10 May 2022

Golden Week Takenoko Ride to Akiyama via Wada, Suzugane, and Hinazuru Passes

Extra large takenoko -- MacGyver'ed to the seat tube.

I did not ride that much over Golden Week, using the time to recuperate a bit from doing the full 200, 300, 400, 600 km series of brevets over the preceding month, and with other commitments not to a normal class schedule at my university.

On Saturday, April 30, I rode the rebuilt Voyage Voyage to Chichibu with Jerome, Peter J, and Peter's friend Daniel. After a 90+ minute soba lunch stop, the three of them headed for Shigasaka Pass and a long loop and evening return. I went a bit further, but then turned around and headed for Honjo Waseda and the shinkansen back to Tokyo. 

It was a very nice day all around, including the solo ride. You can see the photos and ride route on Strava. 167kms in all. I left home 25 minutes late after some last minute bicycle tweaks, and pushed hard to catch the others (including a Strava "PR" and 60/2200 all-time on the oft-traveled 5km stretch of Setagaya Dori west of Sangenjaya), met Jerome first at the end of the Tamagawa path in Fuchu, and Peter and Daniel at Oume. 

As I neared the end of the ride, I even got to race a steam locomotive full of tourists at Nagatoro.

It was easy to keep up with the train on Voyage Voyage along a flat roadway. Eventually, after taking this video, I raced ahead. But of course, I knew that eventually the train would win the race. I thought of the ballad of John Henry, who competed with a steam drill at pounding railroad ties to lay new track, and died with his hammer in his hand. But which version of the song? Johnny Cash? Paul Robeson? Bruce Springsteen? BB King, narrated by Denzel? Harry Belafonte? Mississippi John Hurt? Pete Seeger (folk / labor activist)? Leadbelly (blues)? Billy Strings (bluegrass)? It is an American classic.


The other 100km+ ride was on Friday, May 6, on the RAMAX. This was a Golden Week ride, but a few minutes after leaving home, I realized that it was no longer Golden Week! Friday was a workday and everyone was back at it. The early roads were full of trucks in town hauling massive pieces of buildings to construction sites ... but empty of vacationers in the countryside! Of course, Monday also had been a workday ... but had been nothing like this. Apparently many companies had taken Monday off, but all were back at work on Friday. Schools also seemed back in session -- not just my university but elementary school students heading on their commutes before 7AM.

A headwind slowed me, and was a few minutes late to meet Peter J at our regular starting point along the Tamagawa just northwest of Komae. We called Jerome. He was still in bed, having ridden several days mid-week, and was not coming along. Peter J said he would head out with me and then, as planned turn around so as not to push an iffy knee too much. We decided to head for Wada Pass via Daigo Rindo.

The last time I went up here, the road was partially washed away in places. Now it has all been restored with nice new asphalt. It is still a rindo, however, with moss, plenty of leaves and some rocks. I like to go up Wada this way (no traffic at all), but prefer other routes down. Peter J climbed with me to 500m elevation, then turned back for the trip home. I pressed on to the top (~740m elevation) and then down to the pass (~700m elevation). I did not climb quickly, but at least I did the entire climb without a foot down. The descent down the west side (Ura Wada) was exhilarating, as usual.  The RAMAX was "fun to ride" going both up and down.

No GW traffic on the rindo climb to Wada!

RAMAX at Wada Pass -- the classic photo spot

Koi Nobori on Ura Wada

I then faced a difficult issue. Where to go next? Kobu Tunnel? Or Tsuru Pass? Or Bijotani? Or head south to Route 76 and Doshi? In the end, I decided to head toward Uenohara and further west from there. Maybe I would go over Sasago Pass? Or I could try one of the climbs south of Sarubashi area that I had never done. Now that I was alone, I was aiming for a most-of-day ride, home before dinner. 

I decided to try Suzugane Pass, a route I had somehow never taken in all these years! I could see on my smartphone that after cresting the pass and descending to the south, I would need to then do the shorter climb to the tunnel at Hinazuru Pass and down through Akiyama in order to return toward Tokyo. This was a lovely route. The only real traffic after leaving Tokyo was on Route 20 between Uenohara and Sarubashi, and that was far lighter than normal. The weather was perfect. 

Looking back at Uenohara from Route 20

At Suzugane Pass

Maglev track descends valley, Hazy Fuji in the background

Looking back downhill and downstream, toward Tsuru

Once in Akiyama, I stopped at Tsuruya, better known to expat cyclists as "the manju place in Akiyama."  I ordered a Miso Manju. 150 yen ($1.15). It was , served with vegetables and green tea. I could digest fully while riding as the descent continued for at least the next 8-10kms.  There were flatter sections and -10% ramps--reminding me how hard this little valley is to climb up in the other direction especially on a hot day. I passed one tunnel entrance on my left that led back to Uenohara. ... I don't remember ever having taken that either. But I kept going down the valley. At the bottom, instead of climbing up the South rim of the valley to meet Route 76, as I have always done in the past, I continued on a road that would loop around to the North, eventually meeting the route I would have taken if I had gone through the tunnel ... in time to go through another tunnel and onto a descent to Uenohara. 

Tsuruya, The Manju Shop

Always lovely flowers here, and little/no traffic.

Vegetable and tea make the manju go down, make the manju go down

GW traffic on Route 35 in Akiyama

We used to call this spot "The Vending Machines" in Akiyama.
Now it is just another "Happy Drink Shop".
Beautiful Akiyama

Along the way, I came across an unmanned roadside vegetable stand. The only offering was takenoko -- bamboo shoots. 3 huge shoots, priced at 300 or 400 yen. Takenoko is my wife's favorite Spring delicacy ... so I wanted to take one home and see if I could learn to cook it. But I had not brought a rucksack, and the huge shoots were too big for my jersey pockets or my underseat bag.

One of the shoots, the thinnest of the three, looked as if it might fit inverted into my bottle cage. I deposited 300 yen in the coin box, and put the takenoko in the bottle cage, moving the empty water bottle to my rear jersey pocket. The inverted takenoko fit the bottle cage, but I realized it was so top heavy and large that it would flop around and fall out. But wait, I had some zip ties, for exactly this purpose -- to secure items to the bicycle! Two daisy-chained zip ties worked to secure the stalk, and I could ride, with only a modest rub of the takenoko against the inside of each leg.

By the time I approached Uenohara, I realized that I would seriously chafe my legs if I went too much further, ... so I decided to get a snack and hop the train. My timing was not great ... after I rinkoed the RAMAX and got to the ticket gate, I could see the next train was not for 35 minutes. I bought and drank a cold beer. Only 125 kms for the day, but real climbing up Wada (with its long 13-15% grades), Suzugane, and a shorter climb to Hinazuru Tunnel meant that I did get a decent workout. You can see the statistics and route here on Strava.

I bought the middle one.

Bike and Takenoko, leaning.

Thank you!

The lower 2/3 of the takenoko was wrapped in plastic, but it was quite a sight for the other passengers at the back of the local Chuo Line train. The first few minutes of the journey, it kept falling over on the floor of the train. Eventually, one man who had boarded with me at Uenohara reached in his briefcase and handed me a large paper shopping bag. I could fit almost the entire stalk into the bag, and thanked him. One of the hikers across the aisle handed me a smaller plastic bag that I could use to cover the top of the stalk that still protruded from the bag. I thanked her also. Everyone in the back of the last train car felt better about me and my takenoko. The "wa" had been restored.

The next day, I got some "nuka" (ground up rice bran) at our local supermarket, and boiled the takenoko with nuka in a pressure cooker for 20 minutes to remove the "aku" bitterness. I could then slice the edible parts of the plant into pieces for grilling in a skillet. Grilling was the easy part, with some olive oil. They were served with salt to taste. The slices tasted pretty good, and my wife seemed happy with the saga.

Boiled and ready to grill

Grilled with olive oil and salted

09 May 2022

Strava Club Japan launches "Routes of Japan" Collection website

Along the Shimanami Kaido ... the most famous Route of Japan.

I know it is mostly intended as marketing to promote the Strava "community", in collaboration with Cycle Sports magazine (not my favorite ... as they always seem to be promoting what their advertisers are advertising), but this looks like a useful collection of cycling routes around Japan, and one that should grow a lot more useful as more routes are added over time.

In the post on the Strava App that announced this to me, there were links to an interesting route on Kii Peninsula, another one suggesting Route 152 between Hamamatsu and Ueda (Akiba Kaido ... with some odd detours to adjacent valleys), and a third through the mountains of Shikoku East<->West. I can attest that Akiba Kaido is indeed a great route, without the detours, and the others look worth trying!  I hope they continue to develop it (and add English language support for visitors from abroad). 

Routes of Japan is the site.

02 May 2022

New Look for an Old Bike. ... It Goes To 12!

Voyage Voyage is back in action!

In 2012, via Tim Smith/GS Astuto, I got and built up Voyage Voyage, my titanium travel bike. It has served me well over the past decade. I have used it on most of my long rides since, including LEL (2014), SR600 Fuji (2015), PBP (2015, 2019), 3CR (2018), and the Tour de Tasmanie (2019), to name a few. The S and S couplers make it a travel bike. 

In 2019, I added SRAM eTap wireless shifting groupset for Tasmania, which is ideal for quick disassembly/reassembly ... but that first generation eTap rear derailleur failed so I reverted to mechanical shifting for PBP.  The replacement rear derailleur that my SRAM retailer sent to me has worked fine for the past 3 years, on the Sky Blue Parlee, and it seems that SRAM quickly resolved the quality issues that plagued those early eTap systems. Indeed, they quickly switched to eTap AXS, a successor groupset design that features a 12-speed rear cassette with a 10-tooth smallest cog. This allows smaller front chainrings and seems to work well.

Late last year, having not gotten a new road bike since 2015, but while enjoying the new Pelso and, frankly, shocked at the prices now being charged for higher-end bikes ... I decided the best approach to have a travel bike I could enjoy for the NEXT decade would be to upgrade the components on Voyage Voyage. For the makeover, I ordered a SRAM Force AXS eTap upgrade kit that I could use with my current rim brakes and frame, bars, seatpost/seat, fork, and other components. I needed to get an AXS crankset separately and could only find the Rival version in stock, so got that, a bit heavier and less expensive than Force (or Red!), and with a built-in power meter. I also got a DT Swiss 240 rear hub with a SRAM XDR freehub so I could build a rear wheel that would work with a SRAM AXS 12-speed cassette. And I got a beautiful new SP Dynamo SV-9 hub, DT Swiss RR411 rims (asymmetric rear, symmetric front) and Sapim CX Ray spokes to build up wheels for the makeover, and built wheel Nos. 27 and 28.

But as I started to remove the current components from Voyage Voyage's frame ... I found a crack low on the seat tube where the clamp secured the front derailleur. I think at one point the derailleur was slipping, so I tightened the clamp. I OVER-tightened the clamp. (Note to self ... next time apply some kind of anti-slip compound). Yes, even a titanium frame does not last forever, even if it is more resilient than aluminum , and not subject to the kind of hidden internal damage that can occur with carbon. 

Oh no!

But I hated to say goodbye to this frame. The S and S couplers remain a great way to travel with a bike (and, in contrast to Tim's incredibly generous pricing back in 2012 for this "proof of concept" frame with couplers), they would typically add ~$1000 to the cost of a new frameset. Worse yet, I had just purchased new components for the rebuild. I checked with Tim, and he said he would check with the factory that is welding his new RAMAX frames -- representing a decade of evolution since Voyage Voyage.  They said they were willing to try to fix the crack. 

When they got the frame and checked it (x-rayed it?), they found another tiny crack further up the seat tube. The down tube, head tube, and top tube are all straight gauge Ti on Voyage Voyage -- essential because of the couplers don't work with super-thin tube walls. Only the seat tube is double-butted and so quite thin in the middle ... and that is where the crack occurred. 

The constructors cut out the middle 50% of the seat tube, welded in a replacement, and sanded/ground (?) down the welds so that it again looks like one seamless titanium tube. I cannot tell exactly where the old tube ends and the new begins. I hope that, with this repair, I will get at least another few years of long, even epic rides out of this frame.

Repaired frame, with reflective tape replaced on chain/seat stays

Not obvious where the old tube ends and new one begins

Anyway, I got the frame back from Tim last Thursday, built it up on Friday, and rode it on Saturday and Sunday. 

Built up with that classic titanium look.

Dipell Bar Tape

SRAM AXS eTap Force -- It Goes To 12!

How do I like it? Well, the SRAM eTap AXS shifting is a dream. So far flawless and effortless -- and noticeably better shifting under load than the older Shimano Di2 that I am using now on the RAMAX. The AXS gear range -- 46-33 on the front and 10-36 on the rear, with its 33-36 granny gear about 15% lighter than my previous 34-32 low gear -- means I can spin up even the inside of the steepest corners on the climb to Yamabushi Pass in Saitama, while the high gear of 46-10 (4.6:1) is even a wee bit bigger than my previous 50-11 (4.54:1). And I look forward to training with a power meter/cadence sensor).

The new wheels are just fine. The RR411 rims have a noticeably superior braking surface. The SV-9 dynamo hub adds no noticeable drag while generating plenty of current for my light and still the lightest weight dynamo hub I have seen, and the DT Swiss 240 rear hub has a reassuringly fast but not annoying ratchet sound. The wheels seem to soak up bumps -- not overly stiff -- and I will be interested in how durable they prove, as the RR411 is a very light weight aluminum rim.

I paired the wheels with some Vittoria Open Pave "open tubular" tires that I bought online on clearance last year, 700x25 rear and 700x27 front (Open Pave used to be my favorites 8-10 years ago, except they were expensive enough and wore quickly enough that I could not justify using them on an everyday basis. Now they seem deeply discounted, as they are "old" technology for Vittoria, but still wonderful). Yes, this kind of handmade tire should age at least 6-8 months after manufacture to achieve maximum suppleness and strength, and these definitely have. I suspect they have been sitting in inventory at least a few years ... but they ride beautifully.

I put on some lovely Dipell leather bar tape. I eventually may replace the Reynolds Ouzo Pro fork. It is a great fork, but one that is getting quite long in the tooth, having been on another frame before Voyage Voyage.

I will eventually do a comparison between Voyage Voyage and the RAMAX. Both are titanium frames designed for a wide range of types of riding. But the RAMAX frame represents a decade of further evolution of both technology and design. The RAMAX frame incorporates what Jan Heine of Bicycle Quarterly describes as the "All-Road Bike Revolution", in addition to the innovations made possible by hydroformed titanium tubing. But in its current set up, Voyage Voyage remains a joy to ride. Stay tuned.

Three bottle cages -- (a) 1 liter water bottle, (b) rinko bag, and (c) tools and spares.

29 April 2022

Wheel No. 29

I finally built up a replacement wheel for my Dura Ace rear hub (FH-9000). A new version of the same go-to H Plus Sons Archetype 32 hole rim, and Sapim CX-Ray spokes.  Why fix it if it ain't broke? The last time I replaced the rim, in 2019, I reused the spokes, so this time the makeover was primarily aimed at isntalling a new set of spokes, and the rim probably could have lasted awhile longer. I will replace the bearings in the hub as well, to make it a new wheel except for some of the longer lasting hub components.

A rim design that remains attractive, in my humble opinion.

Very modest wear on the Ti freehub body. More durable than most.

Proper wheelbuilding - rim spoke hole located directly over the hub label.

Time for a New Deuter Race Rucksack!

Back in the waning years of the first decade of the first century of this millennium, a long long time ago, I got a Deuter Race rucksack for use while cycling.

The Deuter Race is relatively small for a pack at 12 liters capacity, but large enough to carry anything I could need on a long single-day ride or, together with my Rixen Kaul rear under-seat bag or Ortlieb (or Guu Watanabe) front bag, on a 2-day brevet. The Deuter Race has an "Air Stripes" system of two meshed foam vertical sections that hold the pack slightly off my back and allow air circulation. This makes a huge difference in terms of me not overheating and not getting the pack covered with sweat. It also has an attached rain cover (hidden in a zippered compartment), and it is designed to accommodate a 2-liter hydration bladder and hose--great for a multi-day ride where some sections require me to carry more water than can fit in my two on-frame water bottles. There is a main compartment, two small zippered small pockets, one of which is on the top and designed for wallet, keys, brevet card, etc., and 2 open mesh external pockets.
The rucksack has proven durable. And despite trying a number of others before and after it, I have never found anything that works as well -- in terms of "fit" on my back, secure/snug but not constricting feeling while I ride (and shoulder straps long enough to work with my long torso and "barrel chest" figure, room for enough (but not too much) gear, adaptability for rain, etc. I put reflective tape on the rucksack so that I could wear it OVER a reflective vest on a brevet. Heck, on our last 600km ride, I pinned a small Audax reflective triangle (signifying "slow moving vehicle") on the back so I did not need to worry about whether my vest was inside or outside the rucksack. And, of course, I could ship the rucksack home with my rain gear and other unneeded items mid-ride without difficulty.  Professional reviewers agree.
But I did manage to damage (slightly -- still usable) one of the plastic clasps on the waist strap as I got it ready for shipping. And the rucksack is pretty severely discolored from the grease and grime of many years. When the rucksack arrived the next morning by Yamato Takkyubin, my wife suggested that maybe it was time to replace it. In fact, she was so enthusiastic about getting rid of the discolored, aging rucksack she offered to give me a new rucksack as a gift. How could I refuse?!
Old and New

The "Air Stripes" are a winning design feature.

What to get as a replacement? Another Deuter Race, of course! There have been some updates in the intervening years -- the shape seems slightly more rectangular, the straps and clasps are slightly different, and the wallet/key compartment seems noticeably larger and has much wider zippered top access (resolving one of the only flaws I can think of from the original design). Will this be the last cycling rucksack I ever need? Possibly. This time I may work a bit more at cleaning it regularly (yearly?) to keep its color. And maybe an attached reflective triangle will mean I don't need to cover it with reflective tape?

25 April 2022

Further Adventures in Rough Stuff

The bloody knee, hair style, and pipe fit well my image of an eccentric Brit.

Before there was mountain biking, or bike packing, or gravel bikes, or the Japan Odyssey, or the Transcontinental Race ... there was the Rough-Stuff Fellowship.

I recently stumbled across a Bicycling.com review of an amusing coffee table book about the British adventure cycling group, the "Rough-Stuff Fellowship", founded in 1965. 

One book was produced a few years back based upon the club's archive of nearly 20,000 photographs. The publication inspired members and former members to submit further photos, swelling the archive to 75,000, and necessitating a second book, Further Adventures in Rough Stuff, which I have just acquired. I highly recommend it as a gift for the cyclist who has everything.

I quickly realized that Positivo Espresso must up our game if we are to have true cycling "adventures". We barely carried our bikes at all on the snow-covered back approach to Mitsumine Shrine last month, and not OVER any real obstacles, just where the snow was too deep to keep pushing the bike along the roadway. And sure, this weekend we rode in the rain and dark, complying fully with Rule No. 9. But we have got a long way to go for bragging rights. Sure, we break things, but I have never ridden a tire with quite this style of patch:

And we need to increase the share of our rides that involve (1) rock climbing with a bike, (2) snow, (3) deep mud, or (4) water crossings.  (Only small versions of photos of photos below. Buy or borrow the book for the full sized full collection.)

We also need to master the "3 baguette" style.

24 April 2022

600km Azalea (つつじ) Ride on Route 11

Mt Fuji from the Okuzure Kaigan just SW of Shizuoka-shi

Jerome and I still needed a 600km brevet to complete our qualifying rides for Cascade1400. There were some interesting 600km rides sponsored by Kanto area Audax groups between now and early June, and we could always repeat the 600km Okitsu Classic (would be my fourth time?!) on May 23, but we wanted to finish qualifying as soon as practical. That way, we can plan our cycling with complete freedom rather than needing to check the box for an Audax event ... well, complete freedom except for work, family, and other commitments.

As we scoured the Audax club websites earlier this year, the best candidate seemed an April 23 Randonneur Tokyo event -- ride to Hamanako just west of Hamamatsu city in Shizuoka, go around the lake (30kms?) and then come back. The ride was relatively flat, many sections were familiar, no truly remote areas without support, and so it seemed to offer a pretty high chance of completion with relatively little ride-specific preparation. On the downside, it involved an all-too-familiar long trip out of/in to Tokyo, as well as coastal areas that are dense in population, and not as high a ratio of spectacular cycling areas/scenery as on my recent 200, 400, and 300 km brevets. 

Of course, when we planned our rides, last weekend was supposed to be a "rest" weekend between the 400k and our 600k. Instead, with the postponement of our March 300k, on April 16 we rode our toughest 300k in memory in between, leaving only four days to recover. 

The signup for this event was delayed several times, but when we inquired by email, Tsumura-san, the maestro at R-Tokyo, assured us that it would go forward in due course. When the event finally opened for registration, it was as an "N2" format brevet. This Covid-19 countermeasure format means that instead of all gathering in a group, riders have a significant window in which to start their rides, in this case a week ending at 6AM, Saturday April 23.  Since a rider need only declare his or her start shortly before heading off (using a Google Form that R-Tokyo set up), it offers maximum freedom to avoid bad weather and match schedules. But the N2 format also means it is easy to do an entire brevet and never meet another rider, especially if you do not start at 6 or 7AM on Saturday morning. That was my experience last Fall when I did an N2 400k event entirely alone. 

Jerome and I both decided we would do the ride on Thursday/Friday, April 21-22. That would offer a bit more of a simulation of what we will face during Cascade -- 5 days straight of long rides like these. And, I hoped, I would be "fresh" for work-related duties the following Monday. We each had obligations on Wednesday the 20th, (Jerome's was a family event that would go relatively late at night), and in the end Jerome needed to go to Osaka on Saturday afternoon for work-related meetings and a dinner. I did not feel bad about doing the ride on weekdays, as I have work during Golden Week this year.

I started checking the weather forecast on Monday. Rain was forecast for Thursday afternoon, evening, and into Friday morning in Shizuoka -- the middle half of our ride. And it looked as if the rain would be quite heavy at its peak. The forecast held steady. Well, Jerome could not push back our start by a day, so we would ride in the rain and look at it as training for Cascade, a ride I started and finished in the rain back in 2012, and where this time our first day route goes around the Olympic Peninsula, a rainforest that averages 150 days of rain each year (though June is a relatively low precipitation month).

I wanted to get out of Tokyo before the morning traffic, while Jerome could not get to sleep early, so needed a slightly later start. In the end, I started at 4AM and Jerome at 6AM. That gap meant we would probably end up riding together after he caught me at some point over the next 40 hours. Indeed, he caught up half way through the return leg and we ate lunch then rode the final 25% together.

3:40AM, crossing the Tamagawa at Marukobashi

Fenders on the Sky Blue Parlee -- for a non-sky blue ride!
24x7 dynamo lighting for this trip, so non-matching front and rear wheels still.

The weather was perfect heading out of town, and the roads were nearly empty for me as I rode the the start (leaving home at 3:15AM), and the first few hours on the course, until about 6AM. The route is a "standard" way for R-Tokyo brevets to head Southwest. First, a long stretch of Nakahara Kaido, then another one on Chogo Kaido, and finally, heading south around the western edge of Hiratsuka to hit the coastline at Oiso. From Oiso to Odawara, we take Route 1. Somehow, I would expect a trip by bicycle from Tokyo to Hamamatsu to involve a lot of riding on Route 1, but this was the only section, and one both familiar to us and very easy to ride. (Another bit between Yui and Okitsu follows a path alongside Route 1, but does not require actually riding on the road). 

Heading west through Kanagawa at first light

The Sagami River shortly after dawn

Finally, some traffic.

North of Hiratsuka as the route heads toward the coast

Hazy Mt Fuji in the distance

I stopped at Odawara briefly to get a snack and refill a water bottle from a spigot on the west side of the castle grounds. The scene was lovely at 7AM, only a few people around and flowering azaleas and wisteria.

At Odawara Castle

More Odawara

It was late enough now so that I experienced full traffic conditions on the next stretch, Route 135 along the coast. Heavy traffic, but at least it is another familiar stretch, and before I knew it I was in Atami.  I took another short rest by some azaleas at roadside, ate a half bagel I had brought from home, and started the climb. 

Azaleas and a brief rest in Atami

Just as I got to a really steep ramp as the road went around a sharp bend, I stood up on the pedals and applied a lot of torque ... and heard a big "ping" snapping sound from my rear wheel. A non-drive side spoke had broken. No worries. I had a spoke wrench and was able to adjust the tension of the two adjacent spokes on each side of the broken one so the rim was "true" again. Indeed, with a deep rim carbon wheel, the rim is stiff enough that I think you could probably ride it with a few broken spokes and not notice much. Then again ... I did see video of Wout van Aert and Christian La Porte's wheels pancaking catastropically last week on Paris-Roubaix, so better safe than sorry! I used to break spokes pretty regularly, even with decent attention to spoke tension. Maybe I am reverting to my former self as a cyclist? That is, indeed, my hope for the year, that I can regain most of the form I had in 2012-2017 or so. 

The cue sheet says to take Route 11

Anyway, the climb was painful ... but not as painful as other routes over the mountains above Atami. I think I will use this road again. And the tunnel at just over 400m elevation saves a lot of time and effort as compared to cresting Atami Pass.  After exiting the tunnel, there is a long descent to Kannami, at least 7-8 kms. The road is relatively straight and fast. After the first control point (PC) at a convenience store just above Kannami, the route cuts through Mishima/Numazu area. By now I was in heavy morning traffic, in a part of the world that is pretty much car dependent. Patience was required ... as well as some tactical maneuvering onto the sidewalk to pass lines of standing cars. 

Hazy Fuji in the distance as we slog through Numazu area.

My conference call stop.

Approaching Okitsu Kenko Land -- regular Audax Kanagawa Start/Goal location

I made it out to the coast and almost to Fuji-shi when I needed to stop 20-30 minutes for a work-related call. I headed into the wooded area and up a stairs to the top of the tsunami wall. The sea and sky were hazy, the boundary of the two indistinct ... reminding me a bit of some of Hiroshi Sugimoto's seascape photos at the Enoura Observatory. Anyway, the call was a bit longer than I hoped, but I did need some rest now 6 1/2 hours from the start, and felt I could spare the time as I was already 130kms into the course and done with the only significant climb of the first half! Jerome reported that he had stopped for breakfast at a Gusto, so he was not yet making up too much time on me. 

The route took more familiar territory as I rode through Fuji City, Yui, Okitsu, Shimizu, and then to a PC at the foot of the Miho peninsula. From there it was on down the Ichigo Line (Strawberry Line). This is a very exposed stretch of road along the ocean, so I was relieved not to be facing any significant headwind. Then it was along the south edge/oceanside, of Shizuoka City, through the Okuzure Kaigan area where the road climbs about 100 meters above the crashing waves, then down into Yaezu City.

Still dry, Okuzure Kaigan

Yaezu's harbor area

The R-Tokyo route turned left along the fishing harbor and hugged the coastline on local roads -- an improvement over the main road I have taken more often between Yaezu and Omaezaki. Everywhere here, as elsewhere, there were azaleas in early bloom. Again I took a short rest -- pulling into a parking lot for a park, attracted by the signage "Discovery Park". Again, I could walk up onto the tsunami levy and this time even enjoy a rest on a bench. 200kms done!

The coast at Discovery Park Yaezu

Randonneur snack

A few drops of rain started to hit me as I left Discovery Park. Within another 10 minutes, I put on my rain jacket.  15-20 minutes later I put on my rain pants and changed to my Gore tex rain socks. And by the time I got to the Omaezaki checkpoint (km 227), the rain was steady. Jerome had been gaining on me ... but he also had stopped for a work call. I enjoyed a snack of 7-11 pasta with cream sauce, and pushed on. 

Steady rain then dark from here ... so no more Thursday photos. ... except

I have usually taken National Route 150 along this stretch of coastline -- Omaezaki, then the southern edges of Kikugawa, Kakegawa, Fukuroi, and Hamamatsu. So it was good that the R-Tokyo route is a parallel road just inland.  The rain strengthened as I rode west. My lower half was soaked -- the rain pants apparently useless -- but my upper half still somewhat dry and at least it was not too cold. I was glad to have fenders both front and rear wheel. I stopped once at a pedestrian underpass that sheltered me a bit from the rain, where I could eat an onigiri and call Jerome to check in. 

The route travels along the coast south of Hamamatsu, and I had managed to hit Thursday afternoon rush hour traffic as cars zoomed by me along one particularly crowded stretch. There were lots of signs for central Hamamatsu, but no city. The most obvious landmarks were some hotels -- "Dior Seven", and "Bel Grave". They were obviously love hotels, lights lighting up the evening sky, beckoning couples. There were also some golf driving ranges, huge nets along each side, but they lacked signs or features to distinguish one from another to the untrained eye. I think people around here probably give directions like "take a right turn just before Dior Seven, proceed to the second traffic light after Bel Grave, then another right turn." Anyway, Jerome's son now works for the real Dior, so he snapped a photo of the hotel just in case the real Dior thinks it is worthy of a trademark infringement lawsuit.

Finally, I arrived at the 281km 7-11 PC. It was now raining cats and dogs. Even the area just along the front of the store, under the overhang, was too wet to sit. Jerome was still way behind me. I told him I would push on to the hotel, near km 320. 

And thus began what should have been the highlight of the ride -- a chance to go around Hamanako (Lake Hamana) by bicycle. But by now it was dark, and the rain was hard. And the wind from the NNW was straight in my face. The next 20 kms seemed to take forever, pushing into the wind and rain. After a few kms there was very little traffic, at least. 

At last I reached the northern tip of the lake and the route turned toward the west then southwest, with a wind from the rear right. I felt like a sailor on a boat that had come about and swung toward a broad reach. Finally progress was easy. But the next PC was not a convenience store, it was an unmanned and nearly unmarked train station. As I cycled up a slope, I finally saw a hut that might be a station on the left side of the road. I dismounted and walked over. The platform showed a mark "Sunza" as the name.  I pulled out my brevet card/sheet and saw that Sunza was not the PC. Back on the bike and a few kms further along when the highway again neared the train tracks, I finally pulled off again at the correct station. The station waiting room was empty, but at least the door was open so I could go in to take out my card and get my smartphone camera ready for a "proof of passage photo" as instructed. 

late Thursday ... proof of passage photo

The route soon turned off the main highway and followed a small road along the lake for some kilometers. There was dark vast water on the left, water on the road, and water falling from the sky. I could imagine that this was a nice place to have a vacation home, or to visit and stay in one of a few hotels or resorts I passed. I will need to go back when it is light out and not raining.

After another 30-45 minutes on back on the bike, in the wet, I stopped at another convenience store. I asked if the hotel, Route Inn, was ahead. The clerk confirmed that yes, it was not far, and was visible from the road. I got some food to eat once I got in my hotel room -- it would be after 9PM by my arrival, so I could not count on a restaurant being open, nor would I want to "waste" time I could use for sleep hunting for food. 15 minutes later I arrived at the hotel. I apologized for being soaking wet as I trampled through the lobby. The man and woman at the front desk ... immediately handed me a bath towel so I could wipe down. Ahh. I asked if there was a place I could keep my bicycle dry and secure for the night. They said "if it is a road bike, you can take it to your room".  I was a bit surprised. "It is really wet, and a bit dirty".  They said it was just fine. Wow. Very different from the reaction one would have gotten at a Route Inn or similar ten years ago! I guess the local cycling promotion activities around Japan (Hamanako had lots of signs for a bike route around the lake, similar to Ibaraki, and Izu, Shimanami Kaido, and other places) has had an impact on the hotels.

Jerome was still 90 minutes behind. After a hot bath and some food, as I was getting ready to sleep, he called me reporting trouble finding the train station PC. His GPS unit had gone haywire so he was navigating using ridewithgps on his smartphone screen. I calmed him down and got him to switch the phone to Google Maps, where he could find the exact location of the station, not far away. I lay down in bed and was immediately asleep. It was already 1030PM. I had planned to be on the road at 130, but decided to push it back to 2AM (with a generous 30 minutes to get dressed and out the door) as the rain was not supposed to stop until 2-3AM.

I woke after an hour, then again was out immediately. My alarm woke me at 130AM. The rain seemed to have let up, but not entirely. There was a text message from Jerome -- "call me when you wake up" -- that continued to say he would probably not join but leave later. I called and woke him. He had just gone to sleep ... said something about getting a bit lost, about drinking a large beer with his food after arriving at the hotel and said he would sleep more and follow later.

Very very early Friday, somewhere out there is Hamamatsu, or maybe Iwata

I stowed my rain pants, dressed in my clothes that had been hanging but were still very wet, and headed out. The roads were quiet, and the next PC was about 12kms away, at km 331. It turned out to be the same 7-11 as the 281km PC. By now the rain had stopped entirely. In a few hours, with the morning sun, the roads would be dry! And it was warm enough so the weather was no longer a factor.  Before long, I saw the Bel Grave and the Dior Seven, still lit up even in the wee hours.

I called Jerome at 330AM. He answered immediately and said he was preparing to leave the hotel. So again a 90 minute head start. The stretch to Omaezaki was flat and I could roll at a decent speed without much effort. I reached the Omaezaki PC just after 5AM. A bit of a tailwind heading NE, and another rest at Discovery Park around 645AM -- this time Mt Fuji visible in the distance! There were lots of Mt. Fuji views today, almost as many as there were azalea. 

Descent after Omaezaki PC

On the road to Yaezu

More Fuji

More azaleas

Back at Discovery Park

I passed the Okuzure Kaigan again, just before 8AM, and the Shizuoka checkpoint around 830AM. The Ichigo Line wind was blowing and had shifted, but at least it was not a direct, full-on headwind.

Dramatic, crashing surf all the way from here to Ichigo Line

Jerome was catching up, and we agreed to try and get an early lunch together in Fuji-shi or Numazu. There was a Gusto family restaurant (our standby) directly on the route. He was flying now, and was less than 30 minutes behind me, and closed most of that gap by the time I crossed the Fujikawa. I arrived at the restaurant only 5-10 minutes ahead of him, and we rode the last 150kms together.

I was a bit worried about the time limit for this event. By stopping at the hotel from 9PM to 2AM, I had lost all my "savings" and placed myself in a bit of a time deficit. The R-Tokyo organizers had provided us maximum flexibility by not imposing interim time limits at the PCs.  I had 200kms to go with 13 hours left -- plenty of time. But coming out of Gusto after 11AM, we had under 9 hours for nearly 150 kms, including the Atami climb.

Passing through Numazu, we saw ... at least 4 riders headed the outbound leg, including Tsumura-san himself. They had used common sense and started Friday morning, after the rain, and were enjoying the lovely, even warm day!  (Update: I heard later from Tsumura-san that they faced constant headwinds in the afternoon ... that "defeated" him. So we actually may have made the smart move by riding into the impending rainstorm?)

Azaleas everywhere!

Back through Numazu

We were both hot by the time we reached the Kannami PC, which was a different convenience store down nearer to the town.  At least we had caught up with the "time limit" from our lunch break and were again well "ahead" of the notional cut-off time as we entered the PC, so a 15km per hour pace would mean we finished in time. 

But we dawdled at this PC. And when we were about to leave, I suggested to Jerome that I could save a lot of weight and heat if I put my rain gear and cold weather gear plus some other unneeded items in my rucksack and sent it on by Yamato. We went in the convenience store. After about 5 minutes of attempted discussion, it was clear that Lawson only handles Japan Post, and their only relevant service "Yu Pack" would not take a bare rucksack. 

We finally left and headed to start the climb. Maybe if we were lucky we would find a place to ship my rucksack (and Jerome's -- he had adopted the idea).  About 150 meters ahead ... there was a 7-11. But it was still a challenge to ship the items. The arubaito working there had never done it before, it seemed. What were the dimensions of a shapeless rucksack? Would I buy a plastic bag to put it in so the straps were not loose? I wanted to just throw some money at him with the address label and run out the door. I said "we are in a big hurry, so I am happy to pay a bit extra and don't need it measured exactly." He got the message, charged me JPY 1750, and handed me the receipt. Jerome was still trying to have the same discussion with the other clerk, and I said I would ride ahead.... I knew he would catch me on the long climb ahead. We had burned in total at least 20 minutes trying to send our bags, after the 20 minute rest stop that preceded it. Now there was not a moment to lose!

Actually, I made it up the climb I thought in pretty good shape. It was shorter than I had thought, and not nearly as steep as the East side, of course. Jerome caught up with me only after I had gone through the 2km tunnel at the top and was starting the descent. 

My rear brake cable had been acting up a bit and seemed stuck somewhere at times  ... and early on the descent it snapped entirely. Oh well, 75-80% of braking power is the front brake anyway. But this was a steep winding Atami descent, and I would be sitting on the lone brake, heating up my front rim. Now was NOT the time for an accident, or a heat-induced burst tire tube. (That also has happened to me before a few times when riding aluminum rim clinchers ... it happened back when I was breaking lots of spokes.)  So I took it slow going down the hill, and even stopped once for a rest to let the rim cool. ... I also noticed that my front brake pads were getting ... very thin. If needed, I could swap the now-useless rear ones into the front, but I hoped the current pads would make it through all the crazy hills on Nakahara Kaido.

We reached the Tokyo metropolitan area just as Friday evening rush hour was in full swing. At times we had to ride past lines of standing cars and trucks. Lots of trucks. Anyway, we made it safely to the goal at 730PM with about 30 minutes to spare. At least it was enough time so that, once past Odawara, I knew there was enough time without too much worry. Jerome, starting 2 hours later, had plenty of time.

We celebrated with steak dinner and beer at the nearest place to the finish line. Then home to sleep.

In total, I rode 633kms. Not bad. Then again, for a course like this, I would have expected to ride it in under 36 hours, not 39 1/2 hours. Sure, this ride was only four days after the monster 300k, and neither of us had enough sleep the night before. We rode in rain (and full rain gear) for six hours (Jerome for more). And the hotel stop was 5 hours, the work call 30 minutes, the Gusto lunch at least 45, the Kannami dawdling another 20+ longer than expected, and the two mechanicals, one of which required extra caution riding the last 100kms. But there is relatively minimal climbing on this route (for Japan -- "only" 3660m elevation gain total), no gravel, no serious headwinds, no searing heat, and so I was expecting to do it several hours faster. There is still more work to be done before Cascade. But at least I am done with the qualifiers! And done with my first 600k since 2019! And my body experienced an intense two-day effort while still recovering from the last brevet, or maybe the last two brevets. So I think I am on the way.

The R-Tokyo route can be found here on RidewithGPS.