Words by Dom Sharman, photography by Dom Sharman and Alex Giesswein
From when I first moved to Japan, I have been fascinated by the landscapes and how different they are to the UK, in almost every way. Not only this, but how some areas can sweep from being coastal to mountainous within a seemingly slight geographical area.
This, combined with a desire to be out in nature without the constriction of a hotel or campsite, led an Austrian friend and I to head out to Chiba for a weekend of wild camping and challenging riding. Heading through the Aqua Line, a 9.6km underwater tunnel that links Tokyo and Chiba, we arrived at the beach at Futtsu, a site that felt a million miles from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.
Joined by a Japanese friend whose home town is in the area, we started with an early period of skirting the coast for what would transpire to be the only real flat roads on day one.
These smooth roads soon led us to the first of the types of roads we had set out aiming to ride, a broken up trail meandering steeply up and through a cedar-lined forest, past groups of intrepid hikers. The long ascent, comprised predominantly of loosely packed paths, was technical and provided few respites from the gradient before we eventually crested, only to be greeted by more elevation following only a short, winding downhill.
After the gains came our first taste of the importance of our friend’s local knowledge, a gem of a cafe in the middle of nowhere, serving some astounding confections that went some way to refuelling us.
Despite how tough the first set of climbs had been, we were to be met by more and more arduous tracks. Shortly after having had to carry our bikes around an, effectively, impassable road that had been victim of a massive landslide, we started the most testing trail of the weekend. Regaled with tales of how this route had been passable only ten or so years prior by our Japanese friend, we pushed on over sharp, washed out roads. Rough scree and fragmented paths were all that remained of what was now a haven only to motocross riders.
With this stretch having provided an undisturbed insight into what had once been, we came to a decidedly more ancient vision of the past; a series of hand-carved tunnels running past a remote lake and leading, though seemingly a dead end, to an isolated lakeside shrine.
As the daylight started to wane, we were left with the task of working out where to sleep and, more importantly, what to eat. Having stocked up on food and water, we continued up yet another climb to what was the most fortunate find of the day, an entirely remote picnic spot with more than adequate space for our compact setup.
The area had been subject to heavy rain for the preceding days, leading to abject attempts at lighting a fire. Despite this, we prepared dinner over our burner by headlamp as the temperature started to dip down below 0˚C and the clear night sky unveiled a gallery of stars. Concerned only by whether the local wild boar (Inoshishi) would take an interest in our belongings during our slumber, we turned in for the night.
With a cold, yet welcome, nights sleep having passed, we were awoken by the warm glow of the rising sun cascading through the tent. A solid breakfast of local eggs and some granola, together with freshly ground and brewed coffee, set the foundation of the return leg of the weekender, more trails and more coast.
Having packed and secured our setups, we continued to ascend the same mountain road we had slept alongside before descending through a series of tunnels to what was the standout trail of the weekend (a rough mixture of gravel time-worn roads and atavistic tree roots). This ever-ascending trail brought with it incredible mountain panoramas, coupled with increasing fatigue, but was relatively short lived and followed by rejoining the road system for a well earned, rapid descent.
Having met back up with our Japanese friend and his girlfriend, we went to a secluded natural spring to refill our depleted water bottles. This was to be our last moment in the mountains before a brief lunch break in the forest and an amble back to the coast.
Whilst the mountains had been more than I could have hoped for, the end of this weekend of rides was to be an indelible culmination to our weekend retreat in Chiba. We were led to the beach where we rode alongside the shoreline, the sea almost lapping at our wheels as we struggled for traction.
Having rounded Futtsu Cape and traversed the coastline, we rejoined the final stretch before rinsing off our sandy drive trains with the last of the water in our bidons and making our way back to the city, fortified by an array of some of the most beautiful wilderness Japan has to offer.
Track Dom’s journey on Strava here