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  • Weekend ride-out to Karuizawa

    What started out as a last-minute daytrip with a couple of guys I met on Facebook the day before turned into a 714km weekend ride to Nagano and back!

    So I was humming and hahing about whether or not to go on a ride when I saw a post in Gaijinriders that some guys were going to go for a ride to Chichibu area. I contacted Michael (the main instigator), and agreed to meet them at 7am at Kouenji station – so a pretty early start for me as that’s about an hour away.

    [Photo Gallery]

    Day 1 – Saturday 2024-05-11

    Tokyo to Karuizawa via the 100-year-forest in Saitama. Warm and sunny.

    I met Michael, Hiroshi, Simon, and Alfonso at the station, and then we were off fighting our way out of Tokyo to the highway. Our first stop was Ashigakubo rest stop on the 299 where we met up with Satoshi. Everybody was on a different kind of bike, and we pretty much covered all the colours too! Unfortunately it was too early to get a coffee – most of the facility was closed until 10am.

    From there we headed up to the 284 from which a lovely loop into the “100-year forest” branches off. The roads up there were pretty narrow and still had quite a lot of pine needles on them, so the going was careful, but very picturesque! After the loop we stopped at Bike Bento, a motorbike-themed restaurant where I had katsu-curry rice.

    We then rode to the Dodaira Observatory with some spectacular views. Unfortunately no ice-cream up there, or, in fact, any amenities. Maybe later in the year? After chilling in the sun and chatting a bit we headed to our last stop, Arima Dam. For me that was going completely the wrong way, as I had picked a hostel in Karuizawa, but I was keen on grabbing a coffee before splitting from the group.

    But when we got to Arima Dam I realised that I’d been there before – it’s a popular biker (and car) spot, but has no amenities either! So after a final set of pictures, I headed off to my hostel which was still a couple of hours away.. and I was not going the most direct route!

    I went all the way up the 299, re-doing a few miles that we had already covered earlier in the day, to the Kanna River, where I turned onto the 462 for a short bit before heading north up the 45. The 45 was a lot of fun and connected me to the 43 via the 254. The 43 was again a lot of fun, and I got to my hostel a bit after dark, having stopped only to take pics of my bike passing the 10,000km mark.

    After checking in to Koya Backpackers with Yusuke-san (who can speak pretty good english), I got a recommendation for dinner and discovered that I was right next to the very famous Hoshino onsen. Dinner was home-made soba noodles with tempura, and I treated myself to a small side of basashi (horse sashimi), at Tamagawa Shokudo only 5 minutes down the road from the hostel. After dinner I went to onsen, and while it was nice, it wasn’t anywhere near as good as Tenzan Onsen in Hakkone.

    Back at the hostel I had a couple of beers with the owner and some other guests, and then headed to bed.

    Day 2 – Sunday 2024-05-12

    Karuizawa to Tokyo via Mt Shirane. Cool, cloudy, some spotty rain.

    Not a terribly early start, as I had ordered a breakfast and the earliest was 8am. To be honest, the breakfast, while nice, was not spectacular, consisting of a couple of rice-balls, some salad, and a miso soup. There was also an option for a wester-style breakfast, but I’m not sure what that entailed. Overall my stay at Koya Backpackers was great, the host very friendly, and I can highly recommend staying here.

    My first concern was petrol, so I stopped at the first service station on my way north. It turns out I’ve been in this area before, at least once, and the 146 on which I found myself is a really nice road. Shortly after getting petrol I stopped again at a kombini to grab some lunch; my plan was to ride to Mt Shirane and climb up to the crater so I wanted something to eat up there.

    I turned off on the 241, which is a spectacular road, lots of fun, which led me to the Manza Highway. This is a toll road, and while the tarmac isn’t the best, the road is really great and there are some awesome views up there. The guy at the toll booth told me the 466 wasn’t open, which is the next road I was wanting to take, but it turned out it was open after all. What ended up being closed was the 66 just past the Yamaboku ski resort…

    Making the best of things, I had a coffee at a cute little cafe called Santa Bokujo near where the road was closed. The cafe is run by a lovely lady and we had a bit of a chat via my broken japanese and Google translate. She told me about a waterfall nearby where you can walk behind the waterfall. So after my coffee I started backtracking and stopped at Kaminari (Thunder) falls to have a quick look around. Reminded me a bit of The Valley of Adventure by Enyd Blyton, where the kids hide behind a waterfall.

    From there I looped around to the west side of the 292, which is a superbly entertaining road and I had next to no traffic on it. On the way I tried (again) to get through a disused road which I had tried last year, but from the other way. I did get a fair way into the forest up the dirt trail, but then the gravelly road turned very muddy and I decided to turn back; my tires aren’t really up for mud. Later I discovered that I had almost reached a tunnel, so I wish I had have tried to keep going just a bit further! Maybe it’s time for some more off-road focussed tires..

    The 292, apart from being extremely scenic and a great motorbiking road, also holds the claim to being the highest national road in Japan, with the top at 2172m. Of course I stopped this time around to take a couple of pictures.

    Unfortunately when I got to the Mt Shirane parking lot, everything was roped off and closed, as the lady in the coffee shop had already mentioned. It actually looked semi-abandoned, so not sure if it’s just seasonally closed, or whether it’s been closed permanently.

    As it was getting on in the day, I simply plotted my way home from there, but then couldn’t help myself, and took the 406 to the 28 in order to have a very late picnic lunch at Lake Haruna. The 28, incidentally, is also a very nice road. Unfortunately by the time I got to the lake it had started to rain, so I quickly ate my sandwich under the shelter of a tree, zipped my waterproofs into my bike gear, and then headed off to the highway back to Tokyo.

    The ride back was pretty smooth, a couple of slow-downs due to traffic, but overall pretty rapid progress with a final blast around the Tokyo expressways. Even though it was all highways it was still not a bad way to round off the weekend; at least no fighting through stop-and-start traffic for hours on end as I have had to do in the past.

    What an awesome weekend!


  • Motorbike weekend with Wilson

    Friday

    Tokyo to Kawaguchiko via Route 56.

    Taking a half-day Friday, a friend of mine and I planned a quick trip to the Fuji Lakes area as he needed to be back on Saturday evening.

    We left Tokyo separately and met up at a restaurant in Sagamiko as it’s quite picturesque near a lake, at the end of the highway, and the start of the more scenic roads leading west. I left the highway a little bit earlier to take in a short twisty section and, of course, immediately took a wrong turn after a rather convoluted exit ramp and had to backtrack through a long tunnel. And then, of course, got stuck behind a car during the twisty bit.

    After lunch we headed off towards Yamanakako taking a small road to Route 56 which we then followed all the way to the lake. On the way we had a quick fuel-stop in Doshi but otherwise just enjoyed the ride. I wanted to check out Nijinomotsu bridge, so from Yamanako we headed up a small road. After a mile or so it got covered in debris and small rocks, and Wilson didn’t want to go on with his street bike, so he turned around to find somewhere to wait for me.

    I kept going and after another corner, the road turned into a dirt/rock track. Unfazed I started up it, but after two hairpins and the incline getting ever steeper I decided that this was probably not a good idea.. and anyway, after glancing down at my GPS I realised I wasn’t even on the road anymore! Doh! So turning back and finding the right road, I headed up it. No debris and tarmac. However, after a couple of miles, it was blocked off, presumably due to a landslide or something. Bugger!

    After messaging Wilson that I was on my way back and texting him the location of a parking lot to meet up, I turned around. When I got to the parking lot I had a message from Wilson that he was waiting at a McDonald’s a few miles away. Battling the rush-hour traffic, I eventually got there and enjoyed a chocolate shake for my efforts, yum!

    From there it wasn’t far to our final destination, a hotel in Kawaguchiko, which we found after an accidental detour over the bridge. Following check-in we wandered off to find dinner and ended up in a chinese restaurant. Well, that was a bit different! The crispy-duck pancakes came with four pre-cut pieces of duck and a tiny bit of hoi-sin sauce, and the sweet-and-sour pork was what seemed to be soy sauce.. Finally back at the hotel we enjoyed a nice hot sentan (unfortunately no onsen) before rolling into our futons for a deep sleep.

    Saturday

    Kawaguchiko to Utsubuna for lunch; around the Fuji lakes, scenic forest roads, and some fast curvy stretches.

    We got up around 7am, geared up, dropped the key into the check-out basket, and headed off. First stop was a service station on the other side of the lake for Wilson to feed his hungry steed, while I wandered across to a 7-11 to feed myself. Wilson’s not a big breakfast person, but I do like my cup of coffee in the mornings!

    From there we followed the road around the lake, then looped around Lake Saiko, Lake Shouji, and Lake Motosu before heading along Route 300, a fantastic curvy stretch. Nearly at Fuji River we peeled off onto the 413 which is a small road leading through forests. There was a bit of debris on the road, so we took it nice and slow until we got to the top where there was a nice look-out. We stopped for a couple of pictures, and a guy arrived from the other direction on a Postie Bike. He said his other bike was a GS, and also mentioned that there was more debris on the road from the direction he had come from.

    We continued on and it was actually not as bad as what we had already done, but when we got to an intersection Wilson said he’d had enough of the tiny road and wanted to get back on something more decent. Unfortunately the road leading back to the main road, while starting off nice and wide and clean, quickly turned very narrow, very bumpy, and very mossy, so slowly, slowly.. nevertheless we made it back without mishap and then proceeded to follow Route 9 beside Fuji River.

    We stopped in Utsubuna for lunch in a small restaurant beside the road. Although we had both initially wanted Tempura we opted for soba bowls instead, and they were very delicious. After lunch Wilson and I split up – Wilson was wanting to head back to Tokyo, and I was wanting to check out a small road leading to Tenshi Lake.

    Utsubuna to Shirakaba Lake via dirt roads, Shizuoka, and the fantastic 152; long dash to the hotel at night.

    The road to Tenshi Lake, rather predictably by now, got narrower, covered in debris, and eventually turned into a rocky track leading deeper into the forest. Less daunted, I kept going and it was quite a nice ride, I even saw a deer grazing beside the road. Eventually the track turned less rocky and more gravelly, but developed a centre grassy hump which was a bit tricky to negotiate at times. Still, I made it through without mishap and had a good time of it!

    From there I had wanted to ride Route 152 further west, but to get there required riding through quite a bit of town and major roads, which were full of cars and people. I miss the quiet countryside already! After slogging my way through Shizuoka I turned off on Route 362 which was much nicer. I also wanted to take Route 32, but this turned out to be closed a few miles in, so I had to backtrack. Still, 362 was mostly ok for traffic and most cars let me past.

    I eventually reached 152 and, after passing the detour in Isuka due to a landslide I had managed to get past all the cars and could really enjoy the road leading up the Funagira Dam Lake. This was a well-paved road with great sweeping corners, fantastic to ride. Eventually though, as seems to always be the case here, the road turned into a single-lane narrow road through the forest. My aim was to get over the Bungui-toge Pass, but this was thwarted…

    After reaching the Hodono Castle Ruins (which I actually didn’t see as I didn’t realise I was there at the time – I was running a bit behind schedule to reach my hotel for the night at this stage…) I ended up taking a wrong turn through a long tunnel.. which I then had to backtrack. The 152 was closed here, but there was a smaller road which should detour around and meet up again with the 152 later. Except, after a few miles, yep, you guessed it, it was also closed!

    Checking for alternatives I realised there really was nothing.. and by now I was _really_ behind schedule. I had originally wanted to get a place somewhere in this area, but they were all booked out, and I accidentally ended up booking something near Nagano, which was still a couple of hours away.. so I just told the GPS to route me to the hotel, fastest route, and gave up on going over the Pass. Funny story: the new route took me through the tunnel I had taken a “wrong turn” through an hour earlier…

    Here followed a mad dash to the hotel. I should have spent a bit more time trying to plan the route instead of trusting the GPS as, instead of routing me over highways, it took me via Route 152 and other quite small roads. During daytime this would probably have been really nice and picturesque, but as it was getting dark, the highway would have been a lot more comfortable. Still, I got to try out the auxiliary lights on the bike after dark and damn, are they impressive! I was still able to make quite good progress even on small twisty roads through the forest. I’m really glad I reprogrammed them to be dimmer before setting off as otherwise they would have been blinding to oncoming traffic even on low-beam.

    I eventually reached my destination, the “Petit Hotel Kurumi No Milk” without mishap, despite having to stop to let a few deer cross the road on the very last stretch. As it was already nearly 9pm by now there was no point trying to head out to find dinner as the closest places would be a 15 minute ride away or so. Unfortunately I lucked out again and the place had neither an onsen nor a sentan – and after my epic ride (over 500km, mostly over small roads) I was a bit beat. So I folded myself into the ofuro and soaked before collapsing in bed. Still, it’s a nice enough place and, as it turned out, was on the Venus Line, which is one of the best roads in Japan for motorcycling!

    Sunday

    “Petit Hotel Kurumi no Milk” to Tokyo; via the last bit of the Venus Line, various other small roads; 2 caves, and a rather horrid last stretch back to Tokyo..

    I left quite early again as the hotel didn’t have breakfast – I really need to start booking through Jalan again as the places it has usually have breakfast options! A very nice trundle along the last bit of the Venus line followed, in very comfortable 18C at this altitude. After various great mountain roads I stopped for breakfast at a kombini – not my favourite, but it was too early for anywhere else to be open, and I needed coffee!

    I was mostly just moseying back towards Tokyo, but realised that I was well and truly too early as I had originally expected to be starting at least 100km further back and was wanting to check out the “Median Tectonic Line Museum” in Oshika this morning. In retrospect I could have had a great blast up the Venus Line and had breakfast at the top.. oh well.

    Instead I did a sudden U-Turn when I saw a sign for Fujido Cave and headed up the side-road to that. I already got a sneaking suspicion on my way up the access road, which was confirmed when I reached the top – I had already been here! Well, no point going in the cave again, so I traipsed across the Ueno Suspension Bridge in search of ice-cream. Unfortunately it was still too early for that, so I traipsed back and got an ice-cream out of the Cave shop freezer instead. The view was nicer on this side anyway.

    From here I did a big loop through a small forest road just for fun, and then tagged another cave as my next destination. The ride to Hashidate Limestone Cave was mostly along Route 299 and overall great, although the last bit through Ogano was a bit painful with traffic. FWIW, Hashidate Cave isn’t worth it as a specific destination.. it’s quite small and there’s barely any indication of stalactites or stalagmites. It’s also a bit of a scramble to go through, so only recommended if you’re reasonably fit and flexible. It does seem to be quite a popular tourist destination though with a big eatery and other touristy stuff. The only hint is to drive up to it instead of parking at the top carpark.

    I tried to keep going up the road past the cave to get to Arima Dam, but, yep, it was closed maybe 10 miles later.. so back I went and had to take quite a long detour to get there, some of it through busy towns. I made it eventually and discovered it’s a hot-spot for bikers! Lots of bikes parked up on the dam wall with people lounging about.

    From here there was really nothing else except back to Tokyo. I tried to take a smaller road for a bit but, again, closed, so again, backtracking.. the main road leading down into Hanno got busier and busier, and, coming out of the mountains and onto the Kanto plain, the temperature soared to 30C+. I was getting quite hot in my gear, and the neverending lines of cars did not help. After various attempts to reroute myself off the busy main roads I eventually got onto the highway back to Tokyo.

    Unlike the south, there were no major hold-ups and apart from not taking an exit when I should have (the GPS and road signs disagreed with each other; the GPS turned out to be correct..) it was a mostly reasonable ride back. Still, I was more than happy to finally get home and have a shower!

    What a fantastic weekend 🙂 Looking forward to the next ride.. although I definitely need to invest in some summer riding clothes!

    Photos:

    (Click on a picture to go to the album..)


  • Bike Trip 2021 – Day 2

    The day dawned drizzly. Heavy drizzly. Ok, rainy! The river had swelled and was now a muddy brown pouring down the valley. I had some left-over bread for breakfast, settled with the owner, and put on my wet weather gear.

    I had initially thought to just head towards Matsumoto which was predicted to be sunny as quickly as possible, but ended up heading up into the mountains for a loop of the upstream reservoir instead. Glad I did as there were some pretty impressive bridges, and views from them, leading up to it. Just for a change the “loop road” was not closed so I could do the loop, although the minor road was quite minor…

    Heading out of the mountains the rain soon stopped and I rejoined the 299 to continue on to Matsumoto. The 299 now had a very varied character, from absolutely stunning road with fast sweeping bends and great asphalt to just a small country road.  At one point I saw a sign to a cave and, a quick u-turn later, headed up a very steep little access road to it.

    Fujido Cave turned out to be a mixed bag. The Japanese fondness of concrete and infrastructure took a lot of the character out of the cave, but I guess they have to make it accessible. Still, it’s worth a quick visit if you’re passing by with some neat rock formations. There’s also an impressive suspension bridge nearby, not recommended if you get vertigo!

    Continuing on, the 299 eventually became very small and then stopped – it was blocked off as so many other roads were. A couple of people in a small pickup truck gave me directions on how to continue on to Matsumoto, which turned out to be along the 45 until I could continue westwards on the 254. This road was also pretty nice in places. Along the way I stopped at a rest stop for some lunch and ended up buying some deer obento from a guy selling it out of the back of a “Ente”, a Citroen 2CV.

    Some great riding later I finally reached Mastumoto, detoured past the castle for a quick first look, and checked into the Backpackers run by a very friendly chap from Ireland. Time to do some shopping for some essentials (soap, shaver, towel), a quick freshen-up, and then I wandered in search of dinner. I ate some yakitori as it had outdoor seating and enjoyed my first beers with dinner in a long time – unlike Tokyo, Matsumoto still allows alcohol! Then I took some great night-time pictures of Mastumoto castle before turning in for the night.


  • Bike Trip 2021 – Day 1

    So feeling a bit down due to the incoming weather forecasts, I waved bye to my friend Edith, who was off to Okinawa for the week and had kindly offered to lend me her bike, a KTM750. I decided to at the very least do a quick loop on the bike around Tokyo before going home. Finding a park near Kanagawa River as my destination, I set off. Despite city-riding and traffic, HUGE SMILE!

    Enroute I found a small shrine and looped back to take a picture of the bike in front of it, then asked for safe riding from the local deity. Just before reaching the park, the heavens opened up and my jeans were soaked through to the balls in no time. So I guess the prayer backfired? I still stopped at the park and sheltered under a tree until the rain slowed and then stopped shortly afterwards.

    Riding back I stopped at a couple of spots to take some pictures and by the time I got back to Edith’s I went “stuff it”, packed a couple of tshirts and a toothbrush, found a cheap hotel somewhere in the mountains, and headed off.

    Best decision ever! Weather stayed dry and even though most of the trip was along city roads, which did eventually get wearisome, I was still very happy to be on the road on a bike again. Just bliss not having to think, just ride. At one stage I went over some hills with giant TV antennae which seemed to be a bit of a built-up version of Mt Cootha back in Brisbane. Unfortunately I was past it before I could think to find a spot to stop to take a pic.

    Eventually though the city roads petered out and things got awesome as I slowly climbed into the mountains. Especially the 299 is a really nice road once you get past any traffic – a bit tricky since it’s all yellow-lines, but there are a few traffic lights.

    With only 20 minutes to go to my destination, and my clutch-hand feeling decidedly sore after all the earlier city riding, I saw a big dam and shortly afterwards a road leading up to it, so off I went. Pretty spectacular! I was going to do a complete loop of the reservoir, but it turned out that the road on one side of it is blocked off for some reason. Still an awesomely scenic spot.

    I kept going and found my hotel – a very traditional-looking japanese inn nestled high above the road. Upon entering the first thing is a common room with a wood-fired stove, rather rustic looking. The owner is a youngish-chap though (I was expecting a fossil to be honest) with two young girls and made me welcome. We managed to communicate and I got shown to my room. After that I sat down for a bit to relax, then hiked down to the river and had a swim. Great, now not only are my jeans still damp, but my only pair of shorts is wet as well… but it was worth it!

    By the evening other guests had arrived and we enjoyed a small fire outside while chatting and eating dinner – home-cooked chicken which was very delicious. When the rain came back we all went into the common room where one guy kindly shared some sake and, later on, some food. Despite my lack of japanese it was an enjoyable evening.

    Time for bed, going to try to go to Matsumoto tomorrow to have a look at the famous black castle!


  • Poland Day 9 – Tatras to Wildalpen

    Got up early(ish) and had a lovely brekky before anybody else was around.  The lovely lady brought me my washed clothes which weren’t quite du yet. Oh well. I spread them out in the roof outside my window while I packed the rest and fit the bike ready.

    The roads and views once I got going were absolutely stunning, with hardly any traffic about to spoil things. Soon however I was out of the mountains and into the plains where summer asserted itself with a vengeance. The temperatures climbed well into the mid thirties and the roads got ever more boring.

    Things did not really improve once I hit Austria, if anything worse as I encountered several roadworks with long waits in the scorching sun. Eventually however I found mountains again and took advantage by taking several detours along promising looking roads. One of the highlights was the Höllental, only slightly spoiled by a slow bus in front of me which I couldn’t get past.

    Eventually I reached my planned stop for the night though, the Wildalpen, which were in even more stunning scenery than any I had driven through so far.
    First stop was a restaurant where I had a well deserved beer. They helped me find a bed for the night in a B&B just a few doors down.

    While sorting out my room a couple of bikers pulled up at the servo opposite and I got to chatting to one of them. Markus and I ended up having a beer before he had to keep going. I had a great dinner of red deer steak followed by a childhood delight, Kaiserschmarrn.

    Then it was trying to sort out the home Internet connection with Dana’s help before heading to bed.


  • Poland Day 8 – Wyjście Salt Mine

    Hot hot hot!  Rode to the salt mine and got a ticket. Nice and cool down below.
    Pretty impressive underground tour. Did the extra museum tour as well.

    Came out of mine to find it had rained heavily. Helmet was soaked, great.. and it had cooled of a lot. Still the roads down to Zakopane were pretty good although heavily trafficked. Zakopane itself I didn’t like to much. Way too commercial and touristy.  And every piece of dirt had some dude hovering over it waiting to charge you parking while local cops ensured you didn’t park on the side somewhere.

    I saw a bunch of bikers in a cafe and pulled up. They had just come back from a training ride and one suggested I keep going to a town called Smokovec in Slovakia, which I did (after coffee and cake) and glad I did so! Once in Slovakia the roads were perfect and the scenery amazing.

    I ended up getting a room in Penzione Koliba with a great view of the Tatras. Dinner was red deer steak, then to bed to plan the ride for tomorrow.  I’m sorely tempted of going to try to get to the Hochalpenstraße in Austria after seeing some pics from some friends who rode that road a few days earlier.


  • Poland Day 6 – Auschwitz and the Tatras

    Up way too early – woke up at 5 or so due to the guy one bed over felling entire forests. Underwater. Dozed until 6 and then got ready. Luckily breakfast was available much earlier than advertised so I got a quick bite before heading off.

    Once on the road the GPS said it was only an hour to Auschwitz instead of the two Google had said last night. Oh well, at least the roads were pretty clear.

    Auschwitz did not have as big an impact on me as Buchenwald had a few years earlier. Either I’ve become desensitised or the exhibitions in Buchenwald were more graphic. Auschwitz was mostly just the buildings and pictures, whereas in Buchenwald a lot of the old Nazi equipment was still on show. Terrible regardless.

    From there I wanted to see the other camp, Birkenau, only a couple of miles away, but some busybody parking attendant wouldn’t let me park in an unused corner of the staff carpark and told me to park in the commercial car park half a mile away or so despite a security guard having earlier told me it would be finev for me to park in that corner.

    So instead I rode around the camp on the bike and then headed to the mountains.

    Unfortunately I discovered that the south of Poland is very different to the north, or indeed most places.  Instead of having villages consisting of a cluster of houses with a couple of streets they just build the houses along the main street. Cue villages which are tends of miles long and hence a mostly unenjoyable ride as it was all at 50kmh.

    I did take a wrong turn at one point and ended up in Slovakia for a few miles.  The road just near the border was awesome as it went up into the mountains and there were no houses. Yayy.