Aomori Cycle Touring Days 8 and 9 – Lake Ogawara to Chitose City (via the Silver Ferry)

The last two days of our 2016 Golden Week cycle tour of Aomori Prefecture saw us complete the circuit around Aomori Prefecture, back to the port city of Hachinohe. They also saw us catch the Silver Ferry back to Hokkaido, to complete a trip well worth taking.

After a very blustery evening last night, we woke to perfect weather on the grand Lake Ogawara. Such a contrast to the evening before – such is the beauty of cycle touring. The calm days are all the more calm.

Week-long cycle camping around Aomori Prefecture, Japan

In this sort of weather, we could see how this place could be heaving with people in the height of summer. The water of the lake was not on par with the likes of Lake Shikotsu in Hokkaido, but the surroundings were picturesque enough.

Week-long cycle camping around Aomori Prefecture, Japan

Before we left our campsite, I took a picture of my ride for this tour. The trusty Surly Karate Monkey, acquired in 2011, just before the fat-tired ‘bikepacking’ worthy bikes came into vogue. Originally intended as a 29-inch wheeled mountain bike, here I have it set up like someone might set up a Surly Ogre – the more touring-specific frame that Surly offers, which has exactly the same geometry as the Karate Monkey. The only difference between the Karate Monkey and the Ogre is the more touring-friendly add-ons that the Ogre frame has: more braze-ons to attach racks, fenders, and bottle cages, and a more versatile rear dropout.

The only thing that my Karate Monkey lacks is a longer steering column on the fork; mine was cut short to allow for a more mountain-bike specific stance on the bike. To get the handlebars at a more touring-friendly height (i.e., at saddle height), I’ve used steering tube extenders (which add weight and wobble) and long adjustable-angle stems. Both of these are sub-par fixes. So I’ll be replacing the fork soon so that I can have a longer steering tube. Furthermore, by getting an Ogre-specific fork, I’ll benefit from extra braze-ons on the fork, which the Karate Monkey fork lacks.

Week-long cycle camping around Aomori Prefecture, Japan

The short cycle down the public road that cuts directly through the campground made for a nice opportunity for some gratuitous on-the-bike shots.

Week-long cycle camping around Aomori Prefecture, Japan

Week-long cycle camping around Aomori Prefecture, Japan

The relative calm of the lake-side campground did not last. Our easy mission for the day was to cycle 25km into the heart of Hachinohe City, to a hotel we’d booked for the night. We would then catch a morning ferry back to Hokkaido the next day. As easy as the distance was, Hachinohe City will not win any beauty pageants any time soon, nor will it win any awards for ease of cycling. If apocalyptic scenes of haphazard port industry is up your alley, then Hachinohe has you covered.

Week-long cycle camping around Aomori Prefecture, Japan

We made it to our little oasis among the chaos after lunch – the cheap and cheerful Hotel Select Inn. It is a hotel over the road from the Honhachinohe railway station, and has awesome breakfasts. We checked in and wandered down the road to a local onsen and had a quick soak. We also checked out the very well-stocked outdoor goods store – Greenhouse – just around the corner from the hotel.

The next morning, we had an early breakfast at 6:15am and set off through the city to the ferry terminal. Just before we arrived at the terminal, I had a moment of clumsiness, managing to drop my Olympus PRO 12-40mm f2.8 lens, from my moving bicycle. Onto the concrete carpark. The lens was only half twisted onto the body, so I was riding with no hands on the handlebars to twist it properly onto the body. Or at least that is what I thought I was doing. What I in fact did was twist the lens off, and proceed to let go of the lens, letting it fall helplessly onto the ground. A US$900 lens, dropped onto concrete from a moving bicycle. My heart sank.

Screeching to a halt, I backed up and picked the sorry-looking lens off the concrete. Incredibly, the glass seemed unscathed. I twisted it back onto the camera body, and took a picture. Amazingly, the auto-focus was still working. The zoom ring seemed dented though, so zooming is very stiff. The manual focus ring was also not working. Afterwards, I dismantled the lens a little, and found that I’d lost a few ball-bearings that help the manual focus ring snap back and forwards to engage the use of the focus ring. The lens still works on autofocus, so I think I’ll just keep using it as is, minus the manual focus option. All in all, it seems like a pretty tough lens!

I had considered telling the robot at the ferry terminal about my troubles, but she seemed busy with other customers.

Week-long cycle camping around Aomori Prefecture, Japan

Once again, we had booked a private room for the return journey on the ferry. This time around, we had booked a Japanese-style room. Pure luxury on this trip!

Week-long cycle camping around Aomori Prefecture, Japan

As we did on the ferry ride from Hokkaido to Aomori, one of the first things we did was avail ourselves of the hot bath facilities. Once underway, these baths can be closed in turbulent weather, so best get in before they close.

Hot baths on the Silver Ferry (Aomori, Japan)

We arrived back in Tomakomai at 4:30pm. This gave us just enough time to ride the last 25km back to our place in Chitose before dark. We arrived home tired, but so glad we’d taken the effort to explore a part of Japan we’d never been to before. What was once a blank area on a map now has terrain and gradients and forests and birds and people with funny accents. There are cheap onsen and dolphins and campgrounds. And there is so much more worthy to go back for at another time, with a much less ambitious schedule.

Day 8 Route Map (Route Map direct link | Route Map GPX file download)

Day 9 Route Map (Route Map direct link | Route Map GPX file download)

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