We had a brief panic this morning, when, just after starting out for the nearby Cafe di Espresso, Lois had a sharp, burning pain under her right kneecap when flexing her knee, virtually making it impossible to cycle. She had had occasional twinges in Korea after we had been pushing our bikes up very steep grades (or from cycling against the wind), but it had not been this intense. Lois, fearful of potentially derailing the cycle trip just after having restarted, decided (and Paul concurred) on a 3-pronged approach: ice, double strength Ibuprofen and a support bandage. To our surprise, this (plus a good latte) seemed to relieve the pain and we, also relieved, set off on National Route (highway) #2. Our plan was to follow the #2 and then the Prefecture Road #34 to Takehara, as per the route suggested by Japancycling.org. We were a little concerned that there were no details about the route on this website, nor had we found any blogs describing cycling in this area. However, it was going to take us where we wanted to go, i.e., Onomichi.
Cyclists in Japan use the sidewalks, many of which are pedestrian and cycle paths, and this morning they were crowded with cyclists, many of them students in school uniforms, racing to school. It was a bit unnerving, as no one seems to necessarily stick to one lane, or slow down significantly when coming towards you, and, as Japan has left-hand drive, this compounded our uncertainty. Lois decided that the best strategy was to adopt the Phnom Penh approach – don’t hesitate and keep moving! Once we were out of the city, the sidewalks disappeared and we soon found ourselves ascending on a narrow two-laned highway, with no, or very little, hard shoulder. Worse, the #34 turned out to be a heavily-used truck route. It was a scary and unpleasant couple of hours.
Our friend Alix had put us in touch with her cousin, Andy, who lives in Kumano, a suburban town in the hills just above Hiroshima. As Kumano was on the #34, we had arranged to meet Andy for a quick visit. Speeding downhill into the town we were surprised to see Andy (the only Caucasian) looking out for us on the highway, with his rescue dog, Charlie. Andy was clearly surprised to see us as well and that we had survived the highway! He invited us back to his home where we had an enjoyable visit, drinking tea and chatting, mostly about Japan, and meeting two of his children when they returned from school. When we suggested that it was time to get back on the road, Andy insisted on driving us and our bikes the rest of the way to Takehara in his minivan. He clearly did not think that the #34 was a safe cycle route. Having to agree with him, our protests were weak and we very gratefully accepted the ride.