A Journey of 1000 Li
« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

DAY 52



Asahidake: Hiking in the snow

Distance: 0 miles
Total Distance: 1928 miles

We woke early the next morning to the sound of rain pouring down outside the tent; in the hopes that it would ease off soon, we rolled over and went back to sleep.  It showed no signs of letting up though, so eventually we dressed and ate a leisurely breakfast.  Still hoping that the weather might clear up a bit (and feeling a bit tired after yesterday’s long uphill climb) we spent some time in the vestibule of the campground’s bathrooms–nice warm benches, with large windows so we could admire the views while staying dry.


Morning view from the tent


Warming up inside the campground bathroom

We only had one day to do some hiking in the area, so despite the unrelenting rain, we eventually decided to brave the weather and headed up the road to the local information center.  After getting a map of the area and looking through the small attached museum, we biked on to the ropeway station.  Despite the steep price, we decided to go ahead and get tickets for the ride up the mountain–we knew we would regret the opportunity to hike around the top of this mountain if we didn’t take it while we could!

The tram takes you up about 1,600 feet; the ride up was beautiful, and since we were the only people in the car we were able to see in every direction as we were whisked up towards the top of the mountain.  Once at the top, we almost talked ourselves out of walking around–the wind and rain were so strong that visibility was very limited, and the temperature was in the low 40’s.  We were both questioning the safety of wandering out on the hiking trails in unknown territory in this weather (wearing cycling shoes, no less), when out of the mist came a 60-something year old couple who were delighted to see us.  They encouraged us to go enjoy the spring flowers, so inspired by their example, we set out.  The first half kilometer was still covered with snow, so we had to walk carefully.  Even so, the sights were amazing:  small alpine lakes still partially covered with ice, patches of delicate wildflowers, and occasional groups of volcanic fumaroles.  We took a short break in an emergency shelter to warm up and have a snack, and then headed back to the ropeway station after about 90 minutes of hiking.  Although we both would have liked to go to the top of the mountain, we didn’t trust the weather, and the footing on the path would only get more treacherous as we gained altitude.  We got back to the campground in the late afternoon, very cold and wet but glad we had made the trip.


In the tram heading up the mountain


Getting ready to hike at the top of Daisetsuzan


Spring wildflowers


Alpine lake on the side of the trail


Mountain shelter at the fork leading to mountain summit


Trying to figure out how to get past the spring runoff on the trail

After returning to camp, we went for a bath at the youth hostel across the street.  The bath felt amazing after a day out in the cold weather, and we took advantage of the nearby lounge to relax a bit more and catch up on our journal.  We tried to eat at the restaurant there, but–as is typical for almost every youth hostel we have seen so far–the dining area was for guests only.  With our food supplies from Biei dwindling, we settled for buying some instant ramen bowls at the hostel store and then cooked a simple dinner back at the camp.  We went to sleep early that night, hoping that the weather would clear up overnight for our ride back down the mountain.


Cooking dinner back at the camp

DAY 51



Kamifurano to Asahidake: a LONG way up the mountain

Kamifurano to Asahidake
Distance: 37 miles
Total Distance: 1928 miles

We woke up after a nice night’s sleep in Kamifurano to find a gentle rain coming down–damp, but nowhere near as bad as we had experienced in Honshu. Although rain was in the forecast for the next day or so, we decided to continue on towards the national park as we had read of the beautiful scenery to be found up there. After a quick breakfast, we packed up and started riding up the Furano valley towards Biei and the turnoff towards Daisetsuzan. The morning ride was very nice; we wound through green fields about to burst into bloom (Furano is a popular destination for flower viewing, which means that the farms in the area focus almost exclusively on picturesque fields of flowers). In the late morning we stopped for a break at the “Trick Art” museum and found an amazing field of flowers nearby. Quite a few pictures later, we hopped back on the bikes and headed north to Biei.


Beautiful flowers on the way to Biei


Vicky in the middle of the flower field


Quick break at the Trick Art Museum

Biei was our last real chance to do some shopping for the days ahead–we were unsure what to expect up in the national park, but we had heard that there were not many facilities available for campers, especially during this season. We bought enough for a few meals, hoping that we could find more in Asahidake, and after a brief sidewalk lunch headed up the road again, turning at Kitabei along the 213.

The first 20k were moderately uphill, then we climbed more steeply to get above the dam at Chubetsu Lake. A quite ride along the shore soon gave way to another climb, but this one was not near as easy. 10 miles straight up–never excessively steep, but without any flat stretches to recover; we were very glad to see the small town of Asahidake Onsen at the end of the road!


Riding up to Chubetsu Lake


Along the shore of the lake


Volcanoes ahead!!!

The town itself is very nice, with a small group of onsen hotels that blend in fairly well with the landscape (unlike many onsen towns we have been too, where the garish hotels detract from enjoying the scenery). We found our way to the town campground, and after pitching our tent on a suspiciously wet patch of ground we did a little more shopping at the hostel across the street. The campground had a covered cooking area, so we took advantage of the dry space to cook, brew some hot tea, and read until bedtime. The campground was empty except for one other group, a friendly German family that was doing an early season tour of Hokkaido’s national parks. We chatted for a bit, and then went to bed early, tired out after a long ride uphill. Our only thoughts as we went to sleep was that we hoped the weather would clear up tomorrow so that we could hike up the mountain and explore the heart of Daisetsuzan National Park.

DAY 50



Yubari to Kamifurano: Into the wilderness

Yubari to Kamifurano
Distance: 75 miles
Total Distance: 1891 miles

We woke up early the next morning, tired after being woken up frequently during the night by drag racing in the deserted parking lot. With a decent day of riding planned, we had hoped to be more rested, but at least the campsite was free! We packed up quickly and rode back towards the 452 and the turnoff to Lake Katsurazawa. According to accounts of other bike tourists, today would be the longest stretch we would find on our route without any kind of services–almost 100K! Of course, this is completely relative–here in Japan, we have grown accustomed to running into a convenience store or small town every few hours at most.

We stopped at a nearby Seicomart for supplies and filled up as many water bottles as we could. After a quick breakfast, we set out for Shuparo Lake. With our early start we had little traffic to worry about and could enjoy the clean air and a ride along the river towards the Shimizusawa dam, still under construction. A short climb took us above the main construction area, after which we shared the road with a constant stream of construction vehicles going back and forth to the nearby gravel quarries.


Vicky is not happy after a poor night's sleep


The Shimizusawa Dam construction site


Unfinished overpass across the 452

We intended to stop at a campground at Lake Katsurazawa, after a moderate day of riding, so we were in no huge rush as we worked our way over two climbs–the heat seem to increase as we went up, but it was never excessive. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the onsen once we arrived in the early afternoon, and to our dismay the campground was filled with caterpillars. It’s difficult to describe how unnerving this was, but imagine: a large park with picnic tables, bathrooms, a quiet lake nearby. Yet wherever we sat, we soon found our bags, bikes and bodies crawling with small brown and gold caterpillars. If we sat under a tree, they dropped down from above, and if we sat on a picnic table, they would crawl up from below. We had a quick lunch and cold drinks from a nearby vending machine, and watched as several other couples here for afternoon picnics were chased away by the onslaught of embryonic butterflies. We soon decided that there was no way we could sleep in the area, and after much discussion and consulting of maps decided that we could push on over the next set of passes to a rider house in Furano.


Riding across Lake Katsurazawa


Caterpillars are everywhere!

We got back on our bikes and followed the 452 again through a major climb and a 3km tunnel (no sidewalk!) until we came out on a long descent down into the valley around Furano. The scenery here was completely different! Huge fields of flowers, quaint farms, and lots of green rolling hills, with the mountains of Daisetsuzan National Park in the background.


Farms in the Furano valley


Mountains around Furano

Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the Rider House in Furano despite the kind efforts of several locals to locate it for us, so–despite tired legs and grumbling stomachs–we decided to push on towards a likely campground in Kamifurano to the north. It was tough getting there–this was our longest riding day of the trip so far!–but we finally made it just as the sun was starting to set. What a great find! Hot showers, laundry, and a group of friendly bike tourists from Taiwan! We set up our tent, and after a very refreshing shower went shopping down the road for dinner supplies. We were once again plagued by mosquitoes as we cooked dinner (does anyone have a good remedy for avoiding this constant aggravation in Hokkaido?), but other than that enjoyed a relaxing evening in the well maintained kitchen area. After a long day on the bike, we were ready for a good night’s sleep and went to bed early, looking forward to the ride through the Furano valley and into Daisetsuzan Park the next day.


Sunset at the Kamifurano campground


DAY 49



Sapporo to Yubari: Deer and perfect melons

Sapporo to Yubari
Distance: 42 miles
Total Distance: 1816 miles
Photo Album


After a couple of days of being very lazy in Sapporo, Vicky and I felt refreshed and ready to get back on our bikes! We have a lot to look forward to in the next week as we make our way north to Asahikawa: lots of open country, onsen, the flower fields of Biei, and the glaciers and mountains of Daisetsu-zan national park.

We had a nice farewell from our hostel–the owners are very friendly and made us feel right at home. We were sorry to leave, but got some nice pictures on our way out! There were a few errands we needed to take care of before leaving Sapporo (new air mattress for Vicky since hers has a leak…), but we finally headed out on a great cycling road that goes from the center of the city all the way to Kitahiroshima about 15 miles to the east.


Riding on the cycling road out of Sapporo


North of Sapporo, we saw fewer rice fields and a lot more farms like this

From Kitahiroshima, we headed generally north through a nice farming area–a few rolling hills but nothing major until the afternoon, when we started climbing up to the small mountain town of Yubari. In Honshu, there are signs of human habitation everywhere, even in the mountains–it’s rare to go even a mile there without seeing a farm or house tucked away in the hills. Here in Hokkaido it’s very different. As soon as you get outside a town or city, almost all signs of human habitation disappear and you are left with just the trees, mountains, and the road ahead.

Yubari is famous for its honeydew melons, and they appear on signs all over the town. You would think that we would be able to buy them cheaper at the source, but they were still 30 or 40 dollars each! Good thing this is one fruit Vicky doesn’t like :) We bought supplies at a convenience store and went to find a campground marked on the map, but found that it was no longer in operation. As it turned out the campground was located in the “Coal Mining History Town Theme Park”, which had an eerily abandoned feeling to it. We walked through the empty food stalls and souvenier stands, but never found the campground itself. Too tired to ride around and find another place to stay, we ended up sleeping in the parking lot that night. We were worn out enough to sleep well, but woke up in the middle of the night to local teens drag racing…


A Yubari Melon!


A cat bus! Does this remind anyone of Totoro?

DAY 48



Sapporo (still!): Gardens and books

Distance: 0 miles
Total Distance: 1773 miles
Photo Album


Vicky and I had another great day in Sapporo, resting up a little more and then walking around the Odori Park area. We spent the late morning touring the botanic gardens (very nice, but more focused on scientific labeling than aesthetics), and then had ramen (a Sapporo specialty) and went shopping for new books to read. Along the way, we wandered through Odori Koen which was full of people out enjoying the nice summer weather.

Tomorrow we’re heading north for the national park of Daisetsu-zan and the highest mountain in Hokkaido. It will take us a few days to get there, but we’ll go through some beautiful country along the way!


Alpine garden with city in the background


Lily pad growing out of the water


People out for a walk in Odori Park


Women in kimono doing their Sunday shopping


Butter corn ramen--a Sapporo specialty!

DAY 47



Sapporo: Beer, botanic gardens, baths, and beer

Distance: 0 miles
Total Distance: 1773 miles
Photo Album


Vicky and I had a great time in Sapporo today, although I have to admit that we didn’t do a whole lot of sightseeing…we spent a lot of time relaxing at our hostel, reading, doing laundry, and chatting with a few other travelers. Eventually, we forced ourselves to go downtown for a great lunch from a fancy grocery store and a few hours at the Sapporo Brewery Museum / Beer Garden. A note to future travelers–the museum has one of the best deals we’ve seen so far in Japan: four 8 oz. beer samples and a snack for about $4. If one were a lazy cyclist on a rest day, one could spend quite a bit of time in the beer garden there…

Speaking of lazy, I’m going to let Vicky’s pictures do the talking again! Astute readers will have noticed that I’m about two weeks behind on the blog updates, so I have a lot to get through while we have internet access!


Part of Vicky's lunch--this is a roll filled with curry and a fried egg


Upper floor of the beer museum


Sapporo beer advertisements from the 1920's and 30's


You buy tickets for samples from this machine: so many beers, so little time...


Vicky is happy


Vicky is sad

DAY 46



Lake Shikotsu to Sapporo: Back to the city

Lake Shikotsu to Sapporo
Distance: 31 miles
Total Distance: 1773 miles
Photo Album


Lots of climbing to start the day, and then a nice cruise down into the heart of Sapporo! We’re staying at a great hostel here (Ino’s Place) for three nights (two full rest days!) before heading up to Daisetsu-zan and Asahikawa. We don’t really have too many plans while we’re here, other than laundry, sleeping in, and visiting the Sapporo Brewery Museum!

Here are some pictures from our ride in today: it was a tough climb out of Lake Shikotsu, but very pretty all the way. We really enjoyed riding on the bike path along the river through the center of the city–lots of people out jogging, riding bikes, barbecuing, and suntanning. It reminded us of San Diego!


Fishermen camping along the shore of Lake Shikotsu


Huge golden Buddha at some "new religion" temple on the road to Sapporo--they tried to get us to come in but we ran away instead


Cool bridge over the river in Sapporo--the arch is a pedestrian walkway


This may be the first person we have seen sunbathing in Japan

DAY 45



Noboribetsu onsen to Lake Shikotsu: Two amazing rides along the water

Noboribetsu onsen to Lake Shikotsu
Distance: 50 miles
Total Distance: 1742 miles
Photo Album


We took our time getting out of our nice hotel in Noboribetsu Onsen, but finally managed to get on the road after enjoying many cups of tea from the fancy tea set provided in our room. A short steep descent took us down to the coast, where we slowly made our way north and east towards Tomakomai. Neither of us were feeling especially motivated to ride, and the scenery wasn’t helping–lots of heavily industrialized villages and factories stretching for miles along the shore. Eventually, this changed into a short but beautiful stretch of coastline: black sand, the remains of artificial breakwaters worn down by years of pounding surf, white foam, and water in many vibrant shades of blue and purple.


Remnants of breakwaters along the coast to Tomakomai


Gathering clouds and sea


One more for my collection of pictures of Vicky taking pictures


Sample statuary along the road to Tomakomai

Eventually we headed away from the coast for our big climb of the day up to Lake Shikotsu. We stopped and ate lunch on the edge of an elementary school playground, much to the amusement of the curious students, who came over to watch us and ask questions. After lunch, we started a great (but tough!) climb up to Lake Shikotsu–very little traffic, beautiful mountains, and one of the best road surfaces we have experienced in Japan. After quite a while, we eventually hit the top of the climb and coasted a few kilometers down to the lake.


On the climb up to Lake Shikotsu


Watch out for bears!

We intended to stop at a campground on the south side of the lake but didn’t have any food for dinner so we ended up riding all the way around to the other side to find a campground (and store?) we had seen marked on a road sign. For the second time in a day, we found ourselves riding along an amazing stretch of shoreline. Lake Shikotsu has beatifully clear waters and is surrounded by some very picturesque mountains–late in the afternoon, their tops were shrouded in fog and clouds but their slopes were bathed in warm golden sunlight. We stopped for lots of pictures along the way, and got to the supposed campground in the early evening.


One of the volcanoes around Lake Shikotsu


Fisherman on the lake before sunset

The campground (at a small boat landing) had been shut down long ago, but the lady at the small restaurant there told me that no one would complain if we put up our tent. We walked down to the old campground to find a spot, and discovered an entire community of fishermen lodging along the shores of the lake. This was a part of Japan we had not seen before–people living out of their vans and RVs in semi-permanent camps. Clearly, most of these men had been here for at least a couple of months, and would probably stay until autumn snows forced them out. A few waved as we passed, but most were intent upon their fishing equipment and boats, discussing the day’s catch and tomorrow’s strategy.

We found a spot at the end of the long line of fishermen, and pitched our own tent. After a long climb, we were a little tired so we cooked a simple dinner with what little food we had left and then crawled into bed. Unfortunately, we couldn’t sleep well due to the massive number of bugs that had somehow made their way inside–I spent quite a while squashing flies and evicting spiders before we could finally settle in. Still, once things calmed down we enjoyed the sound of the waves on the shore and the cool breeze. Tomorrow, we had a relatively short ride into Sapporo, and then a couple of rest days!