zondag 28 november 2010


Ludwig leading me onto a brand-new road to Umechan
(a.k.a. Jerome Hill)
Even though Ludwig is on a heavy alu cyclocross and me on a titanium frame the producer of which once finished the Okinawa Pro Race on the same bike in 4th place (the one & only Hashiken), I had a difficult time keeping up. Look how Ludwig is pulling and don't miss my brand-new toy, the EDGE 800...(less snotwipers)
Classic view of Lake Okutama with moon above
Photo session time...after dropping a weird wheelsucker on a green Testach (the bike was ↑, the guy riding it was ↓)
Introduced Ludwig to my favorite manju-shop near Kosuge. Here one gets real "high-value-added-stuff". I love the lady running the shop (ressembles my own mother)
Heyhey...running against my VP! (=virtual partner; yes, I actually successfully UPloaded a past ride along the same course...was a little faster then)
Time for a classic photo of Fujisan
Beni-imo manju - just in time to prevent a HK (=hunger knock)!
Here's titanium leaning against iron
another classic shot...
Now THIS is an interesting spot...at elevation 1,640m or so (a bit higher actually than Kamihikawa-toge)...why so interesting? When I passed through here last April to train for Itoigawa, a porno movie recording session was going on at full blast...the lady was wearing nothing but a nice kitsune fur-coat and she was into some real heavy action on some guy (I'm not making up this story - this road is still closed to traffic in April and those movie producers seem to have access to this kind of information) & (and of course, I never tell my wife about such encounters in the saddle)
Red & hot, snake skin...hehe....
...there were no monkey families out today... :-(

Today's route: here in Edge 800 version
Today's BGM: Ron Carter All Alone (of which D.B. Blues 5 times in repeat mode)
Hiroko Yakushimaru ("Jidai," twice)
Today's inspiration: ELIJAH CRAIG Kentucky Straight Bourbon 12 years old (94 proof)

zaterdag 27 november 2010

Yuyake Koyake Shiitake

Went cycling with musume this morning...
...short ride to Yuyake Koyake (no Wada today)...
...we found some HUGE shiitake mushrooms on sale and musume got to carry them home. Went Xmas shopping in the afternoon while Nishitani-san fixed my Sirius Ti-1 (new bearings in headset). Peaceful day...new Garmin Edge 800 toy arrived...must now see if I can get it working...am not very good with these high tech devices....

dinsdag 23 november 2010

Afternoon ride on Labor Thanksgiving Day

Tamasai Marathon...better cycling on the down-road!
Musume on Yotsuyabashi
Musume taking the lead
always fully focused
onto the Hiroshi Twist!
Damn fast!
Dominic...that your dog?
Posing with Lake Tsukui in the background
Mighty Onekan!! Musume overtaking male riders with ease!!!

zondag 21 november 2010

Nagano cyclocrossing


Spent the weekend with Ludwig “cyclocrossing” to Uminokuchi Minamimaki in Minamisaku District, Nagano Prefecture and back. This small village lies right at the base of the Yatsugatake mountain range.

As always, Ludwig had meticulously mapped out a fantastic course full of new twists and turns. A common friend of ours by the name of Manfred von Holstein once confided to me that Ludwig never takes the same route twice…his motto is to always add at least one new shortcut, detour or mountain pass. Since we were on our cyclocross bikes, we had a lot of freedom.
Day 1 (Sat) featured a nice gravel road shortcut (turning left before one reaches the Nicchitsu dwellings) with splendid unused tunnels near the top and Budou-toge, a new pass for both of us situated along the 30km long Ueno-Koumi Line which connects Gunma (R299) to Nagano (R141). It was while climbing on this stretch that Ludwig got back to full throttle; riding into Saitama through Chichibu and up to R299, he had been wisely conserving his energies, pedaling mostly in economy mode.

Suddenly out of nowhere, a yellowish dog was staring at us in the middle of the road. As we approached, the frightened wolf-like beast started running up the toge sometimes galloping and always faster than our bikes. I followed the “wolf” all the way to the top where it disappeared in bushes of bamboo grass. We took a brief rest on top of Budo-toge admiring the views but not for too long as it was getting chilly and grassy patches were turning white with frost.

The 12km-long downhill stretch direction Kitamimaki-mura and from there onto Minamimaki was pleasant and stress-free thanks again to Ludwig’s navigating skills and we got very close - less than 1km - to our final destination. However, there were no combinis around and people at the local family restaurant informed us the closest combini was 6km further up R141. What to do? Ludwig was anxious about his wake-up cup of coffee and me about my bedtime whisky so intuitively we decided to bear the burden of riding extra distance along this rather hideous R141 only to get our stuff.

Less than an hour later around dusk, we finally reached Hotel Rakuo ホテル洛奥…tucked away right in Twilight Zone. When booking our room over the phone, Ludwig’s first impression was that our accommodation “could be a bit of a gambling affair”. He had namely been told that the hotel was really scheduled to close on Saturday but that they would nevertheless still welcome us. Somehow, the protagonists of this ryokan - the proprietress/okami in her seventies, her mother in her nineties and her somewhat taciturn but diligent son - did not seem to be of this world. As we entered the foyer with the irori fireplace going on, there was this indescribable atmosphere…the hallway downstairs was barely lit and the stairway and entire second floor were shrouded in darkness. The proprietress, bearing some resemblance to the now-in-retirement Wada Witch, then revealed to Ludwig and I that were the very last guests to stay at her place since Hotel Rakuo was closing down for good…Mystery Solved!

Luckily for us, the old woman turned out to be a friendly and quick-witted lady. She has been running the place for some forty years while also managing a holiday-cottage-to-let business even after her husband passed away. I could only surmise that the business must not have been easy at times…the floor heating system of the little “hotel” alone costs as much as 10,000 yen per day. Fortunately she managed to spin out her retirement all those forty years and will soon be retreating in a little cottage further up the slope. After a most sumptuous dinner in the hotel VIP room, our “madam” pointed towards a huge bike bag she had produced out of nowhere as if by magic asking us “you guys fancy one?”…. Turns out one of the renters of her cottage was a Canadian stock broker who was very much into cycling and “soccer on ice”. When he got a job transfer to an overseas office, however, the guy allegedly left most of his belongings – including his collection of shochus – behind. Ludwig inspected the bike bag and seemed very much tempted. Due to a lack of space at home though, we both politely declined the attractive offer which means that this very sturdy bike bag (the soft case type with casters – good for international flights) is still up for grabs (TCC-ers please take note - will post picture)!

Back in our room upstairs situated right above the irori (talk of “yukadanbo”), Ludwig and I studied the map for Day 2. My tiny bottle (175cl) of Yoichi had by then begun to produce a pleasant effect on me giving me a difficult time to focus on the main and optional routes.

This morning, we got awoken at 5:15 by this most obnoxious tune (note to self, get the link) produced by Ludwig’s handset. Ludwig then showed off his very ingenious bain-marie skills serving himself cups of coffee with milk. Following “breakfast” we somehow managed to grope our way down dark stairs and find our bikes leaning against the guest shoeboxes downstairs. Ludwig even found the hidden switch for turning the hallway’s light on after I had pushed the wrong button and half-panicky set the stairway chairlift into motion. Although we were the only and the LAST guests, the shoeboxes were completely full…it turned out we had been staying within the Twilight Zone after all.

Today’s ride started in subzero temperatures and it didn’t help that we were cycling right next to the Chikumagawa river after the initial warm-up climb of Okura-toge. At some point the temperature dropped as low as minus four degrees. As we were riding towards the lettuce fields of Kawakami-mura, the sun rose on our right side – very spectacular. After a brief stop and my turn for some hot coffee (and a cold waffle) at the local Yamazaki (we got there at 7:27 – 3 minutes before opening), we proceeded on to Mikuni-toge perched between the prefectures of Gunma, Yamanashi and Nagano – hence 三国, three countries. At 1250m or so altitude just as we were walking our bikes around an icy patch on the road, Ludwig began to suffer the first symptoms of frostbite on his hands taking on a jack-knife position and grimacing of pain. Luckily and in spite of the fact that we were going up to even higher altitudes (1700m+), the early morning sun was warming up things a little for us. My own suffering would follow soon after we crested Mikuni-toge.

And suffering I did! I found out to my disgust that my handlebar is totally unsuitable for rocky and steep downhills. Although my X-Fire is a thoroughbred cyclocross bike, I unknowingly put on that hillclimb-specific carbon handlebar designed for road bikes I had laying around in the house. To make matters worse, my preferred 130mm-long stem caused me to almost completely “hang over my front wheel”. I ended up wasting a lot of energy trying not to lose my balance and my hands were aching from too much braking in the wrong position. Thanks to Ludwig’s patient waiting, I made it down to R140.

For lunch we shared 6 boiled eggs – courtesy of Hotel Rakuo - amongst ourselves while basking in the sun at the entrance of Omine tunnel. At the next combini stop, Ludwig assured me there would be no more bumpy and muddy gravel roads and I felt so much relieved I treated myself to some ice-cream and began to clean my bike...

All the cleaning turned out to be in vain. The climb up to the summit of Arima-toge (first time not from Lake Naguri) was comfortable and afforded many spectacular views. The remainder of the ride seemed like it was going to be a blast until we ran into signs warning us of “impassable” sections ahead due to landslides and ongoing road repair works. The first impassable section (which came pre-announced complete with photograph of the site attached to the warning signs) did not prove much of an obstacle game to veteran fence climbers like Ludwig and I. “So,” I reasoned, “the second closed section must be a real piece of cake!” So we climbed a couple more fences that were even lower than the first one and made me even more convinced it would be easily passable. After all, when I hit that one landslide with David L. and Nishibe-san last year, repair work seemed to be near completion and we had discovered a way to circumvent the passage by wading through the river running below. Don’t you worry Ludwig!

CLOSED AREA. CRITICAL EROSION CONDITIONS AHEAD. CLOSED TO ALL MOTORIZED VEHICLES AND BICYCLES!! The Thomas Aquinas in me however urged me to ignore all the warnings… “See before you Believe”. What I got to see some 25 minutes later after Ludwig had been assured by a local (who turned with his minivan at a gravel switchback) that it is indeed impossible to pass through, instantly blew away my false optimism. Double-back…400m of extra climbing along the steepest section of Arima-toge! In grim silence, Ludwig and I worked our way back up to the gravel switchback. This is where my real punishment began! Gravel with big chunks of rocks, mud and 24% drops beat the sh*t out of me. I suffered so much that I swore to Ludwig that this was definitely going to my last cyclocross ride of the year! I felt like MOB tossing his old alu Cannondale into Lake Yamanaka. All the rumbling and bone-shaking had sapped whatever energy was still left in my system reducing me to a zombie and having me beg Ludwig to abandon me and move ahead on Ozawa-toge.
Yet, the moment I arrived home after dark, this familiar feeling of extreme happiness began to glow deep inside. What rests me to say? Thanks Ludwig (great buddy!) and Thanks Michelin (great cyclocross tires!)...