Monday, 24 September 2007

A map of the route

Please excuse my poor looking map but it's the best I could come up with at present . The above map shows the route I took from Tsugawa over Mt Dai Tengu then across the over the range of mountains into Murumatsu. The overall distance from Tsugawa to the picnic area before Murumatsu was only 50km but because of the climbing if felt like a lot more. After entering Murumatsu I then headed to the nearest train station which was Gosen only to find out I would have to wait an hour & a half for the next train . On discovering this fantastic news I then headed to the nearest supermarket for some food and rode on to Nittsu station where I was able to take a 3.35pm train back into Niigata City. I ended up back home at 4.30pm drinking a nice cold beer to finish off the day.

A view of the valley

Just before entering the town of Murumatsu I stopped to take a photo of the valley I had just cycled down. The mountains in the photo above shows the range I had cycled over and a popular local picnic spot by the river on the left hand side. Also you can see on the right hand side of the photo a local family busy harvesting their rice.

The local transport

After the decent I came out upon the river valley leading to Murumatsu where everybody was busy harvesting the local crop which is the world famous Koshihikari rice considered by many the best rice in Japan not only for eating but also for the production of Sake as well. This particular valley is said to have very delicious rice because of the quality of the water & climate. Pictured above is one of the local farmers on his rice harvester.

On the road to Murumatsu

After the decent I had another tough hill climb over the saddle and down towards Murumatsu which proved to be tougher than cycling over Mt Dai Tengu. This road is used a lot more often than the previous roads I was traveling over that morning. On the decent I passed through a small Mt village next to the road and in the picture above you can see on the right hand side a KURA which is a traditional store house.

The decent

The decent into the valley below was a lot of fun and the views were fantastic. I had never ridden this road before so I took caution on the decent as it wouldn't have been a good place to crash with 200 meter drops off the side of the road into the river below. The photo above reminded me of South America ( as I've seen photos that looked similar ) . It must have been a lot of work to make this road cut into the rock face considering the amount of traffic that would use it.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Mt Dai Tengu

After an hour of climbing I had finally reached the summit rd along the top of Mt Dai Tengu, it was a little overcast so the view was not so good but I still had some pretty good views of the Agano river far below. It was along this river that I had taken the train to Tsugawa early that morning. There were even a few passing spots along the road as it was quite narrow in some places. After stopping for a short time near the summit I started off on a fantastic downhill into the valley deep below. Pictured above is a view from the top of Mt Dai Tengu

A Roadside sign

Along the road there were several intersections that are not marked on any of the maps I have, these are small concrete side roads joining up with the main rd over Mt Dai Tengu. And most of the intersection's had a sign board erected to show drivers were they were so they wouldn't get lost. Pictured above is the 2nd sign I came across during my journey.

The road condition

As I mentioned in an earlier post I was surprised to find this road concrete as it was easy to see nobody uses this road at all, except maybe for the Electric company who would need to service their towers now and again. As quite often near the summit I could see freshly cut tracks leading to the electrical towers. It might have been used more often in the past but now as you can see from the above photo it is heavily overgrown and you can just make out the white lines beneath the grass.

A mountain village

After leaving the small valley I had passed through I continued uphill hopefully towards the summit and on entering a dense forest of cedar trees I came across a small village of about 10 houses or less. On my way uphill a few cars had passed me, so this is where they were heading I guess as they were no sign of cars using the road beyond this village. The houses in the village were very old and it looked as though time had stood still here for the last hundred years as the only signs of modern life were the cars parked outside a few of the homes. Pictured above is a glimpse of one of the old houses taken through the forest.

What the hell is that ?

From a distance I saw what I thought was a soldier standing guard next to some rice drying on a rack, but on closer inspection of the soldier I realised he was only a poorly made scarecrow with a cheap plastic face mask with a horrible cheesy grin and a badly made rifle & helmet. His rile looked to be constructed from wood and painted green & black, I couldn't work out what model his rile was but I'm sure it scares the crows anyhow. Pictured above is the loyal soldier standing guard over the rice stalks.

A small valley

After winding my way up slowly in middle gear through the village and passing the last few remaining houses I was then riding through the forest & to my surprise the road was concrete and not gravel as I had expected. Not long after climbing I came upon the first of many small valley's where there were a couple of rice fields and a small farmers shack, but no houses were in sight. Pictured above is the small valley I rode through.

Tsugawa town

Pictured above is a photo I took just as I was entering Tsugawa from the bridge into town. Tsugawa is famous for their annual Fox wedding festival based on an old folk tale and their rowing club as on the opposite side from this photo the river is marked out into racing lanes for rowing competitions.

Tsugawa to Murumatsu

Well as I had a day off last Sunday I decided to explore a back country rd from the town of Tsugawa over the Mt range towards Murumatsu. I cycled to Niigata station and using my bicycle bag I was able to board a train bound for Tsugawa where I arrived at 9.30am. After un packing my bike I headed across the bridge and through the tunnel into Tsugawa , it had been drizzling early in the morning but the weather was nice and cool for cycling. Pictured above is a photo of the small Tsugawa station just before I started my ride.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Return to Niigata

After filling up on water we both cycled downhill back towards Mikawa Eki and upon arriving at the Eki at 2.15pm we saw that the next train bound for Niigata station was due to arrive at 3pm. So after packing our bikes back into our bicycle bags we went across the road to the convenience store for the food, the pickings were slim being it was almost mid afternoon but we found enough to satisfy our hunger for the time being. I have since heard that the ramen shop across from the convenience store in Mikawa sells fantastic giant goza ( maybe I'll try that next time ) . Not long after boarding the train for Niigata at 820 yen a ticket it started to rain so we were rather glad to be sitting in the train than cycling in the rain. We arrived back in Niigata City just after 4pm and met our mutual friend Brian who kindly offered us a few refreshing drinks by the river. It's amazing what you can get up to on a Sunday in Japan. Pictured above is Sunil at the highest point we reached on our ride.

What happened next ?

Well after a long slog up the mountain we came to a fork in the road where we had two choices, one being to continue straight ahead but there was a warning sign that stated the road was closed and unsafe or a road to our right which had a metal barrier but was concrete. I had noticed throughout our climb that motorcycles had been along this road as the tracks were quite fresh but we didn't know were they had started from and as our water supply was getting low we took the road past the metal barrier. This was to be our big mistake of the ride but we thought we made the right decision at the time. After riding up the concrete road it soon stopped and turned into dirt again but to our delight it went downhill. We thought our hill climbing was over and were looking forward to a nice downhill into Tsugawa Eki but it wasn't meant to be. As to our great surprise the road ended on a bluff and merged into a narrow hiking trail not suitable for cycling. So after a photo stop we had no choice but to ride back up the mountain and down to the metal barrier. As I was getting under the barrier I saw a group of 12 - 15 Macaque monkey's on the road about 20 mtrs in front of us, but they quickly took off back into the dense forest. From there we headed down hill and upon turning a bend we came across 3 motorcyclists on dirt bikes who then informed us it was not far from fork in the road to the sumit and then it was downhill towards the Onsen above Tsugawa village. They also stated there were a lot of snakes along the road as well. So feeling tired and not to keen for even a few more kms of hill climbing we made the decision to head downhill back towards the natural spring as we were both out of water as it was very hot. We had a fantastic quick downhill and were back at the spring drinking cool refreshing water in no time. We learnt a few lessons from this adventure, one get a better map book, two maybe we should have done more research on road conditions before we started, three we should have started earlier. Pictured above is the view from the highest point we reached throughout the day.

The road condition

As you can see from the photo this was the condition of the road, we had no idea that this road was not concrete and were both surprised to find such a rough road. Although we both had Mt bikes my tyres are Mt Bike slicks more suitable to concrete roads than this kind stuff. But to my surprise I didn't lose traction at all and was able to ride all the way to the top. Along the road I heard some strange sounds which I thought were Macaque monkeys and spotted a few high up in the trees in the distance. Later on we were to both see quite a few snakes and a large group of monkey's along the road.

Natural spring water

Luckily for us in the Mt village was a fantastic natural spring that offered cool refreshing water, so I emptied my water from the 2 ltr camelbak drink system which I had and refilled it with the fresh spring water that tasted a lot better than the water from my tap at home. Little did we know that this was to be our last water stop for several hours. After filling up our water bottles we headed up hill on a concrete rd that went on for about 5 km or so before turning into a rocky dirt road. I was surprised there were no downhill sections at all and we just kept going up & up. For anybody not used to hill climbing this would have been rather hard work, I took plenty of rest stops to allow Sunil to catch up, but this time it had become quite hot and a little humid which made things a lot tougher for both of us. Pictured above is a photo of myself filling up my camelbak from the natural spring

A Mountain Village

Pictured above is Sunil climbing up into a small Mt village, this was the only village located on the road that we took and there were only a dozen houses our so and a few roadside ponds full of carp.

Mikawa Yanaba

After cycling up route 14 we passed over the Araya river we we spotted a " Yanaba " Fish trap located in the river. We decide to take a closer look as these are not a very common site in Japan. A Yanaba is a traditional fish trap constructed in the river usually where the river narrows but in this case a channel had been made especially for the fish trap. The trap itself is a lattice of poles which are spaced about one centimeter apart and set at an angle in the water, submerged upstream, but gradually reaching a height of 2 meters above the water line downstream. Because of the spacing of the poles the water is able to flow through freely, but the Ayu which is a Japanese small river fish are not so Lucky.

Mikawa Eki

After getting off at Mikawa Eki we started to assemble of bicycles and then headed up the road through a short tunnel along route 14 towards our turn off just past Mikawa Elementary school. Mikawa station is an unmanned station and there is nobody to give your tickets too so you just put them in the rubbish bin, although our tickets were checked by the conductor onboard. Pictured above is Sunil outside Mikawa station with our bike bags before the start of our ride.

Mikawa to Tsugawa back country rd

Well as the weather has started to get less humid I decided to explore a back country rd from Mikawa to Tsugawa through the mountains. My cycling partner for the day was Sunil another English teacher who lives in Niigata from Texas, after making plans through the week we met at Niigata station at 7.30am on Sunday the 9th of Sept. After finding out it was free to take your bike on board Japanese trains we decided to give it a try and it was a fantastic way to get deep into the mountains without battling the traffic along the busy road next to the Agano river. Several other cyclists were boarding trains that morning as well and after an hour we had reached our destination Mikawa Eki ( Eki = Station ) . Mikawa is a tiny village with a population of 4116 ( as recorded in 2003 ) , but in April of 2005 Mikawa merged with 3 neighboring villages to form the town of Aga. Pictured above is a map showing planned route ,although we didn't complete the full circuit we had a great day out in the Mountains. Read the next few posts to find out what happened.