Day 10 – Taka’s ramen and weather predictions

The day started by literally crossing the road from the hotel to a well stocked convenience store where we bought our usual breakfast: half a litre of yogurt, some 200g of chocolate cookies or crunchy chocolate balls to be thrown into the yogurt, a can of black coffee, and mikan jelly. Sometimes Guilherme would have grape jelly instead – he really likes Japanese grapes. We had the rare pleasure of having breakfast comfortably sitting down in our room and discuss the day ahead of us. The plan was very simple: cycle towards Joetsu, arrive early and rest well as the following day was an almost continuous climb to Matsumoto in our first “Crossing the Alps” stage.

Almost as soon as we started cycling the white clouds that completely covered the sky started drizzling on us. The first 25km were on a flat seaside road with full exposure to the weather but we were feeling fresh and the small drizzle didn’t really bothered us. However, we soon started to see a now familiar landscape: the cliffy coastline of a thousand tunnels and unexpected climbs. The welcoming was beautiful. Just as we turned the first cape we had three quick hard ascents, a short pause, and then a nice 1.1km 10% average climb just as the drizzle turned into rain. We crossed the tunnel at the top and the wind just came blasting! We had no idea we had been shielded by the entire cliff up to here but now we were inside a washing machine with the wind and rain coming from every possible angle. We descended slowly with our eyes almost closed due to the water onto a nice bay with a couple of houses and surf school billboards. However, not a single person in sight. All the houses were stores stocked with swimming buoys in all shapes and sizes and all of them were closed. Everything looked ready for summer but unfortunately we were traveling during the rain season. We tried the only one with a car parked in front but the owners were quick to signal us away. No luck in this beach.

Taking shelter in a public bathroom for a while until the rain became slightly thiner:
 

 

We kept going onwards in this annoying weather until, two hours later, we found one bay with one house with a couple of motorcycles. If we were going to eat something before Kashiwazaki this was going to be the place. We arrived as the motorcyclists were leaving. We peeked inside and found an old man looking at us with a big question mark in his forehead. After asserting that he had food we went inside and started undressing to keep the tatami area dry and clean. The old man was actually the owner and was kind enough to bring us a small towel. The restaurant was great in its simplicity: a square room with full height windows all around looking out into the beach and the ocean. We were the only ones there sitting down by a window facing the sea and when the old man came our choice had already been made: ramen.

We could hear the wind outside and feel the wooden building shaking with it. We were starting to get a bit worried as we were still quite far from achieving our goal for the day. I tried to connect to the internet to check the weather forecast but there was no signal. Ramen arrived and it was absolutely our favourite until then: amazing flavour and the feeling that we were being warmed up from the inside – precious. We slurped it down, drank tea and fell to the side for a short nap. At this point we were not sure we wanted to ever leave that place and get back into the washing machine outside. We honestly pondered asking the owner to stay there overnight despite losing our free day in Matsumoto later.

Taka's ramen!

Taka’s ramen!

One hour after we arrived the rain started to calm down and, despite the headwind we decided to go. During the five minutes it took for us to put the rain clothes back on and prepare to leave the wind turned 180 degrees. It was now a very inviting tailwind but we were scared. Neither of us had ever seen the wind turn so fast so we made a serious effort with our poor Japanese to ask the owner about the weather. We learnt a couple of things as the sympathy of the owner led to a short, extremely language-limited but great conversation. His name was Taka, as far as we understood, and it was not a typhoon, just a storm. It would rain for another hour but going southwest should be fine as Joetsu is meant to be clear. He got his map from his truck to try to help us on something, we couldn’t figure out what, but was unable to even point to the place where we were despite multiple attempts. He then pointed several times to the hill behind us but we had no idea what he meant.

Fortunately after lunch it stopped raining and we were able to recover some ground enjoying the cooler weather and the constant threat of the low dark clouds lurking a couple of miles away from the shore.

Landslide protection and the mean looking clouds just ahead of us.

Landslide protection and the mean looking clouds just ahead of us.

The afternoon felt great with some very fluid, effortless cycling. The legs just kept on working naturally as if we were simply walking but moving through everything a lot faster. It was a beautiful feeling, something akin to flying, I suppose. You forget about the effort though you definitely don’t feel idle. You have time to see everything and delay yourself over some particular details even though you’re doing it a lot faster than when you walk. You feel a slight hint of information overload; a strong curiosity and desire to immerse yourself while, at the same time, your breathing cadence, your scent and the sweat rolling down your nose ensure that you are fully aware that you are actively working for all of it. Happiness without exhilaration, wonderful simplicity.

At Kakizaki we took road 30 bypassing Joetsu and pointing us directly towards Myoko, from where our alpine crossing truly begins. Furthermore, we could see a very interesting camping ground at Naomine Matsunoyama Oike Prefectural Natural Park, just a short cycle away from the main road, that appeared to us as the perfect place to spend the night. The sun finally abandoned us and a moonless night made the navigation quite interesting in the final kilometres approaching the natural park. (To have an idea, please use streetview on the last stretch of the map below.) The road is beautiful with luxurious vegetation creating imposing walls on each side and also definitely not very used given the abundant moss growing on the pavement. This moss, soaked wet after an entire day of rain, proved to be quite treacherous as we tried to take our heavy bikes over some steep ascents and descents.

The road leading to the camping site. From google streetview, we were there in a pretty dark night.

The road leading to the camping site. From google streetview, we were there in a pretty dark night.

We finally made it to the camping site but our adventure was not over yet. As it had become a common occurrence, the camping site was absolutely empty. We climbed the muddy path until we reached a first hut that should have been used as a reception. A large poster on the side displayed a map and we memorised the way to the camping area. A final effort pushing our bikes up the muddy path we finally arrived at the main area which we could only identify due to the ruins of the grill and water basins. I went forward to try to find a good place for the tent but my feet just sunk into five centimetres of mud. The entire camping area was a field of mud and an unthinkable place for a tent. We decided to go back to the reception building and camp there. It was under construction, still without windows, doors or a proper floor, but we had a nice surprise when we found out that the bathroom in the back was in a more advanced state of construction and had a movement detector that triggered the lights: electricity was a luxury we definitely did not expect here. We locked our bikes onto some water pipes and partially set up the tent so that it barely fit inside the bathroom. We knew it would not rain in there but the mosquitos were already happily feeding on us and the tent would help us keep them away. We finally laid down on the unfinished concrete floor with hopes of getting a good rest before our big push to Matsumoto. Well, the future wouldn’t be so kind…

 

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