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Old 07-27-2011, 10:04 PM   #1
Guy Jinbaiquerre OP
Monorail Conductor
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Joined: Oct 2008
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Oddometer: 1,224
Aomori and Hokkaido, Japan ride report, July 19-23

Last Saturday, I finished a 5-day tour from Tokyo up to Aomori and Hokkaido, including the easternmost and northernmost points of the Japanese mainland. Although it looked like about 5 or 6 of my local riding buddies were interested, for various reasons no one ended up joining in and it was to be a solo journey. Here's the report.

The overall 5-day track looks like this:

Not including the ferries between Aomori and Hokkaido, it was 3,829km of actual riding.

DAY 1: Tokyo to Aomori
Time: 8h38m
Distance: 663km

This was the required blast from Tokyo up to Aomori on the Tohoku expressway. I was trying to escape the typhoon that had moved into town the night before. I thought I had dodged it, but it caught me around Utsunomiya and began absolutely pissing down, so that there was an actual depth of accumulated rainwater on the road surface. I was wearing my new Sidi waterproof Gore-Tex boots, but a mesh/textile jacket and pants. The rain soaked through my clothes and flowed down into the boots, where the waterproofness kept it locked inside. So my feet were sloshing around in pools of water.

Of course there was rain gear in my panniers, but I had never stopped to put it on, thinking the rain would let up. It didn't. I ended up simply riding beyond the area of rainfall, somewhere around Sendai. I stopped at a service area to change my inner layer, underwear, and socks, and I dumped a good cup or two of water out of each boot.

Now dry, more or less, I finished the ride up to the Seki no Yu onsen (hot spring bath) and ryokan (traditional Japanese-style inn). This is seriously one of the very best onsen/ryokan I have stayed at in Japan and I heartily recommend it if you are heading north into Aomori. Super-deluxe Japanese-style dinner, huge tatami (straw mats) room, and truly massive onsen all for about 6,500 yen. That's the same as the crappy business hotel I stayed at the next night! Plus, the staff are really friendly and helpful, and they let you park your bike in a covered area right in front of the main entryway:

Please excuse the low-quality photo from my phone. Seki no Yu's website is:

DAY 2: Aomori to Tomakomai, Hokkaido
Time (not including ferry): 13h20m
Distance (not including ferry): 622km

I got up early and was on the road before 5am, because I had a lot of riding I wanted to do in Aomori and I also needed to catch the 2 o'clock ferry from Oma to Hakodate (I had a reservation). My plan was to hit the Iwaki skyline, do the purple roads around Lake Towada, swing up north around Cape Natsudomari, and then go all the way around the northern "hook" of Aomori to Oma and the ferry terminal. Once I reached Hakodate, I would head north and east to Tomakomai:

My plan was to reach the town of Kushiro by Thursday night, where I was going to meet some friends who were on a bicycle tour around Hokkaido. I figured making it to Tomakomai would be enough progress for one day.

I headed out under beautiful, sunny skies:

I reached the Iwaki Skyline and immediately encountered my first problem: It doesn't open until 8am:

Well, there was no way I was waiting around for it to open, so I managed to ride around that locked gate.

This was not easy. The sides of the road fell off in a steep slope into thick underbrush, but I could kind of see how I could just barely make it. Step 1: I took all the luggage off the bike to make it lighter and narrower. Step 2: I prayed that I wouldn't get stuck and need the road managers to come help me get the bike back on the road in 3 hours when they showed up to open the gate. Step 3: I went for it and drove off the asphalt, down the dirt embankment, and into the brush. The big GSA crushed the thick reeds in its path, and I eased the bike to a stop.

Now I had a problem. I was stuck in the dirt and bushes, and I needed to turn the bike around a bit so it wasn't pointing deeper into the woods, and then I needed to drive up the steep embankment on the other side of the gate back on to the road. It wasn't happening with me on the bike, so I dismounted, yanked out a few of the thicker reeds blocking my way, and walked the bike around the gatepost while giving it a little bit of gas in first gear. I had to do it a little bit at a time, killing the engine and simply muscling the bike into a different position a few times, but eventually I was on the other side of the gate.

But I was still in the woods. It took me another couple of tries to actually get the bike back up the steep embankment onto the tarmac. I used the approach of walking beside it while gassing it in first to gently ease it up the slope. This was tricky because the rear Anakee 2 lost traction and was spinning in the mud. Eventually I got enough momentum, though, and... success!

You can see how far beyond the gate I am. That's how far I had to walk the bike along the embankment to find a good spot where it could make it up the slope onto the road. Here's a (crappy phone photo) close-up of where I came around the post:

And here's the aftermath on the rear Anakee 2:

Conclusion: It'll do okay on mild rindos, but it's not an offroad tire. The treads became completely filled with mud so that the tire surface was essentially smooth.

Anyway, I can't believe the whole thing actually worked, and I also can't believe I decided to go for it. Now, the Iwaki Skyline lay ahead. Here's a photo of a poster of it:

A mere 69 switchback turns later, I was at the top!

The early-morning wind was really howling at the top, though, strong enough to be pushing my helmet around when I rested it on the side mirror. To be honest, being on a closed road and feeling like my helmet (or worse) could get blown off the side of the mountain combined to make me so nervous that I couldn't really relax and enjoy the experience. I got my trophy photo and headed back down, where I had to repeat the epic struggle to get my bike back around the still-locked gate.

Getting around the gate (twice!) had eaten up enough time that I had to choose between sticking to my route and riding like a madman to make the 2:00 ferry, or chopping out part of the route and having time to stop along the way for photos and whatnot. I decided to cut the swing around Lake Towada, but I still enjoyed lots of great twisty local roads all around Mt. Iwaki before reaching Cape Natsudomari. Here's my bike approaching the cape:

At the actual cape, this photo op presented itself:

Touring photos don't get much more Japanese-y than that!

The roads around the cape area were a real blast too, lots of sweeping curves. I headed on up to Oma and the ferry. On the way there, I stopped in at this shop that makes just about anything out of tofu:

I had a tofu donut (low carb!) hot out of the fryer that I swear could give Krispy Kreme some serious competition. Finally I made it up to Oma, where I had time to pose with the tuna statue symbolizing Oma's reliance on tuna fishing. There was also a giant fist that looked like it was trying to smash my GSA:

And right next to those statues was this one, marking the northernmost point of the island of Honshu, Japan's main island:

Next, it was time for a little ferry action. The ride from Oma to Hakodate is just 1 hour, 40 minutes:

I got to Hokkaido and onto a twisty local road close to the harbor and heading north. This was not one of Hokkaido's dull straightaways. Great riding and great scenery!

Lots of farm fields when you're out of the hills:

After doing those fun local roads, I blasted along the expressway to Tomakomai and sacked out in a boring business hotel.

DAY 3: Tomakomai to Nemuro. Plus, hot dirt road action!
Time: 11h26m
Distance: 448km

I set out from the business hotel and headed east toward Kushiro. Kushiro is not all that far from Tomakomai, so I had time to explore interesting roads along the way. I didn't have a route planned out, so I used my road atlas and looked for promising stuff. I spotted a rindo (dirt road) in the atlas, but when I tried to program it into my Zumo 660, it wasn't there! So I headed along the road it supposedly branched out from and found it the old-fashioned way: I looked for it with my eyes.

This was the entrance:

You know, it's kind of scary heading onto a little-known dirt road (apparently not big enough for my Zumo to bother with) in the middle of nowhere by yourself. If I fell off a cliff like a friend of mine's buddy did back in May, no one would know and no one would be looking for me, or even know where I was. So, with due caution, I headed off the pavement. I turned off the GSA's ABS and traction control, but did not air down my tires -- which probably would have been a good idea, but I don't have an air gauge. Need to get one of those!

Anyway, the rindo was just hard enough to be interesting (i.e., not a perfectly packed dirt/gravel road) without being truly difficult. I had to be careful to keep the bike pointing straight ahead as every now and then rocks on the road would push my front tire right or left. But it was fun, not annoying. And the scenery was awesome:

I saw a deer jump across the road ahead of me at one point. I wanted to stop and try to get a picture of it, but then I thought that if there's deer, there could also be bear. So I stayed on the bike and kept moving.

After a while, the rindo came down out of the mountains and turned to pavement across this lake:

Then it turned back to a rindo again on Rt. 235, which starts out paved but then turns to dirt:

I passed this Dagobah-looking swamp at one point:

As the rindo passed out of the woods, the road got drier:

But there were still puddles of water. (Please excuse my manly whoops of joy):

Back on pavement I kept heading east and did some more rindos as I got closer to Kushiro. One was closed due to a landslide:

I passed Kushiro and headed toward Nemuro, where my bicyclist friends were staying. Route 123 has some great sweepers and turns along the coast there, with stunning views. Really some of the best overall riding I've done in Hokkaido:

Another view:

Eventually, I reached the ryokan where we planned to meet up:

The family managing the ryokan were very friendly and asked us about our trips:

We had a good home-cooked dinner (well, the sushi wasn't cooked) and fell asleep quickly after a hard day of riding... whether by motorcycle or bicycle.

DAY 4: Nemuro to Wakkanai
Time: 13h24m
Distance: 733km

I got up early and headed out before 5am toward the easternmost point of Japan. Here it is, marked by a big ol' ugly arch and an observation tower:

Japanese tourists like to come here and gaze out over the ocean, where you can see some of the small islands Russia nabbed from Japan at the close of WWII. Japan would still like 'em back, although it doesn't look like that's gonna happen any time soon.

Then I checked out these two weird little strips of land that stick out into the ocean a bit further north. They looked interesting in my road atlas, but it turns out they're not such a big deal. Here's the first one:

And the other one, which I couldn't ride all the way to the end of anyway, since it's off-limits to private vehicles. It's a special area for fishing industry stuff:

Did get some nice photo ops along the coast, though:

Next I cut inland to the west, to check out Lake Mashu and Lake Kussharo. There were a lot of farm fields along the way, with the hay bales shrink-wrapped in black plastic. Weird. I'm a city boy, but I later learned that this is how you make silage to feed to livestock:

Finally, I reached Lake Mashu:

And here's Lake Kussharo, where a Japanese version of the Loch Ness monster supposedly dwells:

You could also get a great view of Kussharo from the Bihiro Touge (mountain pass), which I reached after riding past the lake:

Look at those curves in the background!

After that, it was time to head up the east coast to Wakkanai, Japan's northernmost town. Great scenery as you get farther north:

When I was almost at the northernmost point of the Japanese mainland, Cape Soya, I spotted a large lump lying in the oncoming lanes of traffic. Turns out it was a bicyclist who wrecked going downhill at speed. He had no helmet and his head was gashed and bloody. He was still conscious, but kind of out of it, as you might expect. I flagged down a car of Japanese folks who directed traffic around him, called for an ambulance, and stayed with him until it arrived.

Finally, I reached Cape Soya. But I had to wait for two busloads of senior citizen tourists to filter through before I could get a good photo!

That shot doesn't give you the full idea. There were huge groups with benches lining up for group photos taken by a guy with a camera on a tripod. Fun. I don't see the point of going somewhere like this if you're just getting hauled there in a luxury bus by some driver. To me, it's like you're not "earning" it, so what's the point? I guess a bicyclist could say that about people who ride up by motorcycle, though.

Finally, it was my turn:

I then found a local ryokan using my Zumo and was indoors well before sundown:

DAY 5: Wakkanai to Tokyo
Time (not including ferry): 15h20m
Distance (not including ferry): 1,363km

For Saturday, I had made a reservation to take the ferry from Tomakomai to Oarai, which is just a fairly short ride from Tokyo. That would have given me time to do some more touring on the way to Tomakomai.

However, it was not to be. I got a call from the ferry company at 8 o'clock Friday night, when I was already in bed at the ryokan. Typhoon #6 was causing strong waves off the east coast of Tohoku. It could delay the ferry's departure, cause it to run slowly along the way, and even prevent it from docking at Oarai until the ocean calmed down. How long could the delays be? Impossible to say. Could it be three hours? Yes. Ten hours? Yes. A full day? Yes.

Screw that. I cancelled the reservation and resolved to ride the whole way home. Like a man.

I was on the road before 3:00am just to make sure I reached the noon ferry at Hakodate in time. (Boarding for bikes was at 11:30.) I guess I overestimated how long it would take, since I got there two hours early! But I was riding faster than usual on the straight country roads and expressways. I even maxed out the speed on my GSA at one point, holding the throttle all the way open and keeping it there. Seems my mighty steed will only hit 190km/h, tops -- at least when weighed down with a full topcase and panniers. Fast enough for me, anyway.

I napped a bit on the ferry (to Aomori city, an almost 4-hour ride, not to Oma) and then saddled up for the ride home down the Tohoku expressway. It started to rain at one point, and not wanting to get soaked like on the ride up, I pulled onto the shoulder and put on my rain gear. So of course the rain then stopped!

Anyway, I made it home just after midnight. My own bed never felt so good.

IBA # 42657
96 Honda XR250 Baja
09 BMW R1200GS Adventure ・ 09 KTM 990 SMT (sold) ・ 97 Honda X4 ・ 95 Kawasaki ZZR400 (sold)

Guy Jinbaiquerre screwed with this post 07-28-2011 at 03:23 AM
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Old 07-27-2011, 11:21 PM   #2
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Hey Guy,

Nice report on your trip. Personally, I never had the dough to spend on the tollways, so I settled for the twists in Izu, etc. I was very happy to see that there are still RINDO in Japan that aren't paved! That's a relief!

Keep up the good work. BTW--You are crazy to ride from Hakodate to Tokyo in a single day--but you knew that, right?

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Old 07-27-2011, 11:35 PM   #3
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That looks crazy! Nice report
What good am I, if I know and don’t do, If I see and don’t say - Bob Dylan

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Old 07-27-2011, 11:37 PM   #4
Guy Jinbaiquerre OP
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Joined: Oct 2008
Location: Tokyo, Japan
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Originally Posted by purpledrake View Post
I was very happy to see that there are still RINDO in Japan that aren't paved! That's a relief!
They were paving one of them while I was riding it!

A bunch of dump trucks had headed all the way up into the hills and were pouring gravel all over it in preparation for a coating of asphalt later on.
IBA # 42657
96 Honda XR250 Baja
09 BMW R1200GS Adventure ・ 09 KTM 990 SMT (sold) ・ 97 Honda X4 ・ 95 Kawasaki ZZR400 (sold)
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Old 07-28-2011, 09:26 AM   #5
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Awesome RR!

There aren't nearly enough Japan ride reports for my liking. Skyway!

Thank you for this one
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Old 07-28-2011, 11:57 AM   #6
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Cool to see you found some dirt in Japan! nice RR!
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Old 07-29-2011, 01:14 PM   #7
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Great RR! Thoroughly enjoyed it! Thanks,
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