During the fifty days of our hike on the Michinoku Coastal Trail, we always booked accommodations to secure our beds in the walls and roofs for the next seven days or eight.
It was mainly because we needed to plan how and where to send our camping gear boxes.
We always used Yamato delivery service (we call them “black cat” for their nationally recognized brand logo.) The black cat allows senders to designate a delivery date within the next seven days from the shipping.
But, except for a couple of nights of the planned camping, there was the only day we didn’t make a plan about where to stay for the night.
That was Day 8, which I am writing about now.
We were heading to downtown Ishinomaki city 石巻市, walking through Higashi-Matsushima city 東松島市 from Miyato island 宮戸島 area today.
Our tentative goal for the day was Ajishima ferry line Ishinomaki-Chuō port 網地島ライン石巻中央発着所 from where our second “hiking on islands” part in the Michinoku Coastal Trail starts next day.
From the all-fish feast minshuku we stayed last night to the port, 35km of walk.
Honestly, I wasn’t confident that I could walk that long distance yet.
The last two times we had to walk all day on the concrete-paved roads cutting through shadeless broad flat land, my foot and back had terrible pain while walking a couple of hours before we reached the day’s goal. According to the MCT map book, today’s route would be another hard-surface paved road through an extensively open area…
We first tried to thoroughly look for any accommodations available around the 25-30km point. But most lodges in this city are either near the central station and the ferry port or around a highway exit far out of the MCT route.
Well…we did find an interesting option. There is a so-called “love hotel” neighborhood just about 30km from our starting point on Miyato island.
The love hotels, often called just “La-bu-ho” in spoken Japanese, usually don’t need (or are probably unavailable for) bookings. So, depending on my feet’ condition when we reach the area, we could drop in one of them and call it a day.
Love hotels are not as unsuitable as it sounds for a lodging option during long-distance walks in Japan.
Nowadays, it is not only for couples anymore. They actively invite single guests and families to use their rooms just like regular hotels. Many rooms have good WiFi connections, microwaves, refrigerators, and of course, always oversized bathtubs and king-sized or even bigger beds guaranteed. Guests can order various food and drink menus from rooms. Some love hotels even allow pre-paid guests free entries during their stay so they can step out for dinner or shopping.
Now, without setting a concrete goal, we started walking early morning.
Passing by the boat deck we got off Suzuki-san’s fishing boat yesterday evening, we found another small fishing boat with the MCT flag there. Not Suzuki-san, but a different man was on the boat.
It was too early for the boat to have already helped northbound hikers cross from Sabusawajima island side to Miyoto side; he must have been waiting for the southbound hikers coming from Ishinomaki city for the three islands today.
It was when we walked along a newly-built wide car road with some parts still under construction to expand the road and build high sea walls.
Small shadows of a group of people far away were approaching this way. It looked like a family of parents and three little kids, all in casual day-hike style. We assumed the MCT hiking support boat at the boat deck was probably waiting for them.
As passing by, we greeted each other. I spotted an older version of the MCT area map in the father’s hand. He said they were Ishinomaki city locals and were going to a weekend family activity, day-hiking, on the MCT Urato islands route. They got off an early morning train at a nearby station and were on the way to the Miyato boat deck: our guess was correct.
“You guys can walk on the sea walls over there. Much cooler in the sea breeze and the views from there were pretty nice,” said the dad, probably reading my already irksome face for the expected all-day-long concrete road walk.
Soon, we came to the new sea walls standing behind a long stretch of sand beach.
We followed the father’s suggestions. As soon as we came up on the wall, we felt refreshing breezes on our clammy faces. Today, the sunlight was not as brutal as three days ago; a bit cloudy and cooler this morning. Hopefully, this better condition would help me to push myself through walking a longer distance on the shadeless flat ground.
The walking path on the sea walls was almost spotless; apparently, few people had walked on it yet. Only strangely, several broken seashells and dried small crabs were scattered around us. These walls must have been a convenient tool for seagulls to drop and break them from high in the air to get shellfish meats.
According to the map, there is a bridge connecting Miyato island and the mainland of the Tohoku region just before the sea walls we were on. But we were unaware we had crossed it because it was such a small bridge.
Around the end of the sea walls, the MCT route line turned to the left and went away from the sand beach. So, we walked down from the walls to follow the route.
For bathrooms and vending machines, we dropped by another Tsunami disaster memorial site 東松島市東日本大震災復興記念公園. This place used to be the original location of Nobiru station 野蒜駅 and the remains of destroyed platform and trail tracks were there.
Afterward, we walked through another ordinary idyllic village and empty farmlands for rice paddies for a while. We rarely saw local people outside, probably because it was still too early for their farming season. Only occasionally, cars passed by on a very quiet road.
After crossing a big bridge over Naruse river 鳴瀬川, the MCT route turned right from the main road again and started going towards the river mouth. Like it or not, we had to walk about 3km up just to cross the bridge and then another 3km down to get back to the beach line again.
MCT runs along the coastal line of the Pacific Ocean side of the Tohoku region; we can totally see there will be many more of this inevitable big detour to cross every single river…
Now we were on a super straight and endlessly long road, cutting through the middle of vast empty farmland for growing rice. We could even see a horizon over there.
Far from us, road mirages like a water paddle shimmering on the heated asphalt.
In this almost human-less land, we saw, on the river dike, only one guy standing and twirling a long stick (we had no idea what he was doing).
This was definitely not a good sign to predict what kind of situation would be waiting ahead of us.
Besides, I am afraid to say this, but we had already gotten bored of the monotonous walk for the last couple of houses. Sigh…we still had more than 20km to go to the ferry port.
At the same time, I was slightly worried about the food availability for the next some hours. Since we started walking this morning, we have passed only a small farmers’ market. I wasn’t hungry then, so I skipped checking out the farmers market window signs about the local signature Baumkuchen.
Probably, I should have gotten some Baumkuchen for my emergency food…
It was halfway through the dead straight road, walking in silence, clammy and totally grilled under the burning sun. Suddenly, a tremendous roar of a jet fighter broke the silence, knocking out our ear drums.
Totally out of the blue, the jet fighter zoomed up from behind a residential area beyond the farmland, made a steep, almost vertical, climbing turn to the upper sky, and flew away at a sonic speed, leaving a beautifully curved jet contrail.
Since we had never seen jet fighters around our place in Tokushima, Shikoku, it was pretty entertaining for us. Meanwhile, we knew it would never be fun to hear that roar every day like people living in those houses over there. Those houses must have especially thick soundproof glass windows.
Finally, we reached the sea walls.
Here, another bicycle path called Kitakami Canal Bicycle Path 北上運河自転車道 started running along the coastline.
Unlike the last one we walked three days ago, this bike road had distance markers on the fences, indicating how far away both ends were. The first marker at the starting point showed 8km, the distance of our miserable fate to walk on the dead straight and concrete-paved road, of course, absolutely without protection from the sun.
My legs suddenly felt heavier, but I managed to make the first few steps of the eight kilometers. Then, we noticed a warehouse-looking building, seemingly a fish packing factory, over an empty land by the bike path. We had become masters of detecting possible signs of vending machines, and much to our relief, we spotted not only one vending machine but two standing outside a side door of the building.
We stepped off the bike road to get some drinks for life. Yes, we MUST.
Bonus point, one of the vending machines even had Erik’s favorite milk tea brand.
Surprisingly, almost half of the bottom row in the display was occupied by that particular brand’s milk tea cans.
It turned so critical that we could get some drinks here because we found out later how far we had to go to see the next drink source…
The last bike road we walked three days ago ran through the middle of windbreak forests of very young pine trees, and there was not much to see around. Compared to that, this canal-side bike road gave us more varied scenery.
The gradually winding Kitakami canal runs mostly parallel to the bike path. Sometimes its extremely calm water flowed on our right side and other times on our left side. Short pine forests or deserted grounds took up that space when the canal was not on one side.
As the bike road was not right behind the sea walls this time, the refreshing ocean winds kept cooling us down while we were exposed to both burning sunlight from above and heat from the burnt concrete road. This made a huge difference.
The most significant thing along the bike road was the airbase of Japan Air Self-Defence Force and its runways visible on our left side almost the entire time we were walking. Air fighters continuously took off, zooming up and down, flew away, and eventually came back landing. Many times, two air fighters took off and flew together. At one time, four of them were flying together in a formation.
With the great help of cool sea breezes and entertained by the unexpected air shows, we kept walking at quite a good pace, and surprisingly, I did not feel the familiar pain on my back or feet yet. Instead, I felt different today; my body condition seemed good and more solid since this morning.
I guess… my body was finally getting back in shape and becoming stronger to walk more distances after the painful struggles in the first week.
We saw only one biker coming from the opposite end passing by us; that was it while walking on this bike road. Unlike the one in Sendai three days ago, there was no rest area or even roofed benches. Since the road runs outside the airforce runways, we guessed facilities for general crowds to hang out should not be placed; therefore, there are no parks, water points, and bathrooms.
We appreciated and felt lucky about the cloudier and cooler weather for walking this part. I cannot emphasize this enough; be well-prepared if anyone dares to walk here on a sunny day in the hot season.
Soon after we finally passed the airbase — about 1.3km to the north end of the bicycle path — the large space between the bike road and the sea walls was a big play park. Even on a weekday, some groups of kids and their moms were enjoying a nice day.
We got excited, not about the colorful swings and slides but about the hope of bathrooms and vending machines. We did see something like them at a corner of spacious parking lots, but simultaneously we found metal net fences separating the park from us. If we still needed to get them, we had to go all the way to the park entrance to enter the parking.
Next to the play park, there was a big ground golf field, and many local seniors were playing and hitting the small balls.
When I was younger, a typical physical activity for Japanese elders was the so-called “gateball,” uniquely invented in Japan, inspired by Croquet. But when I returned from a decade in the US, ground golf had taken over the championship of elders’ sports in Japan.
Anyway, we found other bathrooms and vending machines there, yet again, the metal fences… Forget it. We didn’t run out of drinks yet, and we kept walking.
The official route crossed the Jo-kawa river via another bridge near Rikuzen-Akai station 陸前赤井駅. Then it went down along the other side riverbank to join the canal-side path at the exact opposite side of the river mouth bridge! — WHY!?
Why the extra four kilometers of walking to return to the same point we could easily reach by crossing the bridge over the river mouth as long as we kept going straight?
Again, my obsession with following the “exact route on the official map” still existed. The official length of the MCT is supposed to be 1000km. But, if we skipped all of these extra detour parts and kept taking shortcuts, the total distance would not reach 1000 kilometers.
So, I tried not to see the shortcut way, justifying myself to take the weird detour for more availability of shops and restaurants for the lunch break.
We took the long-awaited lunch break at a national chain casual restaurant shortly after passing the Rikuzen-Akai station. Over the lunch deserts, we evaluated our condition — mostly my leg and back conditions — to consider whether we should keep walking.
The love-hotel area was just down the street from here.
If we kept walking, there were still 15 more kilometers to go until the ferry port.
If we stopped here, we would have to walk that 15km in the extremely early morning tomorrow before the ferry time, as we already booked the future accommodations and necessary arrangements for the particular trip coming in 2 days.
So many “if”s to consider. Erik said I should not force myself to overkill. We still have more than 30 or 40 days to walk to the MCT north trailhead in Aomori.
At the same time, my body condition still seemed quite good, surprisingly.
I promised him I would not hesitate to take a taxi as soon as I felt pain or could not walk anymore. With that in mind, we decided; we continue walking, aiming to reach the ferry port.
Then, I searched, via my all-time favorite Rakuten Travel app, for a business hotel room for us to stay in tonight in the downtown Ishinomaki area. Since there were no accommodations right by the ferry port, we picked up our favorite national chain business hotel and booked a room by tapping a few times on my iPhone display.
Our lunch restaurant was a bit off the MCT route, but I decided not to walk back to join the route at precisely the same point we had left. Instead, we walked through a residential area and went straight down the canal-side road, the quickest way to join the MCT route.
Now the Kitakami canal was cutting across busier areas of the city.
This historical canal was constructed more than 100 years ago for transportation. Rows of old pine trees stood along both sides of the channel, and the old dike road was turned into a lovely walkers’ path with many cherry trees in full bloom.
Finally, the canal reached the great Kyu-kitakami river 旧北上, connecting it to the Naruse River 鳴瀬川 we crossed earlier this morning.
The last 5 km of the MCT route ran on the Kyu-kitakami river’s west banks.
As the sun started setting, many locals walked on the same bank road to go home, to walk their dogs, or for their daily workout.
My feet started feeling pain, but the sore level was much milder enough to handle. At this point, I felt confident that we could make it to the ferry port before dark.
Walking this last part, we chatted about why we felt differently about today’s walk on the concrete-paved road for such a long distance, and it seemed more manageable than before.
One significant factor was the various views along the bicycle path: sand beaches, the canal, the air force runways, and the entertaining free air shows. The seawalls stood further from us this time, providing us with comfortable sea winds.
Especially the difference in scenery gave me a tangible effect on my motivation and energized me — much better than yesterday; all we could see were windshield forests and high concrete seawalls.
The last kilometer to the port was under major construction, and the MCT route was blocked, making us go down from the riverbank and walk through houses for the detour. I tottered through the narrow zigzag streets in the silent residents, as this last interruption made me feel my feet suddenly triple times more painful.
Finally, we arrived at the Ajishima Line Chuou Port 網地島ライン 石巻中央発着所 in the dusk of the evening.
The ferry we would take tomorrow morning for the second islands part of MCT was anchored there.
Today, we marked a new record distance for our MCT hike, 35.5km.
I felt a strong sense of achievement and seriously wanted to praise myself.
For as long as ten hours and a half, walking on entirely asphalt/concrete-paved roads, and look at me, I was still alive.
Much to our disappointment, we didn’t see any taxis around the port.
I googled some local taxi companies and called them, but it was evening commuting time, so all their cars were unavailable.
We started walking along a busy shopping street in the direction of Ishinomaki station, desperately searching for luck to bump into an unoccupied taxi.
Before long — Thank heavens — we spotted a taxi stopping for the red light. Honestly, I was this close to being unable to walk any more meters.
The taxi ride to the business hotel we booked was fantastic. We could even arrange a pick-up by the same taxi company from the hotel to the ferry port tomorrow morning.
All was well, very well today.
Our MCT Thru-hike : from late March to mid-May, 2021
|Start||Minshuku Sakura-so||Finish||Ajishima Line Chuo Port|
|Total Elevation Gain/Loss||105m/108m||Highest/Lowest Altitude||42m / -9m|
Route Inn Ishinomaki Center
- The first and most reliable source of information is the MCT official website
- Do a daily check for updates on detours, route changes, and other heads-ups about the route
- Get the MCT Official hiking map books
- Download GPS data provided by MCT
- MCT hiking challenger/alumni registration