I awoke at 5 am to the sound of rain on my one man tent in a small park located in Furano, a small town in the center of Hokkaido.
The Great Earth Cycling Event started at 7 am and there were a few hundred people milling around the starting point in the heavy rain. There were people riding distances ranging from 50 kilometers up to 130 kilometers. My riding partner and I started the race and he got a punctured tire in the first 50 meters. However, we got it fixed up real quick and were on our way. The first portion of the ride started out in the city and after crossing the swollen and fast flowing Sorachi River, the scenery changed to a bucolic setting amidst farms containing onions, melons, cows and other agricultural products. The first resting point was surrounded by farms and the mountain forests. Near the resting point was an old Shinto shrine where we paused to take some photos before stopping for a brief rest. The race organizers provided hot miso soup, pickled melons and rice balls. After filling up on the wholesome food, I decided to try to get some help adjusting my bicycle gears, which were not working properly. I was asking a staff member about mechanical help when another rider came to my assistance and adjusted my gears in just a few minutes. Again we were off riding through the lush green Hokkaido farm lands, the smell of fertilizer heavy in the humid air. During this portion of the ride the rain tapered off and we started riding on one of the main roads. There were many cyclists on the side of the road with punctured tires, but no worries, as the Japanese organizers had staff driving around to assist with repairs.
At the end of the main road, we stopped again at the second rest stop. Here the race staff were serving bread, fresh cheese and tomatoes along with sports drinks or water. Even though the rain had everyone soaked to the bone, an upbeat atmosphere permeated the place. I was able to chat with people from different parts of Japan before heading off for the next portion of the ride. This part of the ride consisted of beautiful winding roads through farm land and fragrant forests full of birds and flowers. This section had a large amount of uphill riding but with the awesome reward of a thrilling downhill ride on a newly paved road through the forest. The next rest stop was located at the filming location of Kitano Kunihara a famous Japanese movie. A quaint and beautiful restaurant was serving up fried potatoes and ice cream. There was also a strong jet heater inside the building with many wet and cold cyclists huddled around it.I was very busy on this day so I had to cut my ride short and take a different route home but was rewarded with an awesome solitary ride cutting through a mountain valley next to a beautiful river. The ride through the mountain valley was about 10 kilometers and only a few cars passed by. This final portion of the ride gave me time to reflect on how beautiful the Hokkaido landscape is and how getting on a bicycle and exploring at a slower pace has so much to offer.