4.30am. The day is already dawning???
Welcome to the Land of the Eager Rising Sun. It’s summer after all; people get to play harder and longer. The summer sun only sets at around 7.00pm. Great for cycle-touring. But I’ll have to get used to sleeping, and waking up, earlier than usual.
Inside my already bright tent, I hear ducks on the lake, squawking, flapping their wings and crashing into the water as they land. I hear birds warbling, gladdening my soul with their morning songs. There’s nothing like God’s wonderful creations doing what they do best. The air is cool and fresh – everything is just the way I like it waking up in a campsite near water. As I open the tent and look out, I see a light morning mist shrouding the water and the little islands nearby.
It’s very hard to leave but I remind myself that I’m stealth-camping so I have to make tracks soon…just in case.
By 6.30, the sun is already up and over the horizon, and I’m all packed and ready for the day’s ride. I’m famished, too. And I’m bent on finding that elusive 7/11… if only to enjoy a hot breakfast there.
I make my way to Onuma town. There’s no one on the road. Houses and shops are still shuttered. As I ride into the central part of town, I realised what an idiot I had been. On the way to the campsite, I had turned right at the town’s main junction yesterday evening but had gone straight instead when I went back looking for the 7/11. I can almost kick myself for such a silly mistake, one that had cost me a hot meal for dinner. But, I console myself that it’s easy to be disoriented in the dark, more so in an unfamiliar town.
I reached the 7/11 and the first item on my shopping list is – a can of butane gas. I’m not going to be caught out again tonight. The store guys are very helpful, one of whom literally flutters about nervously in an almost-motherly manner. I think he has less testosterones than the average man.
7/11s are great places to stop by when you’re on the road in Japan. They try to offer every convenience that makes your time on the road so much more bearable; with fresh food, both hot and cold, and even freshly brewed coffee, which I simply cannot pass up. Most of them also offer clean toilets.
I make use of their hot water flask on the counter to cook the noodles that I had bought the day before, 2 bowls of them. I’m having dinner and breakfast. Noodles down the hatch, I get a cup of coffee and sit outside in the morning sun, too contented to move just yet.
An elderly Japanese dude on a mountain bike pulls up. ‘Ohayou gozaimasu’, we greet each other, me in my limited Japanese. He goes into the store and comes out with a drink in his hand, walks up to me and chats me up. I reply enthusiastically with ‘Hai!, hai!’ and the lop-sided conversation soon veers towards my destination for the day.
I bring out my Touring Mapple (which, incidentally, is completely in Japanese) and proceed to show him. My plan is to ride to Kuromatsunai, ride through the Beech Forest and then double back out onto route 5, head for Oshamanbe and camp there for the night. Oji-san (uncle) proceeds to give me a blow-by-blow description of my intended route. The only words I understand very clearly are ‘up down, up down’ as he gesticulates with his finger on the map. He is very encouraging.
To get to Mori, the first town enroute to Oshamanbe, I have to retrace part of yesterday’s route, past the lake and all the way to the tunnel exit. With the lake now on my right, it’s a slow climb but my new friend is playing the good Japanese host. He rides behind me all the way to the junction and shouts goodbye to me as he turns left and is swallowed up by the tunnel in the direction of Hakodate.
I continue on route 5. The scenery doesn’t improve. I decide that I will skip Kuromatsunai after all – there’s a 17km climb off the main road to reach the town. I’ll stay on 5 and head straight for Oshamanbe instead. I’m still feeling a bit knackered from the last 2 days; not enough sleep, and the old engine hasn’t warmed up for more serious cranking yet. I reckon that if I arrive at the campsite early, I’ll have more chill-out time to recover properly.
I reach the coastal town of Mori, and the sea becomes a constant feature on my right. Route 5 is quite busy; cars and trucks of all sizes pass me non-stop. But I have little to worry about. The drivers are very civil and patient. They overtake by driving almost to the other side of the road. And if it’s not clear on the other side, they just slow down behind me and wait. No one honks, not even the slightest peep.
I like this country.
3pm. The outskirts of Oshamanbe. I’m making good time. I turn off route 5 onto a quiet country road, pass the golf course landmark that I think will lead me to the campsite. There is very little traffic. It looks like farmland I’m passing through. Huge round bales of hay wrapped in black plastic dot the bald fields. The funky smell of fertiliser permeates the air; not heavy, just enough to remind me that I’m in the rural countryside.
The quietness is a nice change from the busyness of the highway. I can hear the reassuring hum of the slick tyres as I pedal along. Soon, I reach the end of the sealed road and it turns into a wide dirt trail flanked by trees on both sides. This must be a very rustic campsite. Great.
A dead end. A deserted house. Bad map-reading skills.
But I enjoy the detour. The cool of the shaded trail is a welcome respite from the harsh sun. Why didn’t anyone turn this place into a campsite? It would have been brilliant.
I make my way back to Oshamanbe town but I still can’t figure out the way to the campsite. I consider the option of riding to Kuromatsunai but think better of it. It’s almost 5pm by now.
As I stop by the roadside, three cycle-tourers come into view. They’re lightly loaded and moving very fast. I wave them down. The first one thinks I’m waving hello and does the same, zooming past me and flashing a wide smile. The last guy realises otherwise and stops. Sweat is pouring down his face and he wipes it off with that other item that all Japanese men seem to carry – a white Good Morning towel.
They’re college students from Niigata, a city on the western coast of Honshu, and they’re heading for Sapporo. Right now, they’re on their way to the Oshamanbe train station taking a shortcut to the next town. I pull out my Mapple, shows him the campsite and explains my predicament. Immediately, he whips out his mobile phone and proceed to locate the campsite for me.
It seems I have ridden past route 141 leading to Oshamanbe Park, where I’m supposed to camp for the night. He goes 1 step further; he calls the park just to be sure. The lady on the other end gives him the directions. And in answer to my questions; no, there’s no food there but it only costs 500Y a night.
I’m back in business.
Cheered up, I stop by a nearby 7/11 for supplies and continue on my way. It’s now almost 6pm, still bright enough to reach the park in time to leisurely set up tent and prepare a hot dinner.
I reach the park soon enough, but not with a bit of climbing. It’s actually a public park, quite a big one. In Japan, most parks are open to campers with tents, but not campervans. Oshamanbe Park is very well kept and the prospect of camping here lifts my spirits immensely.
I see only 4 other tents – one with 2 young students whose car is parked nearby on the road, 2 motorcycle tourers camped next to the stream, and the last one is another cycle-tourer (I see a glimpse of a folding bicycle inside the tent’s vestibule. The owner is inside but makes no attempt to come out even after seeing me push my bike in.
Not a bad day today. Not eventful either. I set up my tent and prepare to rest for the night.
Tomorrow, my destination is Lake Toya. I’m looking forward to camping by the lake again.
Distance today: 104 kms, Lake Onuma to Oshamanbe Park.
Distance to date: 144 kms