Norikura

It was almost midnight by the time I reached the base of Norikura after Yakedake, and set up the tent under the roofed terrace of a restaurant, so we slept well if only briefly. At 3.54 precisely, the dawn-viewing bus pulled in to pick up passengers and whisk them to the top of Japan’s highest road, Norikura, at 2800m, to watch dawn break. But I had other plans.

I stashed the tent, assembled the bicycle, and rode up the 10km in the half-light before dawn, just as the birds were waking. This was much more enjoyable than the agony of the hill-climb race in August. Only buses and taxis are now allowed to use this road, so it was safe for Hana to run alongside. The air was still cool and at this altitude, the surrounding green was that of spring.

At the trailhead, I swapped cycling shoes for running shoes, and walked up alongside the last of the snow toward the summit, startling a ptarmigan. Fortunately the dog has been trained not to chase birds (involving walking through flocks of strutting pigeons in the local park and picking her up by the scruff of the neck when she reacts).

At 6 am, the summit was busy with hikers who had come up from the nearby hut. An elderly couple from Nagoya insisted on feeding me a leisurely breakfast before I made my way back to the bike, stuffed the dog in her Montbell (yes, really!) rucksack, and gave Hana the descent of her life. I was back in time for work soon after 9. What a great way to start the day.

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