Tokyo ----> Nagano
Golden Week is a great and horrible time to travel. Great because you have a week off. Horrible because so does everyone else. Some friends of mine had a nice ride down to Shikoku, hundreds of kilometers away, and they spoke of bumper to bumper traffic all the way from Kobe. After reading some ride reports on Gaijin Riders and SBK Japan (message boards for gaijin riders in Japan), it seems like it was worth it though.
The mountains are good.
Me? I opted for a short trip up to Nagano to sample some mountain roads and chill in onsens with a buddy who lives there.
Took the expressway to Ome, which is where the city traffic ends and mountain roads begin. Took the 53 up to the 299. Ah, the 299, my old friend. More on that in a second.
Cloudy, but beautiful.
The 299 is described in my motorcycle atlas as a fairytale road. I drove it once and, yeah, its pretty damn great. Over 2 years ago I planned on driving the 299, but ran into this sign:
Closed for winter. May is in no way winter...
Shiiiit, under construction for 4 month! I could have easily squeezed around the barrier... but a night in a nice hot spring sounds better than a night in jail. So, yeah, I was forced to take a detour up the 45 to the 93. Not too bad though, since I found this lake with the most amazing blue color.
Yep, cherry blossoms are still blooming up in the cold.
It's actually a lake made by a dam. But this is Japan, and this is the case for almost every lake. Don't get me started...
Too cold for a swim though.
Also found gorges and waterfalls.
Check out this rickety ass staircase.
Ended up in Usuda and took a minute to mail my friend and rest my ass at this big temple. Not pictured is a giant observatory that looks like a rocket. I'm thinking this is one of them crazy Buddhist cults and the "rocket ship" is there to take the believers up to the Hale Bopp comet next time it comes around.
I planned on riding some back country roads west into Suwa, then heading north to Chikuma, my destination for the night. This was a recommended route in my touring book. The back roads were amazing. It was just a long, sweeping road along a river and rice patties. But then there was a left turn. And another left turn. I barely noticed.
In the distance... is that another rocket ship? This cult must have some serious cash! It wouldn't surprise me. But, no, I had just managed to take a 1 hour loop back to where I started.
Only dry place was inside a tunnel.
At this point, it was starting to rain, I was hungry, and I could get to Chikuma in about 45 minutes on the expressway. So I did just that. Suwa and the Venus Line will have to wait for a better day.
FYI, Chikuma is cozy as hell. Lots of onsens. Also, the short ride up the 498 and down the 55 is a blast. Amazing views amid the apple orchards. Also rainy so no photos.
Nagano ----> Tokyo
I took a different route back. The 144 to Karuizawa, then the 54 East to Maebashi. The weather was drizzly, so not many photos.
Passed by lake Haruna and Ikaho Onsen. This stretch was good riding. I stayed at Ikaho Onsen a few years back. It's recommended. The center of town is pedestrian only, and everyone is wearing their yukatas after taking a long soak in the bath.
One of these things doesn't float.
Excellent roads, though the wierd speed humps get a little annoying.
In Maebashi, I wanted to go up and down Mt. Akajo, at least I think that's the name. 赤城 for all you Kanji readers out there. It's a stunning mountain because of it's gradual slope up to the top. Took the 4 up and the 16 down. Apparently you can see the lights of Tokyo on a clear night from here. It was NOT a clear day. And I had no intentions of sticking around until night. It started raining more and more, and the temps were about 7 degrees Celcius.
For riders who want to do this route, don't take 4 up and 16 down. Take 16 up and 4 down.
You see, most mountain roads will have a curb number on each turn. I counted over 130 turns on the 16. Each one was almost a u-turn, followed by about 10 meters of straight, followed by another u-turn. Goofy as hell, but no fun going downhill in the rain. Bring fresh tires.
In Maebashi, took the expressway home. Had some ramen at the rest stop, but you can read about that at my ramen blog.
All in all I rode about 650km. My plans to ride through Suwa, Shiga, and Kusatsu, all recomended places on my map, were cut by the crappy weather. Hopefully I can do these soon. As soon as I can get my ETC unit...