Cycling Noto, Japan: Part 2
This is the second post about our cycling travels in the Noto Peninsula in Japan. Read part 1 here: Cycling Noto, Japan - Part 1
To know a bit more about the bike that I traveled with, read about it in my previous post about my upgrades to the Birdy.
Cycling from Kanazawa to Togijitomachi
After spending two nights in Kanazawa, we were ready to embark on our cycling adventure along the Noto coastline. The weather forecast for the next few days projected the skies to shower and drizzle more than half of the time. Armed with water repellent clothing, dry bags and waterproof Ortlieb panniers, we were somewhat prepared.
Our trip to the coast began on a brisk morning at the end of October from our small hotel in Kanazawa. To make sure that we had more time to travel with our bikes, we opted for a brief van transfer from our hotel to the coast which was a quick 20 minute drive. Since we traveled with our Birdy bikes, getting them in and out of the van was a cinch.
We arrived at Chirihama beach at mid morning, where we would travel north along the beautiful Kongo coastline. There is a famous 8km stretch called the "Chirihama Nagisa Driveway", the only place in Japan where cars can be driven on the edge of the surf. The beach is made of tightly compacted fine sand, making it firm enough for large vehicles to drive over it. So of course, we decided to try riding on the beach itself!
Skinny bike tyres + sand = expert level difficulty
Riding along the edge of the surf lasted all of 30 minutes. Although the stretch of sand was rideable at parts, our Panaracer and Kojak tyres were too skinny to really be effective. The 15 knot headwinds did not help either, and we quickly made the decision to head back inland to follow a paved bike path instead. Those 30 minutes were probably the hardest 2km I've had to cycle through, where our wheels dipped sideways into the sand every 10 meters and we were slapped around by sudden gusts of wind. Riding a beach cruiser with 2-inch tyres would have been much more appropriate, and significantly easier.
We cycled along the bike path for the next 11km, enjoying the beautiful coastline scenery as we darted in and out of bike paths and small coastal roads. We stopped for a late lunch at a seaside restaurant that happened to have some really cool sand sculptures beside it. One of the interesting things that I learned about Hakui was that it is apparently the UFO sighting capital of Japan, which explained the random alien sculptures that I spotted at some bus stations and rest stops. For a place of historical significance, the nearby Keta Taisha shrine stands in an area that dates back to more than 2,000 years.
Going past Hakui and through the town of Shika lies one of the most scenic bike paths we've ever come across. We were fortunate enough to have arrived during golden hour and feasted our eyes on the coastline bathed in the late afternoon sunlight.
It was one of those moments that we wished could have lasted longer, but we had to keep moving. Leaving the bike path, we headed inland towards the Myojoji temple, a Buddhist temple from the late 16th century, but unfortunately we only arrived after closing hours. At that point, the sun was quickly dipping under the horizon and darkness was coming ahead. It was late autumn after all, so we had limited daylight hours. As the sun dipped, the winds became stronger and we had to stop to add layers for warmth. We now looked like a trio of Teletubbies cycling through the countryside.
Up to this point, the majority of the ride had been predominantly flat, although with a bit of headwind thrown in. The last stretch towards Togijitomachi proved to be the most challenging as we encountered steep rolling hills. As the last rays of sunlight disappeared, the road ahead was shrouded in complete darkness with only the blinking lights from our front head lamps leading the way. As I cycled through the last stretch of climbs, my peripheral vision caught movement from the left and I was startled by the sudden appearance of a wild boar darting out of the pitch black night right in front of me to cross into the forest on the other side of the road. Any faster and I would have been the evening's road kill: Cyclist ran over by a wild boar. In Japan.
With legs heavy from exhaustion and our eyes fatigued from peering into the darkness, we all breathed a sigh of relief as we approached Togijitomachi where Kogematsu, a family-run inn awaited us. We darted through the small town roads in search of Kogematsu and finally arrived at around 7.30pm. The warmth of the inn was truly welcoming after the past few hours riding through cold winds. Our gracious host was also able to offer dinner even at the very last minute, despite the fact that we didn't pre-book the meal.
After a nice hot bath, we were led to the bar kitchen and presented with the most spectacular dinner we've ever had with the freshest of ingredients from the Sea of Japan. I have never tasted ebi sashimi that was so pure and sweet, and to this day I've not found anything comparable. Even Nadiah finished most of her plate, despite having the most severe gag reflex when it comes to uncooked foods.
We slept on traditional futon mattresses that night, with full and happy stomachs.
Our ride for the day
Total distance cycled: 44km
Total elevation: 420m
Where we stayed: Kogetsukan
Cycling from Togijitomachi to Wajima
We woke up to an extremely cold morning. Outside the window, the skies were dark and grey and the forecast of rain was pretty much guaranteed for the day. Our host helped us to a wonderful start with a hearty traditional Japanese breakfast that uplifted our moods tremendously.
We wished we had another day to stay at Kogetsukan to explore a bit more of the town as we found little gems in the form of quiet shrines and scenic vantage points. We started the day by exploring the picturesque paths along Masuhogaura beach where the world's longest bench can also be found. If we were able to stay for another day, it would have been the perfect place to watch the sunset. As the regular path turned to sand, we took heed of our lesson from yesterday and went back to the main road to continue our journey.
As the day unfolded, our legs were introduced to long stretches of undulating coastal roads. We found ourselves on many hilltops, overlooking the majestic views of the Sea of Japan to our left.
Each climb was followed by an exhilarating ride downhill on quiet roads with hardly any vehicles. We stopped at a few small coastal towns for quick refreshments and enjoyed the natural beauty that the landscape had to offer.
As the afternoon approached, the weather forecast of rain took hold. What started as a gentle drizzle slowly became a steady shower and the coastal winds became stronger, so we decided to head inland. As we cycled away from the coastline, the winds died down a bit but the skies continued to pour.
We crossed into farmland to seek shelter and what we discovered was like something out of a Ghibli film.
We arrived at the gates of an old Buddhist temple, slightly drenched from our short time in the rain. We parked our bikes at the gates and walked up the steps to find a quiet and magical place. Tucked away behind the old wooden gates was a 13th century temple entirely made of wood, its aged stone steps covered entirely in moss, giving the entire place that magical feel of something special and old. We sat underneath the canopy that held the big bronze temple bell and waited for the rain to pass.
As we got back on the road, we traveled a bit more along the coastline before turning inland along Route 249 towards Wajima. As we kept moving, the weather did not show any signs of improvement, and the skies continued to darken. With our rain gear donned, we pushed forward through small farming towns and started our ascent into the hills and arrived at Mozen town where the 14th century Zen Buddhist Sojiji temple is situated. Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to really enjoy a proper temple visit as the relentless rain became heavier. We did manage to get shelter and food at the nearby Soba noodle shop before continuing our journey.
The next 10km was the most challenging part of our ride for the day. From Mozen town towards Wajima along Route 249, we battled strong gusts of headwind, even more rain, and more steep climbs. The climbs were over 20 percent grade at some spots and there were moments where we questioned our general sanity, and plenty of cursing. Luckily there were some stretches that went through tunnels which also offered protection from the rain and wind. Eventually, we did make it to the top of that coastal mountain range, and the next 10km was one of the best downhill rides we've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. It was both exhilarating and dangerous as we had to navigate the wet and curvy roads downhill. By the time we reached the end of that stretch, the sun had already dipped below the horizon, which left us with only darkness and rain.
The last few kilometers were probably the most miserable ones for me. I was completely drenched from head to toe and rain kept getting into my eyes, making it very difficult to see in the dark. Luckily, Nadiah and Maya were leading for this last stretch so all I had to do was follow the blinking rear lights from their bikes. We arrived at Hotel Route Inn in Wajima looking like three drowned rats. The hotel staff kindly greeted us with plenty of warm towels at the door so we didn't make a mess of rainwater everywhere. Our forwarded luggage was also happily waiting for us, so we spent the evening snug and warm in fresh clothes doing laundry at the hotel. We rearranged our belongings in the big suitcase, to be forwarded to an intermediate stop in Takaoka.
After the rain died down later that evening, we did manage to find an Izakaya restaurant that was still open in Wajima. Fried chicken never tasted so good.
Our ride for the day
Total distance cycled: 56km
Total elevation: 700m
Where we stayed: Hotel Route Inn
Cycling from Wajima to Noto-cho
After two days of cycling through windy coastal roads and hills, we wanted to give our legs a bit of a break, especially since we were also carrying almost 10kg of weight for each of us. Originally, our plan for the day was to tackle 80km with close to 2,000m of climbs, but the combination of weather and terrain had left us feeling fairly exhausted. We altered the plan so that we would cycle along the last stretch of beautiful coastline up towards the Okunoto salt farms, where a transfer van would take us into the interior of Noto.
Our day started with a standard buffet breakfast at the hotel restaurant. Looking out the window as we ate, we caught a glimpse of the weather for the day. The winds were constant and strong, bending branches and swaying the trunks of smaller trees. An old lady on a bicycle made an appearance across the road, moving ever so slowly as she struggled against the headwind.
After breakfast, we made a stop at the nearby Wajima Asaichi morning market, one of the oldest in the region. The market is famous for its fresh local fish and produce, and of course for its lacquerware.
Different regions in Japan will have its own unique lacquerware traditions, and the art of Wajima lacquerware is a distinct class of its own. As we strolled through the market, we wished that we could have had another day to stay as there was just so much to explore. Before leaving, we picked up some freshly roasted chestnuts to munch on during our ride.
As we were about to start our journey, we were hit by a minor setback – Maya's tyre valve broke in half as we were pumping air. Luckily there was a bicycle shop not too far away in Wajima and it took us less than half an hour to get everything sorted. Nadiah basically strapped Maya's entire wheel to her rear rack and we had the folks at the shop help swap the whole tube.
With a new tube, we were all set and ready to go. The ride to our first stop was brisk, beautiful and extremely hilly. In fact, this was probably the hilliest terrain we had experienced in such a short distance. The road closely followed the coastline, which had many of the raw coastal characteristics including sudden and steep climbs, sharp dips, jagged cliffs and fantastic views all around. Although the ride itself was physically challenging, especially with extremely strong headwinds, we were rewarded with beautiful coastal scenery everywhere.
We arrived at Shiroyone Senmaida at around noon, greeted by the majestic view of a thousand small paddy fields decorating the steep coastal slopes. We parked our bikes in front of the rest stop and had freshly roasted potatoes to refuel ourselves. Although it was late October, we could still see some of the colors of the terraces. Again, another day in Wajima would have allowed us to see Shiroyone Senmaida in the evening, with the rice terraces illuminated by colorful lights.
Our planned checkpoint with the transfer van was scheduled for 3pm. While enjoying the scenery around the rice terraces, we completely lost track of time. Luckily we managed to check with slightly less than an hour to go, so we raced onwards. We sprinted through more climbs and descents and saw a tunnel up ahead and went through it.
It was literally a wind tunnel. Somehow the tunnel funneled the coastal winds coming from the other side and threw 20 knots of headwind straight at us. When we finally burst through the tunnel on the other side, we were completely exhausted, but it was definitely a unique experience to remember.
Up ahead was our checkpoint, Suzu Enden Mura, one of the Okunoto salt farms where salt is still gathered the traditional way by spreading seawater on fields of sand and harvesting the salt after the water evaporates.
This is the traditional Agehama method and it's been around for 500 years. We arrived just 15 minutes past 3pm, but luckily the van driver used our delayed arrival to run an errand while waiting.
With our Birdy bikes neatly loaded into the van, we managed to rest our legs while heading inland towards Noto-cho. Driving away from the coast, the scenery once again changed from rugged coastline to rolling hills and forests as we moved into the interior of the peninsula. The van climbed up and down small farm roads until we reached our inn.
Minshuku Yukaan was a beautiful old wooden farmhouse, hosted by a gracious elderly couple that only spoke Japanese. To give us an extremely warm welcome, they actually had an English-speaking friend to drop by and help greet us. The three of us were the only guests for the evening, and had the entire place all to ourselves.
With the cold autumn weather setting in the mountains, we huddled around the traditional coal hearth for warmth. The farmhouse has stood for more than a hundred years and experienced its fair share of earthquakes. As I inspected the old beams of the house, I did notice how some have shifted and small corrections were made at different times, probably from the various tremors over the decades.
We had a wonderful traditional Japanese dinner, and right before bed time, the host family helped arrange futon mattresses on the tatami floor, accompanied by the fluffiest blankets. We enjoyed our cozy surroundings to the fullest, curling up to sleep in the warmest side of the house.