My own statistics for the summer were rather more modest, although despite averaging around 80km daily, I still felt that I had pushed myself too hard, partly by underestimating just how great a distance I would have to cover in order to complete a circuit of the island.
Specifically, and while I cannot claim to have traversed every inch of coastline, my trip computer told me that I had ridden a total of 2895km, with a top speed of 63kph (downhill and with a very brisk tailwind on the road out of Kuromatsunai) and a longest distance-in-a-day of 129km (partly in darkness on the road into Kuromatsunai the previous evening). I didn’t get any punctures, but I did get saddle sore, and accordingly, the only major addition to my luggage along the way was the extra-soft, gel-filled seat cover I bought to alleviate it.
Because the weather in Hokkaido was so, er, British, I spent more nights under a roof than under canvas: two on the ferry, four as a guest at people’s houses and fifteen at youth hostels, rider houses, ryokan and the like, as opposed to thirteen on campsites. This inflated my budget somewhat, although I still managed to spend five weeks away at a cost of about a hundred quid a week.
Another consequence of having so many cyclists for company was that compared to my previous tour in 2005, I didn’t possess the same novelty value, and therefore wasn’t given quite as much of the red carpet treatment. There was, though, no shortage of like-minded individuals to talk to, even if our topics of conversation were limited almost exclusively to a) what we were riding, b) what we were eating, c) where we were going to stay that night and d) what the likelihood was of being mauled by a bear on the way.
1) Fog (This won by a mile – for some reason, most Japanese are still under the impression that London in particular is permanently shrouded in the stuff.)
2) Eric Clapton (Popular already, and a song of his – Change The World – was a hit at the time.)
3) The euro versus the pound (This was rather baffling, as nowadays I meet hardly anyone in Japan who is interested in the state of the British economy.)
4) The National Railway Museum in York (With its network of characterful – not to say run down – local lines, Hokkaido is a magnet for trainspotters.)
5) Elton John
Speaking of music, my top five songs of the summer (not what I was listening to, that is, but what I found myself whistling or singing to wile away the hours) were:
1) Ponyo – Fujimaki Fujioka / Nozomi Oh-hashi (The theme tune to that summer’s hit film from the Ghibli animation studios, which is ridiculously catchy and opens with the classic line, ‘Ponyo, Ponyo, Ponyo, she’s the child of a fish!’)
2) Chicago – Frank Sinatra (A disproportionately large number of places in Hokkaido have names of three syllables, hence: ‘Sa-ppo-ro it’s…my kind of town / Ku-sh-iro it’s…my kind of town / Ne-mu-ro it’s…my kind of town’ etc.)
3) Tsunami – The Manic Street Preachers (All along the east coast of Hokkaido there are signs telling you where to evacuate in the event of a tsunami, although this was pre-2011, so I’m not sure I would have followed their advice if a quake had hit.)
4) Rider in the Rain – Randy Newman (Actually, pretty much any song with the word ‘rain’ in the title was fair game – Here Comes the Rain Again, Raining In My Heart, Singing in the Rain etc.)
5) Road to Nowhere – Talking Heads (For when the next town or the next campsite seemed particularly far off.)
It was a clear day when we flew out of Narita Airport a week or two after that, and from the window I had a bird’s eye view of the southern half of Hokkaido – of Mount Shiribetsu, Lake Tohya, Muroran and the coast road to Tomakomai – which made it seem so much smaller than when I was there. The next time I go, I thought, I'll make sure to ride the right way round.