The sound of early morning dog walkers signalled us to get out of bed and leave our palatial setup. We had stopped in Ichinomya Koen Nai Camping Ground, a beachside park/campground, but it being a Thursday in early March, no one else was there. We had the pick of every single camp space. But it had been raining all day for the past few days, so instead of a muddy spot in the open air, we had instead set up under one of the BBQ pavilions.
It was time to start making our way back to Japan’s main island of Honshu, with the city of Himeji as our first stop. But getting there would be a multi-step process. From Shikoku, we needed to take a ferry, to the small island of Shodoshima, and then cycle across the whole island to the opposite port, to take a second ferry back to the mainland.
To reach that second ferry, we would need to cycle 22kms in under 2 hours. We were on a tight schedule and we knew it. At the ferry terminal, the ticket seller laughed at us and motioning an up-down gesture with her hands, she was basically saying it would be impossible to get there in time, due to the mountainous landscape of Shodoshima island. I explained to her in broken Japanese how far we had already come, from Amsterdam! no less, to which she then reduced her hand-gesture forecast to “so-so”, and wished us luck.
More enthusiastic support was found departing the ferry. We were joined by a team of college students on their Spring Break two-week cycling adventure. They were far quicker than us, but we took fewer breaks, so we kept passing each other many times as the day wore on. It was tortoise (us) and hare (them) racing, and we each yelled and waved elations/commiserations each time we overtook each other.
We were cheered on by plenty of rugged up statues dotting the coastline.
After a long climb along the forwarned cliffs, we rounded the final bend of the island and pulled into a scenic lookout. Taking in the view, munching on apples and peanuts, we noticed and leisurely commented on a large boat pulling into a distant port. I pulled out the ferry timetable from my back pocket and quickly concluded that this was the ferry which was to take us to Himeji. Crapsticks. We needed to beat that boat, with 6km in less than half an hour standing between us and it – or we would be waiting another 4 hours for the next ferry. Refusing to let that ticket lady be right, we chucked everything back in the bags and flew off.
Luckily the rest of the ride was downhill. Riding at breakneck speed we covered the last distance between us and our ticket off the island, pulling into the port just as the cars were just starting to drive on board. I raced up the steps to secure our tickets, and with celebratory team high-fives, pushed our bikes on board. The Japanese crew were efficient and considerate as always, securing our bicycles with such detail, placing towels between the frames and the pipes, to prevent any scratching.
We glided out of the harbour as the sun dropped behind the horizon.
The ferry was just under two hours long, and darkness had fallen as we rolled off the ramp onto the city’s docklands. We had made it to Himeji, Honshu. The industrialised port was cold and devoid of any life so we hurried to the nearest 7/11 as rain started to fall. Being over 10kms from the city centre, the area was really built up and we took a bit of time riding in the dark, checking a few wild camping options and backtracking a bit, until finally deciding on a semi-secluded baseball field complete with bathrooms. At sunrise we rode past our alternative campsite choice, a small playground which we had thankfully decided against as it was now it was a bustling weekend fish market. With no need for fresh fish we cycled straight to an Onsen to get some heat back into our bones and then onto Himeji’s main attraction, Japan’s most famous castle Himeji-jō or White Heron Castle for its bright white colouring.
Now finally back on Japan’s main island, Honshu, we could start seeing the busier side of country, with Osaka and Kyoto just around the corner. Hopefully some warmer weather as well.