Although my friend Hiroko was kind to offer me lodging for two nights at
her place in Asahikawa, I felt it best to move on. I had a lot of
ground to cover yet. I followed her and her son on my motorcycle to
Bie. Bie was made famous by Shinzo Maeda, a photographer who
captured its many looks on film and by its use in various TV commercials. It
has rolling hills
covered with various different colored crops all against a mountainous
backdrop. I believe the crops include such plants as wheat, daikon,
azuki beans, and sun flower. It was a wide open area with a view not
to be found elsewhere in Japan. And, indeed, a view pretty enough to
rival pretty views the world over (although my one picture does not do it
justice). Hiroko took my picture underneath a tree which had
apparently appeared in some television commercials.
I left my motorcycle at Biei and we drove to Fukiage
Onsen together in Hiroko's car. We were right on the edge of Daisetsuzan
National Park and we could see Hokkaido's tallest peak, Mt. Asahidake,
which rises up to about 2200
meters. We could also see a smoking volcano in the same range.
Mt. Tokachidake I think it was. The onsen (hot spring) was quite
large and seemed new. We split up -- alas mixed bathing in
Japan is almost impossible to find these days -- and made arrangements to
meet afterwards. As always, an onsen experience in Japan for
me is a delight. And this one, being large and not at all crowded, made it even
better. After soaping up and rinsing off I spent time in the various
baths including the one outside (the rotenburo). There was a
clear view of the parking lot from the men's side -- which means there is
a clear view of the men's bath from the parking lot. An
exhibitionist could probably have some fun there.
From the onsen, we retrieved my bike and I followed
Hiroko to Furano where we were hoping to catch some lavender still in
bloom even though we knew it was late in the season. That region is
famous for growing lavender and there are souvenirs of lavender everything
-- from potpourri and soap to lavender-colored Hello Kitty's. Even
lavender ice cream. As we had expected there
wasn't much left of the lavender field when we got there but there was still
enough to put a nice smell in the air and a hint of purple in the field.
I couldn't help but marvel at the Furano before my eyes
because I had been there for a weekend ski trip the previous winter and
the difference between winter and summer here was like night and
day. In the winter there is deep snow everywhere with arrows on
poles to mark where the road is. It has a very isolated and desolate
feel to it. But the summer was so lush and green. Just
beautiful. Having been raised in a similar climate where there were
similar seasonal changes, I shouldn't have felt that way but I did.
We had a late lunch/early dinner at 4:00PM at family
restaurant called Kami Fusen ("Paper Balloon") in Furano before
parting. I would have loved to spend another day with Hiroko there, in the
heart of Hokkaido, but the many miles of road ahead of me were not getting
any shorter. So I waved one last goodbye and headed off on my
From Furano I skirted Daisetsuzan National Park's southern edge
and came back up along the eastern side; there's no road going
straight through it, you have to go around it some way or another.
I tried to make as much time as I could. The roads were wide and
clear, easily allowing speeds of 100 km/h (62 mph). I was generally
headed towards Lake Akan, another caldera lake and national park. As
evening crept up, it was clear I had to decide what to do about nightfall;
I decided I would try to make Nukabira Lake Campground which was marked on
my road atlas. The road I chose -- local Route 85 -- took me through
some mountains, up past Shikarikubetsu Lake and then down towards
Nukabira. It was a mountainous road with plenty of curves to keep
it interesting. With the impending nightfall I went as fast as
I dared and didn't slow down to enjoy the view although I did come across my
first wild life -- a little fox which some idiot family in a car was trying to feed
at the side of the road. People don't realize they're not doing wild
animals any favor by acclimating them to humans and giving them handouts
As it always does, dusk soon gave way to darkness and I
traveled the last half hour or so in the dark. I knew I was low on
gas and was started to worry about running out because I had had to switch
to my reserve tank on my descent out of the mountains. I had never
run my reserve tank dry and I wasn't sure how long it would last. My
gas tank was small and didn't have a gauge so I always judged gas levels
by kilometers-traveled, certainly not the most accurate method.
Matters weren't helped when I took a wrong turn and found myself on a
desolate mountain road which turned to sand at one point and led up to an
old one lane bridge over a gorge. There was nothing for illumination except my
headlight. I turned back and went a few more kilometers out of my
way before turning back and finally finding the proper turnoff for the
campground sometime around 8:00PM. I made my way into the gravel
parking lot and found a relatively stable patch of ground on which I could
park without my kickstand sinking and my bike falling over.
The fee was about $2 but the attendant was gone and I
couldn't find a way to pay so, as the Japanese say,
"Lucky!" Another free campout. The campground was
fairly busy with about 15 to 20 tents but it wasn't overly crowded.
I easily found a spot to pitch my tiny tent using my headlamp for
illumination whenever it was necessary. There were no bathing
facilities but there were toilets and fresh (cold) water. Nukabira
Lake, the campground's namesake, must have been nearby but it was too dark
to go exploring.
My cellular phone wasn't catching a signal and there
was a one-street town of sorts up the road so I rode up the road and
stopped at a pay phone to check in with my fiancé. There looked to
be a few small restaurants, a gas station and small shops nearby however almost
all were closed. There did look to be an open karaoke bar or
"snack" of some sort. But I was too tired to stop -- even
one drink would quickly do me in that night -- and headed back.
Back at the campground, I set up my backpacking stove on a nearby picnic table
and boiled some water for a dinner of instant noodles of some type --
possibly spaghetti, possibly ramen -- along with whatever else I had
picked up at a convenience store earlier. As far as the weather
went, I was in luck. It was a clear night with no threat of rain and
temperatures were mild. I was getting a reading of 24C (75F).
So it looked like it was going to be a comfortable night.
I wrote in my diary via headlamp for a while and read a
bit of my guidebooks but I found myself fading fast by 10:00PM. I
put my things away and switched off my light and drifted away in no time.