Japan Ride 5

The following is the fifth chapter of the trip five New England riders took to Japan to ride the Northern Territories.

Japan Trip

           The cones of Hokkaido                    |              Yellow on green and more green

The Nisku Pass
This was really only half a day’s ride. We never left dockside in Tomakomai until 2:00PM. We left Boston on Sunday morning, arrived in Japan on Monday evening and were finally riding on Hokkaido on Thursday afternoon. It was definitely time to ride.

Our plan called for a 180K (115miles) over the Nisku pass to Iketa, a small village that would be our first stop in the Northern Territories. TD, our lovely Japanese riding muse, was to ride with us over the mountains and take her own path once on the other side.

Our introduction to the fresh vision of Japan was quite benign. We rode approximately 100 Klm's in a sunny warm climate. This was hugely different from the oppressive humidity and high temperatures of Tokyo. We rode a divided four lane highway in excellent condition which seemed sparsely travelled once the Ferry traffic had gotten out of the way. Our pace was moderate, 65/70 mph in the middle of the pack and a little quicker at the back. Seven bikes are always acting like an accordion and the last rider is up and down a lot. Japan is considered a rainy country and although rain was not prevalent on our trip, the evidence of this rainy climate was on display in the hundreds of shades of green that made up the countryside. Bright, dull, dark, pale, verdant and rich they were all there and all intermingled. The exceptions were the solid green blocks of color that indicated the land was under cultivation.

The acres upon acres of rice fields lined the road in orderly fashion. Based on our recent experience of how land was apportioned in Tokyo, the rice fields were much larger than I expected they might be. From afar, they were simply fields of uniformly low and uniformly soft waving green; like a very light blanket being shaken slowly from its hem by a gentle wind. As you drew abreast, you could see the “straight as an arrow” row upon row of rice plants that made up this man’s knitting. There is something restful and even comforting about those gently waving green blankets surrounded by the unruly greens that grow wildly at their borders.

We were moving into hills now and these were quite remarkable to me. I had never seen hills shaped or colored quite like these. I am informed that these are relatively new mountains that have not been worn down by time. Their steep sides rise evenly to their peaks and all appear to be of equal height. Between them the ground was remarkably even. Unevenly spaced, they give the impression that we are in the play box of a very large child that has randomly overturned these compacted cones of deep green. While called mountains by some, they are really are just the scattered foothills to the grey-blue mountains we could see rising into the hazy distance.

Far too quickly, this serenity was behind us and we began climbing to the Nisku pass. An ever climbing series of dark damp tunnels, very high bridges and exposed roads moving unendingly upwards to connect Hidaka on one side of the mountains to Tokachi on the other. As we launched into the clouds, the warm sun was quickly replaced by a damp and chilling mist. And onward we climbed. The temperature dropped a good thirty degrees and as we neared the crest, the road became steeper still. The road, at first damp, was now wet and the tunnels seem poorly lit and bone-chillingly cold. We zip up our jackets inside the tunnels and immediately feel the difference whenever we emerge from them, no matter how briefly. One senses that they are perpetually cold. As we near the summit we are enveloped alternately by a fog and a cold heavy mist that gathers on our visors. Visibility has been cut dramatically and we are relying on each the lights of the bike ahead to establish the relationship to each other and the road. The cars have an easier time of it and conditions dictate that we keep their pace. For most of us these are new bikes and this is their first test. What are their limits? What will they do when we grab a handful of brake? Is the tiled tunnel floor as slick as it appears? Can we spin the back wheel on these tunnel tiles? Caution makes acceleration a testy process and we must keep up with traffic. We are still climbing, turning, braking in the heavy fog and then enjoy a short respite as we plunge into yet another tunnel with a black shiny floor that reflects our headlights and appears scary-slippery. Could this floor be freezing? Suddenly, we are back into the fog and more climbing and braking and turning.

Though we are riding together, each of us is alone with this challenge; to go fast enough to keep up and yet slow enough to maintain control and a margin of safety should something happen ahead. Just past the peak we pull into the parking lot of a deserted roadside restaurant. The building’s overhanging roof provides shelter from the rain as we regroup and put on wet suits. The break and the camaraderie are emboldening and we climb back on the bikes for the ride down through the clouds and into the warm valley's dry floor below. We have “survived” our first test of the new trip and we have all “accomplished”. On the comfort of the valley floor we are reunited and secure and we are reminded that successful riding is a voyage dependent on friends, proper preparation and the right equipment. A little luck never hurts. We part with TD and ride the final 40 K to our dinner and, of course, a bath.

japan trip

We stay at a Japanese Inn in the town of Ikeda and sleep two to a room on futons. The Inn has a superb restaurant and we feast on giant crab legs, unbelievable melon and cold Kiren beer. That night the Nisku pass is never mentioned but it is not forgotten. These pictures were taken a short way from the top of the peak where we stopped to put on rain gear.