Tour of Hokkaido. Day 6, Lake Shikotsu to Sapporo

‘So sorry, is full house today’. With a genuinely apologetic, sad-to-see-me-go smile, Yukiko-san has just nixed my plan to stay here for one more sorely needed rest day. I feel great, but the exuberance stops where my legs begin. They are very, very tired.

I slept very well last night. I had left the window, as there is neither aircon nor fan in the room. The temperature had dipped a little early in the morning but I was comfortably cocooned under a blanket in between freshly laundered bedsheets. And the Sobagara pillow … I wish I can take one home with me.

Outside, it’s raining, a soft soothing whitenoise coupled with the patter of waterdrops on the leaves of the tree, and the soft rumbling of thunder rolling across the misty grey heavens. It doesn’t dampen my spirit at all.

I feel very at home here.

I make my way downstairs to the dining room where a few other guests are halfway through their breakfasts. The oba-san in charge of the kitchen greets me with a warm ‘ohayo gozaimas’ and asks me to sit. She trots back into the kitchen and comes out with my breakfast.

I find it hard believe what she’s serving me is hostel food.

Breakfast room, warm and toasty in winter

The other youths having breakfast with me

More like hotel food — a neat scoop of potato salad on a bed of fresh leaves, a cheerful sunny-side-up egg done just right, a slice of ham and a quartered tomato, accompanied by a glass of delicious Hokkaido milk. There’s also free-flow coffee and all the thickly sliced bread I can eat. All this for only 700Y; cheap by Japanese standards.

After breakfast, and after being the given the bad news that there’s no vacancy today, not even a bed in a shared dorm, I reluctantly trudge back to my room and start packing. It’s still raining, and I all I really want to do is snuggle up with my new friend – the lovely Sobagara pillow.

10am. Miraculously, when I finish packing my panniers, the rain stops and and the sun slowly creeps out from behind the clouds. A divine sign, perhaps? At least it will be a cool ride today. I’m also cheered up a bit by the thought of the distance to Sapporo – just under 50kms, although I’m a bit wary of the description of the route. Yep, it’s ‘a little bit up-down, up-down’. But, I reckon it should be manageable at a relaxed pace.

Yukiko-san is ever the caring host, not only seeing me out but helping me with my panniers, and even offering to take the obligatory guest-in-front-of-hostel photo for me. I ask her to take one with me too. I shall always remember her kindness.

The road that rings the lake is a very scenic one, snaking its way towards the hills in the direction of Sapporo. The sky is still overcast and the air is cool. Like Lake Toya, Lake Shikotsu’s water is lucid, but here, its amazing clarity is tinged with a hint of greenish-blue. I can just imagine how magnificent camping by its lakeside would have been like last night.

Road repairs, and the ever helpful road-safety marshall, but the guy in the video below is the hardest working…

Cyclists riding in from the north, probably Sapporo. All of them, including the cars, had to wait for me to pass.

Today, I achieve a new record in pedalling speed – 4kph. Walking is definitely faster. It’s Granny’s day out.

As I ride up, and down, the hills, Lake Shikotsu from afar is mesmerising. I stop a few times to enjoy the scenery; I will probably never come this way again, so I make it last. This hilly segment is not inhabited but I’m kept company by alpine-like trees on both sides of the road.

Climb starts

The road to Sapporo

At noon, I reach the outskirts of Sapporo, at the town of Makomani, I stop for lunch at Sunkus, another convenience store chain. It’s a first for me. In Japan, you can always count on the kombinis here to offer reasonably fresh food, so I pick a rice with chicken pack and ask the chubby cashier to make it ‘hotto’. It’s been quite a cold ride, and the air is a bit chilly from the lack of sunlight, so a hot cup of coffee should help warm up my insides. Sunkus is one up on my favourite kombini, 7/11, when it comes to coffee; they use coffee pods, which tend to stay fresher. It’s not too bad, and I feel alive again.

Sunkus kombini on Google streetmap:

I’ve never seen a happier convenience store employee than this Sunkus cashier

My Sunkus lunch: Rice with fried chicken, and mayo for that creamy touch

A Kuerig coffee machine, using coffee pods

It’s fast relax alright

From Makomanai, I’m supposed to ride on the cycle path along the Toyohira River, which will lead me all the way to the city. After a few false leads, I finally locate the entrance of the cycle path. Coming into a city, it’s always a stressfull exercise when you make the transition from quiet roads and fresh air to gridlock and exhaust gases. And if you get lost, which you inevitably will, the stress level goes up a few more notches.

Not knowing how to exit and get to Ino’s Place, the backpacker hostel I intend to stay tonight, I stop a young female cyclist for help. She doesn’t speak any English but she is very helpful. She calls the hostel with her phone for clearer directions and then relays them to me as best as she can, in Japanese and hand signs. Good enough.

After wandering through some busy roads and backlanes, I finally found the place. Ino’s Place is a cosy little hostel, and I mean little. It costs me 4000Y for a small 10′ X 8′ private room, with a 1000Y key deposit. I vow to make this the last hostel I stay in for the rest of my trip. I realise I’m much, much happier camping among God’s nature – free and unencumbered by locks and keys, cramped 3 X 3 foot-square showers, and the generally less friendly city folk.

Ino’s Place, as seen on Google streetmap

While I’m here I might as well visit a Japan Rail madugochi (ticketing office) to reserve my seats for the Wakkanai to Tokyo return leg which is expected to involve some serious train travel. I take a bus to the nearest JR station, Shiroishi Station. Reservations done, I hop on a JR train to Sapporo central, located in the busiest part of the city for a walkabout and some dinner. I’m making full use of my JR pass.

This JR girl was properly impressed and clapped her hands when I told her I’d started riding from Hakodate. She booked the best seats for me for my return journey from Wakkanai.

At central Sapporo station, I try to find my way around the maze of corridors and people that lead in 4 compass directions. It’s busy, busy, busy. Outside the sprawling station, I spot a small traditional ramen shop. It looks inviting so I cross the road, goes in and the first thing I hear is jazz trumpet playing from the speakers. Cool.

I spent some confused minutes trying to decide what to eat. I choose their most popular dish – pork ramen at 650Y, and a side dish of gyoza dumplings, 450Y. Free-flow ice-water is free. The evening is quite cool so the steaming hot bowl of ramen warms me up. The gyozas are hot off the griddle as well. My fellow customers are slurping their way noisily through their bowls of ramen. They look like harried office workers on their way home. This is probably their dinner; cheap and filling.

I see one guy almost at the end of his bowl of ramen, chopsticks still moving from bowl to mouth, hand the waiter another ticket. Waiter comes back seconds later, with a bowl of plain ramen for the customer to add on to what’s left of his soup. Carbo-loading. Minutes later, the guy gets up and leave, as harried as ever.

Little ramen shop smack in the middle between huge modern buildings

The menu

The cashier

The lone waiter is a guy but I could swear he sounds like a girl… see video

Gyoza

I have decided. I’m going to skip the Sapporo to Asahikawa segment by bike. I will take a train to Asahikawa instead. That way, I will have more time to ride around Rebun and Rishiri islands, a ferry ride away from Wakkanai. With my JR pass, I don’t have to worry about cost and schedule tomorrow. After breakfast, I’ll just ride to Shiroishi station, ringku the bike in its bag and sit out the 2-hour train ride to Asahikawa. The legs will have enough time to fully recover and I will have enough time for island exploration later.

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Distance today: 54km

Distance to date:393km

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6 thoughts on “Tour of Hokkaido. Day 6, Lake Shikotsu to Sapporo

  1. I love Ramen but good gracious, it costs nearly the same as Australia for Ramen. 900Y – A$10. Looks like the hospitality of the Jpn staff is second to none. Makes all the difference doesnt it?

  2. Yep, it’s a bit costly touring Japan. Camping saves a lot of money, which I splurge on nice meals now and then. Rhys, the ramen was as tasty as it looked :-))

  3. What are the blocks in the water for? The 7th photo looks AMAZING! At first I thought it might be a foot spa or stairs of some sort, but it looks a little more utilitarian than that.

  4. If I’m not mistaken, the Lego-like blocks in the water are to break up waves, even on lakes because when the typhoon-type winds blow, they can whip up the water some. These block are also very common-place on the northern shores, where the blocks are even bigger.

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