We wake in the morning only slightly bleary-eyed. The sea is no longer just the sound of its waves. It is gray and churning like the sky above. The fisherman are already out. It is not windy and there is only the threat of rain. We explore the area in daylight.
Once we’re packed up, we leave our beachside camp using the road I took the night before and end up at the overpass to road “7”. There are some vending machines by the exit ramp. They sit on a slab of concrete with some garbage bins. They look disembodied in their backdrop of trees and grass and dirt. We are low on water so we buy a few bottles to hold us over until the first rest stop.
We can see darker clouds moving from over the sea toward us. In raincoats, we use the paved side path along the entrance ramp to join with road “7” as the sky begins spitting rain. It feels like we are on a highway. The side path is interrupted each time we approach an exit ramp and at first we follow the path along these ramps. They detour us through the backyards of neighborhoods on a hill above “7”. We find ourselves by an empty playground and peer out from beneath the canopy of trees along the path as the rain begins to fall harder. Jason suggests we wait for it to pass and we do. We end up playing tag with the storm system for the duration of the day’s journey.
This road “7” starts as two lanes in each direction and then switches to one and back again along the way. It has a shoulder throughout that narrows and widens. Generally speaking, we find that most drivers provide a wide birth and are respectful of riders. We abandon the ramps and cross traffic lanes to join with the path as it reemerges further along the route instead of meandering off and on. We have miles to cover; more than we yet know.
(nursery of evergreens)
(the mile-long nursery was nestled in a narrow space between the road and the sea)
Eventually, instead of a wall of trees and hillside on either side, to our right is the Sea of Japan. Crossing the islands of Hokkaido and Honshu means navigating from sea to mountains to sea.
One of my favorite travel stops of the trip is along this route. It is located in Iwaki-Minato. Here is an aerial view of it from Googlemaps.
This stop has a jetty that culminates in a mooring site 1,000 feet from shore. We ride onto the jetty, the sea on either side just feet away. We trace the large curving ramp with the wheels of our bikes to the dock below. The breaker walls tower above. There are boats moored here with glass lanterns hanging above along the length of the hull. These are fishing boats. The lights attract fish close to the boat at night. On the ferry from Hakodate to Aomori we saw commercial-sized fishing boats coming over the horizon. Their halogen lights hovering above a horizon completely hidden by darkness looked alien. The sea at night is like space; it holds simultaneous feelings of terror and delight.
We ride back along the jetty to the parking lot and shops. They have offerings of seafood which, we assume, are coming from their backyard. We share a chicken sandwich before moving onto a stick of scallops and filet of fish from the stall at the end of the row. The woman gives us a whitefish to try as a gift. We sit on the slate stairs overlooking the jetty and eat with a Japanese Wagtail.
(we spot Japanese Wagtail frequently throughout the trip)
We drink in the view before finishing the meal with matcha ice cream in a cone. Jason notices oden by the counter and orders one. Oden is various ingredients stewed in soy-flavored dashi broth. I am already sated and Jason’s description of “chewy dough” doesn’t tempt me. We head back on the road toward the Honjo Marina Auto Camping Ground which we’ve identified 15 or so miles ahead. We find it tucked along a side street opposite an inlet beyond a busy intersection. The campground itself is a looping road with a series of paved spots for RVs. The main building at the entrance is closed. A couple of women are walking the loop together. Jason is thirsty and we are disappointed with the site. The sun has emerged and the day has gotten quite warm. This area is just out of reach of the sea breeze and the heat hangs heavy. There are large black ants which crawl immediately all over us and our bikes. Jason is also experiencing one of the less enjoyable side effects of riding and has just applied chamois cream. Applying chamois cream mid-chafe makes your skin feel like its burning, at least in this case, or perhaps it was just too late by the time he used it. The jury is out on that. Either way, he immediately regrets it. The site is clearly urging us to leave. There are still a few hours of ridable light left. The 30 miles to the next site make for more distance than we had planned to cover and we hope it will be worth it. We hydrate and peel off layers and continue on. We cross a large white suspension bridge and ascend away from this city, climbing and diving along the final miles of today’s 55; effort, reward, effort.
(photos captured from the passed on auto camp site)
The coastal terrain becomes more rugged and beautiful as we proceed. The route is hugging the coastline as we reach the outskirts of our destination in Fukura. Cliffs to our right resolve in the sea below. It is remarkably beautiful and we stop to take it in, unaware of the 16 Buddhas hidden beneath us in these very rocks. We will return to discover them tomorrow.
The road descends along a wide curve away and then back toward the sea. We cross over train tracks beneath gray sky and find ourselves at a sleepy intersection where just two or three storefronts sit opposite a residential area. None look open but a woman emerges from the back of a small bait and tackle shop. Jason buys some beer there and asks her if she knows were the campground on our map is in relation to where we stand. It is just on the other side of the bridge which crosses an inlet behind these shops. The woman insists on walking us to and halfway across the bridge. She is smiling and chattering joyfully as she walks briskly and brushes hair from her face before pointing out the small forest of trees where the campground resides. We thank her and look forward to collapsing after a long day. When we arrive there is a main building which is open. There we purchase our site permit and learn that there is a bathroom and coin laundry here. Though the showers are not in operation, there are public baths walking distance from the campground. We’ve been rewarded ten-fold for cycling 30 more miles in pursuit of a better home for the night.
(relaxing with Kirin beer before setting up camp)
There are no specific sites here so instead you set up camp amongst the trees and sloping grass wherever you like. We find a spot out of sight of the road, main building, and one other camp. After our home is made, we gather ourselves for a trip to the public baths. They are located in a building that feels like the lobby of a hotel from the 70s or some earlier decade. We purchase hand towels and rent bath towels. Jason heads to the left and I to the right. I enter the dressing area and put my things in a cubby. I bring only my hand towel. A few steps up and through a door to a large, tiled room. The wall opposite is a row of large windows black from the night. Below these windows are two baths, one is the size of a small pool and the other of a hot tub. To the left and right on the walls in front of these baths are banks of 8 sinks each with a plastic stool to sit on, hand shower, bucket, and pump bottles of shampoos and body scrubs. Directly to my right is a cold water bath just big enough to step into and submerge in. It has iridescent tiles which shine like ice. To the left of me is a room with just two bathing stations and beyond those a door leading into darkness. I choose one of these stations and drag the plastic stool away from the trough drain so that I have room to place my feet when I sit. Water streams onto the crown of my head from the hand shower I hold above me. I tilt my head up to it and the water collides with my face with soothing force. It washes the caked layers of sweat from my hair and body and gives moisture to the tight and weathered skin. There is a true sense of balance in this ritual. I am honoring my body for bringing me to this place; hard work followed by restoration.
Once clean, I take the door leading to darkness. I am outside now in a natural space. There is a bamboo shelter over a pool built up with rocks. My muscles melt in its hot water. My body and soul feel numb with satisfaction. I stay here for some time before going to the hot tub below black windows inside. The tub’s base is contoured to create a reclining seat with a rest for my neck. There are bubbles kneading the tension in my lower back. My arms float to the surface of the water. I close my eyes and feel weightless.
Inevitably I reach a point when my face begins to flush and I can no longer relax. I find I arrive here in a shorter time than most. I step from the hot water and cross the large tiled floor nude and dripping, exposed beneath the florescent lights and high ceiling. There is a fine line of normalcy that I walk whenever I visit public baths. I never feel uncomfortable but I am always aware of my nudity. Before I enter the cold bath I take a deep breath so that my body does not brace. Staying relaxed within the stimulation of contrasting temperatures is a meditative feat that keeps me present. This water is freezing in the most wonderful of ways; suspenseful yet grounding. Now my muscles’ torn fibers sore from exercise can calm their inflammatory response and make way for healing. In stillness the body acclimates, or perhaps numbs, but with each movement there is a renewed cold on the skin. I return to the hot bath and then back to the cold before a final rest in the hot. Afterwards I am dizzy with relaxation and hunger. I rinse my body one last time with cool water from the handheld shower and then head to the dressing room where I apply generous amounts of lotion to seal the hydration beneath my skin.
In the lobby there are electric massage chairs. I slip a ¥500 coin into the slot and settle in for a 10-minute session. Jason soon joins me and does the same. There is a small television but I do not have the patience to describe what is playing—an overstimulation of video clips, colorful and flashing graphics, animated hosts. We ask the man at the front desk if there is somewhere nearby to get a meal. The restaurant next door is closed as is the nearby travel stop. Once we determine that dinner is coming from a convenience store, we peruse the lobby offerings before heading out. Jason purchases a package of very brown eggs. The mascot is holding a beer so we get a few of those as well. These are smoked eggs which suspiciously do not require refrigeration. Jason says they taste smokey. I did not try one. I am not sure why actually. It sounds pretty good right now.
We get onto our bikes and retrieve a balanced dinner of onigiri, steam buns, and candy from a convenience store as well as a bag of granola and container of yogurt for the next morning. We return to the campground. We collect our dirty clothes, which is nearly all of the clothes, and head to the coin laundry. There is a round plastic table and chairs for us to eat our dinner at while the machines rumble and wash. Jason eventually falls asleep in his chair and I urge him to return to the tent while I dry and fold. Finally I navigate the damp night to our tent and settle swiftly into sleep beside Jason.