We woke up to cloudy skies but dry roads, so after breakfast, we made ready and set out for Yubari.
In conversation with the hostel manager the night before, I had been told that 274 would be a decent route once we managed to get out of the city. To get there, I chose to pick up the bike path from the river at the center of town and then ride it until I got to route 12. Once on route 12, we stopped at a 7-11 for the ATM and some snacks. (Yes, 7-11 is one of the few places guaranteed to have an ATM that can access foreign bank accounts!) We then found the entrance onto 274, but I somehow got turned around and ended up on 274 North instead of 274 South. Of course, I didn't realize it immediately, so we spent the next half hour or so riding as though I knew what I was doing.
Riding on the sidewalk is expected of cyclists in Japanese cities, and really there were many places where the main road was moving extremely fast, and the sidewalk was the only place where we had a prayer of being able to read the signs at leisure. At one point, we saw a woman walking her dog on the sidewalk ahead of us. As we rode up to her, she saw that she was in our way, and then pulled her dog over and then bowed down and apologized to us repeatedly for being in her way!
Finally, we rode up to a river that looked familiar, and I realized my mistake. Not wanting to backtrack, we decided that we would try to recover by riding through Oasa. Once onto the side streets it was a relief, as the road took us over tiny bridges and little streams.
In Oasa proper, we stopped at a supermarket to use the rest room, and I spotted a bike shop and walked over with the map, hoping to get some knowledge. There was a road that looked like it went right through the park, and we decided it looked like a very pleasant alternative to all the roads around the park. The shop owner pointed me at the direction of the park, but then said that it was only suitable for mountain bikes. Of course, I've learned over the years to take such declarations with a large sack of salt, so we proceeded to ride to the park and check out their nature center and trail map.
The trail itself was wide with soft soil backed with a little gravel, which was very ridable unless it got very muddy. The sign in front of the trail said (to my Chinese eyes) that typical cars were not allowed. Well, none of us had typical cars (or bicycles), so away we went! As trails go, it wasn't technically challenging, but there were enough mosquitoes and other bugs that kept me moving at a good clip. It was also quite nicely shaded, a respite from the day which had warmed up quite a bit.
Midway through the ride, however, we found the reason for the closure --- the trail was blocked by a fallen tree, so once again portage was required. "You're 2 for 2 now --- every day on this tour we've had to carry our bikes over obstacles!" declared Mark.
By and by, we got to the end of the trail, which even Yana enjoyed. Tired of riding in busy traffic, we opted out of 274 in favor of the country road designated as 1080.
By this time, it was almost 1pm, and after a few kilometers, Yana spotted some cars turning right into a driveway. We followed, and sure enough, that turn off led to a restaurant placed right next to a produce store which served ice-cream. Lunch was an interesting hybrid of Japanese and Western food, all eaten with chopsticks.
We turned off onto 337 towards Naganuma, where a buddhist temple caught our attention and we took a quick visit, interrupted only by Brooks losing the cleat covers for his Speedplay cleats and then finding it again. Once onto highway 3, the flat farmlands gave way to gentle hills as we crossed Yubari river. Characteristic of what we would discover about Japanese roads, the climbs were gradual, even subtle, until we hit a brightly lit tunnel, after which we found ourselves at a quiet ski-resort with a convenience store, where we stocked up for tomorrow's ride.
The descent into Yubari was similarly gentle. At the intersection with 452, we made a left into town and then zig-zagged our way into the hills where Yubari Forest Youth Hostel was indicated on the map. Not seeing any signs to the hostel after a good bit of riding, I stopped at a house where a woman was gardening outside and asked her where it was. She ran to find a man who explained (also in Japanese) that it was right around the corner. Sure enough, we had stopped to ask about it not more than 400m away from the entrance to the hostel.
Yubari Forest Youth Hostel looks much more like a country lodge than a youth hostel --- there were 2 log buildings, and the bathroom (as separated from the shower room) had a bath big enough for 2. It amazed me how much they fit into such a small house. The surroundings were all farmland, looking very rural, though the driveways were carefully manicured if you took the time to notice, with trees giving way to flowers that lined the roadside. I was impressed.
If the physical facilities impressed me, however, the food blew us away! We each got a piece of fish on a plate, and then a separately baked fish wrapped in aluminum foil, with salad carefully arranged and presented. One bite into the fish and I was sold --- flavors subtly seeped into my mouth as the fish yielded up juices. I couldn't believe that I was in a country where gourmet cooking was served in its youth hostels. After dinner, the hostess served us tea and then asked if we were alright with Japanese food the next morning? We said, "Sure!" "How about Natto?" she asked. "A little difficult," came my reply. I didn't like Natto any more than any of the others.
The hostel also had a laundry machine and dryer, which we took advantage of, discovering that the washer worked really well, but not the dryer.