The country air had a distinct cabbage smell, signalling we were now in Tahara prefecture after joining the cars on the 1-hour Ise-wan ferry from Toba. Tehara was one of our last rural outposts before reaching the major landmarks of Mount Fuji and our final destination, Tokyo.
The last time I was in Kyoto was 2007 where I spent a year teaching English and was living in an apartment not much bigger than our tent. I was excited to return to see if the beautiful city remained as picture perfect as it did in my memory and to show it off to Suyin, who was just as excited as I was.
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.
We sat drowsy and disoriented from our night in the clouds, with a commotion unfolding a few seats down. An elderly Japanese man intent on getting his luggage first was trying to barge past a couple, repeatedly hitting the wife with his briefcase. The yelling had escalated but the old guy was refusing to register any delay to his plan.
After riding over 1,200km from the bottom of Thailand, Bangkok was only 60kms away. But with all the overladen speeding tucks flying past our elbow the distance became irrelevant. We had cycled as far as we could but the roads, (expressways) were just becoming too dangerous to ride. Our chosen road, Number 35, had been a two-lane road, but then kept widening, adding more and more extra lanes as we inched closer to the city. A friendly traffic policeman stopped us at one intersection and kindly reached into the open signal box next to him, pausing all the lights so we could cross before the traffic.
Malaysia has seen a boom in street art in the last ten years, with both commissioned and non-commissioned works showing up in many of the major cities. Our first glimpse of these murals was in Sasaran, a tiny traditional fishing village of only 4,000 people, yet holds an impressive international art festival, now in it’s third edition. Our favorite was ‘Catch and Release’ – a little boy’s ‘big catch’ proving a little too big for him.
Marking roughly the halfway point of our Malaysia ride we veered inland towards the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Most major cities are a pain to navigate into; traffic jams, highways and a billion pedestrians but this was one of the easiest rides we had.
From November through February the Malaysian monsoon season is full swing. With roughs seas and endless rain the east coast and its nearby islands are virtually shut down. The west coast also gets it’s fair share of rain but it is said to be a little less hostile, so we decided to take the west coast roads to end at the very top of Malaysia.
Twenty kilometres were all it took to cycle from one side of Singapore to the other. The roads were busy but there were plenty of shared paths for us to jump on. It was hard to pull away from the amazing hospitality from Suyin’s family and the daily food comas but we had a flight booked in Bangkok and needed to ride up the coasts of both Malaysia and Thailand to get there.
Bicycle touring has not only been a great way to see a country, but also a really convenient way to see some of the most unusual and beautiful vehicles on the road. Many classic cars are seldom seen on the motorways and are usually kept safely in the garage only to be driven on quiet scenic back roads on a summer’s day. When taking the path less travelled on a bicycle through the countryside you can frequently find hidden gems, like this tiny 3-wheel Reliant Robin,
Ever since France we had been cycling just ahead of the leaves changing colour. The last few Spanish towns had only one or two trees changing, glimpses of yellow and red, but this was the first real sighting of the full Autumn spectacle.
We left the Spanish coastline, making our way inland towards Pamplona. The map showed nothing but mountains all around us so we were expecting hellish inclines. Instead the inclines never appeared as the road simply followed the river, weaving between the hills, leaving perfectly flat riding for us to enjoy.
Cycling the west coast of France is a Beginner Bike Tourer’s dream. Information is plentiful on how to complete this journey though I’m sure I can whittle it down for you into five easy steps.
Riding in the south of England is tricky as you can either live dangerously on busy A roads or spend hours detouring to avoid them. Traversing North/South is easy as you can follow quiet B roads but as soon as you try to cut vertically across the country the roads turn into a mess of dirt tracks, farm driveways and dead ends. Our destination was Land’s End, England’s southwestward point, situated at the very end of Cornwall and used as a traditional cycling end point.
The Marmot Tungsten 3 Person is a sturdy and spacious 3-season tent, yet light enough for bike touring and that sweet harmonious balance of weight vs. livability. When your tent becomes your home nothing is better than knowing that you will be warm, your belongings dry and a comfortable night’s sleep is at the ready.