Cycling Japan

When compiling a wish list for this adventure Japan was a place I really wanted to come to. It was one of my non-negotiables! I’d had the opportunity back in 2006 to visit as part of an MBA study tour though at that time opted for china given the rapid pace of change there. While I had no regrets about that decision my desire to see Japan still remained.

The first part of our trip was deliberately chosen. It was a warm up. In the USA we had maps in english, campsites to aim for with specific biker areas and fellow travellers and a book detailing our route, eating places, shops and hotels. This was quite the opposite for Japan and adjustment took some time.

In contrast, there was no book. Maps were very basic or in Japanese and it took some time to be able to recognise any words in Japanese script. Add to this my ignorance of Japanese topography – its 90 percent hills- and you can start to build a picture of biking in Japan. Keeping to flatter roads often means more industrial areas and for scenic read… Mountainous!

Despite sounding like being far from a cycle pardise the number of cyclists here is outstanding… All be it i’m sure for commuting not long distance. Consequently facilities and attitude to those of us on two wheels is amazing. As with the USA some roads have shoulders but many here too have bike lanes, shared with pedestrians not buses like back at home. All major stations have lockable, manned bike parks and while many of the places we stayed had no specific areas for us ( what we were doing was far from common!) all made an effort to provide us with a safe “parking” spot. Yesterday we even packed up our bikes in the entrance hall of the Sheraton. I like that.

Our route, we estimate around 700 miles in total, took us from Tokyo to Osaka via Miho, Hammamatsu, Cape Irago, Toba, Tsu, Uji, Kyoto, Kobe, Himeji, Shodoshima, Naoshima ( well, it had to be done), Takamatsu, Tokushima and Wakayama. We saw temples, castles, farms and industry with buildings and history of old land Japan to the leading edge architecture of Kyoto station.

While Starbucks often had to fulfil the large coffee requirements (green tea is good but has its place!) the food here was exquisite. However, my overriding memory will most certainly be the people. Along the way we were given lifts (with bikes and gear) when a hotel was full, were treated to an amazing lunch, another guy spent around 45 minutes on his mobile helping us find a place to stay and in addition everywhere we went folks were more than happy to help… Most often with reading Japanese maps and providing directions.

After a couple of days in hong kong we will be in Nepal. While climate may provide a different challenge we eagerly await what we hope will provide some of the most spectacular scenery thus far…. And yes, in this case we really do expect scenic to mean mountainous!!!

Introducing Japan

Polite. Efficient. Clean. More than helpful. Simply fascinating.

Our introduction to the efficiency, helpfulness and trustworthiness of folk here started when bringing bikes in from the airport. It was no problem to put them on the coach (national express take note!) and we were able to leave them on the street with one of the coach staff keeping an eye while we delivered our other luggage to the hotel 10 minutes away. Perfect.

Having eaten the most wonderful sushi at the fish market in Tokyo amongst a few other things two days later we loaded our bikes onto a coach about to head to the mount Fuji area. Easy. That is until we needed to dispose of the cardboard boxes they were packed in. Fellow waste geeks take note…. We were in a scenic area…. It took a lot of negotion and kindness from the local tourist office thelp us on our way. They do not like waste at all here.

With a short ride to our first campsite at lake motosuko we pitched up tents. Our first nights Accomodation….. It was about to get interesting…

Leaving early the next day we had a hilly ride. We seem to have no way of finding campsites here and as the day moved on Accomodation was becoming an issue….. We moved on from a 10,000 yen hotel (about €100) towards a youth hostel option in miho. Unfortunately it had closed and the hotel in the same place was full. Doh. It was 615pm, going dark and we were homeless.

You can read in the guide about the helpfulness of folk but the next thing that happened was beyond our expectation….. Soon, we left this hotel armed with a free bag of rock, us, our kit and bikes loaded into the hotel coach to the motel 17km down the road. Amazing.

On arrival however we were baffled. We had been told we could not make a reservation but were surprised to find no reception and an electronic entry system….. All in Japanese. We had arrived at a love motel. Here you could book rooms from 3 to 8 hours…. I think an 8 hour guest looking to rest was rare though! As a bonus paying for a room like this was slightly cheaper, came with its own jacuzzi bath and a vending machine loaded with all sorts of goodies! It made us laugh. We were not allowed to leave the room and our only way out was to pay…. Another electronic system in Japanese…. After a slight freak out that we may be trapped, the machine took our money and we continued our journey.

We cycled along the pacific coast (again) and on looking for our next pit stop we found ourselves booked into a traditional Japanese ryokan. Sleeping on roll out mats, using shared bathing facilities and wearing numerous different pairs of slippers. The place was spotless though did cost us 16,000¥! Our stay here also included food and while John was not so keen I thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful tradtional dinner set  before us…. Breakfast the next morning was just as yummy…. I am really enjoying the food here after perhaps too many fries in the USA.

Last night we ended up booked into a business hotel… And got wifi! So, that’s Japan so far…. The cycling is tough in heat and humidity and for the first time this trip it’s starting to hurt! speaks peaking ofwhich… It’s probably time to collect the captain ( aka my bike) and hit the road.

1,126 miles, mostly downhill?!!

In planning this world cycle trip I thought long and hard about sunshine, terrain and places I generally fancied going. The pacific coast highway was chosen for sunshine, ease, reputation and chance to to test out our kit. With a few tent pole issues and the bikes now serviced so far all seems well. I have replaced my tent with a plush 3 man (lightweight but good on space) and discovered my Rohlhoff gear hub had a little less oil than it should which I have to say was a surprise, especially given The Captain seemed to ride well. What I hadn’t figured on was people we would meet, fog and mist and a sense of real America. It has been amazing.

Having left settle on 9th July, following out first encounter with the warmth of strangers, we headed north, via Bainbridge and Olympia before getting to Potlatch which had been the initial first stopover. Keen to get started on our bikes we were later to learn the lesson that adding an extra 150 ish miles reduces potential for days off. Consequently we then cycled everyday till arriving in San franscico on August 1st.

The first days wound slowly through long tree lined highways which it’s fair to say for us felt tedious and with little changing scenery, few people and quiet campsites.It was at Cannon Beach where the ride took on a new lease of life, amazing views, company and friendship. We met Tom cycling out of here and he would remain with us until the end of our ride. Ecola state park, next to Cannon Beach provided the first dramatic rocky coastline views we would meet many more times and the bar there was not only a shelter from the rain but also a great intro to Oregon ales.

As we continued through Oregon we met many more bikers and enjoyed some great campfires on the hiker biker sites. We said goodbye to a family from Vancouver over coffee in pacific city, got great food tips from Paul and jeanne in cape lookout and spent the later part of the trip crossing paths with Cameron and serge, finally biking into ‘Frisco with Bob. Tom, as noted above travelled with us through this time. In fact, I believe I’m proud to have introduced Tom to singing and riding…. Mostly all done to “we’re going up the sunshine mountain”! Sadly, no video/audio is available to link here….. Perhaps as well given most singing was done uphill, especially on the steep bits and I sense my breathing throughout may bring a different sort of blog follower!!

My previous trips to the USA have always been to cities, with the exception of  a ski hol in Colorado, and the opportunity to get out to small towns, rural areas and the vast number of state parks gives a very different perspective. While some old logging towns have looked a little run down, larger towns and most shockingly San fransciso give a tough image of what it’s like to be having life hard here, the vastness, space and distance between small populated areas provides another picture.

Having left Oregon we entered into the state of California. While budget deficits meant state campgrounds were not so well serviced the facilities on offer for the hiker biker were still way beyond what a uk cyclist can see and the fact that shoulders exist on the roads is also an added bonus. The coastline through California continued to amaze and the ride into Jenner through from Gualala was one of my favourite riding days of the trip. A tough climb, over the coastline mist and fog leading to a superb switchback descent towards clam chouder and then camping with around 20 other bikers (all boys!) at bodega bay will stay with me for some time. As we began our final trip into the city there was one last surprise… A small town grocery store really did become a one stop shop for me. The best sticky bun of trip to date and a piano…. Only my third chance to play and it took only a few seconds for me to find my sheet music.

We’re ending our USA leg this evening with a live band and as we plan now to head out for some fine picking, bluegrass style, it’s time to sign off… Tomorrow we leave for Japan. If it’s anywhere close to the pacific coast then we are in for a ball.