Shakotan Coast & hinterland

A day for the eyes : 

North to the Shakotan Peninsula. Primordial, volcanic and stirring. It’s possible to imagine the earth’s beating heart here.

On the coastline the rocks, some jagged, some smooth formed by the wind, rain and snow. The sea dark green, (aka Shakotan Blue) tide out revealing plate-rocks just below water level, dressed in swirling seaweed. 

The landscape behind appears as if a giant had swung a large soft green fleece high in the air and dropped it folding and molding itself onto the hills. 

When is it possible to be so close to how the earth is formed, and changed? This coastline educates and reminds me of my insignificance. It’s grand and powerful. I am in awe.

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Lake Toya & Fire Mountain

A curiosity trip :  
Lake Toya? What is it like? How big is it? Does it freeze over in winter? Can you drive all around? A link: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_T%C5%8Dya

Poodling around today, off bikes, with these Excellent Hiking and Biking Women. Off to see Lake Toya, and a fire mountain or two. A cruise might be fun. 

At the lake, we spot a ‘fairy castle’ near the shore. Turrets, flags… A folly? No, a ferry! We caught it, just! Out and back with a hundred seagulls. The Japanese folk from the buses, fed them chips with peals of laughter, dodging as they flew close.

We explore Mt Usuzan by ropeway and hoofing it up a million steps. A live volcano! Lots in Japan. A poster : “Experience the heartbeat of the earth” : evocative…

Rankoshi, Isoya-gun to Minatomachi

Cycle to the Sea : 

65k plan, ride west to the sea. It’s hot and humid but not raining. Whizzing 10k downhill is fun, marred slightly by the knowing – this, is the way back! 

At Mina, it’s bleak. A blocked off tunnel, a sea shell museum and, wait, a place to buy cold ramen! Faith knows what to ask for, yay! Delicious! I try to add condiments, then notice a hovering figure near my right shoulder. As I reach for another, she grumps kindly, and tips my plate to show me the liquid in the bottom. I put the bottle back, chastised. 

Lovely ride back, even in the heat; and while climbing my core temperature rose so dramatically, a short stop was necessary. Aaaaaah! Better! 

Off to the local onsen, tiny and the way I like it – a bit seedy. Inside and outside pools of hot water in which to soak sore, tired limbs. Wonderful!

Later to a special, special, world famous, Soba noodle chef at Rakuichi. Faith has been able to secure us a booking. Several tiny and exquisite art pieces created with great attention to detail, were consumed prior to ‘la pièce de resistance’ – the soba noodle making. 

A restrained show: I wonder just how many times the chef has done this… We sit, 12, along a bench facing him, many with cameras or phones, filming. It’s a food art show, definitely. 

A big day. Satisfying. Complete. 

Rankoshi, Isoya-Gun to Niseko

Fast down, slow up :

Movement afoot. We’re going cycling. Down the hill, a long hill. Oh no! That means up the hill back to Tanuki Lodge. 

No rain and perfect day for cycling. The roads are smooth apart from an adventure short cut on gravel. Only one of us makes it all the way up, and it’s not me. And then onto the bitch again. 

We make it to Niseko-Plaza. Dense fog hides Mt Yotei yet it still dominates. It’s a hulking mountain. My sons have skinned up and skied the bowl. Took all day.

I’m staying at a house in tropical lush jungle. This house is part of a ‘housing development’ built in Japanese high times. A financial hole occurred in Japan some time ago. Those who had built here up and left, the house and furnishings intact. There is a rushing water stream just outside the window of the bedroom I have. Wonderful sound. I’m practising a mental recording of the rushing water. I want to remember this. 

I’m enjoying some nights in the same place. The house is almost part of the ‘jungle’, the growth is fast and furious during summer. Dies off in winter when it is buried in the snow. 

I settle into a good pace for the long uphill to 420m. My body tells me a rest day would have been good. My lower back is stiff. Maybe tomorrow.  I catch some shut eye while the others slip out to the local shop. We are having cold ramen for dinner. Yum! 

Later lots of get-to-know-you chat. I think of you reading this and wonder if it’ll be interesting for you when I’m in the same place for a few. 

Otaru to Kutchan 

Day of hills :

Initially another Komootish adventure through the back streets of Otaru. Of course it’s up up up from the Coast. Lush, wet foliage, no rain and a coolish 21°. High humidity still, so sweaty climbing. 

Up ahead I see a parked car, a banner across the road and a man in uniform. We laugh and try to understand each other. “Road closed. You go that way- turn right two times”. 

Owl and Bear told me “We’ve had enough of that dang bear bell ringing in our ears”. I feel much the same, but on this detour I’m glad of it. It’s lush dense tropical growth, not a soul in sight, no cars, silence. The bell is company.

Half an hour into the detour, Komoot tells me ‘The tour is 3800 metres to the right of you’, then 5k later I’m back on the tour. A steep ascent. 11-14%.

Four tunnels today, only one with overhead lights, none with wide side paths, the last about 2k long. I have good lights. The traffic is slow but is amplified by the close walls. You have no protection from the sound. It’s frightening. Narrow. Just wider than two trucks. Imagination has you verging on panic. “I hope they see me!” 

You hear the amplified trucks roar. The motorbikes scream. At first you can’t tell if they are in front or behind, or both. I slip into a big gear and roll through as fast as I can. 

Out in the open again, oncoming cyclists wave and smile. A driver rolls down his window and calls “Namaste!” Nice. 

After Akaigawa I text the women I’m meeting. They are busy for a bit and I roll into a coffee shop in Kutchan, called Sprout. Faith I know. Susan and Carmel I meet. We chat over coffee. 

Arabella into the car and we are off to Tanuki Lodge, owned by two families. But first a stop at the co-op in Kutchan. After days on the road, on my own, this feels surreal. All around are over frilly clothes, lacey shirts, racks of hats, shirts, skirts – you know the scene. 

Hokkaido – Sapporo to Otaru

Prizzle, Fist and Mog

What is the word which means : persistent drizzle? I think I’ll call it prizzle. It prizzled all the way to the sea, and the sea, was  invizzible because of the mist and fog: which I’ll call fist and mog, just because I want to!! 

A big fat disappointment. Fist and mog dulls. It’s not pozzible to appreciate the beauty of this place in sea fist. Fortunately I know the beauty as I was here last year. 

I don’t really mind riding in the rain, apart from the anxiety of keeping the electronics dry. The air is warm. I was only wet on the inside when powering up a few hills. So all good really and not a huge day. 

As I turned towards the touristy part of Otaru, and my hotel, it seemed there had been a mega tourist drop from a nearby planet. People milling everywhere. Counter-shock from being on my own all morning. Anything special? I asked at the hotel. High season, was the response. 

Thankfully got my room early. Washing done, feet up… 

Then… out to explore the small, hidden away streets for extraordinary treats. For those that dislike fish, are vegetarian or vegan, it’s definitely not for you! But what I’m after is a small place, off the beaten track. My sons have spoken of the fish at Otaru as if all their Japanese food dreams have come true. They come by to ski telemark at Tiene and Kororo. 

I’ve found one such place I reckon, in a backstreet, tiny, no English spoken. I’m sitting at a bench in front of the master, who, like all chefs it seems, bends over two inches (to use old measurements) from his creations, studying them with enormous intensity. They have to be perfect. It’s art in situ. 

The cleanliness, the precision is mesmerising. And repetitive. Meditative. Fascinating. I might not get back to the hotel. 

Tough ride tomorrow and probably in the rain. I’m entering the country of serious hills though none compare to the Pyrenees for height. Volcanic here rather than the earth tilting, I understand. They are hills all the same and charge the legs at the door. I really hope it doesn’t prizzle all day and that I’m not cycling up into fist and mog. 

Hokkaido – Rural to Urban

To Sapporo: Heat and rain

Here in Jozankei the night air is still and hot, muggy. Sleeping is hard, on a hard futon on the hard floor. Would have loved some air-con! Or even a fan. In the breakfast room the chairs stick to the floor…Breakfast?  Always unusual in Japan. Quite delicious here in this ryokan (pic on Fbk).

Just a side story on Japanese toilets. They have an elaborate button choice with Japanese characters on a side arm, alongside the bowl, and heated seats. Lovely in the winter, but Summer? And for goodness sake, I’m used to these toilets self-flushing but not this other thing – on entering the cubicle, the lid jumps up automatically…startling. Perhaps it’s in pursuit of cleanliness – no fingers anywhere. 

Start packing bags onto my bike with an audience of two. Another guest and the guy who runs this place. He comes out with a jacket for me!! How kind is that? The sky is grey, clouds low, rain imminent. There is concern for me. 

I pack my bike, swing into my waterproof shorts and don my cape/poncho and sealskin waterproof cap – and start sweltering. Need to move, now! Bid my farewell, politely refuse the jacket and leave.

Last year when in Sapporo for a couple, I cycled to Jozankei and back. Mainly along the Route 260 and a cycleway near the river. However, now that I’m using Komoot, there’s a fat chance I’ll be taking an unusual route. 

And I did. It included an 11% climb over 3k. The Sweat Creator. Hard work! If not wet from rain on the outside, then soaked with sweat from the inside. Off with the cape, the cap and the fogged sunnies. Thanks Komoot. Beautiful tho. Then on and through back streets to the hotel. Always, always avoiding the traffic.

Often in Japan it’s possible to cycle on the pavement- it’s wide enough. On many many country roads this is possible, not just in villages or cities. In the cities the pedestrians seem to have extraordinary radar for bikes.

And so the rain starts. Rain changes everything. Visibility lowers. Lights on. Jacket on. Electronics in plastic bags. My mind buzzes with anything I’ve forgotten to cover. Forecast for rain over the next few days… bleaugh!

I get here early. My ‘room’ is ready, yay!  I’m soaked. They kindly agree to put my bike in the back office for safety. We pass the Ski Locker. What about there, I ask. Oh no, she says, that is now a Sake Bar. Summer dress perhaps.

Hiked the streets to a well-known delight- the Sapporo Factory. It’s the home of many ‘outdoor’ suppliers, including Montbell. I’m a big fan of Montbell products. Can’t get the products in Aus, nor online. The monopoly importer only deals in ski gear.

Suddenly felt exhausted. So little sleep last night. Hiked back and bombed out for an hour before another foray into the unknown.

Strolling up and down past myriad restaurants, bars, quick eat places, not able to read the signs, relying on food pictures, finally settled on a ramen place. Truly excellent as were the gyoza and beer. Yes, more beer. It fits the food! 

Off to the coast tomorrow, Otaru. Yes, using Komoot so it won’t be straightforward. Otaru is the home of amazing seafood. Soooo exciting. Really I don’t care if it’s raining all day, this trip to Hokkaido is so goooood. Love being here…

And to all the readers of this blog, I hope I have entertained you enough and spun a few stories that will light your own exploration of this wonderful cycling heaven. 

Hokkaido – Travelling West towards the hills

Chitose to Jozankei – Home of the hot spring ♨️ or onsen ♨️

Less drama today yet it was not a dull day. One thing, no sauna needed. It’s free here, in the hot, wet air.  

Set off into the heat for a climbing day. Mixing it with the green hills. I’m using the app Komoot here too (as well as recently in Spain/France trip). Of course that means I’m in for surprises. And yes, I’ll tell you about them, but first a bit about the rack and bags I’m using.

Travelling with the Tailfin and bags : they are rock solid on the bike, no sway, no rattle. It’s a rear rack and bags – Kickstarter project. There’s still the thing about dragging the weight versus pushing it. That’s when you have bags on the front. The weight I’m carrying is not huge- 6kgs on the back (inc rack) and about 3kgs on the front, handlebar bag and front bag, frame bag 1kg, plus water 2ltrs – 2kgs. The Lite Haul Trucker (aka Arabella) weighs about 12kgs. I wondered how the carbon rack would go. Apart from a tiny and vital piece falling onto the ground at the airport when I was assembling my bike, it’s been good. Do you have sharpened senses the earlier in the day it is? Miraculously I found the piece- about the size of a pine nut, grey on grey concrete! Up shit creek without it!! So far it’s thumbs up. 

On and on, up and up, always side roads with Komoot. Saw quite a few cyclists and one tourer. We greeted each other with smiles and hand waves. Nice! On the way passed a few golf clubs, one named Dynasty. Oh yes I thought! So later, Komoot directed me ‘Turn right’ into the gates of the Dynasty Golf Club. Oh yes! What’s up here I wondered as the road jumped up! A Komootish short cut!!

I gave 5 years of my life to golf until it got totally boring. To get better @ golf I had to devote more time, much more time, and frankly I’d rather be having bike adventures! 

I turned right, into the Dynasty gates, the road bucked up: 15% for 3k, in the heat and humidity. I ask you!! It was hike a bike. Got to the golf cart mechanics house where I saw a water tap. Urgent, as I was nearly out. A wizened man emerged. “No, no, water. You go that way” pointing to the way I’d come. F**k that, I thought. I turned the tap on, he turned it off! No way was I going back! He then touched my arm and made an x sign with his fingers. I took that to mean “No Women Allowed”. 

Now I’m familiar with some of the more bizarre RULES that golf clubs come up with; this could be Men Only day. However I persistently did not listen to this man and rode on to the Club house. I approached a man and asked: “If I take this road (prohibited by the mechanic) will I get to Jozankei?” “Yes he said”. So I did. 

And get to Jozankei I did after varied and various Komootish detours. 

I’m here at this ryokan, Yi Feng Xiao Zhu Hot Spring Inn. Yes it’s good, really good! Happy for the well used limbs to soak in the hot hot hot spring water. So hot that walking barefoot to the outside onsen, I burnt my feet in the water. How is that even possible? 

It’s half pension. After I’d eaten, we- the guy who runs this place- and I had a bizarre conversation using Speak&Translate app on both our phones!! Another bubble burst with respect to my fantasy about this place! I learned that it is owned by a man from China. No holidays, just work work work. He told me with near hysterical joy that he’s had enough and leaving. This man who gave up a loving relationship to take this job. Sad and joyous all at once. 

Enough for now. It’s dark, time for bed. It gets light here at 4am. Weird! Thanks for reading and thanks to those who made comments. It’s great to get feedback. Good night. Tomorrow: Sapporo. Not before dallying at the foot onsen @ Jozankei… ooooh aaaah…

Hokkaido- A long day, events on the way

Narita to Chitose, first day in Japan. The heat and humidity, 28°: a smack in the face!  Why did I think travelling in Japan would be straightforward? 

Up at 4.15am, bus to Terminal 3. No one around. Rather than try the impossible and take several flights of stairs with my bike bag, other bag etc I finally found the lift for the third floor. It’s 5.15am.

Terminal 3 is domestic so very little English on signs. Where to go? No, B, now is not a good time to panic, I say to myself.  Finally find the counter. Checked bag in. Round to Oversize, checked bike through. On to personal security check, bike shoes a problem. Off with them for another security check.

Thru and on my way to gate a million miles away, and hear my name called. So traipse all the way back to checkin- down, down, round and round – then to Oversize. A lighter they say??? No, I say. Oh no, my carefully packed baggage picked over and in disarray with only 10 minutes to catch the flight. 

Mosquitos are a problem so I brought Bug Click to calm any bites. It pulses a small electronic flash on the bite and stops the itch. This is what alarmed the security people. 

Precious minutes ticking away. 

After some time my bag is cleared. On thru personal security again to board the flight, when I hear my name again, over the speaker system. Oh no! I can’t make out what they are saying… an official comes running towards me. Quick, quick, they are holding the plane for you… whaaaaaat I think, there’s still 5 minutes. I rush on worrying that my re-checked bag might not make it. 

Chitose Still hot and humid at 4.30am

Both bike and bag arrive in Hokkaido, yay! Probably won’t do a bike build at the airport again !! With MY bike bag I have to disassemble the bike greatly so it takes time with no stand, etc to reassemble. Spent an hour and a bit outside the airport, all hot and sweaty, assembling my bike and sorting stuff. Stuff stuff stuff!! The frequent question : Now where did I put that?? Not helped by a ‘search and destroy’ security reorganisation. Fortunately most things taken out by security were in my bags even in disarray, it was all there. Relief, relief, relief!! 
Then off to Chitose to see if I can dump stuff at hotel before riding uphill to Lake Shikotsu. Like any airport with many oneways, I went the wrong way a couple of times. Found the cycleway, the right one, and really enjoyed the forest glades. And the Lake? Magnificent. No bears, two snakes 🐍 and a deer 🦌 jumped across cycle path . 

Now dinner? Slightly problematic not speaking nor reading the language. Wandering the streets of Chitose I see a man sitting in the road. He has two people near him, on phones. As I pass, he looks up. He has a wound on his face. From the top of his shaven head to the bridge of his nose, there is this vertical, jagged and bleeding gash. An ambulance comes, I move on, distressed. 

Following my nose for food, found a cool place. It’s been a long day so I tuck in with two beers. It’s run by three older women and one male sushi/sashimi master. The women run from table to table of mostly men, loudly enjoying themselves. Helped by endless mugs of beer. The sushi/sashimi master plies his trade. I am sitting on a bench in front of him, fascinated. He notices my attention and makes small sashimi plate with the most exquisite fish designed as art on a plate. I am so lucky. 

At the hotel, I discover there is a public bath. Not an ‘onsen’ as it’s not filled with mineral spring water, but it’s hot and soothing for my tired limbs. Just the thing to end a long, long day.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this first day in Japan. You come along with me, you know. I think of all of you at different times, wondering how you might enjoy this country, ride, food etc. Thanks for reading…

Crossed the Pyrenees twice : ✔️and ✔️

Cycled into Barcelona today, feeling satisfied. Job done. Downhill ride mostly, but pedalling into a headwind. Komoot took me on a most interesting path, some of it unrideable- at least for me. Deep, big stone gravel on a humped and curved surface; hike-a-bike was fine as there was no hurry. Anyone on a road bike might be in trouble. Most of the farmers tracks, gravel roads, single track and cycle paths were fine and fun. One farmer obviously had had enough as three separatly slung, makeshift gates were impenetrable across a komoot directed path; had to back track. Only bits of the main freeway which were a fast traffic shock. Good bike lane.  Only served to help appreciate the quiet roads more. 

When I left Vic this morning, the gorgeous Arantxe who runs the Cam Pampolona came from behind the desk saying, “I want to give you a kiss on each cheek, it’s been lovely having you stay here. You are an inspiring woman.” I’ll remember her and her generosity. So many people have been so kind to me on this trip. Not only those present in the flesh, so to speak, but those making encouraging comments on Instagram and Facebook. Very sustaining…

The young man at the reception desk of the Expo Hotel in Barcelona, remembered me and said “Aaah! You did it!” “I will give you a very nice room”. And he did. I’m on the 7th floor, in a large room with a balcony which extends around the corner offering extensive views over a beautiful park and in the distance, grand buildings and wide boulevards that is Barcelona. 

In bed early after snacks and a huge beer at the rooftop terrace in the evening sun- very nice. Looking forward to some playtime with Nic who gets here tomorrow afternoon. Signing off for now. As always, appreciate you following these notes….