After a peaceful night on the floor of the lovely warm lodge, I was again heading east, this time with a map. My target was an area that looked camp-y in Okoyomha prefecture, but after the previous two experiences looking for campsites I wasn’t entirely convinced by the prospect; at this point I was ready to take guaranteed expensive accommodation over unreliable cheap options. Making it to a largish town around midday, I therefore decided over a convenience-store-curry-lunch that I had had enough of 50km/h backroads and it was time to hit the expressway. I booked a hostel in Hiroshima – about 300km away – and headed off on wonderful 110kmh/hr (ok, technically 80) roads, trying not to think about how much the toll was going to cost me.
The expressway was wonderful, though the bike exhibited some fairly nasty headshake above 100km/hr. It occurred to me as I was ruminating on the cause of this, belting down the expressway, that I hadn’t actually ever tried the front tyre – which I had changed myself, for the first time ever, just before leaving Perth – at high speed. I silently thanked Youtube guides along with whoever was listening that I had apparently gotten it right the first time, because having your tyre pop off the bead at expressway speeds feels to me like it might be a Bad Thing.
Hiroshima was wonderful, a beautiful city with a haunting past. I wandered around the Peace Museum and memorial park in the pouring rain with Katharina, an awesome German traveller I met in the hostel. After some really great okonomiyaki for lunch, The Museum of Contemporary Art followed by some quick bike maintenance in the rain was the end to an excellent day.
Having only two nights left in Japan, I opted to head straight to Matsue, a city about 300km away and 25km from where my ferry departed to Russia. A worryingly cheap hotel was booked with the help of the Hiroshima hostel staff and I headed north on a free expressway, or “built by the burden of the state” as they phrase it in Japan. About 30 minutes in it started to rain lightly, which was fine because I had checked the forecast and ensured everything was appropriately waterproofed, including me. The rain picked up until it was quite heavy, while I turned on my heated handlebar grips and enjoyed the feeling of being somewhat weatherproof. My waterproof boots began filling from the top until they held a good litre each; I turned up the handlebar heaters and my iPod and bopped to the music.
After a succession of convenience store staff following me with mops, shaking their heads at the crazy foreigner (one followed me around the store and gave me icecream) I made it to Matsue without incident and parked my bike undercover. It turned out from the TV in my tiny-but-wonderfully-private room that I had actually ridden through a typhoon by accident. Everything I owned was wet, including – worryingly – my passport, and the photo page was now a bit … blurry. Asking myself why on earth passport photo pages are printed with cheap water-soluble ink, I cranked up the aircon to reduce the humidity a bit and tried to dry things.
As more rain was forecast for Friday afternoon, I got up early Friday and checked out nearby Izumo Taisha shrine, one of the oldest in Japan. Matsue is on the north-west coast of Japan, sandwiched between some huge lakes and the ocean, and so the ride out to the shrine was really lovely. Waved hello to a few fellow bikers coming the other way.
The shrine was packed with tourists, so I didn’t stay long. Copying other people, I walked up to the entrance, bowed, threw a 10-yen coin into a large box, clapped four times and bowed again. Hopefully I did this right and it will bring me good luck; I did consider the consequences of doing it wrong and accidentally summoning Cthulhu but figured some good luck would be worth any possible risk.
Aside from that, it was good to relax in Matsue. It’s supposed to be the capital of the prefecture, but I couldn’t see any evidence of this, particularly with respect to the availability of cheap eating establishments. So aside from visiting a rather excellent sushi train place, I mostly sat in my hotel drinking beer from the relatively cheap vending machine as it bucketed down outside.
After getting to the ferry terminal around the designated time, I met the wonderfully casual Kenji, my customs agent for the export from Japan. In contrast to the three-day/four-agent process importing the bike in Osaka, the export process consisted of myself, Kenji and the two customs agents stood around my bike on the docks. The agents asked Kenji for my passport. Kenji turned to me and asked me for my passport. I gave my passport to Kenji, who gave it to the customs agent, who solemnly gave it back to Kenji, who gave it back to me. The process was repeated for my other documents as I tried and failed to keep a straight face; and thus Kenji earned his $100.
The Vladivostok ferry itself was really comfortable, particularly as the lovely Tatiana – the ferry ticket agent, arranging my motorbike and personal fare – gave me a free upgrade to second class (a comfortable and spacious four-bed dorm). Tatiana speaks fluent English, Russian and Japanese, which both makes her an excellent person to have running a Japan/Korea/Russia ferry operation and one of those people who makes you feel a little depressed about your lack of language skills.
The ferry was a two night trip with a short stop in Donghae, a bit of an industrial town on the east coast of Korea. I met up with Matthias, a Danish traveller heading home via the Trans-Siberian railway after six months in Japan, and we spent a fair bit of time drinking together. Matthias is a recovering magician, and can do unbelievable things with a deck of cards. Between the Asahi, the card tricks and the $10 all-you-can-eat buffets, the time passed quickly. I hit the buffets hard, loading up for what I knew from experience to be slim pickings in Russia.
After the Donghae stop, the bunk across from me in my cabin was occupied by someone with a motorbike helmet. On going to visit my bike in the hold to collect my bag of chargers and electronics, sure enough, there was another bike there. And so I met Kim.
Kim is travelling across Russia on his BMW GS650, with the aim of reaching Amsterdam. He calls himself Kims Cook, as in James Cook, as in the explorer. He has the most complicated signature known to man. At 46, he is a crazy, amazing person, one of those people that are an inspiration to be around. I contributed by pointing out that James Cook discovered Australia, which was a nice bit of synchronicity. I sincerely hope James Cook did actually discover Australia (it’s been a while since Australian History class).
Kim didn’t speak very much English, though his Russian was pretty good, so through a broken mix of Russian, English and gestures we agreed to travel together to where I turn north to Magadan at Tynda.
We spent a couple of days in Vladivostok at the lovely SeeYou hostel. I did a bit of sightseeing to check out the submarine on display, fixed Kim’s handlebars, and got some GoPro footage riding over the twin bridges (featuring the longest unsupported section in the world, apparently). Thanks to Yuri, our unflappable customs agent and all-round awesome dude, we got our bikes back and hit the road north.
I am carrying a secret message written on my windshield courtesy of Russian customs. It has so far resisted all attempts at removal.