Monthly Archives: August 2013

Hokkaido Planning

Tentative Hokkaido route
Tentative Hokkaido route

Since Typhoon 1315 is rolling my way, and the rain has been falling with a vengeance for the past 36 hours, I decided to spend my Saturday in front of wrestling with Google maps and the Hokkaido Mapple.

My good friend Gary and I have been planning to do a Hokkaido trip this September, but neither of us had been able to make the time to plan things out properly yet. Just when I had started thinking about canceling and using the time to do some touring in Shikoku instead, Gary and I finally got on Skype and came up with a rough plan. It was rough, but it would do. Basically, we agreed that as long as we were traveling together, neither one of us was worried if we left camp in the morning without a destination. Once you have settled on punting as a viable option, anything goes.

Perhaps it was the freedom gained from the mutual agreement on accepting  departure and return dates as the only required points of the plan, but we both seemed to kick the planning into high gear. Gary has sent me the link to a post on The Best Motorcycle Roads in Japan numerous times, and he managed to create a route across Honshu that adds a few of those roads to our trip. So it looks like we will have some great riding even before we get to Hokkaido.

While I think that we have sketched out a fairly nice route for ourselves, I think that what gives me the most satisfaction is the knowledge that we agree that the goal is not to spend all day every day in the saddle, but rather that we take a leisurely ride with few concerns about deadlines or destinations. After all, isn’t that what riding is supposed to be about; the freedom of the road? Maybe next year I will do a planned no-plan ride during the summer break. I’ll just get on the bike, perhaps with my son on the back, and just ride. Maybe do a lap around Honshu and see what we can see…

Roads Washed Out

Washed out ride map
Route Map. Click to enlarge for details.

We had quite a storm in Shimane a few days back, and there were a lot of landslides and flooding. We did not suffer any damage at our house, but the surrounding area is riddled with road closures and traffic due to road repairs. I have stayed off of the local roads for a few days, as I figured they would be rife with gravel & sand, and would not be safe for a motorcycle. However, the passing storm has brought about beautifully clear skies and pleasant weather, so today I gave in and risked the roads.

The Goal: Ride up route 9 to Aquas and purchase a souvenir/gift for a friend, then turn right into the mountains and find a roundabout way home.

The ride to Aquas was pretty straight forward, as there were no delays or road closings, but there were a number of landslides along the road that had already cleared up. The only hazard I faced along the way was a rather large book (yellow pages?) which was sitting in the right third of my lane on the bypass.

After picking up some stickers and crackers at the gift shop, I crossed the street from Aquas and took a photo with the iconic Aquas walking bridge (red pin on the map). The sky was beautiful, and a short ride down the road I found a spot on the beach where a couple of guys were enjoying some late afternoon wake boarding.

From Aquas I took the immediate right inland on the route 300 to Arifuku onsen. Unfortunately, I only made it about 500 meters before I met my first closed road. I turned back and continued up route 9 a bit further and tried again at route 299, only to find a second barrier to my return home. I was forced to backtrack and head back up route 9 again to route 297 towards Atoichi, and from their towards the Green Line into Kanagi. I was intentionally trying to avoid this road, as I love it and take it often and was hoping to find some new interesting paths through the mountains.

I was glad to see that I finally found a road that was open, but this path was rife with hazards. I only took photos of a few, but there were many collapse walls on the uphill side, and areas were the dowhill side of the road was washed out. It was a constant slalom of single lane traffic spots around blind corners, and it was a rather stressful ride.  The final photo below is of the eastern windmill access road, which is where I often go to take photos. Luckily the western access road was open and the sun was just starting to set.

I love riding these windmill access roads for a few reasons; the views are spectacular, the roads are new and well made, and there is never anybody else there. For these reasons, I find it a great place to ride and to take photos. This may be the first time I took photos on the western route, and I found myself glad that the eastern route was blocked.

Overall, it was a great day for a ride. Finding my way home past the closures and hazards was a fun challenge, and I think that I just may have captured a photo or two worth entering in the Hamada photo contest…

A Ride to the Library

We were sitting around the house yesterday, trying to avoid the heat, and Keilyn decided she wanted to go for a bike ride. So we saddled up and took a trip down to the new library in town. We met Yuki and Taiga down there as well and all enjoyed a lazy afternoon reading in the library. Personally, I found their air conditioning far superior to their selection of books, but it was nice to share a quiet table at the library  with the family.

Keilyn and I took a roundabout way home and ended up over by the Hamada Marine Bridge. I have often referred to this bridge as 意味ない橋 (‘Meaningless Bridge’), as it seems oddly out of place in such a small city, but it is rather photogenic. We seemed to have caught the timing just about right this day as well. Next time I will have to bring my DSLR to get better photos, as the iPhone does not really seem to do so well in the challenging lighting situations…

The Ride Home from Akiyoshidai

The plan for the return trip was to take route 9 to route 488 and then 191 to go to RouteUS459 for lunch. (RouteUS459 is a cafe on route 191 that is popular with riders. They have an old bike in the dining room, and I think a couple more out back. It is a nice place to stop for a burger and to chat about bikes.)

Unfortunately, as I already posted about in Dead End in Hikimi, our planned route did not work out. As such, we decided to go with Plan B and join the rest of the family at the river.

My wife and daughter were enjoying the beautiful weather at Gonogawa with friends. Taiga and I arrived to find Yuki and Keilyn playing in the water, Ue-san on his windsurfer, and Take-san water skiing behind Yama-san on the jet ski. We parked the bike and stripped off our gear, and Taiga tossed on some shorts from the top box and jumped in the river. I did not come prepared for swimming, but my long riding underwear is pretty much like a rash guard, so I stripped off my riding pants and joined the family in the water. It was a great way to relax after the long ride back from Akiyoshidai.

On the whole, not a bad day. We found some great roads along the way (routes 312 and 488), caught up with some good friends, and Taiga was able to water ski for the first time. It was a great way to end our first Father-son motorcycle camping trip.

The Ride to Akiyoshidai

Ever since I picked up my motorcycle and starting conversing with other riders, both in the area and around the country, I have been asked if I had been to Akiyoshidai yet. It seems that it is a bit of a requirement for anyone within a 500 km radius, or even wider if you are an ironbutt rider. So, as it is only 124 km from home, it was to Akiyoshidai that my son and I planned our first motorcycle camping trip together.

Click for route details
Click for route details

The planned route was dead simple: take route 9 to Masuda, route 191 through Hagi, and then route 28 to the campsite. This would bring us down along the coast of the Japan Sea for most of the ride, affording some rather beautiful views along the way.

Google maps claimed we could make the trip in about 2.5 hours, so I had hoped to get on the road by 9:00 to allow for a lunchtime arrival in Akiyoshidai. As to be expected on one’s first camp trip involving more than one person, one of whom being a late-sleeping tweenager, we got a bit of a late start of it. The start was made a bit more awkward as the curious housewives from the surrounding apartments circled around me as I started the packing process before 9, so we had the added pressure to get moving so that they could all get back to their kids and morning coffee. Complaints aside, it is always nice to have people lining the dock as you pull out on a voyage, so it was nice to have them all there.

Our late start down the coast on route 9 meant that we were in a bit of traffic to begin with, but it mostly opened up as we exited Hamada and left the stop light zone behind us. It was a beautiful day, and the blue skies and calm sea to our ride made for a pleasant ride. Taiga and I took turns pointing things out to each other over our bluetooth headsets, and basically enjoyed those strange conversations that happen when two people are trapped together.

We made our first stop to stretch our legs and take some photos as we arrived in Abu, just northeast of Hagi. Abu has some beautiful views, as there are a number of islands just off the coast. We took the opportunity to have some fun with my iPhone’s panorama option. Did you know that Taiga had a twin? 😉 After Abu, we took one more quick stop at the marina in Hagi to grab a snack, hydrate, and take some photos. Hagi is a nice area to drive/ride through if you ever have the chance.

From Hagi it was a short hop down the remainder of 191 to route 28 before we reached our campsite; the Akiyoshidai Refresh Park. We arrived at around 13:00, only to find out that the front desk for the campsite does not open until 15:00, so it we decided to keep riding and take the scenic route through the Akiyoshidai kart plateau. The road only takes about 20 minutes from beginning to end, but the views are spectacular. We stopped at a few spots to take photos, but we simply could not capture all the beautiful views. They were simply too numerous.

Once we arrived at the official viewing spot, we took a break to play with a miniature schnauzer that some other visitors had brought along. We chatted with them for a while, and in a very Japanese gesture the wife offered us some small candies as they offered up their seats and walked away. Taiga and I stretched out right there and took a short nap to recoup after the long morning on the bike.

Having recovered a bit, we hopped back on the Akiyoshidai road and pointed ourselves back towards the campsite. We checked in without incident and set about putting our tent up. There is something to be said about the simple interactions had when two people put themselves to the task of setting up a campsite. This was truly one of the best parts of this trip with my son; the simple, and often obscure/strange conversations we had while either working around the campsite or riding on the bike. It is these conversations that make a trip like this.

The roads, the views, the different locations are all beautiful in the moment, but it is the bonds forged in the simple conversations that have the most lasting effects.

We had checked in behind three other  motorcycles with Shimane number plates, and we set ourselves up far enough down the line so as not to bother (or be bothered by) them later in the evening. This turned out to be an unnecessary precaution, as Taiga ended up making fast friends with them as we met them along the path to the camp’s onsen (hot spring). We joined them in the rotenburo (outdoor bath) and joked and laughed a while. I joined them for a vending machine beer in the onsen lounge, and then we ended up spending the night around their campfire sharing food, drink, and good conversation. Overall, it was a great ending to a fantastic day.

…to be continued

Dead End in Hikimi

We just came up from Akiyoshidai on route 9 through Tsuwano, and then on to a fu and twisty ride along route 312 into Masuda. From there we connected with route 488 through Hikimi, which gave me pleasant memories of riding the Kangamangus highway up in New Hampshire.
Just after we passed the Hikimi campsite our planned route for the day came to an abrupt end.
We took some time to pose for some photos, and to reevaluate our route, and then it was time to get back on the road.