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See you on the road!
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See you on the road!
・Ironbutt Ride Witness Forms
・SS1600 Starter Ride
.. and on the seventh day he rested.
Too bad he wasn’t mortal or he could’ve jumped on a bike and done the Daisen Sunday Special! I make that poke to the omnipresent one in tongue in cheek protest.
Why? Well, we had originally planned on heading north for our Sunday adventure. After nearly 3 weeks of planning, an awesome Ironbutt schedule and route had coalesced that was the best yet. All we had to do was ride and enjoy it!
We’d planned gas stops, time to gas stop, break times and duration, meal times and incorporated a circumnavigation of a peninsula, a castle, a volcano, some of Japan’s finest seafood and the north tip of the main island. All set for a great ride. Until someone rattled the earth’s mantle? The early morning major earthquake to the north on the Saturday forced us to reroute and head west and take us on what turned out to be quite a good ride.
The ‘let’s ride‘ mobile mail had gone out to all the long distance riders I’ve ridden with about 3 weeks before, in the hope of a weekend Ironbutt to the north. 2 others were keen.
Mic was in! No going back for him. First mail reply was, ‘any chance we could make it a SS2000k?’ He hadn’t done a real long ride in more than a year and wanted to bravely (or blindly) test his stamina on his current torture rack, the GSXR600. None too disappointed when I said ‘no chance’ as I’d just done one the month before and this was a touristy type thing and not a highway marathon. Tenaciously he hung onto the hope that he could split off, do an extra 400km and meet up with us later down the route. Looking back on it and our sluggish off-highway excursion, he probably could have stayed on the highway and done it.
Collin and I had been planning on doing the northern leg for a while and he’d tentatively penciled in the 15th of June as a day when he had no other commitments. However, there was a twist. He seemed reluctant but determined and I could understand his wavering enthusiasm as he intended to deform himself by galloping the distance on his MV Agusta F4. How could one not support this endeavor? That’s what real bikes are for, riding! That MV sure looked and sounded sweet and the ride ahead would put it to a real bike test. But was Collin up for a 24hr yoga lesson?
After the April/May SS2000k, 12 days and 6300km of touring heaven, I’d been on a self imposed ride limitation of less than 500km a day. Had to get some regular sleeping patterns and reality back in order. But the FZ1 seemed to be itching every time I walked past it to catch the train to work and I had to turn my head in shame. But the planning for the northern route kept me content in anticipation of the ride being planned. I whispered the developing plan on passing the FZ1 more than once, as much to sooth the karma gremlins as to alleviate my shame. Along with the FZ1 my feet were itching too.
As noted, we had a bulletproof plan for an awesome north course. However nothing is finger of God-proof! And with that earthquake we had 18 hours to plan an alternate route. I threw up a cool route west that incorporated some of the roads covered in May and roughly calculated to over 1600km. Then the others went to work making it seem doable. Collin punched in all the way points on his Zumo to get us some much needed route detail and accuracy while Mic .. . what did Mic do here? Oh yeah, he agreed wholeheartedly with whatever was being planned, played around a little with the gas schedule and then went off to a sayonara party for a departing friend. Good job mate! Admittedly, he had already done a hell of lot on the north course planning.
Here’s how it panned out
Tokyo – starting at a gas stand in central Tokyo, easily accessible to all and our witness. Take the nearest expressway out of there and head for.. .
Himeji-jo – UNESCO world heritage kick-ass castle. Totally original and until this day as yet unconquered! Next .. .
Daisen – A sleeping volcano out west ringed with awesome twisties and vistas. Followed by .. .
Tottori sand dunes –Japan’s only desert. Let’s not go too far with the desert bit though. Just a pit stop really, on the way to.. .
Route 666 – hey, what can I say, it’s a hell of a road! After our escape from Hades .. .
Back to Tokyo – superslab it back via expressway.
The route worked out to be 1700+km with options, should we be ahead or behind schedule. But a lack of detail planning would mean we would be going old-school ride as the road delivers style. All be it with one modern addition, Colin on the Zumo guided Agusta.
Headed out East to West on the South line and returned along the North line West to East.
Not much to write about here. All the bikes had new oil and more than enough tyre for the distance. We all knew what to expect and packed accordingly.
I’d pushed for a 2am start so we could get back at a semi-reasonable hour for a late Monday start at work. Well, with my Saturday work and everyone’s Monday work commitments, it became the only choice. Besides, no one had started a marathon from that time before. Ah the learning curve.. .
Picture a corner gas stand on a five road intersection in the heart of Tokyo at 1.30am. Expressway humming overhead backed by a sky dimly glowing from the light pollution. The occasional free-flowing drifter exhaust wailing across the thrumming drone of down town metropolis and an endless parade of taxis filled with those that had missed the last train home. Here we find 3 Ironbutts on another journey that would take them everywhere but the metropolis, until 24hrs later. Hopefully.
Me – Fazer Colin – Agusta Mic – Gixer
Our start witness was another long distance rider who was out racing mini-bikes until midnight and graciously agreed to ride across Tokyo to see us off. Thanks Anthony.
Filling the tanks, triple checking the equipment, taking some photos and getting comfy we trundled out of the gas stand around 2.15am and headed for the Shuto Expressway to take us out of the urban maze and onto the Tomei expressway which would guide us some 300km into the morning light out west.
Gliding down the Tomei and stopping for gas only once we had the sun lighting the sky hot on our heals as we veered off left onto the Ise-wangan Expressway that cuts across NagoyaBay. A superb 3 to 4 lane elevated expressway, with great panoramic views, that rolls and flows along the coast before island hopping across the bay to the west side.
Heading further west we took the extensions out to the Shin-Meishin Expressway. A beautiful new road with near zero traffic and great views when exiting tunnels into new valleys filled with rice paddies and wooded hills. These wonderful views took us onto the Meishin Expressway and into the heart of Osaka and it’s dreaded morning traffic.
Shuffling into the traffic the three of us settled in for the stress. It slowed down and down and then we were doing 30km/h and thoughts of the ticking IBA clock rang an alarm. At this point the sign for a bypass(Keiji bypass) showed us to be only 2km from salvation. Patience fellas. It paid off with a clear run along the Keiji before rejoining the Meishin Expressway in much thinner traffic. That hurdle cleared, we followed the signs for a short run along the Chugoku Expressway heading west in search of our 1st sightseeing stop.
Before we got there, the fuel meters started complaining and my memory of the course was a little fuzzy this far west so a stop was called for. Kasai SA(service area) was just ahead with fuel, restaurant and facilities. Perfect! Pulled into the designated bike parking, dismounted and scrabbled around all hunched, warped and stiff. Especially the other 2 on there decidedly more unergonomic torpedoes. Breakfast would straighten us out. Gathered up the valuables and headed inside to feed the furnaces. A visit to the bakery with a coffee to wash down the solid fuel then made our way to a booth overlooking the parking area with a view to the bikes.
We gas bagged for a bit whilst satisfying our appetites. Immediately after, Mic was drifting, head in hand and eyelids setting. He needed another kind of fuel. Rest. So Colin and I gassed along for a while sorting out the route ahead and some gas-stop strategy. But we could only keep this up so long with Mic, ever the comedian, even managing to get us laughing in his sleep. It started like this. Head rocking, hand slipping down over his brow and with a start he’s back into his original rest position. Everybody’s seen it at one time or another. This continued deeper and deeper. Then Colin pulled the camera. He dipped and rose ever deeper descending into his slumber, only to rise with a start time after time. Finally, he had dipped too far and his head and hand ended there zombie dance. The neck snapped his melon upright again with confusion and embarrassment alternately fleeting across his glassy eyes. Then he saw the camera and a smile split ear to ear. We all had a laugh and it was time to head out again with Mic having lit his riding fire again and putting a smile on all of our dials.
We didn’t get too far as Colin seemed to have debilitated the Agusta. While gassing up he’d left the Zumo and headlight on without the engine running, as he does on his FJR, but now the Agusta wouldn’t even crank over. Time for his 1st lesson in push-starting. Luckily he’s a fast learner, the Agusta trumpeted it’s quad exhausts in a return to life and we were on the road again, headed for Himeji castle.
A little confusion on my part with the route into the castle grounds had us fishing around back streets until Colin fired up the Zumo and brought us in for a perfect photo op landing in front of the main gate.
Himeji-jo : One of Japan’s “3 famous castles” and the first to be given UNESCO world heritage status: Also known as the White Heron
In search of a better photo we headed around to the east side and found a road that led right up to the castle wall and a cool photo.
We had no time for legging it around the vast grounds or ooohing and aaahing at the intricacies or engineering brilliance. There was enough to behold from the car park. Besides, we were here to ride and next on the list was not so much a sight as an adventure. 200kms away was Daisen.
Daisen is a sleeping, almost dead volcanic zone ringed by memorable twisties and vistas. About 60km of them. Great elevation changes, hairpins, dog legs, sweepers, dense forest, volcanic dust pans, odd rock formations, valleys, bridges and jungle. We all loved the jungle passes. Hahaha! Not really, just a personal favorite of mine. Don’t know what the others were so worried about. Just because the edge of the road is utterly undefined due to the voracious consumption by the encroaching foliage. Could it be, that voraciousness had them worried about disappearing off the side of the road into the primeval tangle never to be glimpsed again? To me it just looked like a soft furry fringe along a most excellent meandrous ride. Aaah, now I get it! From their crouched torpedoes they had trouble seeing the asphalt carpet snaking its way through the entrenched green.
Heading back to the Chugoku and going west, we turned off north onto the Yonago Expressway before the Chugoku turned south west and its famous twisties started. Damn! However, the Yonago was nice and new with lots of tunnels but mainly single lane. Luckily it wasn’t busy and we could keep rolling along without the clock stressing us. We pulled off the expressway one stop early in search of some much needed gas. By this stage we could assume that Mic’s and my bike were the serious drinkers while the Agusta was showing a surprisingly frugal side. The gas-diversion had us rerouting along some cool old-forest lined byways to get us back on our original course leading into the Daisen loop from the north-west corner.
After pausing more than a few times to scan maps and navigation at nameless intersections with unnumbered roads, we finally made it onto the 158 heading south/south-west. The 158 being the 1st road in our 158-45-44-34-30-54 90% ring-around-a-mountain adventure. I’ve got to mention each of these roads alternately for their diversity.
158 gives the first up close views of the snow capped 1700+metre peaks of Mt.Kengamine whilst climbing at a steady rate. 45 is 25km of super-twisty heaven! 44 initially continues the twisties before smoothing out and running down a valley side. 34 is slowly being reclaimed, from the curbside in, by jungle. The blacktop is in good condition and there are mysterious mid-jungle oases of finely engineered dual lane super-twisties. But mostly it’s jungle running. 30 gets you back onto decidedly more civilized dual lane mild twists with nice farm vistas. 54 is the down hill run to the Sea of Japan coast with cool views to the west and east.
Halfway along the 45 we stopped for some cool pics with Mt.Kurasugasen in the background and some were having wrist trouble.
Around about 3/4 of the way along the 34 we stopped for a break and those who rode over their bikes rather than on, were none too impressed with the jungle nipping at there helmets on each corner. By this stage the fatigue was taking it’s effect and all were wondering whether the Daisen loop was worth it. On meeting the coast we were relieved to be on the next leg. Daisen is a great place to spend the day riding but a tough nut in an Ironbutt.
Hitting the coast we ran east along a comparatively boring, but relaxing, rt9 in search of the Tottori Sakyu. On the way we passed a seemingly endless row of mammoth wind turbines spinning swiftly in the coastal wind. As massive as they are, they were spinning like a child’s toy in the hand of an infantile God of wind. Only 1-200metres from the side of the road and I couldn’t help but be reminded of a front page news story I’d seen during the winter. It had illustrated how a wind turbine could separate at the base and cart-wheel some distance before tearing itself totally to pieces along with the surrounding countryside. Calculating the vague picture against the current distance, we were probably safe. Probably.
Tottori Sakyu is supposed to be Japan’s only desert and we were disappointed to find that all the signs in the area referred to it as the Tottori sand dunes. Once we got there we realized this title was more justified. About 3km by 1km of sand, roughly resembling dunes with dying or dried-dead trees on the fringes and a multitude of urban ant-like tourists crawling over it here and there. At least it had camels, apparently!
That’s a desert back there – The Tottori Sakyu – actually translates to Tottori Dunes
Deciding not to eat at the desert, the Touring Mapple(a rider’s road atlas and guide to great roads) showed a recommended restaurant close by on our next intended route. The Tea Room. So we made a bee line for it. On the coast and serving simple road fare, it had a large car park, was across the road from the ocean and was clean and accommodating. We chowed down some real cooked food and then pulled the maps to set us a course onward. The Zumo was telling us we would be back in Tokyo with an hour and a half to spare but Colin was skeptical, noting it seemed to be learning averages along the route and projecting scheduled times from that. Pretty cool function except we were planning the next 200+km off the expressway and it was averaging based on our past course which was 90% expressway. No help for it, time to soldier on.
That road out the front of the restaurant was the 178 and our Hyogo-Kyoto prefecture passage. So we swung east out of the car park and hit the road again, sea to our left and land to our right. The 178 has some nice pieces of coast hugging, large radius twisties with fantastic views broken up intermittently with smooth stop-signal free byways that seemed to link the wastelands between nice pieces of road. I’d learnt that the headlands these byways were bypassing hid some of the regions best and worst roads from the last time along there and decided, for fatigued Ironbutt safety, that skipping the polarity of those roads was a reasonable decision. But I still wanted to get out to some of those roads.
In and out of small towns, running through beautiful hills, rice fields and along wind swept coastal roads the local road route was starting to eat into our time. Coming up on Kumihama and the sky was looking more than overcast. A dark cloud was beginning to decend on us. Colin and I had been swapping lead duties, him with the Zumo and me with my vague memory of the route from last month and maps. We’d neglected to keep Mic active and pulling into Kumihama city he shuffled up next to me at a traffic light. I didn’t need to hear him to know what was going on. His eyes looked a thousand years old. I asked if he could hang in there 10 minutes more and relief seemed to flood some life back into his empty orbs. Giving him a goal instead of the endless trudge was what he needed. I dared not tell him Rt666 was our next stop about 5 minutes away.
We made it onto 666 and being somewhere between 3/5 and 2/3 of the way into the trek Mic died in hell.
He needed sleep and we were laying him to rest on the road to Hates. Not 10 seconds after laying down was he lightly snoring and recharging his sleep stocks. Quite an indication of his exhaustion as there was a hell of a racket from a lot of skeet shooting going on just down 666. He said no more than 10 minutes but we left him to his slumber while we evaluated our homeward options, until he stirred about 30 minutes later. On seeing his energy after the kip, I wished I had joined him.
Tired, with a dimming cloudy sky overhead, we decided to take the quickest route home. That meant expressways. It would cut off 2 more sights but making it back to our witness necessitated being back on time. This is one of the problems of doing a foreign IB challenge. We collect the receipts, illustrate our course, keep odometer logs but the witness requirement is the difficult part. In another country, where English is spoken and foreigners are not regarded so suspiciously, it would be easier to pick up a witness anywhere. But we need concrete witnesses that won’t make our ride verification iffy. So we set witnesses at the start and end points of each ride and then fill in the roads between. For this ride, our end witness would be waiting just off the expressway back in Tokyo. So we were Tokyo bound. 700 odd kilometers and 7-8 hours left on the clock. It was looking tight and Colin wisely pushed for the expressway home. I’m a glutton for twisties, he knows it and kept us on target. Good job Dude!
Now all we had to do was get to the expressway! The Zumo was showing us a circuitous route to the nearest expressway as it seemed we had no major roads going even remotely in the direction of an expressway. So the Zumo master prodded a route into the unit that looked more or less direct and was showing a reasonable arrival time. But it involved driving down the 666. Ooooooooooo! Last time I’d encountered this road I’d stopped there by pure coincidence to change into my heated & rain gear. The skeet shooting was a mere annoyance and only when I looked up at the sign by the roadside rest area did I realize where the hell I was. Was it really skeet shooting? Being alone, far from home and with a bucket load of twisties ahead I’d rather be riding on, I had mounted up and hightailed it outa there like a little girl. At least I didn’t cry.
Everybody set up for highway running again and we loped off down 666. The Zumo had us make a turn here, a stop there and before we knew it we were nowhere. The jungle roads were back. I could see Colin backing off in the lead but I knew it would be a link road and if we could make it through this dodgy area we would be into open country on the other side. Or totally screwed! But I love jungle roads so I slid past and motored on with the others tailing reluctantly behind. Luckily it was the former and we emerged 5 kilometres later on the back side of some scenic rice fields. A gorgeous reward for the jungle expedition. Raised road sections through the sprouting rice fields with some ibis cranes here and there, fossicking for their evening meal. With some darting and weaving through the local back roads, the Zumo was leading and we were following in the Agusta’s melodious thrum, heading back toward urbanity. But the Zumo has its floors and when it tried to lead us down a road ending in a rice paddy at the base of a forested hill we stopped for a powwow. Colin seemed stumped until I pointed out that the seemingly incomplete overhead roadway through the valley, and now just above us, had traffic on it. There was a sign back there somewhere, so the troops fell in line and we made for thehigh road above. That road took us to signs leading to the Colin’s Zumo guided Agusta set up expressway and our super-slab home.
The ride looses some flavor here as the return leg is always less enthusiastic and tiredness seems to dull one’s senses to the wonders and oddities around us. Besides, did I mention it was dark? Pitch black with the thick cloud cover and a thin slice of a moon never visible. Out of the cities, the merciless white line hypnosis seemed to be all there was. And kamikaze bugs. You could see them homing in on the headlights, only to miss and splatter across your face shield or dive into the growing bug graveyard on the chest and shoulders of the jacket.
Oh! And bloody bright tunnels. Lights ON lights OFF! Maybe it would be easier to count how many times the lights are turned on and off next time.
The route home took us 650+km along the following expressways: Kyoto-Jukan, Maizuru-Wakasa, Chugoku, Meishin and then onto the Chuo for the last 350 odd kms back to Tokyo. We just kept ticking along and didn’t stay together so much. We’d settled on a plan for when we got separated, to stop at the first SA/PA with gas after 160km from the previous stop. So we’d meet at the agreed stop, see all were ok and still functioning then gas up and head out again. No waiting to regroup after the gas up as some gas stands were only manned with 2 staff and that extra 10 minutes waiting would only be amplified by the end. Actually, we were beginning to run a little behind schedule each stop. Making the distance wouldn’t be a problem but making it back in time might.
As we climbed into the hills north east of Nagoya an increasing mountain cold was waiting for us. The temperature gauge had previously been floating between 20 and 25 degrees C. Perfect riding temperatures for that time of year. As we climbed both in altitude and northern latitude the temps dropped and dropped until it hit a low of 12C. Not too cold really but about 10C below previous average temps. Enough to make you feel it. Nobody wasted time to rug up, just soldiered on as the route back into Tokyo promised rising temperatures and the need to disrobe again.
Around our last gas stop on the expressway the Zumo was telling us that the Goal was still 240 something kilometres away. Damn that was near impossible with my bikes current tune. Maybe if I tuck behind the screen, be real slow and smooth with the throttle, leave the throttle lock on as much as possible and fill the tank to the brim it may be able to stretch it. Maybe! It had previously been doing around 210kms per tank on fills of 17-18litres. Another 15%? Mmmm So, told the pump monkey my dilemma and he went right to work like a moonshine salesman with a limited number of bottles and barrels full of liquor. He filled that tank with such devotion and patience I was impressed by his skill and commitment alone. Then I looked at the pump, 19.3 litres! Probably had less than half a litre in there before the fill. The extra fill was looking promising. Got back out on the road and it took 78km before losing the 1st bar. Great! It had previously vanished around the 55km mark. Halfway there. I sat with Colin for this leg and kept it steady and on target. The fatigue was starting to creep in though. Mic had rolled out ahead of us and was in the same situation, fuel consumption wise, as me.
Getting off the end of the expressway in Tokyo was a great relief. The gas stand was just around the corner and I was 58km into a reserve that I’d never dared push past 61km before. But we hadn’t seen Mic. He wasn’t at the gas stand either. Where was he? We pulled up to the pumps and gave our labored steeds a much needed drink. I threw a couple litres of Hi-octane into the FZ1 as a reward for getting me home AGAIN. But the time on the receipt showed the end of the fill was 2:04AM. I’d started at around 2AM. Had I made it? Seems I was 4 or 5 minutes late on the receipt. How long did the fill take? Well, I had managed 1742kms in those 24hrs and 5minutes. Hope the IBA sees it that way.
But where was Mic? Sent him a text and he called back almost immediately. Wasn’t he on the road? Nope, seems nature had called on his Ironbutt and a switch to the porcelain water chariot had become an immediate necessity. He said he’d done 1650 kms, or there abouts, and his bike was low on gas anyhow. He wasn’t concerned about the certification. He’d done it, he knew it and that’s all that he needed to make him happy. It wasn’t his 1st SS1600k anyhow. He was content in himself that he’d done it and on his GSXR600 no less. What a Champion!
All in all, from a great sunrise ride to a magnificent castle to an awesome volcanic ring of twisties to giant coastal wind turbines to the quasi desert and then the devil’s byway, it was a different way to do an SS1600k!
About 1420km expressway
320km local roads and byways
I hadn’t had a decent adventure in while and neither had I ventured far north. So north I went with all the touring gear and a couple of ferry tickets to get over to Hokkaido and back. The FZ1 had new rubber, oil and coolant change, a couple of extra gadgets and I even went to work on the chain.
At the last minute a highspeed ferry ticket from Aomori to Hakodate became available reducing the crossing time to under 2hrs from the usual 4. With the time saving another Ironbutt was in the cards so jumped on the computer and figured a route via Nigatta to Aomori, on the ferry to Hakodate and then North to Soyamisaki that came to @ 1620km. Perfect! No complications or so I thought. That was Saturday afternoon and I had planned to leave straight after work and tour a little on the way up for a Monday ferry but the new plan delayed the launch till 3am for a decent kip and to hook up with the ferry scheduled to leave at 1.45pm Sunday instead of Monday afternoon. Worked out 950km/10hrs Then across on the ferry and roll on from Hakodate to Soyamisaki 670km/11hrs.
So went home after Saturday work, loaded up the bike, climbed into bed at 8pm and out again at 2am fresh as a new born zombie ready for a solo trans-archipelago marathon.
The start was sweet, hitting the road at 3am with very little traffic slowing me down. Drifted up the DaisanKeihin onto Kampachi dori to the Kanetsu expressway and glided outa town. The weather was warm and perfect for riding with falling temps climbing into Gunma’s foothills as the sun was tinging the sky over my right shoulder. Basically, took the Kanetsu Expr out to the Hokuriku Expr and then swung around onto the Banetsu Expr at Nigatta before shooting north on the Tohoko Expr for Aomori. Only a few problems worth noting. 1st being fuel. Didn’t plan out fuel stops and almost ran out a couple of times on the northern Kanetsu and Banetsu legs. 2 quick off expressway excursions had me getting fuel and losing the night discount. Damn! Then had an unmarked car pacing me for about 40km keeping me more than honest while everyone else crept on by. Guess they realized I wasn’t gonna willingly make their ticket book any thinner and finally exited to head back the other way and try and give out some tickets there. Which left me to soldier on.
Was actually making damn good pace and keeping stops to a sip/splash, fuel up and dash. Became a little worried about time constraints with the off expressway dawdling before the Tohoku. But by Sugo all looked to be back on track. And it continued that way to Aomori, arriving 10 minutes ahead of schedule at 12.45pm. Then about an hour wait to board.
Left the bike for the guys to lock in down below and headed for my seat upstairs and a handy kip. Managed to sleep, legs sprawled out in the aisle, for about an hour before some old fart gave me a swift kick that woke me with a start. So I was awake and watched a little SouthParkish vid on the monitor about the escape routes -!disturbing!- and then a cool informercial about the wavepiercer catameran under foot. Pretty cool engineering there.
Ferry docked at 3.45 in Hakodate and I was on the road again by 4.30pm. Right, 670km in 10.5hrs. Easy I thought. And it was, until around I fuelled up the 1st time on the Hokkaido expressway and quized the bowserboy about further gas stands. Now usually I plan out fuel stop strategy before hand but this was an impromptu ass haul and adversity was to be expected without prep. He informed me most places shut around 6pm with some staying open till 9pm. So I decided to conserve fuel and get off when necessary. Worse comes to worse, I can always camp. So, north I went for a highway oasis up the Hokkaido expressway a bit. Doing calcs to keep the brain ticking, I soon realized I was in a pickle for fuel versus distance. Even from the highway oasis, which was the last 24hr gas stand the computer had shown, it was around 270km to Soya. My bike had never gone further than 265km on a tank. Mmmm sure could’ve done with that long range tank Fastbike and I had been yarning about. Reaching the highway oasis and finding it closed was a set back. So I got off at the next exit, 200km into the tank and 25km into the fuel trip, and asked the toll booth attendant about gas stands. He informed me that there were various Shell affiliated SE-RU-FU serve gas stands open over 24hr Obon and the highway oasis was only 24 in winter for snow stranded locals. That was a relief, so fuelled up and hit the expressway again before doing the same at the end of the expressway in preparation for the final 190km leg to Soyamisaki.
The final leg was an adventure as rt275 climbed up into fog and had to use the very handy overhead road reflectors as a guide through the fog at regular road speeds. Here’s where I met up with more than few of Hokkaido’s nocturnal fauna, out to keep me awake. Thru the fog their eyes shone bright while ghostly silhouettes darted into bushes on my approach. This kept me peering into the pea soup until I finally started to glimpse a tail here a or snout there and then one just sat there as I sailed by. Foxes. Glad those pranksters were there to keep me alert as fatigue was starting to set in. Must’ve been seeing 1 every 5 km or so.
On hitting the coast, the Goal was within reach and I started to think about accommodations for the night. 40km to go and I passed the last campsite. Decided to press on and think about sleeping when I got to Soya. The coast was a fog free open road cruise without a car in sight. It was gonna be close time-wise and I just kept the throttle steady, watched the km markers tick down and scanned the verges for those foxy pranksters.
2.50am I rolled into the Soya carpark and pulled up in front of the toilets to relieve a swollen bladder. When I came out, a local fox befriended me, most likely in the hope of a feed, tagging along a couple of metres back as I took snaps of the odometer and the chronometer/coordinate building to prove I’d made it.
Then I noticed a tent and Baja camped out behind a sign board(in the vid link above) in the park and thought that’s the ticket, camp right here! I found a secluded spot on the west side of the park and after shooing away a grazing deer, set the tent and crawled in for a few hours of much needed shut-eye.
24hrs/1635km and day 1 of the northern adventure complete.
Not a good photo but you can see the Soyamisaki monument in the background under a brightening north-east sky
To read the rest of the ride’s adventure check out this link
A little long winded so be warned
Not even half way through the touring of last year’s Goldenweek/Ironbutt adventure the plan for this year was in the concept stage. Somehow we had to plan a way of doing 2000+km in 24hrs. Having done the 1600k just a few days before, without any major dramas, we were full of ignorant optimism that it was just 400km more. And so the planning or should I say dreaming began to sprout. A few days after returning, James had relocated to the opposite side of the world. Less than a month later, I was out with a crash and knee reconstruction. A few months later and Mic was out with a crash/shoulder surgery. Shortly after that Ide was taken down by a reluctant organ. That only left Tony healthy and able to ride. So the Obon plan, Tokyo to north-Hokkaido was shelved and things delayed till the next year. Come February, I got fired up and set out the basic plan. A long route to Kagoshima first heading north out of the east end of Tokyo then west from Fukushima to Nigatta, down the coast a little Up into the mountains and back down again before running west then south for Osaka. After Osaka we were to follow the same route as last year only with a change in the end destination after exiting the expressway.
To be honest there wasn’t much interest. For one reason or another all the previous year’s ironbutts were out. Ide couldn’t get doctors clearance, Mic had family in town, Tony was concentrating on the track and James was still entombed in Florida.
On the plus side a couple of hard nuts were itching to ride. Anthony, aka Fastbike, a newby to IBA but an oldy to long distance craziness. Try Saitama to Nagano on a monkeybike. He could fix almost any bike or people related problem, talk his way into amd out of even bigger problems and all with a wry smile. Then there was one of the Shuto 1000 lunatics Colin, aka the Dude. After his 1600k on the Shuto he’d been very quiet, the asylum may not have had an internet connection… He dusted off the FJR and showed that consistency and prep is key.
As the weeks passed a few piped up and drifted by as is expected and it seemed that there were only to be 3 of us. I was cool with that and so were the others but Anthony had me worried. He was planning to ride his tooth rattling KTM640 motard the distance. I knew he was tough as nails and loved the bike but I didn’t know if his joints or the vulnerable single was up to sustained highway speeds for such a period. To his credit, he stood by his guns until 4 days before the ride(Wednesday) when he wisely bought a CB1300 Boldor from Auction. Now that is an Ironbutt tourer and a great match for him. Unfortunately, being so close to departure he didn’t have much prep time with the CB and decided to do a test ride around the Shuto a few times the morning of the Goldenbutt ride. Nut! As if 2100km+ in a day wasn’t enough.
Later the same night as the CB buy, Another rider chimed in. Late arrival? Yes, but this happened last year with Tony, aka Midnightrun, and JamesK. Oyvind, aka Oyly. An out of nowhere entrant, on an R1 no less, with Norwegian distance riding experience. His name is now quite fitting. That automatic chain oiler contraption sure kept his chain lubed as well as his swing arm and possibly anyone following him. Gotta say I was getting the same feeling as Fastbike with the KTM but put faith in him for his conviction. He was going and that’s all there was to it!
Then at the last minute a route change was decided for start point convenience and economic reasons. We decided on the course below. A snaky route that was showing 2250km. All, except the last run to the goal, expressway. All the calculations were made, fuel stops noted and printed out and clear directions given. Unfortunately the numbers on the sheets were for true kilometres, not our bikes varying odometers. This would become a nuisance and motivation drainer later on.
All seemed set for a smooth start from the Kanpachi/ Tomei intersection Starbucks on April 27th at 12 noon.
Everybody had different ideas on long and short term prep. 9hrs sleep the night before with a 9am wakeup and 11am departure was in the cards for me. So I ended up working late Saturday night and nodding off at midnight. Good start. Then waking up at Seven and drifting in and out of slumber with the need for sleep and anticipation competing for consciousness. Finally climbed out of bed at 9, on schedule, and feasted on a good fruit and pancake breakfast. Good riding fuel – tasty too. Loaded up all the gear and set off down route 1 at 10:50am. Got to the Daisan Keihin entrance and had a dark revelation-witness forms are where? Turn around, burn rubber, pick-up forms and schedules for everyone then high tail it off to start point. Turned out to be only 5 minutes late anyway.
All were present and rearing to go. A few observers came to see us off, thanks folks! We filled in forms, checked each others bikes over, met Oyly, discussed a little fuel schedule strategy and felt pretty prepared. Well I did anyway. Seemed Colin had figured out his own fuel stop schedule for the oil tanker FJR, 2 fuel stops for everyone else’s 3. Oyvind stuck with me as we thought our bikes should have about the same range, turned out the standard R1 was more frugal than the modded FZ1! That left Fastbike who’d already clocked up 100 and sumthin kilometres on the Shuto trying to figure out his new ride. He decided to stick with Oyvind and I in case his tank couldn’t match Collins. Turned out it probably would’ve gone even further than the FJR.
The clock struck twelve the helmets were donned, engines started and the contenders motored around to the gas stand next door for the official fill up and 1st receipt. Photos taken, spectators farewelled and the four headed for the Tomei entrance. Hittng the entrance ramp the revs rose and butterflies faded. It was riding time!
We pretty much rode as a unit to Makinohara, my 1st assigned fuel stop at 205km. Colin kept on rolling with a gloating wave. “Damn old fart tourers” I thought. He wouldn’t stop for another 100kms or so. Anthony and Oyvind pulled in also and we had a short pow wow, ballast drain and then a chunky little guy with more rings than Mr T began crouching and festering around the rear of the Yamahas. Bit dodgy, what’s his caper? Gave him the polite good day and asked what was up before he had a chance to punch one of his shiny/pointy rings in any tyres. Turns out he was a Yamaha worker responsible for swing arm line production work. Ah, no problem. But wait a minute, why was he looking so closely? Did he know something we should… but he’d scuttled away before we could interrogate him.
Fuelled up and hit the road again. Next stop Enakyou on the Chuo, 186kms away. Getting there we took a slight short cut across the Isewangan extension between the Tomei and Chuo. Very little traffic, smooth open road with lots of long tunnels. Oyvind and I motored on and Anthony dropped back a little only to catch up and scoot out of Enakyou before us. He was showing promise.
176kms later had us rolling into Obasute. Mountain country and the sun was fading. With the cold starting to settle and our first scheduled meal, we mossied on inside for a feed. A hot noodle set and some sort of hot seafood pocket thing were shovelled in to feed the furnace. Again Anthony was out and away early. Oyvind and I decided to switch to cold weather gear. That took an extra 15minutes we didn’t have but kept us warmer. Actually I was in toasty heaven thanks to the heated powerlet jacket liner and gloves. Had fun playing around with the temperature controls to match the elevation and associated temperatures. Also good for matching windchill to varying speeds. I rode for a long time without this luxury but now….
Back on the road with fading light, around 6pm and @570km in, we were headed for the sea of Japan coast and the next fuel stop, Arisoumi. I remembered this road as an early morning slab run infested with plague proportion bugs from last year. Well, I’d forgotten about the tunnels and was relieved to see the bugs were not nocturnal. Less than 2 hours and 200km later we rolled in to feed the steeds. A splash and go had us clutching up to highway pace again in no time and Anthony was still out there ahead of us somewhere.
Well we found him confounded by the signage that had caught me out last year. The turn off for the ### Hokuriku expressway. We knew we should be barrelling down the Hokuriku Expressway, but which one? It caught Anthony out this year as it did me last year. A toot of the horn, flash of the hazard lights and highbeams and I could see him drifting out of the emergency lane into our wake on the road west. Lucky he didn’t head south. We’d gone about 50metres up that exit before shuffling back last year.
By the time we pulled into Nanjyou I’d contracted the highway fever that the Hokuriko seems to inflict with it’s monotonous lazy snake of a road. I think I could ride that highway only leaning and never having to turn the bars. On the plus side it seems the bugs were in short supply at night around there too. Relief. Anthony pulled in as Oyvind and I were rolling out and we agreed to catch up for dinner at Nishinomiya, west of Osaka.
Now things hit the 1st snag for us, Oyvind and I that is. The local spaghetti junction through Osaka is a relatively easy thing but it only takes one wrong turn and disaster. Oyvind was leading and the traffic was thick down the Meishin. I mean steady 80km/h can’t shuffle traffic. Sitting several cars back from Oyvind I saw the sign for the Chugoku Expressway(our next route line) but he wasn’t moving over. I knew this was all new to him and the traffic may have been disorientating, so I tried to catch up to him. No chance! Sunday night Meishin drivers are a painful bunch. Not a hair space was given. I managed to pull over toward the exit lane hoping Oyvind was looking in his mirrors and would follow my cue. I saw him craning his neck about looking for me but I was lost in the masses to him. I pulled up on the divide and thought, leave him or chase him down? Only one thing came from leaving him and that was losing him off the end of the Hanshin. So? Go get him tiger. Had to get a little creative a few times, the traffic thinned as exits passed and eventually I caught up to him. He seemed glad I was back and oblivious to the fact we had missed our exit. Fair enough he wasn’t the route planner of the 2 of us. Then my reserve started flashing and toll gate signs came up. This is gonna cost us some time, yennies and kilometres. Exited made a loop, re-entered and headed back looking for a Chugoku link or gas station. Gas station came up 1st. Friendly guys there with bad news. Had to exit the expressway to get across to the Chugoku. Seems there is only a direct link running east west Meishin to Chugoku and not west east Hanshin to Chugoku or something like that. Well, no help for it. Fueled up and headed out to traverse this confusing foreign wasteland of white lines, symbolic signs and herded sheep drivers.
Sometime later and almost 1200kilometres in, we rolled into Nishinomiya as Anthony was kitting up to roll out. I got off my bike, Anthony asked what had happened and I dummy punched Oyvind in the guts a few times to relieve some stress. I think Anthony got the message and said something like: Gotta love the size of the sign for the Chugoku exit! I almost missed it. Well we had wasted our evening meal time with the detour and change to warmer gear but sustenance is essential in this kind of enduro challenge. So we ate short, fast and warm food and topped off the tank before hitting the black top for my most anticipated leg of the route. The Chugoku expressway.
About 600km of near deserted, clearly marked, constantly winding, elevation changing highway heaven. To do it at night may sound a bit dicey but throw in the corner markers, I mean EVERY corner less than 550 metre, showing the corner radius and you really get a seek and conquer ride rhythm going. I remember putting the throttle lock/cruise control on, relaxing the arms and guiding the bike by knee and pegs for a good ½ hour. Just changing lean angle to account for corner radius. Felt more like a training exercise than a tiring stretch of meaningless black top. The stretch to Oosa is quite timid with most corners in the 4-550 metre range with a mostly climbing elevation. The HID headlights were working a treat on high-beam when banked over and Oyvind was right there flanking me.
After pulling out of Oosa I knew the course would be tightening and the corners seem to slowly decrease down to 320-400metre radius. Now it was getting interesting. Throw in the odd mid corner elevated bridge slab and there was no way I would be drifting off. The elevation changes were constant, the traffic nonexistent and the bike was running smooth. But damn it was getting cold. Or so the unheated were telling me. Hehehe! Making regular lead changes with Oyvind we made a bee line for Asa, our 8th fuel stop and a short 130km from the last. A necessary stop to get in sync with the west end fuel stops.
Pulling in to Asa we saw something we hadn’t seen since Makinohara, the big blue FJR.
We’d finally caught up to the oil tanker. Seems mister consistent was just on his way out. Frozen but thawed, tired and without much reluctance he stayed for a chat and warm cup of coffee or was it noodles? Blah! Who cares? In the warm road station we swapped road tales for a bit. Then a blue lipped, hunch backed, bent cigarette smoking incarnation of Anthony came searchingly to the window and then barrelling through the door. Poor fella was in the claws of the Chugoku’s frosty grip. We fuelled him up on vending machine cup noodles and hotdogs and tried to fire his spirit. A short time later he was speaking coherently and sitting up straight again. Tough as nails that one.
Leaving him to thaw a little more, Collin, Oyvind and I set out for Mitou 160km away. Collin fuelled up the big blue meany and sailed out ahead of us. Oyvind and I were a few minutes behind. We caught up to him ½ hour later or so and trundled along together until…with a spec on the visor all my enthusiasm was frozen as if in suspended animation. Not rain now! Not here! The funnest and most challenging section was about to get slick. Damn it was already cold but not dangerous. The rain was gonna change that. Taking a note from another tourer’s book, there is no setback just another adventure! So, turned up the heat on the gloves, hunkered down a little behind the screen and cut a swathe thru the increasing downpour. Oyvind and I shuffled lead duties and without event, thankfully, we rolled into to Mitou.
Our last fuel stop on Honshu and all down hill to the Shimonoseki straights from there. Couldn’t keep positive due to the cold, rain and lack of sleep. It was draining. So, fuelled up and soldiered on. That was a good move. Snaking down out of the hills the sky was showing the first tinge of dawn and the air was warming.
Crossing the big bridge to Kyushu again was like a welcome back and I was riding again. The air smelt and felt tropically warmer and the spirits were rising with the sun. But they do say the most dangerous hour is on the dawn. Oyvind said he noticed that I was leaving the cruise control on longer and riding like a robot as we pulled into Kitakumamoto after our longest leg yet, 225km. Economy riding just doesn’t do it for me. The FZ1 made a hiss when I opened the tank, a gasp of life or damnation for letting it run so low? I’ll never know but I suspect the later. We fuelled up then went to have a warm drink and give Anthony 5 or so minutes to catch up. Didn’t happen. Seems the cold had gotten the better of him and he’d crawled under his bike’s exhaust to keep warm and rest a bit before moving on. If only he’d gone another 100km or so he could have taken a kip in Kyushu’s relative warmth. Well, so goes the follies and fortunes of the ironbutt with his brother to thank for the wake up call that got him back on the road.
The final leg was a change of scenery as it firstly comprised the usual 2 lane expressway run in the rising sun , before swing west on a one lane expressway where everyone was cruising well left , encouraging us to pass and stay on target. Rolling along this often elevated country byway gave great views from Kagoshima bay to the surrounding mountains and across the fields. It is a nice place to be in the morning light of a fine day.
On exiting the expressway, Colin, Oyvind and myself had drifted back together again and as usual Colin didn’t need fuel so he headed south for the goal 100km away, meanwhile we pulled in to a one man Shell(I think) for the cheapest fuel of the trip. 125yennies/litre. Bargain! I’ll take a tank of that and so will my R1 riding friend here, thankyou.
Checked the Mapple to defog the route and headed south. Previous calculations had put those last 100 country road kilometres at a 3 hour journey. We cruised along getting all the green lights and virtually no traffic, finding ourselves 15 minutes from the gaol with a 1/2 hour or so to spare when lo-and-behold there appears a convenience store sign in the distance. Breakfast? Yes please. Oyvind and I pit stopped and filled the belly. A wise move it seems as Colin had spent some time trolling around the end point figuring out how to get in, thus saving us some frustration. Thanks Naviman. Oyvind and I still had some problems, him less than me as it worked out. Damn that place was a labyrinth for the sleep dprived.
Cresting the hill with 10 minutes or so to spare and seeing Egon(endwitness) with his Camera and Colin changed into casual clothes, I knew we’d done it. I could’ve ridden on in celebration but the road ended on top of that hill and beer was waiting on ice.
Anthony, it seemed, had taken a wrong turn and missed the east bound expressway. But he’d improvised and finished up with some other riders on the west peninsula before ferrying it across the bay to meet up with us.
Fantastic ride. In the weeks following we did some great touring. Cool bunch of riders with no stress to talk of. I’m tired but satisfied now. I got my fill.. . till next time.
The Dude: ” What? Kyushu you say? Sure! How far is that?”
Fastbike ” This’ll scare the crap outa him. Oh shit this Boldor don’t stop as quick as the KTM!”
Oyly ” So which way is Kyushu? Never mind. Give me twisties, grrrr , twisties”
Me “C’mon man! Daylight and road time is a wasting”
after the ride
After finally finding my way into the Labarynth that was Satadeirando, touring legend Geezer, ciggy in one hand and camera in the other was there, waving me into the carpark to pull up by The Dude and Oyly’s bike. The Dude had already changed into his leisure attire and was standing by the R1 with Oyly. We had made it! But where was fastbike? Last time I’d seen him was back on Honshu and he’d sent a rather frantic email about oversleeping while clutching his muffler for warmth.
Dismounted, howled to the sky, gave all the handshake and thanked Geezer for being there to end witness for us. Then Oyly and I pulled out IBA papers and got them filled out. More than a little zombified and firmly in the grip of road fever I tried to get things prioritized. Where is our bungalow? Gotta speak to Nomura-san, the park owner. Disconnect all auxillary wiring before the battery dies. Take a stroll. And then the Dude came into my hazed conciousness with “Where’s the beer?” Ok, where is the reception to this place? Well that’s the biggest building! Off I staggered. Went inside to find an enormous restaurant and a youngish guy behind the counter. Walking toward him I called out “Nomura-san?” across the expanse of the restaurant. He visibly flinched and replied “Welcome” but somewhat quietely. I made my way to the counter and did the introductions. About halfway through I realized I was yelling and that the hearing was a little on the wind roar side of impaired. Ok, tone it down. He had a million and 3 questions. “How many people?” “Will you all be eating dinner? How about lunch? We have a pig farm and the finest pork you know!” Brain is reluctant to respond so. “ We’ve just ridden 2100+km in 24 hours, let us sort out the finer details later. Here’s 10000yen to get us started. There are 4 of us now and probably 3 more to come. Dinner would be good. Where’s the bungalow and the beer at? Can you deliver the beer to us at the bungalow?”
So a few minutes later I was heading out with 10 beers, rest to be delivered shortly, and the location of the bungalow. We fired up the bikes, loaded the beers into the Dude’s Givi and onto handlebars and made our way over to paradise.
The bungalow was surrounded by grass in a set of 4 on a hillside overlooking Kagoshima bay area with a very hazy view of Kaimon-yama on the far shore. Shame about the view. Filled the carpark in short order then the remaining bikes overflowed onto the surrounding lawns. Unloaded the bikes, checked out the facilities and then twisted some caps off the Cascade Lager the Dude had shipped down for us. Ah! Amber nectar of the Gods! Sure washed away the road grime from our parched throats. There were no chairs on the balcony which left us all spread out, backs on pillars, soaking up the early afternoon sun. The riding gear was off and the cameras were out. Geezer came through with a small combini worth of beer snacks. Good man! The Dude pulled out the cigars and we were all on our feet again chuffing away triumphantly and revelling in the biker talk. A few beers later Fastbike called in from a ferry somewhere out in the bay below. He’d overslept, gotten lost, just made the distance in the time and was now Satadeirando bound. “But where the bloody hell is that place?” he said. Tired and satisfied, no one was going to throw a leg over a bike to guide him in so he got the “Go south on the 78 and give us another call when that turns inland.”
Sometime between Fastbikes call, Slowskippy and Karl’s call and the finishing of the 1st round of cigars, Egon went out for a tour of the local farmsteads and byways. Can’t keep a good tourer down! We continued munching, swilling and puffing away. Sun beating down, ocean breeze refreshing the spirit and more rambling bike talk the memory gets a bit fuzzy. Do remember the Dude semi comatose in the sun practicing his cat like reflexes catching beer bottle tops, Oyly looking like he’d never ridden the distance, saying it would have been better with a few fjords thrown in and first Fastbike then the Slowskippy-Karl train arriving.
Then time skips a beat and we were eating dinner in that grand hall. Swilling more beers over dinner with the carnivores slagging off the only vegetarian, me, while they feasted on hog. I do remember grilling some of that hog but can’t for the life of me remember eating it. That dodgy convict Slowskippy probably nicked it. Nomura-san and his kitchen full of helpers were good enough to whip up some damn tasty tempura and assorted flora for my flesh declining palette
With the feasting done we trecked by keitai-light through the moonless darkness back to our escarpment perched abode. Karl and Slowskippy had set up tents in the surrounding lawn area and all loitered around the picnic bench/ balcony area. Then someone had the bright idea of getting the grill in the middle of the picnic bench going. Good place for a charcoal grill, bad place for a deforestation burnback. The campers were at the lawn fringes cutting and slashing all that would burn and loading it in to the tiny pit in the middle of picnic table’s little cavern. Many an eyebrow and arm hair were singed and more than a little skin pork-crackle grilled. Hahaha, folleys of the drunken. Quite entertaining to behold though. Yabanjins! Then the conversation turned decidedly sour with politics, religion and cultural superiority. I took my cue and retreated to the loft for a well deserved kip. The Dude and I had taken the 2 Futons in the loft and Geezer, Oyly and Fastbike had downstairs to themselves.
The Yabanjins gasbagged on into the night, bellowing roars of laughter and disbelief over the local night sounds. I drifted off to the land of white lines, good times and cerebral fluid churning motion recollection. Until the next day!
Photos courtesy of the Dude.
What a ride! Tokyo to South Kyushu via Nigatta encompassing 1700+kms, 7 expressways, 2 bypasses and ending with a Skyline run to remember. Leaving the big city and firstly heading into the mountains, then over to the Japan sea, followed the coast west before swinging south for Kansai, through to the Chugoku and the west of Honshu before skipping over into Kyushu and running south again for Kagoshima and ending finally in Ibusuki. Sounds easy enough. Now do it in 24 hours with Goldenweek traffic.
The call had gone out for anyone crazy enough to try this about 3 months prior to Goldenweek. A few came and went reluctantly and in the end we had 5 solid starters. Well there is no easy way to put this other than to say we were/are all riders. A mixed group yes, a close group no. But all that has changed. Brothers in iron.
First to pipe up was Michel, an experienced tourer/camper with a jovial community spirit, a knack of keeping a smile on everyone’s face and the unluckiest and luckiest member of the ride. As I write this he is still out there somewhere, in the rain pushing the CB on.
Ide was a surprise entrant from the North. Mr Consistent. Every time sighted on the run he was either gassing up or sitting proud on his road monster. The first to rise and last to sleep, a true ironbutt. A magician in the saddle, with little fear and a joker’s heart. What he had the HP2 doing through the twisties was a revelation.
Quick with a smile, a great ride partner and the true navigation master. Tony joined in the last few weeks and became the tour master in the hunt for better roads once the ironbutt run was done. A true rock in testing times with a lingual gift and a right wrist that loves to twist.
Thanks to overzealous US immigration checks or they knew of the legend, James joined the circus last minute. The original and best Ironbutt. Enthusiasm counts for nothing without experience or preparation. James had all three locked away in his GIVI box. Man, this guy can ride forever. Seriously, if there were a marathon for riders he’d be a horizon ahead. Managing to actually ride the tyre of it, again he steered the FJR through hell to the finale.
That leaves me, the instigator and ironbutt route planner. Although I’d never gone 24hrs in the saddle, James and I had racked up some serious ride time/distance previously which inspired the delusion that 1600+ expressway kilometres should be a breeze. I guess by the width of my grin the guys knew I was in heaven.
The fantastic 5 at Sata Misaki
The plan was to meet at Nerima at 3am and all were witnessed, gassed up and on the road for 3.40am. Shooting north on the Kanetsu expressway we were behind schedule and missed Ide at the agreed meeting point. Being from Karuizawa he had started there and was supposed to link up with us at Fujino on the Kanetsu. We’d planned that if either of us was late the other would go on ahead and stick to their schedule. So we met him finally at Tobu Yonamura, the 1st agreed fuel stop on the Joshinetsu. Not before riding through some ghostly thick dawn fog. That really slowed us down. On arrival Ide had been waiting a while and told us it was -3deg. This was mountain country and winter still had teeth. Poor Ide seemed more an ice arse than an ironbutt. But we fuelled up, threw on some extra layers and hit the road to warm our asses.
Heading down out of the mountains to the Sea of Japan was a warming relief. The ice capped mountain views were captivating, almost to the point of distraction. We were back to making good time and the sun was up at our backs, thawing us out. On hitting the coast we jumped the west bound Hokuriku and followed the coast. It was my 1st view of it and gave me some encouragement. Remember thinking, “this is but the 1st of many new things you’ll see”. This took us to our next fuel stop at Arisoumi and our 1st distance miscalculation. What should have been 205km became 225km between fuel stops. Luckily everyone made it. Maybe the downhill run to the ocean had saved us some wrist twisting.
By the time we got into Arisoumi distance, time and speed had broken us up. James, Tony and myself were making good progress together while Ide and Michel were a little way behind. Ide did an F1 fuel stop and headed on out before us, while Michel came in as we were on the way out. I was starving and snuck in a quick bowl of ramen. I don’t know if it was highway fever or a local dialect thing, but the old lady at the counter seamed to be speaking gibberish. She had to tell me about 10 times before I got it. Imagine her surprise when another foreigner, Michel, rocks in 10min later and has the same problem. All at around half seven in the morning.
Back on the road we had our first directional problem. My mistake. I saw 2 signs: ####Hokuriku & Noetsu. So I took the ####Hokuriku with James and Tony trailing. Then I noticed it was heading inland and the Hokuriku was meant to follow the coast around here. Luckily we were only 50 or so metres into the exit ramp. So, stop shuffle back and jump across to the Noetsu line. On the road again and making steady progress following the signs to Osaka. Eventually the road turned south and then inland. To be honest I don’t remember much of this leg other than some geriatric trophy Harley riders crawling along, taking up the whole road and not wanting to move over. A situation we became accustomed too over the next week. Oh, I forgot the bugs. Bazillions of em. A sign of things to come. Maybe that’s why I don’t remember much because I couldn’t see out my visor.
Next stop was Nanjyo SA. By this stage some 600km in, around 9am. Here one of the Harley riders came over to heckle us and explain his passion, riding friend’s history and generally hang around. Now, he wasn’t too popular with me at this point and add to this I had the post ramen tummy rumbles and generally felt crusty. So he got the polite weather comments and that’s it. Luckily he couldn’t see the highway fever building behind my sunglasses.
Moving on we made our way down to the Meishin and turned west into Kansai. A rider from Kansai (haildamage) had given us the heads up on the local spaghetti tarmac in his area and recommended the Keiji bypass to avoid the traffic. And just as he had said, the heaviest traffic was banked up to where the Keiji splits off. That was a big time saver. Through this stretch I was taking my turn in lead and had to stop to query what road we were on. Tony pulled up and said “This is the Chugoku, let’s go” and he took the lead. The master navigator was making his first move. Once through the built up areas things thinned out and we were rolling along nicely again.
Nishinomiya was an important stop for us as it signified @800km in and the halfway mark. Lots of “OOoos” and “AAaahs” and “can’t believe we are here”s. The weather was great, traffic not too heavy and perfect riding conditions. We were making reasonable time and a little ahead of schedule as we had hoped. So we hit the road again for Daisa SA.
This was the beginning of the Chugoku and the best expressway I’ve ridden in Japan so far. Virtually no straight road, plenty of elevation changes, smooth flowing turns, great corner ahead views and fantastic roadside scenery. A very entertaining and time devouring road. For some this may be a nightmare, but straightaways send me to sleep. I think from their enthusiasm Tony and especially James would agree.
But all that entertainment and effort takes its toll and coming out of Daisa the fatigue was telling me a nap at Yoshiwa SA was a smart pre-emptive move.
Pulling in to Yoshiwa tired, but satisfied I settled on a bowl of hot miso soba and a few choco-pie to help me sleep well. Tony, James and Ide soon joined in the feast and we had the closest thing to a group meal yet. After our little feast, Tony decided to join the nap while James and Ide moved on. With Tony I found some nice shaded area and spotted a particularly comfy looking rock (?.. must have been the fatigue) nicely angled for an upright nap. While Tony disappeared behind the rocks for some seclusion. Pulled the neck warmer up over my eyes and face and laid back for some much needed zzzs. 25minutes later and the keitai alarm was sounding calling us back to duty. I heard another buzzing sound overhead and on feeling around the open area on top of my head where the neck warmer couldn’t reach I found that 25 minutes seemed to have been long enough for a small civilization of various flying insects to make a new ecosystem out of my head. A shake, many flicks and some dancing around had their new city in taters and me fully awake. Nature, the best alarm clock!
Reloaded the FZ and rolled over to the gas stand to fuel up. Here I made the 1st attempt to fill the FZ’s tank to the brim. Yamaha says it’ll take 18 litres but the nozzle restrictor seemed to only allow jus over 17 litres so I kept repeating “mo chotto” to the pump monkey until it had taken 18.5 litres plus whatever was left in there. Admittedly the FZ had rolled into Yoshiwa on fumes but I now think it can easily take 19+litres. Hooked up with Tony and hit the snaking Chugoku again.
Next stop was Mito to pick up Jef, our end witness, who was in the area and would join us for the remainder of the trip. Unfortunately, we had misread the Kanji for Mito as Bitou and over shot it. A quick call from Tony to Jef had him meeting us at the next PA with a 15minute delay. Then we were 3 and on the way to leaving west Honshu through Shimonoseki to Koga for our next gas up. 5 minutes into Kyushu we saw our first highway patrol and had to slow down to a crawl, with the rest of the traffic that was banking up, and wait for them to turn off. Which they did. By this time the sun was dipping, the weather was noticeably warmer and summery and my spirits were high.
Pulling into Koga was a relief and a shock. For starters we calculated we had done some 1400km and were well on schedule. But a mail had came in that Michel had spent an hour in the back seat of a highway patrol car while they explained to him that passing on the left was a no-no and gave him a ticket for his trouble. The funniest part was hearing his telling of how the only thing he could think about was the ticking of the Ironbutt 24hr time clock. The only time he had wished for a ticket, so he could get on his way. As we were pulling out of Koga, after a decent stop, he came rolling in. Even through his troubles he urged us to push on ahead and not to delay our own schedule for his. That’s the spirit!
Next stop was Miyahara on the Kyushu Expressway. The weather was perfect for night riding and we were on the home leg. Ahead, James had been hooked with Ide for a while. Tony, Jef and myself were swapping lead duties and Michel was wagging the tail. Everybody, other than Tony and I, had been happy to keep on rolling without any naps or sleeps so we were quite a bit ahead of schedule, maybe 3 or so hours. The weather and Ide’s consistency probably played the largest part in this.
By the time we left Miyahara we were on the home leg and looking forward to finding the elusive 24hr gas stand on the short stretch between the Kagoshima IC and the Ibusuki skyline. The tail end of the Kyushu expressway was also quite entertaining in the moonlit night with its rolling hills and smooth bends, perfect for our weary bones. On exiting the expressway, after some 16-1700km we finally met a toll gate and had to pay the piper. Those with ETC machines 16300yen those without @22000yen.
Staggering on to the end had us pull into the Chuzan IC Mobil gas stand for the end of the ironbutt ride. We took photos, laughed and clapped each other on the shoulder a lot. Surprisingly noone collapsed, complained or whinged. Everybody was tired, sure, but we were all elated to have completed the run safely and successfully.
@160 litres of fuel (for the FZ1)
Top L-R : Me, James, Ide, Michel
Bottom L-R : James, Ide, Tony, Jef
Following this we took a parade run down the Ibusuki skyline. Very spooky, often deadly and just the trick after so many highway kilometres. However, we did manage to lose Michel, or should I say he got himself lost. After waiting 10 maybe 15 minutes I headed back down that dastardly road to look for him. First I saw a Tanuki scampering across the road and then a rabbit bounding across the high beam but no Michel. The Ibusuki Skyline is about 30km long and around the 20 km mark I began to get worried. First thought, he’s crashed off a cliff and I missed him. Second, there’s some weird kami down here that picks off lone tail enders and more than likely loners. Then the white lady story got into my head. This got my neck hair standing on end. At the 25 km mark I found him riding very slowly off his map. Yep, wrong turn or something. On the way back we met Tony worried they’d lost me too.
Back together as a group we headed for central Ibusuky and our final rest destination Joyful Family Restaurant. 24hr, food and comfy seats. Perfect. We ate like wild animals and all crashed at one point or another, wether it was to zombie state or deeper. Michel fell asleep in his chair. Ide laid down on a comfy bench and rested his eyes for a bit and James took a brief rest on the astro-turf out front. Reluctantly we rose, collected our delivered travelling bags (which we’d sent down a few days before) and headed for a park to camp. Some set tents and others, Ide and James, just rugged up and collapsed on the grass. Before I was even in my sleeping bag I could hear Ide snoring away with the night bugs.
All in all an awesome ride. We took the next few days to sample some of Kyushu’s best roads and had some sensational rides. But in time the ironbutt will continue to shine as the brightest memory. Will I do it again? You betchya! Next will be 2000km in 24hrs. In the meantime I’ll be training. See you on the road… .
Another tale, another time