Day 5 Exploring Minakami
Date: Thursday, 21 May 2015, depart 10am.
Major Climbs: Hodaigiyama Climb (991m), Ichino Kurasawa Glacier (871m)
A day of exploring dams, ski fields, glaciers, an abandoned hotel and eating hand made udon.
While mapping out our route in Sydney, we had initially planned to do a 135km ride to Mt Akagi, a dormant volcano with a mountain top lake on this day. We can tell you now this was never going to happen. We were completely knackered after 4 days of solid riding already under the belt with our final 277km ride into Tokyo still to come. It was safe to say we all wanted to take it easy on Day 5 and explore the area around Blue Monkey Lodge and Minakami.
Rolling out from the lodge it felt cold. Really cold. The skies were overcast and the wind was chilly. We were all wearing our jackets and gloves hoping that would enough to keep us warm throughout the day. Trying to take it easy on the bike today would still be a challenge as we quickly realised we were surrounded by mountains in every direction you looked. Leaving the lodge it wasn't long before we warmed up as we started climbing (if you've been following each day's field notes you've probably realised by now that this trip has had a lot of elevation). Riding alongside Fujiwara Lake the road continued to make its way towards the heavens weaving in and out of avalanche tunnels in the side of the mountains. Leaving the lake behind us we ventured into the forest and the temperature didn't get any warmer. We eventually found ourselves at the top of the ski fields of Hodaigiyama. We stopped next to a ski chairlift taking in the view of the mountains in the horizon and of the ski village below. It was still really cold and but the view was worth shivering for. The next few kilometres were mainly downhill, including a crazy steep and straight descent that Henry got the death wobbles on but somehow stayed upright. We continued on leisurely riding the undulating terrain through the mountains when all of a sudden the Naramata Dam wall emerged whilst rounding a corner. It was hard not to be impressed by the size of this man made dam which is used to support a hydroelectric power station. From here we turned around and took a direct route back down towards Yubiso and Blue Monkey Lodge.
As we arrived back at the lodge a few guys decided to call it a day while the other half continued on to tackle the very steep road up to the Glacier. To get to the glacier we passed through the town of Yubiso as we made our way up to the Ichino Kurasawa Glacier. Getting to the glacier was tough with 15% pinches along the way making our so called easy day not so easy. At the glacier, to our surprise were scores of children on a school excursion. Henry and Wing also found a metal box right next to the glacier with it's own stamp, see Day 3's story for more about the stamps they were collecting. Unfortunately there was no ink to print the rubber stamp design of the glacier onto paper. After taking some time to explore the glacier we turned around and headed back towards Yubiso. The sun was now making an appearance but we were hungry. It was lunch time.
Meeting back up with the whole group we headed towards the town in search for good place to eat. It came in the form of a hand made Udon restaurant. The noodles were delicious and it was the perfect place to rest and enjoy our meal together before spending the afternoon exploring off the bike. There was a lot to see and do that afternoon and we all went our separate ways. A few of the guys set off to the Takaragawa Onsen, a beautiful outdoor bath, to soothe their aching muscles. A few others went for desert heading to a traditional cake store down the road. The remaining guys stayed around the area intrigued by the architectural buildings, unusual decrepit village buildings and the abandoned hotel.
The abandoned hotel was, in one word, creepy. A couple of us have explored abandoned buildings on previous travels, but we all agreed that none were as unnervingly strange as this hotel. Entering from one of the unlocked doors, we walked through the lobby which opened out into a huge lounge area overlooking the river below. The hotel was situated right above the river waters and potentially had the best view in town. As we walked through we realised everything was still in its place. Although a little messy, nothing was trashed or vandalised which you would expect to see in an abandoned building. There were hundreds of hotel rooms, some of which were completely untouched. Side offices housed old cassette tapes and unusual ornaments. Flashlights lay on the ground on every level of the 10 story building and every now and again you could see blankets and beds where people had obviously slept for a night or two. The windows and doors rattled from the wind, making us jump as we walked through dark hallways and stairwells. Some areas we ventured into were pitch black, lit up by the tiny torch on our phones to find our way. The longer we stayed the more jumpy we felt, especially after seeing steel rods and empty samurai sword cases lying on the floor. We spotted a single golf club in a room. Someone had obviously used it as their protection and after seeing so many makeshift weapons we decided to take it for our own protection. What made the hotel creepy was knowing other people were or could be just around the corner. The hotel was so big we kept thinking there has to be someone else in here too.
After more than half an hour walking around, whispering quietly to one another, we did spot another person. Standing on a higher level we looked out one of the windows and saw another Japanese man exploring the hotel on one of the lower levels which jutted out over the river. We waved at him and gave him a fright, he dashed off back into another part of hotel. By this time we had found ourselves on the lower levels and in the dining halls and kitchens. Old bottles of soda lay in the hallway and cups and bowls were all still stacked ready to be used. The whole hotel felt as if the staff had just walked out one day and left everything in its place. We had stayed in there for a good 45 minutes before succumbing to our nervousness. It was too creepy to stay any longer and we made for the nearest exit. We barely covered half the hotel during our time inside. As we walked out the side of the building into what we believed to be a servants quarter we passed the only signs that someone was actually squatting here permanently. In the flimsy side building right next to an entrance opening out onto the side of the hill was one room was someone's possessions and dirty clothes hanging in the room. Although we had seen signs of people staying in the main part of the hotel, none looked as though they had lived there for more than a night or two. We exited with Adrenalin still in our veins as we started making our way back to Blue Monkey Lodge.
Next to the abandoned hotel stood a very interesting architectural building and also a number of decrepit or unusual buildings. We’ll let the photos do the talking. It was an eerie part of the village which felt a bit like a ghost town. We got back to the main part of Yubiso and Blue Monkey Lodge in the late afternoon and spent the remainder of the day resting before our monster 277km ride into Tokyo the next day.