Saturday, 18 July 2015

thundering typhoons

A friend has written and commented on our 'leisurely' ride through Japan.  It jumps out at us.  We have spent more time in Japan than any other country on this journey.  This is mainly because we can get a six month visa and we are not sure if we will be coming back soon.  Japan is not that easy to reach from England.  So we have tried to make the most of it.  It's true we have not cycled long distances here, but the geography and the climate has proven not to be so kind to cyclists.  We are reflecting on this as we head west along the top coast of Honshu from the port of Maizuru.  There's a display telling us the temperature of the road surface (the winters can be fierce here).  It's 28 degrees and it's not yet 8.30 in the morning.  If anything requires strength and determination when you are cycle-touring then this is the kind of thing.  It's Gayle's birthday and we are on a fairly busy road on a Saturday morning and we are baking.  We find late-morning refuge in a McDonalds.  Outside it's bright on the eyes and the air is sticky.  There'd been little humidity in Hokkaido so we need to reacclimatise.

don't spit on the sand

The ride takes us along the coast and over a sand spit rated as one of Japan's most scenic spots.  There are lovely pines growing and a path runs the length of the spit but the notion of this being one of the top three most scenic places in Japan typifies what is wrong with tourism here.  They like lists here, and you have to tick them off.  You have to eat the right food in the right place. It's a new face to that old conformity thing.  Everyone does the same thing.  We hurry quickly on, trying to avoid any busy roads without losing time.  We have a week to reach the port town of Sakaiminato where we can take a ferry to Korea.  We have plenty of time but don't want to arrive at the last minute.  After a good day's ride we then find ourselves diverting to a park to camp. 
the camera lens is steaming up - before 7 am
 Our map doesn't tell us the park is on the top of a big hill.  Nor that it is a private 'leisure' park and that we will have to camp beside the carpark.  We cook our tea in the evening swelter.  There's not a breath of air.  The tent is pitched on a slope and the only bright spark is a wash with a bowl of water that helps get some of the sweat off.  Inside the tent it is too darn hot.  At some point I pass out.  I wake with a start in the night - something is smothering me.  I can't breathe. I raise my hands to pull it off but there's nothing there.  Just the hot heavy night.  Maybe all the rain in Hokkaido wasn't that awful after all......

how to photograph those killer climbs?

In our efforts to stay off the main roads we find ourselves on narrow twisting roads sticking close to the coast.  These roads sometimes climb precipitously before swooping back down to the sea.  The coast is stunning - lots of small bays, jutting outcrops of rocks and high forrested headlands.  The riding is never dull but it's demanding.
plenty of pretty villages
At least there are no trucks on the the small roads.  Sometimes we ride the main highway, and try to stay tucked in.  The trucks here go too fast on the roads and are not prepared to brake when they approach us.  If the road is clear, they overtake giving us ample space, but if there's traffic coming the other way, they will glide straight past us.  It's unnerving sometimes.  I take to riding out on Gayle's shoulder to at least try and deter cars from trying to squeeze past.  But the best plan is to take whatever alternative road there is.  We therefore are climbing a lot of steep passes on these dramatic little roads over the next few days and it's tiring.

Nights in the tent require some more thought.  We soon opt to leave the tent porch tied completely back to allow any air that moves to waft through our mesh door.  We can't open the tent door because of mosquitos that plague us.  In a 100 yen shop we pick up fans.  The best 50 pence I have ever spent, bar my Peru subbuteo football team from 1978. 
sleeping under the railway bridge

The coast is dotted with lots of fishing villages with lovely sandy coves and some good beaches.  We sometimes stop so that Gayle can swim while I hide out under some shade.  I've become sun-phobic - sick of the bloody heat.  If we can time it right we sit out the midday sun under an arbor - a bit of shade to eat and doze.  On the edge of Tottori there are some large coastal sand dunes and we arrive at them at about 9am.  It is blistering.  I refuse to climb the dunes.  Gayle gamely heads off and I get chatting to a woman who works for the national parks.  She asks if we need anything.   A bike shop.  It's clearly not what most tourists are looking for when they arrive at the dunes.  You can, after all, take a camel ride.  But she is undeterred and takes me to her boss who knows the city well.  He prints me a map.  It's not a bike shop for mama charis? I check.  You can easily find shops selling and repairing the classic old shopping bikes but they aren't going to have what we want. 

the view from the dunes

As it is, the Fukuhama bike shop, a family business, is perfect.  I explain we need a new bottom bracket but that I want to install it, er, well, but I need to borrow your tools to do it.  Mr. Fukuhama seems to understand and gives his son instructions.  He brings me the tools and then watches me do something I've never done before - remove the bottom bracket.  It's not complicated, but I'm terrible doing stuff like this while someone watches me.  In fact I'm terrible when no-one watches me too, but then it doesn't bother me.  Under the gaze of Fukuhama Junior I start trying to unscrew the lockring in the wrong direction.  It's anti-clockwise, not clockwise.  Stupid, eh?  Yeah, well, it is clockwise on the other side, so there.  The bottom bracket removed looks like a cheap thing.  Happily Fukuyama Junior finds a Shimano replacement in amongst their huge stock of spare parts.  It's such a rare thing to see in a bike shop - most don't keep a large stock these days.  When I'm done he quickly starts to check through the gears.  I indicate I can't afford a service but he waves me off smiling.  The family understand and only charge us for the new part.  This is a relief.  And Gayle can now cycle more efficiently.

the ubiquitous vending machine - how could the Japanese survive without them?

The night before we close in on Sakaiminato we find ourselves camping in an old fortress. We wanted to camp in the sports park next door but the caretaker spots us while we are cooking dinner at a picnic table.  "No camping" he says.  Okay then. He looks at the rice cooking on the stove.  "No fire".  I point to the cigarette bin.  "No smoking?" I ask.  He seems to understand my point.  We tell him we'll be finished in an hour.  He's the first and only Japanese to ever appoach us like this and it seems painful to him - although that might be because he has to speak to the stupid foreigners in long-forgotten English.  The night is windy.  We have seen a weather forecast that refers to a typhoon coming.  In the morning there's a bit of rain, and I get Gayle up in alarm. I'm getting more like Clive Dunn in Dad's Army every year.  It's not yet 6 and she's like a bear with a sore head, but I don't want to hang around if there's a typhoon coming.  We pack up and head out with an enormous tailwind.  The coastal road has flattened out and we trundle along quickly.  Rain threatens now and again, but nothing heavy.  The sky is dark though and visibility very poor.  Not so far away the big mountains lie invisibly cloaked in grey murk.  We are two days early for the weekly ferry, so we head to the main train station in Yonago.  It's rainy and windy now and we have decided to look for a cheap hotel.  At the tourist information desk they point us towards two nearby business hotels.  While Gayle is inside the police (nick-named the not-so-busies) approach me and point to the bikes.  Where are we going?  Do we know the typhoon will hit tomorrow?  They look happy that we plan to take a hotel room.  And I'm happy too because we've had some hot sweaty nights recently and don't want to top it with a typhoon.  Gayle emerges from the tourist information office with the news that our ferry has been cancelled. Ah.
calm before the storm

Comfortably settled in our hotel room we realise we have bought food for cooking but only have petrol to use in the stove.  I head back out in the rain to find gas.  My search is long and I end up riding to an out-of-town shopping mall to find a sports shop.  By the time I get back I am soaked to the skin.  But we have a nice comfy bed in a dry room - shelter from the storm.  We chew over our options - stay here for one week or go for plan B - we continue down the Japanese coast and take a different ferry, one that runs daily, to Busan in Korea.  It will mean we have a different kind of ride in Korea, and at least five more days riding in Japan, but at least we are not dependent on the weather.  Typhoon 12 is mapped out at sea and may arrive the following week.  Meanwhile the TV weather shows have endless discussion and explanation of the weather patterns.  In the morning the weather seems not too bad - and it seems from the TV that we are actually right in the centre of the weather system that is now dumping huge volumes of rain over Osaka and points east of us.   But here in Yonago it's not that bad.  Blistering barnacles, could our ship have sailed after all?  

this coastline was stunning and not built up - in contrast to the other side of Honshu

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