zaterdag 28 augustus 2010

Ryusei Hillclimb +α  280km +α

Ended up cycling more than 280km through the prefectures of Saitama and Gunma and back with 3,500m elevation gain. Splendid summer day and although it was much too hot to ride fast, I felt in top shape and so did my Super Six. The evening before, I had oiled the shift cables running inside the railed plate attached under the bottom bracket. What a difference this made to the shifting – so smooth and stress-free! I should oil this area more often.

Today’s plan was to do a course reconnaissance of the Ryusei Hillclimb 龍勢ヒルクライム, a popular HC race held annually in November. First I rode from home to Chichibu following my usual route through Ikusabata over Yamabushi-toge. I then kept following R299 until the Yoshida-machi turnoff and easily found roads #37 and #363 where the race starts. The first part of the course (a mere 16.4 km in length) is in a very idyllic setting. More serious climbing with 16% sections starts after taking the right turn through the Jomine Torii shrine gate. There are many road signs showing the way to Jomine-san 城峯山 (1,037.7m) and its shrine but many of them are intended for hikers. The summit of Jomine-san and the end of the hillclimb race was a bit of an anti-climax as there is really not much more than a gravel road leading to the shrine and two rindos heading down. I took the wrong one on the right descending towards Chichibu whereas I was supposed to go left direction Minano-machi 皆野町over Kazahaya-toge 風早峠 and then turn left again to the lake…

Instead I ended up on R44. With no map or navigator, I decided to go North again and followed R44 direction Kodama, eventually turning onto 289 direction Shimokubo Dam下久保ダム. I was getting hungry and there were no conbinis around until I finally hit a Yamazaki store on National Route 462. Here I refueled and chatted a bit with the old lady behind the register. “How far left until the lake?” I asked. “Just 4 more kilometers” she replied to which her husband in the back of the store who had obviously been overhearing our conversation, half-sarcastically chimed in “demo, zutto nobori-ppanashi da yo!”

I reached Lake Kanna 神流湖 in no time – contrary to the Yamazaki old man’s advice, there was not much climbing. From the lake all the way to Kagahara 神ヶ原, R462 is a beauty in terms of gentle rollers following an undulating pattern between 290m and 330m elevation and running through the very Showa-esque town of Manba-machi 万場町(since 2003 called Kanna-machi 神流町following a merger with the neighboring village of Nakazato-mura). The entire area here is Gunma Prefecture territory. The artificial lake of Kanna lies sandwiched between Gunma and Saitama prefecture. The lake was formed after the Shimokubo Dam was completed in 1968 with water provided mainly from the Tone River 利根川. I learned afterwards that Lake Kanna and environments is considered to be a haunted spot. To construct the dam, an entire hamlet was flooded (this seems to be standard practice in this country), now laying buried under the lake together with graveyards. During the dam’s construction, several workmen died in accidents and once the dam and lake were completed, the place became a favorite suicide spot (people jumping from the red bridge). Believe it or not, many kinds of restless souls today thus keep on haunting the whole area! During spring, the lake is popular for its sakura and several hanami viewers have allegedly been approached by an old man wearing a dirty work uniform telling them in a deep gravelly voice : “so don’t tell me you just came here to watch the cherry blossoms!” before disappearing in the nowhere…some psychic stuff.

I continued along R462 direction Sakuho town and saw many signs calling this route Flower Road or something like that. Before the R299 turnoff at Kagahara (from this point on, R462 changes into R299), I passed several welcome signboards and dinosaurs statues…somewhere along R299 between Shigasaka and Kagahara, a huge dinosaur’s footprint was discovered on a piece of rock and this had to be commemorated with a dinosaur park… The parking lot near the footprint locus was full…parents helping their kids finish their summer homework, I guess. Dinosaurs have always been a favorite topic.

The downhill to Chichibu was fast and I could easily escape the thunderclouds building up behind my back. Once over Yamabushi-toge, I refreshed myself at the holy fountain and cleaned my bike – very handy those towels hanging there! It was already dark by the time I got home. The last 40k or so felt great – temperature had gone down considerably and I felt very comfortable turning the pedals. I intend to explore the Mt. Jomine and Lake Kanna area again soon!

OK...here's the route.
...and here are the pics:









































































































































































maandag 23 augustus 2010

Yoruren ?


Photo by Saruto

Red dragonflies, withered leaves, a slightly cool evening breeze…slowly but surely signs are appearing that the lingering summer heat has finally begun to wane these days. This year, late-summer heat has been particular brutal. Yesterday was no exception. With Katsunuma-basin heat from Saturday still trapped inside my body, I woke up early to join the V練 asaren. Already before we started out from Koremasa Bridge, I was sweating profusely...sweat came pouring down my arms in one constant stream - very strange as only the day before I felt cool & invincible on the Onekan! I suppose my body was sending out red alert signs. Racing down the Mutsumibashi / Itsukaichi kaido in near heat-stroke temperatures and oppressive humidity, I got completely dropped by my VLAAMS buddies and the gap kept widening…how utterly embarrassing! I knew I was not going to make it to Kobu Tunnel and decided to double-back alone having barely reached 50k. Got home before 10:00 in the morning and then spent the rest of the day eating out and relaxing with the family. I guess I should be taking more breaks or abandon the early morning asarens for late afternoon "yorurens" like David L’s wonderful ride yesterday. A shift in time zone may open up new horizons and sights!

zaterdag 21 augustus 2010

Last time in this heat ?

Wore my Belgian tricolor jersey today...usually reserved for special occasions such as my big annual Itoigawa race or a long-overdue ride with a fellow countryman. Alas...circumstances prevented my compatriot from joining as planned. Zut alors !




My VLAAMS mates had already left on their asaren one hour earlier so here I was unplugged on the Tamasai wondering how to change today's ride plan. I ended up cycling more than 240k and climbing some 3,400 meters to Enzan/Katsunuma and back in a nice loop.
















Temperatures were crazy around noon...the sun felt scorching hot slowing me down and making me frequent every other conbini for a garigarikun. Skipped Sasago-toge as the traffic was fairly light and the hated tunnel - for a change - appeared alluring like a well-airconditioned room.














At Saruhashi, I turned right to R35 over my beloved Suzugane-toge and from here I rode without stopping to Lake Tsukui. After gobbling down my umpteenth garigarikun, I rode back home over the "Hiroshi Twist" and Onekan. On the Onekan, already well over 200k, I got my second wind giving me that invincible feeling...nothing more than only the feeling of course.


























zaterdag 14 augustus 2010

釜伏峠 Kamafuse-toge Loop


















Last ride of this year's summer vacation started as an asaren with my VLAAMS buddies and mostly SOLO thereafter. I wanted to go a little further than my previous ride through Higashi-Chichibu and scale the last toge on what appears to be a continuation of "Green Line". Overcast skies with soft rain now and then. Had two soft creams at the farm this time...the taste is simply irresistable!

Kamafuse-toge was a pretty much deserted place; not feeling like a mountain pass at all. A little higher up is a shrine called Kamayama-jinja 釜山神社. The shrine's amulet/souvenir shop was unmanned and falling into ruins...another haikyo in the making?

The steps leading to the main shrine were extremely slippery and I almost tumbled carrying my bike. At regular intervals pairs of stone guardian dogs adorned the road leading to the shrine. Some of these komainu looked very nice and old - a couple centuries for sure while others were obviously later additions and rather kitschy in appearance.

The road back to Ome was more crowded than usual...lots of families camping out down the river. Tomorrow no cycling...

vrijdag 13 augustus 2010

Father - Daughter Team











A few terrible mid-week vacation days behind (food poisoning or allergic reaction (?) after eating scallops for lunch on Monday...) wanting to ride but totally uncapable of doing so (and ending up envying TCC buddies who went on a nice long ride Wednesday), I finally could muster the strength to go out riding with my youngest daughter now back...our first ride together on real road racers! Still clipless but already starting to look menacing in the mountains....

On the Tamasai, a familiar-looking bearded elderly guy on a Trek Madone 6.9 passed us. Near the end, he stopped and took off his helmet...here was Haruka Takachiho himself !

We went as far as the little bakery at height 583m on Hinohara Hwy for a 110km-long ride (my daughter's first ride on a road racer...). Great was her disappointment and even greater her exhaustion after learning the bakery was closed today. Inside the bakery, however, light was on and my daughter peeked inside...the bakery was full with goodies! We caught the attention of the friendly bakery lady who was busy kneading dough and begged her to sell us a few pieces...pumpkin, carrot and figs. That really made the day for my daughter!

On our way back, the first raindrops started to fall once we passed Itsukaichi and just before a spot called 雨間 Amema (where else ?!), we got caught in a real downpour. A conbini nearby provided shelter and here we met Take-san of Hoshino-san's team PianoPiano. Sure Take-san knew of Tictac-san. The rain wouldn't stop though and we rode on direction Mutsumibashi...my daughter crying out loud..."those raindrops hurt!" It was raining harder again but fortunately not for too long. Once on the Tamasai, the road was cork dry again. I showed my daughter how to drain rain accumulated inside the frame and she was surprised to see the amount of water flow out of the little drainage holes.

Once home, I had to clean not one but two bikes but I was very happy and proud to be able to do so! Looking forward to more rides as a father-daughter team! Starting next year, my daughter intends to enter hillclimb races....

zaterdag 7 augustus 2010

粥新田峠 Green Line, Soft Cream, Les Vacances!

Joined the VLAAMS asaren until Itsukaichi - tried to outsprint everybody in front of the station but Ace Yamazaki easily caught up and won with one bike-length difference.

The rest of my ride into Higashi Chichibu was a solo affair...cresting the usual toges: Yamabushi, Shomaru, Karibazaka, Shiraishi and Sadamine where I turned right and followed R11 for a while riding through the beautiful scenery of Kaiya 皆谷 and then turning left at Hashiba 橋場 onto R361, a very nice route with great gradients leading to Nihongi Pass and Kamafuse-toge 釜伏峠 (533m).

I decided to save those 2 latter passes for another vacation day next week perhaps. Since I had a 15:30 mongen, I opted for Sainokuni Fureai Bokujo and Kayunita-toge instead. It was my first time in this area and I missed the entrance point to Kayunita - getting on a hiking trail leading to the same pass.

After I learned from a farmer that the hiking trail would turn into a narrow dirt road, I turned back and went after my "milk" soft cream at the Sainokuni Fureai Farm...300 yen but worth the money, extremely rich & tasty and not too sweet for a change! I was hesitating...should I have another one?

It was getting late though so I turned back and took the road leading to R82 where the Nijusanya-ji Temple 二十三夜寺 is and this road took me back to R299 - familiar territory again. I definitely want to go back and explore more routes in Higashi Chichibu Village - there is little traffic and the views are quite far-reaching (rare in Kanto!) and spectacular.

I did notice many cyclists and my guess would be that they belong to the Arakawa Tribe (not the Tamagawa Tribe)...

Time: 07:42:04
Distance: 184.28 km
Elevation Gain: 2,577 m
Calories: 5,639 C
Avg Temperature: 31.8 °C
Avg Moving Speed: 24.4 km/h
Max Speed: 68.0 km/h
Best Pace: 00:52 min/km