Saturday, July 18, 2009
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Saturday, July 18, 2009
The rain storm ended some time in the night, and we awoke to an overcast sky. Sho and I found a baseball glove and ball that someone had left behind in the michi no eki rest stop's field, and after breaking down the tent and loading the bikes with our gear, we practiced pitching until our arms gave out. It was a 20 minute ride to the onsen bath house we had tried to reach the night before, and we lingered there, trying out each of the four luxurious, rock pools filled with steaming mineral water.
After a satisfying dip, we jumped on our bikes, clean and ready to ride about 80km (50 miles) to Shirakami Sanchi, the second of Japan's World Heritage Sites we would visit on this trip. The literal translation is "white god mountain area", and we looked forward to camping and hiking in this primeval, unspoiled forest filled with Siebold's beech trees.
We rode along the beautiful coast of Aomori Prefecture, stopping frequently to capture shots of the impressive rocky shore and some quaint fishing villages tucked between sharp cliffs. The beach proved irresistible to Sho, and we spent an hour horsing around in the waves after eating lunch at a small noodle shop by the sea. We finally got back on our bikes and made our way to Juu Ni Ko ("12 Lakes") resort, our jumping off point into the wilds of Shirakami Sanchi. As we neared our destination, the clouds we'd ignored all day decided to get our attention. As the first droplets fell, we protected our gear with rain covers and threw on light jackets. By the time we turned into to Juu Ni Ko an hour later, we were in the midst of a monster deluge. Rain water pooled on the top of my helmet, spilling out in a mini waterfall that splashed all over my mouth and eyes. Sho laughed behind me, drenched and dripping, and shouted through the raging storm, "I love it!"
The coastal ride had been rolling with short, manageable climbs. But when we took a sharp left turn into the entrance to Juu Ni Ko, the road pitched up immediately to a challenging 10% grade (steep enough that there was a sign warning cars of the steep slope). Sho and I pedaled hard, riding through a fast-moving stream of water rushing down the mountain road's edge, like salmon fighting the current. As my legs burned with the effort, I wondered if we would be able to continue, but my bike's low mountain gear allowed us to maintain a sustainable cadence and to stay upright, despite crawling upward at 2 - 3 MPH. After 20 minutes of hard pedaling through the driving storm, we pulled into a visitor's center. The place was abandoned, save for a lone clerk, who explained that the campsite was another 10km (6 miles) up the mountain. It was already 5:30pm, and the storm and heavy canopy already cast the road in shadows, making it difficult to see. I didn't like the idea of riding up narrow, steep mountain roads in the dark for the next 2 hours, and asked the clerk to help me come up with a creative solution. She pointed us across the road to a resort, where the manager, likely moved by a pitifully dripping Sho, took pity on us. The resort's cabins were full, but he let us warm up and clean off in their onsen bath house and eat dinner in a restaurant normally reserved for guests with all-inclusive reservations. To top it off, the staff loaded our bikes and gear into a van and drove us up to the campsite. The ride was steep, confusing because of several turn-offs, and scary in the dark with the monster rain storm raging. It would have been a nightmare, and frankly irresponsible, to have tried to bike it with Sho.
The campsite manager let us set up our tent on the wooden floor of a raised pavilion, that kept us mostly protected from the driving rain, commenting, "This is highly unusual weather. It's usually a great time of the year to visit." I lost count of how many times I said thank you to the various people who came to our rescue.
That night, I woke up over and over, as a powerful whirling wind screamed through the forest and slammed our tent mercilessly, shaking us with an impressive wrath. Sho took it all in stride, observing, "Now, THIS is like a real adventure!"