I’ve been revelling in a festival of the bicycle with a three-day mini-tour last week and the Vuelta a Espana on the telly at night. Last week was Niseko Cycle Week which seemed to make for a good excuse to get on the Long Haul Trucker and head out for an overnight trip to the ski resort of Niseko to the south of Sapporo.
But first I had to get more time on my new Bianchi Mono-Q and I hadn’t been back to Shikotsuko since heading out there on my single speed bicycle and finding I couldn’t actually do a lap of the lake. This time I just went to the small town of Shikotsuko-onsen and back, which is a nice 60km each way. It was a lovely sunny but not too hot day and my legs felt good so I had a good day of it. First of all I went to the other side of the river to see if the bike path was any better there. And it was.
And it was pretty pleasant riding amongst plenty of green foliage and not much traffic once I got out of town.
The road goes on much like the one in the photo above but with ups and downs, the odd river and occasional scenic views. Once at the lake, the road is flat for about eight kilometres to the town so it’s out of the question not to ride as hard as possible with the prospect of a rest ahead. I found a cafe in the town but as usual the coffee wasn’t that great and the milk was burnt. One day I’ll either find a decent coffee here or get used to the ones I’m getting.
I took a little ride down to the water to see what I could see.
And then headed back to town, pausing only to take this photo of the lake once I’d started the climb back out.
I got home a bit tired and had gone a bit harder than I ought to have, which caught up with me the next day as my legs felt a bit heavier than usual.
I went to stock shelves at the konbeni that evening and slept in a little so I didn’t leave for Niseko until about half-past nine, which turned out to be a bit of a mistake as it got fairly warm in the middle of the day. Like the new, better path on the other side of the river, I’ve found a better road out of town in the other direction, with fewer traffic lights and more lanes so I was able to get to Otaru more easily than usual.
Once through the tunnel and down the hill to Otaru, I overshot the intersection where I should have turned so tried to get on to the footpath at the next set of lights. Unfortunately, the ramp was not actually very flush with the road so instead of going up it, my wheel skidded along it and I had a nice fall. A quick check showed no damage done so I gave a quick bow to the particularly gormless looking drivers at the lights (maybe they thought this was the usual way for bicycles to stop?) and turned round the corner to get back to the road I should have been on. On the way out of Otaru, I had a good 15km or so of steady climbing, which also offered views of the coast around Otaru.
Luckily the Long Haul Trucker has about a million gears so I had no problems keeping the pedals spinning even if I was going pretty slowly.
And the great thing about the above photo is I stopped at the side of the road at a switchback to take the photo and have a banana, then round the very next corner was a big car park and look-out. I didn’t stop again, though because there was a mountain bike rider hot on my tail and it’s always important to beat them on the road. The windy hilly roads also had plenty of motorcyclists and most of them waved or nodded to me as they went past in either direction. Once over the climb, I enjoyed the downhill ride and started getting into agricultural country with little farms here and there near the road. I went through one small town where I really should have stopped to eat some lunch and refill my water bottles but decided not to because I was enjoying the downhill ride so much. I paid for this later on when the road turned upward again, the weather was warm and I ran out of drink so couldn’t stomach the onigiri that the lovely kazuko had made for me that morning. Eventually I made it to a two-kilometre tunnel and once out the other side, the road turned downhill again, all the way to Kutchan, the biggest town near Niseko. I found a drink machine in front of a handful of farm buildings and refilled the bottles and got on my way again.
The landscape around Niseko is dominated by Mt Yotei, a volcano which looks like a mini Mt Fuji.
The road was flat again through to Kutchan and then just a small rise to the Niseko area where I eventually found the youth hostel where I was staying. It was very empty. There was just me and two Norwegian girls who were backpacking their way up to Sapporo where they are studying Japanese for four months. I was pretty tired so I spent a couple of hours sitting in front of the hostel, enjoying the view and re-hydrating. After dinner, the hostel owner drove us into town so we could go to an onsen and sit in hot water for a while. I can usually sit around in the water for a while but I was so exhausted from the day’s cycling that my heart rate went straight through the roof. Luckily they had a pool outside so I sat in that with just my legs in the hot water hoping this would stop me from overheating but I still had to get out.
My original plan had been to do the Niseko Cycle Week group ride the next morning but I realised that if I did that, I wouldn’t leave town until 11am at the earliest and I really didn’t want to ride in the heat of the day again, so I decided not to bother and just to head home the next morning. I got up early and took some pictures of the hostel.
Then headed off with farms and ski fields to my left.
And realising that it really is better to get your riding done early in the day. As I said, Mt Yotei really dominates the surrounding area, so it’s ended up in all the photos I took on the way back home.
I passed plenty of farms – potatoes, rice, sweet-corn, melons and other crops and mountains either side of me.
Eventually I got on to route 230, which I think must be the main route to Sapporo. There was a lot more traffic, especially trucks and unfortunately the shoulder became a lot narrower. I can’t really complain – no one passed me too closely – but I had just become used to riding along such nice quiet roads. It also turned out to be the longest uphill section of the three days. It wasn’t extremely steep at all but just kept going up and up for about 25km according to my elevation profile.
At least I could stop every so often and take a photo.
At least I knew the whole time I was going up that I was going to get a good, long downhill ride back into Sapporo. I finally got over the last peak and picked up speed to between 50-60kmh for some quite long stretches. This was excellent except I was still getting a very runny nose as a result of my being sick the previous week. For the last couple of days I had been demonstrating to myself how bad I am at blowing my nose on the bike, usually managing not to entirely miss my leg or shoulder or some other body part with each snot rocket. Going downhill at that speed, though I was loathe to take my hands off the handlebars, so I just had to enjoy the speed and beautiful mountain scenery with a good dose of snot all over my face. Eventually I slowed down enough to give myself a bit of a clean.
I got home at midday and found I had spent the last hour or so of the ride thinking about how good a cold beer would taste. And the answer is – excellent. Three days, 320km ridden, 4000m climbed and 13 hours spent riding (16 and a half including stops for breaks, traffic lights etc.). And this week we’ve got more planned. We’re off to Tomamu with Kazuko’s sister and her family for a couple of days at an onsen but taking the bikes as well. Also the Tour de Hokkaido starts on Wednesday. There is a time trial, road race and criterium that the public can join in. I’d hoped to be able to enter these but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to. The criterium is in Sapporo so at least I can there and have a look.