After a handful of hours on the ferry, along with our new traveling companions met in Aomori, we heard a voice coming out of the speakers : “We’re about to land in Hakodate, prepare yourself to leave the ferry”
Woah! We were both speechless for a second there. We had just made our way back to Hokkaido, where the both of us had lived for 2 years each. But this time, we had arrived on our own forces, and on a bike!
Once we got off the ferry, with our little gang of riders (we had met another one on the boat, which brought our final head count to 6) we headed straight away to the nearest izakaya to feast on some of the glorious delicacies of Hokkaido.
With our usual luck, the first place we found turned out to be a literal miracle of taste and awesomeness, and we indulged on every single item on the menu, while celebrating our past, present and future adventures!
Since it had gotten too late already, instead of swarming the city looking for a place too pitch so many tents, we all decided to head back to the ferry terminal (which is open 24hrs a day) and basically camp inside the waiting room after the last ferry for the day had left.
The following day, very bright and early, we were kindly asked to leave the terminal because, and I quote, “we were kind of scaring the other passengers waiting for they ferry”. We packed our stuff, loaded the bikes, said goodbye to our little gang of cyclists and everyone left towards different directions.
Instead of tackling the road straight away, we spent some time exploring Hakodate and trying to find the ONE restaurant that served a very particular dish with which both of us had been obsessed for quite some time. Once we had found it, after years of dreaming about it, we finally tasted the world famous Odoridon, which translates to “the dancing bowl of rice”.
It’s a dish of rice and raw squid, so fresh that when you pour soy sauce on it, the squid starts moving its tentacles and looks like it’s dancing. I will admit that it’s kind of grotesque, but delicious and… c’mon, how can you not try that!?
With another experience ticked off our bucket list, we jumped back on our bikes and started cycling towards Sapporo.
Now, let me tell you something: Hokkaido is truly different form the rest of Japan.
You’ll never see nature like in Hokkaido anywhere else in this country: long straight roads, crossing gentle hills and tall mountains, forests everywhere, bright blue skies with dense puffy clouds… and the most roaring, strong and beautiful sea you’ll ever see!
For the first time since the start of our journey, we really felt like being immersed in nature, and devouring kilometer after kilometer had never felt that easy.
After almost 70km after, we found some hot springs in the middle of a forest, set the tent up and went to bed.
The following day, we woke up at sunrise and started cycling with a mission: meet our friends Haruka, Shige and Shin (that were traveling south towards Hakodate from Sapporo) for lunch in little coastal town. After the usual over excited greeting with hugs kisses and terribly loud high fives, we had the mothership of all lunches (yakiniku, delicious grilled meat) and parted, in opposite ways. They had told us about a beach with such a calm sea that one could see the sky mirrored in it but… to be honest, we couldn’t find it to save our lives. Towards the end of the day we found a baseball field, decided it was the perfect location for our tent, and goodnight!
The following day we woke up at the crack of dawn to start the day in the best possible way: by eating seriously stupid amounts of food for breakfast (you seriously have no idea how much we ate for breakfast, day in and day out). Once our bellies got full to the point of exploding, we climbed on our bikes and started cycling towards Toya, a beautiful volcanic lake from which you can get a crazy good view of mount Yotei, also known as the mount Fuji of Hokkaido. After having gone almost full vertical on a couple of very steep roads, we reached the lake just in time for lunch, drowned our tiredness in Ramen and simply enjoyed the incredible view and weather.
A couple hours later, it was time to already say goodbye to such a place. Always having mount Yotei to keep us company, we climbed a few mountain passes and finally got to Rusutsu, a famous Ski Resort area just outside Sapporo, where we payed a visit to what we can only describe as “Japan’s smallest hot springs ever”: I’m not kidding when I say the bath was less that 6 square meters. Still did the job though, nothing makes you feel better that a dip in hot water after a day of hard cycling.
After a quick dinner, we pitched our tent and called it a day. Upon waking up the next day, we realized that we had a stunning view of mount Yotei right from our tent which let’s be honest, it’s not the worst thing you can lay your eyes on when you first open them.
It was after putting the tent back into its bag that we first realized we were going to get to Sapporo before the day ended. Filled with excitement, we jumped on our Specialized Tricross and cycled on. The first half of the day was equally as hard as it was pleasant to the eyes: 40-something kilometers with an ever changing landscape around us, ranging from countryside fields all the way to snowy steep roads in the mountains. After a quick lunch break in Houeikyou (my favorite hot springs area in the world, which we both went to like a million times when living in Sapporo in the past years) we started the descent towards Sapporo.
To be honest, we had done that route so many times in the past by car but neither of us ever realized that it consisted of 35km of broad, downhill roads. We literally NEVER pedaled until breaking into the outskirts of Sapporo!
And so, 73 days and over 3500 kilometers later, we had come back to Sapporo. Our Sapporo. The city that was our home for almost 2 years. This time though, we hadn’t arrived on a bus, or an airplane. This time we had cycled our way there.
Trust me when I say it’s a pretty overwhelming feeling!
Right after cycling in front of my old apartment, we payed a surprise visit to James, first and foremost great friend of both of us, but also the owner a conversational cafè called Chit Chat where the both of us worked in the past. We literally jumped on him and exploded in joy upon seeing him again! After being reminded of how much we actually stank, we went to a nearby onsen, washed all the tiredness off our bodies and went out to dinner with all of those friends that, goddamn, we couldn’t wait any longer to see again (Sio had left Sapporo a little over 2 months before, but for me it had been over 2 years since I last lived there!)
After such a great night together with all of our friends, we refused to crash at any of their places (regardless of all the offers we had received) and decided that, since we had camped literally all over Japan, we couldn’t have made an exception, not even for Sapporo. So we brought our tent in Odori Park, pitched it in a hidden corner (technically we weren’t allowed to) and slept like logs until the morning.
The following day we straight away payed a visit to Ono Cycle Sapporo, a Specialized authorized reseller, to get one last (but definitely crucial) check for our trusty Specialized Tricross bikes. With our bikes serviced, and after buying a handful of accessories for the last part of the journey, we let ourselves go for a day of leisure: catching up with friends, dinner at my favorite spot in the city and checkd out a live gig where our ex drummer, Emilio, was playing with his new super dooper awesome band, 葉緑体クラブ.
The following day we left Sapporo bright and early, ready to face the last 4 days of our adventure. Unfortunately, getting out of a big city is always way slower than expected and by the end of the day, we had cycled only a little over 60km when the sun set and we pitched out tent next to a lake in a beautiful park.
Zuppiero (the hawk that followed us since the very first day of this journey) was the one that woke us up with his screech in the morning. A way-too-big meat-based breakfast later, feeling heavy as rocks, we started cycling north. Until there, Hokkaido had proven itself to be way less populated that all of the other regions of Japan, and the distances between towns/villages had been steadily increasing, but we never expected what we started facing that day: long, straight deserted roads, nothing but the horizon to follow and literally tens of kilometers between houses (most of which were abandoned fishing shelters, to be honest). For the whole day, we saw nothing but coastlines, nature and flocks of seagulls. A beautiful landscape in its own, lonely but peaceful way.
After having cycled over 100km in such conditions, we crashed the tranquillity of a coastal village called Abiramura, where we got hold of every form of food available, pitched the tent in a park and watched the latest episode of Game of Thrones (because: why the hell not) until we both fell asleep in our cozy sleeping bags.
On the morning of May 24th, we woke up with an overwhelming sense of sadness: it was the penultimate day of our journey.
And trust me when I say that the moment you realize the best thing you’ve ever done is about to end, it’s a sucky one.
It sucks real hard.
We shook off that feeling, focused on what the journey had left to offer us, jumped on our biked and literally started devouring kilometers in the deserted north, helped by the strongest of tailwinds.
Upon hitting the 70 kilometer mark of the day, we started being consumed by hunger. Luckily, we reached the ONLY restaurant we had encountered since the beginning of the day which also turned out to be the one literally hundreds of people cycling or walking the length of japan, had stopped to before us. We were the only customers and the owner of the restaurant, a delightfully energetic old man, didn’t just serve us the BEST SCALLOP RAMEN of all times, he also showed us all his notebooks filled with photos and notes of every single person that stopped there on their way to Cape Soya, for the last 25 years. Now, in those notebooks, you can find us too!
With renewed energies and our bellies full, we said goodbye to the old man and cycled for 60 more kilometers with ease, in that beautiful cold desolation known as “Hokkaido’s wild north”
That evening, a handful of kilometers before breaking our previous record of 136 kilometers in a day, the craziest of things happened to us.
Curious much? Well, as we profusely explained in the italian blogs we published on youtube, there’s no way we can say what it was in this book! #sorry
But you’re very welcome to ask us in person if we ever meet! (like, seriously, please do: you’ll die of laughter when you hear it!)
It was single handedly, the weirdest most random and unexpected thing that happened during the whole journey!
On May 25th we woke up. Packed down the tent for the last time, strapped all of our belongings to the bikes for the last time, had a gigantic breakfast in the cold outside of a convince store for the last time, and started our day cycling for the last time.
We faced a terrible headwind for the last time, cycled along the seagulls on those deserted coasts for the last time, had lunch sitting on the steps of an abandoned house for the last time.
65 kilometers later, Cape Soya.
The northernmost point of Japan. 4062 kilometers in total, 79 incredible days, 61 of which spent on our bikes.
“Hey mom, we cycled the length of Japan.”
It’s really difficult to find the words to explain what we felt upon reaching our destination that day, especially since it’s been so long already and i’m here, writing these last words with a tear crossing my cheek. But if I really had to try and explain it to you, I’d say it was a strange mix of the biggest joy I had ever experiences, and nostalgia. The kind of melancholy that strikes you one you realize, for the first time, that the biggest, mist incredible adventure of your life has just ended, and that from the following day, everything will be back to “normal”.
Except you. Because the person that left on that first day is no more, and you won’t ever be the same again.