Day 3: Chino — Hakuba
Date: Tuesday, 19 May 2015, depart 9am.
Major Climbs: Shiojiritoge Pass (1031m)
On Day 3 we woke up to wet roads and cloudy skies. We knew it would rain but just how much we weren't too sure. Five minutes into our ride the heavens opened up and it started to pour. Some of the guys took a gamble and went without rain jackets and just gilets to protect them from the elements. We were getting drenched but we soldiered on and rode through the worst of the downpour after half an hour. During this time we passed Lake Suwa and then onto climb the Shiojiritoge Pass (1031m). Luckily the descent down the other side was dry and we motored our way down the open highway until we reached the town of Hirooka, drying off in the process. At a 7-11 store we paused to take off our rain jackets and refuel. We were making good ground having ridden 30km in the first hour of the day, something we were not used to with the slow starts of the previous two days.
With the only real climb of the day already behind us, we looked forward to the rest of the day. The terrain throughout the remainder of the day would be undulating along the valley as we passed various farms, villages and the fringes of the mountain’s forests. The mountains stood tall on either side of the valley as we rode between them all the way from Chino to Hakuba. The only real difficulties after the initial climb came from the swirling winds. Initially at our tails we flew along the roads with gusts pushing us to 40km/hr speeds without having to spend much energy. It was a lot tougher when we changed direction but for the most part the wind pushed us along until we stumbled upon a temple at the edge of a forest. With a giant wooden gate at its entrance it was hard to miss and stopped to take photos and to take a peek at the shrine inside.
Leaving the temple behind we continued on riding in and out of farmland along the edges of the forest until TJ called out ‘Let's stop here for lunch, these places are all restaurants’. It was definitely a plus having TJ who could read and speak Japanese. We would have ridden right past these places not knowing any better if wasn't with us. Looking around we saw a handful of houses amidst the forest, which which were Soba or Udon houses. It was 11:30am, almost too early for lunch, but we trusted TJ’s advice to stop here for a feed. We weren’t disappointed, having one of the best meals of the trip from this Soba house in the woods somewhere between Chino and Hakuba. The chances of ever coming here again are slim to none. We don’t know the name of this restaurant or even the name of the closest town. What we do know is the food was great and so was the atmosphere. Remember, shoes off when sitting on the tatami mats.
After lunch, we left the Soba house in the forest and rode past countless more rice fields, on strips of roads with patties on either side. We battled the swirling winds which now came at us from the sides and head on. The wind wasn't too strong but enough to be a bit of a nuisance. In the distance the snowcapped mountains showed themselves and slowly got closer, until we were right at their feet. The ski fields and mountains of Hakuba were not too far away and we were happy cruising along with plenty of daylight still ahead of us.
As we approached Kitaomachi, Henry and Wing peeled off in search for an Eki stamp from the nearby train station. Stamps play an important role in many Asian countries including Japan. Historically using a stamp on a document is similar to adding your signature. Everyone has their own stamp including companies, schools, post offices and even train stations. Each train station has it’s own stamp design and it has become a popular activity for travellers to collect Eki stamps as they travel through Japan.
For the final 25km we rode alongside Lake Kizaki, shortly followed by Lake Aoki. Passing the lakes and closing in on Hakuba we descended down a long straight road to the valley floor before arriving at B&B Santana. It was nice arriving at the lodge in Hakuba, where a bunch of sweaty bike riders were warmly welcomed. The owner of the lodge Albert is a pretty keen bike rider of all kinds. It is a great place for mountain and road cyclists to come and stay during the summer months and experience some awesome scenery and roads around Hakuba and the Nagano Alps. With plenty of room and even a place to wash our bikes, dirtied from the ride through the rain that morning, we were happy to be staying at B&B Santana. That afternoon most of the group took the opportunity to visit the local onsen, where we relaxed in the hot baths, perfect for soothing tired and sore muscles.
Awaiting our arrival at the lodge was Adam and Pete from Blue Monkey Lodge. Adam, an Aussie living in Japan, helped organise many of the routes for our trip and would help guide us through the alps over the next few days. Including the following Day 4’s queen stage, a challenging 185km with multiple long climbs to get to Blue Monkey Lodge.