James and I took a plane, a train, and a bus to the northern most island of Japan. The kanji for Hokkaido literally means 北 North 海 sea 道 road. The name alone makes you wanna go and explore its cold, bear-infested, wide open roads on bicycle.
We ate lunch on the bank of a rock-bed river under blue skies, but that would soon change, and James and I wound up riding through pouring rain on the 4th day of our cycling trek through Hokkaido in nothing but sandals and bike shorts. Slowly spinning our way up the mountain we earned a few eye popping looks from cautious drivers coming down, and my only regret is not being there when they told the story to their families about the crazy Gaijin.
After a quick cup of hot coffee under a half-covered bridge, we dressed appropriately for the fast and cold descent into Kamikawa, our destination for the night, and let gravity pull us down. We streaked (not literally) away from the mountain and the cold rain and into a quiet town, which was just closing down for the night. We managed to stock up on bread and some savory baked goods minutes before they closed for the night, but we wouldn’t be so lucky at the Onsen (hot spring).
Desperately in need of a deep cleaning we remembered what it is like to ride in a country where public baths aren’t around every corner, and we shuffled into the 7/11 restroom with a pocket full of baby-wipes like many bicycle tourists before us.
On our way out we met the cutest five-year-old girl in the world, and her equally cute and charming mother. We did our best to answer all the questions that the little girl had for us, and she was patient enough with ours. After a good ten minutes, we parted ways only to see them again at the beer festival down the street.
We had just parked our bikes against a building at the one block party, when we began to feel the welcoming party descend on us. What ensued was much great conversation, funny-moments, and free beer and food lavished upon us by the townsfolk.
The most talkative and generous of the bunch was a man who worked at a community garden project up the mountain. As we would find out the next morning, this was no ordinary garden, but more on that later! He introduced us to the full-time gardeners who just so happened to be the three cute girls sitting next to us. We decided, or rather they decided it would be better to continue the party at the karaoke bar next door.
At some point between a John Legend tune, and a rompin’ “Twist and Shout,” someone suggested that we set up camp on the front lawn of the train station. This seemed a bit strange at first, but the man keeping our drinks full was very convincing, and we didn’t argue…nor did we have a better idea, so we made our gracious exit with plans for a morning pick up from the train station.
The train station had a small lawn with a few park benches and some scattered trees, and there was one obvious spot, which was a mixed blessing; it was easy to find, but also easy to be seen by anyone who didn’t want vagrants camped out in town. In hopes of scouting out a less conspicuous spot James went left and I went right. Unfortunately for James, there was a three foot drop off in the middle of the darkened path. After realizing what happened, he picked himself up, reattached his bike bags, and questioned, with some well-earned profanity, the decision to end a sidewalk with a cliff. We ended our search after this near-disaster, and went back to pass out on the train station’s front lawn.
Unbroken and unfettered, we awoke early to a slight headache and James to his bruises. Our man came early to pick us up and drive us to the mountaintop garden project.
This little town, on a sparsely populated island has decided to pour, its heart (and its purse) into an amazing project. The word garden doesn’t do it justice, so maybe Flower Learning, Observation, Research, and Appreciation center is better (The FLORA Center).
They are still under construction, but they’re already growing more than 500 varieties of flowers throughout the meandering garden plots.
We certainly appreciated our free guided tour of the work-in-progress, and spending time with these four friendly faces.
Further up the mountain is the ultra-modern, organic, farm-to-table, make-sure-someone-else-pays restaurant and bar. They were closed, and so were our wallets.
We ended with an overcast view of Mt. Daisestuzan, the highest peak in Hokkaido, from the observation deck (the obscured view perhaps just a fly in the saddle-ointment).
We headed down to buy our hosts some ice cream from the cafe, said our good-byes, James and I mounted our steel wheels, and screamed down the mountain. It sure is comforting to know that you have friendly souls look after you when on the road, and it is even better if they bring you to the top of a mountain, and let gravity do the rest! Video of James enjoying gravity