My week draws to a close with a nice coastal ride up to Niigata. Based on the initial look at my GPS, today will be my lengthiest ride in some time.
The nearly 4-hour trek up the coastline provides me with a rural view not matched since my time in Tohoku.
Seeing as the trip will slice away a good chunk of my day, I'm booked my hotel and other accommodations before I leave.
Upon researching hotels, I came across an overwhelming amount of propaganda for rice. Niigata is known for being a major agricultural hub in the country.
For that reason, it also boasts a reputation for being a strong producer of Sake.
They even have a theme park dedicated to the popular drink, allowing visitors to sample dozens of different varieties. Needless to say, I think I've found my time-killing activity of the day.
Clinging to the luggage rack, my belongings are ready for their longest journey in weeks. With everything in place, I fire up the bike and have a nice coastal drive up to Niigata.
Along the way, I am consumed by the shimmering blue views from the Sea. This is easily one of the coziest rides of the trip, as the mild breeze from the water refreshes my riding gear.
People who don't ride won't understand how easy it is for material to get uncomfortable, mid-drive. The most breathable fabrics have a way of suffocating your skin, under the right conditions.
One thing I did notice on this ride was the difference in power delivery. It appears that the DZed senses the change in altitude, as the bike isn't running at its peak.
It's something I'll have to address in Niigata, as I can't run on the current jetting for the rest of the trip.
The hours of matching blue sky and sea sandwiching me on the road eventually leads me into the outskirts of Niigata. For the sake of convenience, I found a chain hotel on the edge of town.
As much as I'd like to spend every night in Ryokan, my wallet is telling me to splurge on those discount sleeping chains.
The plan is to spend most of the day at the Sake "theme park" as its sheer existence alone earned my eyeball's attention. It's a Museum but is advertised as a theme park for Sake.
I gave the DZed a break after a morning full of throttle chopping. Fortunately, my hotel is close to one of the main stations in town and is only a few stops away.
It'll be a good day for the IC card, as it'll multitask my travel and drink dispensing tasks.
The Sake Museum is conveniently connected to 3 different train stops, so it's easy to reach any entrance.
As you walk into the Museum, you are greeted by a tasting table where you receive coins for sampling.
For 500 yen, you'll receive 5 coins and are allowed to use them to sample from any of the nearly 100 sake varieties.
I will admit, I don't have the strongest taste for alcoholic drinks, so I probably wasn't the best judge of flavor.
Fortunately, the museum offers a list of recommended Sake, for lightweights like me.
Niigata prides itself on its homegrown sake, as many area breweries are on display. Sipping away at the various kinds of sake, I begin to learn a bit about how the drink is made.
Despite being considered more of a wine-based drink, the process of making Sake is similar to that of beer.
They begin by "milling" the rice. This consists of removing the brownish cover of the rice, then polishing/cleaning the remaining particles to be ready for production.
From there, the rice is washed, cooked, broken down into simple sugars, and fermented. In addition to adding yeast, this results in the delicious drink that I'm indulgently consuming today.
I spent the entire afternoon jumping between stations to sample the drink. As you can imagine, the sips of Sake accumulated over time and my fairly light tolerance succumbs to the booze.
There's a display outside one of the entrances of two "salarymen" passed out from a night of drinking.
I wasn't nearly to that level of inebriation, but the drunken mannequins were a sign for me to refrain.
I stumbled to the next available train and mosied my way back to the hotel.
By the time I had returned to my belongings, the sudden sake buzz started to wear off, and I finished my day with a relaxing dinner nearby.
In a brief moment of sobriety, I ponder what tomorrow has in store for me.
I reached for my main bag and retrieve the remaining envelopes, for my journey.
It's hard to believe that I'm only halfway through this adventure, as it feels like a year's worth of events has transpired.
I've never been one to act spontaneously, so this trip has been a bit of a whirlwind for me. So much of my personality is tied to punctuality.
I've pursued everything in life with the same kind of attention and vigor, so it's strange to take a back seat and not decide my next destination.
More than anything, this trip has been a test of my trust. Few people can enable my faith in an endeavor like this, but you've delivered in spades.
There's so much I was able to see, because of you. As an adventurous person, you haven't left any stone unturned or landmarks overlooked.
It's a quest full of amazing sights and as I'm beginning to realize, life lessons I'm beginning to refine.
Gazing at the remaining envelopes only expedites my thrill to finish the back half of this trip, with even more vigor and strength than the first half.
I should have raised a glass of sake to this earlier, but I'll just say it now. Thanks again for your friendship, trust, and caring nature. I swear, I'll find a way to return the favor (someday).
Here's to our friendship and may it last far longer than any ride I can take on two wheels.
Tomorrow, I begin the 2nd half of this trip with a refreshed sense of adventure (and a slight hangover).
I'll see you soon!