Tsuruoka to a parking lot just past Mogami
Distance: 53 miles
Total Distance: 1260 miles
Photo Album

IMG_0878 After sleeping very well in our hotel in Tsuruoka, we left pretty late after eating a slow breakfast and catching up on our blog. Once we finally got on the road, we made good time through the wide valley around Tsuruoka as we made our way farther inland. In the late morning, we merged onto the east-west highway that would take us through the mountains and began climbing a little more steadily. The road wasn’t steep though, and we really enjoyed the scenery. The highway followed a winding river with steep mountains on either side–it was a popular area for tourist groups, as we saw a lot of them being transported up and downriver in long, narrow boats. We had fun waving at each one as it passed, and got a lot of friendly shouts and waves in return.

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Windmills and mountains

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Tourist boats on the river

We left this river behind around noon, and saw a sign for an upcoming road station just as we were getting hungry. When we pulled in, we saw that the road station was at the Japan-Korea Friendship Center, which was composed of numerous buildings in a Korean architectural style including a temple, agricultural museum, amphitheater, and erosion control research center. Almost all road stations have a small collection of shops and stores nearby, and this one was no exception–we found a great little food stand run by three older Korean women, and had a filling lunch of garlic egg pancakes and stone-bowl rice (vegetables, egg, kimchee, and rice all cooked together in a hot stone bowl).

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The roadstation / Japan-Korea Friendship Center

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Delicious, spicy Korean food

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They called it a "Korean Pizza", but it tasted more like a spicy pancake. Delicious!

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Yum

Although it had been partially cloudy all day, it had not rained at all until immediately after we left the road station, at which point it started pouring down. We pulled off the road as soon as we could, and took refuge under a temple to put bags on our feet and pull on our rain gear–I like to think the statue inside was for the Buddha of Compassion, and appreciated being able to give us shelter!

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Using the shrine as our shelter

We kept on riding through the afternoon, and the weather improved after a while. We entered another nice river valley and continued climbing through a string of very cute little towns until the valley widened out south of Mogami. By now it was late afternoon and we needed to start thinking about where to stay. Unfortunately, we did not have any places in mind (and no Touring Mapple to help us out), so we had to stay on the road and keep an eye out for likely spots.

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Very different landscape than what we've gotten used to on the trip so far

Around 5:00, we ran into another thunderstorm and it started pouring rain again–our search became a little more desperate, and we decided that we would stop at the first place possible. However, we were in the middle of a big farming valley, which meant that almost every square foot was under cultivation–neither Vicky nor I felt comfortable camping in a farmer’s field! The valley stretched on for miles, so it was well after 6 by the time the houses began to thin out. With the mountains closing in and the cloudy sky, the light was fading early so we decided to just find an empty spot near the side of the road. Finally, we came upon a rarety–a gravel lot with an abandoned shed–an open space protected from the road but clearly not in use! With the road just twenty feet away, we expected it to be noisy, but we didn’t have any other choice. We set up camp quickly since it was still raining, and cooked dinner inside our vestibule. After eating our soup and pasta, we were ready for bed and soon settled down for the night. Tomorrow, we would head out of the mountains and stop at the small town of Hiraizumi for some sightseeing and a rest day!

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Setting up our rain kitchen

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Is the water boiling yet?