A Saturday ride to the Gotsu lighthouse

Another day, another ride… the day started with a quick visit to the Iwami Seaside Park to check out a friend’s new tent and tarp, and that was when I spotted the site for the day. For years I have camped here, and for years I have thought about visiting the Lighthouse on the other end of the beach. So Yuki and I saddled up and took a ride over.  

As you may know, riding gear is really not made for hiking, but the short hike up to the lighthouse was well worth it.  I am sure the view at sunset is amazing, but all the bear warning signs make me wonder if it is with it. 

Pointing to the spot where we usually camp, and where I am posting this from tonight. ;^) 

Iwami Loop

Yuki and I decided to take the bike down to Masuda on an errand, and we ended up doing a nice long Iwami Loop. We took route 9 down to Masuda to get a tennis racquet restrung, and when we learned it would take four hours the only option was to ride it out. We headed down through Hagi, and over the border into Yamaguchi to the Tamagawa campground. We drove down past the campsite to walk out to the beach, where we took the only two photos of the day.

After a couple of great burgers from Wild Kitchen at the Tamagawa rest stop, we headed further down route 191 to catch route 315 into the Yamaguchi mountains. This may be one of my new favorite roads. I will definitely be back. It has a nice balance of twists, turns, and beautiful mountain views. I think I need to go back to see it again in the fall…

From 315 we hopped on route 13 to swing through Tsuwano, which is a fantastic town to visit. However, today we just cruised straight through and hopped on route 9 back into Masuda, where we stopped in for a coffee at KuriKuri Coffee. Rather than return home up the coast on route 9, we decided to take another of my favorite roads, the Western Iwami Farm Road (A.K.A. 石見西部広域農道). This is a beautiful winding mountain road which is fairly new, and very lightly travelled. This is the nicest ride home from Masuda to Hamada, and it brings you right into Yasakamura, where you can visit friends before grabbing route 34 for the last thirty minutes back home.

Overall, it was a beautiful day for 200k. I am looking forward to a lot more beatiful two-up rides in the future. Next time I will remember to take more photos…

Hagi Moto-SUP Weekend 

This past Friday I taught a class about an hour down the coast, and as it was a Friday I decided to make a camping trip of it. The class was in Masuda, which is the most south-western city in Shimane, so it was only an extra 20 minutes to the closest camp site over the Yamaguchi border. So Friday morning I headed out around 7:30 AM to head down to Masuda to teach my class. As always, the ride down route 9 was fantastic. While I may occasionally complain about traffic on that road, I must admit the ocean views along the way more than make up for it.

After teaching my class I took route 191 south, past the Hagi-Iwami airport, and along to the Tamagawa Campsite. I arrived to find a completely empty site. I took my time settling into camp; setting up the tent, tarp, hammock, and getting my lay of the land. The walk to the beach was only about 200 meters, and I found the perfect launch point for the SUP. However, it was getting late in the afternoon, so rather than inflating the board I decided to cook some dinner, drink a few beers, and head off for an onsen. Did I mention that the Tamagawa campsite has an onsen?

After falling asleep to the distant slapping of jumping fish in the river beside the campsite, I awoke around six AM to an empty campsite. It was still just me, the crows, mosquitoes, and occasional lost crabs. I took my time, relaxed, and cooked up some breakfast before inflating the SUP. The forecast promised for cloudy skies until 14:00, when the claim was that thunderstorms were forthcoming. As such, I decided to get on the water early, and hit the beach at around 9:30. The Tamagawa beach is a fishermen’s beach. It is only about 70 meters wide, and I put in between fishermen on both sides.  The beach was more stoney than sandy, but the water was flat and welcoming. Putting in was a pleasure, and the first shot straight out to a small islet/rock off the coast was a smooth paddle.

The plan was to keep things simple, as it has been a few months since I have paddled, so I set my sights on reaching the tip of the furthest visible outcrop of the coastal cliffs. This proved to be about three kilometers away. Along the way I found myself sidetracked twice; once by a an odd floating yellow seaweed island about three meters across, and then again by the appearance of a small jellyfish which I chased unsuccessfully.

Once I reached the furthest outcropping, I paused to look off at Shimane in the distance, gave the token nod/bow to the fishermen who had planted themselves there for the day, and then turn back for camp. On the way back I opted to hug the cliffs and enjoy the sights a bit. While I neglected to take photos of them, there were a lot of 亀の手 (A.K.A. Capitulum mitella) everywhere along the cliff walls at the waterline. Apparently they are a bit of a delicacy, so I guess I will be collecting some next time I am out paddling….

The great thing about hugging the cliff lines is that you come across all kinds of caves and little coves. I did find some great caves to explore, but I due to the tricky nature of navigating caves I did not get any photos. However, did get some shots of the coves and rock formations. One cove was especially interesting, as the wall was covered in greens which were apparently populated by frogs. The strong disconnect of paddling into a sea cove to the music of frog songs was a bit odd to me. I am accustomed to the keening of the birds, and the slapping of the waves, but frogs were a bit of a surprise.

After the frog cove, I found a larger cove with water like glass. The sea floor was completely covered with what looked like river stones. I paddled slowly and watched the small fish swim along seemingly oblivious, or indifferent, to my presence. It is these moments of gliding slowly over the crystal clear water, with a living world existing below you, that you can find an amazing sense of peace on the water.

As the forecast had promised thunderstorms in the afternoon, and I had no desire to be the tallest thing on the water at that time, I pulled back in around noontime. Eight kilometers was enough for my first water walk of the season in Japan, so it was time for a nice hot bowl of instant ramen, and then some hammock time.

Overall, I would definitely go back to the Tamagawa camp site. The onsen was fantastic, there is a rest stop and convenience store just 100 meters down the road, and the paddling is fantastic. The trip was actually a bit of recon, as I had previously identified this campsite at the perfect starting point for a Shimane West-to-East paddle. The coast is only about 300 km, so I figure if I break it into shorter paddles it can be done easily enough. As such, I can’t wait to head back to Tamagawa to do the first leg of the trip.

*Grammatical errors brought to you by Asahi Super Dry

Route 34 Video

Since the riding was so gorgeous last week, I decided to bring the camera long for the ride home on Thursday.  So, if you are curious about what the roads are like out here in West Nowhere, and you have 34 minutes to spare, then crack a beer and check out the video below.  For the record, there is no crazy knee-dragging, stunts, or wheelies. This is just a casual ride along empty mountain roads in West Nowhere. For a more authentic experience, please cue up Moving Pictures by Rush to play in the background, as that was what I was listening to during the ride.

For the record, the bike is a 2012 Honda NC700X, so while the RPMs sound quite low at times it is perfectly normal. (Listening to the video, without my helmet of course, allowed me to hear the engine a bit more. It gave me the urge to tell the damn rider to down-shift on a few occasions, but that is just how this bike rides. I usually keep it just around 3k or so on the tach. The bike redlines at 6K and is a ‘short-shifter’ by design. It has plenty of torque and it quite nimble, so it is a pleasure to ride. I like that, as being on liter street racer would probably wake the inner idiot in me. I love my “boring” motorcycle.

Route 34

Another Thursday, and another longer-than-necessary ride home.

Last week on the ride home from Masuda, I passed the Sun Eight rest area in Mito, and today I thought I would stop in there for lunch. Sadly, they did not have a place to eat, but they did have a map on the wall which changed my planned route home. I was planning to take the same route home as last week in order to get some good video of the ride, but as soon as I say the map I noticed the loop in Route 34 just a few kilometers down the road. The decision was made.

The road from Mito to Hamada would bring me through Kitsuka and Yasaka before dropping me on route 9 along the coast. The first half of the ride was fantastic, as I don’t think I saw another vehicle the whole way to the Kitsuka Dam. The roads were just twisty enough to be fun, but the stray sticks, leaves, and stones kept me at a reasonable pace. That and the constant riding-in-the-sticks fear that someone who lives on these roads, and rarely ever sees vehicles, just may be crossing the street with a bamboo pole over their shoulder. (It only had to happen once to become a feature attraction in my riding sub-conscious.)

The second half of the ride, after the dam stop for some dam selfies and photos the dam lake in Kitsuka, was fairly relaxing. The traffic picked up here, as I actually started seeing an occasional car, but the roads became less ‘twisty’ and more ‘mildly wavy’; just the way I love ’em. Sure, I love to lean into the twisties and test myself a bit, but I find the slow wavy roads along rivers to be the most relaxing to ride. This is what it was like for most of the way after the Kitsuka Dam. Once passing through central Yasaka the road does twist up a bit, and as it is slowly dropping down nearer to sea-level the ride is quite fun. As usual, there were few cars, so I did not have the frustration of being stuck behind a slow-mover through the twisties. That said, Japanese countryside drivers really are fantastic about making room for riders to pass.

Yet another beautiful Thursday, and another great day on the bike. Now I have some camping to look forward to this weekend, and hopefully I will get my first paddle on the SUP in as well. Any week which involves both the bike and the SUP is a damn good week…

A Therapeutic Commute

Sometimes it is really nice to commute to work. While my usual commute is a five-minute walk door-to-door, once a week I have to travel about 40 kilometers (about 26 miles) down the coast. One of the reasons I accepted this part-time post was that it would be a nice way to take the bike down the coast once a week. However, for the first few meetings of this class it has rained, so today was the first time I was able to make the commute on the bike. It was worth the wait.

Just about every five minutes I saw something that instantly made me regret not setting up a helmet or handlebar GoPro before leaving this morning. The recent rains brought out the greens along the side of the road and in the mountains, while also clearing  the air. The result was some fantastic ‘B&G Therapy’. (Blue skies and ocean, Green grass and mountains…)

The riding was so fantastic that I decided to take the long way home.

It took twice as long as the ride down the coast, but it was well worth it. If the weather is good again next week I will probably take the same route again. However, I will be sure to set up a GoPro and bring a camera along, as I truly regret not having pictures to share here.

The only image I took all day was actually at Yuhi park, which is just a few kilometers from the house. I have so many photos from there I hardly need another, but here it is anyway.

Kanagi Motorcycle Shrine

IMG_0058Another beautiful day for a ride in Shimane… The day started with a two-up trip with my daughter up to Iwami Ginzan. My mother is visiting from the states, so we needed to use two vehicles to make the trip up there. (Not that I really needed an excuse to take the bike out for the day.) The winds were exceptionally strong today, so I ended up soloing the ride back, and stopping off at the オートバイく神社 (Motorcycle Shrine) in Kanagi.

There seems to be a Shinto shrine for just about everything you can think of, and the Kanagi Western Riding park built the Motorcycle shrine just a year or two ago. If you get a chance, you should definitely visit. It is a nice place to visit at the beginning of the touring season to get in your prayers for safe rides. The shrine is unattended, so there are no charms for sale, but the panoramic view is fantastic.

So if you want to put in your prayers for motorcycle safety this touring season, come on down to Shimane and stop in at the Kanagi Western Riding Park and enjoy the view.

Feeling At Home in Shimane

img_0013.jpgI took advantage of the national holiday to spend some time with the bike. She has been dressed up in her cold weather gear for too long, so we started out by swapping the big touring screen for the sleeker and more streamlined stock screen. Somehow it makes her seem like a different bike altogether.

It has been a while since I took the bike for the ride, and I am really glad I did. Something about riding around Shimane, whether exploring the coastline or taking a jaunt into the mountains, always makes me feel at home. It is a feeling that is sometimes elusive in my ex-pat life here in West Nowhere Japan. So it is as good an excuse as any to spend more time on two wheels.

I am glad I got out today. It was nice to see the rocky coast, to relax at Yuhi Park and chat with other riders, and to sit at Kikufu beach and watch the surfers.

Let the touring season begin.