Thursday, September 03, 2009

Asahidake to Biei "Tomato" Minshuku


I woke up early and used the onsen before breakfast, discovering that while the hot-spot on my foot was still there, the skin had amazingly not blistered. At breakfast, I persuaded the French lady to join us in conversation. She was a lawyer for the fisheries department of the government in Paris, and was visiting a Japanese friend in Tokyo. Since the Japanese are one of the few people in the world to have even less vacation time than Americans (10 days a year!), she was on her own in Hokkaido while her friend worked. Now she made us jealous, since as a government employee, she got 10 weeks of vacation (50 days!) a year, topping even the most generous employee policy in the US. As breakfast proceeded, however, we realized that she really did not like Japanese food, and was foisting off much of hers onto us. Needless to say, I shamelessly asked her for her Nori once that became apparent.

The others wanted to visit Tenninkyo Hot Springs on the way to Biei, but as a matter of principle, I dislike out-and-back rides, so agreed to push on ahead and head to town to get us lodging and meet up with everyone else later. The descent from Asahidake was lovely, with the gentle 5% grade just pulling us along at top speed. Since the speed limits were quite low, we were able to stay ahead of all motor traffic during the descent, and could tuck easily to achieve terminal velocity.

At the Tenninkyo junction we parted ways, I headed back down towards the Dam. Since I had plenty of time today, I rode on the dam itself before turning towards Biei, trusting my GPS unit to get me to Biei eventually. This method of deliberately getting slightly lost has served me well in the past, and it did very well this time as well, getting me onto a lovely country road and then directing me onto an unpaved forest road. Unfortunately, the last 200m was on gravel so deep that I had to get off the bike and walk. On any other day this would have posed a problem, but with the hot spot on my foot complaining it was sheer agony to take every step.

I eventually made it back to pavement and discovered that my unit had routed me onto a series of gently rolling hills
that eventually led me back to Biei and the visitor center. Along the way, I encountered a Japanese gentleman shooting pictures from a hill top. I stopped to chat and discovered that I was one of his subjects as I climbed over the hill! I gave him my card in the hope that he would e-mail me some of those pictures, but I had no confidence that I had made myself understood.

Once in Biei, I found the woman who was so helpful two days ago, and we began a series of transactions. First, I wanted to know if there was a sidewalk on the 4km tunnel. She didn't know, so she called the visitor center at Sounkyo Hot Springs, where they confirmed that there was indeed a wide sidewalk through the tunnel. Then she proceeded to help me book the youth hostel at Sounkyo Hot Springs the next day. I then discussed various routes to get to Sounkyo Hot Springs from Biei, and she brought out a series of local tourist maps and proceeded to give me detailed directions through Asahikawa!

We finally wrapped up everything by booking a Minshuku in Biei tonight. Not only did she book us something really cheap at 3000 yen per person, she also offered to hold my luggage for me while I went off on my tour of the Biei area, and also to tell everyone else what to do when they came by the visitor center. I was so impressed by her helpfulness that I gave her one of my cards and asked her to look me up if she ever visited California. I was further amused that here in the Biei area, we were running a constant theme of agricultural products for the names of our accommodations.

I then proceeded to find a supermarket that she pointed me at, buy lunch and desert, and then start riding out of town to explore the Biei hills.
The rolling hills in the area was very reminiscent of England, and indeed, by the time I got to the Shinzo Maeda gallery, I was not surprised to turn the pages of one of his photography books and discover him comparing the landscape around Biei to that of England. In the heat of the afternoon, the gallery was both a respite and very much worth a visit for its repeated views of the area in all seasons, something a casual visitor is unlikely to be able to do.

After the gallery, I followed signs to the four colors hill, which I could see as I approached the area to be quite the tourist trap. But as tourist traps go, this one was quite pretty --- they seemed to make money by selling food, drinks, and rides, but admission was free!
I walked around, looking at various perspectives and trying to capture the moment, but the truth was that harsh mid-afternoon light just doesn't cut it for great photography. I did end up taking some photos for traveling Chinese people before riding back to Biei.

My front wheel had gone a bit out of true, and after a while I ended up at a local bike shop that had one of the more interesting truing stands I had seen.
They were more than happy to let me borrow it to tension and true up my front wheel, before I headed over to the Tomato hostel, where I had enough time to take a shower and read some before Mark, Yana, and Brooks showed up, reporting that Yana had a flat tire. It turned out that one of her old patches had blown off.

Dinner was at the local Japanese BBQ place, where we had an excellent meal for a very reasonable price before repairing once again to the supermarket for our post-dinner dose of ice-cream and loading up for the next day's trek to Sounkyo Hot Springs.

69.5km, 567m
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