Car Danchi 6: On Location in Kusharo

The Car Danchi filming style has always combined searching for new locations and the unwritten rule we must have fun wherever we go.  Over the last seven or eight years we have made some great "discoveries,” opening up new areas for backcountry riding.  The search generally starts over dinner in someone’s car.  We look at maps and check weather reports.  Wind speeds, rumors, and second hand speculation play into the mix as well. By the time we crawl into our respective sleeping bags, we usually have a short list, and the excitement starts to build.

Hokkaido is a big island, and it starts to feel even bigger in the winter when the roads are covered in ice and snow, easily causing drive times to double. Living near Sapporo, for me the far eastern "Douto" area has always felt very far away.  The central Tokachi Mountain Range is one of our regular hangouts, but we seldom make it past there. 

The Douto area is known for being very cold and not having much snowfall; not great selling points for the Car Danchi crew.  This past year, however, was a turning point, mid March winter decided to take a break and the Sapporo area found itself in a thaw. We rolled the dice on a short three-day trip to an area called "Teshikaga-cho. “ It’s famous for the two crater lakes, Kusharo-ko and Mashu-ko found here, as well as the more than 70 individual natural hot springs.  In the summer it can be a tourist magnet with great camping, canoeing and other outdoor activities, but in the winter it is desolate.

Although it is the same island there is something very different in the air this far east.  The Ainu (Hokkaido's indigenous people) presence can be felt everywhere; the development has been very minimal and the landscapes and views have a primal, wild feel everywhere you look. To say the area is picturesque would certainly be an understatement.  

Although our trip was short we came back with more than we had hoped for. There were free hot springs next to our "danchi” and golden sunrises over a misty frozen lake Kusharo; perfect powder runs from the top of Mt. Mokoto and views of the Okhotsk Sea filled with ice flows; wild deer grazing on the hill sides, natural steam geysers spewing sulfur gases into the air and much more.  Every turn in the road brought a fresh view and the photo ops made frequent stops a must.

Driving home, the shared feeling among our crew was we had only touched the tip of the iceberg and we needed to return. The Douto area, it would seem, will become a regular destination on our winter filming mission.  Wild, unexplored, undeveloped, and under populated—our next frontier!