Saturday, 3 June 2017

Japan Tour (3 - 11 May 2017), Day 3 : Shimanami Kaido

At Innoshima bridge
At 88 House, Hiroshima
Our first digitalized animal signboard
Old train to Onomichi
Just before we were all lulled to sleep
Baggage area on train
Little Mermaid serves good Japanese bread
Ferry terminal visible from Onomich station
Waiting for the ferry
Here comes the ferry!
Lockers became Bernie's bestfriend
Green signs....
Blue signs....there should be a universal colour !

The morning has broken when we left 88 House. By then, VT and Claudine had loaded themselves well with another round of noodles with stock that comes in a sealed bag! This morning though, they broadened their palate to breaded potato patties that they had mistakenly assumed to be chicken!

More familiar with the route to Hiroshima station, they got there in no time. Packing their bikes, Claudine adopted Bernie's Daiso bike cover idea from yesterday. She tied up her Ikea Dimpa bag handles, then covered her bike with the bag upside down. This allowed her to push the bike all the way into the station without the need of hauling it over her shoulder. It went through the gates without any problems.

Down at the platform, the old train heading for Onomichi station was waiting to be boarded. Even though it was slower, we took it just as well, as the express train will not come for another half hour.

The train ride was a beautiful one cutting through the countryside but the slow rocking motion soon lulled us all to sleep. Once in awhile, Claudine opened her eyes to scenes of traditional Japanese homes by paddy fields. Just before the stop, she opened her eyes to sights of the sea and bridges. Yet, she was too groggy to sum up the equivalence.....

As the train approached the station, VT overheard part of the announcement, ".....the next station is Onomichi Higase". The signboard pointing to the direction of the next stop convinced him further. Meanwhile, Bernie too, had an afterthought on the number of cyclists alighting.....

It was then, when the train started to jerk forward, that Bernie stood up. We all saw the signage to our destination passing us slowly! Too late!! We had missed our stop!!!

Another old train!

Thankfully, Onomichi Higase was not far off. We got off at the station, then took the overhead pedestrian bridge to get on the other side of the platform. Luckily, the next train came quickly!

Just outside the Onomichi station, a corner area was dedicated to bike set ups. Besides a pole to hang the bikes, the whole area lacks of pumps and tools for repairs. In view of strategic locations, 2 bike shops are located 150 meters from Onomichi Station, one of which is Giant store.

Shimanami Kaido is a popular cycling route judging by the number of cyclists in the area. Rated as one of the world's most incredible bike routes by CNN, it is a network of roads and bridges that spanned about 70 km, over 7 islands. Crossing part of the Seto Inland Sea National Park, the views are spectacular.

Our trip was made more special by the friendships we made along the way. We befriended a father and young daughter team heading our same way.... 

With Bianchi girl and her friend at Cyclists' Sanctuary

The Bianchi girl that helped us to take group photos at Onomichi station, shadowed us all the way to Cyclists Sanctuary. Traveling with her, is her friend.... 

Meanwhile, another young couple who paid for Claudine and VT's short ferry ride of 120 Yen per person to Mukuojima Island, will constantly exchange greetings with them throughout the ride. These good samaritans came to their rescue when they did not have loose change for the passage.

Once on Mukuojima Island, the ride began. It was not difficult to identify the route. All we need to do was to follow the scores of riders. There's also the blue stripe on the road to keep us on track. However, the civil engineers and surveyors really need to get back on the road to relabel the milestones. The mileage can reduce and increase again, an error that occurred many times!!!

Mukuojima, the first island was dull. We rode past shops and housing with basic architectural designs. When we cruised along the coastlines, the fishing boats docked by the seaside were small and basic. Nothing more than a motorized sampan. However, the sea remain a tantalizing clear blue.

Not long into the ride, we spotted the red bridge, a huge contrast from the boring landscapes. It turns out, this was not the connecting bridge to the next island!

Innoshima Bridge in the background
Green lane for vehicles to stop
Bernie stopping at the right lane!
Tolls are exempted till 31 March 2018 to promote HURRY!!!!
It was a strange experience when we first sighted the Innoshima bridge. As it grew bigger, every turn on the coastal road gave us the assumption that the climb was about to start....which was not! It will take us 20 more minutes, with many more photo stops before we got to the actual foothill.

We observed the hill climbs are all capped to a 3% grade. Some entry point has a traffic counter to calculate the number of cyclists on the bridge. Most foothills along this route are supported with toilets and vending machines. 

Crossing the Innoshima bridge, so named after the island, we were traveling on the lower deck. Motorcycles shared our passage. A lighthouse stood like a sentry on the other side.

Directly after the bridge is a children's playground
Beautiful countryside homes
Vegetable patches by the roadside
Traffic congestion near the Morning Market
Riding past farms and hill sides....
....and canals
Waiting by Japan's IWK for Bernie and Suzie who both suffered chain drop. Shittttt, has a universal bad smell!!!

Cutting through the inlands of Innoshima, we passed farmlands and a Morning Market packed with tourists. The landscapes were hilly and dotted with many traditional homes.

Our next bridge climb to Ikuchi Island was a totally different experience. This island saw more tourists which explains the number of families riding together. One prepubescent boy, caught our eye in particular, as he wowed us with his skills, standing upright at high cadence throughout the climb! As the design of the bridge is different, this one allows us to ride parallel to the car lane.

Whether it is street food...
Or restaurants... bike stands are always provided!
Street view of Ikuchi
Ikuchi Island appears to be more economically viable. Ship building and ship repair industries decked the coastlines. Besides, the island is also a favourite midway stop on this route judging by the number of eateries and accommodations along the way.

Tatara Bridge
Bernie, threatening to hit cyclists with the Nunchaku
Viewing deck
View on the descend

The third bridge was interesting. One of the world's longest cable stayed bridges in the world, Tatara's elegant steel towers represent the folded wings of a crane. In the middle steel tower, find a simple set of Nunchaku, a traditional Okinawan weapon consisting of 2 sticks connected with a chain. Clap them together to create a continuous echo up the tower!!!

Cyclists' Sanctuary is located on Omishima Island. It comes with a nice rider's corner which  overlooks the Tatara bridge. Beside that, riders can also chill out at the adjacent food court.

While we worry about our lack of speed, our shadows grew longer as the day stretched on. We were only midway to our destination and we did not know what lies ahead. Each bridge climb was different from the other!

Surprisingly, Omishima bridge connecting to Hakata Island came quickly. After a quick overcast on the previous bridge and a stopover by the bay filled with concrete wave breakers, we started our ascend.

This bridge marked the start of Claudine's struggle. Her gears jammed! She could not shift to the lowest climbing gears!! With only 4 gears to play with, she climbed using brute force!!!

Omishima bridge

An arch bridge and a short one, we breezed through it quickly but not the hilly terrain on Hakata! We were quite new to Bromptons and with no support group in JB, we had no idea where the problem lies. We tried to lube the cables and adjust the tensions but nothing worked. Consistently pressing on the gear shifters, may successfully change the gears but it will automatically bounce back after awhile. It was most frustrating.

Yet another failed attempt to fix the Brompton gears!
The fifth bridge came in a blur. By then, Claudine resented every 3% grade climbs from foothills to bridges. Cutting through Oshima Island's many hills, her lower back and thigh muscles protested badly.

Harbour on one side....
City on the other side...
The last bridge was the worst! We had to climb high above sea level to get to it. Spanning at 4015 meters, Kurushima bridge is the longest suspension bridge in the world. Cyclists though, travel only 2500 meters of this length. Every beams were arched to support the weight, hence every tower to tower climb involves an uphill and downhill slope. Towards the other end, the vehicles goes through a tunnel while the two wheelers made their way circumventing the hill.

Imabari, a port town in Shikoku Island is lined with many canals and tributaries. The town center though was eerily quiet on a Friday, made worst after 5 pm. We could not locate any eateries as we rode through the town.

The owner is an avid biker

Yakitori restaurant
Choice of sitting by the bar or the tatami
We met an interesting couple. The man once backpacked in Malaysia, hence he knew the towns and food!
That night, Bernie and Suzie resorted to dine at the hotel's restaurant. However, VT and Claudine consulted the hotel's receptionist and googled for restaurants. They rode out, scouting the town center and found quite a few restaurants tucked behind the Main Street. Deciding on a Yakitori restaurant, they went in to discover the owner is a MTB Kom!

Returning to the hotel after a visit to the local supermarket for supplies, Claudine's bike was finally fixed after consulting Berenda and YouTube! Sleep though was far from comfortable as they cramped on the 4 feet wide double bed, certainly far from cosy but much better than camping!!!

Hotel Kikusui Imabari

Photo Credits :
1. Suzie
2. Bernie

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