My first bike trip came from a desire to see the overland horizon. I headed north to the great landscapes of Hokkaido where a small navigational mistake can lead to long uphill climbs. However, this meant some great downhill descents and, while coasting down some of these hills, I was treated to ultra-marine views of the Okhotsk Sea as it endlessly extends out before you.
During one stretch, my friend and I stopped by a shop with kayaks lying about, and I knocked on the door. Yoha, the kayak guide who looked more suited for wrestling than paddling, came out of the store to greet us.
We discussed a kayak tour and soon settled on a trip to Cape Shiretoko a couple days later. During the downtime before the tour, we gathered local information and supplies. Yoha provided us a laminated topographical map of the area and a white board so we could communicate on the trip.
He also gave us bear bells and reflector bands for our ankles – these nicely complimented the reflective tape on the boats and paddles. Then we set out to sea.
Soon we were paddling along towering cliffs and past sea caves, some allowing enough room for us to venture inside. In the darkness, only the reflective tape was visible, a reliable way for us to keep our bearings.
Paddling on, we came across various natural rock outcroppings, each with its own name in the old Ainu dialect. They often described the shape of the rocks or something noteworthy about the topography of the area. We used the white board often to confirm the meaning with Yoha.
It was fun imagining the landscape and history depicted in the names. For example, Charasenaigawa River (where the falls drop) flows into the ocean at a waterfall named Kashuni (hunting lodge) Falls. My heart was pounding as we made our way under the falls, but the force of the water felt perfect on my sun-drenched skin.
Eventually we paddled into an inlet called Retarawatara (white stonewall and the goddess of mercy) where we could pitch our tents.
We pulled our oars from the water as we stared at the once-in-a-lifetime sunset. The sun was just beginning to drop over the horizon, the celestial orb taking on a particular grandeur as the skies began to dye themselves in colors from orange to purple.
The afterglow continued to broadcast an orange line between sea and sky. It was the first time I’d seen the sun drop so slowly.
This kayak detour in the middle of our bike trip—the caves and the waterfalls, the sun in all its glory—was possible because of our chance meeting with Yoha.
The image of the sun setting across the ocean is burned into our minds because we let our trip take us in unexpected directions.