Michinoku Coastal Trail (MCT) Thru-Hike – Day 4 : Abukumagawa river and Iwanuma city

have been pretty lucky about weather situation since Day 1. Today was supposed to be raining again, but when we woke up and opened the curtains, the sun was already up hi shining brightly and outside even looked hot.
There is a Japanese word, Hare-onna/-otoko (晴れ女/晴れ男) to refer someone who always get sunny weather whenever and wherever they go out or on their important events (usually outdoor events). I believe I am definitely a Hare-onna because most of my past hikes were all sunny/cloudy even during rainy season. When I walked Shikoku Pilgrimage for 65 days in Fall 2015, I had only handful rainy day and most of them even fell into my resting day. Shikoku island is usually wetter area than other part of Japan and early fall is typhoon season, but in that particular fall, Shikoku actually got an unusual drought…

We stayed at Watari Onsen Torino Umi (わたり温泉鳥の海) last night. Its big natural onsen is open to public until 8pm, and after that, only overnight guests can keep using it. Last night, we went to use Onsen just before going bed, and then both female side and male side were totally empty, all ours. It was Monday night and off-season, so it should not be surprising if the overnight guests were only two of us.

After checking out, I called the number I got from the taxi we took yesterday if their taxi is available to come to pick us up. By 8am, we were already back in front of the same grocery store by the former castle site, where we branched out of MCT route. The store doesn’t open until 9am, so we started walking and only short walking later, we found a convenience store for getting light breakfast and morning joe (hot milk tea for Erik).

According to MCT official route map, today’s parts would be mostly running on flat terrain and going toword bigger and busier areas. Even with the extra 4km we could not kept walking yesterday, the planned total distance for today was around 24km or so. If all flat, today should be an easy day…. we thought so then.

At first, the MCT trail took us to walk through a quiet famers neighborhood. I found a small olive orchard and got a bit surprised. I really wondered how olive trees originally from dry and sunny Mediterranean climate can be grown here in Tohoku, where, at least in my impression, it is usually very cold and snowy in winter.

As we were walking, quite a few local elders were enjoying their routine morning walk. Practicing the same custom in Shikoku, we greeted each of them (with keeping social distance, of course) “Konichiwa”, or “Ohayo-gozaimasu.” They all smiled and greeted back to us. One of them was a friendly-looking grandpa who was walking his dog. When we greeted to him, he stopped and asked us “are you two walking on Michinoku Shiokaze Trail?”

He told us that he had been walking on MCT in sections. North-bound starting from Soma city (相馬市), he had reached Kesennuma city (気仙沼市) by then. We told him we were taking north-bound too and today was our 4th day. Also told him that we planed to walk the entire route at once for 50 day, so we have to walk 25 to 30km in average, etc. He looked very impressed. He said he can’t walk so long any more, so he had done many many one day hike on MCT to move up to north. His family supports him by driving him to a trailhead and come to pick him up at the goal of the day. His grandchildren sometimes came to walk with him. “One day, I will reach to Aomori goal. That’s my dream and motivation,” his eyes were beaming.
I told him that we hope to be able to see him somewhere up north in his next or near future walk. Since he was way ahead of us then, it seemed not that unrealistic idea.

After saying good-by to him and his doggie who was calmly waiting by his side, we kept walking and soon passed Ōkuma station (逢隈駅), which was our originally planned goal yesterday.
The station had a nice waiting room and some vending machines. We dropped by and took a short coffee/tea break, not knowing how precious opportunity it was. Who knew this vending machine would be the last before long… as long as 15km until we could see the next one.

Today’s route was connecting a lot of local historic sites. We eventually hit Abukumagawa river (阿武隈川) and as soon as we walked up to its riverbank road, there were some several-hundred-year-old stone Buddha images engraved directly on a small rock cliff by the river (田沢磨崖仏.)

From this point, almost half of today’s trails were running along the walk & bike only road on the riverbank, asphalt-paved and mostly super flat. While it was good that no general cars were allowed on the narrow road, it was not so good that obviously there is absolutely no shade, blocking sunshine and heat from us.

The sky was very blue and clear today, and when we turned our head around to the west, we were easily able to see snow-covered Zao mountains (蔵王連峰) standing tall. Early on, the upper part of the mountains were hidden under thick clouds, but eventually they were getting cleared and the mountains started showing their perfect beautiful shapes over the bridges and dams on Abukumagawa river.

Since we saw it first in the morning, the sun seemed specially energetic today, seemingly determined to do its job in full power. I was walking on roadside glassy parts, rather than in the middle of hard concrete paved surface, to try to get some cushions for my feet. Compared to cooler weather day like yesterday, why does feet pain come to attack much more quickly on heated asphalt?
After walking about 3km along the south side of the river, we arrived at very busy Abukumabashi bridge (阿武隈橋). While we were crossing the bridge, we went over the town/city border as well and entered Iwanuma city (岩沼市.)

The busy driveway on the bridge seemed to continue into the busiest part of the city. Far away, we saw a lot of big roadside signs of well-known national chain restaurants and shops standing along both side of the road. Much to our disappointment, MCT trail was not going that direction. Instead, it made a right turn at the other side of the bridge to the narrow road along the east side riverbank. So, we continued walking the same painful heated concrete-paved walk/bike only road and moving away from the busy commercial area with miserable feeling.

At this point, we still had a slight hope that we should be able to find bathrooms and vending machines along the way. We had seen some roadsigns indicating a rest area for bikers a few kilometers ahead of us.
Sadly, we found those rest area was just a table and benches in a hut. No bathroom. Even so, we took a short break and Erik thoroughly put additional sunscreens on his face and around neck.

From my childhood experience of getting my face sun-burned at school spring sports event, I learned how scary spring sunlight actually is. In fact, yesterday’s hike was mostly under the shade of trees in cloudy/slightly raining weather. But still, his face and neck became very red, though he insisted he put much more sunscreens than usual in the morning. So today, he was wearing UV protection cap and tried to keep adding sunscreens for not getting any more sun burns.

I had eaten only breakfast, a rice ball, a small cake and a canned coffee from the convenience store. Luckily, I always kept a few small packs of candies for emergency calories. My body can usually handle not drinking water for long time in hot weather. Even so, we started feeling a bit anxious about where on this route we could meet our dearest vending machine again.
By the way, Erik always keeps an UL water filter bottle in his backpack so that we could get drinkable water from natural springs or bathrooms in emergency. And we were literally by the water all the time throughout MCT route.

We were heading to the river mouth. To our right far away, a line of mountains we traversed yesterday was cutting across the horizon. To our left, almost empty farm lands stretched extensively and the scattered farm houses were usually surrounded by thick tree walls for wind protection.

Finally, we reached the branch point for leaving from this long long monotonous riverbank road walk. The turning point was an old shrine, that was once washed away from the tunami 10 years ago, but it was reconstructed by the faithful local residents in this area.

From the shrine, we walked down the riverbank road and the MCT route now went to cross the broad farmland to the direction of the ocean. Shortly after we started walking the farm land and passed a couple of houses, we found a small makeshift building in an empty houseless former residential area. It seemed so random to us but whatever, our eyes were on one particular thing there… a vending machine!

The building seemed an office/break room for a construction company and their workers were coming in and out while we, the total strangers were standing in front of their office and frantically drinking bottles of tea, coffee and sports drink. The workers seemed totally cool about it and rather looked amused with this unusually tall western guy (Erik.)

These makeshift construction company on-site offices continuously save us from dehydration, wherever we go on thru-hike. By the riverbank or ocean shore, in the middle of huge construction area, in the deep mountain, in any unexpected places, they are there and provide us the precious vending machines.

With an extra bottle of cold green tea in my backpack pocket, I regained a confidence for my survivability. After we walked across the farmland, we turned into a narrow road the MCT route map directed. The road was built a bit higher than other surrounding land and short young pine trees were lining the both side of the road. This road was running to connect some man-made small hills.

Each of the man-made hills was 11m high and had a hut on the top. Obviously, they were meant for an emergency evacuation in case another Tunami comes to this huge and flat coastal area, where we didn’t see any natural terrains high enough to run to within our sight.
After passing a couple of these small hills, the narrow road joined a super straight long long long road cutting through in the middle of….nowhere.

Both side of the road were flat glassy fields and short pine tree bushes were lining outside of them.
Though this road was running along the coastal line, the only thing we could see around the shore was a straight line of tall concrete walls. The roaring sound of hard ocean waves barely reached our ears.
In our sight, far far away, this road literally connected to the horizon. Over there, some road mirages were waving to make us feel even hotter.
I never thought there was such a long straight road in Japan, outside of Hokkaido island.

I thought the riverbank road walking was hard but I was wrong. At least they had some softer natural glass cushions space along the road. There was absolutely no softer place to seek some comfort for my feet on this straight road.
Our walk became a battle against boredom and extra harder feet pains from the well-heated concrete pavements. This area was really deserted and so far away from human lives. During this whole distance, we saw a few cars and bikes only occasionally. On the contrary, birds here were singing energetically. For some reason, I kept thinking of the descriptions in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

We just wanted today’s walk to end as quickly as possible, so we just kept moving our legs automatically, trying not to think or feel.
Then, so out of blue, we found a big black buoy sitting roadside at a corner. A cute illustration of a sheep with an arrow painted on it was indicating a branch road.

“Why sheep?”
“Oh, look at there, another one”
Erik checked google map and found a place called Iwanuma Hitsuji Mura (いわぬまひつじ村) in the area where we were.

** Hitsuji = sheep.   Mura = village

“Why sheep then?”
We got curious. Google map showed the sheep village was only three minutes walk from the corner, not a major detour. Also, whatever the place actually was, as long as it was open to public, there should be what we seriously wanted then… a bathroom.

Before even walking three minutes, the roadside glass fields soon turned paddocks.
“Oh, so it’s real sheep then?”
And yes, it was.

Here they are, we found them in one of the paddocks.

Since this morning, we got olive trees, super hot and dry weather and now sheep. We started seriously doubting if we were really in Tohoku region of Japan. (Probably my stereotypical idea about Tohoku area was incorrect from the beginning.)

As we were standing outside of the paddock fence, all sheep came to us with expectations for food in their eyes.
Their food was available for guests to feed them. We got a cup of it to give the sheep some tea time snacks. We just could not resist the pure but strong pressure of their eyes.

The bathroom in the sheep village was surprisingly nice and clean.
They also sells a few variety of drinks. Looked like they even open a cafe on weekend during high season.
So, make sure to remember the sheep are here, in the middle of the boring long straight road in the heath moor.

Being a bit energized, we got back to walking. After some more torturous walkings, the shadow of Sendai airport, our goal for today, finally appeared on the horizon.
The fact the goal was now in our sight encouraged us to explore what was over the sea wall. We had passed some unpaved paths stretching from the road to the sea walls, so we took the next one to see the ocean.

It was surprisingly cooler on the seawall. We felt strong ocean winds there and realized how much this walls blocked these breeze from the area inside and the road we had been walking.

As getting closer to the airport, more civilizations were gradually coming back in our sight around the road. The MCT route entered in a big sports park. There, finally a good variety of vending machines were waiting for us by the park management office. One of them even had ice creams!

Nearly 15km from Okuma station to this park, no vending machines on the route. As for the one at the construction company on-site office, we don’t know if it will be always there in the future after whatever constructions they were doing are done. We may have been just lucky today, so I think future hikers should not fully count on it.

Whether taking the northbound or the southbound, make sure you are well-prepared for water supply for passing through this area. Only by looking at the map, it looked relatively urban area, so I admit I totally underestimated how hardly accessible to shops and vending machines around here.

Just FYI, after the sports park, there was another park with vending machines and bathrooms.

Now we were almost there, the airport. As we were walking through the last section, a house-like looking building was standing lonely in the center of a big glass field, so randomly.

Approaching closer to take a look, it was actually a half-destroyed house left there after the tunami 10 years ago. This area used to have a big town with hundreds of houses. All of them were washed away then and several lives lost. For some miraculous reason, this house still stood in relatively good shape and had been kept for the memory of the peaceful town before the disaster.

One of the Google map reviews about this house said it was going to be torn down in near future, for safety reasons. We happened to be here to witness the house in the last days of its mission.

We finished Today’s walk at the Sendai airport. There is a train line from the airport to Natori station, so we got on a train to head to our hotel for tonight, which was located in the busy part of the city.

And no, we didn’t realize we had already crossed city border at somewhere just before we came to the airport. Our memory of MCT route in Iwanuma city was sadly all about the hot flat long roads along the river and the ocean. We really hoped something different is waiting for us in Natori city (名取市.)

Our MCT Thru-hike : from late March to mid-May, 2021

Day 4

START : Watari castle

GOAL : Sendai International Airport

  • Distance walked 27.3km
  • Total elevation gain / loss 130m / 117m
  • Time 7h 25m
  • Highest / lowest altitude 32.2m / 0.5m
USEFUL INFORMATION

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