By Shingo Masudsa / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterIt would feel amazing if I could just get on my bike and fly in the sky. When I was a kid watching a movie, that’s what I thought.
Of course, we can’t really pedal through the air, but there is a place where you can cycle to a dizzying height on a bridge and look down at the spectacular scene beneath you. You can experience this on the Shimanami Kaido cycling course that connects Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, with Imabari, Ehime Prefecture.
The 70-kilometer recommended course meanders across six islands floating in the Seto Inland Sea — Mukaishima, Innoshima, Ikuchijima, Omishima, Hakatajima and Oshima — to the foot of the Kurushima-Kaikyo Ohashi bridge, which connects the Shikoku region with Oshima.
The cycling route shares the bridges with the Setouchi Shimanami Kaido expressway, but cyclists have their own separate lanes. Between bridges, the expressway carries motor vehicle traffic on a route that cuts across the center of some of the islands, while the bicycle route tends to stay closer to the islands’ scenic shores.
The scenes from these bridges — as high as 50 meters above sea level — are breathtaking, with the blue of the sky and the blue in the sea brilliantly punctuated by the green of the islands.
I planned a two-day, one-night trip from Onomichi to Imabari along the recommended cycling course. First, I headed for a rental cycling terminal at Onomichi Port.
At such rental cycling terminals near Onomichi and Imabari stations and on each island, various types of bikes are available for a fee. Those who rent a bike can also drop it off at other stations, depending on the type of bike.
I rented a sports bike with a gearshift and headed out. As there is no bike road connecting the city of Onomichi with the neighboring island of Mukaishima, it is recommended that you take a short ferry ride to the island. I was treated to one incredible view after another as I got under way, including ships coming from and going to the port. Across the water, the sight of an elderly person slowly walking along a pier struck a chord with me.
I recommend that you sometimes diverge from the course to enjoy a bit of sightseeing. There are great spots worth visiting that include the birthplace of legendary Go player Honinbo Shusaku on Innoshima and the three-story pagoda at Kojoji temple, a national treasure, on Ikuchijima.
More than 300,000 cyclists ride the Shimanami Kaido each year.
“I hope cyclists don’t just hastily go through the cycling course, but actually enjoy the special products and cultural differences of each island,” said Yasuo Shintaku, secretary general of Shimanami Japan Inc., a general incorporated association that engages in sightseeing public relations and manages the rental cycling business.
Asked about the best part of the course, Shintaku said, “Naturally, the scenic views from the bridges.”
However, to cross the elevated bridges, cyclists have to pedal their bike up long inclined pathways.
On the day I visited, record cold weather hit the area and a light snow fell. Despite the cold, I broke into a sweat pedaling up those paths.
My weariness was soothed thanks to sweets along the course produced around the area. The delights include a lemon cake on Ikuchijima; a salt soft-serve ice cream on Hakatajima, famous for its salt production; and ice cream on Oshima with tangerines produced in Ehime Prefecture. The sugar helped replenish my energy levels.
After crossing the Kurushima-Kaikyo Ohashi bridge, at last I entered the Shikoku region. On the about 4.1-kilometer-long bridge, the longest in the cycling course, cold gusts of wind pummeled me, filling my eyes with tears to the point where I couldn’t even see the views unfolding around the bridge. When I crossed the bridge, a long downhill slope awaited, at least. I felt that I had really learned the lesson of no pain, no gain.
Including a section from the Sunrise Itoyama — the starting point for the recommended course on the Imabari side — to Imabari Station, the entire travel distance was about 80 kilometers.
I suppose that continuing to pedal while shiny with sweat feels better than flying through the sky on a bike. After finishing my cycling trip, that’s what I thought.
To reach Onomichi, at one end of the Shimanami Kaido cycling route, take an about 3½-hour Shinkansen ride from Tokyo Station to Fukuyama Station in Hiroshima Prefecture. Transfer there to the JR Sanyo Line for an about 20-minute trip to Onomichi Station.
To reach Imabari, at the other end of the cycling route, take an about 1½-hour flight from Haneda Airport to Matsuyama Airport. Take a 15-minute bus ride to JR Matsuyama Station. From there it is a 35-minute ride by express train on the JR Yosan Line to Imabari Station. For more information, call Shimanami Japan Inc. at (0848) 22-4073.
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