May 1, 2021
Meet – 4:30am
START – @4:50am (sunrise)
Pacific Ocean to Japan Sea
Start: Sagami bay in Kanagawa
Finish: Joetsu in Niigata
To ride from the Pacific to the Sea of Japan in a single day via as many great roads as can be strung together without touching a highway or toll road!
Then, settle in for beers, a feast and soak…
Three days. That’s right! For those looking for a longer ride, we’ll do the traditional coast to coast on May 2 then a free day to recover/explore on May 3 and then a return coast to coast on a rare east route on May 4.
No major changes from the last 3 years’ route, just a little trimming and tweaking of the same great route taking us on the back of an almost endless snake of twisting, climbing, carving and winding tarmac!
Long – roughed out in 2011 – 600km+
Short – The route above but smoother and shorter- 500km –
ALL FIRST TIMERS WILL ONLY BE GIVEN THE 500 ROUTE.
15-20 touges (mountain passes) to traverse on the route, 2 of them being the 2 highest national roads in Japan! And where there are touges, you know there have to be hillclimbs, hairpins and oodles of twisties, right! Yep, that’s the twisty part covered.
How about the butt part? Well, at 600km+ with NO expressway, it isn’t exactly a Sunday squirt or a scoot out to your favorite lunch spot. It’s far enough to feel it and due to being packed with great roads banking you left and right, it is gonna take a while. So, you’re gonna spend your day with eyes tracing tarmac and butt parked, sliding this way and that polishing your seat, tank sides and foot pegs.
This isn’t the 1st time we’ve done it and we’ve tried to improve the route each year and encourage spirited riders to come along and give it a go. Don’t go getting the idea that encouraging means you’ll be joining a ‘follow the leader’ train of riders though. This is a tough ride and one to do at your own pace on your own schedule. You’ll probably find a rider or two around your pace to roll with but don’t count on it. Everyone has different styles, fuel ranges, bladder sizes and concentration spans so you may find yourself rolling with different people or even alone at times. But generally, small groups of similar paced and style riders have coalesced early on past rides.
If you’ve got a pack of like minded riders already then great, get your train together, study the route, load your navis if you have them and get on with it.
Just don’t take this ride lightly. It is a tough one! A hell of a lot of great riding but tough and dangerous if not respected. Heed the warning.
1. You are responsible for yourself, your ride and leaving your whinging and whining at home.
2. Have your bike in long distance ready condition. Plenty(50%+) of tire and a full tank of gas!
3. Have yourself ready to roll. Well slept, fed and healthy.
4. This is not an easy ride! You will be on the road for the best part of daylight and maybe more than 12hours with little time to just cruise and zone out. It is a true feast of twisties that even gluttons have trouble swallowing. Know that!
# START TIME # Sunrise – 4:50am – If you miss the start, don’t give up. Ride your own ride and you’re bound to catch up with others on your way to Joetsu.
Ride considerately, safely and within your limits.
This IS NOT competitive touring or a race.
In no way is any other rider or anyone associated with this ride responsible for any other rider on the ride.
We will likely have a variety of different riders/bikes/attitudes out there. Respect that and keep it real.
For the safety of your fellow riders and yourself, keep a safe distance between all riders and ride in a staggered formation when in a group. Staggered provides better vision, keeps the pack together and the tires in the car tracks reducing the chance of a puncture.
Have a charged phone on hand at all times with your emergency contact and the other riders’ contact. Details will be shared closer to the start.
Notify someone on this ride asap if you have any difficulties or leave the ride.
Our route parallels a lot of expressway so if anyone wants to swing off on a separate adventure for a bit, take a nap or get lost then there is flexibility for that. Hell, if you just get a crook neck or the bike develops a reluctance to rock’n’roll then make a beeline for the goal and wait for the rest of the crew to roll in. There is always another day and the support of your fellow road warriors waiting for you at the goal.
***MUST***, Even if you have a navi, KNOW the ROUTE, have your back-up maps / Mapple or stick with someone who does. All routes will be distributed sometime in April.
What do we do when we get there?
Everybody meets up at the same place for a feast and to share tales from the road.
Joetsu Sun Plaza – Click the following pic to be linked to the Sun Plaza online booking page.
*It’s in Japanese but easy enough to do with Google translate.
If you can’t get a room with the rest of the riders at the Sun Plaza, try one of these two hotels:
Monzen no Yu – https://www.greens.co.jp/monzen/
How do I get in on this?
Spirited riders are always welcome. So, just reply here and/or PM me if you’re a definite and I’ll keep you in the loop.
Hope to see a ready pack of Twistybutters on May 1st and a festive bunch on the opposite coast!
Iida to Home @425km
Had a great night’s rest and woke up ready to ride. But the inn was silent. Climbed out of my cubbyhole trying not to wake anybody but old wooden buildings like to chat with even the most cautious of feet. So with creaks and squeaks but never a thud, I dressed, loaded up and crept downstairs. Snoring continued from at least one cubbyhole…
The peace and quiet and soft morning light splashing over the mountains and flooding the vast western windows of the inn before seeping its way through the open wooden labyrinth was a magic way to start the day.
MotoGP pit the night before, twisty hunter staging area the following morning. ☺
And out the door we went.
The Michael way to minimise downtime!
Making our way south east, the conditions were just right and we were having a ball on the wide open bypasses and squeezing through the tighter canyon passes.
Came upon a deserted XR and after a short trek into the thick mossy forest..
… spied Michael soaking up minus eons down by the waterfalls below. Nice!
Then we climbed…
Crossing over into Misakubo, the wildlife are quite different…
Seems the wildlife like to jump onto the back of speeding bikes too. So best to go slowly, apparently. Defies my logic but I’m not a cute girl on a dualsport so…
Michael and John enjoyed the climb. 👍
Who’s that way over there?
Mountains to the horizon..
How do you like that John?
Just like the way up, endless twisties from there on down.
Views aplenty too!
Soon we were back tracing a river and a closer look was warranted.
Out on the mossy bridge taking pics, soon discovered that my new can’t-miss-that-yellow helmet was a flying-bug magnet. And there were plenty of big stingy ones above this river.
So, back on the road I went! 🏃
And where there are steep mountains and deep canyons with roads cut into them, there are almost always sharp stones falling from the walls. The MT10SP picked one up unfortunately.
Fortunately, mechanic Michael was there to save the day. I pulled in under the dragons…
… and he flew into action.
Nice plug mate. 👍
Plugged and pumped up, we got back into it and soon found ourselves in the great green lined hills of tea.
This is the kanji character for cha = tea
Flowing east and then north we twisted our way up toward Ikawa and its mighty dam.
Round the north side of the dam, we pulled into an old favourite for lunch.
The food’s always fresh from the local fields and the kitchen is staffed by local ladies who know what they’re doing with such great ingredients.
From there, with furnaces fueled, we twisted our way back down out of the mountains and headed east for home.
Back in the big smoke, Michael’s work spoke for itself by getting the MT10sp and I back without event. And the rest of the tyres show it was a well rounded test. 😂
The only thing left to do was celebrate @3000km and a week-plus well ridden.
Abalone anyone? Couldn’t wait…sorry. ☺
Now that’s some choice Hayama Premium beef!
Great suggestion Michael. That was an epic post-tour feed. Thank you!
Brilliant Goldenweek of riding with a great crew. Full of sideways skewing events but nay a scar or regret. The weather gods tested us a few times but blessed us with predominantly fine weather and clean clear roads. The tour started and finished with three and hats off to Michael and John for their endless enthusiasm, tireless tyre rounding and being a ZERO-PITA. 😁
Already looking forward to next year!
Joetsu to Iida @385km
Had a leisurely wake up then took a short braap over to the local Starbucks for what has become an institution, the post-coast2coast morning meet up. The crew from the day/night before were rolling in and out in dribs and drabs, chatting, grouping up for further touring or the run home.
Good times 👍
On the road again 🎶
Tony had made an enticing pitch for a visit to a local ninja village come theme park come playground and I’d wanted to see it too for some time so that was our first stop. An old friend, Ferdinand, tagged along for ninjaland.
Michael was off solo exploring and found himself this castle at Takada Gardens on the way out of Joetsu.
Back at ninjaland after a spritely run south and up into the hills, we were feeling the heat off the bikes as we took the long walk down into Ninja land 🏃
We started out with some blow dart fun. Disappointed with the relatively close and unadventurous big red X on a piece of paper on a stick they had us shooting at, I got us started on trying to hit the logo near the ceiling at the back of the room. Much funner and the lads sent theirs aloft also.
Bet they had a helluva time getting those darts down but by the number of holes up there, it wasn’t the first time.
Us big kids went after the small kids. See that little blue ninja on the wall at back? Uh-huh!
Leaving the little blue ninja looking like a pin cushion, John and Tony went to the museum where John found himself some accessories…
And his clansmen ☺ Look at him, fits right in!
He settled on something a little more traditional.
Perfect outfit for the long, fast and deceptively short ended toboggan. I went first and soon after exiting the run came a hurtling fearless mighty John!
Seemingly chasing a speed demon and casting aside the coward lever, he flew through the braking zone and buried himself in the rather inadequate mats at the end of the run.
I thought he was done for but he stretched out like an inhaling accordion, rolled over and laughed. 😂 Well done mate! 👍
Back on the road, Tony and Fernand headed for the express route back to the big smoke while John and I continued twisting south.
Being Children’s Day, we saw plenty of koi no bori floating / hanging across rivers and from flagpoles. A tradition and common site on this day.
It was getting hot, even in the hills, and I was glad to see some shade in the tight twisties. But when the same twisties went past a second and third time, it was time for a powwow with the navi. Just then, who came zinging around the corner? Michael! We chatted and he was enjoying his solitude so we went our separate ways again.
We took our time until the climb up the Green Line and along the Venus Line. The eMpT-10 was getting thirsty again after the gallop but the gas stand on the Venus Line was closed…
So, taking a route I’d never been desperate enough to, we headed down the hillside through a glider take-off/landing zone. Being a decently steep downhill meant I could shut the eMpT-10 down and roll. With what I guesstimated to be 10km of fuel left in the tank, we rolled almost the entire 20odd kilometres down. Worked a treat!
After some hunting, we filled up and headed through Chino to the 152.
Being cautious through the area we’d seen the law a few days earlier, we meandered our way down to the remoter section of the gangling 152. But before leaving civilisation entirely, we jumped up onto a mystery dam-side road for the view and solitude and found the local monkey clan were hanging out perched atop the roadside guardrail and in the overhanging trees. They seemed to like the humming s1000xr more than the lumpy MT-10, no? Or was it you they were communing with John?
Continuing down the 152, the skies got heavier and we were climbing. Eventually, on a narrowing section deep in the valley just after a rather dissuasive road warning obstacle, those two vectors met. It began to rain. And then rained heavier and got colder. It was enough for us to pull over and don the wet weather gear. Me for the bag on the back. John for the body. Not that kind of body bag!
Several tight climbing hairpins later, a good portion of the road had slipped away down the mountainside and we realized why we’d not seen anyone else for a while. Gingerly throttling around that and several kilometres later, we came upon more signage and dissuasive obstructions to find a bit of upper mountainside resting on the road on its way into the valley below. Again, there was enough road for two wheels to inch on by. So far so good. Not really.
The final part of the climb had a heavy fog come low cloud roll in. And at around 1500m, it was thunder, lightning and pinlock overcoming fine mist. Not to mention under 10°c! Soldering on over the summit the rain was on again, off again for a few kilometres then things began looking better…until rounding a corner to find the fortknox of roadblocks!
We tried many things… Eventually, John channelled the power of his monkey mates from earlier in the arvo and the impossible became possible! Well done mate 👏 I really didn’t feel like going back through that crap.
Less than an hour later with daylight fading, we tonked into Iida, making our way to the guesthouse for that night.
Michael was already there and sent us welcoming messages to say all was right with the world ahead and where to park. Cheers Michael 👍
Yamairo Guesthouse: A restored and repurposed old trader’s home/warehouse. Full of character and atmosphere.
The common areas are vast yet intimate.
The bad weather meant that we had the place almost to ourselves.
Perfect as we had the Jerez Moto GP to watch.
The owner/operators were happy to let us watch, cheer and enjoy. So we crowded around Michael’s phone screen while they plied us with liquor and food ☺ Well done on the live feed Michael. 👍
Did I mention it was a unique place?
Our room had four… compartments. Each private compartment had light, power supply for charging and a vast comfy clean bed.
I hit the sack and was out in minutes. 😴
Eventful days riding John. Good to ride it with you 👍
More to come. Final day actually. Stay tuned…
MT-10 SP Update
Through the heat, bad weather, slippery conditions and test of economy-rolling, it didn’t miss a beat or disappoint.
Discovered that the brakes work regardless of ignition on or off. A worry I’d had with ABS units. Never tested if the ABS still worked though.
Found the winglets above the tailight to be just garnish and terribly placed for carrying a touring bag. Given enough time, I can see them succumbing to attrition. Unfortunate form over function design.
On an unplanned yet often forgotten test of durability, discovered that the headers are very hardy and more than up to the task of holding the weight of the bike should the front tyre cease to be doing that. 😉
Having ridden coast to coast several different ways, endured some expressway marathons, scrabbled over and around a surfeit of crumbling mountain passes and even risked life and limb on a frozen northern adventure, the bar was just about high enough for one of those ‘…one day…’ rides. Yep, it was about time for a whopper.
This one goes a ways back and definitely needed some working up to. But, boy o boy is it a day dream filler!
Righto, lets get started shall we…
Thursday and a group tour around Aomori has just dissolved leaving only 2 of us, a night’s accommodation booked at Lake Towada Saturday, 5 days of free riding, an approaching super typhoon and well… nothing better to do 🙂
Me: ‘Hey, what do you think about riding Honshu end to end via as many good quick roads as possible, NO expressway?’
James: ‘Sure. Just tell me where and when.’
Me thinking: That a boy!
Fast forward to Saturday morning and J sending messages and photos from the road on his approach to Towada via Oga Hanto leading me to switch off the phone. Yep, I was working till 6pm and had no intention of tormenting myself…well, maybe I checked a few of his photos from the road…
6pm came around soon enough and the feet were a Fred Flinstone yabadabadoo blur out the door. Around an hour later, the FZ1 roared to life and we were northbound with around 850km of mostly slab ahead.
Now, slab should be a dreary exercise in managing the toothpicks keeping ones eyelids propped open but the approaching typhoon had huffed and puffed up a fair old gail through Ibaraki and Fukushima. The action peaked when I swear I sailed through a burgeoning tornado sweeping the bike from one lane to the other then back again all in the space of a ‘Whoahooo Nellie!’ and not a thing to be done but hang on for the ride.
Now, slab should be a dreary exercise in managing the toothpicks keeping ones eyelids propped open but the approaching typhoon had huffed and puffed up a fair old gail through Ibaraki and Fukushima. The action peaked when I swear I sailed through a burgeoning tornado sweeping the bike from one lane to the other then back again all in the space of a ‘Whoahooo Nellie!’ and not a thing to be done but hang on for the ride.
Slowing down significantly only seemed to make things worse, with the gusts feeling like they were actually scooping up and tossing us about at will. Keeping the throttle steady in cruise mode and punching holes from gust to gust was a tad less dramatic and guaranteed to get me there sooner as long as the errant branches, eye watering dust, trucks swinging around like wayward punching bags and all sorts of airborne nastiness could be survived.
Around Iwatesan, the fury of the four winds eased to a steady easterly roar. Then around Morioka, being as considerate as the omnipresent ones are, they turned on the shower to wash off the gusty dust. Great! Nothing for it but to wick up the heated grips and hunker down for the final hundred or so kilometres. Longest shower I’ve had in a quite a while actually. Too bad it was cold.
The accommodation was lakeside which meant twisties and through the hills around Lake Towada once off the expressway. Was excited about that till I got there and found the roads blanketed with autumn leaves. With a squiggle here, a drift there and a whole lot of cursing the FZ1 had got me there again and we finally rolled in to Yama no iie at @3:30am to find J up and full of beans chasing stink bugs with a vacuum cleaner. Yep, that was one loopy night!!
The twisty stuff starts tomorrow…
Nothing like waking up with the dawning realization that you have a bunch of days of riding ahead and that’s all!
Due to the late landing the night before, it was 8 o’clock. But, the sun warming the futon was a welcome alarm clock.
Bit hard to rise into biped mode after just shy of 4hrs sleep but there was riding to be done and the sun was out. So, up and at ’em!
Less than an hour later, the bills were paid, bikes loaded, riders suited up and the two yammies sounded a call to the roads across Towada Lake.
Tracing the lake around the northwest coast(454), the road was damp, still carpeted in autumn leaves and dastardly slippery. We took our time easing our way around to the Nishi-Towada IdeYu Line(102) and it was no better but is always a beautiful road, even in testing conditions.
Then, onto the Soube-bypass to get across to the Towada Road east(102) down to Towada. Glad it was downhill as the FZ1 needed juice. The roads were drying, the wind had died down and the sun was doing its best to brighten the hills. So, switched off the engine and sailed as far downhill as the slope would take us. But the road signs made it kind of tough as they do things a little differently in that area…
Well, made it to gas and then pit stopped for some breaky before the run north. Trying to stay out of traffic, the 394 and 25 were a a lot of fun and had us making good time. Then it was onto the 338 or as we had named it a few years ago, the Nuclear Hyper Line as it is wide open and a good cruise through the forest by the Higashi-dori Nuclear Powerplant tucked away on the coast. With the barbed-wire topped electric fence and cameras in the bushes on the east side, it does inspire more than a little paranoia… get over that though and it’s a great road for the north run up to Shimokita Hanto(peninsula) into Mutsu.
Then it was north on the Mutsu-Hamanasu Line (279) all the way to Oma for the true start of this ride. While there, we had to have some of the famous Maguro(Blue-fin Tuna). And it was good. A fried lunch set for J and a sashimi set for me. Yep, if it isn’t cooked, J’s not into it!
2pmish, Rider furnaces burning Japan’s finest tuna, photos at the north tip of Honshu taken, it was time to turn it around and head south. The late and slippery start had certainly set our schedule back so we weren’t expecting to make it as far as planned but thought we’d give it a go. Back down the Mutsu-Hamanasu Line (279), tracking the west coast of the axe handle this time, we were making good time but the sun was fading behind the cloud cover. Just before sunset, patched into J sena to sena and called a combini stop.
I’ve ridden that road 3 times now, twice with J and what are the odds we would stop at the same Sunkus we stopped at the last time we were up there? Well, that’s the first one that came up and where we pulled in. Fed & watered and realizing we were about 350km behind schedule, we decided on making a run for Hirosaki after some fuel for the steeds. Route: 279-4(south)-242-MichinokuDoro-123-44-27-7 into Hirosaki station.
Then it was time for a real feed and watering at a local Izakaya(pub with decent food) followed by some much needed slumber at the Hirosaki Route Inn.
Distance for day 1: @390km
Distance from Oma: @ 190km
6:45am and the Stones’ strummed in telling me to get off their cloud…
An hour or so later with a belly full of Route Inn buffet breakfast and a hankering for twisties; the tank bag zips on, zumo drops in the cradle, givi-box locks down, tailbag clicks in, the leg swings over and the ignition key rolls around to 12 o’clock. Welcome to day 2..? Or is it 3?… Ok, day 2 of the Honshu End to End!
Blue sky from horizon to horizon, temp around 10deg and we were doing the red-orange-green stop-n-go out of town when J patches in over the intercom, ‘Car on your tail.’ Shoulder check and move aside as a Subaru screams by with a young agro guy all pumped up and rubber-necking a death stare only to look ahead and find a red light. Of course we filter up front and then take a look to see he isn’t thinking of escalating things and he seems to be shrinking in his seat somewhat. Light goes green and we leave scooby-doo behind. At the next red he’s suspiciously pulled into the middle lane 2 cars back. Yep, leaving troubles behind time.
We hit the UshuKaido(7) south out of Hirosaki then switched over to the 282. 75 odd kms later, we swung onto the 341. Knowing the 341 is scant on fuel but dripping in twisties and curves for many horizons, we pulled in for some gas. While there, the Sena-Xperia-Zumo bluetooth combo needed re-pairing as I didn’t have any tunes. Had stumbled upon a pairing combo that allowed screen search and call notification for the phone through the Zumo and the Walkman from the phone went straight to Sena in stereo. And of course, the Zumo streamed directions to the Sena. The pairing went like this: 1. Disable bluetooth on the phone and Zumo and power-down the Sena. 2. Enable Bluetooth on the Zumo and wait a minute or two. 3. Enable bluetooth on the phone and wait another minute while the phone and Zumo do their pairing thing. 4. Power up the Sena and wait for the notification saying the phone and audio were connected. But, missing any part of that pairing and things weren’t so flush. Maybe no phone, tunes or zumo guidance. Later in the ride, I would figure out that just pairing the Sena and Xperia first for phone and Walkman and then chiming in the Zumo, only for guidance, worked out to be far more stable and convenient. Especially when dumping the bilge.
Cool thing was, no matter what the combo or pairing dilemma, the intercom was always there for a chat with J. But, we generally kept the chat short and riding long. Occasionally though, the conversation did roll by with the road and for the first time I measured the duration of a phonecall-like chat in kilometres not minutes.
Ok, eyes back on the road! We were behind schedule, remember? About 300km behind when we hit the road that morning. So, as much as I wanted to ride the Aspite Line(23), and I reeeeallly wanted to, we gave a nod to the crews of bikers milling around the combini north of the turn-off and sailed right on. The 341 is a great road in itself and within about 3 corners my Aspite desires were forgotten.
As the road climbed, the fall colors came down to meet it and soon we were snaking through the golds, oranges and reds under a crystal clear cool blue sky.
Sailing back down out of the hills toward Tozawa Lake, the tunnels punched through ridges offered steady picture postcard views with each breach back into daylight.
From there it was west on the 46/341 to 50 and from there we jumped our first bi-road and got out of town and into the fields, eventually finding our way onto the Mizuhonosato Road and then the YuuheiFruitLine.
But you know J, can’t take him anywhere…
After a quick turn west on 342 it was south again on the 108 and into the 398. Now, the 398 was another one of those glad to be here roads that included a long peg-plow inducing climb up the OyasuKaido! But, somewhere between 2 and 3am on one of the route planning nights, I’d seen a road that wasn’t there and plotted in a dirt-bike/rock hopper road. Doh!
So, some route juggling was in order. And well, there was no other option than to snake, weave and wear off some more tyre shoulder all the way down the other side of the 398 on the Senzantsu. Best routing screw up of the day that one 🙂
That brought us down to the twisty 457 and a Panorama line like 253 before a decent stretch along a meandering 47. Then, 28, 347 and the next one was a routing gamble that seemed worth taking at the time but put us here…
But, things were a lot better on the other side
Some snaking winding and rolling downhill into Higashine for a much needed feed, rest and fuel. The sun was well on its way east when I trundled out of the convenience store, plenty of rider fuel in hand, and spied the day’s logo.
We just had to get some pics and check out what the f### they were selling. Seems it was some kind of hip streetwear place with a coolkat owner and a gaggle of skater bmxer type punks milling around. Seemed friendly enough and they didn’t mind us parked out front.
Rolling up the ear plugs, getting ready to hit the road, and the shadows were getting very long. It was obvious we were in for some night riding. J wasn’t especially keen on that but I promised to keep us off goat trails and bi-roads. Besides, we were still behind schedule and I think the day had been too much fun already to give up now. Besides, we had been getting updates from those following us on Facebook, saying that the typhoon to the south-west had whipped itself up into the biggest typhoon in 10 years and Noah had even sent out a warning that things were going to get nasty. That was likely to make the next couple of days a lot less enjoyable so we had to make the best of the brilliant conditions we had at the time. But it was getting cold…nothing the heated gear couldn’t handle though!
So back on the dusky road, it was the 13 south to the 268, 113 and then the Budo-Matsutake Line to the 13 again. Mmm, lots of 13s at night? We survived and even thrived, once on the 121(#####23L). Then, it was the 459 west before turning south onto the 43 and a little west on the 49 before swinging south again on the 252. And the 252 it was set to be for the next 125kms. But… yes there is often a ‘but’ when improvising, isn’t there.
Well, we rolled into Aizu thinking that with it being a tourist mecca and all that, fuel wouldn’t be a problem. Well, seems no one drives after 6pm in those parts and it was already after 8pm and sprinkling softly by the time we pulled in to a MichinoEki west of Aizu to find the lights on, maps a plenty and some nice benches(yep, J noticed them). It was a lonely beacon of lumen goodness in an area darker than the inside of caveman’s colon. We weren’t alone either with a bunch of folk sleeping in their cars. Victims of the fuel curfew also, maybe? Anyway, we called upon the riding community and SNS to help us out of a bind and what a community it is! Within 15 minutes, 5 active fuel hunters were on the job feeding us locations, names and ideas. Unfortunately, the phones at those places weren’t being answered. Fortunately, I married a gem and she coaxed an elderly lady into opening a pump for some stranded riders in such cold weather.
She didn’t tell her we were men and foreign though. Arriving at her 2 pump tiny gas stand, around the middle of the twisty and likely deer infested rt.400, there she was in her nighty, teeth likely still in the glass by her futon and hair a shambles. To her credit though, she didn’t flinch at the site of the two of us and soon had the fuel flowing. We helped by filling the tanks ourselves and giving her a few extra yennies for being a saviour to stranded riders. Oh, and the beauty show!
Back on the road around 9pm with a cool tank between the knees and100kms of twisties and hillclimbs to go, in the dark, we wicked up the heated gear and got down to enjoying the road again. It was a nice night to be riding seeing as the sprinkles had stopped. Around Lake Tagokura the mist turned into fog and then pea soup and the road began to climb. Quite an adventure hillclimbing in pea soup, following the guard rail while stealing glances at the navigation to see that the lake was right there on the other side of the guardrail, not 20m away. That would be 20 horizontal metres and well too many verticle metres. But, onwards and upwards we went and the fog cleared fast as we got above it and found the lake blanketed in thick cloud under a bright 3/4 moon.
Cresting the touge at around 900m, we had to stop as the view was just amazing! Breath-taking! The typhoon was blowing the cloud into the narrowing valley pushing it up the valley walls like a wind blown lake’s waves lapping at the shores, only in super-slow motion. Even as we were there, some tendrils of cloud came up to tickle the road before rolling back over the edge, slipping away down the cliff-side into the endless white below. Disappointingly, the phone cameras couldn’t catch the majesty of it and my camera’s battery was flat. Very disappointed. The car-lit shot was the only visible shot I got. On the other side of those big concrete bollards was an abyss.
Back in the saddle, we descended into the next valley, relieved not to find any fog. On with the ride we went, all the way along the 252, under the Kanetsu expressway and then onto the Mikuni Hwy in search of a convenience store. Around 1am we found one, fed like weary starving animals then got on the horn looking for a bed. Just before 2am in Tokamachi, we fell hard on soft business hotel beds until tomorrow. But, it was already tomorrow..so what day is it? Not again-
Distance for day 2: @690km
Distance from Oma: @ 880km
Late rise, shower and on the road at 8:30 for day 3 of the End to End.
Got to love Japanese business hotels and their willingness to accommodate the odd rider. We were parked not 5 metres from the elevator on the ground floor and almost street side. So, it was out the door, into the elevator, out of the elevator and loading the bikes, then one of the ladies from the desk came down to us to collect our key. Too easy 🙂
A short run down the 253 out of Tokamachi and we were back in the office, on our first Skyline of the day, the Ounuma Skyline(560)
Great little but longish road that one with fantastic views. A true skyline! It worked up an appetite so we made for a breakfast stop. 353-117. A fair way down the 117, having crossed the border into Nagano, it was 502 time and J patched in to tell me how excited he was and told me to go on ahead as he wanted to take a photo of the sign. J has a thing for Nagano and the 502 in particular which I soon found out about when I moved aside after having my mirrors full of menacing FJR. Past he went and was trackin that road like he would sleep walking a full bladder from bed to the toilet at home. FJRs shouldn’t be able to do that. Flip-rollon-brake stab-flop from corner to corner the FJR was working up a tyre sweat! It’s awesome following him when he’s truckin like that.
The top end of the 502 is a treat and often traffic free. Also, there are a lot of great views that we had to stop and just marvel at. In the distance the typhoon was lurking and looking to be all around us. We’d been lucky all morning but the merciful weather gods can only hold off so much for so long.
Before we knew it, there was a to-bogon run snaking down the mountain, a giant ski jump across the valley and we were in the winter Olympics area and in need of fuel! Like an alcoholic with intimate knowledge of out of the way bars, J had us covered with “There’s a Shell at the bottom of this set of switchbacks.” And of course there was.
Tanks topped off, we took the 38 to 403 and around lunch time had a feast on the climb up the 97 to 900m. Then, somewhere along the tail of the 97, spits were hitting the screen. It spitted and spatted along the 504 – 96 – 360 and by the time we hit the 36, the typhooon was no longer knocking, it was here! So, it was time for J to get his wets on. There was some kind of hikers/bushwhackers service area we rolled into and it was well kitted out. Drink machines, souvenir area and all log walled. Plenty of brightly colored, stick swinging forest folks clucking about, too!
Not really sure what they were all smiling at, trudging around in 10c rain. They were all probably looking similarly at us 🙂
Prepped for the wet, back on the road we went. And wet it was and getting wetter! From 36 to 31 to 147/148 it wasn’t so bad. Then onto the swifter 306 and the heavens opened and stayed open! Trucks going by in the opposite lane were like wave makers and the wind was picking up again. I was not in a good place, struggling with a migrane all morning and the concentration needed to ride in those conditions didn’t help. Without heat, I was cold and my goretex gloves had been overcome by the rain, waves and wind. The helmet was wet inside as the fog alleviating crack of the visor was enough, in these conditions, to flood the eye-port area of the X11 .So, we pulled into the first MichinoEki. Time for a hot substantial meal and to re-evaluate our situation.
Dripping wet with a short in his heated gloves that gave him a buzz every time he touched the clutch or brake, J was all for a break but wanted to get going and get back on schedule. Road hardened and distance addicted, he is a friggin machine!
Sitting down with a big hot meal in the restuarant, J walked in and the conversation went something like this:
J displeased tone: So, what are we gonna do?
Me grumpy: Seriously, if this is gonna be the next 2 days, we aren’t making Shimonoseki.
A long break ensued, until the hot goodness of the local food fired the rider in me and I could speak logically and positively again. Picking up the smartphone and running the weather angles, it was apparent that nothing had changed from earlier and it was just the beginning of a long wet afternoon. The rain was everywhere with no work arounds or ways to avoid it. We’d have to float on through or give it up and hole up somewhere. We’d come too far for the later. Back to the maps and route and decided Takayama(@150km away) would be possible at a safe and steady pace with a few more breaks than usual. J agreed of course and an ember of hope was still glowing on this ride. But, there was a more serious question: Can we make Shimonoseki? Original plan was to be at he westernmost point of Honshu by Wednesday night. Impossible now! I had to be back at work Friday morning and did’t care to be climbing off the bike and straight back into it so.. I told J, come Wednesday night and if we aren’t within 6hrs of the goal, I’m heading home. Of course he said he was in for the whole run by hook or by crook!
So, donned the heated gear and packed everything up nice and dry for some serious scuba riding. And back on the road with the heat of the jacket and gloves, things were far better. It still amazes me how much difference rider comfort can make.
Southward and onward, 306 – 85 – 432 – 321 and then west to a blocked 278. Yep, we tried but the landslide was permanent. So, back around to the 25 and then onto one of my favorite roads, the NomugiKaido(158) from Matsumoto to Takayama. As it meanders its way along a river, tracing a gorge/valley, the views are great, twisties even better and it climbs to almost 1500m before ducking into a long tunnel leaving Nagano and pops you out in the highland wilds of Gifu. The down side is the dodgy old leaky tunnels and, as it is the only road running directly from Matsumoto to Takayama, the tour buses and trucks are tough to get by in those great twisties, especially in bad weather.
Before the action started though, we pulled in for fuel with the worst service I’ve had in a very long time! A dinky family stand with a lumbering troll that stuffed the nozzle in the tank without an ounce of concern. Disturbingly, he had nothing distracting him nor had we given him reason to be pissed. Seems Ma may have been the reason as he trudged inside to speak at 200% volume with Ma doing the same and ignoring me when he didn’t bring back my change. I had to go in to get it and he almost threw it in my hand like it was the thing to do. I give them the title unofficial title of worst pump monkeys of 2013 and beyond. Peanuts!
Anyway, away we went and wound our way along the Nomugi, climbing, winding and dodging manhole covers. All the while the rain was getting a little heavier. I was glad to make it to the tunnel and I was bone dry from wrists to foot, unlike my sopping wet compadre. He must have felt like he could finally come up for air!
After the tunnels, there is a rest area so we pulled in for a yap and refresh even though it was probably 50km fro the fuel break. Besides, it was chilly and had bladder that wouldn’t wait. While we were patting each other on the back for braving such conditions and survivng, a gaggle of bikers on all sorts of machines came in in dribs and drabs. We felt pretty ashamed to see a few girls on snmall bikes in there who pulled in, adjusted gear, had a giggle and scooted back out into the rain and the rain was getting heavier.
Time for a weather check and the heavens were set to unleash over the next few hours so Takayama was definitely going tho be our terminus and we would have to deal with whatever was coming between here and there. It was completely downhill and for once I was glad to be behind a dump truck as it was moving at a decent clip for the conditions as well as parting the standing water and rivers running across corners. We had our plow in front, heat turned up, not far to go and we were riding into the peak of the typhoon.
Soon, the streets had spots of man-made light here and there and the number of buildings and cars slowly increased. We were heading back into civilization straight down into Takayama and shining brightly thru the rain was the A-one Hotel logo. Good enough for us, we pulled into the main entrance and parked under the eaves. Next thing I remember is apologizing in the foyer for the pool forming on the shiny floor below me as my gear continued shedding water. To the staffs credit, they never complained and just smiled and instead handed out towels to get the hands dry enough for filling in the check-in form.
Later they would suggest an appropriate place for a feed and fluid change, supply us with umbrellas to keep our shoulders and heads dry there and back and give us a good farewell on the way out.
What will tomorrow bring us now the typhoon has peaked? We need to step on it if we hope to get this ride done!
Distance for day 3: @305km
Distance from Oma: @ 1185km
Finally, a good 7 hour sleep. Time to rise and shine and things have to be better than yesterday, don’t they?
An exploratory look out the window showed drizzle with a ray or two of sunshine on the distant hills and J got real excited seeing a lady in a short sleeve shirt. Things were looking up. Welcome to day 4 of the End 2 End.
Wriggling our way out of Takayama, the drizzle was there but so were patches of clear air too. Headed west on the 158, we pulled into the first combini after the big golden-horned temple complex. Standing under the eaves, we wolfed down some fuel and then it was time to get rollin.
First road, and I’m usually one to leave the best to last when feasting but the uni-directional route was dictating the menu so the GujouKaido/SeseragiKaido/HidaKaido(73) south was first up! If this was to be entre, the day could only get better. And it did. The rain was soon gone and the steeds were galloping. From the 73 to 257, 472, 156 and then some twisting and snaking through typhoon debris to the 4km shot through the Taraga tunnel to the 52. Like that road north but we didn’t have time as we were headed south and making good time. So, south it was and that top snaking part of the 256 is a niiice road 😉 Then we were rolling west on the 79, to 40 via the 157 and some creative road linking.
The weather was real primo on the 40, we’d had a good run and it was great to be really riding again after the scuba-like adventures of the day before. Ahead of schedule for the day, it was time for a fluid change and rest up at the Yume san-san Tanigumi Michi-no-eki.
After a monumentally long leak, some rays and a peruse of the route options, it was back on the road – Biwako bound and there were rain clouds on the smartphone’s horizon…
The 40 going west terminated at the 303 which we took northwest and all the way to Kinomoto. For the run around the top of Biwako, we threw our fortune behind the lucky rt.8 before rejoining the 303 and then south on the 161. The grey heavy rain clouds cruising east started spitting on us as we hit the 161. Before long it was cats and dogs and we were truckin on the bypass. Swinging around to the 303, again, didn’t bother patching in with J to see ho he was doing. He was already soaked, for sure and still there in the mirrors. Best to keep on truckin which no one does better than him.
Next turn put us on the 367 headed south-west and the rain was strong and steady! The road’s truck grooves were pooling and the traffic had us trudging along at a suburban pace in minimal visibility. It was getting depressing and the gloves, although heated, were sopping wet. Time for a break?
J agreed so pulled into KitsukiShinhonjin Michinoeki and found ample cover. Probably a local market when not flooded. Just the ticket for some rest, drip drying and getting a grip of where we were at and headed. J went in search of coffee and I got to figuring whether we, and if the weather would allow, could make Tottori for dinner. By the time he got back, it wasn’t looking good. So, he sent out a rider SOS for accommodation between where we were and somewhere further west. Thankfully, Eric, aka Haildamage, came through with a place offering cabins in a ski area on the far side of Hyogo. Still being in Shiga, we just had to get across Kyoto and most of Hyogo and dodge the weather along our winding tasty route which was forecast to stay wet and oppressive. 😦
Waiting for a break in the weather took a while. The rain just kept a flowing. After an hour or so, a few breaks in the downpour was as good as we got and the forecast was showing the blast was past so we ventured back to ride some twisties.
Headed south and swinging onto the 783/110 and things couldn’t have gone more sideways. With nice tarmac ribbons weaving through tall cedar stands and over trickling brooks, it’s probably an awesome road when clean and dry. Unfortunately, that day it was healing after a bruising from the typhoon.
The cedars had blanketed the roads, so bad in some places the only way you could make out the road was to follow the leveled snaking between the tall brown trunks lining the road. James was able to find a relatively clear area to pull up and take a pic..
Slow going that carpet riding and we drifted apart. But it sure was enchanting and captivating with the small narrow guardrail free brook crossings that had a fair torrent of typhoon muck streaming below.
Making it out of there with the rubber side still down and not suffering from slippery-road stress induced lockjaw was great! And getting back onto a nice winding road was fantastic, even if it was still drizzling and misty.
That put us on the 38 westbound still. Another road with huge potential in better weather/conditions, it lead us up and over a pass and then wound down into a small town by the name of Nantan.
Warmed, a little drier and chuckling again, the road was calling us back. So, west on 162, 12, 27 then snuck around ayabe and Takatsu to the 74 and pulled in for a feed and call to delay checkin at the cabin and have a feed. Then off down the 429, up the 427 to 9 and down the 312. All rather uneventful and thankfully dry. The dark and cold were tolerable without the rain. Swinging west onto the 429 brought back twisties and a fantastic winding hillclimb and descent. Things were going smoothly and we were taking it easy and covering ground comfortably.
Not far from the cabin we swung south on the 6 and James, in front, starts swinging his head like he’d just stumbled into Hooters. But it was panic not pleasure. His mortal enemy was seemingly everywhere! DEER ! Tired and almost there, I took the lead and ran sweep. Better to have the magnet at the back, right J? Pulling into the resort, where the cabins were, the place was teeming with deer. Seems it was some kind of deer sanctuary and they had all turned out for the arrival of the deer-killer and were eyeing off JamesK. Even saw an evil-eyed doe with a suckling fawn that couldn’t break her death stare! Spooky. Needless to say, I stayed as far from him as possible and nodded submissively to all the eyes I saw.
Anyway, we’d made it! The cabin was brilliant!
We unloaded, fired up the heater, stripped off the wet gear and emptied all the moist luggage for a good wicking in the dry and hot tatami room we’d converted into a dry-room. Actually looked like a touring bike or 2 had exploded in there 😀 Well, some beers, a good hot shower and some route reconfiguring and we were beyond bedtime. Yep, bed was magnetic and an unfightable force that night. I gave in willingly around half one.
Good news was, we were just over 500km from the goal and we’d resolved to go for it!
Distance for day 3: @475km
Distance from Oma: @ 1660km
‘..he’s going the distance, he’s going for speeeed…’ Good morning Cake and another day on the road!
The bed was warm and the heater drying the gear downstairs had warmed the loft nicely. I was kind of keen on staying there. But there was road to be ridden and with a little luck, a challenge completed. The roads of Okayama, Tottori, Shimane and Yamaguchi fired us up and had us on the road to meet the sunrise.
So, on with the run shall we…
North on the Inaba Hwy(29), 429 west which lead us out of Hyogo and into Okayama, 53/181down thru Tsuyama along the Tottori-Okayama border with a break for breakfast and gas. The weather was fine and the Izumo Hwy (181) west of Maniwa was smooth, winding and flowing, just where I wanted to be! Love that feeling!
The Izumo Hwy was arcing more northbound than we were looking for so we swung west again onto the 180 to 183. Before the 183 swung south, it was green(prefectural) road time. Yep, tight, twisty and narrow with Ryunokomadawa (a touge that’s not a touge apparently??) peaking at 690m. I was looking forward to it but the typhoon had been there before us and wiped out a section toward the end.
Didn’t realize the road was out until rounding a corner to meet a dump truck reversing down the road toward me while I was riding on clay. Seriously, clay! Hadn’t realized that either… The truck honked his horn for me to back up…yeah, easy mate. Just a tick. Much slipping sliding and cursing later, the FZ1 was heading down the hill with a clay-shod steamy rider on board. But, we were away. Turned down the nearest trail going in the general direction we were and waited for J. Unfortunately, I was a little out of site and he sailed right on by into a similar nightmare I had.
Anyway, the 15 took us into Shimane, our 14th prefecture since starting in Aomori.
The detour took us down the 108-107 to our route on the 314 and a nice national road again. Took that west a little way to the 432 and south before jumping another prefectural road west, the Kakeyakamiai-sen (38) and Utsuki Touge. It was fun and just the beginning of a great stretch of roads as it meandered down a farmed valley with lots of banking and cranking. The turn back onto a national road at the 54 was a return to wide open views and 6th gear, sometimes. vid Next up was the 40 but we needed a break and a michinoeki took care of that.
After the break, we u-turned and headed back to the 40. Great stretch all the way into the 30 and up to the 9. The 40 really got J rolling and so was the camera (video) around the south of Mt. Sanbe on to the 30.
The 30 lead to the salty scent of the sea, the Japan Sea. We’d been tracking the coast all this time and this was the 1st time to actually see it. From there it was a long run down the San-in Road(9) following the coast. Quite similar to the east coast of Izu for the most part. A combination of wide open rolling roads tracing the coast and towns of small shops with too many traffic lights all the while with a great blue view to the west. It had it’s ups and downs and more traffic than we’d had to suffer in a while. It eventually ran into the Kitaura Highway(191) and the road got a little more interesting with elevation changes and towns further apart. The Kitaura Hwy also took us out of Shimane and into Yamaguchi, our 15th and final prefecture!
At some point we drifted apart and west of Hagi, our paths diverged. James, back on the scenic and smooth San-in Rd while I stayed on the Kitaura for the best part of 191! Seems most of the traffic followed James on the San-in as my path was clear and the road was great! A long winding climb through steep mountains before the same going downhill into Misumi. All that…nice road.. really hd me feeling the miles so it was time to pull in for a rest and rider fuel.
Waiting out front of a combini where the San-in and Kitaura rejoined, James soon pulled in and he looked a little weary, not unlike myself I guess. 175km along the coast, fighting traffic and paranoia of riding on such main roads was taking it’s toll. So much so that when it came time to get rolling again, I thumbed the ignition which generated a flicker of light on the instrument panel and that was it. Damn! Left the ignition on, meaning headlights etc. Dead battery… Took a stroll and found a little bridge over the river behind the combini. So, pushed it up and rolling down the other side jump-started the FZ1 back to life. With a stutter and surge we were making power again and a short squirt in 1st brought a little life back. We were rolling again.
Next turn was onto the 34 with a quick jump across the 316 before rejoining the more rural section of 34. Fun but tight little prefectural road that wiggles its way around Toyota Lake. Got a good coating of bugs there! Also, J and I drifted apart again. The sun was on the slide toward the horizon and we had agreed at the last stop to just go for it. As it worked out, we ended up on slightly different routes again.
After a short link via 435, swung onto the 491 for the aptly named last touge of the ride, O-toge. From there, the 260 linked to the 262 south-west and then the 262 back to the 191. Yep, the Kitaura Hwy again. The 34 detour was a traffic free short cut 😉
So, southbound for not too long then filtered through some farmer fields looking for the road out to the goal. The westernmost point of Honshu, Bisha no Hana. But, the way there wasn’t as clear as some, maybe most, landmarks. After some head scratching, navi thumping and a lot of rubber-necking, there was a big sign at the entrance to carpark. A short while latter an eager growl from the FJR could be heard bouncing off the hills.
We’d made it! From end to end through crazy winds, sleep-ins, a typhoon, hidden roads, fatigue, electric shocks for some and the ride of a lifetime for both of us.
Cheers for the ride J
Distance for day 5: @535m
Distance from Oma: @ 2195km
Like to send a big THANK YOU out to those who sponsored us and drove us on to finish the ride. Thanks to you, around 80,000yennies worth of goodies was donated to orphans.
Like climbing Everest or Pikes Peak, free diving depth challenges, Arctic marathons or any number of extreme events that let devotees push their passion, the TT will always draw its detractors and supporters.
The day things like this don’t exist will be the day humanity passes from childish curiosity into pessimistic preservation and signs its own extinction!
Hit the road at 4:30 and sailed down the coast along the Seisho bypass with a brightening sky out over Sagami Bay. Climbed into the hills up the super green summer orchard roads.
Wriggled out of the undergrowth just in time to see the sun brightening the sea fog.
The temps and weather were just right!
The roads through the orchards are even better at that time of the day
Stopped by the Yoroizuka Farm to find some troll fauna petrified by the sunrise
Then scooted off up through Hakone and around the north end of Ashinoko along the Skyline
The dawn fog was lingering
The view north west topped was much better
Then it was off to skirt around the south of Mt. Fuji before sailing along the coast again down through Shizuoka to Shimizu and then zig-zagged up through the Minami Alps to Ikawa Lake / dam… but I suffer a little indecision everytime the signs and spokes of the junction near Dainichi Touge come up
The dam at Ikawa always impresses
The sky was blue and after a coast run with a sprinkle of snow, we headed inland and found more snow.
A lot more!
Got a little snow fever which lead us to that friggin enermous temple on the Izu Skyline
All that snow burned up a lot of energy so we went to a local old style eatery.
Initially had the place to ourselves
Then the looong term locals rocked up followed by the reeeal long term locals. They were friendly enough and half of them had no teeth so..
Had a great feed of all local goodies including some of Porky the Pig:s wild cousin!
The Street triple even wanted in for some 🙂
Then went to try our luck on the Nishi-Izu Skyline but… it was snow-closed
So we pulled into the Darumayama Resthouse for a view of Fuji
With the sun still up but on the slide, it was time for the run home.
Well, where to start?
Where can you tour in December? No…Where does one want to tour in December? Mmm,… Where does someone like JamesK go touring in December? Better but… Where shouldn’t one go touring in December? Yep, that’ll about do it!
..it is long winded and loaded with mistakes so no knit-picking, just come along for the ride!
JamesK and I had been thinking what to do or basically where to go for the final weekend of the year and various places were bounced around but JamesK had already been everywhere this year so we were hard pressed to think of anywhere unique and of course he was all out of ideas. However, especially in a riders’ paradise spoiled for roads like Japan, there is always somewhere new or interesting to ride. So, time to don thinking cap. And after about 3seconds, you know what happens when you don’t think things through enough, right?… :stir: You have stupid ideas! Well, JamesK and I are not new to ideas bordering on stupid and where do you draw the line between stupid and crazy-cool anyway? Mmm, still having a problem with that one but we did have the opportunity to ponder that in a snow encrusted SA on this one and came to the conclusion that if you fail, it’s stupid and should you succeed where others discounted, discouraged and even ridiculed then that is crazy cool…maybe, or something like that.
So, our ride was to start on december 29th and on the 26th, after procrastinating for weeks, I suggested we try going as far north as possible on the expressways and of course J said “Sounds good. What time?” This wasn’t crazy cool, it was likely to be crazy cold!
Well, Thursday after work and looking at the road conditions, which ought to be taken into account considering the unusually cool weather this year and things didn’t look good!
The 1st pic below is for snowchains(purply highlights), accidents and road closures. The 2nd pic shows snow chains and heavy snow. I took the screen snaps tonight and they don’t look as bad as they did that Thursday.
But we had been making many salutations to the weather Gods and the weather cleared Friday and the roads seemed to be clearing and opening up by Friday night so…
Saturday morning, climbed out of bed at a very reasonable 7:30am, packed the tank bag, tailbag and a winter sleeping bag. What went in the bags? This and that but most notably, 20packs of stick-on hot packs. Good for heating where heated jackets and gloves can’t, like the legs and just in case we hit a snag…
After all that stuffed in the tail bag it was breakfast time. When riding with JamesK on an expressway jaunt it is best to load up on adequate sustenance!
Then on the road at 8:30 to James’ place. Unloaded the FZ1 and climbed aboard the FJR for a short stint to the bike rental shop. Yep, wanted to ride something a little more … or less stressful if we were going to be doing a highway jaunt. So, a VFR1200 was ordered up for it’s superior cruising range and just to sample Honda’s take on the hyper tourer type bike. Having heard disappointing reports of the jp-spec VFR, it had to be a re-import but could only find a DCT. I’m a big fan of the athletic endeavour needed when shuffling gears to extract the most from the ride and was not a fan of auto-technology. The DCT has no shift peddle or clutch…how would that work? Well, it is loaded with tech, which I dig and with 160 horses from its V4 it ought to provide enough excitement.
Just getting it moving takes some learning and dexterity of the digits…
After figuring out how to get the rubber rolling we were away and onto our 1st stop 10 minutes away. A combini for some rider fuel and fitting the tank bags power and essential power cable for the heated jacket and gloves. That done, we hit the road.
The expressways rolled by. Chuo, Ken-O, Kanetsu and the Kita-Kanto. Some way into the Kita-Kanto and with 203km showing on the VFR’s meter the reserve started to flash. Mmm, interesting. Indicated to my wingman a refuel was in order so fuel was in our scopes. The interweb blurbs mentioned 300km range when cruising which is what we had been doing. Maybe the reserve was huge like those blurbs had also mentioned. Luckily, 45km into the reserve, a sign came up saying fuel in 5km. Fwhew! Unluckily, the exit for the Tohoku came up in 3.5km! 17 odd kilometres later I was pushing Honda’s finest north to the mobile refueling ship USS-FJR. Must’ve sounded like a hideous or ridiculously cheap phone sex session with all the panting and puffing and vile cursing I was spewing down the intercom to James. Luckily, he came to help with the push as Honda’s finest is also it’s heaviest ever VFR! And for his effort, he got a mouth full of fuel that repeated on him all day and into the night. Sorry mate! I still don’t know how you didn’t explode while smoking. Heheh, I was watching and waiting you know!
A splash from J and we were on the crawl still on the search. A couple of corners later a sign came up saying 16km to KamikawaSA. Mmm, we’d put in a little less than a litre and needed to go 16-17km. Could it make it. On a long ride, we think about various things and a good way to pass the kms is calculations: averages, time and range. So, the numbers were crunching and I really wasn’t sure but was sure that 70km it should and it did! It took 17.83Litres in its 18L tank so we were close. We took this opportunity to take a late lunch lunch and watering as it was our 1st real stop.
Back on the road and with some rethinking on fuel strategy decided, we were northbound. Temps were steady from 10° down to 3°. Somewhere around Fukushima the sun fell over the horizon and somewhere around Morioka a brilliant almost full moon lit up the snow capped mountains around us. Actually, it wasn’t just the mountains as the roadside had slowly been gathering winter’s dandruff on it’s verges since just north of Sendai. It was a welcome change of scenery from the desolate winter browns and baldness to the south. @235km from our last stop, we pulled into Choujahara SA for the 2nd fuel up and the VFR was doing better on the economy front with as the reserve was engaged only a couple of kilometres from the SA.
At the SA we took some light snacks and warm drinks. Think it was around 5° there. A big plus when highway hauling in Jp is the variety of PA/SA and not knowing what you’re going to find. This stop was no exception as there was a rather rotund man frying and powdering donuts while his sidekick flogged takoyaki. Never one to turn down donuts I had to have one. When James came back from his warm little sitdown and forage inside he had a quizical look at my hand at which I gestured to the van nearby. “Donuts?” “Uh huh.” “Real donuts?” “Yep, sugared and all.Not bad actually..grab me another while you’re there would you.” he nodded and was soon back with 4 steaming donuts. We nodded our appreciation to Ren & Stimpy in the yellow van of dough who seemed to be shutting up for the night. Just in time! Not long after, the little guy sprung up outa nowhere with a big bag of donuts for James. A very welcome surprise! So we slowed down the coffee and fed up. Man, they were good…Homer Simpson good. Ah haha!
North of Morioka the expressway starts to climb and swing west through the Hachimantai area. Whenever heading north, I enjoy this section as it winds, climbs and cuts tunnels through a course mountainscape weathered by the extremes of the inland north. It’s a pretty good and challenging road, too. 😉
It climbed and the temps fell. And fell and fell down to -1° . Ok, ice is made at 0° , right? Then down to -3° and James had to stop. Couldn’t blame him actually as the white was worth a pic or 2 but the PA was a bit dicy. Actually J, if your ears were burning, it was because I really didn’t want to head into that under-equipped snow glazed little PA.
Back on the road and just when I started thinking about wild and extreme possibilities it took a big dip and then the extremes seemed plausible! Finally, cresting a range, the VFR’s temp gauge bottomed out at -8° . Then a roadside temp sign showed -7° . Cold enough for me! They say they use some freaky chemical to dramatically lower the freezing point of the water/ice/snow on the expressways. How dramatically? In what concentrations? And how about the top layer of water flowing across the sub zero roads… Why didn’t I make time to research this more seriously? Stupid is besting crazy-cool at this stage. Never mind, soldier on, the VFR has ABS, big footprints, traction doobawackies and…soldier on!
About 30km earlier the reserve had started flashing so fuel was needed within 35km but we were moving slower so maybe 40km. Typically, we can find fuel every 50-60km on the expressway so there was still time, I thought. Around 50km into reserve, notified J that an expressway exit was imminent as we hadn’t seen any signs for fuel coming up in the next 20km. Running out of fuel was not an option as no fuel means no power which equals no heat and taking off all my gear to put on all 35 remaining heat packs would likely be an exercise in snap freezing followed by uncontrolled shaking until thawed and then a slow warm all the while trying to flag down a passing car while J puffs away on warm cigarettes encased in warm’n’safe’s finest! At 58km into reserve with 296km since last refueling, we exited at Kuroishi in search of fuel!
Getting to the toll gate was ok. But ETC in the tankbag didn’t work. Rolled through, pulled over onto a white encrusted bylane. Looked across at J and he wasn’t leaving the tarmac for anything. But he had to as the thin black strip of grippy stuff ended about 10m later. Then the toll troll was on us and easily dispatched with a greating and handing over the ETC card. He soon returned expressing surprise that we’d trecked in from Tokyo earlier that day and on bikes! We asked about fuel on the expressway in these parts and apparently there isn’t any on the northern stretch when northbound! Really? Well, there is a serious lesson as to why prep is vital on long runs. Well, we needed gas and he pointed the way so I was off. J trailed slowly behind.
The next 3km was a…lets just call it a big change. James later described it as something he’d NEVER do again which is saying something! Eyes shooting everywhere trying to stay on the thin stips of black, x-raying for ice, trying to be as gentle on the controls as possible and just staying positive and focused we made it to a Mobil GS. Now, this GS had a flap over the bowser pump thingies intended to keep snow/ice/freezing rain off I guess and made from that see thru rubber sheet. You know, the pliable stuff? Nothing pliable about it at -6°! J thought he was going to snap it off! It was then I noticed that my tankbag cover was the same and that even though the phone was being fed power from the bike, the battery was below 10% and falling..no phone = no tunes or more importantly, emergency calls.
J wanted a break and I was keen to warm up my nose in the combini down the road so off we went. Now, I reckon riding in these temps at speed is much better than slowly if you have heated gear. Why? Visor fog! At speed, with the nose vent cracked and directing a little air on the visor the fog is kept at bay. Going slow, the only option is to have it cracked. As I sit here now 3 days later, my nose is still a little spotty.
Anyway, back to the ride. I pulled up to the combini and another white encrusted carpark. So, deploying the TCX snow pods on ends of each leg, the VFR made its way gingerly and without event to a non-dramatic parking in the line out front of the combini between all the snowchain equipped 4 wheeled heater boxes. Dismounted, trying not to slip, turned and where was J? Not out front or behind the snowbank between the combini and road. But he was about a km down the road edging his way back to the expressway. Damn it! Well, nothing for it. No warm nose or coffee for me. Maybe at the next PA?? For now, just get back out there and stay with the FJR as seperation is as great a danger as bike failure or a drop in these conditions. Out of the carpark, across the ice between lanes with a wiggle into the middle lane which was mostly clean and unabled me to almost catch J but then I had to get back across to the left lane to enter the expressway and there was a rather large island of snow and ice to be traversed there. So, slow to a stop, angle the ride to 45° deploy snowpods and procede like a snail. Ok, front wheel up and over ice burm and then the reaeaeaear whohoho-traction control-spining and stop! 90° from where I’d started and thankfully still upright! How does traction control/ABS even work at such slow speeds? I was in the right lane but facing almost the wrong way. Back and forth, back and forth and keeping the boots in the thin strip of tarmac, it took a while but we were moving again and up the entrance ramp. Then the ETC failed again! Cold or what, don’t know as it worked again later. But the toll troll was back again and dumbfounded but the idea of us returning to the expressway let alone headed north. I asked if the road was open and safe. He said yes but advised we take a rest at one of Kuroishi’s hotels which were good and close as it was almost 11pm. Good advice which made me chuckle as time is insignificant when on a mile munching ride. Eat when hungry, drink when thirsty, sleep when sleepy and ride ride ride!
Anyway, I had to make a decision at that point as I had no phone and had to catch J. Which way had he gone? North or south? I guessed north as he doesn’t usually give up so north bound it was. A little after the split north, his tyre tracks could be seen snaking and weaving over each other but in a smooth enough arc. After the climb onto the expressway, by the snow wall in the entry lane, there he was puffing away like a train and snapping photos. We decided on a rest stop there. It was flat, ice free and quite a sight unhindered by flood lights. The snowscape, illumintaed by the fullish moon and a cold black winter sky full of cool white stars around it. Tried to get the phone going again to no effect and before my fingers froze and fell off, gave up and got the gloves back on. It took about 1/2hr before the pain faded and a short while later my index and middle fingers felt almost normal again. Was glad they were back.
At 11:15 we rolled through the Aomori toll gates and had reached our goal! 850+km in around 11.5hrs. Considering the conditions, not bad.
Check the ice barrier
Turning it around, we were headed back and just getting back through the toll gates with its island of ice at the threshold was a real adventure. The VFR drifted a bit and hooked up just in time, again. Such a good little VFR that one 😉 Anyway, thru the icy northern gates and riding into the silvery white snowscape again, the temps were dropping as we climbed and shot in and outa tunnels. Not really shot as we’d slowed to @70km/h. Now, that’s not usually a problem but the lower speeds had the visor fog back and screen cracked. The nose was so frozen it was burning again and I took to an open and close method counting to a hundred on each shift. When J pulled over I was in frozen appendage mode and didn’t realize till we’d stopped what the reason was.
I laughed and something icy fell on my tongue. So, the tongue went out for a lick around to investigate and…SNOTcicles! My moustache and beard were friggin frozen with salty snotcicles! I was quite elated at this as I’d never experienced it before on the bike and tried to share my enthusiasm with J but he couldn’t make heads or tales of what my frozen lips and chattering teeth were saying 😀 It’s quite a unique feeling to have a toasty core and paws but a frozen face. I don’t recommend it!
Anyway, we did manage to agree to stop at the 1st gas station we saw and take a break. I’d remembered seeing the only one on this stretch on the other side on the way up, a big orange Eneos sign glowing in the snowscape. Target locked, keep on trucking… rolled in there @70km later to find a small warmed room full of humming vending machines of all descriptions. None to nutritious but lots of hot stuff so shacking fingers digging through frozen change and I soon had tall a hot mocha doing the 90second tune thing along with hot soggy potato chips, a couple of hotdogs and then another mocha.
and parking? Snow overhead and ice underfoot!
:zomby: It was cold and I began to think we must look like energy starved zombies staggering around fumbling with simple things, groaning and devouring all in our path.
20minutes later and we were feeling a lot better! Better enough to do some helmet/visor maintenance and gear adjustment. 35min later we headed over to the gas stand where a stunned pair of pump monkeys couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Hehehe! Once the fuel started flowing my guy was all questions about tyres, iceban and heated gear. Seems they don’t get many riders up there this time of year and I soon realized why when confronted with the exit from the GS. It was an ice rink! Better stick to the white bits! J had negotiated it already so the VFR followed the FJR’s footprints back to the safety of the expressway and the next leg.
We made it 125odd kilomtres down to HiraizumiMaesawa SA and I was running out of steam. 3:30 am and we’d been on the road for 16hrs, it was the deepest point of our natural sleep cycle and it was cold and energy draining. We agreed on a sleep. Taking our sleeping gear, necessities and valuables inside we found a typical smaller SA food court come souvenir shop come vending machine storage area. There were a handful of customers and again we got the odd looks. I don’t think it was the location or that we were bikers as much as the lifeless eyes and excess luggage. Yes people, we’re moving in! 10min later we were dozing. A couple hours later, the TV was blaring, lights were on full fluresence and an annoying little bug of a man was buzzing around “Ohayo Gozaimas”ing his hordes of adoring regular 6am Sunday customers! I awoke precariously perched on a chair, upper body splayed out over a table and head on arm in a reservoir of slobber. Warm and safe, with the scent of SA food on the air, I proded the blood starved lower limbs into action and groaned to my feet. We had a ride to finish!
Woke J, had a big feed, topped off the tanks and hit the road again.
Didn’t take long before the rain started. Not hard but persistent. Then it sleeted and pea hailed and even snowed lightly. It wasn’t pleasant but there was nothing for it as the weather forecast said it was here all day and it may thin around Fukushima.
This is when the VFR came into its own. the thing is a friggin rock! Steady as, comfy in a sporty kind of way and as nice a place as one could hope to be in, in such conditions. The screen worked well for me, difussing the air right on top to make a soft spot for the helmet and funneling some hard streams onto the shoulders to keep the weight of the wrists. The seat worked, too. To top it all off, in the slower colder conditions, it could definitely do 300+kms from a tank. I didn’t test it again but pulling into Nasukogen SA after doing the whole stint in D, the meter was showing 252 and reserve had only just come on.
No snow at Nasukogen but still we were the only bikes in the parking area. Come to think of it, we had only seen 1 other bike, a very brave young soul on a CB400SS in snowboard gear with a big backpack, sneakers and exposed socks the day before around Fukushima. Same routing, bladder purge, hot drink, snack, clean the visor and out onto the road in a soft drizzle. But this may just be our last stint as Tokyo was less than 200km away and rain was due in Tokyo in a few hours. As it worked out, James’ heated glove controller had gone on the blink and he needed to switch to his bulky winter gloves as the default 30% heat provided in such a case was nowhere near enough for the conditions and he had a serious case of frozen thumb and numb finger tips! My gloves had gone bad too around 100km back but the left one had warmed a little just before the stop. Thank you Honda for the heated grips! So anyway, our last stop was Sano SA. And Sano had plenty of food trucks, drinks and oddities to keep us entertsined until warmed and then we relaxed and were able to step back and marvel at what we’d seen, done and survived. I took stock of what the VFR really was and wasn’t and it was more than it wasn’t.
Sitting down on the curb to marvel, the headligh still confounded me. An after thought after crafting the easy on the eyes sides, an oddball screw-up or they ran out of money putting all the other sweet bits into it? Whatever the case, you don’t see it when riding and that’s what the this bike does soooo well. It provides a home for riders. A place were a rider can live, craft and relax. That’s what it did for me anyway!
Pondering done, the hanger bay doors opened on the USS-FJR as J went to work repairing my broken and shorted glove wire. Handy guy to have along that JamesK! Until he gets these out then best to keep your back to a wall
Back on the road, we marched into Tokyo and no matter what you say J, you intended to miss that turn and do the Shuto loop! No, no, no feeble excuses. What is heaven for you was more than enough for me. But thank you for taking us the extra distance to achieve a nice round 1600km!
So, if you were ever thinking of doing this, I hope my long winded and overly detailed catologue of our foibles helps you to make it a smoother one. But as James said, “I can’t recommend anyone try this and I won’t be doing it again till summer.”
See you on the road!