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Thread: 2013 Island Hopper ride report

  1. #1
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    Thumbs up 2013 Island Hopper ride report

    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.


    DAY 1
    Saturday, 21 December
    844km





    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...
    Last edited by Guy Jinbaiquerre; 06-01-14 at 09:36 PM.
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  2. #2
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    Was looking forward to this report. Great start!

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  3. #3

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    Looking forward to the full report.
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    Excellent write up so far ! The food looks so good at the service areas.

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    Good report so far. Looking forward to the rest of it.


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    KTM 690 E; DoD#1458

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    Tuned in. Good stuff so far!

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    Roll on day 2
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    I hate that he makes us wait so long between report days.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Perseus View Post
    I hate that he makes us wait so long between report days.
    I'm glad you're so eager to see the next installment. But it hasn't even been 24 hours since I posted the Day 1 report, and I expect to have Day 2 up shortly. Once I get a multi-day report started, I try to keep a one-day-per-day pace.

    I don't stretch it out to build up the drama or keep you waiting. It actually takes a long time to: (1) upload, choose, and edit clips from hours of video, (2) select, crop, and edit photos, (3) generate good-looking and accurate track maps, and (4) tie everything together with a written narrative. I also spend time (5) checking place names and other facts. A report like yesterday's isn't that hard to do, but for a day when we did a lot of interesting roads and stuff, it generally takes several hours of solid work.

    It all takes time, which is hard to come by while holding down a full-time job. And when I'm home, my wife and kids deserve a husband/father who doesn't seal himself in the computer room writing about his 9-day solo vacation.

    Anyway, for the price I charge, I think you're getting a good deal.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Guy Jinbaiquerre View Post
    I'm glad you're so eager to see the next installment. But it hasn't even been 24 hours since I posted the Day 1 report, and I expect to have Day 2 up shortly. Once I get a multi-day report started, I try to keep a one-day-per-day pace.

    I don't stretch it out to build up the drama or keep you waiting. It actually takes a long time to: (1) upload, choose, and edit clips from hours of video, (2) select, crop, and edit photos, (3) generate good-looking and accurate track maps, and (4) tie everything together with a written narrative. I also spend time (5) checking place names and other facts. A report like yesterday's isn't that hard to do, but for a day when we did a lot of interesting roads and stuff, it generally takes several hours of solid work.

    It all takes time, which is hard to come by while holding down a full-time job. And when I'm home, my wife and kids deserve a husband/father who doesn't seal himself in the computer room writing about his 9-day solo vacation.

    Anyway, for the price I charge, I think you're getting a good deal.
    No worries. I was just joking. The sheer amount of text you put into these things would take ages to write.

    I really do look forward to these.

  12. #12
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    DAY 2
    Sunday, 22 December
    461km


    The day's plan focused on Yashiro-jima (that big island in the lower right-hand corner of the track map below), and then getting us over to the northern coast of Kyushu:




    According to Wikipedia, although the island's official name is Yashiro, it's commonly referred to as Suo-Ooshima. In fact, when I told the front desk staff at our business hotel that we were heading to Yashiro-jima, they didn't even recognize the name. They knew it only as Suo-Ooshima. Weird.

    Anyway, I woke up nice and early, thinking, "Yo! I be lookin' for something good to drink!" Fortunately, the bathroom tap water fit the bill:




    After a quick hotel buffet breakfast, we had our wheels turning shortly after 7am. The morning air was chilly, but the sky was clear. With our big initial slab run west behind us, we were ready to hit Yashiro-jima. We filled up our bikes on the way out of town, and soon enough, we had crossed the Ooshima Oohashi to Yashiro-jima's palm tree-dotted beaches:




    (For you non-Japanese speakers, "Ooshima Oohashi" translates to "Big Island Big Bridge". Good name, huh?)

    There were lots of tiny tree-covered islets scattered in the surrounding waters:




    And weird little rock sculptures along the coast:




    The roads, as you might expect along the coast of such a jaggedly-shaped island, were nice and curvy:




    Early on, our route pointed us inland, to the more mountainous center of the island. But JamesK advised against it, saying the roads there wouldn't have warmed up enough yet. (Even though he acts like he doesn't care about black ice, he actually has a healthy respect for the stuff and tries to steer clear of it when he can.) So we kept exploring the coast, earmarking the inland mountain roads for later in the day. Here's a spot where the road ended at what I guess was some sort of pier:




    Eventually, we crossed another, smaller bridge over to Okikamuro-jima:




    There wasn't much going on over there -- just a dead-end road to a fishing village -- so we soon crossed back over to Yashiro and kept working our way around its coast. Soon, JamesK spotted this cool torii arch, standing half-in and half-out of the ocean:




    Next up was a beachfront park lined with fat, stubby palm trees:




    Hmm... doesn't say anything about no motorcycles:




    Look! Twisties!




    The park ended in a wooden slat-covered space along the water's edge:




    We moved on, and the road, while still hugging the coast, began to wind higher:




    We were pretty far up by now:




    JamesK stopped for a quick roadside snack:




    Eventually, the road came back down to sea level and dead-ended near the eastern tip of the island. We took a rest break at this little harbor close by:




    The sky had been alternately cloudy and clear all day so far. Now it was nice and clear, and the sunshine was so warm that I took off my neck warmer and heated jacket. After a nice break, we saddled up and headed west, toward the bridge back to the mainland. Along the way, we decided it was warm enough to start hitting some of the inland mountain roads. First up was Rt. 109, a real goat path to the top of Mt. Shiraki. It was pretty good at first:




    Less good:




    We took it pretty easy:




    At the top, we followed a little green footpath around the summit park:




    The view from the top:




    It was time for some food, so we headed back to the coast and stopped at a conbini. JamesK is actually on a diet now, and he's doing pretty well on it. You may have noticed he's wearing a snazzy new BMW jacket and pants combo in these report photos, instead of his usual grungy gear. That's because he's already lost enough weight to fit into smaller clothes, and he's still going.

    Of course, the downside to all that is that every time we stopped for food, I got to watch him load up on weird canned stuff, going by whatever had the lowest calorie count on the label, and mix it all into a salad:




    Mmm... weird canned stuff...

    Keep up the good work, JamesK!




    Moving on, we made another run inland, taking a white road up to Rt. 103 and the Yashiro Dam. Nice, smooth curves, even though a few cars were out there with us:




    On the dam:




    There was a park next to the dam where kids could slide down this plastic grass-covered slope in little sleds if you wet it down with water from that hose you can see on the right-hand side, just below JamesK's feet:




    We gave it a shot, but the water was shut off and the little plastic sleds (not designed to carry me or JamesK, our weight loss efforts notwithstanding) weren't budging.

    Finally done with Yashiro Island, we headed back over the Big Island Big Bridge:




    Back on the mainland, JamesK demonstrated the advantages of not being able to read Japanese as he explored a harbor:




    Of course, the fact that he had to open that gate himself probably should have been a sign...

    At this point, I realized we had chewed up too much time with food, photo, and rest breaks, and we were going to have to hurry to squeeze in as much of the rest of our local-roads route as possible before hopping on the expressway to Kyushu. I had even planned for us to hit a few local roads in Kyushu when we got there before reaching our hotel for the night, but now that was off the table. Our best bet for maximizing our daylight time on fun roads was to do as much of our twisty sightseeing route here in Yamaguchi-ken as possible, and then make an evening expressway blast to our hotel. That way, if we ran out of sunlight, it wouldn't matter so much.

    We made our way south along the coast on Rt. 72, which was pretty nice:




    Still plenty of funny little islets just off shore:




    Soon, we crossed this bridge onto Nagashima:




    We followed a white road out along the north coast to a dead end in a seaside park:




    That photo was taken for us by the rider of this KTM Duke:




    A rindo led into the woody hills from that point, but the Duke guy advised us against trying it. That was fine with me, since even if we could have handled it, we were running short on time. Nagashima might be worth checking out more thoroughly on a return trip.

    Back on the mainland, we tried out the Senbo "Skyline". I use quotation marks because it turned out to be more of a goat path:




    Lookin' good!




    This spot turned out to be a dead end:




    Nice views, though. This is Cape Zobiga, stretching into Murozumi Bay:




    I couldn't help stopping to pull out my camera a couple of times along the way:




    We didn't have time to explore this kind of road all the way north to the Sanyo, so after a while we headed south toward Rt. 188:




    Once on the Sanyo, we got set for a 200km blast west to our lodging for the night:




    As the day sank into night, a light rain began to fall. I was a bit more timid on the twisty bits of the slick, dark, foggy Chugoku than JamesK was, but we both made it to our destination without incident. It was a humble, family-run seaside pension, not a slick business hotel, so we were prepared for futons on tatami mats, a shower downstairs, and a common bathroom down the hall. It actually wasn't bad. There was even a nice public onsen right down the street, which I used and JamesK, of course, did not.

    However, what we were not prepared for was the raucous, alcohol-fueled bonenkai (year-end party) downstairs, complete with super-amplified karaoke machine and a rotating crew of off-key enka singers. Apparently, when I had reserved our rooms here a week or two earlier, the family that runs the joint hadn't seen any need to mention that they had booked out the bottom floor for a drunken dinner bash. In the rickety wooden pension, we could easily hear and feel the booming music. Ear plugs would have helped a bit for the sound, but not for the vibrations. The situation looked like it could affect our planned 7am start time the next morning.

    After diplomatically explaining our situation to the management, I got a promise that the karaoke would stop at 9:00pm.

    9:00 came and went, and enka after enka blared through the loudspeakers downstairs, shaking the tatami beneath us. I went downstairs and reminded the head obasan of her 9pm cut-off promise.

    "It's not that easy to stop a party in the middle of its flow," she explained.

    "Sure it's easy. Want to watch me do it?" I offered.

    She assured me that wouldn't be necessary. Back upstairs, I heard the music stop after one last song. I don't know the details of how the situation actually went down, but soon after the tunes died, the party people seemed to call it a night. They might not have gone home, but they didn't stay there. And in our run-down tatami rooms, JamesK and I were able to go to sleep, no earplugs required.

    TO BE CONTINUED...
    Last edited by Guy Jinbaiquerre; 07-01-14 at 06:34 PM.
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  13. #13
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    Default 2013 Island Hopper ride report

    Nice report so far. Keep her coming Guy!

    JK also looking slim! The canned stuff appears to be 赤貝。I wonder who got him started on this. Looks like it's working well!

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    Quote Originally Posted by mevan123 View Post
    The canned stuff appears to be 赤貝。
    Oh, sure, it was akagai that time. But he will literally buy whatever has the lowest calories on the conbini shelf. I just hope I'm there to catch a photo when he ends up eating a can of diet cat food by mistake.
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    Quote Originally Posted by mevan123 View Post
    I wonder who got him started on this.
    Mike Cash?
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    Quote Originally Posted by mevan123 View Post
    I wonder who got him started on this. Looks like it's working well!
    My understanding is that he was motivated by the desire to (1) fit into waterproof BMW touring gear, and (2) date younger women.

    And probably in that order of priority, too.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Guy Jinbaiquerre View Post
    My understanding is that he was motivated by the desire to (1) fit into waterproof BMW touring gear, and (2) date younger women.

    And probably in that order of priority, too.
    Bingo, we have a winner!

  18. #18
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    This is a very good read and terribly exciting. Thanks for sharing!

    May I ask what is the kind of pace you guys did during the ride? 5-10min break and off on the road or good chill outs before heading to another spot?

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Guy Jinbaiquerre View Post
    My understanding is that he was motivated by the desire to (1) fit into waterproof BMW touring gear, and (2) date younger women.

    And probably in that order of priority, too.


    Good one. Accurate I'm sure as to the why.

    As for the how, I think MC's post provided the hints.
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  20. #20
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    Default 2013 Island Hopper ride report

    Great report so far. I always enjoy your ride reports! Can't stop laughing at times.


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