Even after leaving Nikko I was still going downhill, and the road to Utsunomiya was an unexpected treat. Route 119 is known as Nikko Suginamiki (日光杉並木 / Nikko Cedar Avenue), and is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest tree-lined thoroughfare in the world. Way back in 1625, a local bigwig called Masatsuna Matsudaira began planting cedar here, and there are now more than 12,000 over the course of thirty-five kilometres.
The only downside to its 400-year heritage is that Route 119 is no wider than it was in the early 1600s, and with no pavement and a steady stream of rush-hour traffic, I had to be careful not get barged off the road and straight into the trunk of the nearest cedar.
As I was pondering the best way to get to the other side of Utsunomiya, a middle-aged man in a baseball cap and tracksuit ambled up and asked me where I was going.
‘Ibaraki,’ I said.
‘Ibaraki? You should take the bypass, then.’ He pointed towards a busy dual carriageway that appeared to be a lot more dangerous than Cedar Avenue, and as he spoke there was a whiff of cheap shochu in the air – either he was on his way home from a big night out, or he had started drinking very early in the day (it was about 8am).
‘I’m not sure. I might head towards the city centre instead.’
‘Oh well, suit yourself,’ he said, before ambling off again in a not entirely straight line.
I made it back to our apartment just as Mrs M was about to leave for work at one o’clock, and waiting for me in the fridge was one of two homemade fruit cakes I had posted to the in-laws from a gift shop in Sawata. I cut a generous slice for myself, made an extra-strong, extra-large mug of tea, and sat down with the Rock Spring’s Cat Eye trip computer to collate my stats:
Total distance: 847km
Average distance per day (not including the two rest days on Sado): 90km
Shortest distance in a day: 55km (Mikawa to Sawata)
Longest distance in a day: 116km (Sanjoh to Shiozawa)
Top speed: 56kmh
Average speed: 14kmh
Quite frankly, Sado Island was further away than I had envisaged, and this, along with the enforced detour through Nikko, had turned the trip into something of an epic. The next day, Otoh-san described me as looking gessori, which means ‘gaunt’ or ‘disheartened’, and implies that one’s face has taken on the appearance of geso (squid tentacles), although bizarrely, I had actually managed to put on weight since 21st August. This could have been an improvement in my body’s muscle-to-fat ratio due to strenuous physical exercise, although I get the feeling it was more to do with the large amount of stodgy convenience store food and sugary convenience store drinks I had consumed along the way…