Today the real adventure started. I got up early, did my obligatory Japanese study session, answered some emails, packed my bags and hit the road at 7:30am. Actually, I hit the local 7-11 for a couple of onigiri (rice balls) and a can coffee. Yum! And, then I hit the road and started to work my way north.
Now, since I am trying to follow the coastline as much as possible, I didn’t take the shortest route on HWY 45. Instead, I tried HWY 27, which looked to be more rural and closer to the coast. In the end, I wasn’t too impressed with either and ended logging extra miles for the sake of trying to follow the coast. Not a good decision.
My recommendation for anyone biking this route would be to take the shortest route possible. In fact, my recommendation for anyone biking this route would be to NOT bike this route. Or at least, to skip the Ishinomaki wasteland and start in Onnagawa.
Back on HWY 45, the area to the north of Matsushima quickly turns into a giant, flat, dusty, and sometimes smelly port and industrial zone. The closer I got the Ishinomaki, the more I was regretting this route.
Japan is funny that way. You pedal along through a pristine area such as Matsushima thinking, “Wow! What a pretty place.” Then, you turn the corner or cross a bridge and find yourself on the dark side of the moon, wondering “what the heck is wrong with these people. Don’t they care about the environment at all?”
Passing the pulp mills, which by the way stink, and other factories on the north side of Ishinomaki, I found myself thinking “negative” thoughts about my Japanese hosts. It didn’t make it any better that I was constantly being passed by huge noisy, smelly, construction trucks.
But then, just like that, Japan did a reversal on me. I crossed a bridge and rode into the small town of Watanoha, just across from the San Juan Nature Park. I stopped at the local food mart for a break and instantly struck up a conversation with a couple of locals.
They wanted to tell me about the local attractions, give me tips about where to visit, and talk about anything that came to mind. I guess life moves kind of slow in Watanoha, and people, at least the two I met are pretty darn friendly to gaijin on bikes.
After 30 minutes I said my goodbyes and started to head out town in the direction of Onnagawa. This is where the “reversal” accelerated and where I realized what all the huge noisy trucks where doing.
Onnagawa had been completely obliterated by the 2011 tsunami and there was a massive rebuilding effort going on. I met a local tour guide who showed me before and after photos which were shockingly sad. I really didn’t need to see the “after” photos, since there was nothing standing from the harbor up the surrounding hills for a few kilometers.
I had expected to have my lunch in Onagawa because it looked like a good sized town on a small harbor. But, all the shops and restaurants are gone. The only structures are temporary offices and living quarters for the workers trying to rebuild the town.
This did pose a small problem for me as I hadn’t packed any food or extra drinks. As it turned it out, it took me almost 2 hours to find a place to eat. Lucky for me that in Japan, even if you can’t find a place to stay or a place to eat, and even if the entire has been destroyed by a natural calamity, you can always find plenty of vending machines, even on some lonely stretch of highway.
As I was getting really hungry and started to feel like I might bonk, I dropped some coins into a roadside vending machine and downed a couple of sugary sports drinks. That hit the spot and gave me the boost I needed to make it to Ogatsucho Ogatsu.
This small little village sits at the entrance to a nature park and boasts three restaurants and a convenience store. I ordered a draft beer and Yakisoba and gave my legs a much needed rest.
After about five minutes, I went to remind the proprietor about my beer. The next thing I know is she brings me two draft beers, one for free because she had forgot my original order. I tried to refuse, but she insisted. So, that’s cool, right?
Well, here’s the thing. I am out in the middle of nowhere eating in a small roadside restaurant that seats like 8 people max. I’m thinking, the food is going to dodgy and the beer, if I get it, will probably be warm and flat.
WRONG! The beers, both of them, were served in ice, not frost, but ice, covered mugs and the beer was very tasty. My yakisoba was better than any I’ve had in Tokyo, and it only cost JPY 600.
Furthermore, I had three different people come up and start conversations with me, ask my about my trip and then give me advice about where to go and where to stay. One person even threw in a map.
So now I am totally liking Japan again!
That, in hindsight should have been a warning. J I as started cycling again, the truck traffic immediately increased. And guess what, there were several tunnels, the longest of which was like 1.5 KM long and didn’t have a bike path on either side.
I don’t know about you, but I hate tunnels, especially long ones, especially when I’m being passed by huge noisy trucks that are traveling at warp speed. I had to pull my bike up onto to the narrow foot space several times to let traffic past. It wasn’t fun.
After about an hour things got better (IE fewer tunnels and trucks) and I stopped for a breather at Kamiwarizaki. There are some beautiful seaside views here, a campground, and several minshuku.
From there I rode the 15KM to a much deserved room in a seaside onsen hotel called Minami Sanriku Hotel. The rooms, at JPY 13,000 are a bit pricey. But, that amount includes dinner and breakfast, and free access to the indoor and outdoor hot springs.
The total distance for today’s ride was about 90KM.
My favorite section of the ride was from Onagawa to Ogatsu. The views were great, the road was wide, and there was very little traffic. If I could ride on roads like that everyday, I’d be a very happy camper.