Cycling Japan – day 44 – Michi-no-eki Sanriku to Tono

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  • Day 44 – Michi-no-eki Sanriku to Tono
  • Distance: 74.7km
  • Ascent / descent: 1280m / 1180m
  • Weather: Sunny and hot
  • Accommodation: Tono Youth Hostel, ¥3,400 

After reading recommendations in the Facebook Japan cycling groups, I decided to leave the coast and head inland to Tono. I was up early; sunrise is about 4am now but it’s light much earlier and the birds never seem to stop singing all throughout the night! I continued over rolling hills, occasionally meeting the coast, then up and down like a rollercoaster.

Rice paddies meet the sea near Kamaishi

Rice paddies meet the sea near Kamaishi

Stunning pine-studded coastline near Kamaishi

Stunning pine-studded coastline near Kamaishi

Beautiful coastline near Kamaishi

Beautiful coastline near Kamaishi

Building a seawall to protect this previously tsunami inundated town

Building a seawall to protect this previously tsunami inundated town

At Kamaishi, I turned inland onto Route 283. Kamaishi was also largely destroyed by the tsunami with an estimated death toll of 1250. I stopped at Michi-no-eki Sennin Toge and noticed that Kamaishi is a host city this year for the Rugby World Cup. I hope this will help the area.

At the michi-no-eki, I met an old lady who was surprised to see me on a bike. She was worried about me having to cycle up and over Sennin-toge Pass, which was coming up soon. She was emphasising how difficult it would be, especially on a hot day like today. She then asked if I could cycle on the expressway instead, but unfortunately not, that would be illegal! I filled up my water bottles, slightly more worried about the climb now and continued on.

At the bottom of the climb my stomach started to rumble so I stopped on the side of the road and decided to eat a rice ball I’d bought earlier. Just as I finished it, a man came out of the house opposite with a bottle of green tea and tried to give it to me. I politely declined (I like green tea, I just had nowhere to put it!) but he was quite insistent so I asked instead if he could fill up my 1l water bottle. He said yes, so I drank as much as possible and then handed it over to him while patting his cute dog on the front step of his house. Thank you!

I started climbing and noticed a picturesque red bridge. After a few more twists and turns while climbing, I cycled over the red bridge.

When I first saw this red bridge, I thought how high it was up in the sky...

When I first saw this red bridge, I thought how high it was up in the sky…

The gradient was steep, so I was half cycling and half pushing the bike, sweat stinging my eyes, and my arms and calves aching from pushing. An old man in a small truck pulled up beside me and offered me a lift. He said my bike would fit in the back. ‘Kore kara zutto agaru yo, agatte, aggate, aggate.’ He kept repeating. Which basically meant I would be climbing up and up and up. He couldn’t believe I refused his offer, and neither could I when he finally continued on his way. What was I thinking? Why didn’t I let the kind old man give me a lift to the top?!

I refer you to the red bridge in the above picture… now see the picture below and you will see said red bridge, far below me.

And then I rode over it and kept climbing higher and higher. This is looking back down on that same red bridge.

And then I rode over it and kept climbing higher and higher. This is looking back down on that same red bridge.

I kept climbing. I also kept drinking and could not quench my thirst. It was hot and this was hard. When was it going to end?

Just before I reached the top, a car stopped in front of me and a man stepped out holding up a bottle of Coke. This time there was no resisting, I gratefully accepted it and drank the entire cold bottle in front of him. He said he had passed me earlier and saw me pushing the bike, He felt sorry for me so he drove to a vending machine and came back with the coke. Thank you for making my day!

Soon after, I reached the top and entered a tunnel which felt like entering a dark freezer. At times I literally couldn’t see the road in front of me and by the time I came out of it I had goosebumps all over. It was a refreshing break from the heat. The mountain pass I was crossing was called Sennin-toge, meaning ‘mountain hermit pass,’ possibly due to its remote location and an ideal place for mountain hermits to live?

The mountain pass I was climbing is called Sennin-toge on Route 283

The mountain pass I was climbing is called Sennin-toge on Route 283

The descent was long and fun and it felt like I’d entered a different world. Gone was the coastline and all ahead of me now was a wide open expanse of farming land and cute farm buildings. There were even cows!

Descending from Sennin-toge Pass was like entering a different world, a haven of wide open spaces and fields

Descending from Sennin-toge Pass was like entering a different world, a haven of wide open spaces and fields

Farmhouses dotting the landscape

Farmhouses dotting the landscape

And of course, rice paddies

And of course, rice paddies

DSCF0157

Traditional buildings with beautiful gardens

This train journey would be stunning

This train journey would be stunning

Stunning scenery among the hills of Iwate Prefecture

Stunning scenery among the hills of Iwate Prefecture

In Tono, I went to the visitor information centre and picked up a map of the area. Tono is possibly most famous for a book about local folktales called ‘Legends of Tono.’ One of the legendary creatures is the ‘kappa‘ and you’ll find many as you walk around the area. It seems there’s plenty to see and do here.

'Kappa,' a mythological figure in Tono City

‘Kappa,’ a mythological figure in Tono City

'Kappa,' a mythological figure in Tono City

‘Kappa,’ a mythological figure in Tono City

The information centre recommended a cafe next door run by an American man called Michael and his wife Chizuko, so I went straight there, ravenous, and ordered a burger. It was juicy and delicious! When I was leaving, Michael handed me a snickerdoodle cookie that Chizuko had baked, what a day I’m having!

I had this delicious burger and Kappa cola for lunch in Tono at Michael's Cafe next to the tourist office.

I had this delicious burger and Kappa cola for lunch in Tono at Michael’s Cafe next to the tourist office.

Sander from Belgium was heading to the coast today while I was heading inland so we arranged to meet in Tono. We met in a park and chatted for a couple of hours. It was wonderful to swap stories with someone doing the same thing. It was incredible how much we had in common too (other than the weight we’re carrying on our bikes, he has about 5kg, I have about 25kg!). We said goodbye as we continued in opposite directions and I arrived at the Tono Youth Hostel on the outskirts of the area just before sunset.

Tono Youth Hostel, my home for the next two nights

Tono Youth Hostel, my home for the next two nights

The hostel is surrounded by rice paddies and the frogs are croaking loudly while I write this. It’s a lovely hostel and there’s one other lady in my room from Italy. Tomorrow I’m going to explore Tono, I love what I’ve seen so far.

Dusk view from Tono Youth Hostel

Dusk view from Tono Youth Hostel

Jb44 - Elevation profile from Google Earth

Jb44 – Elevation profile from Google Earth

Jb44 - Track from Google Earth

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