So after the epic last night in Seoul (very heavily drinking makgeolli with California friends and sleeping at 3AM), we awoke the following morning having to carry our bikes onto the train to head to Seoul Gimpo airport. This is just the beginning of our long travel day. The flights themselves were short, but the packing of the bike (very hobo-like, at the Gimpo airport), to carrying the bikes and all of the panniers from Sapporo airport to our hotel in Sapporo. Japanese generally do not allow unwrapped bikes on the trains, so we had to carry EVERYTHING (instead of rolling them with the bikes), up and down many stairs at the train station. It was raining as we arrived in Sapporo. We assembled our bicycles in the rain outside of the train station in Sapporo and proceeded on biking in the dark, in the rain on our first day in Japan. I was grumpy at first, but then I started noticing that there were bikers everywhere! They were biking very casually up and down the sidewalk (Japanese don’t generally ride on the streets), carrying umbrella on one hand, phone tucked between their chins and their shoulders, balancing on their bikes as they were waiting for the traffic lights to turn. It was absolutely impressive.
We had our first miso ramen in Japan that night– It was delish. Hokkaido is famous for their butter-miso ramen.
The following day, we checked out Sapporo and ran errands. We were there just in time for the Autumn festival! They had endless rows of street food vendors. I was eating a fish cake skewer when a (very big) crow just swooped it out of my hand as I was bringing the food to my mouth. That was crazy! The crows in Hokkaido (and Japan in general) are so much bigger than the American crows!
Everything is so much more expensive than Korea. We should have known better and expected it. Looking back, we realized that Korea was cheap, food portions are generous and hotels are very affordable (30-50usd at the most!)
We were sidewalk riding when available. It’s quite rough on the bikes, having to get over a 1 to 2″ of curb when we were traveling at 20mph with 200lbs of people, bikes and load. But the road was nice and quite and the weather was actually quite pleasant…. We were excited to begin our Hokkaido ride afresh and camp on the first night– we hadn’t been camping for a while.
We arrived at the quiet lake Shikotsu– we were the only people at the campsite! We thought we must have been the luckiest people to have all these to ourselves~ The waves were lapping gently against the beach. The sky was semi clear. We were happy.
BUT!! An hour after we got set up, the owner of the campground rushed to our site and started speaking rapidly in Japanese and gesturing fervently– What we understood was: The wind in Hokkaido is very strong, sometimes it gets up to 45mph. Where we had set up our tent wouldn’t stand a chance. and Oh– it will also be raining tonight, so he was suggesting that we set up under a veranda.
So we did– grudgingly, we vacated from our glorious posh campsite and felt demoted here at the veranda. Our tent was tied very tightly to the four columns surrounding it. Brady was cooking our dinner for the night– cup-a-noodle. We are still adjusting to the (lack of) services in the area. Supposedly- Hokkaido is like the Alaska of Japan- wilder, and more remote with quite a distance between services.
And BOY! Were we glad that we moved the tent. The wind gusts were so strong all through the night- the strongest wind I have ever been in in my life!
— trying to upload video up there– see if this works.
It was also raining very hard- we didn’t sleep well at all that night.
In the morning- we packed really quickly and headed to an establishment across the street for some food (we ran out and hadn’t brought enough, expecting stores at all corners like Korea). Turns out that this house was a ‘rider house’– a house that open some of the rooms for motorcyclists (and cyclists) in dorm- style accommodation. We could’ve been sleeping there for really cheap and stay dry. We hung out for a few hours to wait for the wind to die down a bit. We finally saw an opening around lunch time and started biking again.
It was windy all day long, with gusts that made us wobble and had to zigzag a few feet horizontally before gaining balance again. It was quite the experience.
We stayed at Lake Toya hotel that night- our first Japanese style room experience in this trip. We had the lake view from the room! We were absolutely thankful to be out of the wind and rain that night. We also had our first Onsen experience- Japanese communal bathing. You go in there wearing a Yukata (kimono robe thing), they have separate man and woman section, inside you strip completely and head to the Onsen floor. You bathe yourself very thoroughly first before going into the hot water. Sometimes they have warm pool, cold pool and sauna. In my case, I bathed with older ladies all the time. You can either rinse after, or just wipe off after soaking yourself in the hot water. I always shower again. My skin is silky smooth now from bathing twice at every single Onsen we’ve been too. Brady’s completely hooked with the entire ritual, the warm/hot water and the communal feeling. He’s trying to figure out how to be Japanese.
The next few days were miserable. We were whirled around by the strong gusts of wind. There were interspersed with rain. I think we were there too late in the season. Too bad because Hokkaido is supposedly excellent for bike touring. We biked as fast as we could to the Southern tip of Hokkaido to a town called Hakodate to take the ferry to Aomori in Honshu, the main land of Japan.
Hakodate fish market. It was sunny, but still windy.
Ready to board the ferry! Let’s get out of Hokkaido and before the winter chased us! Let’s get out of this Ame! (first Japanese word I learnt when the campsite owner was yelling Ame! Ame! at us– meaning Rain! Rain!)
Bye, Hokkaido. We only spent 5 days there– too bad. I think it would have been a great place to bike tour. Korea has definitely spoiled us rotten with the really easy food and restaurants everywhere. In Japan, we’ve been frequenting the convenience stores– they sell really good onigiris (rice balls wrapped with seaweed and filled with stuff)– they are my favorite and really good to take on a trip.
Next up: Honshu– hopefully no more Ame!