a quick spin around Kawaya to find the tourist information office (closed), but ended bumping into a Korean girl who was travelling around Japan on holiday (bus/train/lift from kind strangers).  We could only chat for a while, ‘cause she had a bus to catch, but she recommended a hotel and noodle-restaurant to me and had a general talk about our itineraries.  She said that she had been to Reben Island (off Wakkanai) in winter and it was freezing!

So, I was able to leave my bike and bags at the hotel (it was 1:15pm, check-in at 3pm) and went into town to eat!  The town itself is really sleepy and a bit run-down looking.  There were many souvenir shops, but most looked to be closed, and they were all selling carved wood products.  The restaurant was really nice – a little family restaurant.  The menu was all in Japanese, so I couldn’t understand some of the foods, but went for a curry soba with vegetables and chicken.  It was amazing!

Afterwards I went to the Akan natural museum, which had a bunch of interesting displays about the park and lakes (Kusharo and Mashu), and then soaked my feet for a while at the hot-springs foot bath – it was really hot, maybe 45degrees, which was awesome, ‘cause it is cold in Kawayu (11.5degrees at 2pm)

The hotel I am staying in is okay… it is old, although reasonably nicely refurbished.  It is probably a bit expensive for what it is (¥8150), but it includes some sort of "Hot Spring tax" that the hotel has to pay to be sited in a National Park and the price does include dinner and breakfast, so I’ll hold my judgment until after eating!

Update: okay probably worth every penny.  Dinner was a buffet, with freshly-cooked main (I chose grilled whole fish, but could have had steamed salmon or beef steak).  I imagine that breakfast will be awesome too. Yay!

Day 11 Memanbetsu to Utoro (Shiritoko NP)

Tuesday 19 June
Day 11  Memanbetsu to Utoro (Shiritoko NP)  90km (total 923km)

A beautiful ride today, with great variety; rolling farmland and off the main road for the first 30km out of Memanbetsu, then straight stretches (with rough head-wind) for the following 30km into Shari, then beautiful coastal riding  along the Okhotsk sea to Utoro. Beautiful!

Along the way, I called into the Shari service centre and got a yummy crème brulé soft serve ice cream. Yum! 

About 10km out from Utoro, I pulled over to see the Oshin Koshin falls, which were very unique and beautiful.  Apparently, they are a famous feature of Shiritoko National Park, and deservedly so!
When I reached Utoro, I called into the service centre to browse at the food and souvenirs for sale, when I bumped into the Lovely Japanese guy who I had met at the Forest Campground, and again in Hamantonbetsu!  He actually came up behind me, and seemed very happy to see me!  We sat down for a little while and he asked about my progress (was impressed by how much distance I have covered), and he said that he and his wife had been at Shiritoko for a few days, waiting for a fine day to take a bear-spotting cruise.  They had done that in the morning, and he reported seeing several bears (Eeek!).

I am staying at the Shritoko Kyampu-Jo site tonight, which is lovely and grassy, with a short and scenic bushwalk nearby with lovely views of the sea and harbor.   It is only ¥400/night and there is a really nice onsen just down the road, which I enjoyed visiting to clean off the day’s dirt and sweat (¥500).

Ohhh, also I went into town to look around and buy some dinner (7/11 sandwiches!), and when I went to the Shiritoko Natural History museum I was met by a very kind and enthusiastic young guy (name), who spoke good English and helped me out by providing some English-language guidebooks, including a “National Parks of Japan”.  He was really excited to hear that I am Australian, and showed me his “Australia” key-ring and said that he really wanted to travel to Australia for holiday.  So, I provided my contact details and said I would love to catch up if he comes to Adelaide.
I managed to get a beautiful sunset photo of the sun setting over Utoro harbour, from the campsite.  It really is a stunning part of Japan.

I was only really planning to cycle back to Shari tomorrow, but 30km might be too little effort for me (!).  I may make it down to Akan National Park… perhaps I should have booked a morning-tour somewhere into Shiritoko… should have thought about it this afternoon!

 Eeep – there are lots of deer around the campsite this evening, making walking, gentle braying and munching sounds!  I know that they are harmless, but I hat the noises in the night.  This little girl was right next to my tent when I returned from brushing my teeth!

Day 10 Monbetsu to Memanbetsu

Day 10 Monday 18 June
Monbetsu to Memanbetsu (via Abashiri)  121km (total 833km)

Another long day in the saddle.  I had actually intended to overnight at Abashiri, but after finding that the campsite was right next to the main road, and having energy to spare, I checked the Touring Mapple and found a campsite right next to an onsen and on the lake-front at Memanbetsu (only 14km away).

So, I spent the night in Memanbetsu, and had a lovely soak in the local public onsen after setting up my tent.

Today had a variety of scenery:  (dairy) farmlands and coastlines.    I stopped at a Service centre about 20km from Tokoro and bought a pumpkin and vanilla swirl ice cream – it was delicious, and even had a sprinkling of toasted pumpkin seeds!  Along this coast, there appear to be lots of these service centres, which have a bunch of stores selling food and souvenirs.   There is always a vendor selling Hokkaido soft-serve ice cream, which is particularly good ice cream!

Also, there was a 25km cycle path from Tokoro to Abashiri (just keep following route 238 out of Tokoro and you’ll find it at the top of the hill out of town – it is well sign-posted), which made for a pleasant change of pace off the road.  I was able to zone out a bit and not focus so much on where I am on the road :) 

The weather was looking a bit dicey through Tokoro, and so-so as I entered Abashiri, so I was not sure as to whether I should tent or stay at a hotel.  Happily, I decided to err on the side of optimism and took the camping option – there was no rain and not too cold overnight, either.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Day 9 - Hamatonbetsu to Monbetsu

Sunday 17 June

Day 9 Hamatonbetsu to Monbetsu km (total km)

Today was a little longer than expected, because of rain.  I had initially intended to stay at a campsite  about 40km out of Monbetsu, that had an onsen right next to it but the weather closed in this afternoon and I decided to just continue on to Monbetsu and find shelter in a hotel.

The ride was along the North coast, with some little fishing villages along the way.  There seems to be an abundance of crabs on offer around this coast... yum!  I didn't take many photos, unfortunately - the coastline looks rather bleak and it was raining quite heavily for most of the ride, so I was really just foccused on arriving in Monbetsu and taking a warm shower.  There was a ship moored on land with rest-rooms/icecream/snacks just outside of Esashi...

Im staying at the Monbetsu Prince Hotel - it is really nice and very reasonably priced (¥6,150 incl breakfast).  It has a laundry to wash and dry my wet clothes, internet access (yay!) and an onsen (a shame that I probably won't use it). 

Unfortunately, I wasn't feeling very hungry tonight, so just popped over to the 7/11 for a Hokkaido icecream (coffee and caramel - yum!)... I really should be eating crab but I am just not hungry enough to order a full meal. Maybe tomorrow night.

Day 8 - Rishiri Island-Wakkanai-Hamantonbetsu (via Toyatomi)

Saturday 16 June

Day 8 Rishiri Island-Wakkanai-Hamantonbetsu (via Toyatomi)  92km (Total 683km)

Today was a long but fun day – I met a Japanese cycle tourist (Taro) while waiting for the Ferry on Rishiri Island, and chatted to him on the ferry.  We were both headed for opposite coasts, so decided to cycle together for 20km along a central-route out of Wakkanai, before heading off in different directions.  Taro is a structural engineer (earthquake safety), but hopes to move into photography, so he is taking lots of photos on his cycle through Hokkaido and Honshu.

 After we had said our farewells, I had a couple more kilometres along Route 40, before I intended to turn towards the North-East coast line. However, the road I had planned to take to cut across to Hamatonbetsu ended up being a mororway, which prohibited bicycles, so I had to cycle all the way to Toyatomi in order to follow the old road to Hamatonbetsu.  No worries.  It ended up being a bit of a blessing, really - 48km with very few cars and some nice climbs and descents through the middle of the island.

Because I took the ferry back to Wakkanai in the morning, I didn't start cycling until 10:45am, so it was around 4pm by the time I arrived in Hamatonbetsu, which felt like a really long day.

However, once I arrived at Hamatonbetsu and wheeled down to the camp-site by the lake, I saw a group of American English teachers who were playing volleyball/eating/drinking at the park, so I wandered over to say “hi” and ended up joining them for a couple of hours of volleyball and BBQ dinner/drinks afterwards.  It was really fun, and I slept very soundly after a few drinks :)

Day 7 - Wakkanai to Rishiri Island

Friday 15 June 2012  

Day 7 – Wakkanai to Rishiri Island

It was cold this morning, so a little difficult to get out of my sleeping bag this morning in order to make it to the ferry on time (departing 7:30am).  I packed my things, had a quick breakfast with the Danish guy (Lars??) and then was off to the ferry terminal with not a minute to spare!

I made it just in time to comfortably wheel my bike onto the vehicle deck, ensure that it was strapped down tight, and be escorted up to the passenger deck.  I got a 2nd class ticket, which is actually quite comfortable – there is a choice of  seated or japanese-style floor lounges to choose from.  I guess that first-class passengers have their own cabins or just nicer lounges… 2nd class is fine for me!

Rishiri Island was beautiful.  It has a large snow-capped volcano at its centre, called Rishiri-Fuji, which you can climb up.  I decided to walk along a 12km path through the bush around part of the island instead. 

The camp-site I stayed at was very nice too, with toilet and cooking facilities and well manicured lawns for pitching my tent.  Plus, it was right across the road from a public onsen so, after getting back from my bush-walk in the afternoon, I walked across and got super-clean!  For the most part, I was the only other woman in the women’s onsen, so that was quite nice. 

Again, it was a very cold night, but I have plenty of warm clothing and a good sleeping-bag, so I was cozy inside my tent.

I have been so fortunate to have good weather during this holiday.  Only one rainy day and a few blue-sky days even!  Long may the good weather continue!

Day 6 - Hamatonbetsu to Wakkanai via Cape Soya

Thursday 14 June 2012 

Day 6 - Hamatonbetsu – Wakkanai via Cape Soya  105km (Total 591km)

I had a good start to the day, with a Japanese breakfast (a large piece of smoked trout, pickled vegetables, and heaps of rice), and was away from Hamantonbetsu around 8:45am.

The cycle to Cape Soya (61km) was not difficult, but was a bit boring.  I was very fortunate and did not have much wind at all and although initially cloudy, the day shaped up to be fine and clear.  There were lots of straight stretches of coast-line and small fishing villages along the way.  Even mid-summer it was really quite cold.  I cannot imagine how hard the winters must be for people who live in these fishing villages.
Cape Soya was not anything too interesting.  I had my photo taken outside the monument to mark the northern-most point of Japan, but other than that, it was just a good spot for lunch – there was a nice grassy patch of grass, a souvenir shop and some food shops too.  Even though it was a relatively clear day, I could not see Russia J

I didn’t stay long – there were bus loads of tourists arriving every 10 minutes or so and it was a bit cold when not cycling.

The cycle into Wakkanai was also not very interesting… it was a much larger city than I had imagined, and you needed to go right through the industrial part before arriving at the city-proper.  On the way into town I saw a McDonalds and though that they would probably have WiFi, but they didn’t.  Quite a disappointment since I have pretty much been unable to access internet on this holiday :(

At Wakkanai, I went to the train station to get directions to the camping site in town, and stock up on some food from a convenience store.  The camping site was easy to find, but up a steep hill (of course!).  At the convenience store, I stocked up on the usual stuff – bread, candy etc, but also got a pot of peanut-caramel, which I had initially guessed was peanut butter.  It was delicious!  I'll definitely be buying more during my stay in Japan!

The camp-site was easy to find, but up a steep hill.  It was a very nice camp-site with well-groomed lawns and some friendly Japanese motorcyclists already camping out. 

After dinner, I ran into a Danish guy who was also camping out in the park, and had been in town in the afternoon at the Onsen and buying SeicoMart dinner. He had done a fortnight-long internship at a Japanese-English newspaper in Tokyo (he is a journalism student in Denmark) and had been hitch-hiking around Hokkaido for the past two weeks. 

It was a really cold night, but with beautiful clear skies, I could see all the northern-hemisphere stars… Lovely!

Day 5 Forest Campground to Hamatonbetsu

Wednesday 13 June 2012 

Day 5 Forest Campground to Hamatonbetsu 61km (total: 486)

It ended up being 61km to Hamatonbetsu and with a strong head wind for some of the way, I made it into town at 12:45pm (~3:45 cycling time), and was happy to make it a “short-day” and stay in Hamatonbetsu.

It was very cold this morning, starting out at 8:45am, and I needed long-gloves and a beanie, in addition to arm-warmers and wind/rain-proof jacket!  Luckily I warmed up after 30mins or so, and took off the gloves & beanie. Although I feel cold, it is in fact summer here - it is hard to imagine how cold it gets in winter around these parts - -35 to -40 degrees C is not uncommon!

It was a nice mountainous ride for the first half, and then the mountains opened up to flat and fertile dairying land.  Unfortunately when out of the mountains, the wind really picks up, and I had a head-wind for much of the second-half of the ride.

Tonight I am staying at a proper Japanese Ryokan!  It is right on the lake-front and, although I feel a little guilty for not camping on a nice, clear evening, it is such a good opportunity that I couldn’t pass it up.  Plus, I am feeling a bit gungy and really wanted to get clean.  Unfortunately, the hotel does not have internet, but they do have an onsen!  In fact, there is no shower or proper bathroom in a Japanese Tatami room at all! 

 So, with some reluctance, I went to the onsen (It is my first time! What if I bungle something and am culturally offensive?)  The risk of embarrassment is always greater if you are naked!.  However, I needn’t have been worried – my time spent swimming has erased any naked-in-the-change room-awkwardness, so it is just one further step to go sans-bathers into the pool [onsen] anyway!  I washed my hair and face and made a big deal of scrubbing my legs so the Japanese ladies cautiously watching me could be assured that it was a tan, not dirt, before clumping into the onsen. Ohhh Yeah! It was hot and relaxing and awesome! 

Dinner was great too – a real selection of Japanese foods, with pickles, small containers of hot and cold seafood dishes, boiling water to cook raw vegetables, tofu and fish in and a mountain of rice to eat it all with!  I am already looking forward to breakfast!

Also, funny coincidence for the day – I couldn’t check into my Ryokan room until 3pm so had 90mins+ to kill, so I went to the SeicoMart to buy lunch then took it back to the Lake where I could sit at a picnic table and eat and chill out.  Then the Japanese guy from last night (in his camper van w wife) turned up!  Haha! They are staying down on the lake tonight, and then travelling to Cape Soya and Wakkanai
I keep forgetting about the bow!  It is wonderful, instead of screaming out “Sabadee Barang!!!” or similar when you ride past, Japanese simply acknowledge you with s dignified nod of the head.   Something so simple conveys a great deal of warmth and kindness. I love giving ad receiving nods!

Also, there seems to be great camaraderie between cycle and motorcycle tourers in Japan – most motorcycle tourers (there are a lot!) give me a friendly wave as I pass by J

Day 4: Lake Iwanoai to Forest Campground

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Day 4 Lake Iwanoai to Forest Campground 124km (425km total)

Last night I decided to alter my plans (again!!) to stay in the mountains for another day and stay overnight at a campground marked in the Touring Mapple, all the while heading northwards.

I had a great start to the day – Fearon made me breakfast of crepes with raspberry jam, coffee and orange juice. Yum!  He also gave me a few firecrackers that I could throw at a bear if I happen to meet one on the road (or outside my tent (!!).  I am really happy to have them, just to know that I could scare a bear off if need be.  Hopefully I won’t see one!
There were lots of foxes with cubs all over the road today, and little squirrels zapping across the road in front of me too!  I managed to get some fox-photos, but no squirrels – they are too fast!

 So, today was another long day with plenty of hills, but is all just so beautiful in the mountains that I couldn’t be happier!  Certainly, the mountains provide some good protection from the relentless and cold wind!

I am not certain about the name of the campground I am staying at tonight - it is Kanji but says something along the lines of "in the forest" or "part of the forest" Campground. There is a cabin here with a kitchen, bathrooms and a log burner.  I have started a half-arsed fire, and will probably sleep on the floor of the cabin overnight rather than set my tent up and be cold outside (the campground is right at the top of a mountain and it is really cold tonight!).  There is a Japanese couple camping overnight in their camper van, but otherwise I have the campground to myself. Perfect!  The man is very nice, and speaks good English, so I could have a chat to him while he enjoyed a cigarette, and then later in the cabin at night… he and his wife are on holiday from Honshu.

So, I plan to scoot over to Hamatonbetsu tomorrow, which is only 60km… I should be there around lunch time, so I’ll probably take a look on my map to see if there is another town along the coast maybe 20-30km away… it will certainly make my Cape Soya-Wakkanai day a little easier (98km from Hamantonbetsu).

Update: half-arsed fire worked out great and heated the whole cabin up beautifully!!

Day 3: Biei to Lake Iwaonai

Monday 11 June 2012

Day 3 Biei to Lake Iwaonai  91km (total 301km)

Hills, hills, hills!  I decided to alter my planned route this morning so, instead of proceedng along the major road north to Asahikawa/Bifuka, I decided to head back into the hills, towards Lake Iwaonai (although all in Kanji on my map, so I only found out the English translation after I arrived!).  The camping ground there was listed in the Hokkaido Touring Mapple, and looked nice, and I wanted to get back into the beautiful forested hills!

So, heading out of Biei, I quickly detoured off the main road onto the “jet-coaster road”, which is a very rolling back-road that tracks pretty much parallel to the main road.  It was awesome! Highly recommended.  Unfortunately, I am in Hokkaido too early to see the Lavender in bloom on the hills around Biei, but in summer the view would be even more spectacular.  As it was, I enjoyed the up-and-down road and lack of traffic!

I then avoided Asahikawa by using a back-road (I sort-of wanted to see if there was a McDonalds, and if it had WiFi for blogging, but my hate for traffic won out!).  I cycled through farm land ‘till Aibetsu, then into the hills up, up and up to Lake Iwaonai.

When I got here, I was delighted to find that the campground was open, looked great, had other campers about, had a toilet/shower block, and was free!  What could be better?  Well the campground Mama told me that there was a American man right next to the campground who rented out chalets and lived in a Log house (all this was in rapid Japanese, so I only found out what she was saying in retrospect!), and she walked me over to meet him.  [Mr] Fearon was lovely and offered me a chalet for the night (free of charge) and invited me over for dinner too!  He doesn’t speak great Japanese, so was pretty excited about some English conversation, to which I was only too happy to oblige!  After getting cleaned up in my chalet, I was treated to good conversation and a delicious meal of venison stew & rice, and preserved plums with Hokkaido ice cream. Yum!

Such an awesome day in and out of the saddle, I really couldn't be happier with my decision to come to Hokkaido!  Beautiful scenery and last-minute plans that worked out better than I could have hoped for!  It is a pretty cold night here too, so I am grateful to be tucked up inside a warm chalet!

On to Bifuka tomorrow!

Day 2: Lake Katsurazawa to Biei

Sunday 10 June 2012

Day 2 Lake Katsurazawa to Biei  Distance:  87km  (total 210)

Little known fact: Japan certainly is the Land of the Rising Sun!!  Sun rise is at 4am!!   

After seeing some warning signs for bears on the road yesterday, I had been a little paranoid and hadn't slept too well, so I just rolled over and go back to sleep safely in the knowledge that a bear was not going to eat me in the night!   

Also, old men started arriving at the lake to fish from around 4:30am.  I was only vaguely aware of people walking along the path about 20metres from my tent while I slumbered, but once I poked my head outside at 7am, I realized that there were probably a dozen fishermen down on the lake-front!

Today was notable for epic climbs, breathtaking descents and lots of rain… and tunnels too!  From Lake Katsurazawa to Furano you could really appreciate the scale of the land as forest-clad mountains rose on either side.  There were plenty of hill-climbs, but they were not a problem – just spin away and enjoy the scenery slowly move by… the descents were fantastic too – not too steep which made for a mostly brake-free ride and a chance to make-up some of the time spent ascending!

There were three tunnels today – one was 2.6km, which was far too long for my liking!  I have found that some of the shorter tunnels have wide pedestrian walkways, which can be used to ride up and out of the traffic, but most of the long tunnels do not have any separate bike lane.  Luckily, the roads I am cycling are reasonably quiet and Japanese drivers keep their speed down in tunnels! 

I rode through Furano, which is a recommended overnight-stop on the Cycle Japan itinerary I am following up to Waikkanai, but I seem to be a half-day ahead of schedule.  Furano was okay, but not particularly exciting – it had a McDonalds!  Up the road, at Kamifurano, I had an awesome half rockmelon with soft-serve ice cream for lunch.  It was pretty expensive for some fruit and icecream (¥1050.00/ $12.60) but tasted amazing!  I was really craving fresh fruit J

I arrived in Biei just after 2pm, and went to the information centre to arrange a (cheap) hotel for the night.  Since it had been raining solidly, I was really in the mood for a treat.  The information desk lady was so lovely, even though she didn’t speak any English (“Eego ga hanasimasu ka?”; “iie”).  She telephoned ahead for a single room at Pie Petite Hotel (¥6000, inc breakfast), which was just around the corner, and absolutely perfect!  Lovely, clean and modern.  The receptionist/owner was expecting me, and was super-friendly when I wheeled over. She even let me put my dirty bike on the front porch :) 

I spent the afternoon having a good, long shower and then explored Biei city by foot.  It is super-cute and tiny, like a real little alpine village.  I browsed at a tourist shop selling souvenirs and food (in the hope of finding a fridge-magnet for Elisha and Daniel), scoped out a good restaurant for dinner, and stocked up on biscuits and instant ramen noodles for tomorrow. 

I had dinner at an awesome restaurant near the train station/information centre and they even had a menu in English with illustrations. Happy days for me!  I got a set dinner with Miso, salad, and Katsu pork with rice, Biei asparagus and curry sauce.  Yum!!  I tried a local cider, and it was weird: it tasted like a combination of apple cider and creaming soda.

 Weird Japanese drink (out of a vending machine, of course!).  If one lemon is good for you, just imagine how good 50 would be, right?

Day 1: Sapporo to Lake Katsurazawa

Saturday 9 June 2012

Sapporo - Lake Katsurazawa  Distance:  123km

I had a lovely first day cycling in Japan!  I slept like a log on my futon, an had a relaxed start to the day at Ken and Katsumi’s house.  I slept soundly until 8am, then got up with the family for a weekend breakfast of fried egg, bread and coffee.  (also, Katsumi made the bread!).

I was lucky enough for Ken to offer to cycle with me out of Sapporo and all the way to Naganumi. He was able to show me a way along quiet side-streets that I never would have found on my own, which made leaving the city a breeze.  Lucky I left Sapporo on the weekend – reduced cars and Ken was able to cycle this morning!

I had planned to stop at Yubari tonight, but after arriving there at 1:30pm, I decided that I wanted to press on… after lunch!  I had an awesome curry rice at a little restaurant that had a uniquely Japanese set-up – four small kitchens sharing a large dining room.  So, you had to find a seat, read the menus attached to the table (Japanese only), figure out which kitchen the menu with the food you wanted relates to, then order from a girl at the appropriate kitchen.  Phew! Luckily I managed to place my order accurately and politely so as not to make a fool of myself (this is my goal always in Japan, where a tall blonde girl on a bike really stands out!).

After lunch, I continued on to Lake Katsurazawa, where I am camping at a closed-down summer retreat.  There isn’t anyone else here, but that’s okay – there is running water and vending machines for drinks!

I just had cup-noodles and oreos for dinner tonight, overlooking the lake.   The Seiko-mart where I got them was crazy – a whole wall of fridges with single-serve alcoholic drinks, and I found out the alcohol is crazy-cheap in Japan too – a 750ml bottle of Kahlua for ¥1650.00, which is around  $19.00!

I also saw a deer today!  Unfortunately the deer saw me first, and was running away into the forest by the time I heard/saw it.   Still, I am pretty happy to have seen one on my first day!