The last few days we had been riding through towns whose names had a clear hint of what was to come. Fujikawa. Fuji. Shin Fuji. Fujinomiya. Often shrouded by cloud, and completely hidden, but lucky for us and for the next two days, we had Mt Fuji as our riding backdrop, framed with crisp blue sky.
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.
After spending over a week in Kyoto, it was time to pack up and say goodbye. The weather was completely the opposite to when we rode in from Osaka. Beautiful, sunny and perfect for long rides and camping, which we were looking forward to. For the next few days we would end up on three cycling trails, long and short, that made the next few rides pretty spectacular.
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.
Being able to visit so many iconic cities, and countries, whose culture and popularity are hugely well-known, was one of the incredible pinch-me advantages of this trip. We would see the landscape change from countryside, to small towns, to creeping urban sprawl right into the belly of the built up central district. The excitement that we’ve hit another “bucket-list” marker builds and builds until we yell-repeat to each other “I can’t believe we’re doing this! I can’t believe we’re here!”.
After our early morning onsen dip and castle sight-sightseeing, productivity was at an all-time low. Our muscles had been soaked in delicious 40°C stone indoor/outdoor baths, steamed in different herbal saunas and scrubbed with every complimentary soap and shampoo on offer. Our cycling enthusiasm had been reduced to thinly veiled non-committal indifference. All we wanted was to nap and snooze.
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 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.
“Do you think we’ll see snow?” I said as we rode side by side. We had seen tiny flakes lightly falling in the evenings, but it would melt as soon as they hit the pavement, and the skies would be clear by morning. Our friends had been up in Hakuba, one of Japan’s popular ski areas, excitedly sending through pictures of skiing and snowboarding in white fluffy landscapes. I was hoping we would see at least some ground coverage.
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.