After arriving in Hakodate on August 11, where I lived for 2 years, I spent the day eating and relaxing. My friend Bill let me stay at his place and was a great host. In the morning I ate at the morning market. I then took a nap and in the afternoon I ate a huge burger at Lucky Pierrot, a fast food chain that can only be found in Hakodate. After lunch I went to a hot spring and then appeared in one of Bill's English classes as a guest. The class was for children from one-parent households and Bill taught it as a volunteer. The night of the 11th, Bill and I went out and I was able to catch up with another old friend, Rintaro. The next day, I would regret staying out so late the night before. On the morning of August 12, Bill and I went to his in-laws' house in a town called Ono which is right outside of Hakodate (I actually lived in Ono for two years and not Hakodate). Bill rode my bicycle out to Ono and I drove his car. (Bill is riding my bike in the picture below to the left. The picture below that is a picture of Hakodate Mountain.)
Bill and I ate breakfast at Ono and then Bill's father in-law and brother in-laws were nice enough to oil my bicycle chain and give me a tire pump that would work for both woods or American valves (see my last post for a discussion of bicylce valves). Bill's father-in-law used to have a bicycle shop and was extremely generous in giving me some of his unsold merchandise.
At the time, Hokkaido was in the middle of a rare heat wave. The temperature was about 32 degrees celcius (90 fahrenheit). At about 11AM, Bill and I put my bicycle in his car and we drove about 7 kilometers North of Ono (there was a nasty hill and a long tunnel that I wanted to avoid). At about 11:30 I was back on the road. My destination was Oshamanbe (長万部)where I planned to spend the night at the campsite in Oshamanbe Kouen (Park). When I started, I was about 75 kilometers from Oshamanbe and, despite the heat, I was feeling fantastic. The breeze I felt while coasting on my bicycle kept me cool. I knew that there would be no mountains to travel over or serious hills before Oshamanbe. I looked forward to an easy ride. Unfortunately, after about 20 minutes my knee started to hurt and as I approached the coast the wind got stronger and I had to pedal against it all the way to Oshamanbe. Again, my pace slowed down and it was not an easy bicycle ride.
Despite not feeling my best physically, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Unlike the first day, I was in no hurry. My goal was to make it to Oshamanbe before dark (75 kilometers) and I knew I could do that easily. I was traveling down a road, route 5, I had driven by car many times when I lived in Ono and would visit my in-laws in Kuriyama. Route 5 runs along the eastern coast of the Oshima Penninsula. When driving down route 5 to Oshamanbe, the bigger towns that you pass through are Mori and Yakumo. There are also a lot of fishing villages in between.
When I used to drive to Kuriyama, I would take route 5 from Ono to Oshamanbe and then get on the express way at Oshamanbe and drive to Kuriyama. Going from Ono to Oshamanbe, I would drive as fast as possible because I thought that there was nothing but lonely fishing villages, small towns, and barren coasts in between. This time, though, on my bicycle, I was excited to see what actually lied between Oshamanbe and Hakodate. (Above is a picture of me in Yakumo with Mt. Komagatake in the background).
One of the interesting things I discovered was a place to get natural water from its source for free in Yakumo (see the picture to the left). I also stopped at a store in a small town called Kunnui which was about 11 kilometers from Oshamanbe. Kunnui consisted of a post office, a general store and houses. I sat on a bench outside the general store, drank a soda, talked to the clerk of the store, and watched some people walk out of their houses and greet each other. I know this seems strange, but I felt very happy to actually be able to meet and observe people in this small town I had driven through so many times and ignored. I realized that when we drive cars quite often we are completely oblivious to everything between point A and point B. Traveling Hokkaido by bicycle made me appreciate the towns, sights, places, houses, stores and people in every kilometer of the road.
I arrived in Oshamanbe, a town of approximately 7000 people, at about 5:45. As I am a terrible navigator, I struggled to find the Oshamanbe Park campsite. When I reached the dead end of a rural road, I knocked on the door of a house and asked a surprised elderly woman if she knew where the park was. She instructed me to go back the way I came, take a left, cross a bridge, take another left, and then knock on someone else's door and ask. I did as she said and eventually found the park at about 6:30.
The park was beautiful, I was surprised. (To the left is a picture of my bicycle, Sheila, at the campsite). There was a river running through it, a nice green lawn for tents, bungalows for renting, hiking trails (I think), a place to have a barbeque, a playground for kids, and most importantly clean bathrooms and nice sinks which were outdoors. It cost 500 yen per person to use the campsite for the evening.
I was excited to use the tent that a colleague at work had lent me. He told me that he had not used the tent for about 10 years but that it was very easy to set up. I unpacked the tent and checked the contents of the bag. There was the tent canvas, a cover for the tent, and a plastic sheet to put under the tent. There was also a long poll, there was a shorter poll, and there were many pieces of what seemed to be for a third poll. Here, I got a little confused. I was not sure if there were supposed to be 2 polls or 3 polls. Also, I was not sure if the shorter poll was missing some pieces and supposed to be the same size as the longer poll. I struggled to set up the tent for about 15 minutes when I noticed that it was almost dark. Near my tent was a family of 4 who were getting ready to have a barbeque. They had pitched two very nice tents and had a lot of nice camping equipment; they looked like they were very experienced campers. I was tempted to ask for help but was too proud. When it was almost dark, the father and eldest son approached me and asked me if I needed help. I swallowed my pride and said yes. We worked out the problem with the polls and set up my tent in about 10 minutes.
After we had finished, the mother of the family told me that I could bring my dinner to their area and eat dinner with them if I wished. I told her that I would be very happy to do that but would have to go to the local convenience store first and buy dinner (it was about 2 kilometers away). I think she felt sorry for me and invited me to eat dinner with them. I said yes and was treated to a wonderful barbeque with a wondefully nice family from a city North of Oshamabe called Muroran. The son was a high school student and the daughter was an elementary school student. The son had a girlfriend and spent much of the dinner text-messaging her on his cellphone. When he was not talking to his girlfriend, he was very social and a lot of fun to talk to. I drank beer with the father and mother and learned about Muroran, camping, and the son's girlfirend. After dinner, we went to a hot spring in the family's car and enjoyed a bath. That night I slept very well. In the morning, I ate breakfast with the family and played badminton with youngest daughter. (To the left is a picture of the family.) Throughout the trip, every time I had experienced a problem such as a flat tire, getting lost, or a defective tent, I was fortunate enough to get help. I was one lucky guy.
In my next post I will talk about my last day as well as my experience cycling through tunnels.