Tahara to Shiogo Dam (Honshu)

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I wake before the dawn ready to ride. But still I faff around enough to make it daylight by the time I throw my leg over the saddle to set off. The bridge near camp looks like a major undertaking and is a single-digit road number. It’s a prefecture highway, not a national highway but I still decide it’s not going to be sensible to try riding it so I head back a few kilometers to a quieter (relatively) road.
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I spend the morning riding into Toyohashi. The landscape is a mix of agriculture and heavy industry. It doesn’t feel all that nice. But not every place you travel through will be fun or beautiful. Some parts of a country are ugly because the work needs to be done somewhere.
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That’s not to say there’s not stuff to look at. For example, this cabbage is massive. I reckon it would win a prize at any agricultural show that is testing vegetables for size.
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And I doubt this car is going anywhere in a hurry. I can’t help but wonder how it got down into this sunken garden. Or maybe it was parked there before the walls around the garden were built.
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Even the rice paddies here feel industrial. They are not free flowing and organic. Rather, they are sparse and tough.
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I reach the city itself and it’s difficult to decide whether the shared pathway or the road is safer. The shared pathway is like a race track for children and teenagers cycling to school. I come to a school entry where there are teachers standing at the gate. All are male and all are wearing suits with ties. Some students stand stiff and tall holding a large flag with what I can only assume is the school’s name written on it. It’s all very different to anything I’ve experienced at home.
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And then I am through the town and into a tunnel that leads me to a whole new landscape. I feel like I am in the Mediterranean because the hillsides are dotted with orange trees and between all is burnt orange and brown. It’s pretty.
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Like in many other places I’ve been, the farmers in the fields are largely elderly men and women. They work hard with bent backs lifting, digging and building shelters for their crops. The winter here has passed and the farmers are starting to plant summer crops. Shallots, corn and leafy greens go straight in the ground but the zucchini / cucumber (I’m not sure which it is) gets protected from any final frost and warmed to give it a head start.
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I’m suddenly out in open country again. It comes up all of a sudden. One minute I’m on the urban fringe and then there’s space again. I love the space.
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Red archways mark a roadside shrine. This one speaks to me so I stop a while.
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A little further down the road I stop at a temple. Japanese temples definitely aren’t as nice as the Chinese ones in Malaysia. They are sparse and everything is closed. I don’t think this form of Buddhism is one that I connect with. I can’t explain why. Maybe because it is so sparse that it gives little away. Or maybe I’m just not a sparse kinda guy; I need movement, colour and stories around me. But it’s a pretty temple all the same.
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I have to go through a tunnel that has this sign at the entrance. What do you think? Worrying? I am just glad it’s not raining.
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This section of road is mostly just a push through for me on the way to Fujisan. The road is certainly no Kii Peninsula. Or so I think. And then I come to this beautiful section of tall trees on a bed of flowers.
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I also like the piles of firewood that are stacked neatly everywhere. It is something we don’t get at home so I am drawn to it as a sign of exotic cold winters with the possibility of snow (well, here in Japan it is more than a mere possibility).
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I reach a michi-no-eki around 2pm and think about settling in for the night. But there is no wifi. There are delicious udon noodles at the shop and some very cool mini motorbikes in the carpark. This bike was being ridden by a guy in his fifties or sixties. Yes, you heard me right. Not fifteen or sixteen but fifty-something or sixty-something. How rad is it.
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I ride on and enter the most amazing zone of riding I think I’ll have in a long time. The road narrows and starts to follow a river. And it keeps following the river through the forest for ages. This is the stuff of cycling dreams.
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But it gets better. I enter the tea fields. Had I not been to Malaysia earlier this month I might not have realised what these hedges were. But now I know they are tea. And it looks so beautiful to ride through.
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I also get the odd waterfall as a treat. I love the way these are right here by the road with no need to hunt them down. Water tumbles down under the road and into the rushing river below.
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At about 110km I reach this tough pass. There’s no way my legs can carry me over it so I start to walk. I feel no shame at my lack of climbing strength. After-all, I’ve only been back on the bike for less than two weeks after almost five months off. The climb is pretty and takes me to some amazing views of tea-filled valleys and blue mountain ranges off in the distance.
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Near the top of the climb an animal startles me. I think it’s a mountain goat with a thick coat but my animal knowledge is limited. At least it’s not a bear.
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Just over the top of the pass I descend quickly and totally miss this sign that apparently says the road ahead is closed. A sign says that I am crossing road 23 but I am on another road number and want to stay on it. But the road straight ahead climbs sharply and is in terrible condition. Down to my left I can see villages and a nice road following a river. I know my road should follow a river. But I ignore the voice that says I have taken a wrong turn for about 3km. Then I decide it’s time to head back and take my changes with road 23 because it will eventually lead somewhere. On my way back a man appears as if from nowhere sweeping the road so I ask him using my map to show where I want to go. He points me down to the left. So I take that turn and am happily on my way again.
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The road goes downhill for ages through tea plantations. In the golden light of the late afternoon sun it’s stunningly beautiful. Almost more beautiful than I could have imagined. It’s like the road just gets better and better as the day goes on. Or maybe fatigue is getting to me and my brain is reacting like it is on opiates. 🙂
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I find a camping ground just near Shiogo Dam. It looks like it has been prepared for Golden Week, which starts tomorrow. It’s in great condition with clean bathrooms and coin operated showers (JPY100 for 3 minutes of hot water). I pitch my tent, take a hot shower, cook dinner and call it a night without anyone coming to ask me to pay. In the morning there are plenty of people walking around and I have my money ready but again no one comes. I chalk it up to the mountain faeries.
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And for those curious … I managed to make a temporary repair to the broken tent post. It held well overnight. I will replace it at home but no need to rush around looking for an MSR dealer here in Japan.

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