zondag 31 oktober 2010

Mizzling rain

Always difficult to predict the weather following a typhoon. Weathernews had a sunny mark for today whereas NHK had a more pessimistic outlook predicting rain. I left home with my daughter this morning at 9:00 hoping the sky would clear up by noontime. My plan was to take her to Makime-toge but as we were nearing the top of Otarumi it started to drizzle. Lots of riders - most of them part of the O-Vest チーム練 - were already heading down back to Takao, among them I spotted Jerome...for him quite early in the day still to be heading home already (into night riding* again?)...

I had to caution my daughter to ride slower on the downhill sections as the road was rather slippery. We took a brief stop at the "Fresh-Foods & Liquor Nakamise Chigira Store" where my daughter had a doughnut and a can of "shiruko" sweet red-bean drink. Laurent told me he often takes a rest at this store and the stuff for sale is a lot more attractive than the unvaried merchandise at conbinis PLUS there are benches and even a table.

On our way home, we crossed Lake Tsukui and climbed up R515 where we ran into scattered knots of Japanese macaques all over the road! There must have been several tens of them but luckily the noise of my squeaky cyclocross brakes scared them away...

(* as it turned out, Jerome had indeed been cycling (almost) all night with burube buddy David L.!!)

zondag 24 oktober 2010

Onsen Ride

10km short of 400km and a little more than 5,000m elevation gain this weekend! Ludwig and I left together from Koremasa Bridge on Saturday and cycled all the way to Shima-onsen 四万温泉 in Gunma Pref. This morning, we parted in Takasaki where Ludwig hopped a Shinkansen homewards. I instead opted to add my customary junk miles by continuing along the urban sprawls of Takasaki and Fujioka. In contrast, the road (R 44) connecting Nagatoro 長瀞町 to Chichibu was quite pleasant.

Map and details of the ride here: Day One / Day Two

Three highlights of this two-day ride were the crazily-steep Shiozawa-toge 塩沢峠, the very chilly Mount and Lake Haruna 榛名山・榛名湖 and the picturesque Shima-onsen 四万温泉 hot spring resort of Nakanojo 中之条町.
Shiozawa-toge is of course that notorious ridge perhaps better known to regular readers of the Positivo Espresso blog as the “Abattoir of the Russian”…I persisted though, never setting foot on wall until the Samurai Marathon signboards where I waited for my mate to catch up.

The dormant volcano of Haruna (highest peak measuring 1,449m) is also called Harunafuji for its symmetrical cone resembling Fujisan, very elegant indeed. Climbing Haruna-san was a bit tedious though with plenty of traffic going up and down. When I finally reached the borders of the crater lake (also known as a “caldera lake”), the wind blowing down the mountain and over the water felt immensely chilly. I was relieved to be reunited with Ludwig a few moments later.

We both reached the hot spring resort of Shima tucked away into the mountains north of Nakanojo without any mishaps. We saw many couples – younger and middle-aged strolling along the main onsen road as we cycled our way up. I liked the cosy atmosphere in contrast to more commercialized hot spring towns like Kusatsu. Our ryokan with rotemburo was a bit outside the inner cluster of hot springs and was not bad – just "ma-ma so-so". Next time, I should take more time to research the ryokans and make reservations well ahead.

This morning, we skipped breakfast at the ryokan and were rolling already before 6:00. Less than 8 hours later and with one-third less the climbing of the previous day I rang the front gate bell of my home…

More pictures following below:

zondag 17 oktober 2010


No more power in the legs! Each time the gradient would reach 5%, my legs felt like mayonnaise...

I felt sorry for Ichiro-san who would thoughtfully lower tempo each time I felt behind all the way to Okutama. I had agreed to accompany him on this Okinawa training and the reward would have been Katsunuma grapes. Yesterday's Gunma Loop had clearly taken a toll much heavier than I had imagined and so I ended up making my adieu to Ichiro-san. Not unlike a zombie on wheels I circled around Lake Okutama to return via Tomin-no-mori. It was still only 8:00 and the gates were closed which was comforting as I had the entire width of the road just for myself zigzagging all the way to the top with nobody able to witness my disgraceful shape! For shame! I didn't know the road actually gets closed to traffic at night and I guess they open them at 8:30...

Once down at the Itsukaichi 7/11 I spotted Nishibe-san who had run into David L. I hadn't seen both of them for quite a while and so we took a few souvenir pictures. Once home, I showered, ate some chahan and slept for a few hours...legs up in the air.

zaterdag 16 oktober 2010

Persuasive power...177

This morning's V練 training session welcomed 2 special guests: Oiwa-san (Ogawa-san's friend) and JCRC Champ Ludwig! Ludwig had been mentally prepared and laudably tempered down that burning Positivo Espresso spirit...while very patiently waiting for the traffic lights to turn green, we all had some good conversation going and in spite of all this praiseworthy (?) compliance with the traffic regulations, we reached Itsukaichi at the strong average speed of 29.2km/h (same for Ludwig who had covered much more distance).

We were blessed with splendid autumn weather all day and once again I had been carrying my windbreaker in vain...short sleeves all the way! Ludwig broke the incredibly long-standing Togebaka record of MOB on Umegaoka-toge (Umechan) with myself right behind his back wheel. I was on my downshifter steel bike and dancing that very last stretch upward, there is no way one can reach down to the shifters. While Ludwig seemed to be enjoying a brief moment of gemuetlichkeit on top of Umechan , I overtook him and sped down direction Ikusabata. We all gathered at the Sankus combini and decided to ride towards Yamabushi. Ludwig and I took the lead scaling Osawa-toge. Oiwa-san must have missed the Naguri turnoff and it was only Saruto-san on our heels. My favorite stretch leading as far as the "Holy Fountain" came up and I couldn't resist doing some good pulling with Ludwig in my slipstream. We were fast!

At the fountain, I filled that marvelous bottle - courtesy of Hiroshi - with that delicious water which I drank when parting from Ludwig a few hours later in Gunma near a mountain called Amefuriyama....Rainy Mountain. The clouds over there were of the "uroko" fishscale-type moving relatively fast high above.

My own ride plan was to go as far as 462 and return to Chichibu either via Tsuchisaka or Shigasaka. Now, Ludwig is very good at persuading people..."going up a little higher won't change much the time you reach Mamba", or, "do you want to loose yet another chance at trying something new?" and so on ... with all those guilt traps in the end I gave in. This is just about when Ludwig spotted a 7/11 in Kamikawa-machi. Alright...why not give the Super Rindo a try ?!

What followed though was an extremely steep and long ascent 200m up to 600m roughly...but very steep, riding through an area known as 鬼石 Onishi, where the ogres throw rocks at each other! This is not exactly what Ludwig and I were doing but we were waging a little internal war of not letting the other escape and hung onto each other all the way! This was great fun - in retrospect of course. Above 600m, the last 300m or so scaling Ishigami-toge and some more minor passes were very pleasant in contrast. Unfortunately, there are not many spots were one can command a good view of the surrounding landscape.

I parted from Ludwig near 雨降峠 Rainy Mountain after discussing next weekend's cyclocross plan. Ludwig's plan was to continue along the Super Rindo and eventually surface in Saku! I decided to descend to 462. At first the road surface was in excellent shape and there were breathtaking views including of Mt. Atago (the weird-shaped mountain in the picture below). 2 kilometers or so before reaching 462, I almost ran into a deep crevice running across the middle of the road! From here all the way down, the road was quite rocky and bumpy.

Today I did not cross Mamba but returned direction Chichibu via Tsuchisaka-toge/tunnel; first time for me to do this from the Gunma side and I must say very pleasant climbing at a constant gradient allowing one to find good rhythm. The rest of the ride was pretty much like all my other recent rides into Gunma.

At the Holy Fountain, I filled up Hiroshi's magic bottle again. Wow, this Holy Water tastes wonderful - even and especially as a chaser to my Old Crow bourbon! Today's GPS map.

maandag 11 oktober 2010

Out of a box

"One of those days that come out of a box"...those were the words of a foreigner/gentleman who crossed Toriu-san and I on our way to Itsukaichi. The weather was simply gorgous...it still possible to cycle short sleeves although we are almost mid-October. This tall guy with blond short hair had excellent cycling manners (using appropriate handsignals and diplomatically negotiating the traffic lights) and even offered to do all the pulling as far as the station after I revealed my ride plan. He was only doing a short ride up to
Tomin-no-mori and showed true sportsmanship (and compassion?) by riding us out of the wind
at a strong pace. Really felt good to reach Itsukaichi at an average of 29km/h. I thanked the guy and parted from Toriu-san as I turned right direction Umegatani-toge and Ikusabata O-hashi.

Only Toriu-san had shown up this morning...the other VLAAMS guys either on their secret Okinawa training or occupied serving their families! I saw Toriu-san's new "hand-made in Japan" steel bike for the first time. What a stunning beauty! "Lug-less" and using 3 different kinds of steel, this Bomberpro must be incredibly fast!

I took the same Mamba loop like last week but this time on my titanium beast, just a tad slower than the Super Six. On top of Tsuchisaka-toge, I noticed for the first time the famous and mysteriously-named Positivo Espresso 「確認」 sticker and "confirmed" it is still there. [認証」 as in authenticated/approved by PE may have been closer to the original intention but still it is very heartwarming to come across one of these lasting vestiges of the one and only MOB.

There were lots of motorbikes everywhere and the traffic was heavier than usual. Today is the third day of the sanrenkyu to celebrate Sports Day and the weather couldn't have been more pleasant. Like on my other recent rides, I was carrying a windbreaker in my back pocket...again no use for that. At times, it even felt a bit too hot.

I got home around 4:30 with plenty of time to thoroughly clean my bike and enjoy a long bath. Time now to get the whiskey out...which one shall we go for? Nikka Pure Malt Red?

zondag 10 oktober 2010


It threatened to be another autumnal rain front day this morning so instead of Wada-toge, my daughter and I decided to walk to Kokubunji to view the 御開帳 once-a-year event when one of the national treasure buddha sculptures in the area gets opened to the public. We often take this walk along お鷹の道 "o-taka-no-michi" a short stroll along a little stream and bamboo groves. Due to the rain early in the morning, there were no stalls at all along both sides of the stairs like other years. A few moments after we arrived, the priests got out and slowly proceeded to a neighbouring temple.

The skies were quickly clearing up by then and we decided to have some tempura-soba nearby before walking back home and getting our bikes ready for a brief ride direction...Wada-toge! The ride was very pleasant with my daughter cruising at much higher speeds than before on the flats (she has been on the home trainer daily lately!).

We took a brief stop at Yuyake-koyake before doing a "reconnaissance" of Wada-toge. It was getting late though and I told my daughter to ride up front and go as far as she wanted. Effortless she completed one-third of Wada until she turned around smiling and telling me she wanted to savour the rest of the climb a next time!