Having planned to camp in Hamatonbetsu we were told on arrival that the campsite was closed because a bear had been seen in the vicinity and it was too dangerous. In some ways this is a good thing. We are now staying in a simple guest house down a dirt track on the edge of town and will have a warm bed tonight. It is still freezing here and today at lunch time, on a bright and clear sunny day, it was only 10 deg C. Again the wind was like ice and my shins and toes were numb most of the day as we pedalled south-eastward along the beautiful coast. If we’d camped it would have been a bitter night but this can now be avoided.
We’re in dairy farming land where most of the milk, butter and cheese is produced and the landscape is like no other. The trees have thinned out to be replaced by huge expanses of waving dwarf bamboo with grassfields in between. The cattle are mostly kept indoors in sheds so it is always a nice surprise to see a field with a few cows in them.
This evening we’re having baths and dinner at the Onsen, a habit we are really starting to settle into!
This was desperately over due. My sideburns now seem to grow like crazy, becoming large bushes as the rest of my head hair continues to recede. I look ridiculous rapidly unless regularly cropped. My delightful hairdresser does perms too.
We’re back in Wakkanai after our trip to the islands and will shelter here for the next day and night before cycling south to avoid very wet weather. We’re starting to prepare ourselves for the next bit of our journey via KL, London and LA where we head to Portland to hike south down the PCT. This hike I’ve been wanting to do since about 1997 but have never had the courage to make the time until now.
A new chapter in our journey approaches as we rest our worn out bikes and change into our long distant hiking gear.
We continue to travel minimally but in Japan we’ve started to feel a little out of place with matters of personal hygiene. This maybe partly to do with the meticulous appearance of people generally. All is essentially as before and in someways better. But campsites here are extremely basic and this has made it difficult for us to wash and clean ourselves. The wet weather has not helped either making us filthy with road dirt and preventing us from drying our clothes properly.
Campsites are often no more than a park with a public toilet. There’s no hot water, showers or kitchen facilities other than fire pits. Sometime there’s not even a washbasin, just a tap in a wall, but we persevere with washing in cold water. This would all be fine if it were for only a day or two, but after several consecutive days we look and feel very dirty. This all came to a head recently when told there was no room at a hotel and told in a restaurant there was no table available when clearly the place was empty. ‘Was it us?’ We wondered, sniffing armpits and looking at our reflections in the glass of a shop window.
Laundrettes have been our saviour until just recently but on this long stretch riding north the towns are small with no laundrettes and when we stop at night typically the campsites are out of town. The delights of the Japanese toilets help, washing the nether regions in warm water, effectively relegating toilet paper from a wiping activity to a drying one, meaning our clothes can stay cleaner longer. However, as we keep riding, we get progressively dirtier as we keep moving. The clothes themselves are ready for the bin. My cycling shorts and top are so faded and stained that even when machine washed I’m looking forward to no longer having to wear them.
Our recent discovery has been Japanese Onsens – bathing houses. We now detour to make use of them, stopping to have proper baths and a meal, even if it delays us getting to the evening’s destination. Latterly, we’ve been able to find campsites next to them and I’m now more regularly scrubbed, polished and shaved and accordingly less paranoid about my personal appearance. The recent cold weather has meant riding with more layers which also helps hide my old kit and we’re finally starting to feel more presentable.
In Japan there are so many unwritten rules of social etiquette to be observed, like removing shoes, wearing house slippers, toilet slippers, where to place a bag, how to make up a futon and how to fold it. Entering an Onsen and taking all your clothes off to bathe publicly was initially a daunting experience. Onsens are amazing and after a couple of visits we learned how they worked. I still feel self conscious in them as I’ve silly dark sun tan lines from riding and am much more hairy than most Japanese men. I find the nudity fine as after a couple of moments it doesn’t even register. I just watch people discretely as to how they use the various baths, showers and saunas and copy them. I’m still wondering why they balance their small towels on their heads as they soak in the communal baths but otherwise I think I’m doing ok!
It is so beautifully bleak up here that the houses still remain ‘stockaded’ against inclement weather. The screen of timber slats is temporary to protect the dwelling behind from the colossal amounts of wind blown snow that comes in across the sea from Siberia.
It keeps getting cooler and increasingly windy the more we head north.
We camp here tonight where there are signs warning about bears. We’ve already spotted a fox shadowing us as we put up the tent, it’s presence given away by the crows trying to chase it away.
The woods are full of familiar trees – chestnuts, silver birch, maple and beech – all just coming into leaf.