Most bike trips I have seen in Japan happen near Tokyo, where all travellers want to spend a few days wandering the huge metropolis. We decided to head south instead, to the Tokushima prefacture, looking forward to ride with our friends Hayato Higuchi and Minsu Oh from ASAHI. Our target was the longest gravel mountain road in Japan, the famous Mt Tsurugi "Super Forest Road". Can't be a bad choice with that name...

Story, photos and video by Marc Gasch

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MT. TSURUGI, JAPAN

Riding the Super Forest Road!

これまで、私(Marc)が見てきた日本を訪れるツーリスト達のサイクリングツアーといえば、巨大な首都である東京周辺でサイクリングを楽しむ姿だった。今回、XPDTN3トリップの舞台となったのは、日本の西に位置する四国徳島県を横断するグラベルロード“剣山スーパー林道”だ。

文章、写真、動画:Marc Gasch

日本語文章:樋口準人

When we started planning our trip to Japan with our Exploro gravel bikes, all options were open. Looking for something close to Tokyo? Heading North to the Hokkaido island? Maybe Okinawa would be cool? After getting in touch with our friends at ASAHI, their crew suggested a perfect gravel route that crosses the southern island, a 2 hour drive from their headquarters in Osaka, and the perfect location for a 3 day bikepacking trip. The "Super Forest Road" located at the foot of Mount Tsurugi is a famous off-road drive for Japanese tourists, be it on dirt motorbikes or 4x4 cars. Now, we got to add gravel bikes. It's not a technical route, it weaves through deep and rocky river gorges while combining broken pavement with perfect double track trails. It includes vistas that allow you to enjoy the Pacific Ocean in the far distance while eating your last dry octopus snack after a gruelling climb. After meeting with our friends Hayato Higuchi, Minsu Oh and our car driver for the transfer, Shinya Yamada, we left the big city of Osaka, the second largest city of Japan with its 19 million population. As we found out during our 2 days stay there, Osaka is known as the "nation's kitchen", with thousands and thousands of restaurants around the city, a true foodie paradise, and worth a visit if you are planning to fly here.

私が3Tのエアログラベルロードバイク“エクスプローロ”でのツアーを考えた時、首都東京近郊や北海道、はたまた沖縄?といった場所が最初に浮かんだ。3Tの日本代理店である、あさひのスタッフが3日間のバイクパッキングツアーとして選んだ場所は、大阪から約2時間のところにある壮大なグラベルロードだった。剣山の麓に伸びるスーパー林道は四駆やオフロード二輪、グラベルバイクの聖地として人気が高く、荒々しい岩が転がる清流を眺めながら走れるダブルトラックのようだ。

起点となる大阪は古くから“日本の台所”と呼ばれ、食の文化が深く、多くのレストランや市場が軒を連ねており、日本に到着したら2日間程度、時差ボケを解消するために大阪に滞在するのは丁度よい。

私は、今回共に旅をする呉さん、山田さん、樋口さんと合流して大阪を後にし、スーパー林道に向けて出発した。

But we flew to the other side of the (our) world to ride bikes, so after a scenic drive crossing the Awaji island we reached the Tokushima prefecture and headed for the Tsukigatani onsen in Kamikatsu, our first stop and departure point for the 3 day trip. A beautiful small town, nested among high mountains, and  in the words of Hayato-san: "A plum and a peach, a wild cherry tree are beautiful in spring, and it is healed in summer by the lush green rice and Katsuura river of Tanada, and beautiful colored leaves enjoy it at a hearing again and again waterfall of Tonokawauchi Canyon in autumn, and it is cold a little in winter, but slow time drifts in valley hot spring in a month." I don't know anybody other than Japanese where every sentence is a poem.

大阪から淡路島を経由してXPDTN3トリップの起点である上勝町に入る。上勝町は、春は桜、夏は棚田、秋には渓谷を紅葉が飾り、四季を通じて美しい景色を楽しめる。冬は日本の観光定番である温泉にゆっくりと浸かるのが、格別だ。

STAGE 1:

SHIKIBITANI ONSEN LOOP

There was a debate whether we should start setting up the bikes first or go straight to the onsen (Japanese spa) but of course, the spa always wins, and we headed to our first experience with the world of Japanese public baths. It's a great combo of washing and relaxation in this country full of medicinal and thermal waters under its soil. Every little hotel in the countryside has its own onsen, and it is a ritual for the Japanese (and tourists) to make good use of it. We did onsen after waking up, onsen after coming back from the bike, onsen in the evening when we were getting bored and onsen before going to sleep. Full program! For those of you who haven't been to one, it is advisable to read the Japanese strict onsen etiquette before showing up... You have been officially warned!

ステージ1 剣山スーパー林道 西部

サイクリングツアーを目的に日本に到着してから、バイクのセッティングをするか?温泉に入るか?どちらか?と聞かれたら、私は迷わず温泉に入る。日本の大地から湧き上がる温泉は、飛行機移動の疲れを癒してくれる最高の日本のおもてなしだ。朝起きて温泉。バイクライドの後に温泉。夜寝る前にもう一度温泉。三度の飯と同じく、欠かす事の出来ない楽しみ方だ。

まだ日本の温泉に入った事の無いあなたに1つアドバイスをしておくなら温泉に入る際、トイレと同じく男女の標識を間違えない事だ。

For the first day of the route, Rene Savelsberg joined us for the route. Rene is an old friend of ours and he was with us on one of the first XPDTN3 trips, in Iceland. He was supposed to ride with us in Reykjavik, but health problems kept him in the house for the 3 days, cooking at night and playing piano for us. So when he learned we were here while on he was on a business trip to Tokyo, he had his "revenge" by joining us for the ride. 

初日はオランダの友人レネがジョインしてくれた。レネは初めて行ったアイスランドでのXPDTN3トリップに参加予定だったが、健康上の理由でやむを得ず参加を断念。たまたま出張で東京を訪れていた彼は、今回その時のリベンジとして参加してくれた。

After a mandatory short van transfer to Shikibitani, due to the changes on the route because of the rain, the ride started on flat roads (just as I like it to be able to warm up) following a huge river bed with rocks the size of a monster truck, passing through small villages with traditional japanese houses that I had to photograph from all angles. Such cool architecture! Some construction on the road allowed for a quick stop followed by a Japanese history class from our friends, and some background info about the area surrounding Mt. Tsurugi.

ウォームアップを兼ねて清流の傍を走るフラットな舗装路からスタート。清流には、モンスタートラック級の岩が転がる最高のロケーションだ。あさひのツアースタッフは伝統的な日本の集落を通り抜けながら剣山や日本の歴史などの話を聞かせてくれた。

The gentle asphalt road suddenly turned 90º to a steep climb that slowly faded into gravel and a 4x4 vehicles-only road. Now we're talking... With a mix of 700c and Gravelplus wheels there was a debate about which combo was best for this route. Some black clouds were seen on the horizon after yesterday's storms, and that water could finally decided who chose the best tires. In my personal opinion, if speed is not your main focus, and comfort and being able to ride everywhere is what you are looking for, GravelPlus tires are hard to beat. Lately I'm loving the 3T Discus Plus carbon wheels combined with WTB's new Byway tires.Get them down to 1.8 bars for gravel, or pump them up to 4 bars for road when necessary. Of course Hayato-San was on 700C with 40c Nanos, another classic combo, and we were riding together well, up and down. Versatility.

しばらく行くと走りやすい舗装路は急勾配のグラベルロードに姿を変えた。グラベルロードに入ると、700cとグラベルプラス(27.5インチ)、どちらがこのグラベルに最適か? そんな議論になる。前日の豪雨を降らせた雲が見え隠れし、天気は最後までわからない。私は、スピードに限定しなければ、路面を選ばないグラベルプラスタイヤ(27.5インチ)がベストだと思う。3TのDiscus Plus カーボンホイールにWTBタイヤをセット。空気圧はグラベルなら1.8気圧で舗装路なら4気圧まで上げる。樋口さんは700x40cのWTB Nanoをチョイスした。

With the hotels and onsens being so well equipped, especially with the kimono (Yukata) they provide for the onsen and to sleep, we were travelling even lighter than usual. The Japanese crew decided to carry kitchen and camping utensils to do a quick picnic at the top of the mountain. I thought they would be just bringing some quick noddles and maybe tea on their Apidura packs, but they surprised me with a full pasta meal, fresh oranges and amazing coffee! #RealFood, one of the staples of XPDTN3. After a fast descent, the onsen was still waiting for us, getting ready for another amazing culinary experience afterwards. Life is good. Love my job (most of the time)

旅館で温泉を楽しんだ後に着るのは浴衣だ。寝具を持たなくて良いのが日本の旅行スタイルである。

今回の日本のクルーは、クッカーをバイクパッキングのアイテムとして持ち込んでくれた。てっきり私は彼らがインスタントラーメンやお茶を沸かすものをApiduraのバッグに入れていたのかと思っていたが、なんと、パスタを作ってくれたうえ、オレンジやコーヒーもプレスして入れてくれた。

1本目の下りを終え、私達を待っていてくれたのはやはり温泉だ。バイク、飯、バイク、温泉。人生は楽しく、この仕事を愛している(時々ね)

STAGE 2: MOUNT TSURUGI LOOP

On some of our 3 day trips, we include loop routes that start and finish at the same hotel. That was the case for the second day in Tokushima, where we started the day (again) with a warm onsen bath before going to a traditional Japanese breakfast (yes, raw fish and vegetables at 7:00 AM kids...) Rene had  gone back to Tokyo for more business meetings, not knowing that he was missing the hardest climb of the route (lucky guy?) The second day had more than 2.000 meters of climbing in 70km waiting for us, but at least we were not carrying all our clothing and luggage with us on the bike.

ステージ2:剣山ループ

3日間に及ぶXPDTN3トリップでは、時々ループのルートを採用している。2日目は宿が同じ。温泉と日本の伝統的な朝食から始まる。この日、レネは仕事で東京に戻らなければならないので残念ながら(幸いにも?)最もキツイ獲得標高2,000mの登り坂を含む70㎞のステージを楽しむ事はできなかった。しかし、幸運にも着替えや旅行の荷物をバイクに積む必要もなくなり、良かったとも言える。

Perfect double track among lush green mountains went by, with a spanglish-japanese conversation about gravel, bikepacking and the cycling culture in the country of the rising sun. Once you step away from the big cities and mega highways, Japan is a country full of rural roads and gravel tracks, perfect for exploration.

この日はまだ夏の余韻が残る良く整地されたダブルトラックを走った。スペイン語と日本語、英語を混ぜながらグラベルライドやバイクパッキング、日本のサイクリング事情を話ながらのグラベルライドだ。

一旦、大都市や発達した交通網を離れしまえば、そこにはグラベルロードが点在し、新たな発見がある。

After a final push, using all our gears, we reached the top of Mt.Tsurugi. The Strava name of the climb segment is called "Mega Climb Gravel", so there you go... Not that we care about Strava at all, but it was fun to see that. In the words of Hayato-San, our local roads connoisseur, "Mt. Tsurugi is the highest peak of Tokushima with a height of 1,955m above sea level, located among Miyoshi-shi, Tokushima east Sodani, Koyadaira, Mima-shi, Naka-cho and Naka-gun Kizawa. It is chosen as one of the 100 most famous mountains in Japan, and is considered to be the symbol of the prefecture in Tokushima." We used the amazing views from the top to relax, and once again enjoy a hot noodles soup and fresh coffee that the youngster Minsu-San had been carrying during all the climb. Talk about commitment.

この日の全ての力を出し切った時、私達は剣山スーパー林道最高地点に到着した。ここはStravaでも“メガクライムグラベル”とセグメントされている場所だ。剣山スーパー林道の名前の由来となっている剣山は四国最高峰の1,995m。徳島県のいくつかの市町村を麓にする日本百名山の一つだ。

林道最高地点では、呉さんが私達のために運んでくれたコーヒーとランチを楽しんだ。

 

After a little "siesta" and a blazing fast descent, we reached the Ogama no taki Falls. As Hayato pointed out: "the Kamagatani river basin from Mt.Kumoso (1,496m) is the the source to a branch of the Naka River. The waterfall is 20 meters high and the basin is deep, and it has the legend that a big snake lives in with depth of the water 15m here." The only snake we saw was the never ending cool road winding down the valley in a series of 180 turns that made us scream of joy like babies.

少し昼寝をした後は豪快なグラベルダウンヒルを楽しみ、観光ポイントの一つである大釜の滝に到着した。那賀川の支流にあるこの滝は落差が約20m。昔、大蛇が住んでいたという言い伝えがある。

私達にとって大蛇とは滝まで来る間に、くねくねと横たわるワインディングロードだった。しかも、大蛇を見た子供のようにキャッキャ、キャッキャとはしゃぎながら。

Not satisfied with the amount of climbing we already had, my Japanese friends suggested a "small climb" to get to a Buddhist Temple at the top. I'm always up with adding some culture and tourism on our XPDTN3 trips (this is not a race right?) so we started the steep climb on a solitary road, passing by micro-villages (talking about 3 houses) and fields carved into the sides of the mountains. Turned out the climb was not so "small" and added quite a few meters to our climbing stats that day. Anyway, once we got to the top, the first view of the Temple revealed that the effort had been totally worth. The Kurotaki-ji Temple was established in 793 AD and built by Kukai in the Kurotaki mountain range of the former Kisawason area. It sits at 760m above sea level and is said to be the mountain Buddhism birthplace.

キツかった、ここまでの行程で満足していない私達に呉さんが「そこにお寺があるので温泉行く前に、ちょっとだけ登りましょうよ」と提案してくれた。これまでのXPDTN3トリップでも、食後のデザートのような登りは最後のシメの定番メニューとなっているから、迷わず激坂を登り始めた。民家が2、3軒点在する山間は、決して“ちょっとだけの登り”ではなく、頂上まで登り切った時の寺の姿が見えた瞬間の達成感はこれまでにないものだった。

標高760m、空海が西暦793年に建てた黒瀧寺は山岳仏教発祥の寺だ。

STAGE 3: SHIKIBITANI ONSEN - KAMIKATSU

For day 3, the change on the route because of the rainstorms on the first day had us going for a rather short ride today, with only 42km on the clock, to get back to the Tokushima Tsukigatani onsen. The day started (again) with a long climb, under menacing clouds that threatened us to use the rain jackets  buried deep inside our packs for the past two days.

ステージ3:四季美谷温泉-上勝

3日目は、雨で予定していた初日のルートを逆行。42㎞のショートライドで上勝町に戻った。ゴールは3日前に温泉で始まった場所だ。この日もまた例に漏れず、長くてキツイ登りから始まった。日本の晩夏名物である台風の影響もあり、雨雲が気になる中、レインジャケットを脱ぎ着しながらのライドだ。

The perfect gravel climb was not so steep though, so among conversations about bikes, cameras and bikepacking we reached the final descent back to the small village of Kamikatsu. As my friends told me, and confirmed by the always handy Wikipedia, "Kamikatsu is a "zero waste" town, where all household waste is separated into 34 different categories and sent to be recycled. In 2008, a poll showed that 40% of residents were still unhappy about the aspect of the policy that required items to be washed. But the town continues the policy as it is cheaper and more environmentally friendly than purchasing an incinerator. The town has set a goal to become fully zero waste by 2020". Japan surprises me once again.

グラベル区間はさほど急な勾配ではなく、登りやすい。カメラやバイク、バイクパッキングの会話も弾み、下り区間を経て上勝町に戻った。呉さんによると、上勝町はゴミゼロの町という事だ。34種類もの分別があり、2008年からリサイクルで処理されている。洗って分別するのは多少面倒とはいえ、燃やす、廃棄するよりはコスト安という事で、町では2020年にゴミゼロを目標にしている。

こういった事も、日本には驚かされる。

At the arrival at Kamikatsu, our transfer driver Shinya Yamada was waiting for us at the hotel, ready to go to the onsen as well, always a good idea after a long and rather cold cycling day in the mountains. The views from the hotel let me reflect on the last 3 days spent on the bike, among lush green mountains, steep climbs and perfect gravel roads. A few months back, while looking for possible gravel routes in Japan, I already took a look at this popular route, but the maps wouldn't let me decide if the roads were going to be suitable for bikes. I was expecting more obstacles and technical singletracks, but we found perfect double tracks and solitary secondary roads nested in the bottom of the valleys and up the hills. Definitely the perfect terrain for a cool 3 days of experiencing Japanese geography & culture and feast on fresh food. And all of this just a quick drive of fly from the big cities of Japan. Unforgettable.

ドライバー担当の山田さんが待つ上勝町に着くと、温泉だ。この日のように寒い中での山岳ライドの後の温泉は、最高以外の言葉が思いつかない。温泉に入りながら、3日間を振り返る。深緑の山々、キツイ登り、そして完璧なまでのグラベルロード。数か月前、日本でのライドを思いついたが、地図を見る限り、XPDTN3トリップに似合う道はないと思っていた。しかし、実際に走ってみると、山を越え、谷を越えの、良い意味で期待を裏切るダブルトラックと枝道が続く最高のコースだった。3日間のライドは日本の地理、歴史、文化を知る良い機会となった。もちろん、美味しいジビエ料理も味わった。

これだけのXPDTN3トリップが、空港からさほど遠くない所にあるなんて、忘れられない思い出となった。

And of course, lots of visits to the onsen, day and night... Arigato

温泉、温泉、温泉、昼も夜も温泉。

温泉よアリガトウ。

Enjoy a quick VIDEO from the trip:

And check the FULL PHOTO GALLERY below:

AIRPORTS

FOOD/LODGING

Comments & Questions

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OPEN
Thanks for another great write up of an amazing ride.

Do you know whether this ride is possible in the winter months i.e. December thru February?
Post #1 of 6. Posted by Yohans on 10-Dec-2017 10:38:24 GMT in reply to blog [0<--40]
OPEN
I asked our Japanese friends if that's an option, will let you know, thanks!
Post #2 of 6. Posted by mgntgn on 10-Dec-2017 19:12:53 GMT in reply to post #1 [40<--41]
OPEN
I'm afraid there might be some snow up in those mountains in Winter, so you need to check before you go!
Post #5 of 6. Posted by Marc Gasch on 13-Dec-2017 09:41:51 GMT in reply to post #1 [40<--44]
OPEN
Could u link me with yr Japanese Friend?im interest to organise a team from Singapore and would like to know the costing.
Thanks
Post #3 of 6. Posted by Raymond Wong on 12-Dec-2017 23:56:22 GMT in reply to blog [0<--42]
OPEN
Hi Raymond, thanks for your interest. Our Japanese friends are not bike guides but hard working cycling industry people, so unfortunately they cannot help you planning your trip. But on the other hand we offer all the trip information here on the website so you can plan your own route easily. Just sign up and you will get acces to all the hotels contacts, telephones, GPS files, etc so it should be very easy to plan! That's exactly the idea behind XPDTN3, we are doing our own trips and sharing al the nfo with our fans so they can also do those same trips without having to spend too much time planning...Thanks!
Post #4 of 6. Posted by Marc Gasch on 13-Dec-2017 09:41:00 GMT in reply to post #3 [42<--43]
OPEN
Good work. Shikoku is a great place to ride a bike!
Post #6 of 6. Posted by Sean on 13-Dec-2017 23:29:46 GMT in reply to blog [0<--47]
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