Monday, May 11, 2015

Cycling the Shimanami Kaido

The Shimanami Kaido is an expressway that hops across the islands of the Seto Inland sea between Honshu and Shikoku.  It was built with cyclists in mind and has dedicated bicycle lanes for most of the route.  Leaving from Onomichi or Imabari, it is approximately 76km long and is extremely easy to navigate.  Some portions are alongside the road shoulder, but the roads are quiet local ones, and it is not too intimidating.
Map shows the route Imabari to Onomichi.  Distance is obviously the same though :)

We cycled the route over 2 days.  The first day was a bit of a headache due to some miscommunications about baggage delivery.  In Japan, they have an efficient system for sending luggage to destinations via Kuroneko Yamato (aka the black cat).  From our research, many travellers send their large packs ahead of them and just cycle with a small overnight bag.  We wanted to do this too as there was no way we were cycling with our large packs.  Most travellers spend a night or two on Shikoku, so just forward their packs to their next hotel/hostel.  However, due to lack of time, we were planning on heading straight to Tokyo via Okayama after arriving in Imabari.  Thus we wouldn’t have a hotel to forward our bags to.  As it turns out, there aren’t any services that accept deliveries for pick up.  So, we actually hopped on the train from Onomichi to Fukuyama, stashed our bags in a luggage locker in Fukuyama (which is near Okayama), and returned back to Onomichi to start the cycle trip. 
The wind blew my hat off my  head here.  Some friendly fishermen fished my hat from the sea for me!!!

We rented your standard 6 speed bikes (with a basket on front!), and set off to the ferry to Mukaishima Island.  The ferry is very short (~5mins) and is inexpensive.  From the ferry dock, all you have to do is follow the blue line.  The blue line is continuous throughout the ride, but does disappear in Imabari.  The first day we rode to Setoda on Ikuchijima.  Our destination was the Setoda Private Hostel, located at Sunset Beach.  The ride was mostly flat, except for the on ramps onto the bridge decks.  The incline was gentle though and I was even able to continue pedalling up the ~1km long inclines.  The route goes through a mix of rural agricultural land and industrial areas.  Being on the sea, shipbuilding and related industries seem to be common.  The route also goes through citrus orchards of oranges and lemons.  We bought some delicious oranges at a roadside fruit stand.  They were seriously the best oranges I have ever tasted!  I highly recommend stopping to pick up some fruit.  There weren’t too many fruit stands, so when you see one, stop! 
View of the Seto Inland Sea
Orange orchard.  But these oranges aren't the yummy ones.
The Setoda Private Hostel is located on Sunset Beach, east of the main town of Setoda.  The facilities reminded me of a summer camp, with various outbuildings where guests stay.  It has a very DIY feel to the place, like something my dad would build.  For 4800 yen per person, we received a large airy room with a private bathroom.  It also included breakfast and dinner.  I highly recommend opting into the meals as they are delicious AND the town is a ghost town at night.  The last thing I would want to be doing after hours of biking would be hopping back onto a bike in search of food.  However, by far the best part of the Setoda Private Hostel is the onsen.  After a long day of sweating, the best thing was to shower off the sweat and soothe my aching muscles in the onsen, which overlooks the ocean and setting sun.  I had my best (and longest) night’s sleep in Setoda.  For the most part I had trouble sleeping when I was in Japan, but in Setoda, I passed out around 8:30pm and slept soundly til 7:00am!  It must have been a mix of the fresh air, sunshine, exercise, and quietness of the place.
Dinner at the Setoda Private Hostel
Sunset at the aptly named Sunset Beach
Nighttime Tranquility
Day two started with a delicious breakfast to fuel an even longer day of cycling.  Our goal was to make it to Imabari Station by 5pm, so we could shower, pick up bags in Fukuyama, and be waiting for our train in Okayama with plenty of time to spare.  The start of the day was okay, as I had recharged enough overnight.  We made multiple stops for ice cream and oranges along the way.  There are fewer citrus orchards as you progress, so pick up your oranges where you can!  The map suggests stopping on Hakatajima for salt ice cream.  Do it.  It’s yummy, and a nice break from cycling. 
Dedicated bike lane

By the time we had crossed the bridge onto Oshima, it was way past lunch time and we were hungry.  The problem was we could not find any restaurants or even combinis nearby.  So, we continued onwards towards the next bridge.  This was a big mistake.  On Oshima, there is a mountain.  And you must cycle on over it.  This was the longest unexpected uphill stretch of the trip, as the only other uphill stretches were the onramps for the bridges.  In the midday heat, with tired legs, rumbling bellies and running low on water, we tackled this mountain and it was no fun.  I highly highly recommend doing this hill when you are not running on empty.  The hill itself wasn’t even much steeper or longer than the bridge onramps, but due to the circumstances it felt like it took eternity to climb.  Finally, near the other end of the island, we found a Lawson’s and were able to refuel there.  You bet we bought the 2L bottle of Pocari Sweat! 
Final Bridge!!!
The final bridge from Oshima to Imabari is a long one – over 4km long!  The views are spectacular and it is a nice final leg to the journey.  The only problem is, that once you arrive on the island of Shikoku, the JR Imabari Station is actually 7km further still, and all of this is cycling in the city.  With help from Google maps, we arrived at the JR Imabari Station on schedule and returned our bikes with ease.  For 400 yen each, we took showers at the Giant Bicycle store located at the station.  Apparently there is a public onsen only a few minutes away, but we had a train to catch so opted for the showers.  The showers are large and spotless.  A large fluffy towel as well as soap/shampoo are provided.  It was one of the best 400 yen I have ever spent :D
Final views

Squeaky clean and walking a bit funny, we made our way back to Fukuyama via train to pick up our bags, and then over to Okayama to await the arrival of the Sunrise Seto night train enroute to Tokyo!

  • Spend a night in Onomichi.  Onomichi is a cute, charming, peaceful town.  There are many shrines and temples around and you could be the only visitor there.  There is a lit boardwalk along the waterfront that is lovely to walk at sunset!  Stay at the Onomichi Guesthouse Fuji Hostel – friendly owner, clean facilities, and comfy beds!
  • Don’t stay in Imabari.  It’s a large industrial city.  Many travellers stay in Matsuyama or other towns on Shikoku. 
  • Do the cycle trip in 2 days.  We met a woman who has been cycling around the world for 6 months.  She even did it in 2 days as it allows you to see more on the islands.
  • Rent a bicycle with a child’s seat if you are carrying a lot of stuff.  I barely fit my small daypack, water bottle, and jacket into the basket on my bicycle. 
Bicycle Rental info:


Adelina Wong said...

This sounds awesome! But I'm not sure I could handle biking all that way... I feel like I'd have to train for it haha!

Agent Grey Bunny said...

I don't exercise (besides taking the stairs at work lol). Still managed!