|Monday, Sept. 9
Biking from metropolis to beach -- 58 miles
From the ferry terminal in Kitakyushu, we headed west on an industrial road and eventually we came into a business center. In cities it was better to ride on the sidewalk, which also was a bike path, than in the road. At intersections, bicycles go with pedestrians, not cars, and often a bike lane is painted in the street next to the crosswalk.
Navigating was a challenge every day. Our maps were only in Japanese. Highways and main roads were numbered, though, and some road signs also were in English. But sometimes the road signs were for cities before or beyond our destination, and we didn't know what names to look for -- we only knew where we wanted to get to. The map showed back roads with no numbers, but it turned out these roads were numbered. Rick was the king of navigation, often using the rivers, railroads, tunnels and bridges shown on the map as our only guideposts. We never got more than a kilometer or so off course.
In Kitakyushu we knew we had to cross a big bridge on a highway at the mouth of a river, or else follow the river inland quite some distance to another, smaller bridge, and we had some trouble finding the entrance to the big bridge. First of all, it was farther from our start than we thought -- about 15 miles. We were already frazzled by the fumes and noise of heavy urban traffic and all the stop-and-go at crosswalks, and it was very warm and muggy. Second, we could see on our map that we needed to be on the south side, not north, of the railroad tracks, and to get across we had to go underground on stairs and then back up again. The pedestrian underpass was actually built to accommodate people pushing bicycles -- there was a ramp alongside the stairs -- but with our bikes loaded down with gear, it wasn't easy.
When we reached the highway bridge, it was a multilane toll road. A toll taker crossed his forearms in front of him in an "X" to indicate that we could not go across on bikes. So we stuck to the inland route, still very urban. It was busy, with a narrow shoulder and many trucks passing. Sometimes we could ride on the sidewalk, but the curb cuts were rough and kept jostling my front panniers off the racks.
Around mile 20 we stopped at a 7-Eleven store for snacks -- rice triangles. Ouishi (delicious). We like almost every flavor except salty plum, not that we could read the packages to tell which filling we would get. Then it started to sprinkle.
Finally, at mile 24, we got off the highway onto a quieter road. There were rice paddies, and groups of children in school uniforms with backpacks. The sprinkles stopped. We had a short 8 percent climb through a bamboo grove. We stopped at a convenience store for bottled water, and the signs said 33km to go to Fukuoka. We were heading for a peninsula before the central city, so we expected we didn't have quite that far to go.
The road started getting busier and we tried a detour that turned out to be no better. We got bananas at a supermarket and realized later we should have bought more food. On the peninsula a strong tailwind pushed us past a big amusement park that appeared closed for the season. Then, suddenly, we were on an unprotected causeway with a fierce crosswind that made it hard to control our bikes. We had to get off and walk. We were blasted by sand blown across the road -- we would still be finding sand in our ears two days later!
At the end of the causeway we got back on our bikes. We knew we were very close to the youth hostel, but the photo and map we had from the Fukuoka Shikanoshima-so Youth Hostel web page weren't all that specific.
The shower revived us a little -- enough to make us realize we were very hungry. It was too late to get dinner at the hostel, and we figured we could walk someplace for food. But there seemed to be no place open within walking distance, except one little bar that would not serve us food, no telling why. We ended up buying snacks at a small, poorly stocked market and eating in our room.
The room was large and comfortable, air conditioned, with a big table and a closet full of futons to make our bed on the tatami mats. We studied our maps and fell asleep ...