Amazing Adventures in Hokkaido
The abundance of the natural environment, the lifestyles and culture of the people who live there – Hokkaido has many incredible stories that are as yet unknown.
In this column, we learn about the appeal of Hokkaido’s four seasons from the people who guide adventure tours there. We hope such stories enrich the time spent in Hokkaido, the next time you visit.
Column: Spring cycling - pink blossoms, yellow fields, white legs! -
Spring is the season of hope and anticipation after the long winter months in Hokkaido, particularly for cyclists. Even for those who continued riding in the snow and ice, spring is a time when heavy weights seem to have been lifted from your wheels and legs, and the thrill of speed returns.
For the more serious enthusiasts, the road season usually starts in March with trips down to the thoroughbred areas of Mukawa and Shizunai in the Hidaka region, where the winter months see less snow and therefore earlier tarmac. By April, most of the roads nearer Sapporo are free of snow but often remain wet from snowmelt, making shoe covers, mudguards and – if possible – an older, less pristine bike a more sensible choice. Despite the relatively mild spring temperatures, the cold winds rip through your lungs and, at first, your leg muscles burn with pain before the winter cobwebs are gradually shed along the way.
Occasional bone-dry roads flanked by pure white fields, often in the Sorachi region, are the holy grail at this time of year, but are few and far between given the exponential rate of the thaw. As the snow on the flatlands disappears, geese and swans can often be seen flying in V-shape formation or resting in fields as they stopover on their way back to Siberia. With not much off-road biking available around Sapporo until at least mid-April, we sometimes head to the Iburi region, to places like Muroran, Date and Shiraoi, where spring arrives a little earlier on the mountain trails facing Uchiura Bay.
Before long, Golden Week – Japan’s long spring break – is just around the corner. The thick white carpet has been replaced by brown fields and occasional sparse patches of young, green wheat, which was sown in autumn and is now emerging from its blanket of snow. In Hokkaido, the plum and cherry blossoms bloom together, and it’s around this time I head not to the blossom viewing spots, where the crowds gather, but up the road to Jozankei, where the last of the snow remains in the foothills and the koi nobori (carp-shaped streamers) “swim” in the breeze of the ravine. One of my favourite roads in the central Hokkaido area stretches from the outskirts of Jozankei up to the disused Toyoha Mine. At this time of year, the usually gentle flow of the roadside Shirai River is boosted by the snowmelt. The trees are still bare, affording uninhabited views of the water and surrounding snow-clad mountains. The road is used only by the occasional rambler accessing the trailhead, or maintenance vehicles heading to the dormant mine, making for an idyllic, gentle climb and descent accompanied only by the sound of the stream.
By early May, it’s warm enough to shed the long tights and bare my legs – alarmingly white from being starved of sunlight for months. The cycling season has begun in earnest and life is good. On the plains, snow-capped mountains reflect in the paddies, freshly filled with water before the rice has been planted. Shocking-pink banks of moss phlox glow, almost fluorescently, by the roadside. During the post-Golden Week return to the grind, some of those who work in the cities experience the ‘May blues,’ but those with a bike and access to the countryside experience ‘May yellows’ in the form of meadows filled with countless dandelions or, later in the month, swathes of rapeseed fields in full bloom.
June heralds the arrival of summer and all its glory, but void of the heat and humidity that can hamper a ride. The sense of speed that was so strong in April has now been normalised, but the sense of anticipation remains. Spring may have sprung, but the best is yet to come!