Cycling Kyushu: Day 7 / by Ryan Mundt

MY BEST DAY OF CYCLING, EVER!

Day 7: Nagasaki to past Akune  |  145km

My alarm goes off at 5:15; I climb out of my bunk, grab my sleeping bag and slip out of the hostel with a canned coffee to wake me up. I carry my bags down to my bike parked in front of the guest house. It’s a bit chilly this morning.

I’m on the road by 5:30am. The first order of business is to cycle up and over to Mogi Port, a small port on the south part of Nagasaki City. The ferry leaves at 7:20am which leaves me some time to find the place and have a bite to eat.

The uphill part of the climb is through a more dilapidated part of the city, which looks pretty cool. I slowly climb the hill in my granny gear. There’s hardly any traffic at this time.

I finally reach the top and it’s a whole lot greener up here. Then the long downhill begins! I blast down the windy forest road! I’m less than 5km from the city center and it’s completely countryside here!

I reach Mogi in no time. It’s just like so many small fishing ports in Japan. And the morning fog and overcast skies add to its sepia atmosphere.

Sleepy, peaceful Mogi Port

I find the building for the ferry and get my ticket. Bikes cost an addition ¥1,200. However, if I put it in its bag it becomes normal luggage and thus is free!

The ferry terminal is half an empty waiting area and closed food counter and another half is a store selling fresh fish and vegetable which is fairly busy this morning.

The small ferry is ready to go. A guy in a suit and me and my bike are the only passengers today! Not a profitable run today. I know it’s early but I would’ve expected a few more people on the boat. This must be a well and truly dying area of Japan.

The ferry finally pulls away from the sleepy port and picks up speed toward Tomioka Port on Shimoshima/Amakusa. I sit out on the back deck for a while to enjoy the view. Sitting on the deck I can tell today is going to be a great day. During the planning stage, I was looking forward to this day the most. The geography alone looked amazing, plus two ferries and two different islands.

First ferry of the day. 70 minutes to Shimoshima

I go back in the cabin and have a little snooze. The ride to the other is scheduled to take 70 minutes.

I arrive and start to set up my bike again and have a chat with a guy outside the terminal. He’s nice and asks me where I’m going today. My goal for the day is a city called Akune. It must not be very impressive because no one has heard of it yet…except this guy.

My original plan was to cycle down the west side of Shimoshima but after talking to the young couple back at the guest house I decide to go the east way. It’s a bit longer but is quite a well-known area with Japanese people.

The road today will pretty much hug the coastline the entire day. I still haven’t breakfast so I stop into a local super market and the first thing I think is, it’s 8:30 and a super market is open in the middle of nowhere! Super markets in Tokyo don’t even open till 10am! If only they sent someone from R&D to Amakusa!

I buy a pack of strawberries for ¥150 and some kind of roll cake for ¥63 (my cheapest meal yet). I fill up with water and cycle down to the waterfront and give Yui a call back in Tokyo.

Sadly, I didn't see any

Around 9am I’m ready to roll. First, head across the north part of the island to Amakusa city then south along the east side of the island to Ushibuka where I will catch the ferry to Nagashima.

The ride toward Amakusa is really relaxing. The road is lined with palm trees and goes from one small port to another. The skies are overcast and let a few sprinkles down but nothing to worry about.

Today's route takes me around the east side of the island. AMAZING is an understatement!

Closer to Amakusa I start seeing lots of cyclist come in the opposite direction part of some kind of race or training event. I had seen a sign for the Amakusa Triathlon.

When I get past Amakusa city I get off the bigger road and get on Route 26 that really hugs the water. And judging by the map, it looks really really rural. The road makes every in and out curve the water does making the k’s clock up but the views are amazing!

Rt. 26 gets smaller and smaller as it goes south to Ushibuka and if I didn’t have GPS on my phone, I would definitely think I’m lost.

The further I go on this road the happier I am that I decided to tour this side of the island. The little towns, and I mean LITTLE, were so far removed from anything I have come to know in Japan. I was completely alone on these roads and life in these small villages seemed like nothing could affect them. No political decisions back in Tokyo, no war, or social woes seemed like it would have any impact on these people what so ever. They were living in their own little bubble. It was beautiful!

Private roads ALL day! Not hardly even a car

These villages seemed to pop up over every other valley and the now unmarked Rt. 26 got smaller and smaller. When I entered villages the road would become two meters wide and have old houses forming walls on both sides. Most of the houses around here had lots and lots of onions hanging outside to dry as well. There was not so much as a local grocer to buy an onigiri.

I wondered what life was like for people out here. Very content and tranquil I imagined. But probably just very boring for the kids.

The most surreal moment came when I came down, what seemed like my own private cycling path into another valley and into another town. Again, the street narrowed and houses got closer and closer. Then suddenly in the center of the village was a community pavilion with colorful flowers and chairs set up and people, all senior citizens, dressed in black. A wake.

Where am I!?! It’s hard to explain the feeling I had for these three seconds it took to pass. It wasn’t sad. It was just surreal.

I suppose the best way to describe it is the way a bird must feel flying over a town and gazing down at the city and humans below, not knowing what they are exactly or how they got there. Very detached. And being a foreigner (another species, if you will) only added to that.

This 45km stretch was by far the most memorable of the entire trip but I knew it would be the hardest to articulate. I will always remember that three-second encounter and the way it felt. Also I will remember cycling through other villages with a massive smile on my face as my brain processes everything.

I finally arrive in Ushibuka. I’ve already clocked about 90km today and feel full of energy! Plus it’s only just 1pm.

I follow the road down to the ferry port and immediately recognize it from the photos on the website. I get my ticket, which is only about ¥700 with the bike. No need to bag it this time. My ferry leaves at 1:20pm and I’m starving. I go around the corner to get a bento and snack at the local grocer and head back to roll onto the much larger car ferry. I stow my bike on the car level behind some cross-country motorcyclists and head upstairs to the passenger cabin.

That's me in the back

It seems the first thing I do whenever I sit down for more than 10 minutes is look for a power outlet to charge my phone. The ferry ride is a short one at only 30 minutes. This area seems a lot more popular. I suppose the car ferry allows people to go back and forth pretty easily.

When we arrive at Nagashima the cars and trucks are already lining up to go back the other way.

Nagashima is a much much smaller island than Shimoshima, but is far more developed and a lot hillier! No more private bike path for me. It’s a regular two-lane road but traffic isn’t terrible.

One of the many great lookouts of Nagashima

Every time I climb to the top of a big hill the view of the ocean is amazing! From there I can see the downhill curving back and forth. It was one hill after another for the whole island which was tiring me out pretty quickly.

Although it’s an island the southern tip is close enough to the mainland that there is a bridge…a big blue one, in fact. When I get to the bridge the wind is really starting to pick up so I opt for the pedestrian walkway. When I actually step onto the bridge the wind is absolutely howling! No way in hell I can ride across this and the sea below is looking very angry! The railings were actually vibrating and making noises as I crossed.

I got to the other side and the wind stopped. Further down the road as I passed through a few more old rusty villages. I really needed to take a leak. I saw a sign that said “golf” something or other. I pulled over and it turned out to be an out-of-business driving range. And a very funky one, at that. The raised hitting platform was built directly in front of a hill with the furthest marker being 150 yards. The grass was maintained and there were a couple golf clubs left, so someone was definitely still using it for themselves but it was clearly too rusty and disheveled to still be in business.

Brilliant!

I climbed up a questionable wooden ladder to the platform and picked up an iron and took a few swings. The circulation in my hands was not good and they were feeling pretty tingly and I was in cycling shoes, but I hit a couple shots anyway.

I didn’t realize until after the first shot that there were several troughs that funneled the balls back down to the bottom. Genius! No need to drive around and collect them.

I was a bit worried about the echoing of each shot so I didn’t stay much longer.

But right when I left the driving range I saw the first sign that said Kagoshima! Awesome! Having come all this way and having had such bad luck in the beginning it was a great feeling to see Kagoshima on a sign! Straight ahead!

After another 20km I finally hit Akune. I can tell right away why no one has ever heard of this place. Nothing memorable.

Being as Akune is on the coast I was planning on finding a nice quit secluded beach to camp on. There seemed to be a few on Google map.

As I’m cycling down the road I saw two cyclists pulling out of a Lawson’s conbini with LOTS of gear on their bikes. I cycle up to them and notice they are foreigners as well, a guy and a girl. I pass the guy to let him know I’m there and ask where they are headed. They say Kagoshima! Cool, me too!

A little bit further down the road we pull over to have a proper chat. They are married: Michael is German and his wife Bridgit is Swiss. They are here for four weeks cycling Kyushu and then Shikoku and they have some serious gear with them as well! They are both jealous of how light I am traveling. They are also planning on camping and are trying to find an onsen further up the road.

So we form a bit of a caravan and cycle down the road looking for this onsen that is advertised. It’s great to finally meet up with other cyclists! Someone to talk to and who is on the same journey as you makes it even more fun.

After a bit we stop to take a picture and I, being the only one with a working cell phone checks the GPS. I ask an old lady outside her house if there is an onsen near here. She says it’s only a kilometer up the road…but on closer inspection it looks more like 5 or 6km. But when I zoom in to Google maps it shows a campsite a few kilos up the road, right on the beach too! Awesome! What luck! The couple is happy that they are with someone that can read the signs.

A few kilos up the road I stop at a conbini to buy my dinner and soon we make the turn off for the campsite. When we get there it’s perfect! It’s on the cliff above a beach and a fantastic view of the sea.

We park the bikes under the pavilion and walk down the cliff to the ocean. There are a couple locals on the beach but otherwise the whole place is ours! Wow!

It’s not exactly hot but we wade into the ocean and chat for a while. Michael is a pretty interesting guy and immediately starts cracking jokes. So far in my experience I haven’t found the stereotype about German not having a sense of humor to be true.

These two are some serious cyclists! They have cycled all over the world and decided to come to Japan for a late honeymoon. Michael has been here before, about ten years ago and it’s Bridgit’s first time, though she lived in Vietnam for a few years. They seem like the perfect couple. Two people crazy about cycling.

They started off in Osaka and took the ferry to Beppu in Kyushu and cycled down to this point. They were planning on cycling back toward Shikoku and tour the bridges there before heading back to Osaka.

We get out of the ocean and go back to set up our tents and wash up a bit.

As I said, they are carrying lots of gear and their tent looks very solid. Definitely not a clearance sale item like mine!

Unfortunately the shower houses are locked, so we have to take turns taking cold bird baths in the sink. But it feels great to wash up after a LONG day on the bike!

We sit in the pavilion cooking dinner and notice a bright red sliver of sun dip behind the horizon as we chat. What a perfect end to the day!

They made udon noodles for dinner and I made a mixture of instant rice, sausages and spaghetti sauce, which was pretty damn good, I must say! After that they made some hot chocolate.

Tonight would be an early night. At 9pm we all retreated to our tents and called it a night.

Because I cycled 145km today, 45 more than expected, tomorrow would be an easy 65km into Kagoshima.

Unexpected camp for the night...things could be worse!

Today was even more epic than I expected! A surreal ride in Amakusa, two ferries, beautiful views on Nagashima, meeting two great people on the way and doing the most kilos I’ve ever done in one day. On top of that, I’ve forgotten what the date is or day of the week…the true sign that you are on vacation!

I go to bed realizing that tomorrow is my last day of cycling. But what an amazing experience Kyushu has been.