The Great Shimanami Kaido Bikecamping Adventure – The Final Day

WP_20151230_07_52_35_Pro.jpg

The view from this camp-ground is stunning.  It’s sheltered from the wind, and so compared to the previous night’s tent-in-a-tempest-rest, I slept like a baby.  More or less.  Less because the camp-ground is also a very popular spot for the locals, who wander past late at night walking their dogs, and then starting at roughly 5:30 a.m, weave their scooters through the NO BICYCLES PAST THIS POINT gate and ride down the footpath past your tent and along the cliff edge to their favourite fishing points.  I walked down this footpath.  It’s barely a footpath – I don’t think even my craziest dirt biking friends would try riding down it.  But, holding a 7 foot rod in one hand and a bucket in the other?  Why not, eh?  It doesn’t look so bad in this photo, because you can’t see around the corner where the paving stones are falling into the sea.  Oh, and it’s not dark out.

WP_20151229_15_00_17_Pro.jpgI sat at the end of a concrete pier and watched the sunrise while I ate a lovely breakfast (read: the rest of my peanuts and some octopus jerky) with some hot coffee and a bottle of orange juice from the camp-ground vending machine.  To say I needed it was an understatement.  I still had to ride 30 minutes back to the nearest convenience store, where I planned to sit down and eat a “real” breakfast (onigiri and French fries and fried chicken and another coffee) before riding the last 40 or so kilometres to Matsuyama.

It was a good plan, except I decided to stop at the convenience store across the road from the one I had been at the day before…and this conbini didn’t have seats.  Or kariage.  Or fried potato.  Fail.  No matter though, I ate some cheesy croissant thing and then I hit the road, Jack.

The road I took wasn’t the ideal cycling route.  At one point I was sandwiched between a high guard rail and large trucks.  It would have been fine had I been well-rested.  Instead, I was exhausted after about a thirty minute ride and desperate for the next convenience store.  So exhausted that when I spied one across the road, I misjudged the speed of an truck behind me before cutting gleefully across the road toward the LAWSONS sign, like iron to a magnet. Fwip.

Thankfully, there was no harm done, not even close, the truck was just a little faster than I figured.  I made a note to make sure I was 100% alert before carrying on.  (Not really up for dying just yet.)  Anyway, I refuelled myself and had a good long rest at the Lawsons café style seats, charged up my electronics at the provided plug-ins, watched through the window as a couple of older men discussed my loaded bicycle at great length.  I think I’d do the same, if I were in their place.  It’s not the kind of loaded bicycle you see every day…

After carrying on, my different route choice turned out wonderfully.  I happened to ride past (or possibly through!) a shipyard where I was shocked to see a brand new sister ship to the brand new ship just built in Innoshima.  They appear exactly the same except for their names, GLOBAL HIGHWAY and ORION HIGHWAY.  These ships are absolutely monstrous.

WP_20151230_10_50_05_Pro__highres.jpgGLOBAL HIGHWAY, near Onishi, Ehime Prefecture

WP_20160102_13_34_43_Pro.jpg

ORION HIGHWAY, Innoshima, Hiroshima Prefecture

Just past this shipyard, my route rejoined one of the recommended cycling routes from Imabari to Matsuyama.  There are two promoted routes – one is a mountain route, and one is a nice, easy coastal ride.  Guess which one I rode?  Once again, I had the beautiful blue line to guide me.  The weather was perfect, the ride was great.  There are no hills, just a few slight inclines along the coast.  Once the route juts inland towards Matsuyama, there are only a couple of large hills, but all in all it was a very enjoyable ride.  I found the ride preferable to the Shimanami Kaido proper and all its bridge ramps, from an ease-of-use-whilst-pedalling-dead-weight-bicycle perspective.  Once inside the city, the blue line will take you directly to Dogo Onsen, so I had a little bit of navigating to do before I reached the JR Station (due to one-way streets and lack of bicycle crossings this was slightly trickier than it would be by car or on foot).

I picked up a nice selection of Matsuyama maps at the tourist information booth, had the attendant circle my hotel for me in red, and off I went.  I was ready to fall over and being self-sufficient was nowhere on my priority list at this point.  (My priority list, incidentally, was this:  1 – Don’t get in an accident. 2 – Don’t fall over. 3 – Find hotel. 4 – Shower. Lots.  5 – FOOD!)

I wish I had video of my arrival at the hotel.  It has a very posh lobby with marble tiles and gilt lion statues at the door, and plush carpeting and leather sofas inside.  I parked my bike on the marble and went on in, sunburned, sweaty, helmeted, cycling tights, disgusting 10 year old shoes, and checked in.  And asked where the bike parking was.  Around the back somewhere.  And apparently I was supposed to bring my “luggage” into the lobby first.  So, I did that.  It was a fantastic moment.  Suited, immaculately groomed clerks watched as I hauled in my trash-bag-reflective-taped camping gear and deposited it on the lobby floor along with my tent and backpack.  That was that.  I had arrived.  I enquired if I might have a box in order to ship my camping gear home.  I was done bike camping.  My knees had had enough.  I would ride back to Imabari on a bike about 5 kilograms lighter.

After a fantastically long bath and well-deserved beer from the hotel vending machine, I took a stroll down to a magical restaurant and had the meal of my life.   A long visit to the hotel onsen ended the last day of my Great Shimanami Kaido Bikecamping Adventure.

I would do it again in a heartbeat…on a different bike. 😉

WP_20160101_13_22_43_Pro.jpg

Advertisements

The Great Shimanami Kaido Bikecamping Adventure – Day 2

Well, dollars short and days late, here’s the next instalment of the tale.

Before doing any storytelling, I’m going to digress for a bit and break down exactly how heavy my stuff was.  Let’s start with the bicycle itself.  It’s a Made in China steel frame bicycle with huge oversize tubes whose only purpose is to mimic the large tubes of light, carbon framed road bikes that usually weigh less than 10 kilos.  When you make the same size frame in cheap steel and add on fenders, baskets and the cheapest brand-named accoutrements you think will entice people to buy the bicycle (Shimano RevoShifters and Shimano derailleur/gearset, in my case), you end up with a bicycle weighing somewhere between 18 and 20 kg.  I have to say “somewhere between” because the scale seemed at risk of breaking when I weighed it, so I can’t be too sure…

WP_20160103_21_09_13_Pro__highres.jpgTOP ONE – SHOES, BIKES, WHATEVER YOU WANT, FROM CHINA.  Bike logo reads “Find your soul.” Well, that didn’t work.

Now let’s add up the luggage!

  • Bivy tent – 1.5 kg
  • Sleeping bag – 1.65 kg
  • Fleece blanket and sleeping mat – 1.41 kg
  • Tools/tube etc. – 1.4 kg
  • 20L capacity backpack with hydration pack – 4.7 kg
  • Grand Total – 10.66 kg

Yeah…that’s nearly 30 kg…over half my body weight…if I were to do this again on the same 18 kg beast, I would take only one thing – a credit card in my back pocket.  I understand why “credit card touring” is a phrase.  Anybody riding a 6 gear human-powered locomotive should definitely choose this option when travelling more than 30 km.

But let’s get back to the story.  Hitting the trail that morning meant first pushing those 30 kg up the steep spiral road and ramp to get back onto the bridge.  I had to take a rest on the way up.  By “take a rest” I mean I parked the bike beside the road and went for a very short hike in order to catch a glimpse of one of the fastest currents in Japan,  called “ship-breaker.”  Here’s a photo of the strait off in the distance…

WP_20151229_09_21_40_Pro.jpgFUNAORISETO (ship-breaking current), HAKATAJIMA

Eventually I did get back up onto the bridge.  My muscles were nowhere near recovery – they were busy trying to transition from jelly stage to the full-on ache.  They never got the chance.  I had ‘em warmed up and feeling good in a jiffy, cruising along down the ramp to Oshima.  I knew my legs were shot, but hey, I thought, there are a ton of cafes along the road on Oshima.  I’m gonna stop for a leisurely coffee about halfway through the island, and then it’s just one more bridge before I reach Imabari on Shikoku.  Now, here’s a free Japanese lesson for you.  大島 These two kanji mean “big” and “island.”  I knew that before of course, but I’ve only driven across this island.  When you drive the Shimanami Kaido, you essentially skim over top the highest points of each island.  When you ride the Shimanami Kaido, you only use the same portions of the route as the automobile traffic on the bridges.  Bicycles leave the nice, straight, level highway to ride along the local roads before climbing the ramp and rejoining the bridges on the other end of each island.

On I rode.  I don’t know how many cafés I spotted, closed signs gleaming in the sunlight as I rolled on by, but by the time the slope began, I was more than ready for a stop.  Just a little further, I told myself, and there’s sure to be an open café.

But no…it turns out that Big Island probably also meant Big Vertically High Gigantic Never-ending Slope Island in its original form.  I’ll have to ask around.  I nearly died on Oshima, and that’s no exaggeration.  On the way up, I had no choice but to park the bike beside the road a couple of times and sit down for a break so my legs, lungs, and circulatory system could recover a bit.  Now let’s talk about the mental game.  Imagine you’re on a bicycle.  You pass a throng of high-school aged boys wearing big hiking packs (3/4 empty, but still…) who seem to be hiking at least a portion of the Shimanami.  Good for them, you think.  I wonder how long it will take them to reach Imabari.  On you go….and then you began to sense your heart giving out, so you stop for a rest.  And the throng of young’uns goes by you and your bicycle.  On foot.

As it turned out, the physical and mental struggle up the hill was a mere foreshadowing of my imminent demise.  I reached the crest of the hill in a sort of grim, I-have-conquered-the-mountain-but-must-yet-descend-alive state of mind.  I soon discovered how important this cautious, mindful attitude was.  Down I cruised, the occasional vehicle passing me.  If the cars were going 70 km/h than I would have been going about 50km.  I’ve measured myself at 60 kms/hr on a bicycle before (not this one!!) and this was getting close.  A concrete curb separated the shared foot and bicycle path from the road.  I stayed on the road, knowing the danger of attempting to ride down the footpath with a throng of backpacking kids ahead of me.  Soon I caught up to them, a herd of tired sleepy pheromonal boys running down the steep hill in a mob, almost tripping over their own feet.  Imagine recently tranquilized elephants attempting to stampede.  No, I’m not exaggerating.  My speed increased.  The traffic increased.  Stopping was impossible.  Managing my brakes without glazing them over (if you heat them up too much the rubber hardens and renders them useless ) became my priority.  Suddenly there was a bumper-to-bumper line of trucks and buses and the odd car, locking me and my 30 kg bike into the small space along that pretty blue line and concrete curb.  And then about 5 of the dopey stumbling morons hopped off of the sidewalk and blocked my path.

It was awfully close.  My blazing white and orange and reflective-stickered-garbage-bag get-up was shooting down the steep slope like a cyclist express train to hell, my neon-yellow mini-gloved left hand hitting the bell trigger as often as I could while trying to keep the brake lever at a moderate level so as to not rip the brake pad out of its cheap holder or ruin my steering while trucks flew past about 20 cm from my right shoulder.  I didn’t have enough time to think of something to yell besides the expletives on the tip of my tongue, yet somehow I managed to not yell those, which in hindsight was quite a massive failure on my part.  I’m sure it would have given me much more time.  We had about a 1 second cushion, if that.  I nearly got one boy’s back with my handlebar.  Boys jumping, tires skidding, the last one barely got his dopey arse out of my way and I let go of the brakes to just let that abused bike coast all the way to the stop sign, however many kilometres ahead.  It was either that, or stop and have a serious altercation/freak out with/at a bunch of strangers who in all fairness were probably more exhausted than I was BUT JUST ABOUT KILLED US ALL! This is the sort of thing you figure no one is stupid enough to do, until you see it, and you want to stop and lock the perpetrators up with accident videos and knowledge tests until they’re qualified to walk in public again.  OMG. m_O_m  OMG.  Definitely my closest call in Japan.  Or anywhere…I remember hoping my helmet wouldn’t work so I wouldn’t be paralyzed for the rest of my life…LOL.  Seems funny now.  Kind of.

Oh, and there were still no open cafes.  At that point I figured I’d just been handed another chance at life, so I’d better just keep soldiering on.  After all, there was only one more bridge between me and Imabari…and then I reached the bottom of that bridge, and this is what I saw:

WP_20151229_10_40_05_Pro.jpgYES, THE BRIDGE IS SKY-HIGH AND ENDLESS, BUT WHAT’S A BIT MORE SUFFERING AFTER A NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE?WP_20151229_10_44_15_Pro__highres.jpg

The ramp up to the bridge is pretty long and therefore gradual, thankfully, and it really shouldn’t have been too hard, but anyone that’s ever had a terrifying experience will know the physical effect that the adrenalin rush has on you – after it’s done, your body crashes – luckily, only metaphorically.  I met a bunch of Filipinos at the entrance to the bridge.  They stayed at the rest stop and I said goodbye and headed off.  They passed me about five minutes later, on their mama-charis, and I didn’t care one whit.  I didn’t die today.  Whatever. 

The “one last bridge” I referred to above is actually a series of joined suspension bridges called the Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge, which just so happens to be the world’s longest suspension bridge structure.  *maniacal laughter*

Roughly half way along the series is an island called “Horse Island” (Umashima).  Way back when, somebody with too much money and too little brainpower thought raising warhorses on a tiny rocky outcrop was a brilliant idea…obviously, that failed, but the name stuck.  LOL.  I love Japan.  Anyway… people still live on the island, so for scooter and bicycle access (no car access from the bridge) there is actually an ELEVATOR down to the island.  Yes, an elevator.  You take your bike in with you, press down, waaay down, and poof, you’re no longer on a high, cold, windy bridge – you’re on a magical island where it’s warm and sunny!  The Kurushima Strait is also one of Japan’s fast currents, but at this point, do you think I cared?  No.  But there’s picture below.  And so I had a picnic, and then I laid back and had myself a little nap.  I don’t know how long I was there, but you may recall a herd of dopey boys walking along…

WP_20151229_12_19_01_Pro.jpgKURUSHIMA STRAIT

Back up the elevator I went, and rode along the bridge until the shipyard cranes of Imabari loomed up before me.  The descending ramp and the shipyard backdrop is spectacular, to put it mildly.  Anyway, I was taking it slowly and carefully going down the ramp, which was quite busy with foot and bicycle traffic and even a couple with a baby stroller, but of course everyone following the rules of the road…

WP_20151229_12_37_40_Pro.jpg

Until whom should I see again, but the herd of boys.  Which is fine.  I’d calmed down by this point.  But the complete morons did it AGAIN.  The ramp is about 2 metres wide.  The edges are shoulder high concrete.  And they bunched up and blocked the entire ramp.  Well, I let one expletive out earlier in the day when I nearly died.  I wasn’t going to let this inanity get to me now.  Instead I rang that bell like it was dinnertime and death-glared them on the way by.  Yeah, I’ll show them.  Ding-ding-stare.  LOL.  Should have stopped, cuffed them all on the head and demanded forehead-touching-ground apologies and maybe a case of beer and some firstborn children or something.  But I’m a softie.

Now, my original plan was to spend the afternoon at Imabari onsens and retire to a campground later in the day…but all I could think about was sleeping and getting to Matsuyama.  So I found the campground, pitched my tent, and waited for the sun to set before collapsing.  I should mention that the campground felt quite a bit farther away from the Shimanami Kaido than it looked on the map, and there were absolutely no restaurants or convenience stores nearby, and I ate peanuts and jerky for supper when all I wanted was some proper food…but hey, I wasn’t dead.  Yet.  You gotta look on the bright side.

WP_20151229_14_25_25_Pro.jpgHEY, IT’S THE BRIGHT SIDE!  ROCKS THAT LOOK LIKE WHALES, WOW!

Day 3.  Coming sometime in the near or not-so-near future.

The Great Shimanami Kaido Bikecamping Adventure

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.

WP_20151229_10_03_59_Pro.jpg

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.

WP_20151228_15_15_22_Pro.jpg

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.

WP_20151229_09_26_53_Pro.jpg

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.)

WP_20151229_08_36_35_Pro.jpg

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:

WP_20151229_11_35_22_Pro.jpgSalad.  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…

WP_20151229_11_58_36_Pro.jpg

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.)

 

 

 

 

Of Oranges and Hassakus*

A specific type of orange was developed here in Innoshima – the hassaku.  It is generally larger than a navel orange and has a bitter initial taste that I would describe as a cross between an orange and a grapefruit, with the inner fruit tasting mildly sweet.  I love them.  They are now my favourite fruit and I wish I had access to them before!  Below is a picture of a bag of hassakus, with two natsumikans (summer oranges) in front of them.  Natsumikans are HUGE, like a large grapefruit.  They have a very thick rind and pale orange, nearly yellow flesh.  The bananas are for size reference…

090620145571 

 

After falling in love with hassakus and later on being able to afford bread as a splurge, I decided that a major splurge was in order – marmalade. Not just any marmalade would do – I had seen miniscule jars of hassaku marmalade and got it into my pretty little head (okay, debatable adjectives) that I was going to find a decent size jar of hassaku marmalade. So I did…and it cost me the equivalent of about $10 Canadian…Ouch.
140520145338

It was really good, but I being the strange person that I am prefer a more bitter marmalade. So although my love affair with fresh hassakus remains extremely passionate, it does not extend to the jammy side of things.
 

 
How ironic it was then, this morning, when an extremely kind older lady presented me with a jar of homemade marmalade! If that’s not a spectacular thing to happen right at the start of one’s day, I don’t know what is.

 
150620145574

 I can’t tell you how it compares to my hassaku marmalade, because I won’t open it until the other jar is nearly finished. Fridge space is limited in my little apartment size fridge and I won’t sacrifice it for the sake of a marmalade review!

 

*N.B. This is in reference to the phrase “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” from Robert Burns’ actual phrase “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft agley,”  The point being that to me, oranges are mere mice compared to hassakus (The joke being that my best-laid scheme to produce a pun based on that line went completely awry by the necessity of explaining it…).

Onomichi Minato Matsuri (Port Festival) – Part 2

Image

This is a Shinto mikoshi (神輿), or portable shrine, which is only taken out of its small shed-type building (see below) during festivals like this one.  This particular mikoshi is the mikoshi of Hachiman Jinja (八幡神社). It isn’t something you normally get to see when you visit a shrine, as the main building where actual worship is performed is a larger one.  This building is only big enough to encase the mikoshi.

Image

 

After watching the dance competition, we walked along the boardwalk at the water’s edge and checked out the various food stalls set up for the festival.  (The food is for another post.)  As we ate our snacks, we saw a mikoshi (portable shrine) being carried off down the street, away from the stage.  We went back to the stage area to witness the processional displays of various Onomichi-area shrines.  And what is the point of this exercise, you may well ask? Originally, it meant this:

“The essence of the procession . . . is the movement of the kami through the parish. This is accompanied by a symbolic transfer of the kami from the inner sanctuary to an ornate and gilded sacred palanquin {mikoshi) , which becomes temporarily the abode of the kami.”  Ono Sokyo,Shinto: The Kami Way (Rutland and Tokyo, 1962),p. 68.  (“kami” means “god”)

For much more detailed reading on the roots and possible significance of various aspects of the mikoshi processions, see this page:  http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/nfile/998

The teams of men displayed various types of mikoshi-carrying steps and calls (which are essentially work-chants – “hai-za” means “left-right”).  The swaying, swinging, and ringing of bells is supposed to amuse the god being carried inside.  To me, the most impressive display seemed to be the spinning of the mikoshi.  Unfortunately I couldn’t get any video of it, so you’ll have to settle for a description and a blurry photo.  Imagine a team of men carrying an excessively heavy and awkward burden on their shoulders that transform into one giant spin-the-bottle display, using the mikoshi as a fulcrum for a high-speed merry-go-round.  As if this wasn’t hard enough, try switching out people during the maneuver, because you can’t have a tired guy fall down and trip up the whole team.  That might make kami angry, instead of amused.  Besides, after you’re done running in circles, you might have to lift the whole mikoshi up with only one hand each…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2guqOa8Jg48
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBW0iOHh7HY
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0hAjSD2GSM
270420144551

Onomichi Minato Matsuri (Port Festival) – Part 1

270420144511

I’m currently living within the geographical boundaries of Onomichi City…but if you want to be technical about it, I’m actually a resident of one of Onomichi’s neighbouring islands, Innoshima. The settlements in this area owe their very existence to the sea, and sure enough, there is a related festival – the Onomichi Port Festival (Minato Matsuri). The festival celebrates Onomichi port’s construction, which began in 1740. When the shipyards were in their heyday, Innoshima had over 50,000 residents and therefore had the right to call itself a city, etc. etc. Nowadays, its population is under 30,000. Innoshima has been merged into the island-gobbling conglomerate of Onomichi City. That, my friends, is why having a port is a big deal around here. No port = no shipyard = no city. (I should explain that Mukaishima, Innoshima, and Ikuchijima) do have “ports” but they are small and used for ferries…therefore they don’t throw festivals to celebrate…)

The festival runs over a full weekend, but I attended on Sunday afternoon only, which means I missed the famous Minato Matsuri parade…but witnessed three other spectacular events (and some other things which can’t rightly be described as spectacular but that I find noteworthy in their own small insignificant ways and will therefore share with you anyway). Onomichi is a short, five-minute/100 yen ferry ride across the sliver of sea that separates it from Mukaishima, Innoshima’s northern-neighbouring island. In order to reach Mukaishima, I had to brave the currents and swim through swarms of jellyfish. No, I’m just checking if you’re reading carefully. Actually, a friend drove me to a parking spot beside the ferry port, as it is much more convenient to take the ferry across than attempt to find parking in Onomichi during its most famous festival.

What you can’t see in these photos/videos is the temperature – it was hot. The sun was out in full, and it felt about 26 degrees Celsius at least. When the students whirled on the dry lawn, maelstroms of dust and brown grass bits whirled too. The MC yelled into the microphone to start off each school’s dance entry. He seemed to alternate between “LET’S GET IT ON!!!!” and a couple of non-offensive, school-age-child-appropriate phrases that naturally I can’t remember now.

Let me explain a little about who makes this festival happen…In Part 1 (this post) you can see photos of school students participating in a dance competition between schools. There are hundreds of students who have been practicing singing/chanting and dancing to the same piece of music, again and again on different days, after their full school day, in addition to the ridiculously heavy workload they already have. Some of the students walk an hour to school and then walk back home afterwards. After school, if they don’t have club activities or make-up tests or preparation for major events like the Onomichi Minato Matsuri, they may have to come learn English from me.

I hope you enjoy these clips and appreciate their efforts.


Here are clips of this year’s winning school: