Once I decided to live ten feet from the blue line marking the Shimanami Kaido, there was really no question as to whether I would ride the world-famous cycling mecca or not – the only question was when and how. Last year was a particulary expensive sightseeing year for me – It included two trips to Canada and back and if you tack on the first six months I spent here in Japan, I shudder to even guesstimate any ballpark figure for what I’ve spent on travel….certainly not lost on a girl who grew up poor and therefore obsessively money-conscious in rural Manitoba, in central Canada.
Along came 2016, speeding up on me like a carbon fibre Giant on Tour de France level steroids, and I still hadn’t ridden the entire Shimanami Kaido cycling route, only bits and pieces near my home island of Innoshima. That’s it, I thought. I’m spending my December holidays cheaply and wisely. I’m not going to spend my whole holiday in hotels, and I’m not going to pay highway tolls by driving anywhere. I’m going to bike the Shimanami! I had already biked to Onomichi and back from my place, which left only (haha) the other direction – from Innoshima to Imabari and back. But I felt like I was somehow cheating by not riding the full route at once. At the same time, I was not willing to spend a night in Onomichi just for the sake of doing the full route at once, as I am often in Onomichi and it holds no allure for me whatsoever at this point. (Plus, there was the question of what on earth I would do in Imabari for two days while resting before heading back.) A quick peek at the map of Shikoku revealed that the both larger and more historic city of Matsuyama is a mere 40(ish) kilometers away from Imabari. Target achieved. Innoshima to Matsuyama return. Jitensha de.
I had already invested in a very cheap bivy sack-style tent (anyone with two bits of common sense and camping experience knows that the one piece of equipment you do NOT cut corners on is your tent!) and a cheap bicycle with a few more gears than the school-provided one speed mama-chari (four more gears, to be exact). To compensate for my obvious flaunting of the above-mentioned common sense, I bought a quality sleeping bag (Snugpak Sleeper Lite, see unsponsored ad later in this story). See above bit about being Manitoban and if you’ve lived there you’ll understand why I’ve been considering purchasing Merino base layers for quite some time(cue Manitoban winter horror stories). While planning this trip, a giant markdown/sale at wiggle.co.uk (another unsponsored ad, you’re welcome) provided the perfect excuse to finally put the coin where the thought was. (And, I may add, free shipping and no customs fees to the middle of nowhere in Japan…) Finally, after an absurd online spending spree in order to camp for free for probably 20 nights tops in Japan (before I leave the country), which I justify by saying I will definitely be keeping all the things I bought for years and years, (except the bivy tent, which is a little iffy at this point…) this what I ended up with. Ready to rock’ n’ roll, here I am with my high-tech-meets-dollar-store-ghetto bikecamping equipment fully…equipped.
Let me just say I consider myself to be in pretty good shape physically. My cardio endurance is definitely low but my muscle power is there, lungs are okay. I didn’t anticipate much trouble from this trip other than the lack of sleep from attempting to camp in my CHEAP bivy tent. I will say this only once: light sleepers should buy proper dome tents, NOT anything even slightly resembling a bivy. Don’t believe the crap about adjusting to it. Who has a week to adjust to the noise? I barely get a week of holidays in total. Anyway. I headed off later than I’d planned, around 11:45 a.m. on Monday, December 28th. About halfway up the ramp to the first bridge, I decided the weight of the loaded bike definitely made the bridges more difficult than they ought to be, and that I would take the 80 yen ferry on my return trip rather than do this particular bridge ramp again (a bridge I often ride across, for the ice cream of course – see previous entries). I had serious knee problems in my teens and eventually regained my knee strength, but there is always a question in my mind of whether those tendons will really hold up under pressure or not. But I was on fresh legs at this point, so I quickly forgot that thought at the ice cream shop on Ikuchijima. After the ice cream and a few more kilometres riding with a couple of my workmates, who kindly accompanied me for a one-island send-off, we stopped for a lunch break. Onomichi ramen – mmmmmmmmm good… Don’t pass up an open ramen shop, or you’ll regret it 15 minutes later. That may be the most surprising life lesson I’ve learned in Japan. It was a delicious lunch and afterwards I parted ways with my workmates, to finish the journey alone (of course).
I often cross Ikuchijima Bridge. I see it every day. It’s nearly as constant as the sun in my life here. It’s my favourite of the Shimanami Kaido bridges, and I can’t tell you if it’s coincidental or based on actual logic – but it seems to be the easiest to cross. The ramp is very gradual, very short, and the bridge itself is short, completely separated from motor traffic (contrast this with the Innoshima Bridge, where you must share a bike lane with two-way bicycle and scooter traffic!) And there’s a Sea Salt Ice Cream Shop just a few minutes away. Sorry, I keep regressing. Sea salt ice cream…
Anyway, Day One of my Shimanami Kaido bikecamping adventure was a breeze. 😉 I crossed the Tatara Bridge to Omishima and quite enjoyed the gradually sloped ramp – once I got onto the bridge, however, the wind got the better of me and I was wishing for Ikuchijima Ohashi…
Passing through Omishima was quick, but as I ascended the ramp to Tatara Bridge, the sun was just beginning to go down, and the bike path was littered with leaves and actual trash (including beer cans) which is quite rare to see on the Shimanami Kaido. This, combined with the absence of houses near the path, made me uneasy for the first time (as a woman cycling alone). After riding up this surpisingly creepy path, I was grateful to make it up to the bridge to Hakatajima with no flats.
My goal for the day (okay, afternoon…) was an uninhabited tiny island between Hakatajima and Oshima which is accessible only by bicycle, scooter, or foot. Its main attraction? A free campsite. I stopped at a convenience store on Hakatajima and bought my supper – sour cream and onion fried chicken (kariage), potato wedges, and a discounted cabbage/onion/kinoki mushroom salad – then ramped myself up to ride that final bridge for the day (see what I did there?). You’d easily miss Michikajima if you blinked.
I probably could have just let go of the bicycle and found it at the bottom, but I was a good girl and walked it down nicely, where much to my relief, I found two other tents already set up in the camp-ground. (I did mention I was creeped out by the Omishima ramp, right?)
I set up my little (okay, tiny) bivy-tent and promptly crawled into my sleeping bag, as it got cold instantly once the sun dropped behind the shadow of the island. I heard someone else pull up (oh English, it was literally down from the ramp…) and set up their tent while I snuggled in and hoped I could actually sleep for 14 hours until the next sunrise after doing hardly anything all day. And then the wind picked up. And up, and up. And slapped my cheap-ass Doppelganger Pupa ST-01 (or something) around like it was a sail on a sinking ship. So I put my earplugs in, because I was prepared for this after my test run in warmer weather revealed that A: It is impossible to set this tent up so that the sides are held taut like a proper wind-resistant tent should be and B: There will be heavy condensation in this tent no matter what the temperature or airflow because it is fully waterproofed nylon (AKA PLASTIC-COATED – THANKS A LOT YOU LYING ADVERTISING MOFOS TENTS ARE NOT MADE OF PLASTIC, THEY’RE MADE OF BREATHABLE NYLON FOR A REASON). And I carefully laid my (actually breathable and waterproof) ski jacket over-top my (fantastic, amazing synthetic Snugpak SleeperLite) sleeping bag which I absolutely love to protect against my pathetic tent’s inadequacies. But it’s okay, I got over that a long time ago (clearly) because I only paid about $60 for it and it has aluminum poles. (And aluminum camping-anything is good. As we all know.)
It was a long night. When sun sets around 5 p.m. and you’re not tired, and your tent is the approximate size and shape of a body bag, there is nothing you can do but curl up with your hokkairo (um, hand warmer packs?Is there a normal English expression for these things?) and your clothes stuffed into a pillowcase and try to sleep while PLASTICATED NYLON (err I mean “breathable waterproof nylon”sic) flaps violently mere inches from your face and you wonder exactly how you would exit your tent/bivy sack/body bag if there was a storm surge because you forgot to pack your jackknife and then you think, hey, who needs water, I might just blow away in my sail tent. But you watched the news when the 2011 tsunami hits so generally you just think hey, if Edmond Dantes could get out of a stitched up body bag after getting heaved off the edge of the Chateau d’If (in a novel but it’s based on a true story so I don’t discount it entirely :p) than I should stand a chance of unzipping two zippers provided I have enough air in my lungs to float after exiting the thing (because you won’t know which way is up, which is how people often drown – swimming down thinking that it’s up in the dark water). And then, because you aren’t tired after mentally preparing for one-in-a-zillion chance disasters (but you should anyways, just in case, so you aren’t that one extra statistic), your kidneys continue working and you have to manage the contortionist bivy-tent/sleeping bag/extra blanket exit while keeping your cell phone, flash-light and keys/safety whistle all with you and attempting to contain any heat within your sleeping bag while you’re gone.
Oh, and by the way, your sleeping bag zipper is on the opposite side from your bivy-tent exit, so good luck sucker. LOL. I wish there was video. Imagine Jim Carrey exiting the rhino in Ace Ventura Pet Detective. I feel like that every time I exit that thing. Someone wanna mail me a Jim Carrey mask, and I’ll do the whole scene verbatim?
Anyway. I slept in fits and starts, and the next morning I woke up and I ate THIS for breakfast, because this, my friends, THIS is the breakfast of champions. Forget Tony the Tiger and remember THIS:
Salad. Peanuts. Octopus jerky. Oranges. And coffee. But when you’re bikepacking you don’t have room for kettles and coffeemakers and all that civilized crap like antiperspirant and Tensor wraps and Tylenol and other stuff that you would normally have with you…but I digress. You have room for the hydration bladder in your backpack, and a few packets of instant coffee…
One big mouthful of water. Dump that packet in there with the water. Swish a tiny bit and make faces before swallowing it as quickly as you can and hoping no one actually witnessed how cheap and/or desperate you are to get your coffee fix. I couldn’t have survived without it.
Shimanami Kaido Day 2 tales coming soon (or whenever I feel like it.)