Up here in the far north of Hokkaido, Hamatonbetsu was like a frontier town, and in a spooky, slightly Lynchian kind of way, all six sets of traffic lights along its dead straight and practically deserted main street were synchronised to change from red to green and back again at precisely the same time.
'There's no crime around here,' said the manager as I was checking out of his business hotel, 'just car crashes.' And indeed, there was a sign outside the police station detailing the number of days since the last fatal accident, something I had only previously seen on an oil rig in the North Sea.
As I made my way north along Route 238, a bank of black cloud rolled by in the opposite direction, carrying in its wake a brisk headwind that seemed to grow in intensity as the day progressed.
Riding into a high wind is infinitely harder than riding up a steep hill, for while the effort involved is approximately the same, the nature of that effort is different. In both cases, you use a low gear and sometimes have to stand up on the pedals to give yourself extra leverage, but while the meditative quality of a climb makes it pleasurable, working against the wind is supremely frustrating. Why, one thinks as one struggles onwards, head down and teeth gritted, should it be such a challenge to ride along a flat road on a fine day? On a climb, while your muscles may be straining, your surroundings are calm. Against a headwind, however, there is no escape: your ears ring with white noise and your body is pummelled as if by an invisible adversary - it feels, in fact, a little like those nightmares in which you are trying to run away from someone but can't.
Whenever I stopped to eat, to rest or to pee, I had to hide behind the nearest wall or building just to give myself some respite from the onslaught, and as you can see, out in the open I couldn't even keep my camera straight to take a photo.
Cape Sohya - the northernmost point in Japan - was the fourth extremity on my circumnavigation of Hokkaido, and from it the Russian island of Sakhalin is just about visible forty kilometres away.
As the sun set in the west so the moon appeared in the east...
I was on the verge of heading into Wakkanai for dinner when I got talking to one of the other guests, a student from Kumamoto who had taken five days to get here using his juh-hachi-kippu - ie. by local trains from Kyushu at the opposite end of the country - and had until the end of September to cycle all the way back (his bike and baggage had arrived in Hokkaido by post). As we were talking, the woman at reception - who the other guests referred to as okah-san (mum) - turned off the house lights, started up a mirror ball that hung from the ceiling, picked up a microphone and, her voice drenched in karaoké-style reverb, began to speak.
'Good evening everyone and welcome to Midori-no-yu,' she said. 'Unfortunately, last year our amplifier broke down, so tonight we'll only be able to sing one song together. As usual there is all-you-can-drink shoh-chu (焼酎 / a cheap, vodka-like spirit made from wheat or potatoes), and if you feel sick at any time, there are toilets here' - at this point she gestured with her hands like an air stewardess indicating the emergency exits - 'and here. The ones at closest to reception are better for number ones. For number twos, I would recommend the ones at the far end of the room. Now, if everyone would like to stand up and join hands, let's sing!'
After a rousing - although not altogether tuneful - rendition of a song called Sakura (桜 / cherry blossom - actually there are several famous Japanese songs called Sakura, and I couldn't tell you for sure exactly which one we sang), the microphone was passed around and we introduced ourselves one by one. Due to the loud grinding noise emanating from an ice-making machine in the corner of the room, I didn't catch everything of what was said, but there follows a selection of the more memorable introductions:
'This is my second time in Hokkaido. The first time was with my girlfriend, but she dumped me in April so this time I'm here on my own.'
'I had a crash yesterday and today is my first day on a rental bike.'
'I'm in my fourth year at university and I'll be graduating next March. I've managed to land a job as a trainee newscaster in Nagano Prefecture, so perhaps one day you'll see me on TV.'
'If anyone else would like to join me, I'm getting up at 3.30 tomorrow morning to go and watch the sunrise.'
'Last night I pitched my tent in a park. I was woken by the sound of the morning exercise programme on NHK, and I ended up doing the exercises with an old guy who had brought his radio with him.'
'When I came to Wakkanai I only intended to stay for one day, but it's so much fun that I've already been here for three. I'll definitely leave tomorrow, though.'
At the end of the evening okah-san put down the mic, turned the lights back on and took a Polaroid photo of us all. Quite by coincidence, I now realised, I had found the same rider house that my friend Tokidoki Tokyo had stayed in on his tour of Hokkaido - also riding the Transeo 4.0 GT 7005 City Cross Design - the previous summer, and when I asked okah-san if I could have a look through the Midori-no-yu archives, I found his rosy-cheeked Devonian face among a similar group of guests from almost exactly a year before.