Trip Report

Day 9 – Onneyu to Engaru

Posted on Aug 18, 2018
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Posted on Aug 18, 2018

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Reading time: 4 min

Day 9 of our Trans-Hokkaido Bikepacking Route Scouting Tour was the final one, but it was by no means an easy finish. The short and sharp grunt up and over Yu-no-yama Pass (840m, 湯の山峠) follows the popular Shikerebetsu (シケレベツ林道) and Joburi Forestry Roads (上武利林道), but in particular the Shikerebetsu road is in bad shape, to put things mildly. There is one section in particular where the river has reclaimed the road. The road does not exist, and instead has been replaced by the valley’s river, which now runs along bed-rock. Who knows where the gravel has gone. We spent about 1km pushing our bikes along the river, and in places, bush-bashing through thick, 1.5m high bamboo grass.

Last updated Nov 11, 2018

The post excerpt above tells today’s tale well. A few years ago, this route up and over Yu-no-yama Pass was a popular backcountry gravel road route for cyclists and off-road motorcycle tourists. Things have changed.

We were in good spirits this morning though. When we left the campground the weather was good, and we had a 7/11 convenience store just down the road. We both had second servings of plastic-packaged fresh rice dishes for a hearty start to the day. The initial condition of the Shikerebetsu Forestry Road was good too. In places it had been thoroughly repaired.

This was not to last. We weren’t particularly surprised. If anything, the last 9 days of thoroughly destroyed Hokkaido gravel roads had made us quite accustomed to non-existent or completely abandoned roads. So we shrugged off the first few kilometers of overgrowth and small washouts.

The next obstacle was less straight forward. We proceeded to spend the next 1km either pushing through shoulder-high sasa bamboo grass or wading through the river which had completely reclaimed the road. My topo maps suggested that this would only last about 1km before the road veered away from the river. It’s just that the road had been built in such a narrow gorge that the river doesn’t have much other place to go.

Beyond this non-road, it was relatively easy going the rest of the way up the pass. While Tom is a skilled mountain biker, he’s comparatively unaccustomed to long-distance riding, so he spent most of the way up pushing. It was steep, but not prohibitively so for me. Down the other side it was a great technical descent with plenty of ruts and washouts to watch out for.

We pushed on, and before long we were back on pavement just above the sleepy settlement of Maruseppu. The original plan had been to stay overnight in Maruseppu campground, but we pushed on to Engaru instead. We set up the tent at the free Engaru campground above the city, and prepared for a night on the town to celebrate what felt like quite the journey. We’d been thoroughly detached from reality and civilization for what felt like a very long time!

We got some recommendations from some friends (Simon and Alex) who had lived in this area previously. First up was the local yaki-tori place near the station (here). A few grilled chicken skewers later, we moved on to the yakitori owner’s recommended sushi and sashimi place (here). From there, we ended up in a snack bar. Tom befriended someone at the sashimi place, who then dragged us over to the snack bar. All in all, it was a curious night out in one of Hokkaido’s eastern-most cities, and a most suitable conclusion to one of the more curious cycle tours I’ve done.

Many thanks to Tom and Rick for being gullible enough to let me drag them across what ended up being quite the intense bike ride.

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