zondag 25 januari 2009

Cyclist and tombi on the prowl…

Rode solo to Enoshima today following the nice V練 detour over Atsugi. Sublime cycling weather…sunny and very little wind! I left home at 8:50 and arrived at Enoshima around 11:20. There were many surfers out today carrying their surfboard on a cool-looking contraption attached to their bicycles. At the Sankus convenience store, I got myself some chicken sandwiches and a chocolate chip bun to eat on the beach.

I sat down not too far from the waves where the sand was not too wet and not too soft. I took off my helmet, my sunglasses, my neck warmer and my ear warmers and got my sandwiches ready. Just as I was admiring a young lady in her wet suit getting out of the water with her surfboard and about to take a bite in my sandwich, all of sudden something heavy but soft hit the back of my head! Could it be the girl’s boyfriend trying to rough me up because I had been ogling at his lady for too long? For a fraction of a second I thought so but no! He looked back at me straight in the eye as if to say “sorry mate!” Before I could realize what happened, I was holding only two slices of bread in my hand…gone was the juicy piece of fried chicken! While I had been eyeing up a curvaceous young woman (I was also admiring Fuji-san, really!), high up in the sky a tombi 鳶 kite had been wheeling and spying on my sandwich and executed a perfectly-timed nosedive snatching away my lunch…awesome! I felt no anger; I got the tombi's message: God is always watching from high above! I guess my impure mind deserved a little punishment.

Before heading home, I bought some salty jellied bean paste at Tamaya Honten. The first leg of the return trip was along a well-known cycling road officially called 神奈川県道451号藤沢大和自転車道線 which runs along the Sakaigawa 境川 river between Enoshima over Fujisawa and Yamato all the way to Machida (almost 25km long). Not a very fast route this one of course but quite safe and easy to follow.

Rode a total of 270km this weekend…not that bad for January thanks to my newly expanded territory in Kanagawa!

zaterdag 24 januari 2009

Heading south…ending up stuck in the snow!

V練 leaving Koremasa Bridge at 6:30…this has become a weekend ritual for me! I wake up at 5:30 like on every normal weekday, have a piece of toast and a banana with a cup of coffee, get into my cycling wear... by 6:15 I’m already in the saddle direction Koremasa which is really just one single straight road from my home going southwards. For today’s members it was only Sart-san and myself; I guess it is still too much of a sacrifice so early in the year to leave one’s warm bed when it is still pitch dark out!

My mind was set on Kamakura however Sart-san managed to convince me that with today’s mild temperatures it might be worth to test some mountain roads. And so we rode mostly southwards first direction Yamato-shi and then turning to Sagamihara-shi where we took a brief rest at the Lawson on the other side of Showa Bridge next to Echi Shrine 依知神社. From here, we followed the Sagamigawa-river (this is actually the Katsuragawa-river which flows through Yamanashi Pref. – the name changes to Sagamigawa as it passes the dam at Lake Tsukui) as far as Ogura Bridge 小倉橋. The first part of this road is not so nice and rather dangerous with plenty of traffic and almost no escape zone.

I had a real hard time keeping pace with Sart-san once we crossed Koshu-Kaido near Takao on a - for me - new route taking us all the way to Itsukaichi. Sart-san was grinding away in big gear maintaining a constant but very fast pace sending my heartbeat in the 170-range most of the time! I could feel some of my “winter fat” slowly burn away…a very happy sensation indeed.

As we approached Itsukaichi, we were riding behind a bus with destination 繊維団地 “Textile Housing Complex”. As Sart-san pointed out this is obviously a vestige of a once-buoyant local silk industry. This time we were riding along the narrow-ish Kawaguchigawa-river 川口川 until we turned to Shin-Kominetoge Tunnel 新小峰峠トンネル. This new tunnel was completed as recent as in 2002 and has since eliminated the need to crest Komine-toge pass, now closed to traffic and presumably notorious as a 心霊 spot (Tsutomu Miyazaki!!) where psychical phenomena abound… We got through the tunnel unscathed and arrived on the road just beyond Musashi Itsukaichi Station. Here I parted from Sart-san planning to add some more kilometers and test the mountains…

By now the sky was rapidly changing and suddenly there was no more sunlight…temperature dropped instantly and I started having regrets I didn’t cycle back with Sart-san. With no definite destination in mind, I found myself heading towards Kanato. The road surface was not slippery at all. As I was adjusting the tilt of my saddle, an elderly couple walked by and friendly told me the road beyond Kanato was closed to traffic (as usual). I thanked them but thought “what the heck!” I have some special memories of Nokogiriyama…this was my very first real mountain ride some four years or so ago when Laurent introduced me to the joys of cycling on a piping hot August day. I can still vividly remember pieces of conversation we had as Laurent pulled me up this darn little mountain. This is one of the rides that will remain engraved in my mind forever! My plan was to crest Nokogiriyama and then descend to Bentenbashi. Today, however, I only got as far as the top…the downhill part was completely covered in snow and ice…no, no sledging for me – not today!
I was thus forced to double back…to make matters worse it had started to snow and my fingers had gotten awfully cold. At one point, I could no longer brake and decided to walk my Sirius Ti-1 for a while just to warm up the extremities of my body! The rest of the ride homewards was along familiar territory. Contrary to today’s weather forecast for sunny weather, the sky was totally overcast and it began to snow even along the Tamagawa! Not sure where to ride tomorrow…it should be even colder!

maandag 19 januari 2009

Machismo vs Stoicism

One thing I like about riding with the people of VLAAMS Tamasai is their observance of traffic rules; you will almost never see them not stop at red lights and rather than rolling up the side of stopped traffic, they neatly and stoically stay in position behind queued vehicles (I never do that when I'm riding solo but maybe I should as a matter of principle and by way of brushing up my own cyclist etiquette...haha!).

I somehow dislike the wannabe macho types who constantly feel the urge to display their manliness through reckless riding blatantly ignoring red lights. (The same goes for the thinking principle that there is safety in numbers…if we all go through the red light together what can possibly go wrong?)

Frankly, I do not think waiting for a red light to turn green in a godforsaken corner of the Higashi-Chichibu backwoods with absolutely nobody in sight makes any sense but this is exactly what most typical Japanese cycling clubs take for granted! Now that I have (“sort of”) grown used to this routine, I’ve started to appreciate those few seconds in stand-by mode just to take a breather, have a sip, wipe my sunglasses or exchange some comments on the weather or road conditions… Moreover, I'd like to believe that by stopping at red lights we can gain the respect of motorists but this is probably an illusion.

Real machismo can be expressed perhaps not by riding red lights but by braving the elements or cresting a good piece of mountain with panache in style. But then again, maybe this is not called machismo but simply Japanese-style stoicism…or wasn't this whole thing called masochism?

zaterdag 17 januari 2009

Tour de Kanagawa…Benoîton Boulangerie

Looks like my weekly training rides with Tamasai Vlaams (V練) are fastly becoming a new routine this year. As usual, we departed Koremasa Bridge a little after 6:30 heading towards “Onekan” …temperature was -3C ! Since I am still unfamiliar with this new territory, I’m always riding in someone’s slipstream…almost never up front! With mountains or hills virtually absent, this parcourse is very safe and perfect for winter training. We rode by “Lisu-en” Squirrel Park southwards to Machida and Yamato City. Instead of Enoshima, today’s plan was to pay a visit to one of VLAAMS’ favorite bakeries called “Benoîton Boulangerie et Charcuterie” in Isehara City, across Hachimangu Kindergarten. Perfect timing...we arrived at 8:59 – one minute before the bakery opens and there were already about 10 people lining up to get in! Wow…this is some gourmet bakery! If this little bakery were transposed just as it is from Isehara to Paris say, rue du Cherche-Midi…it surely wouldn’t pale against bakeries like Pierre Poilâne and sorts! Freshly baked mouthwatering and very sophisticated pastries and bread…some very unique ones like “pomegranate bread” or “caramelized banana”…yummy!! We savored our special treats at a small nearby park by a convenience store while basking in the sunshine. The ride back home went through Aikawa-machi and Tsukui-ko for a nice loop covering a big chunk of Kanagawa Prefecture. I got home before 13:00 with 119km at an average of 24.8km/h on the computer.

maandag 12 januari 2009

January 12 TCC Holiday Express Ride & Asakawa Dondoyaki Party

Joined a tiny part of TCC’s Holiday Express Ride today organized by Alan. Not fully recovered from the flu, I rode with the pack up to Otarumi-toge, the first climb of the day. After a souvenir picture, I bid my adieus to everyone although my heart really wanted to continue to ride with this happy bunch of cyclists. The thermometer along the way this time read -0 !! Hope everybody will finish the ride without hitting the ice & any accidents.

On my way home along the Asakawa, several Dondoyaki rites were taking place. This agrarian observance to commemorate “Little New Year” dates back to the Heian period (794-1185) with people bringing good-luck charms such as darumasans and New Year’s decorations such as kadomatsu to be consigned to the flames of a bonfire. Burning these New Year's items is supposed to bring good health to the family during the year. People gathered around the bonfire were roasting omochi on bamboo sticks and preparing oshiruko, sweet adzuki-bean soup.

zondag 11 januari 2009

Phlegm(atic) ride around Lake Tsukui

Thick, sticky and stringy…all colors of the rainbow…what a snotty ride I had today! Yet, not at all touched by the breakneck menace of icebahns inclined at angles of 12%+, I remained self-possessed, calm and 100% composed…

I am known among some of cycling buddies for my scaremongering antics and by now most of them can instantly tell if I’m trying to terrify, intimidate or simply pull their legs. I must confess that I get my kicks out of scaring the life out of people by blowing out of all proportion ordinary phenomena, turning a snowflake into an avalanche or simply by making mountains out of molehills. Not a particularly pleasing character trait, I know.

When I was a teenager, my father would often call me “Uncle Harry” after the character (Gale Gordon) in the TV-series “Here’s Lucy!”. I never actually understood what he was trying to insinuate by calling me so but in retrospect, I guess he was doing so because I am not easily touched by impressions and sometimes I’m not even capable of producing a reaction to jokes or a display of emotions. Although I may not possess an above-average inclination to work, I work slowly and with perseverance. Another trait which would categorize me as a phlegmatic person is that I do not easily get upset or frustrated by people trying to tease or offend me. I may be cold and sober and lacking intense passions other than cycling but at the same time I like to think of myself as a deliberate and thoughtful person…

Well then, today, I was desperately trying to get that all that phlegm out of my system for once and for good and what better way to do so I thought than cycling 100km over icy roads! I had been down and bedridden for the last 3 days this week with symptoms of the flu…headache at night, aching muscles and joints, coughing…terrible!

This morning though the pain in my muscles was gone and I decided to get at least a little bit in form before tomorrow’s group ride with buddies from Positivo Espresso and TCC. The weekly Vlaams Tamasai morning training starting at 6:30 was too early for me though and I opted to go solo instead leaving home at 10:00 for a climb of Otarumi and Makime followed by a Hiroshi Twist around the deserted northernmost part of Tsukui-ko and got back around 14:00. It surely is a gratifying feeling…all this phlegm (in Flemish: “fluimen”) finally out of my system! Looking forward to tomorrow’s ride!

zondag 4 januari 2009

BD-1 pottering, Hara Doughnuts

Last day of the winter vacation...sunny weather again! As promised, I went "pottering around" with my wife on a 30km+ slow ride to Jindaiji in Chofu, Kichijoji and back home along the Tamagawa-josui canal. I hadn't ridden my BD-1 Low Gravity for ages and the brakes were badly in need for some oil. I was amazed by the smoothness of the shifting (Shimano Capreo) and the quality of the ride itself. My wife was on her Bridgestone Abios which makes her move a lot faster than on her usual mamachari!

In Kichijoji we did some shopping, bought a "bento" (rice with curry - 3 flavors) at Carnival which we ate in the park behind Kinokuniya while basking in the sunshine. Across the park, I noticed a queue of people in front of an old mansion. The signboard read "Anshin O-yatsu Hara Doughnuts" and it smelled really mouthwatering inside. Apparently, this Hara Doughnuts shop is famous for using natural ingredients such as "okara," the edible pulp separated from soybean milk in the production of tofu. We tried the "Hara Doughnuts, the "Sugar cane Satokibi" and the "Black sesame Kurogoma" doughnuts....delicious! The most simple "Hara" kind uses okara as the main ingredient and was still hot...not unlike a Belgian "oliebol" but a bit healthier I suppose.

As I discovered pottering can be very relaxing. It is surely a nice way to combine one's favorite hobby with some quality time spent together with the wife!

zaterdag 3 januari 2009

To Enoshima along "maniac" roads

Rode with some of my mates from the Vlaams Tamasai Chapter leaving from Koremasa Bridge at 6:30 as usual. This morning's destination was Enoshima and as I had never ridden in that direction before I told my wife I would be back before dark....as it turned out, I was back before noon!! I was taken along some incredible, 「マニアックな道」 roads with many twists and turns too complicated to remember without a GPS! 120km @ 26km/h.

vrijdag 2 januari 2009

2009 Village Climb Series !

Spent a cosy afternoon at Denis' place in Ome together with Kodama-san, Stephen and Takahashi-san enjoying some excellent sake from Gifu ! Kodama-san shared with us his ambitious plan for this year's 2009 Village Climb Series.

The theme of today's discussion was "how to make the Series more sexy (=more appealing) without going too much in the red"....not as easy a task as you one would think !

Kodama-san deserves a lot of praise for his hard work to promote cycling events in this country. I understand that Norikura and other - now famous - hillclimb races were actually his very own brainchild. Eventually the management of those popular cycling events were taken over by big organizations. Norikura today has grown so popular that contestants must be selected by drawing lots... Kodama-san's Village Climb Series on the other hand are of a much more cyclist-friendly format and feature events that are much longer such as the 120km-long Giro de Hotaka. So much more attractive - in my opinion - than circling around Saiko or having to spent a fortune on a trip to Okinawa !

donderdag 1 januari 2009

Happy New Year !

Many bumpy mountain roads ahead this year...
together we can surmount all of them!