We left our luxurious ryokan straight after breakfast by 8am, quite late but the weather was still crisp and frosty. We could see our breath every time we exhaled and no wonder, we passed a sign that recorded the temperature as -3°C! All those hills we had cycled up the day before paid off. For the next 40km it was pretty much straight downhill, following Highway #187. One of the easiest and most beautiful mornings we had ever had, with spectacular riding following the rivers and smaller towns.
After a few hours of gorgeous winding riverviews there was quite a few painful inclines. We were pretty thankful we started the day so easily because our legs were hurting. 97kms later, and a few more hills, we finally got to the outskirts of Hiroshima, and a bike path leading straight to the Peace Park.
Bundles and bundles of colourful origami paper cranes hung heavily on display. These paper cranes have become a symbol for peace and can be traced back to ten-year-old schoolgirl, Sadako Sasaki, who died of leukemia ten years after the atomic bombing. Sadako’s death triggered a campaign for a Children’s Peace Monument, and an aim for permanent peace all around the world. Millions of paper cranes are offered to add to the Peace Monument every year.
By the time we circled the park a few times it was 7pm. We were well ready for a feed and bed. After checking into our hostel, the very friendly Santiago Guesthouse, we went in search of a Japanese specialty, okonomiyaki, a savoury pancake made with noodles, cabbage, batter and a variety of toppings, created on a griddle in front of you. And where else to try it but Okonomimura, a four-story building where every floor is nose-to-nose okonomiyaki joints. The lift doors opened and we were greeted with yells of Irasshaimase! (Welcome! Please come in!), booths filled with the after-work kind, and rows of chefs working the grills. We were a little early but by the time we finished it was really crowded, filled with loud and boisterous chatter. So much fun. We made our way up and down the levels, trying a couple of different places.
The next morning we went straight to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum as soon as it opened, which was a sobering but necessary reminder of the atrocities of war. After checking out, we left Hiroshima, having stayed less than 24 hours. Our plan was to make our way 85km to Onomichi in one day’s ride, where the famous Shimanami Kaido Cycle Route begins. Of course things don’t always go as planned.
Riding through a small town, a car appeared out of a driveway right in front of us. I had enough time to quickly curve around the bumper, but I heard the CRUNCH as Cleave, following behind, didn’t have enough time to clear it. I turned around to see him on the ground, untangling himself from under his bike. After a few rounds of profusely bowing with the horrified driver, and a petrol station attendant who saw the whole thing, we inspected the damage with our audience. The front wheel was bent in two places.
With a lopsided conversation of rapid Japanese (them) and mime (us) it was offered that the driver would take Cleave, with the bent wheel, to the closest bike store while I waited with the rest of the gear at the petrol station. The bike store was in the next town over but without any explanation the owner immediately saw the problem and began truing the wheel. But to no avail. Quietly Cleave tried not to panic about the worst case scenario of touring on a unicycle.
The wheel was beyond repair but there needed to be a solution. Rummaging through his stock he found a second-hand racing wheel for a road bike. Would that work? With the rest of his bike back at the petrol station there was no way to tell. Fingers crossed, and the driver insisting on paying for all the parts, Cleave arrived back to the petrol station. A bit of a frankensteined job but it worked! Thanking the driver for his help and covering the costs for us, we were on our way. We made a little detour back to the bike shop to show the owner the now fixed bike and to thank him as well. He gave Cleave’s handiwork a thumb’s up.
By the time we were really on the road it was 5pm and the day was gone. Riding a few more hours to 8pm into the dark, we kept an eye out for a wild camping spot but it was mostly car yards and fishing sheds. Then we spied a wooden torii gate with a long driveway up a very dark hill. Torii gates usually mean a temple. Trying to downplay the creepy factor, temples often have cemeteries attached, we pushed our bikes up into the cover of darkness. Picking a spot behind some bushes we fell into an exhausted sleep.
The next morning we went for a little exploring. It was not creepy at all in the morning light, instead serene and peaceful, and we had the whole place to ourselves.
We were well ready for the Shimanami Kaido! The Shimanami Kaido is a famous 70km long bicycle route that connects Japan’s main island of Honshu to the island of Shikoku, by the world’s longest series of suspension bridges. The route passes over six islands: Mukaishima, Innoshima, Ikuchijima, Omishima, Hakatajima and Oshima.
The cycling route is well-marked, with separate cycle/pedestrian ramps up to the bridges, and a few campsites to choose from. There are also weather-proof enclosed rest stops with benches and drink machines, that people can, if needed, camp in as well.
Oranges and lemons are the islands’ specialities, which means the bicycle routes pass quite a few citrus farms, and wild trees which we picked from.
We also got gifted oranges from a few very kind locals, including the owners at a ramen restaurant when we stopped for lunch.
We only made it over the first bridge to the Ohamasaki Campground.
Camping off-season meant we had the entire grounds to ourselves with not a single person to be seen.
Since there was no one there we could pick the best spot, and had an amazing view of the bridge we just rode over. Dinner with sunset views!
We did the remainder of the route in one day and all the seven bridges were just as pretty, with beaches and view points. It isn’t as rural as it sounds though. The route passes quite a few industrial factories, traffic and concreted in coastline. I would try to see if there less popular ways around the islands, as the main route has a lot of vehicle traffic.
The last bridge, the Kurushima Kaikyo, is the world’s longest suspension bridge at 4km long, and looms across the water like something out of Transformers. It’s actually made of three suspension bridges which are joined together by anchorages. We were pretty excited to tackle it and finish the route. The day was unbelievably windy and the gusts of wind were magnified on the bridge as there’s no shelter. The huge steel cables made a deafening high-pitched hum as the wind buffeted through. We were well over inching our way across, losing our hearing but at least the end was in sight!
The bridge spat us out at Imabari, on the island of Shikoku, the end to the Shimanami Kaido. We had made it!