On August 11, the day after a one week business trip I set off on bicycle from my home in Morioka, Iwate to Aomori City. My plan was to do the trip in one day and take the ferry from Aomori City to Hakodate. After that, I planned on cycling to my wife's hometown which was about 300 kilometers from Hakodate. To make a long story short, although I did make it to Aomori city on the first day, cycling 185 kilometers, I got a heatstroke and had to finish the remainder of the trip to my wife's hometown by train. This was my fourth time doing this trip and I have cycled longer distances on hotter days so it was kind of a shock for me to be knocked out on the first day. Anyway, this post is for anyone who is interested in cycling in Japan or the cost of emergency room treatment!
Details of the route
My planned route was to take route 282 from Morioka which would merge into route 7 in Aomori. Route 282 is a very up and down road and there are three parts which feature substantial climbing. However, I think it is the best route to Aomori City. The other way, going on route 4, is about 30 kilometers longer. Although there are less mountains, you feel as if you are going uphill the whole time. I prefer the long ascents followed by the quick descents where you can actually go faster than the automobile speed limit (50Km and hour)!
Anyway, if you take Route 282, the difficult climbs are
1. Before the Appi Highlands (安比高原）
2. Before and after the Tayama Area(田山）
3. And by far the worst climb is in Kosaka（小坂), Akita. I think this is Akita prefecture's way of telling you not to leave. Kosaka is after Kazuno(鹿角） and features a particularly vicious mountain road called the 坂梨峠. After riding uphill gradually for 20 or so kilometers, you arrive at a steep winding mountain road. When you reach the top of the mountain, a sign welcomes you into Aomori prefecture. I averaged about 6 to 8 kilometers an hour going up the mountain and since I was riding so slow, the bugs could also keep up with me and my sweaty body seemed to be quite an enticing feast for them.
After merging with route 7, I decided to not go through Hirosaki but rather take route 13 through Hirakawa City (平川市) and Kuroishi City (黒石市）because it would decrease the trip by about 7 kilometers. This was about the last 40 kilometers of the trip. However, there were a lot of traffic lights and I got frustrated with all the stop and go.
Details about what happened to me
Basically, I left my house at 5:30 AM and my goal was to make it to Aomori City by about 4PM for a 5PM ferry to Hakodate City. I felt great all the way to Kazuno which was about 80 kilometers or so into the trip. I stopped at the "road station" （道の駅）, had some well-deserved ice cream and snack and stocked up on water and sports drinks. I was confident that I would make it to the ferry on time. After that, I knew I would have my biggest challenge which was Kosaka and the dreaded mountain. Since I had already conquered two mountain roads though, I felt fairly confident.
Soon after leaving Kazuno, I started feeling tired. My pace slowed down. My plan was to keep on cycling until I got to the top of the mountain and into Aomori prefecture but I actually had to stop three times to rest. All of a sudden, my energy seemed to have been lost. Despite not feeling 100% I conquered the mountain road. Although I planned to rest on the top of the mountain, the bugs would not leave me so I had to continue until I had descended the mountain. The video below shows me about to accomplish my conquest of the mountain.
After my descent, I finally found a place to rest at the Ikari ga seki Road Station (see below). At this time, I did not feel hungry but I ate anyway. I also realized that it was 1:50 PM and I only had 2 hours to travel 50 kilometers. All of a sudden, I realized that I was behind schedule and would have to hurry to make my ferry.
If I had been 100% I could have made the ferry. Although there was some stop and go, the road between Ikari ga seki and Aomori City was mostly flat with some modest hills and sometimes me going against the wind. Nevertheless, by this time, I was definitely weaker than usual. I also started to experience pretty strong muscle cramps in my legs. I had to stop about 6 times to stretch and massage my legs. The good news was, each time I was able to recover. The bad news was, each time I lost A LOT of time.
Another problem I experienced was getting my foot out of my petals. A week before, I had bought the kind of pedals which your shoes hook into. Every time you get off your bicycle, you have to detach your shoes from the petal by twisting your feet. If you do not do this before stopping, then you will fall with the bicycle. For some reason, in the last 50 kilometers, I forgot to detach my shoes from the petals 4 times. Two times, as I was falling my shoes some how dislodged from the pedals and I landed on my feet. Two times, though, I fell together with the bicycle.
Going to the Hospital
I made it to the ferry terminal and 5PM and I missed my ferry. Fortunately, there were later ferries I could catch. The problem was, I noticed that I really did not feel well. I felt thirsty, nauseous, dizzy, and had bad muscle cramps. Usually, after a long ride I feel good to rest no matter how strenuous the day was. This time, though, I did not have the energy even to stand in line to get a seat for the next ferry. Some people behind me in line were nice enough to let me sit down and call me when it was my turn to go to the front. After getting my ticket, I lied down on the floor of the ferry terminal but after an hour I felt about the same. At that time, my wife called me and when I explained to her how I felt she told me that I was probably having a heat stroke. After I got off the phone, by chance some motorcyclists approached me and asked me if I was ok. To my surprise, they recommended that I go to the hospital by ambulance rather than take a taxi because if I go by ambulance I can get treated immediately and the ambulance will choose the hospital for me. I told them that I knew I should see a doctor quickly but I did not think I was in a life or death situation. They were emphatic in insisting that it was fine to call an ambulance even if you were not near death and persuaded me to do so.
The staff at the ferry terminal called the ambulance, took care of my bicycle and bags, and let me rest in one of their back rooms. The paramedics came and put me on a stretcher and whisked me to the nearest hospital. They were very nice, they seemed to understand my situation, and hearing them explain everything to the hospital on the phone while we were riding there gave me a sense of security. In the back of my head, though, I was worried about how much this would cost, especially since I did not have my health insurance booklet with me.
I got to the hospital at about 7:30 PM. They gave me a blood test and then started giving me an IV to get me hydrated. They confirmed my wife's diagnosis. After about 45 minutes, I started to feel much better. However, the doctor said that my blood test results were bad and I had put a big strain on my kidneys. She said that I should not continue my bicycle trip because I could do more damage to myself with super-strenuous exercise.
By about 1:30 AM, I had had two bags of fluids put into me and I asked to be discharged from the hospital rather than spend the night because I really wanted to go to Hokkaido and see my family whom I had not seen in almost two weeks. When leaving the hospital, I had to give the hospital a 5000 yen deposit for my hospital bill and they said I should call them on Monday (it was Saturday night) so that I could settle the bill. In Japan, health insurance is nationalized and patients have to cover 30% of the costs of their treatment unless the treatment is above a certain amount, then the government pays everything. Also, it turns out the ambulances are free! My bill turned out to be 6500 yen or about $80 US.
I checked out of the hospital and was back at the ferry terminal by 2AM, August 12. I took the 5AM ferry to Hakodate and arrived there at 8:45AM. After arriving in Hakodate, I rode my bicycle very slowly to a friend's house where I spent the whole day sleeping. After resting on August 13, I took the train from Hakodate to my wife's hometown along the route which I should have rode on my bicycle. I felt like a defeated man and very embarrassed but I will do this trip again.
What I Learned from this ordeal:
- Bicycle trips should never be rushed. If I had not been in such a hurry, this would not have happened. Next time, I will only go about 100 - 140 kilometers a day and try to enjoy the sites and scenery more. I have actually learned this lesson before but forgot.
- I need to take better care of myself before going on a bicycle trip. Up until the day before the trip, I have been on a one week business trip where I was dining out almost every night and probably not living a very health life style. I believe that attempting a 185 kilometer journey less than 12 hours after I arrived home from my business trip contributed to me getting a heat stroke when I should not have.
- Before the trip, I spent a lot of money buying a bicycle carrier for my car so we could transport the bicycle from my wife's hometown to Morioka using our car. However, when I was in Hakodate, I learned that I could actually ship my bicycle by takyuubin to Morioka for 3450 yen which is much cheaper than the cost of a bicycle carrier. Unless, you're going to use the bicycle carrier frequently, I realized it can be more economical just to occasionally ship it home.
- Bicycle bags are expensive but they are good to have. Putting my bicycle in its bag, I was able to ship it home to Morioka. I also could have carried the bicycle in the train with me by putting it in its back but this time I just sent it home.
- Next time, it would be better not to cycle alone. Anyone want to join me?