We’d finished paddling the Shibetsu River, and immediately made our way to the free lakeside campground of Yobitoura next to Lake Abashiri. It was Saturday evening, but the campground was surprisingly empty – just a handful of bikers with their tiny tents pitched beside their bikes. We set up our tent, cooked up some dinner, and hit the sack.
The next morning, anticipating a long day on the water, we were away from the campground early. We had to drop the canoe at the put in point at Bihiro, drive back to to Abashiri, park the car, walk to Abashiri JR station, and make our way back to Bihoro by train. All of that went like clockwork, and we were on the 8:06am train at Abashiri back to Bihoro.
We were back at the put-in by 9:30am. Even then, we knew we had out work cut out for us to get the 33km or so paddled before sun down.
For the first 10km or so of the river, we were happy with the progress we were making. The river was moving fast, and we made good time. We were surrounded most of the way to the lake by deep forested riverbanks. Foxes, eagles, kingfishers. It was a very pleasant section of river.
Soon enough, the river started slowing down as we approached the lake. The last week of paddling was showing – we were feeling tired as the river essentially transformed into a flat-water paddle. Interestingly, as we approached the entrance to the lake, there was some work being done…it almost looked like they were dredging the river mouth.
From the river mouth, we had to make a decision – risk the 1km open-water paddle straight across the lake, or take the safer route around the southern end of the lake, adding an extra 1 hour to the day. The wind wasn’t too strong, however, so we opted to paddle straight across.
The opposite side of the lake felt like a long way away, and our progress was imperceptibly slow. It certainly wasn’t glass smooth, and some of the swell got our hearts racing. Lake Abashiri is not a deep lake, but with the wind blowing from the north, there’s a solid 5km of fetch, allowing large waves to form at the southern end of the lake.
We kept at a 45-degree ferry angle to the wind, and kept the pressure on the paddles, effectively helping the wind help us on our way.
We eventually made it to the eastern side of the lake, and for a while were sheltered from the wind. As we rounded a headland, however, we were now beset with a strong northwester straight on the beam, the on-shore wind whipping up white-caps that were crashing parallel to the shore. We zig-zagged as much as we could into the swell and then back towards the shore, but it was hopelessly slow going.
We pushed on for about an hour against the wind before pulling the plug. We pulled up onto a sandy beach around here, and checked the map. Mercifully, there was a gravel road marked. It was only about 4km to Yobito Station, so we decided to attempt the rest of the route the next day.
We pulled the canoe through about 10m of undergrowth to the gravel road, stowed all the gear, and left on foot towards the station.
The gravel road didn’t look very well travelled, and the locked gate at the end of the road gave us the reason why. The walk of shame to the train station was long and sullen. Dark clouds brewed overhead. For the first time on a canoe trip here in Hokkaido, we’d been beaten.
At least it was an easy way to pull the plug.
We took the train back to Abashiri City, picked up the car, and drove back to the Yobito Campground to stay an unplanned second night.
The morning broke uncannily clear and calm on the morning of our second day on the Abashiri River and Lake Abashiri. The first mission for this morning was to drive to Yobito Station and drop off our bicycles. From there, we drove back to Abashiri City, dropped off the car at the take-out point, walked to Abashiri Station, and caught the train to Yobito Station, where we cycled back to the canoe.
What a rigmarole.
But the canoe and all the gear was still where we’d left if the afternoon before.
Once we were back on the water, the lake was like a completely different world from the day before. It was mirror calm, and we made good time along the eastern shoreline.
Eagles gazed at us as we paddled past, and Haidee enjoyed spotting small blue kingfishers.
Our early start today worked in our favour – by the time we rounded the point at the northern end of Yobito Peninsula, the midday winds were starting to pick up. We hurried on our way into the shelter of the last few kilometers of the river through Abashiri City, passing curious rowers along the way.
I imagined prisoners jumping the walls of the prison and hitching a ride with us to freedom. Haidee on the other hand wasn’t particularly enamored with the idea.
We were happy to see the end of our journey down the Abashiri River. We were tired. We’d been paddling at least two hours per day – sometimes longer – for the last 9 days solid. We were ready for a rest.
But first, we needed to drive back to the gravel road and pick up our bicycles.
Then, it was off to the Shokotsu River about 3 hours drive north, to paddle another river with Greg and Mari.
We were making hay while the sun shined…and it was indeed shining.