Photo/IllutrationDuring this year’s Japanese Odyssey, participants head for the first checkpoint at Mount Wanitsukayama, Miyazaki Prefecture, after starting at Sakurajima area, Kagoshima Prefecture. (Provided by Japanese Odyssey)

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It's often said that the best way to get to know a place is to first get lost there.

Emmanuel Bastian, one of two Frenchmen who founded the ultra-distance cycling event Japanese Odyssey, found this out firsthand during its first run in 2015.

“I got lost in a narrow mountain trail and stayed at a small village,” Bastian said.

“When you think about Japan, you picture big cities, advanced technology and crowded trains. But I found green trees, waterfalls and a bridge over beautiful valleys in places I didn’t know much about. This is Japan as well. I wanted many people to have that experience.”

As a result of his experience, Bastion, 48, and Guillaume Schaeffer, 35, decided from then the Odyssey would be themed on discovery, adventure and meeting local people.

The fifth edition of the Odyssey took place from Oct. 12 to 22.

Fifty-four people from 19 countries, including Japan, started the competition on a route of more than 2,000 kilometers from Sakurajima area, Kagoshima Prefecture, to Nihonbashi bridge in Tokyo. Along the way they passed through checkpoints in the Kyushu and Shikoku regions among other places.

Just 22 cyclists finished within the time limit of 252 hours, or 10 and a half days.

Bastian and Schaeffer, both from Strasbourg, eastern France, met at a bike courier company that Bastian ran.

The pair became interested in a trans-Europe cycling race that started in 2013 in which contenders cycle more than 3,000 km without any assistance and started thinking of staging their own competition.

But they thought that there might be a more attractive option for the route and decided to hold it in Japan, which neither had visited.

The Odyssey's rules are simple. Participants cannot seek assistance from others, in principle, and are allowed to use only commercial services that are available for everyone when they have a meal, stay somewhere or have to repair their bicycles.

The competition also allows cyclists to take any route they want to get to the end as long as they pass designated checkpoints and segments (routes) between the start and finish lines.

The routes are packed with sightseeing spots such as “hito” (secluded hot springs) and ancient roads.

This time around, the cyclists were even allowed to board a ship between Oita and Ehime prefectures and between Tokushima and Wakayama prefectures.

GPS tracked the routes participants took, and people could follow competitors' progress on the Odyssey's website, but the organizers kept no official records of the cyclists' times or rankings.

As there isn't a judge, participants serve that role themselves. The cyclist who finished first on the sixth day after the start announced it online for the event's participants.

Event organizers choose different locations for checkpoints and routes of segments of the competition every year. The theme for the second edition was 100 famed Japanese mountains and unpaved roads for the third.

For the fourth edition, the theme was forest roads, and for the fifth the organizers chose Kyushu.

The route of the first edition in 2015 was about 3,200 km, stretching from Sapporo, Hokkaido, to Kagoshima, Kagoshima Prefecture. The two Frenchmen called on people to participate in the event on their website and four others also took part. The event is now internationally well-known among communities for cyclists of ultra-distance races.

Bastian's enthusiasm for the Japanese Odyssey hasn't waned.

“Every time I take part in the event, I feel like this is the last time,” he said. “But after I return to Europe, I’m already thinking about the next one in Japan. I want to start preparation for next year’s event.”

Checkpoints (CP) and segments (S) of Japanese Odyssey 2019

Start: Sakurajima area, Kagoshima Prefecture

CP1: Mount Wanitsukayama, Miyazaki Prefecture

CP2: Nishimera, Miyazaki Prefecture

S3: Itsuki, Kumamoto Prefecture

CP4: Obira Pass tunnel in Miyazaki Prefecture

S5: Kurokawa hot spring area in Kumamoto Prefecture

S6: "Tenku no Michi" (Road in the sky) (Prefectural Road No. 383) on the borders of Ehime and Kochi prefectures

CP7: Kyobashira Pass on the borders of Kochi and Tokushima prefectures

CP8: Naka, Tokushima Prefecture

S9: Between Aridagawa, Wakayama Prefecture, and Mount Gomadanzan, Nara Prefecture

CP10: Okumotori Pass, Wakayama Prefecture

CP11: Kunimidake ski area in Gifu Prefecture

S12: Kanmuriyama Pass on the borders of Gifu and Fukui prefectures

S13: Hida Ontake Hanamomo road (Prefectural Road No. 441) in Gifu Prefecture

CP14: Mikabo Rindo (forest road) in Saitama Prefecture (This checkpoint was canceled since the road was closed)

Goal: Nihonbashi bridge in Tokyo