Fresh from conquering Teineyama on the single-speed Pista, I got ambitious and started looking to Lake Shikotsu, which is a mountain lake that sits about 55km or so south of Sapporo.
It was pretty good to get out of town at last and I also found a quick escape from the city traffic using the time-honoured technique of finding the nearest river on the map and heading straight for it. I only spent 15 minutes in traffic. Riding in traffic isn’t all that bad here, though, since there are so many traffic lights, everyone (with the noble exception of taxi drivers) seems to be pretty patient. Every one is an amber gambler at the traffic lights, though so it pays to wait a little after they go green.
Once I got to the river, though, I was able to escape car exhaust and enjoy cruising along the river bike/pedestrian path at my own pace. Japanese are quite terrible pedestrians so you still have to have your wits about you a bit – just because someone is looking straight at you, it doesn’t mean they are not still going to walk in front of you.
After the river and a park, I got on to route 453 which goes all the way to Lake Shikotsu and starts with a steady but not steep climb out of the southern suburbs of Sapporo. Yet again, I was impressed by the driving. I have never been passed so carefully by so many truck drivers and I feel guilty overtaking stopped buses because they go to such pains to keep clear of me when they pass me again. The suburbs slowly give way to forest and before long I was pretty much alone with just the odd car passing every so often.
The forests are lovely and green at the moment but I couldn’t stop to enjoy them much because the road started getting steeper. The gradient chart doesn’t seem to show it but whenever I looked at my GPS, the gradient seemed to be 7-9 per cent. In fact, at one point, I was certain I was going downhill and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t building any momentum before realising I was actually still going uphill but had just flattened out a bit. There were also some lovely mountain passes and rivers that I didn’t take any photos of, so I encourage you to use your imagination at this point.
Here’s how it looked when I got to the lake, though:
The iPhone takes a great photo, doesn’t it? It was plenty of fun zooming down the hill to the lake, then following a flat lake-side road around to a little spa village called Shikotsukoonsen next to the lake.
At Shikotsukoonsen I got myself some light refreshments and had the onigiri that Kazuko made me for lunch.
Aquarius is not as good as Pocari Sweat but on the other hand it is my star sign and my favourite song from Hair the musical. I’ve read that the ride to Shikotsuko and back is a popular training ride for road cyclists in Sapporo and while I was looking for a bin, I saw a group of guys who looked like they had just arrived. I took the opportunity to practise my Japanese so I asked one of them ‘excuse me, where is a rubbish bin?’. My Japanese is pretty terrible, so it’s quite possible I really said ‘is rubbish carrot where?’ but the bloke I asked seemed to understand anyway. It turns out there weren’t any bins but they encouraged me to off-load my rubbish on a shopkeeper, so I did.
As I left to continue my ride, I heard one of them say something but I assumed he was talking to the others in his group. It was only a little up the road that I realised he was actually asking me a question. One thing that keeps confusing me in Japanese is that they tend not to address people directly and the thing they are talking about is usually implied rather than stated. We do it a bit in English as well, for example, we’ll say: ‘going out tonight?’ and know that the person we are speaking to understands it means ‘are you going out tonight?’ or if we ask the question ‘how much?’, there’s not usually any confusion as to what we are talking about. Japanese also tend to avoid the word ‘you’ anyway and address you by your name, so I often get confused when I hear (for example) ‘does Bruce like garlic bread?’. It takes me a little while to realise the question is being directed at me and not to Kazuko. So when I heard one of the Japanese cyclists say: ‘doko ikuno?’ (where going?), I assumed he was asking his friends where they were going next. It only dawned on me later that he was asking me where I was going. I regret being so slow-witted because in the first place I probably look a bit rude but also, I’m sure they were all wondering if I had ridden a single-speed bicycle all the way from Sapporo and it would have done my ego no damage to tell them this. Thirdly, they might have saved me a bit of pain later in my ride by telling me that it’s not possible to ride all the way around Lake Shikotsu.
As it was, I just took off with the intention of riding around the lake and getting on to a road that would bring me back to route 453 and then back to Sapporo. As it turned out, I had to ride most of the way around the lake to end up looking at a gravel track and realising I was going to have to ride all the way back again. There wasn’t much I could do but I was a bit worried I would struggle up the hills back to Sapporo. I had another Coke and Aquarius at Shikotsukoonsen (that’s three Cokes in two days – more than the whole year before that) and then really did struggle up the hills on the way back. It wasn’t too bad at first and I was lucky that there was more climbing on the way out than the way out than the way back but I still had to get off and walk a little way at one point then have a little lie-down in the grass next to the road not long after that. And when I finally got back to the river near Sapporo, I had another lie-down. But at least from there I had good, honest flat kilometres all the way home for what ended up being a 170km ride. I was knackered for two days (but still rode up Teineyama with Kazuko the next morning) but it was a great ride. Maybe I’ll do it again this weekend.
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