Since winter’s arrival several months ago, my all-terrain bicycle (“the Colonel”) has sat on our balcony, neglected. Getting exposure to all forms of precipitation and freezing temperatures, yet rusting not (technically, it can’t—it’s titanium), it faithfully waited for me until this past weekend when I decided that it was due time to get out into the woods and have some fun off-road. I wasn’t sure of what route I wanted to take, but I had a general sense of the area I was going to head towards, which was primarily the rural farming roads just outside of the base.
To get there, I rode out the main gate up to where “White Pole” road and an unnamed (as far as I know) road intersect, just below the end of the old train tracks. This road follows the contours of the base perimeter up until it intersects with Route 8, which is heavily trafficked and a road I tend to avoid if at all possible.
Just prior to that point however, “Perimeter Road” intersects with another unnamed road that actually, does the same thing and follows the outline of the base until eventually reconnecting with Route 8. It’s off of this second “Perimeter Road” that you can access the dirt roads that continue to wrap around the base and into the local farmlands.
(Dirt road turns off just prior to one of the steepest paved hills in Misawa. If you’re into that sort of thing.)
The path through the woods at this point is mostly gravel with a couple descents and a moderate hill, but nothing technical. You do have to watch out for the occasional Japanese utility truck, but they are small enough to get out of their way without having to go too far off the road.
Emerging from the woods, you’ll come to a “T” with fields in front and the road running out to either side. You’ll want to turn left. You can go right, but you’ll only find disappointment as the trail rounds a corner into the woods and then abruptly ends.
Turning left, you’ll pass by what I call “the dark woods”. The trees are all very tall and foreboding, and it’s just generally dark in there. The type of woods that, if you saw your dog run in there, you would think twice about going in after him. Luckily, you don’t have to go in, you just have to ride past it down the dirt road until it forks, with pavement on your left and more gravel on your right. [If you want to take the paved road, turn to page 47. If you want to take the dirt road, read on.]
Taking the dirt road, you’ll crest a small hill and get a view of portions of Security Hill. The road rambles on under some trees and then there is a rather steep downhill portion that you’ll want to take it easy down, lest you cruise full throttle into the reservoir waiting for you at the bottom.
There is a concrete dam covered in grass on the far side of the reservoir you can ride across to get to the other side. This was as far as I was planning on riding that day, but when I got to the end of the dam, I saw that there was a narrow path down the embankment on the left-hand side. During the summer, this was all overgrown and the path wasn’t visible from the dam, but with all the vegetation dead and crunchy, you can see the makings of a trail.
This part wasn’t very good trail riding, but no bushwhacking was involved, so I can’t complain too much. There are a couple spots you’ll want to dismount and either duck under a tree or walk your bike through, so I would advise taking it easy here as well.
You’ll come out to a short access road that leads right out onto another unnamed road, though if you’ve ever driven along the east side of Lake Ogawara, it should look familiar to you. (It’s the southern part of the road that cuts the base beach off from the rest of the base.) Sadly, it’s time to put your knobbies on the pavement again, but there are some nice views along the way. Like this long abandoned Subaru van, balancing on the edge of the water:
At this point in my venture, I decided I’d keep with my current plan of riding clockwise around the outside of the base. Knowing from previous rides that this road heads up into the Misawa Citizens Forest Park, I figured I could do some more trail riding up there and come back around onto base via the Misawa City Cycling Road.
After riding under one bridge and then over another one, you’ll pass the base beach and then go up the hill a bit. You can either turn left and ride along the lake some more, or go straight up the hill. [To turn left, turn to page 70. To continue straight, keep reading.]
You continue straight up the hill, maybe even climbing out of the saddle, because it’s kinda steep. At the top of the hill is the western terminus of the Misawa City Cycling Road which, if you’ve never been on, is a bike path that runs from the Forest Park to just past the Misawa airport. Before you get too far along the Cycling Road, (or regular road if you decided to stay on it) there is a trailhead just before the bridge, on your right. This is where the second portion of the trail riding begins. I would recommend walking your bike down the steps, because I tried to ride down them like the expert I am not, and almost catapulted myself off the bike.
The trail will follow the base fence until you get to a fork where, again, you get to choose your own adventure. This one I will spoil for you, though: they both end up at the same spot, though the trail that goes into the woods is far better groomed and your best bet.
The trail has some minor hills and dips, but nothing too technical. The floor is covered in pine needles which absorbs a lot of your momentum, so you won’t gain very much speed, although you probably don’t want to be going very fast next to the ravine, anyway.
When the trail doubles back, you’ll come to an “intersection” where you can either keep going straight, or take a left or right. Right will put you on a paved access road that passes the Sumitomo chemical plant and dead-ends at a locked gate to the North Area of base. Left goes down into the ravine, and if you continue straight, you’ll come back out onto the same road you turned off of. If you cross the road, there are some more trails you can explore, but it was getting late in the day, so I decided to head back home.
Taking the Misawa City Cycling Road is the closet you can get to following the base perimeter back around to where you started. Because of the chemical plant and city airport, you’re not going to be able to follow the fenceline around like on the other portions of the base. Also, if you’re out of water at this point, there is a Circle K along the way, and of course a number of vending machines.
I don’t ride trails very often, but I do appreciate the change of scenery that comes along with getting off the road for a while. And while I’m sure there are better routes and more exciting mountain biking destinations in the prefecture, I like that this route doesn’t require you to drive anywhere first. So, with the desire to ride in the dirt satisfied, the Colonel is once again retired to the balcony, and it’s back to the pavement for a while.
- Bicyclist Abroad