I’d spun Hokkaido into some kind of cycling nirvana.  A Shangri-La of sorts where a smooth ribbon of road cut through the countryside.  A bike tourist’s Eden of tailwinds and temperate weather.  A utopia of sane drivers, safe roads and stunning landscape.

Reality was quite a bit less pleasant.  Hokkaido’s famed for its host of high mountains, plethora of national parks and continental climate.  Since the rest of Japan suffers muggy summers of energy-sapping heat and humidity, those who can flock to the country’s northernmost island to chill out.  Hokkaido is known as a wild place, the last frontier if you will.  A place where bears roam free and crafty foxes sneak up on unsuspecting campers.   Hokkaido is to Japan what Alaska is to America.

Rolling off the ferry in Hokkaido’s southern port city of Hokodate I half expected to pedal into pristine wilderness.  But no.  Perhaps further afield I’d be surprised by a bear or two.  In Hokodate the usual convenience stores stand guard on every corner (7—11 with its free 7-spot WIFI is my favorite) and dreary housing blocks and strip malls line the streets.  My heart sunk.  By the time we hustled it out of town, a light drizzle began to fall. The world seemed very gray.

Soon night fell and we’d yet to find a suitable spot to camp. I’d proposed an empty field behind a Lawson’s convenience store, but Eric had shot down that idea.  “Too rocky,” he insisted, “It’ll wreck the tent, plus there’s bound to be a lot of rain tonight and we should try to find cover.”

I acquiesced (as usual) and we pedaled on into the night, moods souring and stomachs rumbling.

I’d grown weary of shoestring touring in one of the world’s most expensive countries.  It was true that Japan is one of the world’s easiest places to wild camp.  Unless you’re chopping down trees to start a camp fire or stripping down naked to bathe in the buff you and your tent will be ignored.  You can pitch up in public parks and on busy beaches, even smack dab in the middle of town.  But when it’s been raining for weeks on end, camping quickly loses its appeal.  .

In the end, we camped next to an abandoned warehouse.  The spot had little to recommend it.  Noise from a nearby road meant we slept fitfully.  A little after 4AM we woke to more drizzle which soon intensified into a full-on deluge.

Hokkaido was no nirvana.  At least not for us.

Bicycle touring is no different than ‘real life.‘  The road has its ups and downs and Japan has been pretty bleak.  That’s OK.  Today I tap away on the computer as a beautiful day unfolds beyond the window.  Part of me says I ought to be out enjoying the fine weather.  But honestly, I’m content inside.   A few days of calm with a roof over our heads (thanks to our Warm Showers hosts Andy and Clare) is  exactly what we need.

If only we could find camping spots like this every single night, I swear I’d never ever whinge about the weather again. Alas, it’s rarely this good. This is in Yochi, a small town popular with surfers on Hokkaido’s west coast. A pair of foxes visited us that night and got into a bit of mischief. One ran off with my Crocs and smashed a jar of jam and licked out the contents.

This is Route 229 at its best! Honestly it never rivals great coastal roads like Highway 1 in the US, Australia’s Great Ocean Road or New Zealand’s many fantastic coastal routes. Of course if the sun had bothered to present itself I might have another opinion.
Route 229 is an amazing feat of engineering. The land drops off into the Sea of Japan so precipitously that the only way to build a road was to tunnel into the rock formations. To be sure, my legs were thrilled to avoid the inclines but tunnel cycling is not for the faint-hearted.
A few of the tunnels have got wide protected lanes perfect for a fully-loaded bike. Most,however, are pretty frightening affairs. There’s hardly room for error and if two trucks happen to be passing at the same time, the cyclist is toast. Tunnels can be long, too–our maximum tunnel length was around 3.5 kilometers.
LUNCH! Some kind soul gifted us some dried salmon and I whipped up a nice pasta dish for lunch. Small pleasures go a long way in keeping us focused on the positive side of cycle touring. We drag out the stove 3 to 4 time per day! Pancakes for breakfast (we can’t find oats here) fried eggs and toast for a mid-morning snack, tofu and veggies for lunch most days and it’s usually spaghetti with 7-11 tomato sauce for dinner. Can’t complain too much, plus we tend to squeeze in some ice cream a few times a week, Will not be getting skinny any time soon.
The canal district of Otaru almost has a European feel to it. Here’s one Japanese city that’s perfect for a leisurely stroll around town admiring the historic buildings.
Hokkaido Hoax
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2 thoughts on “Hokkaido Hoax

  • August 2, 2013 at 9:15 PM

    I’ve been dreaming of a Japan tour, but have never really found a good blog about it. Finally, its here!
    Do you think will you be posting your routes eventually?

    • August 6, 2013 at 9:55 AM

      In spite of all our rants about Japan, it’s actually a beautiful place for bike touring. let teh photos be your guide.


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