August 14th – 17th Sendai to Hattori-ko highlands 223km
A small earthquake in the middle of the night didn’t detract from a good night’s sleep at Yuta’s place. In the morning he gave us a great brekkie of eggs and bacon and then sent us on our way with bananas and nuts for road snacks. Thanks Yuta!
Leaving Sendai through the Western and Southern suburbs was much more pleasant than the way we came in from the East. Although the skies were grey, we enjoyed the ride out of the city passing rivers, parks and a university campus.
Avoiding the busier roads, we were soon out into farmland and surrounded by rice fields. We had a mid-morning coffee at a 7-11 and we noticed the fence behind us was covered in little bright green frogs from the paddy fields behind.
The rest of the morning was spent following Route 349 alongside the Abukuma river. Rice fields everywhere and loads of cranes and other waterbirds flying out from the drainage canals as we passed.
Lunch was noodles, cooked up in a small flower garden near Marumori (I think).
We continued along the Abukuma river which took us through a tight valley towards Fukushima city. The road narrowed with the valley as it snaked its way west. The riding was exhilarating. Without saying anything to each other, our pace quickened and soon we were flying along, swooping and carving our way through the valley. Even with grey skies and drizzle, this was probably the funnest couple of hours riding of the trip so far.
Coming out of the river valley at Hobara, we stocked up on some food and then found a quiet camp spot next to a fishing lake at Takako-numa, just outside Fukushima. Bangers and mash on the menu for dinner, all cooked with a single campstove. Pretty good, even if I say so myself.
Our campspot looked perfect, a lovely little lakeside shelter with running water and a toilet block. But as night fell, the dubstep bassline started. It wasn’t from car stereos or a nearby nightclub, but from the bullfrogs living in the reeds. This continued until dawn, when the fishermen arrived and started noisily setting up their stuff. I thought angling was a quiet pursuit, but maybe not in this corner of Fukushima. We gave up on the idea of getting any more sleep, so packed up the tent and made an early exit.
We skirted to the east of Fukushima on day 15 to avoid the busy Route 4. It meant a few hills, but well worth it for quiet roads and more interesting scenery.
The sun came out so we dug out the suncream from the bottom of a pannier where it had sat neglected for a few days. It was a hot day and we had a couple of stops for ice cream and some fruit through the morning. We’d only planned on a shortish days riding, so the mellow pace was welcome.
By late afternoon, we reached Miharu where we planned to camp. There is a small lake/reservoir to the south of the town which looked like it had potential for a nice secluded nightstop.
The road took us down into a valley and across the water on a huge suspension bridge which seemed way too big for the size and remoteness of the lake. We reached the small park and found a nice raised grassy area where we pitched our tent with a great view back to the bridge.
We had Thai curry for dinner and sat out for a while after dark with a bottle of wine enjoying watching the stars. This spot was really quiet and remote so we were undisturbed and slept well.
The next day was a very short ride down from the hills into the city of Koriyama. Our friends Laura and Dave were based in Koriyama for a couple of years on the JET programme so it was interesting to see where they lived. We stopped in the city centre to buy a couple of things from a 100 yen store and had a quick look around the station area.
We figured we’d splash out on a ‘real’ campsite and onsen that evening just outside of the city. We took our time in Koriyama and stopped in a really nice city park with a koi pond for lunch.
From there it was only a dozen or so km to the campsite. We quickly stopped by another park to have a look at the ‘Mushroom Rocks’. Apparently, prior to the 2011 earthquake, these had looked just like mushrooms. But the sandstone was shaken and cracked so much by the quake that most of them had collapsed. Still it was an interesting rock formation with a great view of the mountains beyond. A nice interlude before we stopped for the day at the campsite.
Except, when we arrived, it wasn’t a campsite at all, despite being marked as such on the map. Plan B was to go and have an onsen, then think of a Plan B. Luckily, on the way to the onsen we saw a large grassy park with a covered sitting area. After a long soak, we moved next door to the park and pitched our tent under the cover in case it rained.
Rain it did. Through most of the night and the following day. From Koriyama, we were heading up to Lake Hatori highlands to stay with our friend Natu who is working at ‘British Hills’, an English language school.
When we told her we planned on riding our bikes all the way up to her, she was pretty surprised. She warned us about the steep road up, but we laughed it off. We could handle it, we’re hardcore transcontinental touring cyclists….
The first half of the day’s ride was fine. More quiet roads and rolling foothills so we were upbeat and thinking we were in for a quick and easy day. Mid morning, we hit a mini milestone when my odometer ticked over 1,000km for the trip. Not a huge distance by any means, but it feels like we’re now starting to cover some ground.
After 25km or so, we reached the real mountains. First up was the pass before the lake, which took us up to 822 metres at 12% gradients, and then down to the lakeside.
Randomly, at the top of the pass, we passed a sign offering free Wifi at the roadside. Very bizarre, especially considering how sparse Wifi coverage is here in Japan.
At the lakeside, we pulled in for a break and messaged Natu to say we were pretty close and had conquored the climb.
But, the climb continued. British Hills was indeed hilly. From the lake, we had another 10km of very steep climbing. In the pouring rain and on gradients up to 15% we struggled our way up into the clouds.
Finally we arrived at a set of imposing stone and iron gates, resembling an English boarding school’s. Riding down the tree lined drive past brick and timber clad buildings we could very well have been in England, especially with the rain. Natu had given us directions to her staff accomodation where we dried off, showered and did some laundry before meeting her when she finished work.
On the menu for the evening – fish and chips and beer in the on-site pub. Suddenly all the climbing felt worth it!
And a rough map of the route: