TLRJ – Day 28 – Iya to Hida (“XBR si è fermata a Hida?”)
Late at night, I had reserved a charming ryokan in Hida in the Japanese Alps. 570 km away on the shortest route. That sounds a lot less than the days in Russia, however riding in Russia is much faster. I was in the middle of the beautiful Iya Valley and needed to get to the motorway first. I had a very typical and good Japanese breakfast at 7:30 a.m. Of course the bike was already prepared, but I didn’t dare to go to breakfast with my dirty biking gear; the smell is climbing on the ‘nastiness’ scale. I was wandering if I should return to the Koboke Canyon and head north to central Shikoku and heading east, deeper into the Iya valley. I would have to ride on very small roads again and cross the mountains. The problem was that I needed to arrive at 6 p.m. latest in the ryokan. In the end I asked myself why I came to Shikoku. Right, because I wanted to ride on the mountain roads! So eastwards I went. The landscape was very scenic and indeed the road turned into a single-track road that climbed up the mountain. I was passing a lot of roadworks and I was impressed how much work the Japanese invest even in these small roads. I got closer and closer to the clouds, but at an altitude of 1500 m I reached a pass.
The next hour meant endless bends and corners, mostly on a single track. Finally I got to the central valley. Here, the basic problem of my Sat Nav showed up again. As Garmin does not provide a maps, I had some opensource maps installed. The map itself is brilliant. However, the information linked to the roads is not available. That means the device does not know what is fast and what is a slow road. So it sent me on the slow national road when there was a quick expressway running next to it. I have to take the clever decisions. Finally I managed to get on the expressway, but the Garmin did not know a bridge and wanted to send me on a 200 km detour. But there are a number of huge bridges that connect Shikoku with Honshu. The largest looked like the Golden Gate Bridge and was really impressive. I can’t stop to take pictures on the bridges. The wind gusts from the side were hefty, one almost blew me off the bike! The large bridges are very expensive, but the next toll booth took me by surprise…for 90 km of toll road, I paid…60 Euros! I think that I paid something like 150 Euros in tolls today. Wow. Expensive. But the national roads are unbearable. In Kobe, I encountered some traffic jam and was surprised to find a service area right in the city centre, under all the elevated highways. A bizarre place. I managed to order some sweet-sour dish ( always looking for new dishes) which was quite good. Although the information was given in Japanese only, I understood that from tomorrow on, there will be road closures in Osaka due to the G20 summit. I was lucky, being one day too early. I made good progress andiIn the vicinity of Gifu, the sat nav sent me on the national road. What a pain! At a certain moment, I noticed that changing gears had changed. Normally, after having shifted gears, you feel a resistance in the lever. This was gone now…what does this mean? Is the gearbox starting to fail??? I remembered the Iron Butt Rally 2013 when I had to pull out because of a clunky gearbox. I could still change gears, but it felt different. The gearbox did not like city traffic since Russia. The basic problem is that I did not know how old this motor/gearbox is. You simply assume that it coincides with the odometer reading, but this needs not to be true. The fact that the timing chain starts to rattle a bit at cold motor temperature, indicates more a mileage of 70.000 – 90.000 km instead 40.000 km. XBR gearboxes are normally rock solid, but you don’t know what previous owner(s) have done to it. So I was shifting gears very carefully. I managed to guide the XBR back to a highway up to the mountains. Good! I had already feared that I would have to ride 150 km on this crowded road. After a while, I stopped at a rest area and checked the oil level. Well, I could top up half a litre. When I left the area, gears shifted very hard. Hmmmm…..not good. Luckily I had only 45 min to my destination. Hida is situated in the Japanese Alps and luckily I saw them still in a bit of sunshine – tomorrow the rain season will catch up and one week of rain starts. It will be heavy rain here tomorrow, so my plan to do a little bit of sightseeing will be washed away.
I arrived at the beautiful ryokan and was welcomed very warmly. It is a very elegant house with very friendly staff. The man who had shown me around does not work here anymore, but he spoke good English, so maybe they asked him to come. When I told him my problem, he called some mecanics and gave me some suggestions. I had thought of an oil change – until I heard a strange noise from the sprocket when I pushed the bike. I had no time to investigate – this will be a job for tomorrow, it will be a true rest day, as an excursion would be too wet.
I had a quick visit to the bath with its beautiful rotemburo (outdoor pool). Just in time ready for the excellent kaiseki dinner (Japanese gourmet food). I had many delicious dishes, but the highlight was the Hida beef. It is derived from Kobe beef and equally exclusive. I was sitting at a Western table (thank you) in my own compartment. Later I tried the massage chair in the lounge. A very elegant and welcoming place.
So what’s the plan? Well, in the worst case, I’m only 200 km away from my final destination in Nagoya. If no miracle happens, I’d just have to ride down to the coast on the highway. I’d park the bike at the Nagoya airport and rent a car there. In a week, I’d ride the bike to the harbour and drop it off there. Two days later, I’d return the car and fly back home from Nagoya airport. So this could happen. Let’s see tomorrow. If it would still be nice weather, I’d maybe risk it and ride on. But it makes no sense to ride around in the mountains in pouring rain with a sick gearbox. The XBR has performed outstandingly well in the last 14.000 km. She met the objective of getting to Kumamoto. The rest is only an extra.
Yet another wonderful and entertaining blog. Japan certainly looks a beautiful country. Thank you again for keeping me engrossed in your journey.