This is post is even more epic than the last one… you have been warned! Enjoy 🙂
Monday 21 May
We drive about 15 min to our starting point, just near a little river. I get a photo with some pilgrims and a group photo before we do our ride briefing and head off. I borrowed one of John’s Garmins with the ride route loaded. We were in for a beautiful and tough day of riding, with great weather conditions. Sunny and a bit cool so I was in my merino jersey.
We start with a descent on good quality roads. Then ride along a gorgeous aqua coloured river for quite a while. We stop in a town to buy supplies at a grocery store for a picnic lunch. Then there was quite a hard climb – it started off easy at 4-5% for several kilometers, then the top 4km of the climb was 8-10%. Really tough. I was the first one up but Alex was only a minute or so behind. We stopped at the top of the climb for our picnic lunch, which was fun.
After lunch, we enjoyed the descent off the climb which was on narrower roads but very nice. For afternoon tea we stopped at a corner and got an ice cream from a roadside stall, which we ate in a little room nearby.
The afternoon ride was on a quiet windy road along a river. All is going well until Alex gets a puncture. He changes his tube then realizes that actually the tyre is significantly damaged. We shove in a $5 note and he nurses it until we can meet up with the van again, and get the tyre changed.
There is the possibility of stopping for coffee at a cafe less than 20km from our accommodation, but John Morrell and I push on while the others have a brief stop. John is pushing it on the gentle downhill slope and I’m working hard to hold his wheel but we make good time.
We finish up at a traditional Ryokan right on the edge of the road in a small town. I am first into the shared bathroom. I wash down then attempt to get into the bath but it is scalding hot and I just can’t manage it. After bathing I have some downtime in my room.
Dinner was fantastic here. Quality home cooked food. Karaage chicken on a shared plate with sauce, potatoes baked with mayo and cheese, spaghetti with peas, crumbed fish. I even sat up with the boys for a post dinner whiskey and chatting. Bed is on a futon on the tatami mat floor.
Tuesday 22 May
After a traditional Japanese breakfast, we have our briefing then set off around 9:15am to get through the roadworks just up the road. We’ve been told the road is open for only 5 min every 30 min, but we get through with no problems. I am feeling sprightly so I’ve been at the front heading into the roadworks, I’m not sure why everyone else is going so slowly. We are on quiet roads with a gentle descent alongside a river to a large dam. We stop for coffee at a cafe overlooking the river, and do some sight seeing in a museum with artifacts including lots of old tools for fishing, thatching, rice preparation etc. Very interesting and the lady in charge was super enthusiastic although everything she said was in Japanese.
Leaving the museum area it is starting to drizzle a little but clears up. One of the boys has a little incident where he kisses the wall and we stop for some first aid on his cuts and grazes.
The next part of the ride is a perfect hill, steady 5-6% gradient on a narrow quiet winding road for about 6km. I’m towards the back as we start the climb and don’t feel the need to go speeding past. Hans-Willem is setting a good pace and Mike is following. We catch up with Dr John and Alex, and H-W decides to ease up and ride at their pace. Mike gets past and I ease up to take a few photos then follow Mike up the road. He is riding strong and I settle into a solid tempo pace about 10m off his wheel. A couple of times he eased up and I almost caught him, but he was determined to reach the top first and I was in no hurry. A joy climb.
We wait at the top for the others, then I head off first on the descent as Mike is pretty cautious downhill. This road is narrow and in places patched and pot-holed with moss on the centre line so I’m taking it at a safe pace. After a while Alex comes zooming past. A little while later Hans-Willem catches up to me but he seems happy to sit behind me. I am in the moment, enjoying reading each corner, using my mountain bike skills riding out of the saddle to absorb the bumps and steering with my hips. As I reach the more open corners towards the bottom on the descent I’ve got a huge grin on my face. That was really a lot of fun and so pretty.
The rest of the day is pretty flat and only 50km in total. We are working in a group on one of the bigger roads which is an effort for me to keep up and I am not interested in pushing out of my comfort zone to keep with the group. There was a possible lunch option but it was closed so we push on through a bit of drizzle, via a levy bank road and some water wheels, into Shimanto City.
We get to our accommodation, the plush New Royal Hotel, just in time to order lunch before they close orders at 2pm. I have pork cutlet curry which is delicious. Then a quick shower in my room and put on a load of washing at the coin laundry with John Morrell. Then getting back to the hotel Hans-Willem wants to do some washing as well so I walk with him and Mike down to the coin laundry. We divert via the covered market on the way back and get a small sweet treat then explore the supermarket.
Back at the hotel and some downtime before dinner.
Dinner was amazing here. Dr J has decided to rest instead of joining us for dinner. We have three different sashimi fish, a whole salted roasted fish, whole soft shell prawns, bonito fish (a local dish with finely sliced mild onion, garlic, barely cooked fish and soy sauce), noodle soup, eggs cooked in a pot in sauce, spinach tempura patties and followed by yuzu (citrus) jelly. I enjoyed very delicious sake with dinner as well. I was down the end of the table with John Morrell and Rob for a change and enjoyed conversation with them.
Wednesday 23 May
The next morning it is raining when we set out and we are all kitted out in rain jackets. I’ve had a big breakfast from the buffet to fuel me to get through the whole ride and stay warm. Breakfast included fish, scrambled eggs, salad with mayo dressing, seaweed salad, pickles, and miso soup. Followed by two small coffees and a croissant with butter and jam.
I’m enthusiastic about riding and my spirits are not dampened by the rain but that doesn’t last long. We are riding in a line following John Morell. I’m sure he is working hard on the front but at the back I’m barely pedaling and not very warm. I’m getting spray from the bikes in front and we’re on a kind of busy road so it is a bit hectic with cars passing. John has said we’ll have a long sight seeing stop at lunch and I’m worried about how cold I’ll get.
After a while we get off the busy road and onto a road following the coast. It is undulating so at least I’m getting a bit warmer going up the hills. But Dr J is in front of me and is taking extreme caution on the corners on the descents, which is dangerous for those of us behind him with barely working brakes in the wet. I want to keep an eye on him so I stay behind but sit off his wheel several meters to give him some space. He then makes the call to ride no further today, realizing how dangerous it is because he can’t see what he’s doing, and he gets in the bus.
My mood brightens up a bit when I have a toilet stop, then see some giant purple worms on the road, a land crab and some wild strawberries, then get to do a nice climb at my pace with no following anyone.
This good mood doesn’t last long as I’m still worried about how cold I’ll get at lunchtime. At one point we have a five minute stop to regroup and even from that I’m a bit chilled, it has been raining all day so far. I’m struggling mentally today, feeling grumpy, struggling to be in the moment and not think about future worries, like having two sets of wet kit to get dry before tomorrow’s ride. I’m wondering if I’d be better off stopping at lunch and getting in the bus.
Eventually I resolve that I’ll have to get changed into dry warm kit at lunch, even just to eat lunch. I’m somewhat relieved to reach the lunch stop just so I can stop worrying about it and enact my plan to get changed. I get my other set of kit, drying myself down a little with a small towel. On the plus side, I did get to use my new rain jacket and it is awesome.
After changing, I heard straight to the restaurant for warm food. I’ve been contemplating hot udon soup and I’m in luck – they have udon noodle curry soup on the menu which is exactly what I need. This cheers me up a bit. As the others are coming in for lunch, I head out for sight seeing.
The Buddhist pilgrims temple is amazing, so many details to take in and photograph. I realise it has also stopped raining. I’m feeling a bit more serene after visiting the temple and exploring on my own, and somewhere along the way I’ve decided to keep on riding.
Thankfully there is no more proper rain in the afternoon, just a bit of misty drizzle, and actually we warm up so quickly that at the first stop we all strip off our rain jackets and extra layers. We are continuing to follow the coast and mostly following John Morrell as the route is a little confusing, ducking from proper roads into pilgrim paths and back again. We also ride through a fishing village on the pathways and through a town with a small bike shop that has been there since the 1960s.
Finally we reach our destination, another traditional Ryokan inn. I’ve been dreaming of a hot chocolate if possible to lift my grumpy mood. Instead John Morrell congratulates us for finishing the ride on the rainy day by buying us beer. I’m persuaded to have one but I only get halfway through before I really don’t want any more. Thankfully Mike steps up and says he’ll have it but my beer pouring skills result in most of it foaming up out of his glass anyway.
I take the opportunity to escape to my room. John shows me where the laundry room and women’s bathing room are. I heard upstairs, get out of my kit, and quickly get down to put on a load of washing then get into the bathing room. There is a curtain but doesn’t seem to be a door for the changing area. Oh well. I strip off and make my way into the bathing room, which does have a door and is pleasantly warm and quiet. One of the boys gets the wrong door and tries to walk into the women’s bathroom while I’m washing, but I have my back to the door so he doesn’t see much before backing out in embarrassment.
I enjoy my hot bath, get my washing and hang it up in my room to dry. After the hot bath I’m feeling very sleepy so I pull out my futon and have a lie down in my yakata. I haven’t slept well the last few nights which hasn’t helped my mood. I get a bit of a nap and rest in before dinner while the others are exploring the coast in the drizzle. I’m happy to be warm and inside.
Dinner here included octapus sashimi, shells to dig the cooked sea creatures out of, and prawn and vegetable tempura. It was delicious but not as filling as other meals. I was sitting with the Perth riding boys but not much in the mood for conversation. I retired straight after bed then had some quiet time. And finally a good night’s sleep.
Thursday 24 May
I woke quite early. It is light by 4:30am but I managed to sleep until 5:45am. I was going to have some more quiet time in my room before breakfast at 7:30am, but I looked out the window and it was sunny! So I decided to go for a walk and explore the coast the other guys had seen yesterday. Rob was out cleaning our bikes so he gave me directions.
I really enjoyed the solitary exploring time, sunshine, ocean and amazing rock formations. The 20 min walk took significantly longer due to all my photo stops trying to capture patterns, textures, colours and rocks. I made it back right in time for breakfast, which included fish, tofu, ham, egg and tomato sauce.
We all got ready to ride but had a few strange electronics issues. We had charged all our devices overnight and they were 100%. But between the six of us we had two Garmins, one mobile phone and one bike light that had zero charge and wouldn’t turn on. Good thing after a few hours of charging in the car they came back to life.
The ride this morning started with a really really lovely climb, steady at 3-4% gradient so not too taxing, on a quiet windy moss- covered road following the Shimanto River. It was quite shady so luckily the sun was out and it promised to be a warm day. We were riding in a group with the leader setting a steady sustainable pace and swapping off turns after 5 min or more. Then we gradually split into smaller groups and individuals based on our speed.
After the glorious quiet road we got back into some bigger two-lane roads with some undulations, maybe up to around 6-7%. Dr J was struggling at one point, looking at his gears like they weren’t working. He slowly made it up the climb and at the top we tested his gears and they seemed to be working ok so we decided to keep going. He had no problems bombing it down the descents and pulling away from me on the flats, so I thought he might just be having a bad day and feeling like he couldn’t go as hard as he wanted on the hills.
We caught up to Rob with the bus and he looked at the bike and the gears and concluded that it was John’s legs that were the problem. Good to hear that the bike was all in working order!
We reached our morning tea stop, which was hot cakes and coffee. We were all feeling a bit greedy so had two serves of hot cakes. This was a bad idea in retrospect as most of the guys started to sugar crash about 10km before the end of the ride (lunch was at the end today). They were running out of water and food and were very happy to see the bus to get stuck into some bananas and refill their bottles. Meanwhile I was still on the 1.5L of water I’d put in my camelbak bladder on the first day and I didn’t need food.
Between morning tea and the sugar crash, we continued riding along the Shimanto River but on a wider two-lane road for the most part. In sections it narrowed down to only one lane and I really wanted to enjoy the twisting gentle descent but we had cars coming in both directions and having to stop and reverse to get through so I tried to be patient. We also stopped at a pretty cool suspension bridge for some photos.
The bus was not far after this. The boys refueled and we continued on the remaining section to town, crossing a great red bridge. We stopped in town for lunch, I got ramen noodle soup with pork cutlet. By this stage I was getting a bit shaky from the sugar come-down so I also got a yuzu cider to tide me over until I could digest my lunch.
After lunch we rode across a bridge and up a tough little 11% section of road to reach our accommodation, which was a relatively new architect-designed hotel in the hilltop. It was so lovely!
I got out of my dirty kit and did some washing in my bathroom sink to hang up to dry, then had a mini picnic in my room with a selection of chocolates I’d bought and some green tea. Totally unnecessary but very fun. All the accommodation provide some kind of hot water and green tea for guests in their rooms, which is appreciated. After my downtime I was feeling ready for a sociable dinner, but first a visit to the baths/onsen.
The onsen was lovely! About five washing stations, a large hot bath with views overlooking the river and mountains, and a sauna. And there was no one else in there at the time I was. I washed myself and my hair, enjoyed the hot bath and views for a little while, visited the sauna briefly and then went upstairs in my yakata to dry my hair. Thirty minutes all up in the baths so not terribly long.
With dry hair I was now ready for pre-dinner drinks. I do love the tradition of wearing a yakata after bathing, including in public to the hotel restaurant. Some of the boys just need to learn to not flash so much leg or chest!
Sake was my beverage of choice for a drink in the bar overlooking the mountains before dinner. Dinner was amazing here as well. Each place seemed to out do the one before. This one was a bit fancier and the small dishes came out one by one like a degustation rather than all on the table at once as is normal. We had whole salted fish, tofu, sashimi, baked eggplant with miso jam, bonito fish, and cooked up bacon, vegetables and mushrooms on a little personal cooker at the table. Then more tofu with prawns and vegetables; and tempura including the delicious spinach patties. Plus of course rice and miso soup – every meal has rice and miso. Followed by a small serve of matcha green tea ice cream with a strawberry for dessert. I like the way dessert is not a normal part of the meal and if it is included it is very small.
After dinner we sat up in the bar for a while longer chatting, it was a good social night in a great location.
Friday 25 May
I was up early again after a good sleep, which gave me a chance to catchup on the Giro highlights and enjoy a cup of green tea overlooking the river from my window seat. Breakfast was traditional Japanese, this one involving a soft boiled egg, flat fish to heat on a grill at the table, bamboo shoots and salad!
Our ride was at a pretty cruisey pace, continuing alongside the river for most of the morning, with all of us riding at various paces and stopping for photos so we were spread out quite a bit. I started to need a toilet after about 10km. The problem was that the road followed the river, with a steep cliff bank down to the river and a steep cliff heading straight up from the other side of road. In the places where there was no cliff, there were houses. So I spent about 30km recently looking for somewhere to pee. Eventually I found a track leading up the cliff which was slightly overgrown and provided enough coverage. None too soon as it had been getting desperate and just around the corner we got to a tough 1km climb at 10%. This got the heart going!
At the morning tea stop I opted out of coffee because it was quite warm and they had gelato snacks… so I got a chocolate gelato cup with blueberries and sauce. It was so rich and so good!
It was only about 20km from morning tea till lunch. We had one turn to make. I got there first and waited for the others to make sure we all headed in the right direction, then I took off. I’ve noticed I don’t much feel like mucking around towards the end of a ride, I just want to go and don’t have quite so much patience. So I went at my happy tempo pace, into a headwind and up a false flat initially, then down a terrific fun decent. It was quite warm and on a busy road so I was talking it easy but also enjoying the freedom.
Then we got into town where we would be having lunch and loading the bikes onto the bus for a two hour drive to our accommodation in a different city. I got changed into clothes I’d pre-packed and put in a bag on the bus. The boys all trickled in, rifled through their suitcases for clothes, went to the bathroom to change, came back when they realised they forgot their underwear, got changed then got on their phones back home. A few of us were ready so Mike, Rob and I headed off for lunch.
We went to the covered market but didn’t see many food options. Lots of places were closed. We found a drink bar and Rob asked the owner where we could find food and she pointed out a place just a bit further up. We went in and had the best lunch ever! Rice with the tenderest tasty beef, green beans, miso soup and a mini creme caramel. All that plus a beer was only ¥1,000 which is around $12.
Then the bus ride to Imebari where we would spend the night. I got stuck into my puzzle book. I thought I was on a good roll but somehow managed to get a few wrong, I think my maths is a bit rusty.
Our accommodation was a typical Japanese hotel. I put on a load of washing with Rob then had a shower in my room. After the washing finally finished I quickly hung mine out then met up with the rest of the guys to head out for dinner. We were left to our own devices this evening which was fun. We sussed out a possible dinner option on the top floor of a boat shaped building on the harbour, then headed to the castle to check it out in the soft dusk light.
Imebari castle was quite impressive with a huge moat and the lights went on as the sun went down. We spent ages exploring and taking photos.
Then for dinner… we’d planned to go back to the rooftop restaurant but some of the boys were too hungry and needed to eat right there so we found a restaurant across the road from the temple. They had minimal English and we had very basic Japanese, but they found us an English menu with pictures on a phone. Dr J ordered sake while the others got beer. The lady brought out a magnum of sake and we all got very concerned that we’d have to drink the whole lot. But no she just poured out of the magnum into two medium sized glasses over saucers, pouring until the glasses overflowed into the saucers. So I ended up with an overflowing glass of sake with my dinner of sashimi, rice and miso. It was all very good and we gobbled it up in no time.
Then we decided we wanted ice cream so we left on a mission. We wandered the streets for about half an hour but by this time it was after 9pm and pretty much everything was shut and the streets were deserted. We had to abandon our quest for ice cream. We went back to the bar area at our hotel and had a small drink of sake before heading to bed.
Saturday 26 May
Another day, another delicious Japanese breakfast. This one was characterized by having fresh salad, yogurt and cold spaghetti salad.
Our ride today was on the Shimanami Kaido, a 70km long cycleway network of bridges and roads linking islands between Imebari and Onomichi. We were all excited about this ride, and the bridges were fantastic. It was just a shame about the smog that made it so hard to get good photos! We’d also been assured by John Morrell that we couldn’t get lost and we just had to follow the signs. While that was true, some of the signs gave absolutely no warning of which direction to turn and quite often it was the opposite way to what the car signs said. Anyway we did all make it without getting lost but we had to have our wits about us.
We took a planned diversion to ride around one island. It turned out to be quite hilly and added on 25km with 400m of elevation gain so it was a good test of the legs after five days of riding.
We stopped for morning coffee and/ or ice creams, lunch was katsu don by the water, and we were then directed to a gelato place only about 5km down the road. We headed off to find gelato. After 7km we turned around and went back to a small corner shop that had soft serve, guessing it must be the place but being very disappointed. After scoffing our soft serve we continued on. About 4km after the soft serve place we found the actual gelato place, which was around 9km from the lunch stop. I had to get the promised gelato here, with some of the boys opting for affogato (coffee with gelato).
It was now nearly 3pm and I was reaching my “it is nearly the end of the ride and I just want to push on” phase, so I took the lead at a tempo pace. I hoped the boys were not far behind but I didn’t have the patience to stop and wait and discuss all the turns and consult the map. I just kept my eyes peeled and my wits about me and followed the signs. At particularly confusing turns I’d stop to make sure they’d seen which way I went, then kept going.
It was quite warm and was 4pm before we reached the ferry for the five minute ride over to Onomichi. I recalled the instructions from this point were “the railway station will be on your left and the hotel Alpha 1 just to the left of that”. Well first of all we had to find the railway station so we took a stab and turned left. We were riding a few minutes down the road and not sure where to go when John Morrell flagged us down and walked us to the hotel. Hooray! Our ride was 100km all up, so we had done 100km on the first and on the last days of the tour. We were all a bit tired and out of patience and the boys now had to pack up their bikes. Thank goodness we had our support crew to help them out.
I got my bike pedals and seat off my hire bike then headed up to my room to shower and chill out for a short while. Our accommodation was a standard Japanese hotel again.
Tonight was our celebration team dinner, but because it was a Saturday night many of the restaurants in the city were booked out. So we had the meal at our small hotel restaurant. It was still great. We had beer and sake to drink, and the food included delicious sashimi, tempura, rice and mushrooms and fish heated in a pot, and savoury cold custard with small bits like prawns in it.
After dinner, the two John’s retired for the evening. The boys were on a mission to find a karaoke bar, while Rob and I wanted to check out the waterfront. We tagged along with the boys thinking to hang with them only for a little while, but it was heaps of fun. First we stopped for donuts (not very good ones) then we got rejected by one karaoke bar because we couldn’t speak Japanese. After asking a couple of ladies we got directions to Doe Rae Mi. We found it not far down the road, and they let us in. It was a typical small bar with only only eight or nine seats in a line along the bar. Three Japanese guys were there already and welcomed us in, particularly when Alex shouted them a round of drinks. I was ready for water by this stage but was convinced to have a bit more sake. And the karaoke started. Alex was really good, and the rest of us all gave it a shot with varying levels of enthusiasm.
The Japanese guys left about 10pm and we all headed off about half an hour later. The boys went back to the hotel bar and found our Japanese friends there as they were staying from out of town, so they sat with them and chatted via Google translate. Meanwhile Rob and I finally got to go check out the harbour; it was such a nice night it wasn’t even too cold yet. Another fun but late night! Good thing we didn’t have to ride the next day.
Sunday 27 May
The last day of the tour and my last day in Japan. Usually coming to the end of a holiday I feel sad but for some reason that wasn’t the case this time. I certainly wasn’t happy to reach the end of my holiday mind you and I could happily continue to cycle and eat my way around Japan. But I was feeling that it was a good time to end the holiday, lose the excess weight I’d put on with all that eating, and hopefully take some of the peace and not-busyness with me back to my regular life.
Today started with a buffet style Japanese breakfast. Then a six hour bus ride including a short coffee stop and lunch at a truck stop – which was very good pork katsu don and miso soup. We arrived at the Kansai hotel airport, where we were getting dropped off and most of the boys were staying that night. I stored my luggage there, then went with Alex and Rob on the Rapit Express to Namba for a very brief and hectic shopping trip – so many people!
Then on to Dotonburi, a nearby eating and entertainment district, for a final celebration dinner. We ended up at a teppanyaki restaurant with a quite expensive set menu, including horse sashimi, chicken gizzards and Kobe waygu beef. It was a expensive by Japanese standards but still came out as under $50 for the food. It reached time for me to depart, so I said goodbye to all the boys and took off for my flight home.
Huge thanks to the boys for inviting me along and letting me share the trip, and to John Morrell from Journey into Japan for a great scenic and varied route.