Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Day 40: Shirakawa Go

Monday, August 3, 2009
Summary: Biked 35km (21 miles) to Shirakawa Go and surrounding area. World Heritage Site with many old homes designed for heavy snow fall w/ A-frame thatch roof. Yesterday's weather was rain and 68 degrees. Today's was sunny and 90.

  I awoke at 5:45 to a bright morning on the mountain top, and decided to explore a bit, while Sho snoozed in the hiker's hut. Not far away, a tent was set up with information laid out on a table about a nearby hiking trail on Amo Pass. A collection of walking sticks were stacked by the trail's entrance. We had discovered a place intended to be helpful to the mountain traveler! I meditated on the beaucolic scene, appreciating the birds' morning songs and the gentle rustling of wind through the verdant forest. I gazed at the expansive blue sky above and felt a deep sense of peacefulness, as the rising sun's rays played off of the mountain chain stretching out in every direction.
Sho woke up soon thereafter, and we enjoyed a breakfast of pre-made pancakes and dried squid. As we were packing our bags on to the bikes, a mountain ranger pulled up in a truck. I asked if it had been ok to sleep in the hut.
"That's what it's for! I hope you were comfortable," he responded with a smile. "Your son rode all the way up the mountain too?" He looked at Sho with a mixture of admiration and incredulity. "Be careful on your descent. There have been rock slides, and the road is even narrower than the side you biked up."
We discovered right away that the ranger was right, and even though I did my best to avoid debris from the rock slides, the back tire, weighed down by two heavy panniers and my butt, got a flat 15 minutes into the descent. I rolled my eyes at the annoyance, and unloaded all of the gear from the bikes, removed the wheel and examined the punctured tube. I patched the hole and checked for any remaining sharp objects before re-inserting the tube, pumping it up and re-loading the panniers onto the bikes. The whole process took 30 minutes, and Sho sat patiently by the road, playing his DS.
Once under way again, we took it slowly down the narrow, winding debris-strewn road, staying well away from the precipitous drop-off. Only a 3-foot guard rail protected us from the fall, and we would have easily hurled ourselves right over it, if we lost control. My numb fingers and burning forearms protested as I squeezed the brakes hard, determined to make it down safely.
As we neared Shirakawa Go, we started to see the distinctive, thick A-frame thatched roof houses that have made this place famous in Japan. Designed to withstand the massive amounts of snow dumped in the heart of the Japan Alps, the houses represent the resiliance and ingenuity of the local populace. It was sunny and 90 degrees, and I had difficulty picturing the surrounding green fields covered in snow.
Our steep, mountain road ended abruptly, and we were suddenly in the midst of tourists tramping back and forth through Shirakawa Go's main street, snapping pictures of the village. They all must have come from another route, because we had not been passed by a single car on our descent from Amo Pass. We lingered for a while, appreciating the unique spot and pushing our bikes on small side streets through lush farmland. We biked outside of the town center to an onsen bath house, where we cleaned off from our mountain adventure and reveled in a deeply relaxing soak. An onsen always feels great, but it is particularly fabulous to deeply exhausted muscles after biking over a mountain.
We checked into a small ryokan inn, where we were served a delicious traditional Japanese dinner. Sitting on pads in a tatami mat room, wearing a comfortable yukata robe, surrounded by dishes of beautifully-prepared food served as a significant contrast to our lonely mountain experience the night before. Luxury!
We were asleep by 9pm, snuggled up comfortably beneath thick comforters on top of deliciously deep futons...

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