Matsuyama to Kochi – Camping Shikoku
We woke up a little hungover in Matsuyama after our karaoke adventures and started inland across the island toward Kochi. The main reason we wanted to go to Kochi was because we had been hugging the coast for too long, and were excited to see the inland mountains and rivers.
But I also wanted to go because we had been to a town with the same name in India, and I thought it would be funny to see how they stacked up against each other. (As it turned out, I never saw Kochi because of rain. Whomp-whomp. But I can still guess which one I would have liked more…)
Our first day of riding took us 38 kilometers (~24 miles) straight uphill. The scenery was completely different from the coast – huge blue skies, lush green vines, and rocky cliff faces rising straight up from the road. We were able to avoid the worst inclines of the ride by cutting through a long tunnel,* after which we had a quick descent into the the town of Kumakogen where two of the 88 pilgrimage temples are located.
We stopped for lunch at the Michi No Eki, or rest area, in Kumakogen. These “rest areas” are amazing: super clean bathrooms, shops selling local produce and specialties, ice cream, and bike parking. Who could ask for more? This one was further improved by an incredible bakery, San San, selling some of the best baked goods I’ve ever eaten.
We had a huge bread lunch and then set out for Senbonkogen, one of the two campsites that Google showed in the area. The campground was only 6 kilometers (4-ish miles) from the rest area, but nearly straight uphill. After making our way through a forest preserve, past logging trucks, and into a field of rice paddies, we struggled up the last steep hill to the camping area: a flat field, clean and heated restrooms, and a pile of brush that could be used as firewood.
Our only other site mate was a car-camper who was already making dinner, and as far as we could tell camping was free.
We had planned to check out the campsite and then head back out to town for dinner, but by the time we arrived it was 4 pm, there was nothing nearby, and we were exhausted. Fortunately, we had emergency rations: the Nepali trail mix and granola bars that we had purchased back in Pokhara in case we were stranded in Kathmandu. Oh, and a bottle of local sochu that Dmitry had purchased at the Michi No Eki. Dmitry made a campfire from the (very wet) brush,** and we settled in for a cold evening.
Because we left Nepal sooner than planned, we weren’t able to get our own camping things (tent, pads, sleeping bags) for the first part of our Japan trip. Since we were trying to save money and travel light, we bought a cheap one-man tent and a single sleeping bag before leaving Pokhara. I figured that we could spread the sleeping bag out so we’d have some insulation from the cold ground, but that Japan would not really be cold enough for us to need more than just the light covering we could make out of clothes and our silk sleep sacks. I was wrong. First, the tiny tent was not properly ventilated, meaning that water gathered on the sides and pooled along the edges – and since it was so small, there was no way to avoid getting wet. Every morning after camping involved spreading all the contents of the tent out to dry, whether or not it had been raining. Secondly, it does indeed get really cold in May in Japan. Even wearing all my clothes and using the yak wool scarf that Dmitry brought me from his trek as a blanket, I was still waking up freezing during the night. As soon as Dmitry got up in the morning to make a fire, I zipped myself into the one sleeping bag and caught a few extra minutes of gloriously warm Zs.
Once we were had dried out the tent and sleeping bag enough to start riding, we set out to visit the nearby temples, then headed back to the Michi No Eki for more baked goods. It wasn’t strictly on our way, but we couldn’t pass up the chance for more of that goodness – and I am glad we didn’t. We’ve had a lot of great food in Japan, but nothing can match that braided loaf. It was like a croissant crossed with a challah, and it was amazing.
We knew that rain was coming in the afternoon and had found a host near the town of Kochi – a half-Japanese/half-British guy living in Japan and teaching English in the town of Sakawa. The 70 km (44 mile) ride from the Michi No Eki in Kumakogen to our host’s house in Sakawa was almost entirely downhill – with more stunning views of the rocky riverbed of the Niyodo river, narrow suspension bridges, and soaring cliffs.
We made it to Sakawa just as the rain started, and enjoyed a lovely evening with our host at the local izakaya before settling in for a very warm night.
Sleeping outside in the cold really makes me appreciate 4 walls and a space heater.
*Strictly speaking, cyclists weren’t allowed to use the tunnel, and were supposed to go over the (much steeper) pass instead. But, the shoulders were wide and we figured cyclists need tunnels more than cars, so we risked it. We won’t tell if you don’t.
**In a stroke of luck that shows the merits of karaoke, we were able to start the campfire only because we had acquired lighters at the bar the night before. Is there anything karaoke can’t solve?