Thursday, November 29, 2007

北海道自転車旅行:7/13 阿寒湖へ

毅軍 got up early this morning and came to the inn to have breakfast with us. Having great bread and coffee in a Japanese style room really is a great experience.

Today's destination is Lake Akan national park (阿寒湖), another of the most famous tourist spots of Hokkaido, mainly because of the ball shaped seaweed (marimo/マリモ) living in the lake. The road to Lake Akan is another whole day through farms and hills, places with very little people. Yet, there was no less of road side driving safety promotions.

Wow, how did they got the idea of that tire man?

We made significant progress today because 毅軍 went out full power on jokes, totally imitating the way one of our friends back in Taiwan (邦尼) guided club ride trips. Some how, imitating the pace, language and even upright riding posture of that friend made the girls laugh all the way along, while riding at a much faster pace without realizing. すげええ Some people really could make people laugh, something I was never good at.

Halfway, a police officer stopped us and some cars ahead of us, and guided us to a wide parking lot next to the road. At first it seamed like some kind of traffic control for road construction. Yet, after we stopped, a whole group of grade school kids guided by their teachers, lined up next to us, and shouted together: "We are from the local elementary school, we would like to present you a gift for a traffic safety campaign!" Bowed, and then a kid came over to each of us (one on one) and presented us the gift, full of stuff that reminds us not to speed and stuff. The girl who was responsible for giving me my gift seemed to be slowest, and very shy, stammering with her words under encouragement from a teacher (do I seem that frightening?). She was soooooo cute! One of the teachers had a short chat with 毅軍 (again, because he spoke the best Japanese), asking where are we from and where we are going. Finally, we waved good bye, and left, the kids shouting "take care (気をつけで)!" To bad I was too stunned by this unsuspected presentation that I forgot to pull out my camera before we left.

Actually, almost everyone we meet in Japan gave us a warm "take care (気をつけで)!" Making us feel all cozy inside even though they are strangers. I really like how they care about each other in Hokkaido, like every one are friends.

We stopped later shortly to peek in the package: several little packs of tissue paper with safety promotions printed on, a wooden badge with the words "亀亀運動実施中 (turtle turtle campaign in effect?)" with a turtle drawn on it, kind of meaning that driving slowly like a turtle would be safe. Also several hand out leaflets and a little craft hand made of paper and toothpicks also wishing us safety on the road.

We had lunch at Kamiashioro (上足寄), kind of the only store we could find on the road today. Well this tiny store seemed to be the center of this little farming area. It the local grocery store, post office, police station, and even gas station, all in one. Talk about a place with not much customers, things there were extremely expensive, as the market was too small for such a rural place. Well, we bought some food and cooked noodles there (well, as far from the gas pump area of course).

It was getting cooler and cloudy with a drop or two of rain in the afternoon as we read toward Lake Akan. We passed several farms along side the road, it was all grass, hay, and cows.

Then we started climbing the hills surrounding Lake Akan.

The lake was formed by collecting rain water in a valley between several volcanoes.

Going into the volcano area, the surrounding plant life started to change. We were especially fascinated by these pink tipped leaves.

I choose to ride in the last today, to give 毅軍 a chance to ride in his own speed. As we started climb again, I started to use the ride and rest trick again to ride at a comfortable speed and also stay behind the girls, we were really enjoying the scenery at a slower pace. Suddenly, I realized that I was resting for like 20 minutes, and the girls in front were not moving.

Wondering what made them stop, I rode ahead to join in where they were staring at...

Woo, another fox, this time resting right next to the road, so close. The fur didn't seem as healthy and beautiful as the two I saw on Daisetsuzan (大雪山), though. Candy said that she saw a poster in some place that said wild fox that get to eat road side tourist feed foods tend to have unhealthy fur, and this one seems to be waiting for some one to feed it.

But still, it's so cute we can't stop pressing the shutter button...

毅軍 was waiting for us at the top of a hill that seems to be the climax before entering the valley. Close by, there was a sign pointing to a dirt road leading away from the main route into the forest that was labeled waterfall. I forgot the name of the waterfall, but anyway, I like off road trails, and off we went!

Sure, road tires were much more slippery on dirt roads, but it could be managed.

This sign greeted us at the end of the trail:

Basically it read: "Incidents of crow robbing stuff from car windows are frequent in this area. Please take all valuables with you before leaving the car. Also, please don't harm the trees!"

Well, let's see.. My valuables are in my backpack, and what's left on my bike is banana peal that I couldn't find a trashcan to throw away. I left the banana peal on my bike in hope that the crow would "steal".

A little route down into the valley of the river brought us to the waterfall.

Well, there goes my shutter happy finger again...

After we left the waterfall, we were going downhill, again into a lake valley; and again meet with strong fog, cool wind, and rain drops. Clearly, this valley, like the others we saw days before, was a basin of collected moisture. We once again meet what we escaped Daisetsuzan for. I told my friends that I would not want to see another lake-in-the-valley on this trip again. 毅軍 said that Lake Akan (阿寒湖) sure is as cold as the name suggested (the "kan" in the name means freezing cold).As so we once again arived at the Lake side shivering, wet and hungry. Well the good part is that the rain stopped when we arrived. All wet and cold again, this time all four of us agreed to stay at a bed&breakfast (although we choose to stay only, no meal option). I forgot the name of the place, but I don't want to remember. We choose it because it is cheep and also serves ramen, a convenient way to get rid of dinner. Yet as we would later find out, after we paid, the host didn't treat us well. How should I say it, he sort of treated us as "stupid tourists who are only sources of money". The time we were allowed to use the bath room is ridiculously short (an hour at a specified time for all 4 of us), that annoying look on his face were as if we were pests, and all questions were answered brief and unwillingly, with no manners. Well, duh, the only smile we saw was right before we agreed to stay and pay the fee.

This is a cute little bus stop for the tour bus of Lake Akan. The place we stayed at was the white building to the right of the picture. I am telling all readers to AVOID that place if you want a good experience. And this is the only place in Hokkaido that I would advise this strongly to avoid. For your info, the taste of the ramen sold there was also under par.

Lake Akan is a bustling tourist attraction full of, well, what else? Tourists and shops. We called it the "heaven of gifts of souvenirs", because the sheer number of the shops, and the quality of the crafts. They're mostly craft shops of the Hokkaido aborigines, the "Ainu", who are very good at wood crafts. The crafts, although high in price, was well worth it because of the quality. They also had "Ainu style ramen", but the price was more then double that of the average price in Hokkaido, so we were scared out of the store. Something we took as "scary", was that the store keepers were shouting out to tourists that they had a free service of etching on words on the wood crafts if we buy them, and when they saw us, they immediately switched to shouting in Chinese! Seems like there were so much Taiwanese tourists here that the Ainu people had learned our language (we couldLink recognize it as the Taiwanese accent); farther more, there were even price tags in traditional Chinese. We felt like there was no longer the privacy that we have grown used to of talking in a language that other don't understand. Well, 毅軍 said may be they couldn't understand the Taiwanese dialect, and walked into a store and shouted out loud: "黑店!黑店!" (Black store, which means a store that rips off customers.) Well, sure enough no one even turned to look. But boy are we laughing!

Later in the night we realized that local "Lawson convenient store" was selling fried chicken and oolong noodles for half the average price. We immediately regretted having the B&B's crappy ramen for dinner and decided to have oolong for lunch the next day.

July 12th 糠平湖 <<
| >> July 14 阿寒湖

Thursday, November 22, 2007

北海道自転車旅行:7/12 大雪山から逃げる

This might be the first and only time that we would wake up in a public toilet. Since when did you slept in your bathroom?

(Lake Shikaribetsu/然別湖)

Well there we were, half way in Daisetsuzan (大雪山) national park, and climbing on to the highest point of the mountains was not only going to be conquering the climax of Hokkaido, it was supposed to be the climax of our whole trip. Yet we woke up to the sound of a downpour outside, confirmed by checking outside. Well, we had experience of riding in tropical storm like rain back in Taiwan that was even more water then this, but never in this temperature. I sat in our tent, my mind blank, with no idea what to do, while my friends went on to prepare breakfast.

Minutes later, 毅軍 came back to tell me our primary food supply (all the bread and noodle that were in his big box), were all gone. Turned out that whole box was left out through the night, and not took into the public toilet. And everything with a packaging that allowed the "food smell" to leak out was gone. As the smell less stuff such as sealed cans were still there, we guessed it must be stolen by wild animals. Interestingly, our rotting been sprouts were also gone, and we bid our food theft a nice & painful diarrhea. Well turned out I was the one with the largest amount of personal food reserve, I offered everyone my huge loft bread, which, thank goodness I kept next to me through the night.

Food gone, big rain, cold weather, seems like the whole world together trying to prevent us from entering Daisetsuzan. Guess we had to found our way out of the mountains. As we were in a valley, no matter what, exiting requires a climb. We could go back south the way we came, go east through the valley of Lake Nukabira (糠平湖), or go north over the peak as originally plained. Going north takes 2 days, and according to the other campers who were listening to the news on the radio, the rain was not expected to end within 3 days. With no food and no food stores in the national park area (except for hotels, snack & gift shops, and expensive restaurants) that was clearly a no-go. Going back the way we came was not only boring, but also a great big 3 day set back to our agenda. With more friends arriving to meet us in Memanbetsu (女満別) on the 15th, that was also not an option. So going east it was, and we could also tour Lake Nukabira (糠平湖) and Lake Akan (阿寒湖) along the way.

And so we got everything out of the public restroom. We noticed that the other group of campers had already moved everything under the roof sticking out of the warehouse, with their tent hung up under that roof dripping water. Guess this kind of weather was all too much for anyone to camp outside. They told us that we really had bad timming, as their previous camps here were always great, and this time, they also were forced to cancel farther plans. As we packed and did all the water protection work, they were also packing their gear into their minivan. They even heated several cups of milk for us, and offered us one of their jackets. Such nice people. Hot milk was really a blessing in this kind of weather, but of course we didn't accept the jacket. I cut open a huge garbage bag and wrapped up my pants. My legs became all baggy and noisy, yet reliving the wet pants nightmare of yesterday was not a good way to start a day.

We left Lake Shikaribetsu (然別湖) as soon as the rain became a light drizzle, heading toward Lake Nukabira (糠平湖): the next major lake in the Daisetsuzan area. At one point, the rain stopped for a few minutes, and we hoped for the best, a slight possibility of getting food at Lake Nukabira and going up Daisetsuzan. Well, the rain returned, and we arived at Lake Nukabira, again all soaked up. Half way, my "garbage bag pants" became so noisy against the strong wind when going down hill, so, wet pants again. MaiYu's brakes became almost useless with a thick layer of mud and water between the pads and the frame, forcing us to go slowly downhill. So first thing when we entered the Nukabura Lake side village, was to find a shelter to avoid the rain and clean up her breaks.

There was a tiny visitor center at Lake Nukabira. It all looked so fascinating if the weather wasn't that bad. There was no store to restock our food supply though, and the clerk told us the weather was getting worse. On the good side, Nukabira is famous for hot spring baths (onsen, 温泉), and there were several nice restaurants. We went to an old onsen place, 元祖 湯元館, which had a nice price, and a "mixed outdoor bath" (混浴露天風呂, a outdoor pool with no separation between gender), just what we needed to heat up our freezing bodies. Well, with Japanese onsen baths, you should first clean off your self with a shower, then choose which pool (cool or hot, indoor or outdoor) you'd like to sit in. Well, it's about noon, and there's only 2~3 other guests other then us. I thought, wouldn't it be real cool to be all naked outside? Sure enough, the indoor bath room was filled with hot moisture, and everytime someone opens the door to the outside, a freezing cool wind came blowing in. Brrrrr.... Sitting in the indoor pool, the girls shouted at me from the other side: "We go out first, we'll tell you when we're back in!" (all public baths had a wall between the men & woman area but left a gap near the roof for talking and air to circulate) I was like, err, isn't there other guys other then us? 毅軍 had told them previously that he wouldn't be going out, so they only shouted at me. Well, sitting too long in the indoor pool was a little boring, so, we alternate several times between shower, pool, shower, pool. Almost 30 minutes later, no shouting from the girls (what were they doing so long outside?). Screw it, and I walked out, just to see two skinny backs standing outside, chatting. I wouldn't want to be chased out as if perverts in anime, although it really was a "mixed onsen". So, silently, I went back to sit indoors. Sometime later, they finally shouted their return, and out I went. Well, not bad, everyone else had left and I had the outdoor pool all to myself. Although the walk to the pool was freezing cold, it was really nice once you get in the pool. Your body's hot, the part near the water was warm from the steam was warm, the top of your head was cold, and the pool was on a clift over seeing a small stream flowing under trees. The water doesn't seem as clean outside as there were floating dead leaves, but all the good things made up for that. I soon got bored and was the first to get out. The public bath had a free public PC with internet access in the lobby. A check of the weather reveled that almost the whole southern Hokkaido was raining and to be continuing for weeks. But I also checked my mail, and boy oh boy, my lab mate wrote to tell me that the EBV Zta gene promoter deletions constructs that I did right after I left was a success! From that moment on, I became happy for the rest of the day. ("Screw the rain, I got constructs done!") Waiting for my friends who seemed to be enjoying the onsen for a much longer time then me, I meet several motorcycle travelers arriving: more touring mates with the same map. Interestingly, they all had plans to ride through Daisetsuzan, and forced to stop here at Lake Nukabira either to rest and wait for better weather, or just have a hot bath to warm up.

We had lunch right across the street at the "Nukabira Onsen Hotel Naushika restaurant (糠平温泉ホテル レストラン ナウシカ)" , because Candy said she really wanted to try the special "deer meat rice bowl" (鹿丼) here. Weirdly, there were pamphlets in the restaurant, telling people to watch out for wild deer in the road, with a photo of a deer after a car accident, it's dead eyes reflecting the light, as if staring at the reader. What a great combination with "deer meat rice bowls"! And then 2 more bikers came in from the rain, walking in with a face, mumbling: "cold, cold...", and then they walked by the "new menu item: deer meat rice bowl" poster, and burst into a comical laughter, with one hand pointing at the poster, the other hand on his stomach, shouting: "っっっ鹿丼!", and laughing as they walked to a seat at the end of the restaurant. Our friend 毅軍 over here behaved in an even more exaggerated manner, mimicking that guy's way of laughing again and again, unstoppable. This would continue for days to come, and I bet his stomach must have ached very badly. Eventually, our "deer meat rice bowls" (鹿丼) came. It was actually not that special, tastes kind of like a more rough and drier beef, and that was that. Yet the weird part is of us four, we got Candy saying that she had a disgusting feel after seeing that dead deer photo, and her deer meat doesn't taste as well under this mood; while 毅軍 was laughing "っっっ鹿丼!" like every 2 minutes as he ate. And that, is the weird situation that we finished our lunch in.

Well, a long slide down hill after lunch brought us out of Daisetsuzan national park. Turns out that on the route to Lake Akan (阿寒湖), the next town was Ashoro (足寄), which is actually still quite far away, and so it was the whole afternoon in the rain.

In order to get there faster, we cut through route 468 (道道468), a tiny route that doesn't seem to be maintained. The road was very, very bumpy, with cracks all over the place. I'd say it's about a crack every 50 cm on the road, worse then some off-road trails. It really feels like riding a train. Could be fun under normal situations, with the bump, bump, bump, bump, bump,... , but my rear pack was loose from day one, with with those bumps, they are falling off almost every 10 meters I go, even when tied onto my rack with rope, forcing me to hold it with one hand and ride with the other single hand. I even re-tied and tightened the rope several times, with the rope eventually getting loose with time. Eventually I got through the bumpy road, but taking care of that got me from the one riding in the front to being 30 minutes behind Candy & 毅軍 in the end (Maiyu always likes to ride in the last).

(Lake Ashoro/足寄湖)

We then connected onto R241 (国道241), that runs pass Lake Ashoro (足寄湖) and into the town of Ashoro. Out of bump & crack land, we now found ourselves on a road with many trucks, mud and dust. Add that to the never ending rain, and soon all the splashes covered our bikes in a mixture of water, mud, dust, sand, and rock. Chemically, it's all H2O & silicon dioxide, but to the eye, it's a mess. All the dirt made me a little embarrassed to step in when we got to the "Lake Ashoro station of the road (道の駅 足寄湖)" rest station.

This station was another place where our map marked "good cheese", but again, the station is 70% occupied by the cheese factory (while walled by glass for visitors to see the process), cheese samples were tiny bits, price very high, and the cheese curry rice combo was sold out for the day. We bought some cheese cake snacks that was slightly disappointing, yet good enough for our hungry stomachs. The best part of the place, though, was the scenery. It was a two story building located on a hill next to Lake Ashoro, so just in the right place to have a panorama of the lake. And also, nice shelter to dry off a little (we started to like the restroom hand driers, which we used on our wet gloves) and warm up. Yet, getting all warm and cozy in the station made me, who was already tired, a little drowsy, so better hit the road and find lodging fast. All tired, warn out and cold, we were no longer in the mood of camping (except for 毅軍 who insisted on saving up on a low budget and spending mainly on food).

Well, there was a free camping site at Ashoro (足寄), where 毅軍 stayed alone that night. The other 3 of us found a little Japanese style business inn (にいつ旅館). It's got wooden floor, paper doors with wood frame, tatami mats (畳), and all the Japanese furniture. It was kind of family style, and the owners (I'd guess it was the dad, mom, grandpa & grandma of the owning family), kindly helped us with all the cleaning up of our messy gear, which we feared would produce a mess in their clean and beautiful room. (My bags were not only covered in sand and dirt, it's got water oozing out!) So after the clean up, we were brought to a room on the 2nd floor. The room consists of a wooden frame gate, a little stone floored hallway where you leave your shoes upon entering, and then a paper slide door that leads into the room, with it's tatami floor slightly raised above the outside. Inside, were the beds (well, kind of like blankets that you sleep on) laid out on the tatami, TV, closet, fridge, and a wooden floored chatting area with a tea table. Everything is so nice. It's more like a suite, but cheaper then a hotel room, just because it's a little town. One difference with hotels is that there's no bath room in the room. Again in Japanese style, public toilets and a public bath with shower and public tub. Something not Japanese about the place was 1st generation Mac computers in the hallways as decoration, talk about a nice surprise.

Dinner was nice and normal Japanese noodles in a near by restaurant. Nothing special to write about, yet still tasty. A walk to the supermarket that night feels really nice. Ashoro is another of those peaceful little towns where people can live relaxed without the tension of large cities yet still get most of the essentials of living near by. Also, we bought ground coffee that night, marked mocha bland, I liked it that it had Ethiopia beans; I don't like the Brazil beans which was also in the bland, but the good smell and slight sourness of Ethiopian mocha was still in there, and so I liked it. This marked the start of our "coffee anywhere" traveling, as we would be making coffee at tourist sites right in front of other tourists in the future, it's a little addition to the trip that would make it much more pleasant and special.

Seems so long after our last time feeling so relaxed, and this really was one of the best nights we had.

(Sorry, not much photos this day due to the rain. My huge lens isn't that useful in rain since the larger the lens, the easier to get rain drops on it.)

July 11th 然別湖 << | >> July 13th 阿寒湖

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Retransforming diffrentiated fibroblasts into pluripotent stem cells

Takahashi et al.,
Induction of Pluripotent Stem Cells from Adult Human Fibroblasts by Defined Factors
Cell (2007), doi:10.1016/j.cell.2007.11.019
PDF file | Cell news report | NYtimes report | Wired report

What a surprise this morning. A glance at my NYtimes and Wired RSS feed and caught this amazing breakthrough. In the layman's language, this means that we could now get stem cells from skin cells, bypassing the messy ethical problems of obtaining stem cells from embryos. This also means that we could now generate stem cell that are compatible with any patient in need. And if you have been reading scientific related news for the past few years, I bed you already know all the therapeutic possibilities of stem cells. Yes, I mean regenerating backup organs and body parts for transplant; but no, not human cloning, which apparently is only of interest of science fiction stories.

Now, down into the details. If you can, I urge you to read the original pdf file of the paper it self. In a very Cell-unlike fashion, this paper is uncomplicated, straightforward and easy to read.

Here's how they did it. Takahashi et al. found 4 genes that could reverse differentiation in differentiated cells: Oct3/4, Sox2, c-Myc, and Klf4. A previous study showed that insertion of these 4 genes could reactivate pluripotency (the "stem cell" ability to develop into many forms of different cells) in mice skin cells. Now they repeated that in adult human dermal fibroblasts (HDF, a kind of skin cell). They used retroviruses as vectors (well, let's say it's a modified-unharmful version of HIV) to transfect the 4 genes into the fibroblasts, and after incubation, they induced the cells into stem cells, which they call "induced pluripotent stem cells" (iPS). Now, farther investigation showed that the iPS cells show several markers of embryonic stem cells (ES), and iPS cells could also be induced into all kinds of cells, including muscle, neural cells, adipose (fat storage), and others. And they could confirm via a genetic screen that the iPS cells were really fibroblasts with the four genes inserted, and not just ES cell contamination.

Of the 4 gene inserts, Oct3/4 & Sox2 are transcription factors that activate pluripotency; while they need the help of c-Myc & Klf4 which modifies chromatin structure (mostly via methylation & histone acetylation regulations) and thus allows Oct3/4 & Sox2 to access their target genes. Will, I'm not familiar with the other 3 genes, yet insertion of c-Myc, a well known oncogene, is downright scary. Also, the genes were inserted with retrovirus, which could insert it's genome into the cell genome randomly, which could also cause oncogenic mutations. Also stated in the discussions were that in the mice experiment, 20% of the induced stem cell generated mice progeny developed cancer due to c-Myc carrying retrovirus reactivation.

This is truly a breakthrough, yet as the author stated, it would be best if a non-gene-insert based method would be developed in the future. Only by eliminating the c-Myc and retrovirus risk factors could this became a safe method of producing transplant ready organs. I am also worried about how the iPS and ES cells differ genetically. If you could still tell apart them through a genetic screen, then would any genes that make up that difference be other risk factors?

Monday, November 19, 2007


Originally uploaded by intellidryad

Puff resting
Originally uploaded by intellidryad

Puff resting 2
Originally uploaded by intellidryad

Playing with my camera...

Virgin Mobile cell phone service

As in the summer of 2006, I am using a prepaid phone service from Virgin Mobile. I originally used this just to save money, as they got the cheapest phone ($20) back then. And although $0.18/minute was a little high, but considering that I don't talk much and I could never use up all my minutes, the $20 per 90 days limit was much cheaper then any other plan that I know of.

Originally, I planned to switch to T-mobile or AT&T once I got a job or went to grad school, since they use the GSM system, and thus I could use a Taiwanese phone with support for Chinese phone books. And also, phones bought in Taiwan are much better then the carrier locked up phones here. And most of all, once I have a greater number of friends here, prepaid phones won't seem that reasonable anymore.

Yet, I am getting more and more satisfied with Virgin Mobile USA. I didn't like them last year as it seems to be a carrier aimed at kids. "My phone has a built-in flash light..." you call that cool? Even worse, the automated customer service system had this semi-hip-hop style recording greeting you: "Hay, what's up?" I am no-longer a kid, and I never liked that style, especially when phone customer service comes in that flavor.

But then, here comes the good part.
1. On the customer service, once you get the retarded automated
voice system to connect you to a real human service rep,
you well get very nice service that'll make you smile.
2. It you set up your credit card to pay automatically every 90 days, that payment limit drops to $15! Yeah, more savings!
3. $15 per month not enough for talking? No problem, if you go to the Virgin Mobile website and opt in to watch video ads, you get a free minute for every ad you watch. (Well, limit to 5/day, though...)

So, if I could get good service with only $15 every 3 months, why sign up for a plan for at least $30/month? As I am accustomed to paying only $4 per month back in Taiwan, with heavy talking, I see no point in a $30 per month charge. To me, all 3 major carriers in the US are heavily over charging.

Although Virgin phones all suck in functionality, at least it makes calls well. Compare that to the expensive smart phones and feature phones that crashes once in a while. I have a phone that only makes calls, and a Clie PDA that does everything else, and both are stable.

Friday, November 16, 2007

ブリーフ&トランクス 青のり

剛剛在ニコニコ動画發現這首搞笑又白痴的歌...... 海苔




不過呢 妳牙齒上的海苔碎片...妳牙齒上的海苔碎片...
這樣好了,大家約會時不要吃大阪燒總可以吧 orz
其餘,請自行體會吧 XD 這樣看影片才有驚喜!

Google 找到的歌詞全文

北海道自転車旅行:Jul 11 大雪山/然別湖へ

It was a very nice morning at Shintoku (新得) rider house, snug and cozy, in our sleeping bags. Well, apparently someone doesn't want to get up...

Well, this was our glorious day of challenging Daisetsuzan (大雪山), yet we still got a little hill and some flat roads across the plains before we get to the foot of the Daisetsuzan mountains.

After some packing and preparations, we once again hit the road, yet this time, with out the bright sun light, it was cloudy, cool and moist, kind of a nice and comfortable weather. The road through the hills separating Shintoku (新得) from the great plains of Tokachi (十勝) had many interesting scenes.

Well, cows weren't a big deal from some people, but most of us were city kids, and I am from a fishery village. So, cows, we liked them.

Hokkaido has a lot of interesting road side stuff promoting driving safety.

Here's a sign next to a down hill that said "watch your speed". Real nice illustrations.

Wow, this traffic safety promotion used a real police car. Yet I'm not sure what that "SS campaign" is.

En route, we met a road construction that left only a one way lane open, so natually, there were officers directing the traffic, letting both directions take turns passing. Apparently, bikes are much more respected on Japanese roads then any other place that I know of. Upon our arrival, the officers stopped traffic of BOTH ways, used the walkie-talkie to tell the officers at the other end: "We have 4 people on bikes crossing", and then cleared the whole section exclusively for our safety. It was only after all 4 of us passed that the cars could pass again. I thanked the officers upon passing, never had this much respect for cycling safety anywhere else!

Soon we were in the Tokachi (十勝) plains riding straight toward Daisetsuzan (大雪山). Well, it's actually a very slight slope, the kind that you could maintain a reasonable speed yet your energy gets exhausted pretty quickly. And I found myself chewing on a piece of chocolate every 3~5 minutes. Not a good situation as we were going to be relying on our own supplies all the way to the peak, and no significant stores were expected along the way. I didn't take a lot of pictures of this part since the plains are all grass, trees, and farms, pretty much the most seen scene through out Hokkaido. And also, the all straight, tiresome slope makes us drowsy, forcing us to slow down and maintain a conversation to prevent dosing off.

The part of the plains right at the foot of Daisetsuzan (大雪山) was called Shikaoi (鹿追). The Chinese origin of the Kanji Characters means "chasing dear", though we have no idea where that name really came from. Here, our map book once again marked a near by "food attraction", called the "Shikaoi Cheese Factory" (鹿追チーズ工房), and commented: "great free cheese samples".

And so, with great trust of our map's gourmet guides, here we are!
It's a cheese shop that makes their own cheese right in the shop. Stepping in the store, we smell a slight hint of disinfectant in the air, kind of like that in hospitals. I guess bacteria infestation would be disastrous in making cheese. We, despite the sizable house, the actual shop was quite small, most of the area walled off to cheese manufacturing. Posters, news clips, and ads posted all over the place praising how good the cheese here was. A woman stepped out of the inside and greeted us at the counter, asking us what we would like. Although we know a little Japanese, most of us were not familiar with cheese names, especially when written in Japanese. Well, I do know some of them, yet it too me some time to realize what English equivalent those Japanese sound like. There were: モッツァレッラ (Mozzarella, sounds more like "MotTsaRerRa" in Japanese), チェダー (Cheddar, "CheDa~" as in Japanese), and ゴーダ (Gouda, this one sound the same in Japanese); and then there are smoked, black pepper, のり(seaweed), and various combinations of the variations of each kind. I am not very familiar with the difference between the 3, and had a very hard time explaining it to my friends after "decrypting" the Japanese cheese names. Well, I tried my best, like "Cheddar is the most common cheese that you sometimes see in cheeseburgers", and "Mozzarella might be slightly bitter, but real great with wine...". Well, most people in Taiwan only know cheese, and have know idea of all the variations as in most places there's only Cheddar. Noticing the difficulty we were having in that cheese discussion, the woman just silently started cutting samples for us to try. Whew, that's much easier. A taste is worth a thousand words in this case. Well, actually it's all very good, we only have to pick our favorite from all the good ones. I liked all the variations, either smoked, pepper or seaweed. In the end we left happily with 2 chunks of different flavors.

There was a "Station of the road" (道の駅) near by. Yet other then paid horse rides and horse related souvenirs, there really weren't much. We had lunch at a curry rice house next door. Very hungry at the moment, we finished our cheese during the wait for the curry. Seems like 80% of the food we tried in Hokkaido were downright delicious, and this curry was once again a winner. The rice was just right, not soggy, not too soft, and we could feel the beads and slight rice sweetness during chewing. The volume of curry to rice is 1:1. And there was also some kind of pickled vegetable served with the meal that we never seen and couldn't identify, yet the taste fits just right with the curry. If my words can't convince you how good it was, how about a picture of my friend licking his plate?

Well, after lunch, we finally started to make the long anticipated climb up Daisetsuzan (大雪山). Our first stop was the camping site next the the lake half way up the mountain: Lake Shikaribetsu (然別湖). Well, for me I felt much more tired on hill climbing when riding too slow, and the others preferred to ride slowly. So once again, I was in the front riding for a distance and then stopping to wait for them.

After sometime, we reached the first "Daisetsuzan National Park" (大雪山国立公園) sign, of course it's picture time.

Well, as we ascended, the temperature dropped fast, much more then we expected (afterwards, we've heard that it was bad timing as there was a slight storm forming). Soon I was forced to cut back on those stops to wait for friends, as continually paddling at a steady rate became a necessity to maintain body temperature. Also, I had to cut back on pictures to avoid the building moisture leaving water drops on my lens. I tried to wait on a resting spot where there was a road side public toilet, in vain as no one showed up for as long as 15 minutes (as I recall). It was then that I noticed two orange fury animals curled together on the parking lot of the public toilet. No fuss here, took a picture before I proceed.

(You could imagine the cold and foggy situation from the photo.) They were the size of stray dogs, yet something didn't seem right. Then one of them stood up, starred at me and slowly came walking toward me. It was then I realized: "That beautiful orange fur, looks exactly like that on the Firefox browser icon! Could it be? It's not a dog?" Half panicking, half excited, I pulled out my camera again. I've never seen a fox in my life, and I am not sure if these carnivals will attack people. I quickly took 2 pictures, not satisfied.

It's still walking toward me, those thin eyes staring straight at mine. Afraid, I put away my camera and slowly rode out of the parking lot. It kept following until I left the lot and got back on the road, then it turned back and again slowly strolled back to it's mate for warmth.

On after thought, I think it really just wanted me to feed him though.

I rode on with mixed feelings. Half of me just went, wow, that was so beautiful. The other half was worried that the other 3 were way too far behind, maybe an hour or two's difference, and it was getting colder and darker. An estimate by reading my map showed that I might be the only one who could get to the camping place before it went dark. Yet I don't have a phone, and I lose some serious body heat if I stop and wait in this weather for an hour. I rode on, slower.

Lake Shikaribetsu (然別湖) was in a valley in the mountains. And so naturally I would pass a peak, and then down hill into the valley. When I came to the peak, it was much worse. It may seem foggy on this side of the peak, yet it was a world of white on the other side.

It seemed like a huge cloud was blocking right in front of me. I got even more hesitant. Packed my camera into my backpack with all the moisture & shock protection, put on more clothes, and zipped my wind breaker's zipper all the way to the top. I waited for another 15~20 minutes, still no one. Well, at least there would be stores next to the lake, or I might be able to check in the camping site or a hotel first. So I sent speeding downhill into the white. The fog soon thickened into rain drops, which made it even colder. My wind breaker was water proof, but my legs were simply freezing cold.

After a long ride down hill, I stopped at the first souvenir shop, put my bike at the most noticeable spot next to the road, and went in, shivering, dripping water. The shop clerk looked at me in shock, then kindly hurried over to the heater, turned the level way up, and told me to stand next to it. I spent the next hour walking around in the store, gaining body heat. I wanted something hot. There was only snacks and candy in the store, the noodle store upstairs seemed to be closed years ago. All I could get was a can of hot coffee from the vendor machine outside, and I had no choice but settle with that.

An hour or so later, 3 more soaking wet figures entered the shop, drawing surprised looks from everyone in the store except me. Whew, at last they arrived. After all that, we hoped to find a real indoor place to stay, yet all there was were 5 star lake side resorts with prices way out of question.

Upon leaving, we bought some strange candy (BBQ and tree trunk flavored caramel anyone?) from the store as a thanks, and set off to the only choice left: the lake side camping site. the camping site was owned and managed by the national park service. There was a huge warehouse storing all sorts of canoes and other lake side recreation gear. We asked upon checking in and paying the fee if we could camp in there due to the cold weather, the ranger answered no, but he sad we could camp under the roof sticking out of the warehouse, and bid us good luck. After a simple dinner, we started looking for alternative solutions for the night.

(Lake Shikaribetsu/然別湖)
We found that the near by wooden built restroom was very new, clean with the aroma of wood, and we could fit a tent in each of the Men & Woman's side. Best of all, with thick walls and doors, and a roof, it was very warm and cozy inside. There was only another group camping there that night, with a minivan and a gigantic tent the size of a 2 car garage. As they also had a right to use the rest room, we went to ask them for permission. They were, shocked at first, and then started laughing. "Yes, it is really cold, just go!"

And so we moved our tents in. There was a knock on the door before we were going to sleep, it was one of the other campers. Just as we started making way for him to use the rest room, he said he just came to see us, bid us "good night, and take care".

Hmm, interesting guy.

I must say, although it's a public toilet, there is no smell other the the pleasant soothing aroma of wood.

July 10th 新得 << | >> July 12th 大雪山から逃げる

Thursday, November 15, 2007

北海道自転車旅行:Jul 10 富良野から、新得まで

This day, we rode the last part of route 237, through Minami-Furano (south Furano, 南富良野), over a mountain into the Tokachi (十勝) area of southern Hokkaido, our last stop before ascending the great heights of Daisetsuzan (大雪山).

This day is all about hills, and there's already a climb between our camping site at Yamabe, Furano (山部 富良野) and Minami-Furano (南富良野). Although slightly cloudy, it was all lush and green. We climbed a little and speed down into a valley in the hills that seems to trap moisture within. There was a sign that said "樹海中" (in a sea of trees). I'm not sure if it's the name of the area or something else, but never the less, liked the sign.

And then another hill before entering Minami-Furano (南富良野).

And another downhill, Minami-Furano, here I come!

Upon entering the Minani-Furano valley, we saw a shaved out ski track on another hill facing us. This must be a lively place during ski season, but now it's covered in grass.

And here we are at the "Minamifurano Station of the road" road side resting place (南富良野道の駅). There was a huge gift shop inside with Hokkaido specific souvenirs. The Puma sports brand parody "Kuma" was there once again. Yet there's much more this time, including "Shika" (シカ, dear), and our favorite: "Buta" (豚, pig), which was drawn as a pink flying pig.

Our map suggested that a place near by called "にわとり牧場" (chicken farm) sells real tasty omelet rice (オムライス, 蛋包飯 as in Chinese). And I found a real cute ad at the "station of the road".

Ad's cute, price is right, and specially recommended by our map, so that would be our lunch. I actually really wanted to try recommendations of our map, "Touring Mapple (昭文社 ツーリングマップル 北海道)", as the info was all from staff traveling along all the routes on motorcycle, and specifically marking any reasonably priced hotel or restaurant that they enjoyed during their investigation. That hard work made me want to trust our map, and I guess that's also why nearly everyone touring Hokkaido on two wheels was using the same map.

En route to dinner, there were signs every where, pointing to a tiny old-styled wooden-built train station. What's so special about it to have that much signs? Turns out it was the main scene of an old award winning Japanese romance movie called "Rail Officer" (鉄道員). I was all excited because I remember seeing parts of it on a plane when I was a kid.

The station, interestingly still had the fiction station name from the movie on it, with the real station name so tiny, you could barely see it.

And turns out the whole movie scene was moved here in memory of the popular movie classic.

That the train car that was in the movie.

A poster in the car.

Even an railway and movie exhibition in the station it self, and a TV showing a segment of the movie in loops. It's actually a man-less station with no officers, yet there were a lot of tourists (yeah, again, a lot of them were also Taiwanese).

This is the platform where the most famous scene where the officer waves goodbye to the heroine who was on a leaving train.

Then, leaving the station, and off to lunch.

Here comes the little chicken sign.

And that cute little house at the end of the route is it.

Welcome to "にわとり牧場" (chicken farm)!
The restaurant was filled with creative carpenter wood work, with rounded edges everywhere.

Can you believe that's the menu?
As the name chicken farm, it's all about chicken and eggs. And you can see the menu is egg shaped. And everything on it is egg related: omelet rice, egg pizza, egg pudding, egg ice cream...

So here comes the egg pizza.

Omelet rice with tomato juice.

Egg pudding & egg ice cream.
What can I say? They are as delicious as they look. Just too bad we didn't have enough money and time for a second serving (most of it is oven baked, so takes some time to serve).

And of course, a chicken farm has a chicken coop.
I would really recommend anyone to go there, yet they are closing shop at the end of this year. At the country side where it is, there simple weren't enough customers. And the owner claimed in the posting near the door, that he loved carpentry more then cooking, as shown by all the work in the shop and devoting half of the shop to selling wooden made toys for babies. They will be only selling the wood work next year. What a shame. Yet if I had a chance to go there again when I have kids, I'd definitely go and pick up a toy.

Previously anticipating the food, I didn't realize it was this big of a slope to the chicken farm... Well, this time we're rolling downhill!

Back on the road, it was the most tiresome climb of the day, up to the peak that divides the Minami-Furano (南富良野) and Tokachi (十勝) areas. And it was blazing hot. Trying to cool down by riding faster to make wind (yes, it was hotter to sit in the sun then ride hard to produce wind). That made me slowly pull away from the other 3 friends. I actually had to stop and rest every time I find one of those scarce shades, in fear I'd loose them.

Will, after some tiresome paddling, here we were at the peak.

Someone built a huge gift shop & food place for travelers here.

And looking back at all the winding roads we climbed, all unseen behind the trees.

Well, there's even a name for the peak, but I don't know how to read it.

And looking down on the other side of the peak: southern Hokkaido. This didn't look right, seems like it's going to rain.

So, trying to get to our next stop before it rains, we speed down the hills fast. Good thing it didn't rain that day, yet it was already cool and moist. Still not a good sign for our climb to Daisetsuzan (大雪山) the next day. Yet, speeding downhill was fun non the less, it's one of the few times that riding a bike would feel more like motorcycle racing in computer games, and much better: the scenery, wind, and speed is all real. And in case there was an accident, we need to position our group so that the one in the back and the middle had all the bike repair gear and first-aid stuff. Good thing I never used my first-aid kit on the road on this trip.

And so down at the foot of the mountain, we found ourselves at the Shintoku train station (新得駅).

Hay, it's the center of gravity of Hokkaido, cool!

Finding a place to stay in this little town wasn't hard. The struggle here is to find the best balance of convenience and price in the choices of little hotels, rider houses and a youth hostel, all 3 marked on our map. And so we once again went to the tourist info desk in the station. Well surprise, the rider house was actually next to
the station, and a public bath on the other side of the station. The rider house was tiny, a truck cargo container outfitted with a wooden and carpet floor. with the size and painted white, it really blends into the background, and we needed to ask 3 different people with 3 different directions to find it (Someone told us to find a orange roof, another said find a black roof; well it was a black topped container next to a orange roofed house).

The rider house was set up by the town government, and it was free, only a sign book to track the usage and leave comments (like people writing "I love this place, thank you!"). There was even electricity to charge our cameras. No bathroom, yet there was a temporary plastic toilet next to it, and the near by train station has public toilets. There were already some guys from Tokyo in there when we got there, and right after we filled up all the space that was left, another group came and left disappointed. Good thing we didn't arrive too late.

Again, our map recommended a "soba place" (そば処) near by, and so, with the great experience at lunch, we happily went for dinner. Although it's a place for soba cold noodles, our map recommended the "couple meal". Too bad other then down right delicious and twice two bowls as a whole huge meal (thus the "couple"), I don't remember much about it.

The public bath near by, was the normal run-of-the-mill bath place: nice and clean, and does what it should. Yet, with free lodging, free electricity, and great food, toilet, bath all near by, Shintoku provided us with one of the most satisfying stays of the trip, and a great rest before climbing Daisetsuzan (大雪山).

July 9th 富良野/山部 <<
| >> July 11th 大雪山/然別湖