Everybody back from their New Year's activities? Good. It's time to get this ride report party started.
This was the second annual Island Hopper ride for me and JamesK. When we did the first one a year ago, the whole idea was to find a bunch of fun roads at low altitudes, so we could do some touring in the winter without worrying about black ice. That might make it sound like a "second-class" kind of route, full of roads that aren't quite worth our time during peak riding season. But after having done two of these things, I have to say that it's become one of my favorite annual rides.
First of all, we've found plenty of great roads that could stand side-by-side with your summer favorites; last year's Muroto Skyline in Shikoku and this year's great twisty coastal roads on Hirado and Ikitsuki islands easily make my all-time top ten list. Second, during end-December, when we're out there, most of these roads (and the ones connecting them) are completely empty. That goes not just for ordinary motorists, but also for cops. You'd have to work really hard to get stuck in traffic or snag a ticket. Finally, it's just not that cold out there. Both times, I brought my heated jacket and gloves, but ended up needing them only on the big expressway blasts, when traveling after sundown and/or through strong, sustained wind caused by slabbing at high speed. If we do this ride again in December 2014, I hope some of you will join in the fun.
Anyway, here's my route map from last month's go-round. (I've manually reconstructed the ferry-based tracks, when my navi wasn't on.):
You can see I opted for a nice, warm, relaxing ferry ride home instead of slabbing it over 1,000 more kilometers back to Tokyo at night, through wind and snow on no sleep. Of course, to JamesK, that sounded like a fun little ride, and he flogged his FJR home through showers of wet snow, taking only brief power naps at service areas along the way. But up to that point, our routes were essentially the same.
Saturday, 21 December
This was set to be a day of long-distance slab travel, getting us far enough west to wake up the next morning and almost immediately start enjoying some island twisties. With my bike prepped and packed the night before, I was able to get a pretty good night's sleep. Our plan was to roll out of Ebina SA at 7:00am, but I woke up early enough to get there with plenty of time to spare. Good thing, too, since an accident on the Tomei created a slug of juutai that slowed me down while I split my way through it.
I got to Ebina in time to see Mt. Fuji lit by the last bits of sunrise, while the moon still lingered in the sky:
A better shot of Fuji, thanks to the 20x optical zoom on my Lumix:
While waiting for JamesK, who was fighting his way through the worsening juutai, I participated in a survey administered by several yellow-jacketed people hanging around the entrance to the food court:
The questions were all focused on whether I would be interested in buying a car that would be remotely slowed down by road-mounted sensors when juutai starts to develop. The idea is that when people try to maintain their usual driving speed as congestion increases, the congestion gets worse, and before you know it, BAM! You're stuck in a traffic jam.
My answer: Hell, no. Not even if the government subsidized the price of the car to the tune of 50%. I don't like the idea of somebody controlling my vehicle when I try to drive it. What if I need to suddenly accelerate, but the road computers think I should slow down? And (tinfoil hat on) I suspect that a technology capable of remotely slowing your car could also be used to brick it completely, for whatever reason the government, cops, or dealerships see fit. No thanks.
The guy next to me in the parking lot was on an old-school BMW R65GS. Wikipedia says only 1,727 of these bikes were made, so it's pretty rare:
You know you're hardcore when you carry a spare cylinder head with you:
JamesK rolled in before too long, but by the time we had some coffee and hung around a bit, we ended up hitting the road over an hour behind schedule. No problem, because we made good time on a nice, clear Shin Tomei all the way down to the Hamamatsu SA:
We didn't need it this early on, but we could see how this area with showers, laundry, and massage chairs could come in handy after a full day on the road:
After a quick break, we were back on the road. JamesK and I have different tank ranges and average cruising speeds, so we don't always stop at the same service areas for gas and breaks. But after pushing through a bit of rain on the Shin Meishin, we met up again at the Nishinomiya Naijo SA:
Not bad for service area dining:
No, not bad at all:
Next, we had to choose between the Chugoku and the Sanyo expressways for heading further west. JamesK wanted to take the twistier Chugoku, but a peek on http://www.jartic.or.jp/ showed snow chains recommended for long sections of it:
Proving that he is not completely insane, JamesK joined me on the straighter, but drier and safer, Sanyo for an almost 300-kilometer-long blast. We met up toward the end of it, at Miyajima SA. Of course, being faster than he is, I arrived there first:
Grilled oysters on a stick. Surprisingly tasty!
Some people say smoking makes you look cool, but I guess it doesn't work when you're wearing a spandex balaclava:
Pretty soon, we were off the expressway, with just a quick stop at a festive pre-Christmas conbini standing between us and the night's business hotel:
There was a bit of confusion when we reached the hotel, since it had apparently changed its name but never bothered to update its website, which still took reservations under its former name. But the building itself was still there, and as Shakespeare kind of said, a business hotel by any other name would have a unit bath as hot. After 800+ km, it felt pretty good.
TO BE CONTINUED...