This was our first pre-dawn start. We had read mixed reviews about the difficulty of the Shimanami Kaido and so decided to give ourselves the whole day to complete the 70km cycle path. To be honest, I was a little bit nervous as I hadn’t actually been on my bike all winter and just hoped my ‘young legs’ could keep up with my father. I reckon he would’ve completed it in a morning, but the baggage load has been so unfairly distributed (Dad carrying all four panniers, and myself, just the rucksack with the snacks in it) that we were about even-paced.
As the sun was rising we took a ferry from Onomichi to the first island of Mukaishima. The cheerful ferryman told us it would take us 7 hours to reach Shikoku. This gave us a boost of confidence, and we cycled off the ferry looking for the blue line painted on the side of the road that marks the way of the course. “Just follow the blue line!”, the ferryman shouted at us, and waved us good luck.
The chilly morning made my knees blue, but I hardly noticed as we watched the peaceful scenes of morning village life. Children running to school, old men walking their dogs and women checking their cabbages in the fields. After all the preparation, the planning and travelling, we were finally on our bikes with all our stuff, enjoying Japan together.
My dad and I had done a cycling trip once before, when we camped our way around the small idyllic islands off the Normandy coast. There, we ate buckets of moules mariniere accompanied by buckets of frites, and snorkelled in warm, clear sea. Here it would be ramen or rice for breakfast and there’d be no snorkelling! Although a lot had changed in the ten years since our last together, it seemed like nothing had changed at all. And my dad was still kindly carrying all my stuff!
Lost in these memories and the excitement of crossing the next bridge, we’d forgotten we hadn’t had breakfast. It was only when the increasing pain in my backside, made me want to take a rest from the racing-type saddle, that we started looking for a cafe. But there were none, or none which were open! When we did finally see a sign for one open, we were already on our third island and 30km into the course. That coffee and ramen tasted even better for the wait.
By then, my biggest worry was, my saddle. Getting back on my bike, I wondered how I would endure the needle-like pain coming from my seat bones. It reminded me of my post-Cambridge days, when I used to cycle 7 miles to a horse stables, take an hour’s lesson, then cycle the 7 miles back. It’s times like those, you realise that you have seat bones, and then can hurt!
It’s a good job the scenery was spectacular, as it took my mind off this unexpected pain. So from then on, we took it easy. Stopping to take photos of orange groves, trying delicious orange ice cream and enjoying the views off and from the bridges.
The ferryman had been right, just follow the blue line and you wouldn’t get lost! There were even signs telling you how far you had come, and how far you had to go. The road was smooth and being Japan, the lack of litter means that there is slim chance of getting a puncture. The best thing about the cycle route was the absolute lack of traffic, and apart from a smiling student who was happily cycling along on a rented one-speed mama chari, we had the cycle route all to ourselves!
We took the afternoon slowly and made it to the final and longest bridge by about 3pm. The Kurushima-Kaikyo bridge is 4km in total and is so high, that you are cycling at the same height as buzzards flying nearby and can look down into the cargo ships passing below. As soon as we descended off the bridge, there was the sign for our hotel ‘Sunrise Itoyama’. We’d made it to Shikoku!
The hotel was especially designed for cyclists, so you can even leave your bikes in the corridor outside your room. They have a public bath, to sooth those aching muscles (not that I wanted to sit down again for a long time) and a restaurant with a fantastic view of the lit-up bridge.
The next morning’s view, wasn’t too bad either.
All in all, I’d thoroughly recommend this as a great day. You can rent bikes either way, and you don’t have to be a superman or woman to cross it. And apart from the 50 or 100 yen tolls to cross the bridges, it’s free! If you get a chance, do it!