Friday, 12 August 2016

From dawn until dusk

Date: Friday 12th August 2016

Weather: Sunny and very hot however, I didn't notice the heat as I was in my 'air-conditioned car' for the whole day.

MP3 track of the day: The mistakes I've made – Monkey Majik

As you would expect, I'd planned everything. Preparation for today started on Wednesday; I'd finished packing my case and had put it in my car ready (my car's parking space is quite a way from my apartment). I also started to change my sleeping routine on Wednesday by getting up early and going to bed late. I got up at 5am, followed my 3am on Thursday so that today, when I needed to get up at 1am, I hoped that I wouldn't feel too tired.

I had also spent ages pondering over road maps trying to decide which way was best. I now find myself in the middle of Japan's 'Obon' season (like our Christmas season) which meant that everyone was on the road, driving to their home-towns. Over the years, the Japanese have migrated south in search of work in the big cities therefore – I hoped – that the majority of traffic would be heading from the south to their home-towns in the north. I was heading from the north to the south.

I had also decided that I wanted my route to be beautiful, with lots of country roads and superb views. This work nicely because, I felt that avoiding all cities would be beneficial. Finally, there was one other thing which I had to avoid...

Within the Garden of Eden there was a snake called Satan. It was this snake that told Adam and Eve about their nakedness and they were ashamed. When God discovered this, he cast Satan out of the garden however, before doing so, Satan had enough time to create one thing which would plague the world – Japan in particular – for decades to come. Worse that the seven plagues (or One Direction) Satan created the traffic light. God I hate traffic lights; the time you waste slowing down for the lights … stopping … and then speeding up is unbearable. Japan has no round-a-bouts so every junction is 'lit up'.

With the above in mind I made the below plan:

  • Leave Tagajo at 2am. Take the '45' to Sendai before taking the '4' south.
  • Before getting to the city of Fukushima, take the '5' around the city meeting up with the '115' which goes across the mountains.
  • Turn west onto the '45' and head into Aizu-Wakamatsu for breakfast.
  • Take the '252' 'South – west' over the Japan's spectacular middle mountain ranges.
  • Head down the '117' however, before hitting the heavily congested city of Nagano, take 'local roads' across to the '146'. Head south to Matsumoto.
  • Before getting into Matsumoto, take the '25' and skirt around the outside of the city. Join up with the '158'. This road then goes all the way through Gifu (through Takayama) into the city of Fukui.

Rough time estimation: 12 – 14 hours (Actual time needed: 16 hours)
Rough distance estimation: 620 – 640km (Actual distance: 800km)
Predicted petrol cost: 5,000Y (£40) (Actual cost: 4,000Yen (£30))

Everything started well. I got up at 1am and got ready feeling quite energetic. After locking my apartment door (and making a 'remember-able') I walked over to my car and set off at 2:20am. The '4' was wide open. Apart from TRAFFIC LIGHTS nothing stopped me and I flew down to Fukushima. I found the road around Fukushima with ease and was just heading up the mountainous '115' when the sun rose. I'm not sure if anyone has been on a mountain range when the sun rises but, I can honestly say, it's one of the most beautiful sites imaginable. Still there wasn't a car to be seen and so I found myself in Aizu-Wakamatsu at 5:30am having a 'second breakfast'.

Next it was time to take my most favourite road in the whole of Japan; the '252'. As I said earlier, this road goes across Japan's central mountains and offers some wonderful views …. if it isn't cloudy that is. Sure enough, huge clouds covered the sky preventing me from seeing much at all. This did mean that I didn't make any stops and so I found myself on the edges of the city of Nagano at around 10am.

I was approaching the city of Nagano from the north - east and, I wanted to be on the north – west flank. There wasn't a by-pass and so I had to use local roads which, looking at my map, seemed straight enough however, in reality, they were anything but. I meandered my way up and down countless mountains trying to reach the wide open valley on Nagano's west flank. It took a huge amount of time and wasn't helped by the fact that the time was now 10am, and so 'grandmas' had taken to the roads in force, not realising that their cars can go over ten miles an hour quite easily.

After a lot of swearing, cursing and realising that, in all honestly, it probably would have been quicker to go through the city of Nagano, I arrived on Nagano's western flank and proceeded to take the valley road directly south towards Matsumoto. The by-pass I used to go around Matsumoto was much better than the one I used to go around Nagano. I therefore found myself on the '158' at 2 O'clock. This was the final road I had to take however, I still had to travel a good 300 km along it (and I have already done 500km).

Once past the Kamikochi National Park (which I have visited... beautiful) the number of cars fell drastically and I picked up my speed from 25 miles and hour, to 50! The next problem was that the city of Takayama (been there too) lay directly in my path and I couldn't see a way around the city. It wasn't until I found myself stuck in Takayama's heavy traffic, jammed between two pairs of traffic lights that I realised two things. I had indeed spent most of my trip missing traffic lights and cities … and it had been good. Secondly, as I looked at my map, I did notice a by-pass around the city however, it was to late now.

Finally, heroically, I made it through the city and … I wanted to cry. I had been driving for 13 hours and I still had two full pages of my road atlas to do. What makes this part of Japan amazing is it's mountain ranges. These same mountains also break your spirit as you continually have to drive up and down them plus – on many occasions – drive in the wrong direction to finally find a road heading the way you want it to. Heading north or south in the central part of Japan is easy … east or west; nightmare.

I eventually made it into Fukui at 6:20pm. I stopped at a family restaurant and had a big dinner – due to missing lunch – plus a dessert as a present for driving so far. I'm glad that I waited until Fukui to have dinner; my body rejected getting back into the car after stopping. I only had another 6km to go to my hotel and yet, it was becoming quite a struggle.

As you can imagine, once I found my hotel all I wanted to do was go to bed … but no. The hotel's car park was full and so I had to ride around the city looking for a 'pay and display' car park (which the hotel does not reimburse … shocking). I finally made it into my room at 8:30pm. I plan to get up at around 6:30am tomorrow therefore, I am looking at a nice 8 or nine hours of sleep.

Tomorrow I plan to use my car for an hour only in order to visit a temple in the morning. I shall then head back to my hotel and spend the afternoon in Fukui's city centre as it looks quite pleasant.

Until then

Toodle Pip!

P.S. One of the roads I used played a song as I travelled over it … how ace, a musical road.

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