Nestled in the Seto Inland Sea (the watery bit in-between Japans main islands) lies the Shimanami Kaido, a major freeway that hops between a half dozen small islands to bridge the 80 kilometre gap between Honshu to the north and Shikoku to the south. While building the many bridges that make this all possible, the powers that be decided to go ahead and also build 80 kilometres of dedicated cycling infrastructure at the same time, and so the Shimanami Kaido has become something of a cycling paradise. Today we would rent a pair of bicycles and attempt to cross the entire route in a day, hopefully with enough time to enjoy the scenery.
But first, we had to take care of our luggage. I’m not one to shirk away from a challenge, but the rental bikes were not equipped to carry 3 large suitcases, so we had no choice but to hand our luggage over to a neat little service found all over Japan, the luggage delivery service. For $35 a man in a van would arrive at our outgoing hostel to scoop up our 3 heavy bags and ensure that they would make it across to our incoming hostel that very same night. The real magic is working out how that $35 pays for the Shamanami freeway toll, which is roughly $60.
Luggage tagged, we strolled down to the bicycle rental and after giving our actually-not-half-bad bikes a quick test ride we cycled through the town of Imabari towards the 4km suspension bridge that marks the beginning of the ride. The approach to the bridge really made it clear how much effort had been made in making this a truly special cycling route. As the main bridge on-ramp towered 50 metres above us, a narrow dedicated bicycle on-ramp, completely separate from the vehicle on-ramps, looped up into the air to gradually meet the bridge. On top of the bridge we were lifted high above the multitude of beautiful islands below us, and for 4 kilometres we enjoyed amazing panoramic views of the inland sea. At the other end of the bridge we were treated to a fast downhill built almost like a luge track.
The island we had landed on was, quiet and serene, with nary a car or person in sight. We cut straight through the island before ascending up another luge track to join back up with the expressway and the next bridge.
After a full day of climbing, descending and exploring each small island, we finally arrived at our destination, Onimichi.