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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Shintoku "Drum Kan" to Yubari Forest Youth Hostel

Despite last night's forecast for rain, we awoke to sunny skies and another delicious Japanese breakfast. Since the weather was nice, we were not at all tempted to keep the ride short, but instead went for the longer route around the mountains with less traffic. After saying farewell to Drum Kan, we rode north on 718 which would then linked up with a side road that brought us to Highway 38, which we would then follow to the top of Karikachi pass. But first, we had some shopping to do, having exhausted all our supplies, including all our sunscreen! A visit to the local drug store, however, granted us only expensive sunscreen options that were really intended as cosmetics, not athletic use, with prices that even Yana, the most desperate for sunscreen amongst us could not stomach.

Karikachi pass was gentle, like many other Japanese passes. Unlike other Japanese passes, however, it's not surrounded by other tall mountains, so we got great views of the plains below, which unfortunately were captured on my camera which got lost. At the top there was a viewing platform with a poem, and a big touristy looking building with souvenirs, gift shops, and ice cream. Mark and Yana managed to find a new flavor to try, but I don't remember what it was.

Descending 38 to the intersection towards 1117 didn't take very long, and once we got onto 1117 the traffic indeed died down to a trickle. Looking at the map again, I finally understood why --- the automobile expressway only reached part way through this section of the mountains, which meant that anyone in a hurry to get to Sappro would bail out earlier and take 274. That meant that 274 got most of the traffic, leaving 1117 and 136 largely untraveled.

1117 wove a delicate little pattern with the railroad tracks, and climbed gently, though in spurts. By the time we got to the last freeway exit, though, we started seeing signs of major construction. It looked like there was a project to finish the expressway all the way to Sapporo, and when it's finally built cyclists would probably have the choice of 274 or 1117, depending on their taste for mountains.

Lunch was at a nondescript little town that served a nice Gyoza set menu. After lunch, our old nemesis the headwind showed up again, but this time we had a gentle rolling descent on our side, and so the next few miles towards Shimkappu went really quickly.

At Shimkappu, the tourist information office informed us that our original destination at Hidaka, while it had Hot Springs, did not actually have accommodations. Upon hearing this, Mark said, "Let's just go to Yubari while the weather holds up." That seemed like a great idea, so after a call to Yubari confirmed that they had space for us even though they were full (which I was sure was a misunderstanding on my part), we got on our bikes and headed on to 136 which became 610 after a tunnel.

610 turned out to be the best option, since it dropped us off onto 274 400m into a 600m climb, and as predicted the traffic was heavy. Convoys of cars and buses would pass us, and while the shoulder was adequate, some drivers were less competent than others, and any extra time spent was not appreciated. Finally, at the crest, we waited for a break in traffic and zipped down through a series of tunnels separated by bridges, which granted us lovely views of the valleys and hills around us --- except that we were pedaling too furiously trying to stay ahead of traffic to really appreciate it. This was the only time during the entire trip that I used my 49x11 gear.

After a while, it became apparent that I was doing too good a job staying ahead of traffic --- I was ahead of Mark and Yana by quite a bit as well! They eventually caught up when I stopped but in the mean while I could see why --- there were large convoys of army trucks and APCs on 274, and since they drove very cautiously (thank you!), as long as we could stay ahead of them or leap frog them a little bit, they did a great job keeping the traffic behind contained and let us ride traffic-free. I was so glad to see the Japanese Self Defense Forces being so polite on the roads.

The remaining charge towards Yubari was not difficult by any means, though I could imagine it being quieter and less traffic'd. Nevertheless, I was glad to be doing it when the weather was dry and we had ideal visibility --- doing it in the rain would just add more pain. But there was still one more surprise for us. At the intersection with 452, waw a sign that said Yubari town center, 16km. That was a surprise, but a quick map check quickly showed us that Yubari Forest Youth Hostel was less than 4km from where we were.

This time, we saw plenty of signs pointing us at the Youth Hostel, since we were coming from the direction most people would drive from. Arriving at the hostel at 5pm, we had ridden 133km and done 1547m of climbing, not as much as before, but all the climbing was loaded this time. Upon discussion with the hostel managers, I discovered why they said they were full but had room for us: they could give us the little cottage we had spied last time! What a nice place! It had a living room with a fire place, and a loft for beds.
I don't think you can mention Yubari Forest Youth Hostel in the same breath as any other youth hostels I've ever been in. The bath, surroundings, and dinner was as good as before, and though we were tired, we did not feel fatigued at the end of the day. In fact, I felt stronger than ever, indicating that this ride was working as intended --- easy enough to make me stronger and stronger during the tour, rather than breaking me down and leaving me a wreck at the end of the trip.

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