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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Rausu to Teshikaga

We woke up to sunny skies, ready for a long ride that would take us to Teshikaga. The day was bright and sunny, and with memories of yesterday's difficult descent a distant memory we were ready! The Western side of the peninsula was flat, and I wondered for a bit as to whether the Eastern side would be similarly flat. The answer was no. As soon as we left town, we began to climb. It didn't go on for very long, but we were soon at a good height, and started a descent that went through no less than 4 tunnels! I forgot to switch out my sunglasses and in the middle of the fourth tunnel, I discovered that I couldn't see at all. All Japanese tunnels up to that point had been brightly lit. Fortunately, right on the edge of my vision I could see the edge of the sidewalk we were on, and therefore made it to the other side without incident.

The first 49km went really quickly, and we made a restroom stop in Shibetsu just before the 244 turn-off. The place turned out to be a market for souvenirs, with stuff we could taste and try before buying. We tried almost all the chocolate we could find, and then bought the melon chocolate which we found to be really really good. Buying that brought us a discount (the stall owner asked us where we were from and where we were going and decided to give us a break) and a gift of a snack. It was tough to not devour all the chocolate at one go, but we managed to leave some for the next rest stop.

We said goodbye to the coast and started heading inland on 244 before turning off onto the minor road 774. By staying onto 774 and 775, we hoped to stay off the main roads for a while and avoid heavy traffic. This worked. The terrain at this point developed into rolling hills, with several stream and river crossings every kilometer, so while none of them could be called a climb, the grades together with a consistent headwind made for much slower going than the coastal portion of the ride. We stopped again for a second rest break, and then a little later discovered why 775 could not take us directly to route 13: it turned into a little dirt road, just past an intersection for a Hot Springs called "Retirement Cow"! (At least, that's what the Chinese characters translate to)

No matter, we plotted a course to Highway 13, but when we got to the intersection, the road sign said Highway 31. We shrugged it off as a typo in the map we had, but a few kilometers later, the road signs switched to saying Highway 13, so it was only that particular sign that had a typo (of course, if we were in Italy, we would have not even considered that any map would be consistent with signage or directions!). We stopped for a lunch at a rather nice looking place right after the 243 intersection, and had a lovely lunch.

Pushing on afterwards we finally found a consistent climb that at the top of it, dropped us down towards Teshikaga. Once in Teshikaga, a quick stop at the train station brought us an information agent who taking a look at the Westerners in my party, decided that she would send us to a place that could serve Western Food! (All without telling me, of course) Thus it was that we ended up at Pension Bario, at the corner of 241 and Mashu Lake Hotsprings.
The place was very cute, and had its own hot springs that we could use 24 hours a day, but given how nice the weather was, we decided to ride up to Lake Mashu. When the owners of the B&B heard that we were going to do so, they immediately raised their fists and said, "Gambette!" One might surmise from this that it would be a tough climb, and one would be wrong. Without a load, the climb up Highway 52 to Lake Mashu was easy --- the Lake was only at 668m, and Teshikaga was at 200m. This was no tougher than Old La Honda road, even if we had already ridden 80km that day. The grade was gentle, only steepening near the top, but we had an incredibly strong South wind, which made it a wash.

The scenery today, however, made us very glad that we had skipped Lake Mashu earlier to pick it up on the second go around. The evening light was golden, striking both fields and the lake, and granting everything a glorious golden light.
From various vantage points near the lake, we could see Lake Kussharo as well. As clouds moved in, crepuscular beams came through the clouds and lit up patches of the landscape around us.
It was spectacular and moving. Unfortunately, with the wind, it was also getting cold very quickly, so after visits to both vantage points, we descended in a hurry to get to the hot bath and then dinner.

At the bath, I noticed that a lot of the visitors were laborers, washing up after a hard day at work. Anyone who's observed a Japanese person take a bath knows in his heart of hearts why the Japanese are the cleanest people on the planet: they really scrub down! You or I might think that we scrub down, but by the time a Japanese person is done scrubbing, you can be sure that every surface skin cell has been scrubbed off! While sitting in the outdoor bath, I started talking to one of them, and when he found out that I was actually a Chinese person from America, he complimented me on my Japanese.

Pension Bario served a Western dinner, but very much with a Japanese interpretation. We had a lovely soup, then a full size steak, and then in a very cute desert dish, fruit, ice-cream, and chocolate cake all at once. On top of that, we had amongst our plates several small dishes with corn, salad, and other vegetables. The meal was delicious, filling, and very satisfying.

Having ridden the longest day of the trip (143km and 1309m of climb) right after the shortest day of the trip, we slept well.

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