We woke today to rain. Harder rain than the previous days. Just as well today’s destination was back home to Sapporo.
Just as well, also, that we had a spacious pagoda all to ourselves to keep out of the rain.
Of course the time came when we had to venture out. We were comforted by the fact that it was only 30km back to Sapporo.
About half of that distance was covered on the fantastic cycling road that cuts through forest and urban sprawl into Sapporo, running from Kitahiroshima. On a nice day, it looks like this: http://14degrees.org/en/?p=1579.
On a cold wet day, however, it looks more like this:
Safe and sound at home before 10am, after seeing our remaining companion off (Aki), we were happy to have the rest of the day at home to get laundry done and a wet tent aired and dried. Tomorrow it is back to work.
Despite the rain, it was great to get out and about for a well needed long weekend. The campsites we stayed at were great, considering the very close proximity of the hotsprings. Worth noting is that all the hotsprings had attached restaurants with very reasonable priced meals (between 600yen and 1200yen (US$6 to US$12)). We could have gotten away with not cooking any meals at all.
All up, we probably spent around 5,000yen (US$50) a day for the two of us (Haidee and Rob) for food, campground accommodation, and hotsprings. If it had been sunny, and hence had we been more motivated to cook more, it might have been slightly cheaper.
A big thanks for our fellow HIOC members Aki, Rick and Michal for the company!
Approximate route: http://goo.gl/maps/NzLUj
Getting up before dawn is not always easy for those who do not usually get up before dawn. But is it even harder when ‘before dawn’ is 3:45am, as it is in Hokkaido even at this time of the year.
But before dawn it was this morning, as we hoped to see thousands of wild migratory geese take off for the day’s feeding from Miyajima-numa lake, in Tsukigata Town.
First up was a brisk 4km bike ride to the lake.
The more hardcore photographers were already there in force.
Right on 4:30am, the geese started moving. They took off from the water in flocks of hundreds.
The geese are protected, but apparently the local farmers are not thrilled about having thousands of hungry geese descending on their crops every day.
The early morning start did not dampen spirits on the cycling team.
Spirits were further heightened by the appearance of sunlight at the campground, a welcome change after two days of rain.
After another hearty breakfast, we departed camp and headed for the Ishikari River once again. The first 1km along the floodbank was paved, but this soon gave way to more dirt road.
Once again, no problem for fatter tires, but hard going on skinnies. We headed for the nearest quiet paved road, and were rewarded by great views to the mountains across the plains.
Rick, the Brit in the team, had managed to develop a sore knee during the three days’ riding, so opted out of the last night’s camp and headed straight back to Sapporo rather than carrying on with us. This meant that we were down to three.
Today’s lunch was by Google’s recommendation. On the Android smartphone app for Google Maps, you are able to tell Google to find nearest ramen restaurants. Today’s recommendation was Kirara Ramen in Nanporo. It was delicious. I got the ‘salt’ ramen with a free side of pork-on-rice. I paid 850yen for the feast (US$8.50)
I ought to mention that on this trip, I have been using a home-made (DIY) USB charger that I attach to my dynamo hub. I’ll be writing a blog post later about making one of these, but it works really well. I get about 1% battery charge per 1km cycled, when my Sony Xperia Z smartphone is switched off. Over a 60km cycling day, this is enough to keep the device charged, and turn it on every now and then to check location via GPS. The charger does not seem to put out enough charge, however, to keep the phone charged while the screen is on. Full write-up to come soon.
We cycled on to Naganuma Town, and checked into the Maoi Autocamp Campground. This relatively upmarket place cost us 1,200yen each (US$12). As routine on this trip dictated, we put up the tents and headed for an onsen, 3 minutes walk away. Dinner was convenience-store bought rice and veges and meat, cooked on our camp stoves.
Sun 5th May | T
Approximate route: http://bit.ly/15oQGe5
After seeing the geese leaving at sunrise at Miyajima-numa, head back down the Ishikari River stopbank road, then onto the Yubari River cycling road at Ebetsu, end up at the Maoi Auto-land campground in Naganuma Town. Campground cost is 1000yen entry (includes Naganuma onsen pass), plus 500yen per tent site (up to two tents per site). The campground is near Higashi Teien (large Japanese garden).
Another perk of the Shinotsu Park Camping Ground is a free morning soak in the New Shinotsu Golf Course onsen. Nothing quite like a hot spring soak in the morning…
Post-soak and post-breakfast (porridge and apple for Haidee and I), we got on the road.
Michel, our Czech rider, was only able to stay for the one night, so headed back to Sapporo on his own. The remaining four of us carried on for a quick 20km to Tsukigata.
For some of the way, we had expansive blacktop on the top of the Ishikari River stopbanks.
The blacktop soon stopped, forcing an impromptu clamber over gates to get access to a nearby road.
Rice is an important staple here…although I can imagine the local variety must be quite hardy, to cope with a mild and rather short growing season…it is May here and there’s still snow on the ground.
The big idea behind coming to Tsukigata early, and making it a short day, was so that we could go and have a look at Miyajima-numa, a popular stop-over for migrating geese. By the time we got to the campground at Tsukigata (a very palatable 200yen (US$2) each a night) and got our tents set up, it had started raining again. The short 3km cycle to Miyajima-numa was scrapped, and we headed to the nearest onsen. Which would be our second hot-spring soak in about 6 hours. Tough work.
The Tsukigata Kairaku Campground has a great BBQ area. So we decided to eschew our camp cookers and go all out. Grilled meat and veges over a charcoal BBQ was the feast for the night. Warming and fun. Charcoal, meat and veges bought from the local farmer’s coop supermarket.
Sat 4th May | Shinotsu Park Camping Ground to Tsukigata Kairaku Park Campground
Approximate route: http://goo.gl/maps/QpbGk
Lake Shinotsu to Tsukigata (near Bibai City) 21km along Ishikari river stopbank road. If the weather is good, cycle around Miyajima-numa, a migration point for wild geese and other birds. Camp at the Tukigata Kairaku Park Campground (月形皆楽公園キャンプ場, 200yen per person per night). Campground is right next to Tsukigata Yurikago Onsen (月形温泉ゆりかご, 500yen).
The first week of May in Japan is fantastic. Four national holidays converge upon one week, meaning that if you play your cards right, you can get up to a week off work. Aptly, the week is referred to as Golden Week, or GW for short. While Golden Week in other parts of Japan might mean blossom viewing in warm spring weather, Golden Week in Hokkaido is still cold. Like snow-still-on-the-ground cold. But if the skies are clear, it can be a great opportunity to get outside. So, we (my wife and I) planned to get outside.
A four-day cycle tour around some campsites and onsen (hotsprings) within a 60km radius of Sapporo City, following some of the area’s main rivers (Toyohira River, Ishikari River, Yubari River), to be exact.
We invited members of the Hokkaido International Outdoor club to come along. Three hardy souls responded. A Brit, a Czech, and a Japanese.
It essentially proceeded to rain for the next 96 hours straight. The only respite was a period of approximately 10 hours where the sun appeared for approximately 32 minutes.
I may be exaggerating slightly, but I think the other members will agree that it’s not too far off the truth.
We started in Sapporo at 11am on Friday the 3rd of May, aiming for the Shinotsu Park Camping Ground in Shinshinotsu. The aim was to try to keep to the Toyohira River and Ishikari River cycling paths as much as possible. It was raining when we left.
But the team was in good spirits.
Ganbare Nihon! (Let’s go Japan!)
For the most part along the Toyohira River, there was either a cycling path alongside the river, or a paved river access road on the top of the floodbanks (non-accessible by car).
Once onto the Ishikari River floodbanks, however, the paved roads gave way to gravel. These would be fantastic for a group on wide-tired touring bikes, but for the three on narrow road tires, the going was tough.
Travelling-by-floodbank meant no automobile traffic, but it also meant limited access to places to get a warm meal. For lunch on this first day, we consulted Professor Google, and she guided us to a cheap local restaurant on the other side of the river. The Emergency Center on the Ishikari River in Ebetsu was a very welcome respite from the cold weather for five hungry cyclists. Here, we ate our fill of curry-rice or ramen or soba noodles for around 600yen each (US$6). The small restaurant had their heaters cranking, and we all managed to get some of our wet jackets dried out while we were there.
Hitting the road again after a warm lunch, we had to steer clear of the river floodbanks, due to the gravel roads.
After a cold wet 50km, we arrived at our campsite at around 3pm. The camp registration lady told us we were their first campers for the season. Aki, our sole Japanese member on the trip, was not surprised. The campground, for the most part, was a soggy marsh. Piles of unmelted snow loomed in the background.
The big drawcard for this campground was that it is about 1 minute’s walk from two separate onsen (hot-springs). We each paid 800yen (US$8) per night for the campground, and 300yen (US$3) for a fantastic soak in natural hot spring baths. A little pricey as far as campgrounds go, but the cheap onsen made up for it. Dinner was had at the onsen restaurant, because none of us could be bothered cooking in the cold wind outside. At around 800yen (US$8) each for the meals, it hardly broke the bank.
Fri 3rd May: Sapporo to Shinotsu Park Camping Ground
Approximate Route: http://goo.gl/maps/cKdf5
45km along the Toyohira River Cycle Path and then the Ishikari River Cycle Path/stop-bank road. The campground is right next to Airis Onsen（アイリス温泉, costs 400円）and Shinotsu Lake（しのつ湖 ）. Campground opens 1st May, and costs 300yen per person per night, plus 1000yen per tent (second tent is 500yen).