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.