Words and Photos by Eric Yeo Shumin.
15 October – 5 December 2018.
Wakkanai – Kagoshima: 3348km in 51 days.
From Kobe, I hopped on a ferry to get into Shikoku. No, you could not cycle across the magnificent Akashi- Kaikyo bridge as the bridge is only reserved for motor vehicles. Takamatsu was famous for Udon noodles, and I discovered my love for it here. Affordable, filling, super springy and chewy. It was fantastic, and you will be glad to know that Takamatsu is full of Udon noodle shops.
The weather in Shikoku was much warmer than any of the previous regions. It was almost tropical, and I found myself sweating more. The upside was the nights were really pleasant and so I camped much more.
I would have loved to explore this region more, but due to the week-long delay because of tire troubles, I had to accelerate my schedule. From here on I cycled along the coast to the legendary Shimanami Kaido. It is probably the most over-engineered cycling route in the world. Dedicated cycling on-and-off ramps and cycle lanes everywhere. Basically a rollercoaster track but with bicycles, a cycling heaven.
At the end of the Shimanami Kaido is the town of Onomichi, where I bumped into a cosplay festival there. Spent a better part of an hour observing the crazy outfits.
Following that the next major city was Hiroshima. The atomic bomb museum was quite jarring and I’ve never been to a museum with so many locals teary-eyed and sniffling.
While in Hiroshima try its soul food, Okonomiyaki Hiroshima style. To be honest, I prefer this style compared to the ones in Osaka.
On the way to Kyushu be sure to drop by the island of Miyajima via ferry for fantastic sightseeing where the deers roam free and there is a galore of street food.
Looking on Google maps, you would not know how to get across to Kyushu from the mainland, the bridge for motor vehicles only and there are no ferry routes in between. There had to be a way and I only found out when I got to the bridge linking the mainland to Kyushu. Pedestrians and cyclists cross the Kanmon Straits via the 680m long Kanmon Tunnel. So I walked under the sea.
Along the way to Fukuoka, I passed by an IKEA. Could not pass up a hotdog and it was excellent and cheap. Reminded me of the Icelandic ones with fried onions in it and it even comes with optional pickles.
While in Fukuoka do try the “yatai” open-air food stands. Probably Fukuoka’s most unique symbol, I’ve never seen them anywhere else in Japan. They usually serve yakitori, oden, ramen and sushi with a variety of alcoholic drinks. Great to rub shoulders with the locals, literally. Christmas lights and celebrations were also in effect.
So they say when in Hakata you have to try their ramen. I went to Shin Shin and Hakata Issou. Both were awesome and would suppress my Tonkotsu ramen cravings for awhile. This is also the birthplace of my favourite ramen chain Ichiran.
To get to Nagasaki from Fukuoka, one could cut through the Mitsuse Pass. However, the recent typhoon damaged a section of the road, and I wasn’t allowed to pass. It was either turn back and ride the long way around or find a way to get around the damaged road. I turned off the road, bashed into the forest to search for the way through, went back to pick up the bike and got thru. Great success!
Nagasaki feels different from most Japanese cities; its deep colonial history primarily influenced the layout and architecture. My favourites were the Glover Garden and the area around the Megane bridge.
Do try the famous Castella cakes and some mind-blowing Tomato Ramen.
You don’t ride over 3000km without a few close calls. Sometimes your luck/skills/experience run out, and shit happens. On the way to Kagoshima via the sleepy island of Shimoshima, while cresting a hill after a fast descent, I just lost concentration for a second and hit some raised reflectors on the road. At the speed I was going, it instantly blew out both tires and dented the rims. I lost control and kissed the ground.
Just some road rash and damaged egos but a local was around and insisted I wait for an ambulance and police. Oh boy, what an experience, I got to sit in a Japanese ambulance and police car on the same day. The hospital fixed me up, and the police sent me to the gas station as I fought to fix the bike. The dented rims meant I put tubes in as tubeless won’t hold air, and now I am left with super pulsing rim brakes.
There was a tornado warning as I approached Kagoshima and it was pissing rain. My bike’s condition was made worse by non-existent brakes due to the damage from my crash. I had to walk some of the downhills as I could not brake. It was a miserable day of touring. I barely made it to Kagoshima.
I arrived at Kagoshima but wanted to get to the southernmost point in mainland Japan, Cape Sata. The weather was shit, and I knew I wouldn’t see much by rushing. However, just as a technicality I wanted to get there by bicycle. My overnight bus to Kansai airport leaves at 4 pm, and I knew that it was possible to get to Cape Sata and back in time.
It would be close but possible. I set myself a limit of getting there by 11 am or I would turn back.
Took the first ferry across Kagoshima Bay and was making good progress despite the on-off rain. I was so close just 29km from Cape Sata when I hit a nail that punctured my last tube. Tried to patch but the glue would not stick due to the water.
With no bicycle shops nearby I was distraught, but now I had to find a way back or risk missing my bus and flight. Found a local and offered to pay for a lift back. It didn’t work out in the end, but I knew I could not forgive myself if there was a chance and I didn’t take it.
Some say it’s the journey, not the destination. What a journey it has been. From the cold and windy plains in Hokkaido to the mountains and fantastic autumn scenery in Tohoku. The warmth and people in the cities of Kansai and amazing roads of the Shimanami Kaido.
I’ve seen and felt so much; it’s like a sensory buffet. The combination of weather, mechanical failures and the rush to get to Kagoshima made me miss a lot of Shikoku and Kyushu. That’ll be a reason for me to come back, armed with the knowledge and many lessons learned.
SportsIn Cycling would like to thank Eric for sharing his bike packing journey with us.
Do you have any cycling stories that you would like to share with us too? Drop us an email by clicking here!