20-21/6/16. Or, to be more precise, one mixed day and one wonderful one!
With a range of mountains between Kyoto and Lake Biwa to the north east, we were resigned to a “suboptimal” start to the day on Monday. National Route 1 was close to where we were staying and, in hope of a reasonable foot/bike path, we headed along it. Our hopes were realised – the path was acceptable (i.e. not too narrow and not too steep) and it used what appeared to be an older tunnel so we were off to a 5 out of 10 start!
Down the other side was OK (ish) too.
Where Route 161 branched off to the left we followed, although we were happy to take what appeared to be the old road as the new one looked to be a dual carriageway “racetrack” from down below. Climbing and wiggling was again OK but cautious accountant mode kicked in making us somewhat apprehensive about what was to come! With some justification!
Nearing the top, the road was blocked by a gate that would require a determined effort to overcome. The alternative was a smaller barrier leading to a path beside the new road that disappeared into a dark and noisy tunnel with oncoming traffic zooming towards us.
Reluctantly, we chose the latter option as the lesser of two evils but we were faced with an “unknown” on the other side. The noise inside was horrendous and everywhere was filthy with grime, litter and dampness – but the path was up a raised kerb and quite wide so we did not feel too unsafe!
Emerging into the daylight 1.4 km later, the path narrowed and became somewhat overgrown with vegetation signifying not many other foreign cyclists were stupid enough to go the same way. And we were faced with another tunnel! Much shorter, thankfully, at only 125 metres but still another assault on the senses.
On the other side, the path fizzled out. It looked as though our worst fears were realised. But then Christine realised that about 50 metres on was a slip road onto the carriageway. Heaving the bikes over the crash barrier, we made a dash down the slip road and we were safe!
Some advice to anyone heading the same way out of Kyoto from our hosts that night – there is a better way! Go north from the centre of Kyoto to Route 30!
Relieved to be still alive and (almost) sane, we headed down to the shore of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake – the blob of blue in the middle of the country! The first few km of the southwestern corner were uninspiring urban roads but we soon crossed an impressively long bridge at the southern end and turned onto a designated cycle way. It may have been beside a fairly busy road with consequent traffic noise, but we were not about to complain after what we had experienced earlier – there was simply no comparison!
Getting to the lakeside was less than 20 km but seemed to take forever. The next 40 km, beside the lake, just flew by! Our only regret was that the haze denied us what looked to be spectacular views of the mountains on the other side.
All too soon we turned away from the lake towards our overnight Warmshowers stop with Jacquelyn & Robert Elliott. At which point the heavens opened for 15 minutes, drenching us! But, it being so warm, as soon as the rain stopped things started to dry out so that by the time we arrived we were wondering if we had imagined the storm.
Jacquelyn and Robert made us extremely welcome and we had a lovely evening chatting about books, cycling, our trip, and their experiences of living in Japan for 30 years.
Robert had heard that we could expect rain every day until Sunday and we had received a warning email about flooding and landslides in southern Japan so when we heard heavy rain in the night we feared the worst.
However, when we woke in the morning it seemed to be holding off, although there were some ominous looking low clouds over the mountains towards which we were headed. Jacquelyn had kindly offered to show us her favourite route through them, the prospect of a bike ride being more attractive than a trip to a yoga conference in Osaka!
Well, it was an absolutely stunning ride! The first few km were through farmland in the flat basin around the lake but we then entered narrow wooded valleys on increasingly narrow and quiet roads which climbed gently beside rivers. As we rose, the cliffs closed in and the last of the small villages disappeared behind us. Gradually the clouds lifted or were burned off but the steep hillsides provided welcome shade.
After 10-12 km of climbing we reached the top where we snacked on various bars and biscuits before setting off on the glorious run downhill! We did have to temper our speed somewhat and not get too distracted by the views though to ensure that we could avoid the rocks lurking in the middle of the road, seemingly around every corner.
The only problem with downhills is that they do not last as long as the uphills! But this meant that we were at the new pizza restaurant that Jacquelyn had spotted previously but not tried all the sooner. She told us that pizzas can be of variable quality in Japan but this was not an issue in this charming little place – three different ones were all shared and delicious.
A few km further on was a campsite in another, smaller gorge which Jacquelyn had seen but not used. As it looked so lovely and peaceful we decided to spend the night there, and waved goodbye to Jacquelyn as she took the flat route back home.