To escape the sweltering summer heat of Tokyo, Noji-kun suggested we retreat to higher altitudes and make our way to Nozawa Onsen in Nagano along his optimized route. But for Noji-kun, “optimized” means avoiding expressways, large towns, or any road that goes in a straight line, and keeping as high above the heat as possible on the twisty mountain roads that make these islands so delightful. It also means that a trip that could take three hours requires waking up very early and arriving just before dark, but I can’t think of many better ways to spend that time.
We started with a bit of a hiccup: my rear brakes got weaker and weaker as we crossed the first pass, and stopped working entirely on the way down the mountain. Downhill twisties just aren’t as much fun using only engine braking and the front wheel.
But we were in luck, and there was a bike shop in Chichibu that was open early and was able to top off the brake fluid and restore functionality.
Many long, meandering, wonderful hours later, we stopped at the overlook above the town of Nozawa Onsen, our destination, just beginning to fall into shadow as the low afternoon sun neared the mountains.
Our shadows grew ever longer as the roads and trees soaked up that magical mountain light.
Then a dip in a ridiculously hot historic hot spring bath to wash off the road dust and sunscreen and relax our tired muscles, followed by outdoor BBQ and beer at the inn.
Being a camera geek, I had to experiment with long exposures, light-painting the resting bikes with a flashlight.
And since this was supposedly the peak night of the Perseid meteor shower, I lugged my tripod up to the shrine at the top of the hill, but all I got were pretty fixed stars (not that disappointed, actually).
After a full breakfast and another visit to the old bath house, we were ready for another full day of riding.
It was pleasantly cool as we rode along the spectacular ridge at Shiga Kogen.
And, of course, it turns out we were far from the only ones seeking altitude to get away from the heat on this gorgeous day.
Both coming and going we had some stretches of road where we were enveloped in mist, sometimes to the point where we could only see one bike length in front of us and had to slow to a crawl, but that just made it more breathtaking once we broke back out into the blue.
This is living.