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Japan travel

The Asahi Super Line

I woke up at 7AM on a Sunday, got on my bike and rode for 12 hours and 140 kilometers.  I think that I love maps too much, and I let my imagination control what I attempt to do in reality.  The Asahi Super Line is a mountain road that begins about 15km away to the east, near a few dams and some completely uninhabited mountain terrain.  From the main route to the north to the main route to the south is 86km.  The actual super line is less, about 55km.  I had scoped out the entrance once by car at night, and once by bike while it was still accessible only by snowmobile.  I fully expected it to be open this time.  I arrived at the beginning of the road around 8:30 after a pit stop, to find a closed gate and a sign saying “Road Closed: Landslide.”  Well, I’m not the greatest at reading Japanese, so I just lifted my bike over the gate and started riding.  3 or 4 km later, I see this:

Landslide

After a while, I realized that if the road really was closed completely, then I could be completely alone for the next 55km.  At once an exciting and fear-inspiring thought.  Strange, I realized, considering the population density I am used to and have experienced regularly.  Japan must be getting to me.  The road was really nice, winding slowly up, completely to myself, crossing over inlets into the dammed river below.  Eventually I got to a bridge that was completely blocked off with bars on the opposite end.  I was able to take off the gear from my bike and very carefully lift it up and over with one hand while balancing on a rung with my foot and, with my hand through the bars, lower it down on the opposite side.  At this point, another road from Oguni connected up to the main Super Line, and I saw two cars.

Lake view

12 or 13 km later, though, another “Road Closed” sign.  Hop.  Monkeys.  Lots of monkeys.  Monkeys with hanging babies and dangling red parts.  Screaming monkey profanity.  Up.  And up.  14 km to the prefectural border.  Intuition told me that the prefectural border would be the pass, since watershed boundaries often determine prefectural borders in Japan.  That meant down.  Came across some more “Road Closed” signs, confusingly, considering there were additional ones on either side.  Passed some long-abandoned campsites, and some recently used construction vehicles.  2300 feet, Prefectural border.  Gravel.  Shitty gravel.  Rockslide basketball-rock gravel.   Started walking.  For the next 15km.  Saw a guy in a little Kei-car gathering mountain vegetables.  Asked him “Is this the way to Yamagata?”  Dumb question.  Later, as the road deteriorated into the Super Line that Time Forgot and Knocked Rocks on and Planted Trees in and Turned into a River, I became less and less sure of myself and I realized I should have asked him “How the hell did you get here?!?!?”  I was running low on water, and ended up drinking from a waterfall by the side of the road.  Eventually, the gravel shit gave way to pavement.  For 400 meters.  Crud.  I started riding on the gravel, praying every second that my tires would hold.  I was a long, long walk from any cell reception or help.  Bless ’em, they did.  Kenda Kwests.  Again, pavement.  Sweeeeeet pavement.  Speed.  Then a monstrous rockslide!  Huge!  Seriously stood there for 15 seconds wondering what to do.  Up and over.  End of the Asahi Super Line.  But 25 km to the next main national route, and 50km total to Tsuruoka, from where it was probably 90-100km back to Murakami.  It wasn’t happening.  I made good time back to Tsuruoka though, probably averaging 30kph for a good two hours.  Alas, it wasn’t enough.  I was almost deliriously exhausted, and the sun was setting.  I called my co-worker Chris, who drove my car up to Atsumi Onsen and picked me up around 7 o’clock.

A fun ride, and a great story to make Japanese people fall out of their chairs.  But super?  The only thing extraordinary about the Asahi Super Line (other than the lovely nature and views) is the extent to which the road fails to live up to its name.  The Asahi Super Destroyed Gravel Path is far more apt.

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Alaska America

Palmer, AK from a NWA 747-400

abovepalmer-00001.jpg

“Wow, people actually live down there!” -passenger.