Here is a report from my tour last year - some useful info for anyone thinking of heading North! Towards the end of the year I was looking for a nice venue for a week’s biking. I thought for a while about taking my mountainbike to some of my old favourite locations like Utah or Colorado, but as none of my US based friends could make it, I decided to look a little closer to my current home, Japan. I had found the Japan Cycling Navigator site a while ago and looked at the guides to the different areas of the country, and to me it looked like Hokkaido was the number one choice to see a different side of Japan to the crowds and neon of Tokyo. So with the decision made it was time to plan my trip! This was my first tour of more than 3 days length, and also my first in a country where I speak very little of the language and read even less, so I did a fair amount of preparation. The first order of business was to plan a route and accommodation. Looking at the maps and area descriptions, along with the youth hostel locations, I worked out a route that took in mountains, coastal roads, agricultural plains and inland lakes. I would be covering between 50 and 140 km per day, not counting any side trips. This route took me all the way from Asahikawa, in the centre of Hokkaido, to Kushiro, on the south-eastern coast. I had heard that autumn in Hokkaido can be quite busy in places, with many people coming to see the spectacular colours as the leaves change, so I booked into all the youth hostels along the way. (Actually, my wife, who is Japanese, did this for me!) My biggest concern was getting lost, and being unable to find each hostel before darkness fell. Finding maps of Japan is quite difficult since they are labelled in Kanji, however they do have latitude and longitude figures on them, so with a bit of effort it’s possible to get the ones you need. I ended up with 7 sheets of 1:200,000 scale maps (1 cm : 2 km) which I taped together. I also spent a few evenings with Google Earth and Google Maps. Google Earth has accommodation, including youth hostels, marked in Japanese, but the telephone number also appears. You can check the phone number against the numbers on the youth hostel website http://www.youthhostel.or.jp/English/area.htm and verify that it’s the right place. This allowed me to print a large-scale map of each youth hostel and its surroundings. Finally I transferred each hostel location and key points along each day’s route to my GPS unit. If you do this, watch out for the fact that Japanese maps use a different datum from the WGS-84 used by most countries. Next I had to get my bike ready. I was already finding the hills on the roads round Tokyo a struggle with my gear setup, but a change to a 34/50 chainset and 12/27 cassette gave a much more suitable range of gears. Unlike my shorter mountainbike tours, I did not want to be carrying weight on my back, so a rack and panniers were an essential purchase. Despite my bike being set up as a road-racer, it has rack-mounts on the rear dropouts, so I was able to fit the rack very securely. Next came a handlebar mount for my GPS unit and with a set of new tyres to reduce the chances of a puncture my bike was ready to roll.