Friday, July 30, 2010

Travel Blog: Shimanami Kaido!

So, this blog post is way overdue since I did this almost a month ago, but this was such an awesome experience!
Shimanami Kaido is a 60km (37 miles) road that runs from Imabari (Ehime Prefecture) to Onomichi (Hiroshima Prefecture). It passes through six islands in the Seto-uchi and is only accessible by cycling or walking. When I first heard of this, I thought it was pretty impressive that this path was built only for cycling. Everything is quite modern and the path was really maintained. As you can see below, the cycling path doesn't follow the actual highway, so it's significantly longer than if you actually drove.We decided to try this on a weekday so it wouldn't be as crowded (I think we only saw 2 or 3 other people the whole day...) so we went on a Tuesday (June 7th). We departed JR Matsuyama Station at 7am and it took about an hour to get to Imabari station by local train. Once we arrived, we caught a bus to Itoyama Sunrise, the cycle rental shop, which is located right at the start of the bike path. A one day rental only cost 500-yen, along with a 1000-yen deposit. There are numerous rental terminals along the path on the different islands, so they have a norisute (乗り捨て) system, which is really convenient. It allows you to return your cycle at any rental terminal along the course (in case you decide to turn around). The only downside is that you don't get your deposit back, so it cost us 1500-yen total. Also, each bridge you cross has a small toll you need to pay. We got a ticket book at Itoyama Sunrise which was on sale for 250-yen (originally 500-yen) which had tickets to cover all the tolls.
So we finally headed out at around 830. The first bridge leading to the first island Oshima was the longest one, and passing through Oshima was the toughest part of the trip. This island was huge and it probably took us about 45-60 minutes to get through this part. I was so happy to see the next bridge, and even happier that the next island Hakatajima was pretty short. We got through this one and the next one, Omishima relatively quickly and stopped for lunch before we headed to the next island. We ate and rested for about an hour, and headed out again at about 1:00. The next island, Ikuchijima was also another long one at about 12km and we got lost a couple times here. The path is usually well marked on the ground, but in some places there were no signs so we had to ask people for directions. Unfortunately this island had a temple I wanted to see, but we were trying to finish by sundown, so we decided to pass and keep going. I forgot to mention, these islands have quite a few attractions, like museums, temples and parks etc, but we didn't really stop to see anything because we were determined to make it to Onomichi. By this point i was getting really exhausted and ran out of water, but we kept going because we were almost done. The last two bridges and islands were really tough because we were so tired, but we managed to make it to the ferry port on the last island, Mukaishima before the sun went down. I was so relived to see the end and finally be able to sit down on something other than the seat on the bicycle (very uncomfortable...). From Mukaishima to Onomichi you have to take a ferry, which took only about 5 minutes. We finally arrived at Onomichi at 5pm, so it took us about 7 hours total to complete the course.
The whole course was relatively flat with a few hills, but to me the hardest part was the bridges. At each bridge there was a circular ramp with a steady incline, which takes some time to get up to the bridge. I wish I had brought more water, because I ran out half way through the trip. This was pretty tough for me since I'm not really in shape, nor do I cycle long distances, but it was such an amazing experience! The views from the bridges were really pretty, and it was pretty fun.
After eating dinner, we returned to Matsuyama by bus and train, and it took about 2 hours because we left Onomichi a bit late. I got back home at around 10pm, very tired and really sunburnt, but nonetheless feeling very accomplished. For those of you who happen to be in the area, and want a unique experience in Japan, I definitly recommend doing this!

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