Took a 10 day vacation from work to do this ride with a friend. The basic idea was to ride as far from the beaten path as possible, doing short days at a relatively relaxed pace. Mission accomplished, I think. I probably spent more time planning the route than actually riding it, but the work paid off. Perhaps only 20 km out of the whole 800 was on what could be considered busy roads, despite it being the busy Obon travel season. Much of it was off road.
Day 1, August 11
Kisarazu to Kashiwa, Chiba. Rivers.90 km.
Day 2, August 12
Kashiwa to Sano, Tochigi. More rivers. Ugh. 80 km.
Day 3, August 13
Sano to Nikko 90 km
The first day of really beautiful riding. After passing through Sano the route took us through a beautiful valley that slowly gains elevation as it approaches the mountain range south of Nikko.
The first climb (route 200) is incredibly steep and poorly maintained, but the mountain streams running along side the road and the complete lack of traffic made for a lovely first climb. Near the summit (900 meters or so) it started raining, a theme that would continue all the way to Akita.
The rest of the ride into Nikko was a series of steep up and down rindos that left us pretty drained by the end.
Day 4, August 14
Rest day in Nikko. Cats and dogs.
Day 5, August 15
Nikko to Minami Aizu, Fukushima. 85 km.
Extreme cats and dogs again climbing the lovely route 245 up to Kirifuri Kogen early in the morning. At some point my traveling companion had a hiru (leech?) attach itself to his leg. The kind lady at the Kuriyama soba shop let us borrow a lighter to burn (and hopefully disinfect) the wound.
From Kuriyama we had our biggest climb of the whole thing, route 350 to the east of Tashiroyama. The road climbs from 700 meters at Kuriyama to 1600 meters at the Tochigi / Fukushima border. To top it off there is 10 km + of gravel on either side of the pass, combining for 20 something km of gravel in the rain. The gravel decent into Minami Aizu was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done on a bicycle. Unfortunately it tore my friend’s rear tire to shreds, loosened the bolt on his front rack off, and wore both of our brake pads down to nearly nothing. Fortunately we brought a spare tire each, the front rack was idiot proofed with some zip ties, and we had just enough brake pad to get us to Akita. Despite the weather and other mayhem we both agreed it was one of the most fun rides either of us had ever done.
Day 6, August 16
Minami Aizu to Aizu Wakamatsu. 90 km
The day started with a bit of an adventure. Our route took us on a rindo along the south side of (Mt.) Nanatsugatake. We ignored several ‘road closed’ signs only to find that the road was closed with very good reason - large portions of it no longer exist.
Undeterred we hiked out bikes over 4 or 5 sections of completely non-existent road and over several more landslides until we finally came to the main road. Somewhere along the way I noticed that my ancient toe-clip specific cycling shoes had developed a massive hole in the sole. Tossed them in the garbage and bought a pair of oji-san loafers at the first shoe store we passed. They were stiff and fit surprisingly well in my toe-clips, though they would eventually grow to be a big annoyance.
Most of the rest of the ride was on quiet farm roads and Aizu Wakamatsu’s excellent river cycling road.
Day 7, August 17
Aizu Wakamatsu to Ura Bandai. 45 km.
Our shortest day, but the climb up to Lake Hibara was super steep and long. We rode a lap around the lake then called it a day. Mt. Bandai occasionally peeked out from behind the clouds.
Day 8, August 18
Ura Bandai to Asahi, Yamagata 100 km
The day started with our last long climb up the “Sky Valley” road to the Fukushima / Yamagata border at 1500 meters. Near the top of the climb a light mist turned into a heavy downpour. I would love to do that descent again in the dry some time, but even in the wet I managed to have fun and the low clouds provided some surreal scenery.
The rain let up just in time for us to get out of the mountains. The rest of the day was spent navigating through farm roads and up a beautiful rindo running along side the Mogami River.
Day 9, August 19
Asahi to Jumonji, Akita. 150 km
Our longest day started with a thunder storm and yet another downpour. Followed the Mogami river along cycling paths for much of the day with one or two accidental detours. The rain finally let up around noon as we climbed through the mountain range separating Yamagata and Akita. Unlike most of the passes we had climbed previously this one was mostly gentle rolling hills with taller mountains off in the distance. Our highest elevation was a measly 350 meters. Descending on the Akita side we ran into yet another thunderstorm and perhaps the heaviest downpour yet. In the first little village we passed through the rain was so heavy that I accidentally rode into a gap in a series of grates that was obscured by flowing water, blew up my front tire, was thrown off the bike and landed on my elbow. Fortunately I wasn’t going very fast and came away relatively unharmed except for a sore arm and shoulders. By the time I had changed my tire and got back on the bike the rain had stopped and bits of blue sky began to poke out from the grey. By some miracle the weather was beautiful and sunny for the last 30 km limp to our hostel in Jumonji. The hostel, by the way, has some killer mabodofu.
Day 10, August 20
Jumonji to Sea of Japan to Akita Station. 100 km.
Our last day we finally had beautiful weather. The riding was mostly flat through dirt farm roads with one short and steep climb through a beautiful forest. For much of the morning we could see Mt. Chokai in the distance, still with patches of snow on it. The last 15 km were along a river cycling road in Akita City leading to the Sea of Japan. We jumped in the ocean, got back on our bikes, and back tracked to Akita Station.
Overall a big success. I learned carrying an extra tire is a good idea and toe clips are a bad idea. Next year I hope to do a longer and faster tour.