Friday, September 11, 2009

Ashoro to Shintoku


We started the day under cloudy skies and heavy traffic but dry roads. The route out of town, 241 was filled with heavy trucks, and despite the second lane used for slower traffic uphill, it was still a noisy climb. Once we approached Ashoro Lake, however, the traffic eased up, and we were able to enjoy the descent without much noise. Looking at the map the night before, we found that we had basically two choices: we could ride North on 38, or South on 274. The northern route had several short passes, and the southern route had a taller pass at 1020 meters. Neither route was obviously better, so we deferred the decision till later in the journey.

When the opportunity present itself, we got off 241 and onto highway 771, though not without missing the turn-off and having to double back. 771 was calmer, but once again there was the persistent headwind, which was getting quite strong as the day went by. We pace-lined all through the ride on 771, but it was a relief whenever trucks would pass us and we would get a brief respite from the wind.

By the time we got to 133 where we had to turn South, we were all more than a little bit weary. Fortunately, right at that moment, a lunch place was spotted and we got a chance to eat Soba. The day had warmed up, so despite the wind we were quite warm. At the tourist information place indicated by the map, we found once again an unstaffed office with just a computer telling us the weather forecast. Since we didn't know any better, we decided to ride on ahead towards Shintoku, where there was a recommended hotel. At the intersection with 718, however, we saw a few rundown buildings but no sign of a town, or a hotel. A passing pedestrain did tell us that there was indeed a hotel in the area, but Yana looked around and decided that this town was too dead for us to stay anyway. "I'll pull us all the way to Shintoku proper if I have to."

Well, I wasn't going to let her do all the work, so we took turns pacing over to Shintoku anyway. As we left the intersection, however, I pointed out to Mark the hotel --- it was just past the intersection and had a Kayak out front announcing the hotel. Nevertheless, Yana looked quite determined and was hammering for all she was worth, so we gave chase. We passed a lovely forest and some farmland on the way to the train station at Shintoku, and once there found the information office. I asked in the usual fashion about lodging, and the lady gave me a list. We picked one and she called. Oh, she said, they're full because of this golf tournament. So we picked a second one. That was no good either. As we tried one place after another, it became obvious that this was not a normal golf tournament --- it was a ginormous one that had not only filled up Shintoku, but also the next town over! We started wracking our head over possibilities, such as locking up our bikes and taking the train over to a different place to sleep. Our tourist information office, in the mean time, became a flurry of activity, as more and more of the office was recruited to make calls on our behalf, until the entire office was making phone call after phone call, trying to get us lodging within a reasonable distance.

Finally, they announced with glee that they had found the place for us! It turned out to be Drum Kan, the place we had passed 9km ago. Well, turning around was easy, as the headwind we had been beating against all day gave us a huge push up the hill, and we were there in less than 20 minutes!

Pulling into Drum Kan's driveway immediately told us that the place was different. First, there was no less than 9 guitars visible from the outside, and a full-scale drum set as well.
Secondly, when we were asked to fill out the tourist cards, in addition to the usual details, they also asked what our favorite song was. I then pulled out our touring map and asked the owner, otsu-san what route he recommended, he pointed out that there was an alternate we entirely missed which would be relatively traffic free! After all that, he said to us that he and his brother would drive us to the Hot Baths, and we would get to soak in the hot baths.

Driving to the baths took us through town, and realized that if we had looked North away from the intersection, we would have seen an entire street full of commerce! There was even a street fair! "How could we have missed all this?" said Mark. Sitting in the beautiful hot bath, I could only reflect on how different I felt from the disappointment and dejection at the train station just barely 90 minutes ago to the soothing feeling of being clean and relaxed in a hot bath.

But the evening had not even started! When we got back to the house, out came the hot plate, the sauce, and the rice. Big bowls of vegetables and meat magically appeared, BBQ sauce and beer was passed around, and the Jingus Kan was prepared.
We ate and we ate and we ate. Then we ate some more. The food was plentiful and delicious, and we were hungry. We did not need any kind of desert by the time we had cleaned up all the bowls, and even then, our hosts kept checking to make sure we had eaten enough.

To cap the evening off, our host and his brother got out their electric guitar and drum-set, and played us a concert right in their living room.
What a show. Mark identified the music as Surf Rock, but when they came out with an amazing rendition of My Little Runaway with just drums and guitar, I was stunned. By the time they finished off their 45 minute set I had to pick up my jaw from the floor.

Now they turned the tables on us, and showed us a songbook to see if there were any songs we knew. When the only Beatles song in the book wasn't one any of us knew, they looked disappointed. I guess we weren't with-it enough. Then I spotted If we hold on together, a song that Lisa taught me many years ago when we first met, so I sang that while they accompanied me on the guitar.
Once they knew I could sing, there was no stopping. We went on to perform Anzen Chitai's 悲しみにさよなら (Kanishimi ni Sayonara). Being a Chinese person in Japan is like being the opposite of an illiterate person --- I could read the songbook and knew the meaning of all the words, but I could not pronounce them, so Otsu-san would whisper them to me as they came up, though I could not keep up in many cases. We found more songs that I knew by Miyuki Nakajima, so I tortured Mark and Yana some more with 悪女 (Akujo) and 時代 (Jidai).

Nothing today had turned out like we expected (we rode 98km and climbed 806m), but it was one of those magical, serendipitous days that you could find only while cycle-touring adventure style. If you ever visit Hokkaido for any reason, and might be in the area, bring your musical instrument, and call (or write) for a room at the Drum Kan, and pay them a visit. It will be a highlight of your visit.
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