Memorable Meetings of the Terrific and Terrifying kindJuly 26, 2013
After sticking to roads for about three weeks I had the urge to get out, find a dirt track and see what else there is on Hokkaido.
According to my logic there had to be a track where I saw a river and a railway line on my map. I was right. Almost.
In most countries you will find service roads along railway lines. No difference here.
I was very happy, although I couldn’t step of my bike for more than 3 seconds as my legs would be covered in ants.
Enjoying the scenery I hardly noticed the track becoming a bit smaller and a bit overgrown, until about an hour later it had disappeared all together.
Rather inconvenient indeed.
The good thing was I got to cycle the track twice
I had to take the main drag. I’ve been told the road I was looking at is closed.
It was to happen a few more time until I realised that ‘closed road‘ doesn’t actually mean a road is closed….
It only means the gate across the road is closed.
And that might be a problem if you travel by car. Not so by bicycle.
People keep telling me horror stories about landslides and rockfalls.
“It is very dangerous” “you can not go there” “It’s too hard”. Just a few of the lines I’ve heard lately.
But I think cycling through a busy tunnel is more dangerous. I discovered that they really love their tunnels here, even if there isn’t a mountain to go through they just build a tunnel for the hack of it.
Might have something to do with the winter conditions.
But I prefer seeing trees over concrete. Even if they’re very little trees.
The main road was rather funny as all the trucks flashed lights, beeped horns and waved at me.
I am not sure if I wasn’t supposed to be cycling there or they were just all very friendly. I happily waved back and got that stretch down in no time at all.
I stopped at a small roadside restaurant Hiroshi proudly told me he was a ‘Japanese Stud‘ He used to work in a nightclub in Tokyo and has had girlfriends from 11 different nationalities. Very impressive indeed (…). Since he is the first and only Japanese ‘Stud’ I have ever met I thought I might as well take a picture. Here he is:
I happen to go back through Shimokawa, where I just missed the chainsaw, sculpture festival. What a shame! But had a great time back at Motoko’s place anyway.
And showed Vivian the Milky Way, Yes I can see it from here as well!
Or, in my case, charge all electronics and use the free wi-fi. When its dark nobody will bat an eyelid if you pitch your tent on the car park or in the garden.
And since most onsen’s are hotels as well you can always walk in for breakfast in the morning. You might even make friends with people who chase bugs and invite you to come and see them when you’re in the area.
I really like the farm buildings here in rural Hokkaido.
There s old,
And there’s almost no more.
One evening, after being told (for the last time!) I couldn’t take the road of my choice I ended up at June’s and Toskifumi’s Dairy farm. They were just in the middle of milking the 100 cows. I had a look around.
Having an unexpected guest wasn’t a problem, quickly some meat was taken out of the freezer and with the help of two hair dryers it was defrosted and on the barbie in no time at all.
June keeps her own blog updated with happenings on the farm. You find it here.
In the morning Toski was surprised to hear I’d slept really well; ‘Last night a cow exploded”. That puzzled me a little untill I found out it means a calf had been born.
On my departure they gave me a little banner that hangs proudly of the back of my bicycle. “Holstein Cow” It says in Japanese.
This time I was determined not to have anybody tell me I can’t take the road I want.
The best solution is not to ask for directions or the state of the track.
Two workman working at the start of my track were very adamant I could not possibly go the way I was heading.
They kept pointing at my map trying to get me to follow some main roads. It is very difficult to try to tell people that the town or village you are heading to is not because you actually want to get to that particular town or village (except for Shimokawa of course;-)
It is only because I see a funny little track on my map and I want to go explore. That it happens to end in that town or village is purely coincidental.
And it was lovely! Only a few bugs and my fear of coming across bears has all but disappeared in my time here. The track was totally do-able!
I found a little cabin that was unlocked and figured I could always get back there in case of emergency.
lucky it was only later I was told the flies are worse when there are bears nearby…
Nearly on the top a vehicle passed me and confirmed I was still on the right track, only to show up minutes later with a cold drink and the request to take a picture. The three forest officers pointed me in the right direction and we were all on our merry way again.
I loved all the butterflies. Absolutely stunning big black and blue ones. And lots of orange and white. They were everywhere and I much prefer them over flies…
They do have the suicidal tendency to fly into my spokes. Not good.
A super deluxe hotel with spa was my stop of choice this evening.
As I discovered before, for a small price you get rather a lot. I had my wonderful hot bath and sat in the lobby using the free wifi ’till way too late. The only option I had then was to pitch my tent in the garden and come back in early in the morning for breakfast. I was almost a proper hotel guest.
The bad thing about close roads is you never know what to expect, there might actually be a landslide or a collapsed bridge,
The good thing is, the road is yours and there’s no such thing as dress code
On a bridge out of the closed area I met Imai Sho Ichi, the butterfly man.
He has collected over 100 different species of butterflies and agreed with me that it’s about time for a coffee.
We shared a coffee while smiling and saying things like : “I Like Coffee”, and “Nice day”and he handed me some fruit and rice balls too. It was a lovely little break and on departure he handed me this note;
I had a very good time too.
Just in case you care, I can cycle nearly two km’s without touching the handlebars.
Not on them little tracks though. Like one I tried cycling around the backside of Lake Nukabira.
It looked like it wasn’t a huge distance and after dragging my bike and bags across two gates I slowly made my way around. Passing, and taking a picture of a big pile of bear dung on the middle of my road,
wich answers the question: “Does a bear shit in the woods?” … Nope.
It wasn’t till half an hour later I saw the bear.
Instead of telling him off for shitting on my road I tried ringing my little bell like a mad woman so maybe he’d move.
And moving he did, very slowly, along my road in the same direction.
I found out when I got to the next bend in the road and saw it RIGHT THERE. (too close even to take a picture.. and that says something)
I don’t think I’ve cycled any other 10km as quickly as those 10km back to the road.
Now here’s a little video I made about my Hokkaido off-road adventures.
As I rode into Nukabira a car pulled over and a guy said:
“Hey, aren’t you that Dutch girl who cycled Rebun Island a couple of weeks ago?”
This is my rough guess of what he said as it was all in Japanese.
Jun had seen me on the island and we might even have had a ‘chat’ I can’t say for sure.
But we ended up talking our English/Japanese/Dutch babble and agreed on climbing a mountain together the next day.
We had a wonderful day with very little communication. We mostly just repeated each other and then smiled;
“nice view”… “nice view”…
“I like mountain”… “I like mountain” .
It’s funny that when you try to communicate you go back to very basic english, even though it doesn’t matter. I could’ve spoken Dutch, German or French. The understanding would be the same.
But we saw the most stunning views and the special little mountain flowers who have no idea what a fuzz they cost with lots of tours hiking up especially to see them.
A deer crossed our path and didn’t seem to care much.
I have to say my sneakers might not have been the most appropriate footwear for the hike but I managed alright and we had a well deserved coffee afterwards.
I noticed two cyclist on the road on our way to the mountain and figured that they had to be Eric & Amaya. After following their adventures for ages it was great to briefly meet here on Hokkaido’s highest road. Our paths are likely to cross again one day.
After all, the world is only small
Later that day I met four very funny motorbikers who call themselves the bonfire-crew. They have daughters that all went to school together and they’ve been friends ever since. They allowed me to pitch my tent in their camp as we were only a few km’s from my bear-sighting spot and I wasn’t too keen to camp alone.
They were listing to some sports on the radio. When I asked what they were listening to they told me it was Sumo-wrestling!
They also reminded me of the fact it’s been 4 years since I carried a bottle of whiskey in my panniers and that it’s time to change this soon. Very soon.
I did have a wonderful sleep that night. No bear could’ve woken me up
And the little climb the next day wasn’t all too difficult either.
I took a track that lead me to the top Onsen on Hokkaido in my experience (and not only because it was free)
A knock on my tent (for as far you can knock on a tent) in the morning and I find breakfast ready!
They’re worse than the fox. So far they only took my rubbish…
Heading back to the big smoke a 75-year old overtook me to return a minute later to give me an ice-cream.
I met up again with Hiroaki, studying hard to become a marine biologist.
But still had time to join me for a well deserved sapporo in Sapporo.
I met Mieko and Himashi about a month ago while camping at a dam. They told me if I ever get back to Sapporo don’t hesitate to call in.
You only have to tell me once.
The party could have had something to do with the summer festival at the hospital across the road.
In the house she keeps an altar for her deceased dad. Every morning she prays and put a few things he liked to enjoy there. Like sake, beer, cigarettes and rice.
She took me to the big temple to pray for a safe journey.