First of all, good news: my mobile is starting to work again though still slightly unstable. At this point more than half of the screen is stained with water, there is a big crack across the screen and needs some restarts every time the touchscreen decides to short circuit and randomly click around the screen making it look like a Hollywood depiction of extreme hacking skills.
Our sixth day started early in Aomori which literally means blue forest. Despite sounding like a rather strange name, blue in Japanese can also be interpreted as green in some occasions. This is due to the evolution of the language where, at some point, only dark, bright, warm and cold colours were distinguished. This means that Ao would cover all the cold colours putting blue and green in the same category (or so I was told). The truth is that caterpillar is still aomushi and that Japanese people still refer to the green light in traffic lights as ao (blue), among other examples.
Back to our trip after this short detour, we think that the name is more than appropriate as the forests we went through in Aomori prefecture were just incredible. It was very humid allowing a beautiful mist to form between the trees and as we cycled through we could feel a warm, humid breath coming from the forest into the naked scar made by the road. We faced some light rain that felt more like fast condensing fog and despite all the attempts to cool down made by our bodies sweating in this weather just wasn’t effective.
We stayed inside this environment as we cycled around the Hakkoda mountains which, as we learnt as we researched, were where the largest mountaineering disaster of modern history occurred. As we finally headed south again the long 40km climb started and the vegetation started to change into a more alpine style flora. We cycled through the first kilometres under a mild sun as we crossed a couple ski towns and some alpine meadows.
Suddenly, as if we had missed it for too long, we started to see some very dark clouds over the pass we were going to cross. A couple more pushes and lightning bolts and thunder started hitting the peaks. Ten minutes later we were under intense rain and decided to stop under a cover where an old man, around his sixties or seventies, was working on a small house. He immediately stopped working and offered us drinks. I managed to refuse three of the four cans he forced into my hands and sat next to him as he smoked a damp cigarette he had spent at least two minutes lighting up. We all stayed there looking at the lightning bolts on the surrounding peaks drinking, smoking (only him) and eating some cookies Guilherme still had on his bag.
Suddenly lightning stopped hitting the west peak of our pass, the wind seemed favourable and the clouds were a little more forgiving so we decided to go. After a quick but deeply bowed goodbye we were again on the road. We made the ascent to the last meadow before the pass without any rain despite the constant reminder provided by the thunder in the background. As we finally braced for the last ascent we were blinded and then deafened by the closest lightning bolt and thunder we had ever experienced. Scary! We immediately took cover in a small roadside shop where the shopkeeper welcomed us with a teasing grin on his face – he clearly knew why we had gone in.
After ten or fifteen minutes the weather cleared again and we made the final push to the top where we were greeted by an Akita prefecture entrance sign. Clear skies throughout the Kitaakita valley, bikes on top gears, hands on the drop bars, GoPro ready and the adrenaline pumping; it was time for the reward: 20km downhill along one of the most beautiful scenery we have been presented in Japan so far. It’s very hard to describe how great an old tall pine tree forest can be and how much more sense all the classic Japanese tales of the vagabonds and hermits make after seeing the natural beauty we’ve been presented in the last 6 days. Well, we were singing, smiling and pedaling effortlessly through the rare flat sections.
Night fell and we were still some 10km away from our campsite cycling through rice paddies flatland between Odate and Kitaakita when the skies surprise us again. The massive clouds over the surrounding peaks start to light up with cloud to cloud lightning bolts. It was strange since there was no rain or thunder, just a light display. We stopped to watch despite the sense that heavy rain could come at any moment. It never did and the frequency increased to around two lightning bolts per second keeping the sky almost permanently lighten up. Very hard to describe but we believe we have a video that we will put up as soon as we can.
We finally set our tent and prepared to go to sleep. We turned on our data connection to check the weather forecast and it was thunderstorms the whole night. I even got an email from my parents that were worried after checking it themselves. We rechecked our tent and put our heavy panniers in all four corners to make sure we could make the night. Then, as we went back inside we received the contact from the Diário de Notícias newspaper and we postponed our sleep to answer to the questions as well as we could using a semi-working mobile phone. Outside the rain was starting to fall.