Part 2 of 3.
What is bike touring? And why would anyone want to ride a bike in Japan, with their whole family?
My love of bike touring began as a Girl Scout. We went on a short afternoon ride with our troop leader, and I remember seeing a sign for Wisconsin. It was a mere 50 miles to the Wisconsin border from our home in Illinois. Seeing a sign for a WHOLE OTHER STATE, while on my bike, spun some wheels in my childhood brain. We could GO PLACES! Faraway places.
The summer before college I rode my dad’s 10-speed around Lake Michigan with a church youth group. We wore running shorts and tennis shoes, as opposed to proper bike gear, ate fried chicken and slept in church basements.
All we did was eat, sleep and ride all day long. Not a care in the world.
Years later I did an organized tour as a single person, biking between Bryce, Zion and Grand Canyon. That was such a favorite that I repeated it with my husband. We also did Banff-Jasper in Canada, where we got snowed on and camped in campgrounds surrounded by electric fences to deter grizzlies.
A trip from San Jose to L.A. was a cakewalk in comparison.
Our last big adventure, or so I thought, was a tandem (two-person) bike tour in New Zealand. That trip was actually three people because I was pregnant with my daughter but did not know it.
Now 13, my daughter is athletic and has always had an interest in Japan. When news of a bike tour in Japan came across my email, we signed up on a whim. We decided she could ride on the back of our two-person tandem with my husband in front to steer, and I would ride my single bike.
On the road again!
After the schlep of getting there, as I wrote in a prior column, we took off on a 10-day trip from Kobe to Tokyo. Perhaps scarred by the memory of tent-camping and biking in the snow, or softened up with age, this trip had better overnight accommodations.
All of us cyclists would be sleeping on a small Windstar cruise ship, one of the first to enter the ports of Japan after they ended COVID restrictions in late 2022. Nearly every night the ship moved to a new location. Each morning, hundreds of bikes were offloaded. Japanese customs and immigration officials greeted us each morning, checked paperwork, and we set off.
We were offered a choice of short, medium, or long routes each day. Distances ranged from 20 to 70 miles. Our routes were set up by none other than the host of the TV show “Cycle Around Japan,” Michael Rice, and boy were they amazing!
Luckily, because no Japanese street-sign reading was needed, we navigated by GPS files downloaded to our smartphones. Other than remembering to ride on the correct (opposite from U.S.) side of the road, and a few specific traffic rules, it was largely foolproof.
Each day we left the ports and explored incredible places. Coastal overlooks, beachside boardwalks, noon-time street vendors, shrines and castles, stunning bridges, campgrounds, ferries and Buddha-lined trails, to name just a few. Our days were marked by tangerine orchards, rice paddies, twisted pine forests, Torii gates, waterfalls, 7-Eleven sushi and spinning whirligigs of drying squid.
Perhaps the biggest downside was that we moved to a new location each day. All on-board was typically 4:30 p.m., meaning we couldn’t hang out in our favorite places for long. Many ports gave us a send-off with bands, flag waving, drums, and the town mascot, thanking us for visiting, ever so briefly.
Each night, tired but with an early morning ahead of us, we tried to jot down notes and save photos so perhaps we could visit our favorite places again some time. On a bike tour, you get to feel, smell, see and hear your destinations.
Japan was a special place, and it was even more so from the seat of a bicycle.
Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, water agency official, and mom living in Santa Clarita.