Day 4 started much like Day 3; a bright and early start, full of energy and motivation to get on the road and start pedaling. Train Dude and Car Guy were already up and about; getting ready their respective journeys. TD was heading North towards Asahikawa and Car Guy east towards Obihiro. I was a bit sad that the crew was separating so early, I felt like these guys would have made excellent travel buddies. We took a photo before everyone parted ways and judging from everyone’s facial expressions, you can probably tell it was an early start.
The guy and lady next to TD on the left were from the Czech Republic and the two ladies next to them were their friends. I spoke to the lady next to CD for a bit; she mentioned they were all doing a little car trip around Hokkaido. I didn’t really speak to others but they seemed nice enough.
Today’s destination was Tomakomai; the starting point of the trip and a good but not too long 75km away from Yubari. I originally planned to stay in the Ainu town of Shiraoi 25km west of Tomakomai but it being Silver Week and the general lack of lodgings, Tomakomai was the only feasible option in the area. With what became something of a ritual on this trip, I hit up a konbini after leaving the hostel.
Konbinis. I could go on and on and on about konbinis. Ubiquitous even in rural areas, konbinis might be my favourite thing about living here. The list of things you can do at one is virtually endless: Paying your bills, buying airplane tickets and the cherry on top; purchasing snacks at 3am when you’re got that sweet tooth. The list of things you can do at a konbini is practically endless; it’s probably easier to think about things that you can’t do at one. Unknown to me at the time; shipping trainers half way across the country is one of the things you can do (I wasn’t using my walking trainers enough to justify its bulkiness and my cycling shoes + flip-flops combo were good enough). Like when it comes to doing most things at a konbini, shipping the trainers back home was stupidly easy; all I had to do was roll up to the konibini with my trainers and within 5 minutes it was boxed up and ready to go 1000km away for the modest fee of 950 yen (£5.15). Magical.
Next up was a visit to Tomisato Station. One of TD’s recommendations, I thought I’d go and have a look since it was along the way. Tomisato Station, like most of the stations on the Sekisho Line (and rural Hokkaido it seems) only gets a handful of trains passing through each day. As expected, there wasn’t a soul around; not even a member of staff.
Riding further along the Mikawa National Highway past Tomisato Station, the roads started to become narrower and the traffic picked up but it the huge melon fields and beautiful mountain backdrop remained.
After officially leaving Yubari, it was a fairly uneventful 40-50km ride to Abira. I say uneventful but in reality it was just rural. This was one of the long stretches of desolate scenery I mentioned in the opening post; for about 30km, I only came across less than handful of cars and not a single human being. There’s something to be said for living in somewhere as a rural as this; while the space and scenery were outstanding, I can’t imagine living a life where you could go days or even weeks without human contact. Adding Hokkaido’s brutal winters into the equation; it’s no surprise most young people choose to leave Hokkaido’s countryside. The first 20-30km was all sunshine and lollipops, that was until I came across a gravel road for about 1-2km. Not being in a mood to risk a flat tyre, I got off and pushed the bike but with the previous day’s bear warning still on my mind, I prayed today wasn’t the day the teddy bears come out for their picnic. Luckily they didn’t and instead I was blessed fields and fields of the quite possibly the most chilled out cows this side of the Tsugaru Strait.
I got off the bike at Abira to grab lunch at a miso ramen joint. A very traditional ramen shop, the miso ramen (with a cheeky dab of butter) was top-notch. As I was leaving I exchanged greetings with a friendly family and just and their very adorable young daughter came up to me and wished me good luck for my trip. Turns out it was exactly what I needed for the rest of the long and fairly boring ride down Route 234 to Tomakomai.
I arrived in Tomakomai early in the afternoon to scout out a place to stay for the night. As per CD’s advice, I went to check out the local tourist information center so I plotted it into Google Maps and off I went. As I approaching the centre, I noticed how overall dinginess of the area and lack of people around. With an estimated population of 173,000, Tomakomai isn’t your standard rural Hokkaido city (it’s the 5th largest in the prefecture) so I was wondering what the heck was going on. Turns out what came up on the search was 無料案内所 (muryou annai, free information centre), not 観光案内所( kankou annai, local tourist information centre). Sounds like an easy mistake to make, except for the fact that they are very different: Muryouannaijos are free ‘information centres’ on where to get ‘access’ to certain ‘nighttime entertainment businesses’. I think I’ve exhausted my inverted commas allowance for these series of posts, so I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. The actual tourist information centre was in a much more lively area, attached to a respectable and stylish library/cafe combination with actual people around. The friendly lady helped me find a hotel near the city centre and I was off to check in and put up my feet for a bit.
Dinner that night was at Vankam, a no-frills, cozy looking cafe near the hotel with an interior that looked like something from the 20th century. It was quite packed for a Monday evening (well, it was Silver Week). I ordered an cheese and tomato doran dish which came with a surprisingly delicious salad and a very respectable glass of orange juice, however it was the super smooth chocolate cake that won the show. All for a 1,000 yen (£5.40); an absolute steal if you ask me. Another one of Vankam’s pluses was the waitress who served me. She had what was probably one of the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen. It was a simple smile but had a heart-warming warmth. Also; dimples. I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for dimples.
There wasn’t much to do in Tomakomai so I went back to the hotel. After giving Japanese TV a shot (I lasted about 3mins before turning it off), I ended the night early with a quick dip in the hotel’s onsen (hot spring) and went straight to bed in order to prepare for tomorrow’s long ride.