I’m on the road to Lake Shumarinai, my destination for the day, and hopefully, it’s another amazing campsite, sparse of campers, and quiet and overflowing with the sights, sounds and smells of nature. But first, I have to retrace my steps back to Asahikawa, but not on route 237; I take a quieter, smaller road that runs parallel with it.
It’s padi fields left and right – it’s all quite absorbing actually; the many shades of ripening green juxtaposed with the infinite blue of the sky, interrupted by puffs of clouds flitting across the heavens.
It looks like the oven is set to ‘roast’ today; crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.
The padi fields soon give way to the bland, suburban Japanese architecture. I do the stop, start, stop, start routine. Traffic lights. About a hundred of them, I think … just to pass through the city of Asahikawa.
By the time I hit the outskirts of the city, breakfast has disappeared. But a good old Lawsons konbini comes to the rescue. I like this one – they have sushi, and fresh ones, too. I choose a pack that has 3 pieces of sushi rolls with bits of tamago inside, with 3 pieces of Inari-sushi (sushi rice in bean curd skin). My drink? Megmilk. Brunch is very satisfying – carbohydrate, calcium, vitamin C, sugar, protein and a dozen other unpronounceable chemicals.
Brunch does not last more than 5 kms. Strangely, I feel like I haven’t eaten the sushi at all. I feel like going back to the Lawsons and devour another pack again. But I console my stomach by promising myself I’ll have a more filling lunch when I get to Horokonai.
Bland architecture soon gives way to bland scenery. More rice paddies. With some consolation sunflowers here and there to give it a bit of colour. There’s not much else to capture my attention, so I decide to ride into the rice fields.
I’m so engrossed with the boring landscape I ride past a junction I was supposed to turn into, by 5 kms. Back on the right track, the road begins to gently climb.
I arrive at Horokonai when the sun is at it’s blazingly hottest. It doesn’t look like it now but Horokonai and its surrounds once recorded the lowest ever temperature in Japan’s history — minus 41º C.
It’s almost certainly lunchtime. I ride almost to the end of town, less than half a kilometre long and I still can’t see any konbinis. I stop an old woman on a bicycle and she tells me there’s ‘something’ ‘over there’, just no konbinis. I ride back and find ACOOP, a non-descript little supermarket. It has food, that’s all that matters. And peaches.
I salivate just looking at the fruit. They’re big so I buy 2, for 200Y. But stomach is calling for something salty and hot so I pick a cup noodle and ask the sole lady cashier if she can give me hot water. ‘Hai, hai’…she runs to the back and comes out with a tall flask. I find out that this is the last place to stock up on food and water before Shumarimai, so I take the basket and go back to the aisles again – water, more noodles, snacks, bread, isotonic drinks. I’m adding on at least 3 kgs to the already heavy load on the bike.
I also buy some Takoyaki (little golf-ball sized Japanese snacks made from batter with minced octopus filling, cooked on a griddle with round depressions) from a stall located just inside the entrance. This is for later. I go back into the oven again, with less than 50kms to Shumarinai.
After endless kms of soba fields interspersed by dull greenery, I arrived at the junction to Lake Shumarinai. I see some houses, and a little shop. Inside, there’s not much on the shelves; mostly picnic stuff and alcohol; obviously catering to campers at Shumarinai. No vending machines here either, but there’s a chiller inside. I cool down with a coke. The sugar rush is instant.
Q: What does a cycle-tourer hate the most at the end of a long, hard day just before he arrives at his destination? A: An upward incline of considerable grade.
Turning into a junction where a sign points to the lake and campsite, I see the road rise steeply. It’s not that long but it feels endless, and I’m expending precious calories. Cursing doesn’t help much with progress either.
Technically, Lake Shumarinai is an artificial lake, and the biggest one in Japan at that. It doesn’t look man-made though.
I pass a log-cabin and ask the man standing outside it where the ‘campyu’ is. He points to some trees by the lake edge. He also says something I can’t quite understand. I take it for granted it’s free so I carry on to the campsite.
Any hope of a quiet, undisturbed camp is dashed. There are campers everywhere I turn – family types, mostly. I ride around a bit, looking for a nice quiet spot, and finally settle for one. On my left, about 10 metres away, is an old couple in a van. On my right is a family who came by caravan, and a couple a short distance away chilling out in front of their tent, but still inside another gazebo-like tent with netting on all sides – city slickers averse to mosquitoes.
I pitch my tent on a flat clearing. Suddenly – loud music!
Unbelievably, the old couple is doing the tango. The family campers are amused, taking photographs of the couple. The old couple is oblivious to the world around them – moving gracefully, their dignified heads held high as they pranced about the clearing.
About 5 minutes later, I hear a small lorry driving around the campsite, quite fast and impatiently. I can guess what’s about to happen. The driver zips in and out among the tents and finally stops at the old couple’s van. Politely, he tells them to can the music, and probably added that cyclo-tourists like me need their peace and quiet to rest from a long day’s ride. Old couple apologises and that is the end of the day’s excitement at Camp Shumarinai.
After setting up camp, I walk around a bit and spot a tandem with a trailer outside a tent. Cycle-tourers. The tent is zipped up and they don’t seem to be around. I go back to my tent and prepare my dinner. Takoyaki, noodles and a big fat juicy peach for dessert followed by dried sweet potato for snacks after. I wonder how I fit all that food in, in one sitting.
The family next door is having a BBQ. The father and tots are playing with fireworks, the parents shouting and gushing with pride and encouragement at their kids’ sparkling achievements. Inside my tent, I stuff my ear-phones a little deeper into my ears – Resident Evil 4’s Milla Jovovich is in fine zombie-exterminating form. I love mindless entertainment on nights like these.
Distance today: 128km
Distance to date: 531km