Monthly Archives: September 2013

Shimane Green Line

As today was the Autumnal Equinox, and a national holiday, I decided to take the bike out for a ride. I had just ridden the bike about 100 km back from the shop last night after having new tires installed, but they were all highway miles, and the shoes needed to get some gentle initial wear on the edges.  So I thought it would be a great chance to head out to the Shimane Green Line for a slow winding ride.

The Green Line is a nice meandering road through the mountains and of Shimane. I assume it gets its name from the virgin surroundings, as while the road is well built, and rather fun to ride, the areas it passes through are not very developed. It is a road that I have ridden many times, and greatly enjoyed. However, I think that I have only explored a bit of it as it seems to extend beyond where I usually join it.

The path I usually take is from the entrance to Mimata Onsen (A), where we used to live a few years back, through the mountains to route 9 in Gotsu (B).
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As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I just had new shoes put on the bike, so today was all about taking it easy. It was a good thing too, as it seems that the clean up work  on the Green Line after the last few typhoons seems a bit behind schedule. While I was able to take some photos (below) of a number of the partially closed off sections of the road, there were a number of other hazards that I did not capture. The first actually caught me by surprise, and if I hadn’t been taking it easy on the new tires it may have spelled trouble. It was the largest landslide I encountered, and it was right around a tight, and blind, corner. It was a good reminder to take it easy, so I simply slowed down and appreciated the full greens of the surroundings while seeking out the signs of  autumn in the leaves.

About three quarters of the way through this section of the Shimane Green Line, alongside Mt. Koyasan, I came upon one of my favorite roads in Shimane. This particular road is barely over three kilometers in length, but I have certainly taken more photos here than anywhere else along the route. This is the maintenance road for the windmills overlooking Gotsu.

The views from up here, especially at sunset, can be rather stunning. I love to come up to this road and just ride slowly and take in the quiet and the views. As it is only a maintenance road, there is never anybody else there. It is the perfect spot to break out the camp stove and brew up a fresh cup of coffee. (I think I just gave myself a great idea!)

While I have traveled this section of the Shimane Green Line more times than I can recall, I also passed through another section in Asahi earlier today, and I think there must be more. I look forward to following the Asahi section back in the other direction to find out just how many other sections of the Shimane Green Line I can discover before the snows start to fall…

The Grasshopper and the Towtruck

As I mentioned in a previous post, the rear tire on my bike is completely shot and the towtruck was coming today to bring it in to the shop. The truck was supposed to arrive around 14:00, but I guess he was so keen on seeing my bike that he decided to show up 90 minutes early. At least he called to give me five minutes warning…


So I ran out to the backyard to pull out the bike, which I keep parked in the space below the stairs to the upstairs apartment, and push it through the overgrown grass into the parking lot. Just as I had backed the bike into the grass I wondered if I should have checked the area for snakes first. The show up rarely enough, so I convinced myself that I was fine. However, as I rode the bike from the parking lot up onto the patio area in front of the house, I felt something climbing up the inside of my right pant leg! I hopped of the bike without putting the kickstand down first, which I never do, and then jumped about trying to shake the bug, which I could only imagine was a mukade (huge poisonous centipede), out of my pants while trying not to drop the bike.

I was able to get the bike on the side stand, and then I immediately ran up the front steps and stripped off my jeans in front of the entrance to the apartment. I ran in to get a fresh pair of pants so as to not frighten the neighbors or towtruck driver who was supposed to arrive momentarily. Once I came out fully dressed again I took a closer look at my pants and found the little green monster pictured above hanging out in them. It was just a grasshopper, but that really doesn’t mean much when it is climbing up the back of your leg inside your pants!

I pulled out my camera to grab a quick photo, so that my wife would not think that I was making things up, and the towtruck driver pulled in to find me there with a spare pair of jeans just lying on the ground. He probably just noticed that I was a foreigner, and foreigners just do strange things, of course, so he completely ignored me while I kicked the grasshopper across the parking lot and threw my bug tainted jeans back towards the front door of the apartment.

Once the bike was loaded on the truck the neighborhood wives all came out to find out what was amiss. They were all curious as to why my bike was being taken from me. I explained that I had “ridden too much”, and now my tire was too damaged to ride on.  They then all quizzed me on the current mileage on the bike, and quickly turned to scolding mode when I told them I had racked over 13,500 km in the last ten months. The towtruck driver even joined them, and started to claim that he had not put as many kilometers on his truck in the same time, but I think he decided at that point to stay out of it… lol

That said, they did not seem to phased when I suggested that I might take my son motocamping to Mt. Daisen this weekend. They just casually started discussing distances and tabulating my new high score. So, sometime tomorrow I will pick up the bike, new rubber and all, and start planning for Daisen over the weekend.

Is 1,350 km/month really a lot of riding? How much do you do a month/year?

Hokkaido Report Via PlaceMe

PlaceMeWhen thinking back about past rides  we often focus on the roads taken and the destinations more than the stops. However, if you try out the iOS/Android app PlaceMe, it is easy to be reminded of all the forgotten places you stopped along the way.

Want to find that ramen shop you stopped at again? Did you forget the name of the campsite you stayed at, or the location of those awesome sunset photos you stopped to take? PlaceMe has you covered. It is a dead simple set-it-and-forget-it app. You simply set it to log any location you stop at for more than five minutes, direct it to send daily logs to your Evernote account, and that is it. At the end of each day you will get a summary of all the places you have been.

As an example, here are the maps for the twelve days of my Hokkaido trip earlier this month. (Click the first image to view them as a slideshow.)

You can see from these maps that my first day, riding from Hamada to Kanazawa, was a long ride with few stops. On the other hand, the ride from Otaru to Kutchan was overwhelmingly beautiful, and you can see that we stopped numerous times to appreciate the views. Using this data, I can fairly easily pinpoint the locations of all the photos I took with my DSLR, which does not have GPS data on its own.

The daily log that gets uploaded to your Evernote account actually includes details for each stop. If the app knows the location, it will create a link to the location’s Google+ page. If it does not know the location, it will give you the route number and city, which may (or may not) successfully link to a Google map. Take my final day as an example:

Here you can see that my first location is set at 9:59 p.m. on the 14th. That would be the apps best guess at where I was staying that night. It seems to have selected a restaurant near my hotel, but close enough… The next stop is a convenience store, Lawson’s, where I stopped to use an ATM and to drain the water from my boots. (See The Long Ride Home for the full report on this rainy ride.) The next stop was at 12:15, when I stopped to get some gas at Dr. Drive. As I had been riding for seven hours in the rain at this point, my next stop was 20 minutes later in a McDonalds to get some food and warm up a bit. Miraculously, the rain stopped while I was warming my hands around a cup of McDonalds’ infamously nuclear hot coffee, so the last stop before home was on route 9 in Gotsu, where I stopped at ゴリラ酒 (“Gorilla Alcohol”) to get some beer so I could warm up with a shower beer when I got home. (It seems there is a website for everything these days…) By the way, the route 9 link above is a perfect example of how this app fails for unknown locations outside of the USA.

shower beer

My data for the day ends in Gotsu, as I did not really move from home after enjoying my shower beer.

So now that I’ve shown you how I use this to track my stops when riding, how would you make use of this app?

Disclaimer: If you plan on cheating on your spouse, murdering someone, or just participating in some anarchy, you might want to turn this app off. The author will not be held responsible if  you accidentally place yourself at the scene of a crime.

The Long Ride Home

After spending a week and a half away from home, it was time to head back to Shimane. After our last day of riding in Hokkaido, cruising from Kushiro to Tomakomai,  we arrived at the Shin Nihonkai ferry terminal.  Just as we arrived the sky started to darken, and as we shuffled into the waiting area the rain started to bath the bikes as they lined up for boarding. The rain, while quite light, seemed to be a portent of bad weather that would follow me later on this last leg of the Hokkaido 2013 tour.

As luck would have it, I was the last bike, and therefore last vehicle on the ferry for this trip. We quickly parked our bikes in the allotted spaces and left them for the ferry workers to strap down while we sought out our bunks and a few beers for a farewell toast to Hokkaido. Gary and I sat and drank our beers as we watched the lights of the Tomakomai coast receded in the distance. We had done some great riding while up north, and these parting moments were spent reflecting on the roads we had ridden, the places we had visited, and the people we met. As we moved further out into the Japan Sea, and the cell coverage slowly faded away, we moved down to level three to retire to our bunks. Without a signal for my iPhone, I could no longer check in on the forecast for my ride home, so I gave up and caught some well deserved sleep. I awoke with the morning breakfast announcement and moved up to deck five to get some fresh air and catch up on some reading. There was not much else to do on the ferry unless you wanted to participate in the occasional bingo contest or watch a Japanese movie… So it was that I pushed most of the way through Tripwire; the third book in the Jack Reacher series.

As we approached the Tsuruga ferry port we were back on the phones checking routes and weather forecasts. Gary had an easy three-hour ride home to Kanazawa in fair weather, and I was looking at a 15 minute ride to a business hotel in Tsuruga. We didn’t speak much while we loaded the bike in preparation to ride ashore, as we both slowly came to grips with the end of the trip. We planned to meet up on the road somewhere before our paths diverged, but we ended up just waving and sharing an “お疲れ様” (“Cheers”) while we rode off our separate ways. I arrived at the hotel, checked in, and upon settling in immediately checked the forecast for the next day’s ride. The forecast was for rain. Rain starting at 4 a.m., and increasing in intensity throughout the day. So it was that I decided to get up as early as possible and get on the road. There was nothing to do about it, I was just going to have to do the 487 km ride in the rain.

I had the bike loaded and ready to go at 05:45, six minutes after sunrise, and the rain was already falling. So it was that I left Tsuruga in a light rain to start the ten hour ride home on national roads. It was about 45 minutes after I embarked that I realized that my new ‘waterproof’ over-gloves were not going to last the whole trip. While the material was certainly beading the rain, the water that was running down my sleeves was sliding right into the gloves, which lead to the creation of small lakes between my wrists and elbows. About thirty minutes later, after the rain started to pour down in sheets, I hit my first deep puddle. The resulting splash sent water directly up the inside of the legs of my waterproof pants and down into my boots. So now I had lakes in my sleeves, cold wet hands, squishy feet, and eight hours to go… As the rain let up to more of a sprinkle, I pulled over, drained my sleeves, and put away the waterproof over-gloves. Better to just ride with wet hands than deal with those forearm lakes. The boots would have to remain full for another hour before I pulled into a convenience store and attempted to drain them. No real improvement… Seven hours to go…

It was just around hour seven that the rain let up a bit and I pulled into McDonalds for my first meal of the day. I walked in dripping from head to toe and shook of the stares of all the other customers. I ordered a Big Mac meal with a coffee and sat down to warm up. I sat a good five minutes with the hot coffee cupped in my fishy hands. They were so white and swollen that it seemed I could simply scrape off a centimeter of skin without too much trouble. The hot coffee helped bring them back to life, and by the time I went back out to the bike I was almost feeling comfortable. The rain had completely stopped while I was eating, so I pulled out a spare pair of dry gloves and marveled at the seemingly wonderful sensation of dry leather against my skin. The Chugoku region, of which Shimane and Tottori are parts of, always takes care of me. It was in Tottori that the rain stopped, and the remaining three hours of riding were nearly a pleasure. Only the occasional squishing of water in my boots to remind me of the misery of the first seven hours. No matter how many times I come home from long rides, I always find myself marveling at the beauty of Shimane. Perhaps part of it is a bit of homesickness, but we do certainly have beautiful coastlines and the green backing of the Chugoku mountain range.

Overall, the Hokkaido trip was a fantastic experience. On both the first and final legs I dealt with heavy rains outside of Chugoku, but in Shimane the sun shone for me both times. She is good to me that way. All told, I put 3, 365 km on the bike on this trip, and I seem to have ridden my rear tire to the grave. The bike is essentially ‘up on blocks’ until the weekend, as I cannot ride on that tire. I guess she deserves a break, and so do I. A tow truck is coming Thursday to bring her into the shop for a new shoe and a check-up. In the meantime, Taiga and I will be planning a camping trip for next weekend. No rest for the wicked.

A Night in Kushiro

Last night we stayed in a nice little dorm like place, the 坂の上会館 (“The Meeting Place at the Top of the Hill”).. After I took care of some errands at a local coin laundry, we wandered downtown to grab some dinner and drinks.

The town has a bit of a European feel, with the broad river and riverside shops. 20130913-072914.jpg

We wandered the streets a bit before coming upon the restaurant which Gary had found online, 居酒屋たぁ. This place was great…
Before we even sat down I spotted a monster skewer of pork on a neighboring table, and I had to order one right away. The portions in this place are simply out of scale. As the food piled up I decided to take a panorama shot as a small jibe at Gary, who has a terrible panorama habit. Seriously. The guy has been taking about 30 panoramas a day…
20130913-072949.jpgWe walked back to the dorm in a nice fog, which really drove home the European feel. I look forward to coming back to Kushiro again someday.

The Milk Road: Route 272

The Milk Road, route 272, is a long straight road through cow country in eastern Hokkaido. The earthy smells and endless fields to either side make for a relaxing ride.




20130912-211749.jpgMost of the fields are littered with large rolls of hay, wrapped in either white or black. At times, it rather resembles a giants forgotten checker set…


Nemuro; The Easternmost Point of Japan

Nemuro is a peninsula on the east coast of Hokkaido, and it is the easternmost point of Japan. The signs in this area are all in Japanese, English, and Russian, as Russian islands are viewable off the coast. The peninsula is littered with signs saying things such as “返せ!” (“Return the islands to Japan”). Feelings about the islands claimed by Russia after the war are strong here, and oddly, there seems to be a Russian presence as well. As we pulled Into town I noticed a few Russians guys in a parking lot (racial profiling, or keen observation?), and a blond Russian gal in a Prius decided to drag race me at a red light.
I wonder how the relations ar between the Russian residents and the locals considering all the “返せ” signs…

The area at the tip of the peninsula looks a bit like a monument contest, as there is an oddly large number of monuments there.

The very end point of the peninsula has what looks like a lighthouse, but it also houses a nice little bird watching station.

For a few minutes at least, I was the easternmost man in Japan…


The road to Kanazawa

The road to Kanazawa was long and challenging. I didn’t even make it 10 minutes down the road before I met my first obstacle. The rains had washed out part of the highway I had planned to take, which forced me to take a one hour detour through the country. So the Google estimate for my arrival was bumped from 11:30 PM to 12:30 AM almost immediately.

The detour let me along some of the mountain and river roads in the backcountry of Shimane. The rivers were all swollen to a mad chocolate milky goodness and were wild to see. In many places water was pouring across the road, from the mountains into the rivers, causing me to ford many tiny streams along the way.
Once I get on the Chugoku highway I had another two and half hours of beautiful sunny skies. The rainstorm had cleared away much of the dust in the air. The remaining clouds only serve to make the perfectly blue sky stand out all the more. Soon the sun was setting behind me, and I was rewarded with beautiful blends of orange, pink and purple in my rearview mirrors. Unfortunately it seemed like I had rain ahead, as as I approached a rise in the road I was faced with ominously beautiful lavender clouds down the road.
The next three hundred+ kilometers were fairly miserable. It started raining almost as soon as the sun fully set, and my turn onto the Maizuru-Tsuruga was a turn for the worst… I spent the next four hours stubbornly pushing through a rainy fog as simply refused to stop for the night. My visibility was terrible, and I co scantly felt as if my understanding of the road was relying too heavily on extrapolated data.
So it was, that with 192 km to go, I stopped off at the Kasai rest area just west of the port of Obama in Fukui prefecture. It was just around 9:00 pm, so called Gary, to whose home I was headed, to give him an update. Gary, who is a bit if a weather-buff, promised me that if I sat tight for 15 minutes the rain would pass me by and I would have clear skies after that. Putting my trust in Gary’s meteorological promises, I spent the next 20 minutes phoning home and wishing the kids good night.
As it turned out, Gary was full of shit. The rain hadn’t slowed a bit, so I sucked it up and got back on the road. I spent the last few hours feeling like I was wearing a mostly-blind person’s specs. As I raced down the road in these conditions, trying my damnedest to arrive before midnight, I found dark thoughts entering my mind. I was feeling glad that I had wished the family good night, and told them I loved them, as the conditions really had me on edge…
Long story short (too late for that, right!), I arrived at Gary’s at 12:30, just as Google had promised, and sat down for a well deserved beer.

And her I am the next morning, making camp coffee in Gary’s tatami guest room as he snores away across the house. Overall, the trip to Kanazawa was an interesting one, and well worth it to meet up with a good friend. That said, nest time I will make sure there are no typhoons on the weather map before I leave!

(Posted using voice to text on my iPhone, and not sufficiently proofread, so please forgive any grammatical errors. )