I’m a sucker for bridges. Big, striking ones in beautiful locations especially. It’s something about all that metal and concrete arranged in careful balance to make something that looks light and airy, yet can hold the weight dozens of cars at a time. I’m not a bridge buff, I barely know the difference between cable-stayed and cantilever, I just really like looking at them and crossing them. So when I heard that there was a 7-bridge, island-hopping highway system between the largest island of Japan, Honshu, and Shikoku, the smallest of the four main islands, I was sold. Then I found out that almost the whole way was bikeable, with separated bike lanes on each bridge and a clearly marked, flat route between the bridges, and I really got excited.
But, if you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that we’ve hit a few snares and delays, so when we were approaching that part of the trip, the option of skipping Shikoku entirely started to be talked about as a way to make up some lost time. I was against it, but I understood that getting back on schedule was good for the team. So I talked about it with the guys and decided the only way I was going to see Shikoku and ride those awesome bridges was by doing it solo, and in a hurry. We had been averaging 80-100km a day, and now I had about 320km to cover, and barely over two days to do it in.
So, without wasting any time, I set out from Hiroshima ahead of them, at about 9pm on a damp evening. I wanted to cover 50km that night before turning in, but after a slow 30km, I was nearly falling asleep on my bike, so I found a small, out-of-the-way shrine up a disused mountain road and caught a couple hours of sleep.
The next day, I set off bright and early, since I still had another 70km to go before I reached the Shimanami Kaido, the line of bridges leading to Shikoku. After an uneventful, if slightly rainy, ride I found myself in Onomichi, one of the Shimanami’s endpoints. After grabbing a map of the route at the train station and gulping down a bowl of the town’s special ramen, I hopped on the very very short ferry ride over to the first island. The first bridge is not bike-friendly, so a couple of small ferries shuttle passengers and bikes back and forth all day over the 4-minute crossing. Almost as soon as I got on, I was off the ferry and on the route.
The going was very easy, and I would have made amazing time, but the scenery, and bridges, simply could not be rushed. I tried to soak it all in and take pictures of what I could, but more than anything, the ride itself was thoroughly enjoyable. After two weeks of narrow shoulders, busy roads, and honking trucks, it was great to coast along with my head up and the space and time to look around. I was still moving along at a decent pace, but I ended up taking out an hour chunk in the late afternoon for a completely unexpected, but wonderful diversion.
I had seen marked on my route map a place called Setsunoda Citrus Park. I had no idea what kind of place it would be, but it was only 2km out of my way, and I really wanted to find some cheap kumquats like a bag I had bought earlier on the trip. Since I had been seeing them on trees on the side of road since I’d left Honshu, I hoped these islands would be the place. However, what I didn’t know was that those 2km, which looked so small on the map, were one long, steep hill. After 5 minutes of grunting and straining up the hill, my chain slipped off the chainwheel, and I had to stop dead to right it. After fixing that, I noticed a small group of farmers across the street, weeding a garden, and decided to ask if this Citrus Park would really be worth my time and effort.
As it turned out, the answer was no. Not only did they think the Citrus Park would not have what I was looking for, it had closed an hour earlier. But when I mentioned that I was looking for kinkan (kumquat in Japanese) they pointed up the hill and informed me that there were some right there. Confused, I looked where they were pointing, but I saw no store or stall. After a bit of conversation, I realized that they were pointing me to their kumquat tree, and the point was driven home when they handed me a pair of shears and a plastic bag. Apparently, they hadn’t gotten around to harvesting this tree this year, and the birds were slowly eating all the fruit, so they were happy to let me take as much as I wanted. I was overjoyed, and showed it by spending a good half an hour with my head stuck in their tree, snipping away. Upon emerging with a sizeable bag of fruit, I found an even more sizeable bag of full-sized oranges sitting beside my bike. They had gone and gathered up a mix of other oranges from their other citrus trees, and were just giving them to me! All told, I rolled back down the hill with at least 20 pounds of citrus, a very heavy bike, and a big smile.
After putting a bit more mileage behind me, that night was another quick stay at a Shinto shrine, which is becoming a bit of a habit. I was up with the sun the next morning, and on the road by the unfortunate hour of 6am, since I had my biggest day ahead of me, what looked like a 100 mile, 167 kilometre haul. I ended up camping a couple of bridges off Shikoku proper, but I made the island by 8am.
The day, and the island, went by in a bit of a haze of hills and winds and pain. The sightseeing leisure of the previous day was now gone, replaced with a get-it-done, endurance mentality, which was a bit fun in a different way. In the end, I rode about 160km, and adjusted my plans a bit on the way to give me a little more time and save some money. Rather than take the ferry, I packed up my bike to take the train back over to Honshu, which as a bit of a hassle, but cost about $5 to the ferry’s $25. Plus it was a good hour shorter, which meant that I missed out on biking my century by a couple miles, but I didn’t mind.
After taking the train just one stop over the no-bicycles-allowed bridge, I spent the night in a park, and ended up with a relaxing 35km ride into Okayama to meet up with the guys the next afternoon. I’m still a bit tender from the hard riding, but it was great to be able to be able to see everything I wanted to see and still make up some time overall. Even for just the oranges though, I’d say it was worth it.