Asahikawa – Sounkyo
I was up and about early, not quite reeling from a hangover as I was still drunk. But the day ahead was playing on my mind and I needed to get moving before the whole world imploded for no apparent reason whatsoever. Kev would point me in the direction of the Ishikari River, from there I would find a cycle path that would traverse for some 20 miles or so in the direction of Sounkyo Gorge, my base in the mountains of Daisetsuzan National Park. The path was quiet and appealing, diverting away from the roadside traffic and meandering alongside the river and through a small series of woodland copses. The snow capped mountains that had been sitting formidably upon the horizon during the previous days began to creep ever closer. At 35°C and in the absence of human life I took it upon myself to expose my less than ample bosoms and ride topless. Something generally frowned upon and not very stereotypical of the Japanese due to a certain accountability of cultural modesty, unlike in the west where as soon as the dial hits 20°C we all can’t wait to get our tits out. Modesty would however prevail when the cycle route re-joined traffic along Route 39, my usual fully non-nude state completely restored.
Shortly before pulling into the small village of Kamikawa I began to feel queasy. Initially I suspected it was my hangover finally kicking in, but as well as feeling dizzy my palms were also beginning to swell, heat exhaustion striking me as a possible contender. I took a break.
There was a small tourist outlet in the village offering up overly priced local novelty produce and delicacies. But nothing particularly nourishing on offer that I needed to sustain my calorie burn, cheesy beef chocolate just wasn’t going to cut it. Instead I sat in the shade with a cold can of coke until I perked up a little, whilst unbeknownst sat upon a nest of angry ants.
Route 39 was for long distances completely straight and completely flat for miles on end, the sides of the roads aligned with tall coniferous trees offering very little insight into my surrounds, a drab comparison to the cycle path out of Asahikawa alongside the Ishikari. I found myself feeling increasingly shitty and wanting to throw up, yet there was little I could do. Zoning out and getting on with it being my only real choice. Thankfully as I was headed into the gorge from the west the day offered very little inclines which would have no doubt only added to my discomfort.
The gorge itself seemed to appear suddenly as a section of the tree line rapidly began to filter away as huge limestone karst cliffs emerged towering up high above me. A short drop to my right the Ishikari would return, its rapids flowing heavily now. The skies ahead lacked promise as dark clouds began to congregate. They would soon be accompanied by a dramatic light show, I would need to find shelter, and ideally not under a tree canopy. But being 5 miles from Sounkyo my fate was already sealed, I was to clash head on with the thunderstorm. First it was an abrupt gust of wind, bringing with it a series of small droplets which would soon increase in size and capacity, the heavens would then rumble angrily as lightening cracked so loud above me that I thought for a second that I was done for. Rain ricocheting off of the bitumen causing a blanket of mist some 2 feet high, in mere seconds I would be soaked to the bone. I stumbled across a perimeter fence to a golf course, inside were a number of shelters in which one would be able to escape from the skies wrath. Yet the compound was locked tight, but being already drenched, what difference did it really make?
The hail would change perspectives though, its pain offering very little invigoration, just sheer pain as one might expect. The porch of a derelict building with a tree positioned directly through the middle of it would soon nevertheless offer a light relief. Here I would wait out the worst of the storm. The rain slamming hard against the buildings broken open roof as water poured into the premises. One could only hope that the structure would stand firm for just a little longer. A series of buses splashed there way passed, a number of tourists pointing and laughing at how stupid I must have looked. The storm was refreshing and it had certainly livened me up, but now on the opposite end of the spectrum I was beginning to feel cold. So as soon as the bulk of the storm had passed and the rain had simmered somewhat I surged forth with immediate effect towards Sounkyo.
Daisetsuzan is Hokkaido’s largest National Park and could easily be considered a place of unspoilt splendour and natural beauty, apart from say….. Sounkyo! Nestled at the base of Mt. Kurodake, Sounkyo is the park’s tourist hotbed and a starting point for the majority of excursions within the park. So each year this little speck of land within the gorge witnesses some serious touristic abuse. But it would also be a star example of Hokkaido’s very many failed business ventures. On the villages outskirts lay an abundance of hotels and stores completely defunct of life and now going to ruin, businesses that had long folded, now sit un-nurtured, unloved, unwanted and destined to become consumed by the very nature that surrounds them. In the late 90’s Hokkaido’s main bank, Hokkaido Takushoku went bust. The bank had loaned out vast swathes of money to some 60% of businesses throughout Hokkaido. When the bank crumbled, then so did a bulk of these businesses, taking vast portions of the island with it. And as I ventured further around this huge prefecture its ailing economy would day by day become increasingly apparent. Centring in on Sounkyo were a number of other seasonally and economically weathered hotels barely hanging on to existence, the newer more lavish hotels only weighing in as further eyesores in an area that essentially yields some limitless wilderness. But in the name of tourism, Sounkyo was a necessity.
The main hub of Sounkyo however looked as if it had recently undergone a face lift offering up a more aesthetic feel. A small central strip would contain a collection of souvenir shops, convenience stores and restaurants. A musky vaginal like aroma lingered in the air, the world’s first National Park titty bar? Alas, no, its source being a public thermal foot spa. I dipped my pinky in, as suspected, hot like magma and completely pointless. Now I’m no snowman, and I’m quite privy to a nice hot bath, but I have to wonder what kind of preterhuman it would take to be able to endorse the heat of some of these ridiculously hot onsens. I tutted rudely at the foot spa as if to show my disappointment towards it, nonchalantly in reply it would bubble right back at me.
Cycling up a small winding path away from central Sounkyo would take me to my 80’s themed youth hostel. Woodchip walls, linoleum tablecloths and chintz sofa, unfortunately the Thundercats duvet set must have been in the wash so I had to settle for just plain old poo brown. I dumped my belongings in my dorm and went to inspect the bathing facilities. Again I would find another Onsen. I dipped a digit. My finger didn’t smoulder. I dived right in.
PS: If you’ve enjoyed my blog then you may enjoy my as of yet unpublished book of my venture around Japan. Something that with a little help from friends and strangers I’d like to publish for the whole world to see. Please if you have the time could you take a look at my Kickstarter campaign at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/675565076/tokyo-to-tokyo
I appreciate your time, thank you.
Todays Mileage – 49.9m ODO – 1507.9m
Todays RT – 5hrs Total RT – 159hrs
Av/S – 9.1mph