When you tell people that you like cycling, most assume either a road bike and 60 kms before breakfast, or they think mountain bike and thrills and the odd spill. Well, for me, I prefer just poking around to be honest. Kind of like taking a leisurely walk, except with the added range that a bicycle gives you. I, on occasion, will put some serious mileage under me, but that's not really my goal.
This was originally meant to be a one day trip covering some of the more easily accessable areas around Hakuba, but the vagaries of the weather this time of year had me split it over two days. It is not meant to portray the best route or even a suggested route in and around Hakuba, rather it simply represents some of the things and places you might see while out for a cycle.
The first short outing led me out from Happo and towards Goryu. The village of Hakuba does have a somewhat detailed cycle route laid out (maps available at the hotel), as you can see by the first photo, but I find I tend to come across these signs rather haphazardly as opposed to following them station by station, though I suppose you could. This particular one leads you off the Olympic Road, still within the village proper, and through a patch of rice fields rolling up towards the Hakuba 47 and Goryu resorts. Lovely views on both sides in usual circumstance, though obviously the cloud cover and mist does me no favours on this particular day. Still, when thinking about all the groaning I've heard from my Tokyo based friends about the heat and humidity recently… no complaints here.
I slowly turned past Juro-no-yu hotspring and the Chokoku-ji Temple. In vain, I tried to get a good picture of the mountains shifting in and out of the mist behind the temple, but alas, it'll have to remain in my memory and not on film. The roads here start to wind quite a bit, with dead ends and false starts on every side… perfect for a wanderer like me! This gravel road leading enticingly up into the forest will have to remain a mystery for another day!
Further up now, and my first climbing of the day, short though it was. This area sees a concentration of smaller pensions and lodges, some of them in pristine shape, others a bit more down at heels. Though certainly not so in the traditional sense that Chokoku-ji temple is, this particular picture is very Japanese in many ways. An immaculately kept lawn of a grass that is not indigenous to Japan, showcasing a lovely pension with the name… Abbey Road. And a sign with a design of what is presumably the four lads from Liverpool capering across the top. Perfect.
The rest of the ride up to Goryu was rather uneventful. Other place names a little strange to foreign eyes perhaps, include a pension named "Lady Dianna", and one called "Green Gables". Being of Prince Edward Island heritage myself, I thought to stop in and enquire of the motivation behind the name, but no-one seemed to be around.
After a wheel around the parking lot at Goryu, I got up a good head of steam for the drift back down into the valley… and down to the Himekawa River, and the cycling road that parallels it. A kilometre or so along, and a side road here that I had been itching to follow since I first drove into Hakuba led me up to the Royal Stage Short Course, which was a bit of a workout, but not much payoff at the top in all honesty. Golf, as such… the meaning escapes me. Why?
Rain starting to fall yet again so I decided to call it a day… with a very large hamburger at the "Alaskan Hamburger Place" (not sure of the proper name), after which I could not move. Very nice addition to Hakuba this hamburger place is, and a short walk from the hotel as well.
Onsen, dinner, relaxing evening… not a bad day considering the pouring rain I woke up to.
I think Noah himself would've been scared off by the buckets of rain the next day, so it was two days later that saw part 2...
Setting out again from Happo, I was determined to explore some of the backroads and byways in and around the resorts of Tsugaike, Norikura and Cortina. I sped by the Matsukawa River, and it's view up towards Daisekkei, and around the corner of one side of Iwatake and then made my turn up and over towards Tsugaike. Again, as the other day, unfortunately the pictures show the overcloud conditions only too well.
Just past the EX Adventure grounds, there is a small Buddhist monument to the Hakuba mountain range. A section of flatland and rice fields lead you by the Iwatake lifts and then into a section known as Ochikura and the Ochikura Nature Park. "Mizubasho" is a flower prominent in these parts and at this park, although it unfortunately goes by the somewhat awkward English name of "skunk cabbage". Still, they can be quite lovely and do cause quite a stir among the horticulturally inclined when they begin to bloom.
A couple of steep steep roads lead you first down and then up into the "village" surrounding Tsugaike. Tsugaike Nature Park is only open for a couple of months of the year, with the lifts speeding you up to views and walks near the top of the Alps. Cruising on by the families and couples making a day of it in this area, I wound up and down the streets just to see what was there. Not too much in all honesty, as pretty much everything seemed to be in service of the lifts and the resort proper.
Again (and again), the pictures don't really do it justice, but the Chikuni O-hashi Bridge leads you over a spectacular rift between the mountains, with views up toward Mt. Norikura and down into the valley below. Apparently sections along this route are breathtaking when the autumn leaves come along, so I'll certainly be back to see that.
Skirting by the Hakuba Alps Hotel, I turned my wheels up towards Cortina, and the road up to the Green Plaza Hotel and area. It’s a winding road up to the hotel itself, with nothing but forest on either side, and it certainly does make for an impression when you finally exit the forest cover and see the grand size of the Green Plaza nuzzling against the base of the mountain. A day of skiing at Cortina, followed by dinner and a hot spring at the Green Plaza can make a very nice day on your trip, even if you are based in Happo (shuttle buses can be reserved running to and from Cortina from the Happo area).
The rest of the day was spent pleasantly getting lost… starting out by descending from the Green Plaza towards the main highway along another winding road, with rice patties tucked in every scenic nook and cranny, I took a side turn on to the portion of the "shio no michi", or "salt road" which runs through Otari and Hakuba. This route's history apparently dates back to the middle ages, when salt and other essential goods would be carried overland from the Sea of Japan port at Itoigawa. Not an easy process I'm sure.
The part of the route I turned onto rapidly turned from small path to a trail, not at all suited for a bicycle. Happily carrying my bicycle along, I was justifiably laughed at by the two groups of hikers I met along the way. I finally made it back to the road about, erm, 45 minutes later and at that point… decided to head back to town and bath and dinner… and bed.
Fantastic day, and I can't wait to try the same again with a little sunshine along for company!