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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Yubari Forest Youth Hostel to Lake Shikotsu "Lapland"

We woke up to cloudy skies, but at least all our laundry were dry. We would not need to do laundry for the rest of the trip! Having spent all our remaining cash last night on our stay at the Yubari Forest Youth Hostel, our first stop was to find an ATM. Backtracking to 274 got us to a 7-11, and once again we filled up with snacks and cash.

Since we were a day ahead of schedule, so we had flexibility. Since I did not fancy another ride into Sapporo, I showed Yana and Mark the choices: we could ride down to the Pacific Coast, or ride over to Lake Shikotsu, which was part of our original plan but got jettisoned due to the weather. Yana made the decision: Lake Shikotsu.

The remaining part of 274 wasn't very wearing, since all the hills were behind us. But Mark and Yana seemed to be worn out by the previous day's efforts, so I had to stop once in a while to let them catch up. Right past a big long bridge, I took a long wait and saw a Japanese cyclist riding by with a green Carradice Nelson saddlebag and a matching Giles Berthoud handlebar bag. That was the first saddlebag tourist I'd seen all this time in Japan other than ourselves.

Past the bridge, we pulled into a parking lot that had restrooms, and ran into a bunch of club riders just preparing for a ride. We stopped and had a friendly chat --- they were fascinated by Mark's self-made fender, and my GPS mount and GPS-unit. They started giving us packets of strange-looking Japanese food, and I had to reciprocate by giving them my last pack of Clif Shots. I hope they thought it was a worthwhile trade. I told them we were going to Lake Shikotsu, and they told me that there was a bike path all the way from Chitose to the Lake, which sounded great.

From there on, the ride to Chitose was straightforward, with signs pointing us towards the city. Unfortunately, as we got close to Chitose at 337, the traffic got much worse. I scratched my head over this, since there was an expressway, but then realized that the expressway was a tollway, while the local roads were free. I plotted an alternate route on the GPS and got us into Chitose via a less-traveled route.

Once in town, we saw several big box retailers and a little restaurant that looked surprisingly packed. A stop to examine it showed it to be a Sushi-boat place!
The timing was right so we called for a stop and ate there. Each seating position had its own little tea-tap, and it wasn't just sushi that made the rounds --- we also got fried chicken, mini-hamburgers, mousse and cakes. It was like dim sum, and the food was really good, if expensive (as you might expect from being so close to the big city).

After lunch, we visited the big box retailer-looking supermarket, and finally found sunscreen for about 600 Yen. It was even SPF 50 too, and given that the sun had come out, we immediately applied it and rode on to our last night of adventure.

Navigating the city was easy: we looked for 337, and then followed it to Highway 16 towards the Lake, which was well-signed, being part of a National Park. The bike path, however, wasn't as well signed, and when we saw the entrance it was headed in a completely different direction, so we ignored it on our first visit, since Highway 16 didn't seem that bad. Of course, right after that Highway 16 got a lot worse, with big tour busses passing us on a 2-lane highway with a divided median. As soon as we crested the first big hill, I looked right, saw the bike path next to the road, and immediately rode over to it.

The bike path looked like every other example of why bike paths are a bad idea: the path was strewn with leaves, sand, and dirt, since traffic wasn't sufficient to keep it clean, and it would be too costly to regularly clean all 25km of it. If this was a German bike path, it would be strewn with glass from beer bottles, but it being Japan, we saw not even a single wrapper or other bit of litter, so the riding proceeded without any incident.

When the bike path ended, we followed the signs to the main touristy area of the lake, and there got to the information center. The place looked like a tourist trap, though, complete with lake side ice cream shops, plenty of food, and a parking lot that charged visitors (though not cyclists). We settled on the recommended lodging on the touring Mapple, which was a place called Lapland. We then tooled around for the area, eating ice cream and enjoying the sights (including Hokkaido's oldest railroad bridge, which had been dismantled and brought here as a museum piece), before getting tired of it all and riding over to Lapland, which required climbing back up the hill, heading over to 276, and riding down the hill via a bike path that was very well maintained and fast (6% grade).

Lapland turned out to be a nice looking country cottage. They did not have showers, but just like Drum Kan, were willing to drive us to the Hot Springs (where we had just ridden from) where we could pay 600 yen each to use the baths. We did precisely that.

My guess is that when you have short notice visitors, you don't have much time to cook, so you throw together a BBQ. Thus we had our final Jingus Kan dinner at Lapland.

We had gone 88.2km that day, and only climbed 535m, but the trip was almost over. The ride to the lake was almost completely uphill, so we knew tomorrow would literally be downhill all the way to the airport, and did not object when told that breakfast would be served at an unusually late 8:00am.

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