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Check out the movies at:  http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=BBFDA88DB63368B7

Well, today was memorable, to say the least. Getting up, we saw it was raining steadily, and still pretty windy, though not as bad as yesterday. But, if we wanted to see Rebun and Rishiri islands, we needed to get moving, so after more convenience store breakfast (the bread is really quite good, as is the apple juice) we got into our rain gear, took a deep breath and off we went.

The rain didn’t let up all day. Neither did the wind. Nor did the temperature get above 55, and often was below 50. We were soaked within minutes of leaving the hotel, and by the time we turned up the coast, we were soaked, cold and ready to be done riding. With this motivation, we made it all the way to Cape Soya, the northernmost tip of Japan, in record (for us) time. The howling wind was, very fortunately, at our backs or sides most of the ride. Had we been riding into it, I am sure we would have stopped before even reaching the cape. It was again 15-20mph sustained, but this time with the additional joys of rain and cold. Cape Soya was pretty bleak, with busloads of tourists running out of their buses with ineffectual umbrellas to get a picture of themselves at the cape, then hurrying back to the warm safety of their seats. Bastards.  Well, we stopped just long enough to get some pictures and use the restrooms, and we were off for Wakkanai and a hotel, any hotel, with a warm shower

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The last 40km to Wakkanai, the weather got even worse, if that were possible. the temperature dropped, the rain stayed steady and the wind grew worse. Now, we’re healthy and in shape, and used to the cold, but even we were getting a bit concerned about all of this. My hands would no longer move much, being able to brake, and that’s about it. Being completely drenched, the wind was cooling us down far more than it normally would, and we needed to stop soon. So, as we were heading up the main road into Wakkanai, the original plan to get to the station to ask for help making a reservation was scrapped as soon as Sumi recognized one of the hotels from online. We pulled in, completely soaked, filthy from the road dirt that the bikes kick up, red-faced and freezing, and proceeded into their very nice, clean business hotel lobby, seriously hoping they had a room open and weren’t going to kick us out, the way we looked.

The staff looked very surprised, but their good Japanese Service Training kicked in, and we got a room. They thoughtfully brought us postage stamp-sized towels so we could try and stop dripping on their floor, but we were afraid to use them, as everything we touched became filthy and covered in dirt. Even after five minutes in the lobby, my hands still couldn’t grip or move well, and it took several minutes for me to pull out my passport for the front desk clerk, and the shivering and shaking wouldn’t stop. We picked the right time to stop. As we found out later, a group of Hokkaido mountain climbers were separated from their tour guides that day and later died from exposure in similar weather conditions. Now remember, we’re doing this for FUN.
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After drowning ourselves in the shower for almost half an hour and finally getting warmed and cleaned up, I moved the bikes to a convenient spot the hotel staff had shown me, and we headed out for some dinner. The main road we were on had all the great Japanese restaurants: Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds, Big Boy (yes, Victoria’s Big Boy, in Wakkanai). We settled on Sukiya, which is essentially what you would get if you combined McDonalds with traditional Japanese food. About the same price, about the same quality. But it was hot, and we hadn’t had a real meal since the yakitori. After that, it was more mundane stuff like laundry (a great little shack with exactly two washers and dryers) and cleaning up and blog writing. Tomorrow, hopefully, will at least be warmer for our trip to the islands.
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Wakkanai!

After a very windy but dry night, we’re up quite early and ready to get moving.

A few hours of morning sunshine

A few hours of morning sunshine

Deer on the side of a mountain

Deer on the side of a mountain

A tunnel THROUGH the mountain. Although reflective trailer tape and blinking LED bike lights are a must for some of these narrow tunnels (the longest one we road through was nearly 4 km), most had very little traffic.

A tunnel THROUGH the mountain. Although reflective trailer tape and blinking LED bike lights are a must for some of these narrow tunnels (the longest one we road through was nearly 4 km), most of them had very little traffic.

As we leave the mountains around Utanabori and head towards Hamatonbetsu and the northern coastline of Hokkaido, the road becomes flatter.

Cow country - feels like home!

Cow country - feels like home!

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The wind had calmed down a bit during the day, but as we arrived in town it had picked up some serious force, and was becoming a bit of a menace. Our original plan to camp at Lake Kucharo was nixed the moment we turned into the wind. My guess was sustained 20 mph with gusts up to 40. When biking into the wind directly, we were almost standing still.

There was an end of term school festival getting started as we headed through town, with the entire school walking down the street dressed in various outfits (maids, bride and groom, gothic something or other). Since nowadays people taking pictures and videos of school festivals are looked on suspiciously (many have ended up on “the internets” without  permission), we refrained from taking any photos or video, but it was amusing to see.

As we were attempting to get to the hotel by the lake, we were chased down by a guy on a skateboard yelling “Sumimasen!” (excuse me). It turns out that an English teacher from a nearby “town” of about 800 had come to the “city” (Hamatonbetsu: population no more than 10000, probably less) for the festival (his friend is an English teacher here). Alex, as it turns out, was born and raised about a mile or so from our house in Wauwatosa, WI! Once we got over the shock, we marveled at how we traveled half way around the world, only to meet a man who lives down the street from us, who in America we would never have met. We gave him our contact info, as he needed to get back to the festival, and we needed to find a hotel. Hopefully, we’ll get in touch with him when we’re all back in the States. Too weird!

As our dwindling luck would have it, the hotel by the lake was full. The man at the desk did have a map with other places to stay, so we went searching. This was the first time there was no main train station with an information booth to rely on. Our next choice seemed not to exist, or was hidden from gaijin view, so we ended up at the Hamatonbetsu Hotel (original name. . .). The owner was an old man everyone called “shachou” (boss, or president). He was kind enough to let us put our bikes in the front foyer, and when we asked about coin laundry, he told us to use their laundry (free of charge). Of course, there was no dryer, but he also told us to use their lines they set up in the boiler room. We really felt like we were imposing, but he insisted. Turns out the only coin laundry in town was at the campsites by the lake!

So, as today was my birthday (happy birthday to me…), I wanted something other than convenience store food for dinner. Asking at the front desk, the woman recommended the Yakitori (grilled chicken) place across the street. She forgot to mention that they didn’t open for another hour and a half, and there were no hours posted out front (there rarely are for these kinds of places), so we bumbled our way in to the surprise of the owner (oops!). She let us know when they opened. We apologized and came back outside to find the poor hotel clerk running across the street, apologizing for not telling us. Ah, well.

So we killed time by stocking up on food at the local supermarket and reorganizing our stuff (or, if you were Sumi, by taking a nap). Going back inside, we found the menu posted on the walls (traditional for Japanese restaurants) and the place was filled with the smell of grilling chicken. Sumi ordered the Yakitori set meal and I decided to try curry ramen and a side of gyoza (steamed dumplings). The food was fantastic. Hokkaido knows how to feed people, that’s for sure. After my “birthday dinner”, we crawled back across the street and passed out, hoping tomorrow would not bring the wind and rain the forecast was promising.

Happy Birthday in Hamatonbetsu, Hokkaido

Happy Birthday in Hamatonbetsu, Hokkaido

Birthday Dinner

Birthday Dinner

The overnight rain at Lake Shumarinai cleared up early, giving us a promising day of cycling ahead. So, after a quick shower, we headed out. Our first goal was 35km to Bifuka for some real food, then the remaining 70km to Utanobori. The roads continued to be beautiful and quiet. At one stretch heading into Bifuka, I think we saw less than 10 cars in the hour and a half we took climbing the very steep mountain between the lake and Bifuka.

Sayanora, Lake Shumarinai...

Sayanora, Lake Shumarinai...

Heading intoo Bifuka

Heading into Bifuka

Bifuka is a small, quiet town with very little on the main road to cater to tourists. While we were stopped at a light, looking at our maps and trying to find a convenience store, at the least, to get some food, an ojiisan (old man) came up to us and asked us about our bikes and where we were going. His accent and lack of teeth made him difficult to understand, but we communicated that we were biking through and looking for some curry rice (kareeraisu). He didn’t know of any curry restaurants, and we were content with the Seicomart down the street, but he shuffled off and started flagging down people on the street, asking them where the two gaijin could get curry. Eventually, he came back, after consulting with several women out shopping, and said there was a diner (shoukudou) that served ramen, but also did curry and gave us directions.

Well, now we had no choice, after that production, so we hesitantly followed his directions to the shokudou. We were pleasantly surprised. The food was quite good, the place was clean and comfortable and ojiisan stopped by to make sure we got there all right (we gave him a thumbs up through the window).

Lunch in Bifuka

Lunch in Bifuka

Curry rice and Hokkaido soba noodles

Curry rice and Hokkaido soba noodles

After our first full meal in over a day, we were more ready for a nap than another 4 hours of biking, but we had good weather and some ground to make up and we were planning on camping. So back on the road we went. It was more of the same beautiful mountain biking we’d become accustomed to: slow climb up the mountain, quick coast down the mountain. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Mountainside waterfall and river

Mountainside waterfall and river

Ready to coast down!

Ready to coast down!

We arrived at the Utanobori Golf Club, Onsen, National Park and Campground (seriously) late in the afternoon, with no bad weather and no traffic. The hotel by the golf course was nice enough, but I was determined to take advantage of the good weather and camp. After 100+ km of biking and happily coasting downhill into Utanobori, we were somewhat dismayed to learn that the campgrounds were at the top of yet another mountain.

As it turns out, we never actually FOUND the campsites, because after 1.5 miles climbing at sometimes an 8% grade to the top of the mountain, we saw a park area, and that was it for us (apparently the camping area was up yet ANOTHER hill. . .we’ll never really know): We set up camp right in the middle of the park next to a large wooden sign to block the increasingly strong wind.

Camping at the top of a deserted mountain park

Camping at the top of a deserted mountain park

Campsite View

Campsite View

Back down the mountain to the onsen for a very welcome bath in a true hot spring onsen, then dinner at the hotel. It was nothing special (we had their version of spaghetti and meat sauce), but satisfying enough and definitely better than the last campground meal of breakfast bars and trail mix.  Back up the mountain, slowly, to a very windy campsite, but the shelter from the sign helped quite a bit, and we didn’t blow away.

Got up to more rain this morning, but we really need to be on our way if we’re ever going to make it to Wakkanai and the islands. So, we packed ourselves up, put on our rain gear, and off we went.

Farmland on the way out of Asahikawa

Farmland on the way out of Asahikawa

Today’s biking ended up really very good, The rain stopped shortly after we left the city limits of Asahikawa, though it stayed overcast for much of the day. The roads and scenery were wonderful, though the mountains don’t seem to be getting any smaller. We passed through a few small towns, but for the most part it was nothing but trees, mountains, rivers and road. Very peaceful.

Up into the mountains. . .

Up into the mountains. . .

. . .view from the near top.

. . .view from the near top.

. . .and heading back down again!

. . .and heading back down again!

North of Asahikawa and between cities/towns, vehicular traffic is very sparse

North of Asahikawa and between cities/towns, motorized traffic is very sparse

Every bridge we crossed had a name with a sign like this

Every bridge we crossed had a name with a sign

Luuch break on the side of the road, near the farming village of Horokanai

Luuch break on the side of the road, near the farming village of Horokanai

On the way back down the last peak shortly before Lake Shumarinai, we  stopped for some ice cream at what looked like a rest stop but what turned out to be Seiwa Onsen, one of the places we had considered staying at. . .but since we already had reservations at Lake Shumarinai, off we went again.

A couple of touring (motor)cyclist at the mountain reststop/stopover of Seiwa Onsen

A couple of touring (motor)cyclist at the mountain reststop/stopover of Seiwa Onsen

Lake Shumarinai is a man-made lake, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at it (except for the huge dam at the southern end). It apparently draws boaters and fishers by the droves in the summertime. I say “apparently” because it was desolate, except for one camping family and us, and everything — and I mean EVERYTHING — was closed. No food. No drinks. No bait shop. Nothing. For miles.

Strangely, though, the pay showers were open and running.  Funny thing about these pay showers. It is 5 minutes for $1, which since you can pause the shower if you’re not actively using the water is plenty of time — of course we discovered this AFTER our very hurried first 5 minute shower.  However, the light inside the shower (the shower is basically a big plastic box) is also on a timer. . .but only a 1 minute one. Doing the math, you can see that you would then have to pause your shower four times, reach outside where the button is located (in the dark), and turn the light back on. Rather annoying the third and fourth time, to be sure.

The cabins, on the other hand, were fantastic. $50 for a private cabin with electricity, heater, sink & stovetop, refrigerator and a loft. It was much cozier, cleaner and nicer than we expected. With nowhere to go for dinner for at least ten miles, we survived on trail mix, breakfast bars, water and Coke. As it started raining outside, though, we were just happy to be clean, warm and dry.

Just the lake, Bike Fridays and us here

Just the lake, Bike Fridays and us here

Lake Shumarinai

Lake Shumarinai

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

Well, it wasn’t 1-2 inches of rain, but it was rain. And it continued for a good part of the day. We decided to spend another day in Asahikawa, rather than get soaked and miserable. With not much to do, we searched around, and decided on a movie. What could be more Japanese than Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? Japanese or not, we enjoyed it in an entertainment complex (Sugai Dinos) that included several floors of arcades, billiards, bowling, etc.  As luck would have it, Wednesday is “Ladies Day”, and Sumi got in for $10 (my ticket was $12).

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Afterwards we walked along the main shopping street (imaginatively called “Shopping Street”), which is pedestrian only. Sumi attempted to buy some shoes, only to discover after searching two stores thta they didn’t carry them small enough for her feet. . .not what we expected in Japan!!

We had dinner at the end of the shopping street in a standalone food court, trying their version of spaghetti and meat sauce. A bit bland, but good. The best part of the evening, however, came when we stopped at the station to bother the poor woman one more time, looking for an internet cafe (none in the city) or a dessert cafe (again, none in the city). This surprised me, as both are so very prevalent in other parts of the country. She did, however, tell us the best desserts in the city were at the Grand Hotel restaurant. Not needing to be told twice, we walked the mile or so to the Grand Hotel (which was rather grand, actually), and got some amazing parfaits. The Japanese know how to do dessert!

Preparaing for Tomorrow's Travels

Preparaing for Tomorrow's Travels

Tomorrow, rain or shine, we will be heading out of Asahikawa to Lake Shumarinai.

Today was the best biking day we’ve had, weather-wise. It started cloudy and cool, and ended sunny and warm. Our first goal was breakfast, and we had planned on stopping at Mister Donut for some good carb-loading before our ride, but apparently, Japanese people eat donuts later than Americans, and they were still closed when we arrived at 8:30. The road was nothing special, in Hokkaido terms, as it was simply a highway through farmland, but it was still pretty. And hilly.

Leaving Furano

Leaving Furano

About four miles out of the city, we started seeing farms with roadside stands selling their food. We stopped at a promising-looking melon stand, and $3 each got us a fresh, delicious half-melon, which was probably a healthier choice than Mister Donut, anyway.

Roadside Melon Stand

Roadside Melon Stand

Fresh Furano Melon - yumm!

Fresh Furano Melon - yumm!

One more mountain climb and we descended into Biei, a pretty little Japanese tourist town, but it didn’t have the same feel that Furano had. The busloads of Chinese tourists that arrived the same time we did probably didn’t help.

More flower farms, this one on the way to Biei

More flower farms, this one on the way to Biei

In any case, we stopped at the city information center in the station and asked about bakeries. They had many, though only three were open, this being Tuesday (Tuesday?). In any  case, we chose one on our route out of town, grabbed some very tasty bread and pastries for lunch, and got back on the road to Asahikawa.

Upon arriving in Asahikawa later that afternoon, we headed straight for the station. By straight, of course, I mean got lost several times and rode in a circle before zeroing in on the station. The signage was spotty and the roads were not straight. Anyway, we got the location of one of the local parks that had free camping, and headed out. The park was nice enough, but the forecast of 1-2 inches of rain overnight, as well as the ominous warning from the boy who showed us to the site that “the insects were hatching” made us rethink our plans. We returned to the station and got a hotel which looked like it had not changed one bit since about 1956. Or maybe 1946. I’m certain that particular floor pattern has not been produced in at least 40 years. It was quite comfortable, though. We opted out of the meals, as they smelled like the docks after a heat wave. But showered and dry, and a quick bite to eat at the Lotteria at the station, and no complaints.

Well, it’s a good thing we chose to spend an extra day in Furano. It rained pretty much all day, sometimes heavily. While it did limit what we could do (we were planning on biking out to the Furano Cheese Factory), we were able to take care of some chores, like laundry and blog posting. In fact, the best internet connection we found was an unsecured wireless hotspot when we were at the coin laundry! I was planning on an internet cafe, but this is certainly cheaper.

So, after sleeping in way too late and breakfast at the Soto Cafe (Corn soup & bread for me, chili bean and Furano cheese sandwich for Sumi), with the rain and wind making biking uncomfortable, we decided to take the train out to Nakafurano (about 8 miles away) and visit the Tomita Lavender Farm. Geared up for rain, we took the JR Hokkaido line out to the farm. It was quite crowded with tourists, even on a rainy Monday. We did our best to try and capture the beauty of the place, but I don’t think it does it justice. The vivid colors and sheer amount of flowers was quite impressive.

Cool colors

Cool colors

Before heading back to Furano, we had to try their lavender ice cream. It was better than I thought it would be. Really not bad, but it doesn’t compare to the melon ice cream we had yesterday.

Ice Cream and Rain...

Ice Cream and Rain...

Back in Furano, we headed back to the inn to shower and warm up. With the smell of curry beckoning us, we opted for dinner downstairs again. This time we both tried some Furano-specific versions of ramen and curry. Sumi got Jyagabata Ramen, which is standard ramen with potatoes, corn, garlic and butter. Very tasty! I ordered Furano Omukare, which is an omelet stuffed with rice and served with curry sauce and vegetables. Mine also came with a side of Furano milk, which is just as good as Wisconsin milk, and that’s saying something!

OmuKaree!

OmuKaree!

Jyagabataa Ramen!

Jyagabataa Ramen!

On a side note, we had heard about how friendly and generous the Hokkaido people were, and I have to say, they are, even among other Japanese people. On the whole, I have rarely encountered a rude Japanese person, and many have been very polite and helpful. Here in Hokkaido, they are exceptionally kind. Our oyasan (literally landlord, in this case, the person who runs the inn) here in Furano has twice brought us fresh cherries from their trees with our meals. When we were doing our laundry down the street, before we left, she brought us out some detergent for the wash, and when it started raining, she sent her husband to us with umbrellas, so we wouldn’t get wet on the walk back. At the train station, every attendant was helpful, often offering advice even before we could ask. While I know these people are in the service industry, the extra little things they do, the genuine smiles, it makes an already pleasant trip even more so.

Fresh Cherries!

Fresh Cherries!

This could be the last post for a while, as I’m not sure what our internet situation will be between here and Wakkanai. After this, we are on our way to Biei and Asahikawa, and from there into the real wilderness for a few days. It’s still raining, and I’m hoping it clears up before we leave, or it could be a long ride.

We were up and out at 5:30 this morning, after crashing so early. A number of local fisherman had pulled up and we apparently had camped in their usual parking spot, but there was enough room for everyone, and they were a friendly lot. We walked the bikes up to the main road and off we went to our second mountain.

One last look at the lake on the way out

One last look at the lake on the way out

Today’s mountain was even taller than the last one, and steeper. We took frequent breaks along the way, usually after a steep climb leveled out. All along the route, there were spaces cleared out for people to pull over, making it very convenient to get out of the way of traffic to take a rest.

Sumi ennjoying a "Big Coke" by the side of the road

Sumi enjoying a "Big Coke" by the side of the road

One of our rest stops came at a nice little park near the top of the mountain: Sandantaki park. It featured an impressive river view and some wildlife. I came across our first touring cyclist today. He was heading to Furano, as well, though he left Sapporo this morning (over 100km). He commented that our trailers looked pretty heavy (omoisou!) and I had to agree. There’s no easy way to carry all your gear through the mountains. We chatted with my very limited Japanese for a little while, then he took off, to have lunch in Furano, while Sumi and I took a short walk in the park to recover before the final climb.

Sandantaki Park

Sandantaki Park

She's terrified of spiders, but has no problem taking a close up shot here...

She's terrified of spiders, but has no problem taking a close up shot here...

Heading into the Furano valley was amazing. It consisted of over six miles of continuous downhill (our altitude was over 1000 meters at the peak) that opened up into a valley filled with farmland.

I don't see the resemblance

I don't see the resemblance

Furano city itself is a pleasant small resort town that is a skiing hotspot during the winter. In July, it is a hub for tourists visiting central Hokkaido. We saw literally hundreds of tour buses in the area, though the city itself still seemed pretty quiet. Upon arriving in the city, hot, sweaty and tired, we headed to the main train station where the City Information office was. The people there were incredibly helpful, asking us what kind of rooms we needed, how much we wanted to spend, etc, and then called and made the reservation for us, and gave us a map with directions to the ryoukan!

We had about 3 hours before we could check in, but weren’t about to lug our trailers around town, so we headed to the inn, Shoujikimura, and asked to leave our luggage there until check in, which you usually can in Japan. We then went on an eating spree, as we hadn’t had a solid meal since breakfast in Yubari. First, a stop a local bakery/cafe, Soto Cafe, for some fantastic Potato Gratin bread (potatoes, onions and dairy are a hallmark of central Hokkadio) and whole wheat anpan (red bean paste-filled bread), again a Furano specialty.

Soto Cafe

Soto Cafe

Still hungry, and craving solid food, we stopped at the local McDonalds to both stuff our faces and kill some time. Also, in our current sweaty, dirty condition, we couldn’t really go sit down anywhere nicer. Sadly, it tasted great. Finally, we headed downtown for a Hokkaido dessert, melon ice cream!

Melon Ice Cream!

Melon Ice Cream!

Once we could check in, we were very pleasantly surprised with Shoujikimura. The room was very spacious and clean, the showers were nice (and welcome) and the innkeeper welcomed us with fresh cherries picked minutes ago from their trees. After cleaning up and a long nap, we headed down the the small restaurant attached to the inn for yet more food, and were again pleasantly surprised with the delicious, if plain fare. It was a ramen and curry house, which are both the fast foods of Japan, but both were done with a Hokkaido twist, and tasted great. We also had some fresh Furano grape juice (there is a winery in town, as well). Finally, stuffed and happy, we decided to spend an extra day in Furano, as there were things we wanted to see in the area, and wanted to take a short break before continuing on the Asahikawa. 100 miles in three days through the mountains takes its toll on inexperienced cyclist like ourselves.

A view from outside Shojikimura

A view from outside Shojikimura

Well, in Hokkaido in the summertime, the sun rises around 3:30. So, between that and jetlag, we wake up at four to sunlight and lots of birds singing away outside the hostel. When I say “we”, I mean Sean gets up, scrubs the bikes, cleans the gears, oils the  chains, cleans the trailers, packs up his gear and does crossword puzzles until about 6:30, when breakfast is ready, then goes upstairs and drags Sumi out of bed. The breakfast is fantastic, and nothing like mainland Japanese breakfast. Eggs, eggplant, breads and vegetable soup.

Finally, sunshine!

Finally, sunshine!

About two hours later, Sumi is finally awake and packed and off we go. The weather is beautiful, mostly cloudy and 70. This leg of the journey takes us essentially up a mountain and down the other side, and the scenery is amazing. You almost become numb to it, because every turn is another mountain vista of rivers cutting through tree-covered peaks.

A typical view from the roadside

A typical view from the roadside

The gates are supposed to catch falling boudlers. I'm more concerned about falling gates...

The gates are supposed to catch falling boudlers. I'm more concerned about falling gates...

We came across a Japanese fox (kitsune) and her two cubs at one point. They were quite cooperative and photogenic!

Awww..cute!

Awww..cute!

The traffic is quieter, and the lack of rain makes everything easier, which is good, because biking up a mountain with 50 lbs of gear is anything but easy. We biked for almost 5 hours today, and almost 4 of that was climbing the mountain. Of course, going down was much faster and easier, but it doesn’t make the uphill any easier.

At about 2:30, we arrived at our destination: Lake Katsurazawa. A beautiful, quiet lake that forms a valley between about five peaks.

Every lake needs a mascot!

Every lake needs a mascot!

First view of the lake

First view of the lake

This would be our first night camping, if we could find the campground. Stopping at a rather run-down looking hotel (from the outside), we asked about the campground, and it turned out the entrance was about 50 meters away! Heading about a third of a mile down, we found the campground on the shore of the lake.

Our view of the lake from the campsite

Our view of the lake from the campsite

It ain't much, but it's home

It ain't much, but it's home

The most amazing part is, camping at national sites is free. We had flush toilets, running water, a beach and a site right at the lake’s edge. The only thing it didn’t provide was showers. Fortunately, in Japan, most resort hotels also have on an onsen, or hot spring baths that are open to the public. Heading back up to the hotel, which was much nicer inside than out, we paid $5 and were treated to a nice Japanese onsen. We spent about an hour cleaning up and relaxing, then had dinner at the hotel restaurant. $18 got us some edamame and two bowls of Shouyu  (soy flavored) Ramen, which was really quite good. For those who don’t know, real ramen is nothing like the little ten cent packages you get at the store. It’s a large bowl of noodles, fresh green onions, bean sprouts, mushrooms and flavored broth with a slice of pork and a small  (thankfully, removable) fish cake.

After being washed and fed, we headed back to the campsite for the evening. There was only one other group camping, two Japanese couples with a pair of dogs, one that was reminiscent of the toddler on the plane, though, as Sumi put it, he’d either scare away any bear in the area, or be the one eaten by said bear. Either way, it would be a good thing.

Nothing to see here.....move along....move along

Nothing to see here.....move along....move along

The couples stayed up until dawn (3:30), and we would occasionally wake up to their conversation or music, but it wasn’t intrusive. As for us, we passed out by 8, exhausted with jet lag and our first real day in the mountains.