This is what took to us to go from Kyoto to Kawasaki going from coast to coast of Honshu island: 10 days, 1.021km, +14.540m, 52:13h pedalling, 67 stops at the convenience stores, countless laughs, 17 hours suffering, 6 hours without feeling the feet, 1 flat, 150Gb of pictures, 14 lakes and 14 dams.This wouldn’t had been possible without the ground work of Rob, Willy and PA Cycling for organising this whole trip and designing this amazing route.
I want to thank Fizik, Miss Grape and PA Cycling for inviting me to this trip, not only for the trust they put in me but also the whole experience, I met new people that will stay in my life for sure and I experienced a country that was in my bucket list and I am sure it won't be the last time they see me there.
Feel free to contact me if you have questions or just to say hi!
STAGE 0: Kyoto City Tour
I am not tired to tell everyone that visiting and enjoying a city with a bike its one of the best options possible. Its fast enough to do some km within the city but slowly enough to stop anywhere you want to eat or visit something.
So after assembling the bikes we went for a city and chill ride to Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, a city that has more UNESCO sites than Rome and more 3 Michelin stars restaurants than London.
We were headed to the Kinkaku-Ji and we rode through the Kyoto Gyoen National Garden where you can see the Emperor’s residence: the Imperial Palace. The park its the biggest green area of Kyoto and its bike friendly, perfect to start familiarising with the Japanese culture.
After that we walked through Kinkaku-Ji, without bikes, since its not allowed and there is a 300Yen entrance fee, If its not too crowded its worth the walk, you get to see the Golden Pavilion, an impressive 3 story building covered with pure gold leaf, hence the name.
We then rode next to Kanogawa river to reach, after a small climb, Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple. It is very cool to go there since after the climb you get to see Kyoto city from the above, and you can appreciate the contrasts of the buildings.
STAGE 1: Kyoto ➡️ Nagahama
The night before we packed and got everything ready on the bikes to an early start the next morning. We were leaving at 7:30h.
Just a few pedal strokes and a couple of turns after leaving the hotel and you could already feel we were outside of Kyoto. From there we did an easy 20km climb to reach the highest point of the day. On the downhill we had an amazing views of the Biwa Lake until we reach the blue line. A bike lane that goes all around the lake, we follow it for 60km, always riding with the lake on the right, all flat.
We had a mandatory stop at the Shirahige Jinja, a structure to give house the deities of the Shinto religion, and a couple more to buy something to eat at a convenience stores. Rode past Takashima city and next to Nagahama. At that point it started to rain and it didn’t stop until the next day. Luckily we only had to ride 17km more to reach Takito Keiryuno Takayama Campsite, where we slept in a cabin.
STAGE 2: Nagahama ➡️ Neo
We woke up early, had some noodles for breakfast and we could already feel the legs from the first 120km of the whole ride. There was no time to warm up since the first big climb of the day started at the camping, so we took it slow. It was a 11km and +760m climb so, it was steep, a 7% slope that felt like a 12% with all the bags. Even it was cloudy and some drops fell from the sky, it was not cold, or maybe we were pushing too much and we couldn’t feel it. To be honest I had a hard time trying to follow Eleonora, she was really strong!!
There were some parts of the road covered in fog and it created a mystic ambient with the wet tarmac and the strong green colours of the flora. We were warned from our guide that we could had an encounter with some bears and monkeys, and we heard some sounds in the forest but we didn’t see any.
At the top we rested a little bit and waited for the rest of the group and enjoyed the downhill with some rindo and some tarmac. Our guide told us they call “rindo” to the roads that are covered with moss, rocks, leaves and branches. It is really tricky to ride since you have to be very careful with the hidden rocks and big branches but very fun when you get the hang of it.
We had lunch in the middle of the ride, next to Fujihashi Castle, built in 1989 to place an exhibition of the village and a planetarium. From there we had only 30km left, rode some of them next to the Ibi river and stoped at the Tokuyama Dam, an impressive human made construction to create electricity. We kept riding through some tunnels and bridges and ended at the top of the last climb. From there, a very pleasant downhill, in the middle of the woods, with U turns and in some parts, the trees made natural tunnels. It is always nice to end the ride going down.
STAGE 3: Neo ➡️ Ikeda
As everyday, day 3 started early. Even we had almost everything ready you could always hear our guides, Rob and Willy, shouting the minutes left for our depart, so while packing the bags you hear: 15 minutes! 10 minutes! 5 minutes! Stage 3 had a huge climb like the day before but we could warm up some kms before the hard and steep part. We still suffered though, it was 6km at 7,8% with som parts at 16-17%. At the top of the mountain pass we left the Gifu prefecture to enter Fukui.
Easy and chill downhill, however there were some parts where the asphalt was broken and you had to be very carefully not to crash. We reached Ono city where we stopped for lunch and regroup with the others. Had some rest before the second part of the stage and Eleonora, Antonio and I rode together, the rest of the group took a detour to avoid one of the two climbs left. We started climbing and after 20 minutes we could already see Ono city from above, with a typical warm colours from the afternoon light. We were alone, we didn’t see any car in the next hour.
Went down to Ikeda through a fast and winding road to a wide open area full of fields. Antonio, Eleonora and I did some relays to reach Ikeda city, where we stop at the supermarket to buy some food for dinner and breakfast. Whereas in our mind the staged was finished we still had to do 5km to the campsite, and it would had been okay if it weren't for the last 2 walls to reach the campsite. Worst part of the day. Luckily a warm onsen ( a natural hot spring bathing facility, very popular in the countryside ) was waiting for us.
STAGE 4: Ikeda ➡️ Ikeda
This was supposed to be the rest day, since we were sleeping in the same place. However, Eleonora, Rob ( one of the guides ) and I decided to ride to the coast to see the Pacific. The most exciting part was that we didn’t carry any of the bags, the bike felt like a feather, super fast and light!
Even it was an almost 100km ride we took it slowly, this was only the 4th day and we were not even in the middle of the trip. I was fast start, with 12km downhill to Echizen city and another 20km flat to start the climb to pass the mountain reach to the sea. The last part of the climb it was short, only 4km, but steep, from there we could already saw the sea. Did a steep, fast and dangerous downhill to Michiguchi town. Rode half an hour next to the coastline and Eleonora even refreshed her legs in a small beach we stopped.
After the quick break we rode straight to Echizen city and we stop at a restaurant where we had a delicious ramen and recovered enough to climb back to the campsite. That night we had a bbq all together, talk a little about life and got to know each other more. At that point I realise it was a great group, everyone contributing in its way to the whole experience.
STAGE 5: Ikeda ➡️ Hirugano
Stage 5 was more like a transition stage, we did 120km in 6hours. We did a lot of road and nothing special, it was nice though to push a little bit. The other days I was more focused on nature and the surroundings and the cycling stayed in the background. So it was nice for the legs to give a little bit of action. Stopped at the last convenience store to buy some food and arrived to the camping when it was already dark. Quick and hot shower, dinner with the group and straight to sleep.
STAGE 6: Hirugano ➡️ Shirakawa-go
Day 6 was a bit of a breath in the trip, we only rode 40km, almost downhill and the ride ended with a reward: Shirakawa-go. Shirakawa-go is a Japanese mountain settlement that developed a unique cultural practices and lifestyles due to geographic and weather conditions, placed in a mountain region with heavy snowfall in the winter, isolated from others.
Gassho-zukuri buildings is the first thing you see when you arrive at Shirakawa-go. These houses were built between the 17th century and the beginning of the 20th and they all have a 60 degrees roof slope, so they hace a shape of a triangle, so the snow do not accumulate during the winter. The structure of the Gassho houses are made only of wood and they use straw for the roof.
Little did we knew that we were staying in a very special ryokan ( Japanese traditional guest house ) and after cleaning ourselves, enjoying the onsen and dressed up with the traditional kimono, we went to the commune dinning room and when we open the door we saw all the 10 tables ready for us to eat. The dinner was meticulously prepared, with fish, meat, tofu, beans, mushrooms, bamboo, it was they did copy paste of all the meals. It was impressive and also one of the best meals we had. Even Rob, the guide that has been living in Japan for more than 22 years, said it was one of the best meals he had ever in Japan. It was a wonderful night. We slept on the tatami with the futon, it was like we were on a themed movie.
STAGE 7: Shirakawago ➡️ Takayama City
We woke up and like the dinner, the breakfast was carefully prepared, Japanese style breakfast. We took advantage of the morning light to shot some pictures with the kimono next to the rice fields and the Gassho-zukuri houses. We finished to pack and started our seventh journey. Again, with a long 11km and +750m climb. Even it was sunny, it was colder than the other days, you could feel the air, and you could tell it was a cold cold place during winter. At the top we eat some snack and put our jackets on, it was cold.
We regrouped with Eleonora, Antonio and Waldemar and enjoyed the fast downhill, the tarmac was great and I think we just saw a couple of cars in the whole downhill, so it was not dangerous at all. Made it to Shimokotori Dam, and riding next to Odori river we did the last climb of the day, after that point it was mostly downhill.
Our plan was to have lunch at Hida, just 12km from Takayama, where we were sleeping but we were a bit late and almost everything was closed, so, hungrier than ever, we kept pedalling for another half an hour until we found a sushi place in Takayama. It was a very rewarding meal and actually it was the first time we ate sushi since we were in Japan. After that we went to the hostel we were sleeping and walked a little bit to see Takayama city. Even it was already dark, we could see the narrow streets of the Sanmachi Suji district and a bit of the Sannomachi, the historical centre of the city that is perfectly preserved from the Edo Period (1603-1868).
Went back to the hostel and rested for the next day early start, again.
STAGE 8: Takayama City ➡️ Ina
At this point every morning and every time you stood up you could feel your legs, however, after more than 750km, +11.500m and a 26kg bike it was something normal. We started riding at 7:30 am and we had a meeting point in the middle of the ride, one of the best soba noodles restaurant of the area, which was very cool, because we had 50 something km to the restaurant and it was kind of our motivation because there was no big climbs but the road was slowly uphill and you could feel the legs at every pedal stroke. Eleonora and I ended up riding alone and we found an abandoned gas station, we stopped to take some pictures but I think it was more an excuse to rest a little bit, anyway we had some fun.
Made it to the restaurant and waited for the others to eat. Rob was right, the best soba noodles we had in the whole trip. After that we kept going, there was still a big climb at the end of the day and we wanted to made it before it was dark.
Some ups and downs and a beautiful and warm weather and made it to the last climb. While the others went through the tunnels, Eleonora, Waldemar, Rob and I took the fun line, an extra 6km and +450m to reach a closed road. Rob knew we could go through since he rode it the week before, I think we couldn’t have a better guide, honestly. We went through and we found a road covered in leaves, like 100% covered. It was a really cool place, real rindo as Rob would call it. When the downhill started you could see some tarmac but it was tricky, lots of hidden rocks, lots of slippery turns, even some wet parts full of moss. Eventually Waldemar had a flat tyre and we stopped to fix it, new tube and kept going, nothing difficult. Turn after turn the road kept going down until we made it to Ina. Before arriving to the campsite we did a quick stop to the convenience store to buy dinner and breakfast. It was a long day, I think by 8pm we were already sleeping.
STAGE 9: Ina ➡️ Akaike
It was raining all night, it was raining when we had breakfast, however it stopped when we start riding. We were lucky. The stage was mainly flat the first 50km, then a 55km downhill, yes 55km, and you could split the last part in two. The first one was a gentle climb of 15km, easygoing, and the second one, was the one we had to push more with our head than with our legs. 7km with a 6% of slope, it doesn’t seem much but after 8 straight days riding, 120km and 26kg bike it was something.
It started raining 10 minutes before we arrived to the place we regroup for lunch so it was nice, we ate and by the end of the meal the rain was already stopped. We put our jackets on, because it was all wet, there was no sun and we had more than 2 hours downhill and we went for it.
I think I have never rode a 50km downhill, it was a strange feeling to be honest jajaja. There were some fast parts some slow ones and we ended up in Ghuo, a big city where we bought some food and started the climb. It was nice first, then the tiredness came to say hi and things got harder than expected, it started to rain and Eleonora and I started pushing, we were a bit cold and we really wanted a hot shower. We pushed for 1 hour nonstop and made it to top, there was a tunnel and when we rode out the tunnel it was pouring, it was like the ice bucket challenge jajaja. Rode around Lake Shoji, and made it to the camping, took a shower, had dinner and went to sleep.
STAGE 10: Akaike ➡️ Kawasaki
The last day, it was supposed to be chill but I think it was the worst day of my life on a bike. It was “only” 145km ride with only +722m so mainly flat, yes, but the thing is that it was raining ALL DAY. So we started with the waterproof jacket, waterproof pants and gloves and it was all good, it was all good for 30 minutes. After that we were all soaking wet, and it was not that cold, it was something between 14 and 19 all day, however, we were mostly downhill and it we had the hands and the feet freezing.
We rode together with Antonio and Eleonora and we stopped now and then to drink coffee or tea, to eat something and to buy new and dry socks, yes socks. There was nothing we could do to prevent the water to enter the shoes and the socks, so at certain point we knew it was going to be like that all day, we embrace it and kept going. We tried to find different solutions and all of them failed but one. For the feet, the solution that worked was to put a new plastic bag over our shoe and tighten it to our leg with duck tape and put the long pant over. For the hands, we bought cleaning rubber gloves, they don’t transpire but the water can trespass it too, so it work for us. Even we looked like we were escaping a laboratory with the bikes, it was the only way we could pedal for 6 hours under the rain.