I got an early 7:30AM start out of
Nukabira Lake Campground. Luckily there was a gas station in the
little resort town of Nukabira just up the road. I was on my reserve
tank and didn't have much gas left. I continued towards Lake Akan
and Akan National Park on Routes 273 and 241.
Shortly after getting on the road, I came upon a field
of beautiful sunflowers. Not only that, but there were hot air
balloons overhead -- now this was a photo opportunity!! I
stopped at the edge of the field and took several pictures from various
angles, trying to get that one "award winning" shot.
Within about 10 minutes of my arrival, two small SUV's pulled up and out
jumped no less than five oyaji (old/middle-aged men). These
were no ordinary oyaji, they were guerrilla safari photographer oyaji;
each sported serious camera equipment and wore photographer vests.
They paid no attention to me and set about setting up tripods and cameras
to capture the scene. And since I was standing right there, I
captured them capturing the scene. I couldn't help but be
amused and excited to get this opportunity to see oyaji like this in this
As I mentioned before, Hokkaido is
infamous in Japan for its high rate of traffic accidents and
fatalities. The lack of congestion is probably the biggest factor;
it is much easier to drive fast there. To help stem this tide
of accidents and death, there are many traffic warnings posted along the roads. Many of them
literally say something to the effect of "There are many traffic
fatalities in this area so slow down and be careful!" I took a
picture of one of the more creative signs here. It also sported a
helpful reminder in English, "Speed Reduction."
If you look closely at the picture, you can see there
are three motorcyclists going by. As I found out, in Hokkaido, in
the summer, there are a lot of motorcyclists with the same idea --
to cruise the wide open roads of Hokkaido. It's
probably every Japanese motorcyclist's dream trip. There are all
kinds from loners to packs, from people riding bicycles to 50cc scooters
to American Harley-Davidson's. And when passing other cyclists, I
soon learned it was customary to give a little wave. There was some
feeling of brotherhood out here. Interestingly, this was not common
anywhere else in the country. Maybe it was something to do with the
air or the Spirit of Hokkaido.
It was still morning when I found my way to Lake Akan
in Akan National Park. I parked and walked through the little
tourist strip. Here they had some of the best souvenirs I've seen in
Japan, various handcrafted wood products. Of course they had
examples of the ubiquitous marimo -- a globe-shaped algae which is indigenous
to this lake. They are reputed to take up to 200 years to grow to
the size of baseballs and rise to the surface of the lake and sink to
its bed depending on the weather. There were tanks of real marimo
for sale but more common were cheap marimo replicas of what looked to be
fuzz-covered marbles floating in little bottles.
I talked to one shopkeeper, a young guy who was
originally from Kyoto but was now tending this store in Hokkaido. I
helped him mend the English on his sign in front of the marimo tank
which was explaining how to take care of one. I didn't have any need for
marimo so I moved on and ended up purchasing a few small wooden items for
gifts and for myself at another shop.
As I hadn't had a bath this previous evening or in the
morning, I had asked the guy from Kyoto as to the whereabouts of an onsen
(hot spring) or sento (neighborhood bath). He gave me directions and I found the place that he
was referring to. I believe it was
using natural hot spring water but with all the
atmosphere of a neighborhood bath. That
is to say, no real atmosphere to speak of -- kind of like an old YMCA
locker room with a very grubby look to it. But a little mildewed
tile didn't prevent me from enjoying washing up and taking a hot
bath. I swear, with all the public baths dotting the country, Japan has got to be the
best place to attempt this kind of travel.
After washing up, I moved on and, shortly, came to Lake
Mashu which is commonly known as "Kiri no Mashuu-ko" or
"Foggy Lake Mashu" because, apparently, it is almost always
fog-covered in the summer months. This day, however, there was no
hint of fog and I got a beautiful view of the indigo-colored lake.
Yet another caldera lake resulting from some ancient volcanic eruption, the
water color bore some resemblance to Crater Lake in Oregon. Very
deep, clear water is what creates this unusual color. The water
depth of this lake ranges down to 211 meters. (And, for anybody who
cares, it is 355 meters above sea level.)
Just down the road was another spot
displaying the beauty of nature, Mt. Io ("Mount Sulphur").
Along the rocky sides of the 574 meter mountain, was a run of steam vents
which were emitting white sulphur-laden clouds of steam. The place
had a big parking lot and tourist souvenir/snack center but I was in
luck. There were no bus loads of tourists at that time. If
there had been, the beauty of the natural setting would have been much
The whole place was rocky and desert-like with no
foliage to speak of. It had a kind of ethereal other worldy feel to
it with the steaming vents and smelly air. There were signs warning
not to get too close but people were allowed to climb right up to the
steam vents. The steam was indeed hot. Outside the vents,
the rocks were encrusted with a yellow/green chemical (sulfur, I suppose)
which is not a color one often sees in nature. On a few vents sat
crates of eggs being steamed for sale for those wishing to try the
naturally cooked treat. I wasn't hungry for eggs and had an ice
Again, just down the road was another
sight. This time it was Lake Kusharo, Hokkaido's biggest inland
Lake Mashu, where you can't even get to the lake shore, this lake was a
recreational lake with boating and recreational facilities. I had
lunch at a little restaurant with a view of the lake. I seem to
recall having something like hayashi rice or curry rice, standard fare for
these kinds of places. A friendly young girl served my lunch.
I told her my story, where I'd been and where I was going, and almost all
of her interjections was to say "sugoi jya nai desu ka?"
(that's cool, isn't it?). She was a cutie.
By this time I was feeling tired and it had been a hot
day so I found a bench partially covered by shade and laid down after
laying my sleeping bag over my bike so that it would get completely dry
and fumigated by the sun. This area was truly a great area in which
to enjoy all Hokkaido has to offer. Three caldera lakes, volcanic steam
vents and plenty of nature and hiking trails. If I had the time, I
could easily spend a week there hiking around the various lakes.
Unfortunately, I didn't have that kind of time this time around. A half-hour later I roused myself,
packed up my sleeping bag and moved on.
On the other side of the lake is a tiny town called
Chiho, the friend that I had visited in Sapporo, had told me her father was
the principal of the elementary school there. So I thought I may as
well at least try to find it and take an I-was-here picture by it.
The town was very small and I soon found an elementary school that
almost certainly had to be the place. Nobody seemed to be around, probably
they were off for summer vacation or perhaps it was already too late in
the day, but I got my picture. After a gas stop in the little town,
I moved on heading north on Route 243 towards the Sea of Okhotsk.
I decided to get off the national road and cut through
on a Hokkaido highway. It
was even less traveled than the national highway which had already been
sparse and I was cruising along when I came across a fox crossing the
road. I thought he'd probably be long gone but I stopped, popped off
my helmet and grabbed my camera after grabbing the 85-300mm lens. I
was in luck and was able to snap a couple of shots of this
"wild" critter as he moseyed along his way.
Shortly thereafter, I was just getting nervous about
finding a place to stay when I saw a sign for a "Rider
House." Rider Houses are, essentially, youth hostels geared for
bicycle and motorcycle travelers. Due to the big influx of bikers,
Hokkaido is peppered with them. That particular place didn't look
that appealing so I took a chance and continued on. By this time I
was on Route 244 heading east towards Shari along the coast.
Finally I knew I'd better find a place or get caught in
the dark again and I turned off at the next sign for a rider house that I saw.
The place offered the option of camping in the front yard at a small
discount. I saw no reason to stay inside so I decided to "rough
it" as a few other people were. Inside was a lobby with a
television and bathing facilities. The sleeping facilities were
located on a second-floor loft. It had kind of a log-cabin feel to
After securing my lodging, I headed out to Shari to
look for a convenience store to pick up some grub. It was now
heading towards sunset and I had the bright idea of getting to the sea
shore and taking some sunset pictures. The only problem was that,
although it was literally only a couple hundred meters away, I couldn't
find any way to get to it. There was a railroad running through and
no roads leading across it. As I got into Shari I found a road that
headed towards the water. As I followed it, I find myself in a big
construction zone or gravel-making facility. By this point, I was
more worried about catching the sunset than my safety and when I saw a
turn off heading towards a pier, I braked and turned too quickly and found
myself flat on the ground before I could say "boo."
Braking and turning quickly is a no-no in most any
situation on a motorcycle but at that point I was on a road scattered with
gravel. Luckily I was going slowly at the time and even more lucky,
I was wearing my motorcycle jacket. The summer was too hot to wear
my tough leather motorcycle jacket but I had been wearing a light jacket made of
durable material and foam padded inserts. And it paid off because,
although the jacket didn't tear, I still got road-rash within the
jacket. Who knows how I would have looked if I had just been in just a
T-shirt. My knee wasn't quite as lucky since I was only wearing
cotton hiking pants. The pavement tore in the pants and gave me a
good scrape on my knee. It was bleeding but wasn't deep or
anything. Feeling stupid but glad I was okay I refused help from a
nearby person and righted my bike. After confirming that the bike
would run and readjusting its mirrors, I continued my search for a sunset
photo vantage point.
The place I had attempted to turn was indeed the right
place to go and, finally, I found myself on a concrete pier. There
was a small truck parked further down and a few people fishing. With
my leg and arm still throbbing, I parked my bike and tried to get a few
decent shots. Though I missed the actual sun setting below the
horizon, I did get a couple of memorable bike shots. Shots that will
always symbolize the beauty of this northern island and how fortunate I
was to be there for this experience. That, and my throbbing arm and
On the way back, I stopped at a
convenience store for some food. I picked something ready-made and
microwaveable this time and took it back with me to the rider house.
After eating, I made use of the bathing facilities. The water here
too was natural hot spring water. The water was very dark, brown
looking. I'm guessing it was due to the iron content, or at least
that's what I told myself. Whatever it was, I hoped it would be good
for my scrapes and cuts. I was no longer bleeding but still I felt a
little wary about bathing in the communal bath, partly because of what might enter
my wounds and partly because of what I might be adding to the water (certainly I
wouldn't be anxious to bathe after somebody else with "open
sores"). But again, these weren't really open sores
just some road rash that was still tender.
I talked with a biker that came in while I was bathing
and I don't know if he noticed my scrapes or if I brought them up but I
told him of my stupidity and he was sympathetic. After I came out I
hung out in the lobby for a little while and had a drink while I talked to a few of my
fellow travelers. Most of them were traveling alone and most seemed
to be from Kansai (region southwest of Tokyo that contains Kyoto). There
was a pair of female bikers there as well.
As I don't know too many female bikers, they caught my interest and we
exchanged a few words but now I can't recall anything of where they were
from or what they were up to. So far nobody I had met was on a
trip as ambitious as mine. But then most people can't afford to take
a whole month off to do this sort of thing.
Soon enough it was time for bed. It was going to
be another clear, mild night with nothing but stars overhead. This
was the life.