zondag 21 augustus 2011

Brown belt path...

Aiming for 18,000km by December 31 this year...still on the right path but rainy weekends like this one may render my goal an impossible challenge.  Happy though I could at least manage 230km "under the belt" yesterday.  Riding through several curtains of misty rain mostly along the southern tip of Miura Peninsula was actually fun.  The Pina rain bike helps as a little motivation but if it is raining like this morning with wet roads from the start, I'd rather stay in bed...

woensdag 10 augustus 2011

Two-day Karuizawa-Hakuba-Ueda adventure

A Facebook comment: “Aahh, you let Ludwig von Rindomeister choose the roads - That'll teach you!! ;)…”

Of course, I should have known better by now!  Ludwig had drawn out the blueprint of another daredevil adventure that had me more than once swear obscenely like a sailor.

Day 1


We had our RdV at Omiya Station early Tuesday morning to catch the first Shinkansen to Karuizawa.  The evening before, I had in vain tried to upload the routes of day 1 and day 2 meticulously (combini stops included) prepared by Ludwig.

The mountains around Karuizawa were shrouded in the mist and it was only 20 degrees when we started rolling towards the Asama Sun Line.  Vulcano hazard index had been put at its lowest level…nothing to fear.  12km into the ride was supposed to be our first combini stop to load up before attacking Asama-san.  A Yamazaki store appeared on our left side but as we were speeding downhill, it was too late before we realized we missed it.  Luckily we were able to fill up our bottles at the local cultural or whatever hall and eventually we were carrying sufficient fuel to crest Asama-san.

Once we got above 1,000 meters or so, the sun broke through and it got noticeably warmer though not uncomfortably hot.  With only 1km left to the summit, another cyclist – one of the only four we met on our two-day ride – was trying to catch up while Ludwig and I were enjoying a leisurely pace discussing the global economic slowdown.  We accelerated a little bit and the guy disappeared.  At the top, we had some croissants and bread at a very clean eating place that must have opened only very recently.  I was enjoying the view from our table when Ludwig reminded me we should keep going.  To my surprise, Ludwig proceeded to take the gravel road on the left…not the wide paved road we had been following so far.  The shaking began!  In no time a huge gap opened up between us as if Ludwig was on his Red Bull cyclocross flying over the gravel and rocks.  This dirt road full of bumps and potholes – Cherry Park Line?- finally ended at a parking area where buses and taxis were dropping off elderly hikers.

Most of the afternoon was spent crossing several prefectures…into Gunma over Jizo-toge (one of the many Jizo-toges), back into Nagano over Torii-toge (Tsumagoi Village), into Niigata over Sasagamine-toge (Myoko Village) and finally back into Nagano over Otomiyama-toge (乙見山峠)

16:30 @ Myoko Village…the local 商店 store proprietress informed Ludwig we had the choice between either a long 砂利道dirt road infested with monkeys and bears or a LONG 120km+ detour to reach our final Hakuba destination.  What to do?  Flexibility personification Ludwig suggested we cancel our Hakuba Happo accommodation and instead spend a slow evening in Myoko village after doing some reconnaissance of Sasagamine-toge…who knows, maybe there is no dirt road at all?!

Why not?” I answered and off we were on our way to Sasagamine-toge while checking out on our way up candidate minshuku for a worst case scenario.  The climbing went in good rhythm and smooth and before we knew it we were riding past the bokujo farms with adorable chicks in Ferrari-red Niigata- numberplated Volkswagens cheering us up…until the Japan Self-Defense Forces took us back to reality…”sorry guys but the road down from Sasagamine is all jari!”

We reached the end of the road…jari indeed!  We were at a loss – me more than Ludwig.  Five minutes later, a car about to enter the jarimichi appeared.  “You guys, it’s the first time for me too but I found this internet review praising all the charms of this little rindo!  O-saki-ni!!”

All the time, my stupid Edge 800 was in overdrive trying to calculate the remaining distance to our final Hakuba Happo destination….What?  Only 52k?  What happened to the 120k?  Ludwig-yo!  Now or never…let’s go for it!

What followed I will never forget!  Ups and downs along a very long rocky road…by miracle my tires (Ultremo Double Protection 25c) took me over a crazily pebbled path – how long exactly I don’t know but it seemed endless.  I felt real sorry for the Super Six....the very priviledged bike I always feel I'm only looking after - not really owning (I always inform my wife "today I'm going with Charles' bike"!) .  On the descents, it would be Ludwig getting far ahead, on the climbs, it would be me overtaking Ludwig and getting quite but not so far ahead…good enough a chemistry.

Several times mid-course, the jarimichi turned into a paved road – much to our delight!  We eventually got back into Nagano territory and found our way to Hakuba a little bit before sundown.  Downtown the touristic part of Hakuba, we spotted this Mexican Steaks (sic) restaurant and instantly our minds were made up!  Ludwig had a double poron of (two) main deep-fried fish and bean dishes while I stuck to Belgian fries with mayonnaise and steak on top of fried chahan rice…what a glorious day!

Day 2

“Toorootootoo-téé-tootéé-tootéé, toorootootéétoo-tootéé-tootéé-too…”  How I hate to wake up to that Joplin tune!  Thirty minutes later, Ludwig and I were peacefully sipping coffee and munching on some pastries outside a combini with an impressive view on the Hakuba ski slopes.

A woman suddenly approached me proudly proclaiming she likes Canada!  I hadn’t the slightest idea why she mistook me for a Canadian (honestly!) but I patiently listened to her stories about her ski trips and home stays as a volunteer in Calgary and other ski resorts.  Ludwig, whose real-life profession is to either help people build up dream castles or to tear them down, wanted me to confess my nationality is not really Canadian.  Come on…let this lady have her little dream. But what a strange encounter at 5:00 a.m. in a place like that!  After we had our picture taken together by this Canada-loving lady, we took off with destination Ueda.

We soon found ourselves climbing up some lonely but very picturesque country roads – some of which were recently featured in a cycling magazine.  As we reached a certain altitude - 685m to be precise – riding in the shadow, they were there….Them!

Never experienced this before…swarm after swarm of black buyo flies kept following us trying to touch down on our derrières and feast on our blood.  That hurt!  There were many tens of these sucker gnats and they would work their snouts right through our lycra…what a torture!  Trying to speed away from them didn’t help at all – on the contrary…as we were working up more sweat mixed with the body soap scent (yes, body soap is what we were washing our cycling wear with) even more of these black sucker flies emerged out of the bushes – following and attacking us in Pied Piper fashion.  The only solace would come when we got out of the mountain shadow into the open and under a scorching hot sun but that felt very much like a torture too!

After these agonizing moments, we reached a village called Kinasa 鬼無里, literally the “ogre-free village”.  As Ludwig was consulting his map and wondering whether or not to add a little detour with a few more toges, this young and very cosmopolitan-looking woman came out of nowhere jogging into our direction wearing an iPod around her arm.  The mystery lady was eyeing us and vice versa…no time for flirting though.  Ludwig had already taken off as I watched the lady jog up the toge we eventually decided to skip.

We were making good pace again until we ran into barricades – road closed/impassable.  200m further up, we ran into a landslide which failed to impress Ludwig.  Ludwig has gotten so used to climbing over debris, rocks and fallen trees that he readily offered to shoulder my bike and get all of us to the other side!  Chapeau man!

Most of the remainder of the day, we were going up and down at an average altitude of 800m culminating in a toge called Shonara修那羅峠.  From this pass, it was basically a nice descent into Ueda but as it was still early in the day, Ludwig suggested we try out some nice and famous onsen in the neighborhood.  Bessho-onsen 別所温泉 that is.  This hot spring village appeared less romantic than Ludwig had imagined – rather life-less with dull-looking ryokans.  One of them offered a “higaeri” single-day hot bath course for 1,050 yen…no way!  I managed to convince Ludwig to enter a 150- yen-a-pop Showa-era bathhouse instead.  150 yen and using real onsen water…wow!  Ludwig looked disappointed though; to him onsen=rotenburo but that is not always the case.

We got out of the bathhouse refreshed but this time reeking not a little of sulfur!  By the time we reached Ueda station, our cycling wear was completely dry again.  We boarded the Shinkansen and even managed to get ourselves seats.  Another glorious day it was!
rather be on a MTB !!!

maandag 8 augustus 2011

Short Makime loop in reverse


Makime-toge from Doshi-michi up...at a leisurely pace - right shoulder still hurting from last Saturday's "tachigoke" 

Shadowy roads noticeably a lot cooler !
Makime-toge...nice any time of the year

90km recuperation this morning; ready for some more serious riding tomorrow!

zaterdag 6 augustus 2011

Great TCC comradeship - Okumusashi Madness Re-run

What a fine day out ! Thanks go out to Deej for his great attentiveness in keeping the TCC herd together like a trusty sheepdog. Those efforts really turned today's ride in such a pleasant and memorable event. The "Kaburi Killer" climb was painful for me and I had to be very careful not to go into overdrive. The superrich icecream at the Sainokuni bokujo was a well-deserved reward. My legs started to feel better after I lowered the saddle a tiny bit and I could feel a second wind welling up on 299 in Chichibu. I continued to climb Yamabushi-toge in outer chainring and had plenty of time left to clean off most of the dried-up slime on my jersey and a quick wash of my bike before Ludwig arrived at the holy fountain. I got home before 17:00 and as soon as I entered my place, my wife immediately spotted my bruised elbow. What you crashed again?!! (she says so even though the last time I crashed was 4 years ago:D) No no no...just some stupid tachigoke, nothing serious at all!