zaterdag 28 november 2009

R.76 or the Grand Kanagawa Loop

...Another solo ride today after I had tried in vain to pursuade some of my buddies to join me on a long loop around Kanagawa Pref. Unfortunately Michael was suffering flu symptoms and Hiroshi had to attend an otsuya wake...

I met the VLAAMS boys first at the usual Koremasa RdV spot precisely at sunrise and we rode together until the Hino Bypass. The pace was a bit too fast for my fat tires but I managed to stay up front. The Hino Bypass is a nice alternative to the usual Akikawa approach and before I knew it I was at Takao. No break at the 7/11 today, instead I climbed today's first pass, Otarumi-toge at a leisurely pace.

My plan was to follow Rd. 76 all the way from the beginning but then I got the idea of trying first Gando-toge 厳道峠 , a mountain pass patronized by Hiroshi and Laurent which starts from Akiyama-onsen (on Rd. 35).

According to Hiroshi's blog, Gando-toge was cut through the mountains by poor honey farmers hailing from the Doshi valley who needed a short-cut to Hachioji to sell their merchandise. When they would return and as they were about to crest the last mountain, robbers would appear and deprive the poor farmers of their hard-earned money. This pass became to be known as 盗人峠 "Robbers Pass" and it was only some hundred years later that the name was changed to today's more civilized version.

Gando-toge was much longer than I had imagined and there was one fairly steep section and some splendid views as well. The road connects to Doshimichi and going down there were some superb areas for viewing Fujisan, today unfortunately mostly hidden in the clouds.

Once I hit Doshimichi, I turned left towards the Rd. 76 intersection; this is exactly the area where Doshimichi starts climbing up again after the long downhill from Yamabushi-toge. At the turn-off, I asked an old lady who was pounding rice cakes if I was on the right way to Lake Tanzawa. She frowned at me anxiously and warned me "too dangerous to be going out there all alone!" "Because of bears?, I asked to which she smilingly replied take care!..."Itterasshai !"

I passed by some nice trout fishing establisments and campings and was enjoying the scenery until I hit the first gate. A few hundred meters further behind the curve, the paved road changed into a gravel one. I was a bit nervous as a signboard with Inukoeji Pass 犬超路峠 was pointing in exactly the opposite way and instead I was climbing direction Himeji 姫次.

The name of this pass literally means "pass of the road to be crossed over by dogs" (犬超路峠)and dates back to the Sengoku Warring States when the Tiger of Kai (甲斐、present-day Yamanashi Pref.), Takeda Shingen himself oversaw the expansionary drive of the Takeda Clan beyond the Tanzawa Mountains into Odawara land, territory of the rival Hojo clan. Legend has it that whenever Takeda's ashigaru foot soldiers headed for Odawara, they had their army dogs lead them on this steep and perilous mountain road.

After a while the gravel road became increasingly bumpy; this was no longer gravel I was riding on but solid rocks stuck deep into the ground. The knobby cyclocross tires did a fine job though as I pushed ahead in 34-25 always in the saddle. I was completely by myself and it was very quiet. Nevertheless, it felt as if I was constantly being watched by some creature. I almost panicked when a bunch of rocks came tumbling down some 20 meters further uphill. I guess some scared animal higher up must have triggered a minor landslide.

I stopped only a couple times to take pictures of the mountain range in the North. Next time I go, I will take more to better illustrate the abominable road conditions. The last 2 or 3 kilometers before reaching the Inukoeji Tunnel were paved again...very wide and in near-perfect condition!

The tunnel inside was quite windy but not as dark as I had expected and also free from rocks and other debris; nevertheless I found the place rather spooky and was relieved to reach the other end safe. The first part of the downhill to Lake Tanzawa is exciting, very wide with no cars (2 more gates further down close the area to ordinary traffic)...perfect for honing one's cornering skills.

Down at Lake Tanzawa, I decided to proceed to Odawara as I felt I had done enough climbing already and didn't like the idea of riding too long along the murderous 246 and then having to face a Yabitsu crowded with other cyclists crawling up like ants.

I was tempted to visit Odawara Castle but decided to save this for a next time. On to Enoshima! I was surprised to see so many cyclists on Rd. 1 and 134 most of them riding in groups. When I overtook some of these groups, they would give chase forcing me to push all the fair play to do this with a middle-aged man on 35c tires. At speeds above 35km/h, these tires make a most impressive VOOMVOOMVOOM sound discouraging most chasers to stay in my wheel for too long.

At Enoshima, I took a break to watch the surfer girls and eat a dorayaki... The return trip was along the slow Sakaigawa cycling road over Machida, Onekan, Koremasa....

maandag 23 november 2009

Recuperation / 休養

...was what I had in mind for today so last evening I emailed Hiroshi to cancel our plan for a long overdue joint ride. Last evening I wasn't feeling too well and went to bed with a sore throat. The weatherman also did not sound too enthusiastic so I told my wife "lets get up late and have a nice brunch with sausages"... When we woke up at 8:30, the sky was blue! Too good to be staying in bed for so long! I felt real sorry for Hiroshi and with a guilty conscience I left on my Sirius for one of my short "set courses," this time the Nenogongen loop which is only 130k long but packed with a fair amount of intense suffering. The Saitama roads seemed deserted compared to the Hakone congestion of Saturday.

zondag 15 november 2009

Most colorful ride of the year !

7:15 @ Sekidobashi…Positivo Espress(i)onists Nishibe-san, David L. and surprise “guest” Ludwig all showed up in time. Ludwig, the JCRC D-Class 2009 Champion and last week’s victor at Saiko was intent on doing a Wada-North approach ride…I guess nobody felt like becoming a ball and chain for Ludwig and we politely declined and stuck to our original ride plan: Arima-toge! Another time, when I feel in better shape, I’d like to ride with Ludwig – today, I would have been no match for him; moreover I was on my 35c fat wheels adding a handicap of at least 5% less speed.

We were blessed with gorgeous weather; not a cloud in the sky. David guided us on his favorite approach into Saitama. We passed several groups of cyclists on Nariki-kaido until we reached the Y-junction turning left to Lake Naguri. Nishibe-san, who had run a strong half marathon last weekend, was experiencing orienteering difficulties all day and almost missed the left turn. Towards the end of today’s ride, we unfortunately lost Nishibe-san when he missed the right turn R.53 leading to Yamabushi-toge and instead went straight through Shomaru tunnel!

All three together, we passed the trout-fishing place turning right; this is where the more serious climbing starts. Maple and other trees were in their autumn glory of russets, yellows and reds still with plenty of greens in between. This must be one of the most dynamic routes in Kanto: small waterfalls on both sides of the route, rockfall scattered all over the road, deep potholes almost one meter in diameter… . After a few kilometers, a blockade appeared…”the usual stuff,” I thought without bothering to read the signboard. A few weeks ago, I had done the same and encountered only some lazy woodcutters and two bulldozers on the side of the road. Today, however, we got stopped by an impassable stretch of gravel about 15 meters long but only 30cm or so wide with a two steep inclines of more gravel going all the way up on one side and down about 5 meters on the other side toward the river…one misstep and man and bike would become an instant avalanche! Rather get wet feet instead!...which is exactly what we opted for…cautiously descending the gravel slope into the river flowing below and wading the 15 meters through the cold water and then climbing up the slope again! I don’t think I would have dared to do this alone. To get the complete picture, check out David's spectacular shots! This is one of the nice things of cycling with one’s buddies…you can achieve more!

We passed several mountain hunters in their typical khaki and orange outfits carrying rifles. Could it be that the Saitama Mountain Hunting Association struck a secret deal with the Saitama Wood Cutting Association asking them to render the road impassable and put up those barricades on both sides so that the whole area becomes the exclusive hunting territory of these hunters? I wouldn’t be surprised; after all, Japan is a society of collusion.

On top of Arima-toge, we enjoyed a splendid view of Lake Naguri and surroundings and also were able to see the Shinjuku high-rise buildings. We encountered more dangerous and arrogant hunters on our descent. One jeep carrying two of them almost ran right into David riding entirely on the opposite half of the road. Murderers! David barely escaped a full-frontal collision thanks to a miraculous reflex. I caught a glimpse of the driver…he was laughing behind the wheel! Disgusting!

More beautiful tinted autumn leaves made us forget the near-disastrous encounter and just as David had stopped to photograph some red leaves overhead, his front wheel suddenly went pssshhh…instant flat! Tubeless tires are a bit of a hassle to fix, I learned. The front tire had suffered a side cut which David managed to fix with a piece of plastic after we had inserted an inner tube.

Down in Chichibu, we had a quick lunch and David and I finished the rest of the ride over Yamabushi-toge after we had tried in vain to reconnect with Nishibe-san. Back home, I washed my Ridley and took a long bath followed by a big plate of spaghetti and a glas of chilled beer well-deserved after a high-octane day in the saddle!

"Where there is a will, there is a road!" ... 意志ある所には道がある!

zondag 8 november 2009

Shaking off a jetlag

No better way to shake off a jetlag with a good, long ride through the mountains! Rode 194k today up and down Yanagisawa-toge. Ome-kaido (R411) was rather crowded with cars, buses and bikers ...many 紅葉狩り客 leaf peepers admiring the tinted autumn foliage! I kept a slow but steady pace but clearly was not in my best form. For some reason, my left shoulder and upper arm hurt on the first and fastest part of the descent. I was wearing the short-sleeved knitted jersey I bought earlier this week at the Centrum Ronde van Vlaanderen in Oudenaarde. This Decca "Made in Belgium" jersey felt very comfortable without any sweat accumulating. I'm hoping to get back into shape soon in time for next month's enduro at Tachikawa's Showa Kinen Koen!

donderdag 5 november 2009

Freddy, Oudenaarde en de Muur

Taking advantage of a week-long vacation following a tiring business trip, I decided to go and meet my childhood hero, Freddy Maertens who now works as a curator at the "Centrum Ronde van Vlaanderen" Museum in Oudenaarde.
Inside the museum I asked for Freddy but was told that he is away until next February undergoing rehabilitation following a knee surgery...a pity but I wish Freddy a speedy recovery.
The museum with movie theatre and all the attractions was entirely reserved for my younger brother and myself ! We enjoyed ourselves and even worked up a real good sweat on the VR machines chasing the likes of Vanderaerden on the Patersberg. Almost caught Eric on top with only 43 meters between us (at least according to the simulator!).
My brother and I then took a fitness test where you enter data such as weight, age, sex etc. My little brother must have put the wrong information in the computer and ended up - much to his dismay - with a "weak" score.
After a good beer, spaghetti and "mattentaartje" with coffee inside the museum cafeteria, we headed for the notorious "Muur". Splendid sights, awesome cobblestones, slippery ascents and terrifying gradients. As I was photographing the little chapel on top, two very young cyclists were sprinting past me the last 20 meters circling around that most famous hill. They were fast! Both were on Roger De Vlaeminck bikes, one equipped with a Campagnolo triple, the other with a Shimano...Sora!! Chapeau!