No curve was too sharp for them and their bicycle. No puddle was deep enough to stop them. -- Friends by Helme Hein

05 May, 2010

Cycling Izu Oshima

Most of Japan is celebrating Golden Week now. A series of back-to-back holidays to celebrate Greenery Day, Children's Day, the emperor's birthday and Showa Day gives the Japanese a straight week off from work and a chance to travel. When we first moved here, I read a small piece of advice in a book for foreigners: When it comes to Golden Week, ask your Japanese friends where they are going, and then go the other way. The crowds and 25 hours of backlog on the freeways are what that piece of advice is hinting at. Fortunately for us, we had a 3 day weekend and not too many other Japanese had the same idea to go to Izu Oshima.

(not our picture)
Oshima is the first island in a string of seven volcanic islands off the Izu Peninsula in the Pacific Ocean. The volcano, Mt. Mihara, last exploded in 1986.

We took this high speed jet foil from Odaiba to the Okata Port on Oshima. It was just a 90 minute ride on this super fast ferry that lifts up on ski-like legs and cruises at 80 kmph.

We took our bicycles with us and enjoyed some of the most peaceful cycling we've encountered since our camping/cycling trip in Holland 2 years ago. The weather was sunny and warm and the roads were quiet, hilly and challenging. The coast line reminded me of the jagged Oregon coast just across the ocean. But the beaches were full of black sand and volcanic rock pounded smooth by the waves.

We overtook a camp spot near the coast. This was a free family camping ground, which meant that you didn't even have to bring your own tent, sleeping bag, or food. Everything you need to camp could be provided for a nominal fee.

The island was so pristine, so beautiful that it felt like an affordable version of Hawaii. Palm trees, cactus and camellias thrive here.

The first day we did about 60 km up and down steep mountain grades. Riding 20 minutes to work each day on flats does not prepare you for climbing volcanoes with panniers filled with camping gear.

Mt. Mihara looms over James.

This fault line is extraordinary. The earth has actually pushed up and over 90 layers of the earth's stratum are visible along this section of road. Really stunning to come across and think about the fact that we were riding around on top of the fault line which is believed to be the epicenter of the predicted Great Tokai earthquake of 20??. It happens every 100 years or so and is long overdue now. We didn't get the chance to go the rim of the volcano, but read that it is lined with concrete volcano shelters. The coast line has tsunami warning signs all around.



Tourism has treated this island well. Not a piece of trash was out of place, not a person was rude and not a car honked. I wonder why this road is red, but I can't imagine it's cheap?

We met these cute kids, and their camp counselor, along the road. They were cycling up hill on bikes that couldn't have made the job too easy. We cheered them on by yelling "ganbatte!" and they enjoyed attention from 2 very white people. At a pit stop, the little boy next to me gave me the chance to practice my Japanese when he asked: あなたわすしが好きですか? Which translates to: Do you like sushi? He was pretty darn cute.

The story of a glorious weekend of bikes and sun goes a little sour when we returned to the port to catch our ferry home on Sunday evening at 5:00. We waited patiently, but thought it a bit strange that no one else was showing up for the ferry. And then the ferry itself didn't show up. And we all know everything Japanese is on time. Panic began to sink in: we already knew this ferry was the last one of the day and that all boats on Monday were filled. I ran across the street to the nearest gift shop and found a nice man who spoke English and kindly asked the shop keeper to call the ferry company for us. Turns out, the ferry goes to different ports each day depending on the ocean conditions. Our boat went to Motomachi. We were standing in Okata, 7 km away.

The shop keeper told us to come see her at 9 a.m. the next morning and she would tell us which port to be at for the 11:00 boat on which she had so graciously booked reservations for us.

After I nearly broke into tears from the exhaustion of steep hills and the disappointment of not making it back to spend Monday relaxing and sleeping, we decided to ride to Motomachi and find some food and a place to stay, thinking that we would be well positioned for the 11:00 boat. We'd also heard rumor of a great little outdoor onsen in Motomachi that would be a nice soak for our weary bones.

Hana-no-yu onsen softened the blow of missing our ferry with it's gorgeous views of the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean, Hakone and Mt. Fuji. Japanese onsen are a treasure for tired cyclists.

But, we couldn't stay there all night. And, not wanting to pay $150 or more for lodging, we unraveled our camp gear for another night under the stars. Only this time, there was no camp ground to hijack. So we slept off to the side of a walking trail in a park next to the ocean. We got a few startled looks from walkers on their early morning stroll, but we were otherwise un-bothered.

Of course, the ocean conditions changed, which meant our port also did. The next morning we saddled up and road the short 7km up hill back to Okata to catch our 11:00 a.m. ferry back to Tokyo. We were happy to see so many people milling about, a good sign we were at the right place. The boat ride home was relaxing, but the stress of carrying our bikes and loaded panniers through the crowded subways was almost enough to drown out the good memories. Fortunately for us, time takes away the bad memories and leaves us only with thoughts of open roads, nights under the stars, the sound of birds chirping and the waves lapping. Tokyo is cool, but goodness, I miss the country.

1 comment:

KP said...

Funny you mention that the stress is almost enough to drown out the good memories...I was just thinking about that this morning, how annoyed I've been in situations that I remember as idyllic. :) I suppose that's when we show our true character. What a wonderful trip!