The plan was simple. Join with Saurabh part way to the lake, and meet Simon, Alex, and Rick there at the Bifue Campground at the far west end of the lake. How to get to the campground, however, was very much undecided. In 2011, we’d successfully cycled around the closed portion of Route 78 on the north side of the lake. It was now 6 years and a particularly devastating typhoon season later, and all reports suggested that large swaths of that closed road are now washed away.
The result was that right up until the turnoff to that closed road, we were going back and forth about whether we should try it out again. If we did manage to get through the closed road, we’d save over 20km of extra cycling around the southern side of the lake to the campground. On the other hand, if we took the closed road on but ended up being turned back, we’d have a lot of back-tracking to do.
For the meantime, we started off from our place feeling relaxed. We had a whole 3 hours to get from our place to where we’d meet up with Saurabh, a mere 20km away. Easy. That was until we very quickly realised that the directions Google Maps had give us had been turned all the way up to ‘gravel-road-adventure’ mode. We found ourselves pushing our bikes up an insanely steep, rough gravel road. This is the route we ended up on: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/23042249
Once somewhat at the ‘top’ of the gravel road, however, the going was relatively easy. Beautiful, quiet forest surrounded us, with just the occasional glimpse of more forested hills north towards Sapporo City. This rather hefty long shortcut meant we were 45 minutes late to our rendezvous spot with Saurabh. He’d arrived almost 1.5 hours earlier, and had been entertaining himself with visions of bear attacks on the roadside (we’d arranged to meet at a forestry road entrance, which happened to have large bear warning signs).
From our rendezvous spot, it was another hour and a bit to the lake. By this time we’d given up on the closed road route. Time was getting on, we weren’t carrying food for lunch, and the promise of a cooked meal at the lakeside restaurant was just too much to ignore. From where Route 453 hits the lake, it is smooth sailing all the way to Bifue Campground, via Lake Shikotsu Village. The views are stellar for much of the way.
And then, of course, is the Bifue Campground itself. Perched on a pristine beach at the western edge of the lake, this campground is one of the best in Hokkaido. It is relatively pricey at 1,000yen per person per night. But for that you get access to showers (100yen for 10 minutes), a small shop selling basic foodstuffs, free rental of portable firepits, and of course amazing swimming and camping.
A few weeks back, I had gushed at how amazing Simon and Alex’s breakfast was on the morning after they camped with us having arrived at the campsite in their car. How nice it is to have a car to carry all the luxuries and make delicious breakfasts, I thought at the time.
This time, they had arrived at the campsite by bike. And this time also, their breakfast was on point.
I mean, tortillas for breakfast?
Because Simon and Alex only had a short downhill ride to their home in Tomakomai, they stayed later at the campsite that morning. Rick, Saurabh, Haidee and I left earlier in order to get the miles in. For Saurabh in particular, it would end up being a full 100km day back to his place in central Sapporo City.
While we had come to Lake Shikotsu via the direct, mountainous route from Sapporo, we opted to return to Sapporo via Chitose City and Kitahiroshima. This has the distinct benefit of being able to use the beautiful Chitose-Shikotsu cycleway as well as the Shiroishi Cycle road.
The Chitose-Shikotsu Cycleway is a 25km separated path that goes from lake Shikotsu to Chitose City. Make sure you drop off at the very nice Birdwatching Cafe on your way into Chitose City.
From Chitose City, you could conceivably cycle direct to Sapporo via the monstrosity that is Route 36 – a 4-lane busy highway/trunk route for cars, trucks, and hoons travelling from southern Hokkaido into Sapporo.
I could think of nothing worse, so we usually zigzag our way from Chitose City across the farming plains to Kita-Hiroshima, and approach Sapporo City from the southeast, via the Shiroishi Cycling Road. It starts here, on the eastern side of Kitahiroshima JR Train Station. From there, it is stress-free cycling into Hokkaido’s largest city.