Monday, September 07, 2009

Kotan to Utoro


We woke up in the morning to a light south wind and drizzle. Yana wanted to see Lake Mashu, but with the weather the way it was, the beautiful water clarity the lake was famous for would not be present, nor would the climb be present. We decided that we would loop back on the way to Sapporo to take in Lake Mashu and hope for better weather.

We rode past some touristy areas, but before long had to stop to shed clothing because despite the cloudy skies, with a tail wind it was quite warm! The plan today was to ride up Highway 52 to 391, but after that leave the main road as quickly as possible and head in the general direction North-East. In Kawayu Hot Springs, we spotted a free foot-bath, where locals went to soak their feet.
The climb up 391 was very short, especially with the tail wind, and we were soon on our way! The descent was longer, but still straight and even though there was a light drizzle, we were very comfortable as the drivers were very friendly --- one car even passed me with all the passengers waving at me.

At the intersection with 805, we made a sharp right turn up a short hill (which shielded us from an otherwise head wind) before heading North-East again with the same tailwind. With the tailwind, we made great time, stopping only for photos of the faraway mountains.
At Kiyosatocho, we spotted a bike shop, and stopped to see if the shop had a fork for Mark's, which was starting to make strange noises. There was not much point taking it apart without a spare fork handy, so when the shop owner showed us that he had only one racing bike and it was much too small for the fork to be of use to Mark, we decided to just nurse that fork along and eat a supermarket lunch instead.

Japanese supermarkets are great for supermarket lunches, as they usually sell bento boxes, sushi, and drinks. In addition, if you buy something that needs to be heated up, there's usually a microwave past the cashiers that can warm up the food. They are also generous with things such as plastic forks, and of course, the ever-present disposable chopsticks.

We followed the signs to Shari, and near the train station found an information center. Since there was still a tailwind going, we took a quick check to see how far it was to Utoro, and when the number came out to be about 40km, we decided we would go for it. Unfortunately, the road out of Shari towards Utoro (334) drove us right into a sidewind, which we had to run an echelon in order to cope with. This would have been a problem on such a narrow busy road in America, where drivers won't know what an echelon is, but Japanese drivers were so polite that we felt comfortable doing so.

Once the road made the coast we knew we were in the clear, since the wind now aided us instead of hindering us.
We took turns pace-lining, and it was easily one of the fastest 30km I've ever ridden on tour, stopping only to see the sights such as the waterfalls and the streams falling into the sea.


By the time we got to Utoro it was 4:30pm. Utoro was a surprisingly large town, and the lady at the information center spoke English. When asked to put us in a Minshuku, she put us in the one named "The Captain's Home", which turned out to be a low-priced, high-volume Minshuku with only one bathroom/shower despite having 6 rooms. Since we were early enough to explore the town, we opted out of the fixed menu dinner.

Surprisingly enough, many of the restaurants were closed, so when all was said and done we walked quite a while before settling for Oyako Donburi with Salmon and Salmon Roe, which turned out to be excellent, if not 100% filling, something easily remedied by ice-cream and snacks at a convenience store.

We realized that we had only about a week of touring or so left, so we got out the map and started working backwards from Sapporo to see if we could make it., By assuming that we did 100km days, we had just enough time to revisit Yubari Forest Youth Hostel (which we loved and still had fond memories of) before heading over to Sapporo airport, provided we made it over the pass to the East side of the peninsula tomorrow. The forecast was for poor weather tomorrow but since the other side of the peninsula was but 40km away, we felt quite certain that we could do so with plenty of time to spare.

97.9km, 472m
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