Sunshine. A few rays of warm sunshine, that’s all it took to transform our Hokkaido cycle tour from one of futile misery to fun. Our sincerest apologies, beautiful Hokkaido! Your reputation as a world class cycling destination is well deserved.
From craggy peaks to crater lakes we’ve been served up a generous helping of natural beauty in eastern Hokkaido.
This was the day it all changed. We’d had a wet ride through Sounkyo Gorge (reputed to be one of the prettiest spots In Hokkaido) and, to be honest, I really felt like giving up and flying back to Montana for a nice slice of summer in the Big Sky country. We forged on and as we began the climb up to Mikuni Pass (at 1,100 meters the highest in Hokkaido) the sun came out in all its glory and our world was transformed.
On the way up the pass a car came screeching to a stop and out popped Mirjam Wouters (AKA the Cycling Dutch Girl)! Mirjam’s been on the road for years spreading good cheer and searching out adventure. Finally our paths had crossed crossed. She was out for a day hike so we missed doing some pedaling together. Our short meeting with Mirjam boosted morale and suddenly it all came crashing back to me: Yes, I really do want to cycle every country on the planet!
The pass was even more spectacular than I had imagined, particularly this stretch where the roads cuts through the thick forest. If you look carefully, you’ll see Eric speeding down the highway.
After the big climb we turned off onto an unmarked road leading to Lake Oketo. We’d read about this route on Rob Thomson’s blog (14degrees.org) and Mirjam also recommended the route. The turn off was a little tough to find, but a guy on a motorbike who knew the road kindly showed us the way. The road was completely traffic free. Not surprising because in some spots downed trees were blocking the passage. We were finally in our element! This is the kind of cycling we live for. A rushing stream to the right, thick foliage all around and even the threat of BEARS! Alright, we’re not so keen on the bear part, but you get the picture. Pristine nature and solitude.
Mirjam also tipped us off about this lovely little cabin on the lake that was left open for passing hikers and cyclists. We were suddenly much much happier.
All in all, we can’t complain about camping in Hokkaido. We usually search out a small town park and look for a roof for protection from the rain. Once I accidentally hit the emergency button in the public toilet (having mistaken it for the flush button) and the police showed up a few minutes later. The offiver was a little perplexed by the emergency call, but had no problem with our tent pitched up next to the croquet course. Japan comes out number one in my book for ease of freedom camping.
We were now deep in farm country. What a change from busy Honshu with its grey sprawling suburbs. Here life moves at a more zen-like speed. Could have been eastern Montana except for the strange looking rounded farm houses.
We now felt fully at home. I guess we all crave the familiar at some level.
Next we headed towards the Shiretoko Peninsula, way up in the extreme northeastern corner of Hokkaido. The word “Shiretoko” comes form the language of indigenous Ainu people word and means “end of the Earth”. They got that one right. Although it was warm on sunny on the west coast of the peninsula, once you cross the pass towards the east side of the peninsula you’re blasted with cold air masses blowing across the Sea Okhotsk from Russia.
Top of Shiretoko Pass! The fog had already rolled in and visibility was down to around ZERO. We quickly bundled up for the ride down and then dashed into the hot spring at the bottom of the pass to warm up and relax.
Ride down Shiretoko Pass. That was our final taste of sunshine. Rain is in the forecast for the next 5 days and things are starting to get rather smelly in the tent! In spite of it all, we’re still happy in Hokkaido.
Not looking good, but what can we do? It’s the life we’ve chosen.