Shimanami Kaido: Day One

I haven’t posted about my final months in Japan mainly because of a combination of finishing grad school, getting a new job, and being lazy.  However, even after all this time, I want to record all of my fondest memories in the country (that is mainly why this blog was created). So let’s start catching up.

It’s been a year since I went on the Shimanami Kaido and I still think about that journey every once in awhile.  For those who are unaware, the Shimanami Kaido is a 70 km cycling path connecting the islands of Shikoku and the mainland Honshu through bridges.  The path itself has a designated cycling route the entire way so you won’t be fighting with cars as you traverse the roads; the route are also labeled properly (with a big blue line o) so it’s basically impossible getting lost as long as you are following it.  Since you are island-hopping with bikes, the sea will always be in your view, presenting wonderful scenery throughout the entire way.  I was really hesitant based on the length of the ride but it was my final year in Japan and I wanted to do at least one more adventure before heading back.  I convinced my friend who was visiting at the time to go and another friend who had done only a portion of it to go during the spring, the most ideal time to go.  Instead of choosing to do the entire route in a day, we opted to do it in two since we weren’t the most athletic bunch.

There are a couple of places one can start the Shimanami Kaido, mainly Onomichi (the Honshuu side) or Imabari (the Shikoku side).  Since we were coming from the east, it made sense to start from Onomichi and once we were done, hitch a bus back to our starting point.  We arrived in Onomichi at night by train and ate a nice meal at a local restaurant and slept early to start our first day.  The weather was looking cloudy with a chance to rain so we wanted to make sure we would get there before it started.

Luckily the rain had stopped by the time we had gotten our bikes and were waiting for the ferry to take us to the first island.  Another advantage of Onomichi is that the bike rental area is right where you begin the path.  There are a variety of bikes available but the cheapest one would be the mamachari bicicyle.  Mamacharis are essentially the station wagon of bikes that you see many people in Japan use in their everyday life.  Good for running errands and maybe a small grocery trip but for a 70 km ride?  Maybe not the greatest choice.  However, they come with a decent-sized basket on the front and knowing my back would be dead if I had my backpack on me the entire trip, I went with it.

My mamachari bike for the trip. I remember when I showed this to my students they gave me a “Really?” look.

After we got our bikes, we were on our way.  Our goal for the day was to reach Setoda, which was almost the halfway point of the journey. The forecast was rain in the late afternoon so we needed to get there before then.

The map layout you are presented with on the way out.

Checking the port out while we wait for the ferry.

Even though it was a cloudy day out, the ride was so scenic and gorgeous.  Just having the sea by your side the entire way and watching the small towns, boats, and bridges pass by made the trip really enjoyable.

In terms of difficulty, I would say it wasn’t too bad until you would approach a bridge to cross to the next island.  The Shiminami Kaido has you cross over six bridges throughout your time there and while crossing the bridge itself is a fun experience, getting up there is a pain in the ass.  To get onto most bridges, one has to go up some heavily inclined roads that include a lot of hairpins.  For the inexperienced cycler (aka us), this kills your legs and really wears you out.  It’s not recommended to get off because it’s even harder to start pedaling from scratch.  Of course, if you got a decent bike with a lot of gears, you can get through it.

Right after going up some slopes.

Under the bridge, in a specialized cycling road.

Crossing the bridge was always the fun part of the trip.

Throughout our ride, we had to take various pit stops just to take a break, refuel on water or grab a snack.  Luckily, Japan always seems to have a convenience store nearby so finding one was never an issue.  My advice is to bring lots of water, as you’ll need to hydrate yourself a lot while you cycle.  Also, make sure you pack as light as you can!  While the mamachari wasn’t the greatest ride in the world, I was able to stuff my backpack in the front which made my life a lot easier.  I just packed the bare minimum: change of clothes, snacks and water, camera, a charger and my 3DS.

After crossing several bridges, we were getting a bit tired.  We had finally hit Setoda though!  We heard there was a nice ice cream stop called Setoda Dolce before reaching our inn so we made sure to stop by and get some rest and delicious ice cream before heading out.  It was totally worth it.

Delicious.

Gotta beat that rain…

On the way to the inn, the rain had finally begun.  Luckily, it didn’t take too long to get to our destination after getting our ice cream.  We decided to dry everything off and just relax until we went out to go look for some lunch.  Unfortunately the rain was pretty bad at this point so we couldn’t’ wander around too much unless you wanted to get soaked.  The weather basically grounded us for the entire day and the small town closed everything fairly early.  In the end, we simply cycled back to the last convenience store we saw for dinner and called it a night.  Cycling at night around Setoda was a bit eerie and mysterious because there were next to no street lamps, so we had to rely on the lights on our bicycles.  The other islands surrounding us appeared as black blobs and the sky was a dark purple; the only sound that accompanied the darkness was the crash of the waves hitting the island.  Cycling through this strange yet peaceful scenery struck me as one of my favorite memories of the trip.  After getting some junk food, we called it a night.  The real fun began tomorrow.

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