Sapporo to Rider House. Stopped at Kiriki which is a restaurant that bikers from all around the world stop at and record their photo. They were closed but the owner did let us in to view some of the 40 thousand plus pictures. Some riders even make the trek in winter. The Biker House is in farmland and serene. A short walk around had us spying hawks, cranes and herons. We could not get close due to Jerry's "click click" of his walking sticks on the pavement scared them off.
We had a fun lamb dinner that we cooked ourselves on indoor foil-lined grills. Despite Mike's request that the proprietor have enough beer, we did run out and good friend that I am, I bought the last one and gave it to Jerry (which he still has not thanked me for!). Our shared bedrooms consisted of bunk beds four to a room with futons as mattresses. Quite neat except for those rooms who were unlucky enough to contain snorers.
The morning greeted us with fierce winds. Our i- country guide, Yuki, explained that a Foen wind (off shore) was predicted for the north part of the island. It was strong and consistent. We visited the northern tip of Japan where, if it was clear, we would have been able to glimpse Russia. All of us took the obligatory photos while the wind howled. At times it seemed as though one of the parked bikes would be blown over due to the force. I nearly was an accident when I stopped to turn myself at the lighthouse above the beach and a gust threw me off balance.
We rode south along the east coast while the wind blew us towards the water buffeting and throwing us sideways. At least it was sunny. A drive through the 45th parallel (we did it on the way up as well) allowed for a fun fast run through the mountains to the first dirt road of the tour which Jerry and I were determined to find despite warnings from locals that it was snow covered and impossible to ride. One we got on it, we realized that they had no clue about the condition. It was flat and dry.
Down to the coast again, we stopped at a small roadside noodle stand for lunch and an ancient Japanese woman smiled as we entered and Jerry ordered "ramen, arigato". She fired up her stove for us, her only clients, and served us the tastiest huge bowl of noodles with soup you can imagine. It's finds like this that reward the travelers in foreign lands. Simple fare yet full of flavor. Down the coast we cruised to our hotel which was perched on the edge of a lake. They had natural mineral hot springs which many of us enjoyed. Communal but segregated baths with access to three pools of varying temperatures refreshed after the ride.
Our dinner had many seafood components arranged perfectly and delicately in bursts of color and tastes. Two tiny individual serving bowls bowls heated by sterno disks provided a hot broth loaded with noodles as well as steamed shrimp and fish. While the dinner was good, we were seated at prepared tables for two which did not allow for easy socializing. We managed nonetheless. The rooms we were assigned had lovely tatami mat sections along with western beds so you could choose how to sleep; the best of both worlds. They also provided "kimono" style robes which some of us actually donned for our dinner, we did look great.
I woke to the sight of a hawk sitting in the tree outside my window. He flew away as I scrambled for my camera. Our ride today would be the longest one and very picturesque. We rode through mountain and valleys visiting three lakes along the way to the lodge located near the reserve which holds about 2000 red capped cranes (Tancho).
We found the best roads of the trip due to an error I made in navigation, where we were supposed to make a left at the top of our second lake to ride the second dirt road of the trip (it turns out it was closed from the side we were supposed to approach). This mistake found us on perfectly maintained asphalt and concrete. Few cars, smooth, a combination of sweeping high speed affairs with surprises of tight 180 hairpins. The road surface was sticky and almost like a race course. An extremely rewarding road day.
Our group was the last into the hotel since we took an extra trip to Lake Akan, a resort community of high-class hotels, boating and fishing. We watched as a fisherman caught two large fish during the twenty minutes we walked the dock. Daron caught her own fry with a net left by the dock which she dutifully tossed back. Our dinner ended with introductory speeches from all participants since this was the only time since the start of the trip that we had an appropriate venue. Listening to the words, thoughts and comments of everyone I was struck by the truly wonderful personalities that this trip has brought together.
If you wanted to see some Tancho (Japanese red capped cranes) you had to board the tour bus by six am. It was a misty morning that reminded me of many Japanese scroll paintings where the mountains are shrouded in fog. We were fortunate to come across a number of the cranes as well as deer and fox during our two hour bus tour through Kushiro Shitsugen National Park. The driver of the bus was also the owner of the Taito Inn where we were staying. He is the FOURTH generation to own and run that inn.
Back on the road at 9 am for the long slog to the ferry which, 20 hours later, will put us back on Honshu and allow us to drive to the hotel we started at a scant two weeks ago. On the way, we encountered heavy traffic that was caused most likely by returning "Golden Week" vacationers.
A fine example of the honesty of the people populating this country showed itself earlier this week. One of our riders, Henry Black (Q Tip) had lost his fanny pack the first day of the tour. It contained his sat phone and other valuables. Someone had found it and through sending an email to an address they had read in his pack, they got in touch with Globeriders.com and Henry's pack is now waiting for him at our hotel. I doubt this would have happened very many other places on the planet.
I have never been on a ferry this large overnight. Sleeping was actually restful as the rocking of the ocean swells lulled me. There is a bit of a pall of smoke in the air at certain sections of the ferry. I woke to the lovely scent of burning tobacco that somehow found its way to our shared cabin through the ventilation system. The ferry has a public (sex segregated) bath with hot spa that was very refreshing.
The seas are smooth and the weather fair. Not a bad ride!
We all drove off the ferry and right into a horrendous traffic jam. Everyone split up and took different routes to avoid the gridlock. Times like these are when two wheels are a blessing. Skirting between lanes and sometimes on the sidewalk or gutter we all got through much faster than any car.
Because dinner was "on your own" six of us decided to take a subway train to Roppongi Hills where we found a terrific small Japanese eatery. Later Aillene told us it was a "Tempura Bar". Each dish was served fresh right before your eyes and all of it was tempura except a couple fresh fish slices. I have never experienced such a meal. The sake served in square wooden cups was not bad either!
Greetings, Frank Leonard