14 June 2018

Race Across America - Solo 2018

The solo riders are well into their second day of riding in RAAM 2018.

The Japanese entrant, Hirokazu Suzuki (ずっちゃ to friends), seems to be doing well, solidly in the middle of the pack (upper middle). In 1 day and 7 hours, he had ridden over 407 miles and passed Congress, Arizona. He is on track for a "projected" finish of 10 days and 8 hours. Wow. Suzuki-san "wrote the book" on successful randonneuring in Japanese, literally.

Suzuki-san has a support team including many of the key Japan audax members -- starting with Maya Ide.

The RAAM leader is perennial champion Christoph Strasser. At 614 miles already, he is WAY ahead of everyone else, around 100 miles ahead of the 2nd place rider.

You can track them all on the leaderboard here.

http://www.raceacrossamerica.org/live-tracking.html


(P.S. It was only this January that Jerome and I joined a 200km brevet Suzuki-san also rode. Shockingly, we finished ahead of him, though I think he was riding that day with his spouse on a kind of "warm down" from the previous day's training).

Update: After 3 days and 10 hours, Zuccha is in 8th place, with nearly 1000 miles covered and a large group of riders lapping at his heels, though he was once in the midst of that pack. Not sure about sleep schedules, etc., but will check back tomorrow. Meanwhile, Christoph Strasser is around 250 miles ahead of the 2nd place rider!

Update: Zuccha made it to West Virginia before his race ended. He started to fall behind schedule once across the Mississippi, and faced the hilliest part of the course through the Appalachians, when he was hit by a case of Shermer's neck -- where the neck muscles can no longer fully support the weight of the human head. Solo RAAM is hard, almost inhuman.

13 June 2018

15th Fuji HC -- 2018


Tokyo Cranks Finishers at 5th Stage lodge
The Mt. Fuji Hill Climb is a "fun ride" mass event up the Subaru Line, nearly 10,000 riders starting around 1000 meters elevation at Fuji Hokuroku Park and going to the Fifth Stage, somewhat over 2300 meters elevation. The timed part of the course is 24 kms, the actual is another km or more from the park entrance to the Subaru Line entrance.

In 2008, Positivista Juliane ("the Gazelle") Prechtl was the 4th place woman finisher, and Tom Wielrenner, only weeks after his 285km breakaway/solo Tokyo-Itoigawa performance, also clocked a great time ... not sure exactly how great, but great.

In 2009, we also had an excellent team, led by James Knott and sponsored by his company. That year, I had my personal best time of 1:34:07, a few weeks before the start of Transalp.

In 2010, our corporate sponsor was gone, and more than one Positivista was planning a departure from Japan. I was recovering from an injury. By 2011, we had other priorities -- Transalp, Étape du Tour, and PBP that summer for me. And the Fuji HC really only is worth it as a weekend out of town with a group of  friends up at the mountain.

So I was happy this year to join the Tokyo Cranks' annual Fuji HC team and try it again after 9 years hiatus. We had 14 members in total. Seven of us (and Yamada-san, a friend of Yuki and Naoko, was just along for the Saturday ride) met along the Tamagawa at Komae a few minutes after 7AM on Saturday. I had planned the route -- over Otarumi Pass, then through Akiyama along Yamanashi Route 35 over Hinazuru Pass to Tsuru, and up the hill to Kawaguchiko.
Along the Asagaway on the way to Takao, with Naoko, Yuki, Lena, Nils and Yamada-san,
waiting for Glenn and Tim as they fix Glenn's flat.
Even with the early start it was a very hot trip. We made good time to Takao, over Otarumi, then onto Route 76 and finally made the turn off to take Routes 518 then 35 through a series of up, down and up sections. It was HOT and HUMID. I overheated and in one of the towns pulled over and asked a lady at a small shop if I could use her outdoor faucet/hose to cool down. She said "no water from that one, wait a minute", and brought out another hose connected to a faucet from her garage. Salvation. She gave me an ice pack that I slid into my rear center jersey pocket.
The shop on the left - life saving water stop.

Akiyama sky and green

We are climbing now.

Glenn at the manju shop

Route 35 is popular with cyclists, and almost no cars.
Then more climbing. The thermometer on my bicycle computer said 36 degrees celsius when in the direct sun. Finally we reached the famous manju shop, and rested in the shade while enjoying miso manju. The old folks in the back brought us green tea, then umeboshi. We took a longer rest than expected. And it was closer to the top of the climb than I had remembered. Through the tunnel we went, then a fast and fun descent to Tsuru.

Our group split. Nils, Lena and I decided we had done our pre-hill climb workout, and took the train up the valley. Everyone else rode (except for Yamada-san, who headed back to Tokyo).
Our Fujikyu train - Thomas the Tank engine version!


At the registration and start village, Glenn hams it up for the camera
Nice relaxed mood.
We had a great dinner, thanks to John K. and Rolf for shopping, and to Jon T., Nils and others from bringing wine. And to everyone, as we all did some of the prep and cooking. Lena "fired" me for cutting my potato slices too thick ... but they worked out just fine.
Slicing zucchini, as instructed.

Tim, Lena and I prep. Tim is Australian, so he manned the barbeque.
Lena is moving back to Chicago this week with husband and 3 daughters. The Fuji HC was on her
"Japan bucket list". I guess it reminded me a bit of the 2009 event,
and how many of those expats I rode with left within the following year or two.

Kampai! Bottoms up!
Maybe Ian and Andreas were faster because they did not drink alcohol? Maybe not

Great rental houses, close to Kawaguchiko station and
ideal for train watching. The trains did not run during the wee hours.
Anyway, after the ride out to Yamanashi, the hill climb itself was almost an anticlimax. Almost.

We awoke early, but decided to skip the speeches, and miss the 6AM luggage drop off deadline. It was slightly wet - a bit of mist - but the mist lifted and we rode to the start in dry, if very cloudy, conditions. Most of us left the house after 7AM. I was supposed to go with the 15th (of 20) waves, and I got to the start area as the 11th wave headed out. Perfect.
There goes wave 12, or is it 13.

Ready and set.
The climb was a bit more painful than I remembered. I knew the first 5kms was steeper than average, so I took it easy so as to have something left in the tank for later. Everything went OK, if slower than I would have liked. I had planned to eat a bit and maybe even pull off for 30 seconds after reaching 1500 meters ... but had no need. Instead, I made it to over 1900 meters elevation, then took a quick break for bathroom, energy bar and cardio rest, maybe two minutes total. I felt much stronger the next few kms and passed many riders I had been with before the break, so I think it was worth it. I remembered the long, 2-3 km, flat stretch near the finish, and I was able to go at decent speed (30kph? more?) through most of that. But my memory had blacked out the agony of the relatively steep last kilometer to follow. I kept looking for the finish markers in the mist. They took a long time to appear, but there was Ian, with his smart phone, and then I was over the recording pad.

My time was 2:02. Just over my target of 2 hours. Not good, but not so bad for my current weight and condition. I should try again next year, and train (and diet) to get back to 1:45.


Almost at the top.


Nils ... right behind me!
The Cranks gathered on the second floor of the main lodge, enjoyed some food (ramen, etc.) and waited until every member had finished and the lines of riders waiting in the cold to descend had shortened. I bought a T shirt and lined my chest with newsprint for warmth on the descent. My thin rain shell just was not going to be warm enough, without full finger gloves or a cap to cover my ears.


Triathletes Naoko and Yuki were much faster climbers than most Cranks.
Both Ian and Andreas were in the 1:17 range, too.
The descent was long, and slow (controlled by staff riders and a pace car.). But it only got touch and go when, over 1/2 way down, it started to rain. My thermometer said 10 degrees C. That's cold with rain and basically summer gear!

The rain got a bit stronger and I cancelled my plan to ride back to Tokyo. It got stronger yet, and I cancelled my plan to ride down the hill to Otsuki before hopping a train. It was pouring. In the end, Jon T. dropped me at Kawaguchiko Station for the 4PM express bus to Shibuya. Actually not a bad way to go, at all. A great group to hang out and ride with, and a successful event.
Next year, faster!

(*There is another event a week later, the Mt. Fuji INTERNATIONAL Hill Climb, which goes up the Azami Line from Subashiri. That is NOT a mass event, but rather a JBCF race. Why? About the same elevation gain ... in less than half the distance! It boasts an average grade of over 10% and is just brutal.)

27 May 2018

Akigawa Ride

Akigawa - Hinohara valley from the climb to Kobu Tunnel
I woke up a bit too late to get to the Tokyo Cranks' 715AM start at Futakotamagawa today. I was following the latest in reported medical research. I decided to join the Cranks at Seijo for coffee and head out on a longer ride. At least I made it to Seijo before they disbanded, and a group could admire the Sky BlueParlee, Gokiso wheels, and even matching blue jersey and helmet.

It was a nice day, if a bit hot. I headed upriver.

Picnic at the river -- best watched on "full screen" setting (click box on the lower right corner of video).

In the end I rode to Itsukaichi and up the Akigawa and through Kobu Tunnel. I had planned to descend to Uenohara, climb over Otarumi (or Wada) Pass,and hop a train from Takao. But in the end, I realized I had left my GPS at the bottom of the climb to Kobu Tunnel, and so needed to return to get it, and then rode down the hill to Itsukaichi. Total distance was just over 100 kms. Not bad for a late start and a hot day.

As usual, the Akigawa was beautiful. I only got out the camera on the way down, so here are some photos as I went down the valley.

Spring is nearly done, but still plenty of color

I resisted the temptation to descend to the swimming hole at Motojuku 

Cyclist friendly ramen etc. shop at Motojuku.  Mura-Ace instead of Dura Ace!

Looks like fun.


Fast trip down the valley

Overgrown thatch roof at the Kurochaya kaiseki restaurant. There must be beautiful view from the windows today

More overgrown roof to the restaurant.

16 May 2018

David is Reporting "Safe" from the Great Nagano Earthquake of May 2018 -- 600kms done and dusted

Emerging at the top of the climb between Nagano-shi and Hakuba

This weekend I rode an AJ Chiba 600km event, with a midnight Friday night start. It was a spectacular, challenging ride, with many highlights. I want to thank the Chiba organizers for carefully planning our route.

AJ Chiba is the Chiba-based chapter of Audax Japan. Because Chiba is mostly a peninsula on the far eastern edge of Honshu, it is somewhat isolated. You can't get anywhere by going "through" Chiba, though Chiba itself has some lovely seacoast, beaches, and Japanese countryside. Sure enough, the course for this Chiba-sponsored ride went from Tsuchiura, Ibaraki, northeast of Tokyo, to Hakuba, on the northwestern edge of mountainous Nagano Prefecture, and back again. The route did not go through Chiba ... except for a tiny sliver of the prefecture around Noda that mysteriously extends between Ibaraki and Saitama.
The Renovo "Firewood" bike, resting in view of the Northern Japan Alps

----------

The Earthquake!

As I was getting a bite at a convenience store, during the descent from Karuizawa to Ueda in eastern-central Nagano Prefecture on Saturday late morning, about 10 1/2 hours into the event, I checked my phone, and saw an earthquake alert!

Apparently there had been a major earthquake in the area of Nagano City and Ogawamura, to my northwest.  In those areas near the epicenter of the shallow quake, this event measured "5" on the Japanese scale of shaking intensity. Oh no!

Of course, I remembered seeing an exhibit at the castle in Matsumoto nearby, which presented the many times the castle buildings had been totally destroyed by quakes over the past few hundred years. I imagined buildings in Nagano at angles, roadways cracked, survivors screaming the names of their loved ones and digging through debris of collapsed houses.

I had planned to join a March 12 brevet in 2011 and needed to cancel because of the March 11 disaster -- no train service even to Nagoya for the start and no one in a mood for a ride, even in places far away from the Tohoku tsunami and the nuclear plants that were just going into meltdown that Saturday. Then in 2016, our Kumamoto Fleche was cancelled because of the Kumamoto earthquake a few days before our planned event. Landslides covering roads, relief teams en route -- not a time for a cycling event. Would this be a third time, but DURING the ride? 

Our route would put us at the center of Nagano City a few hours later, and then that night we would go through Ogawamura and again ride along the southwestern edge of Nagano City. We could not very well continue the ride if first responders were engaged in rescue operations, road surfaces cracked, worries spreading about food and water supply!

I went back into the convenience store and asked the clerk about it ... he was a bit older and looked as if he might be a franchisee/owner. He shrugged. "Yeah, we felt a little shake here".  What about damage in Nagano City? "Haven't heard about any." I decided to press on.

After a few minutes back on the bike, I came to a "secret checkpoint" -- two of the AJ Chiba staffers checking us off and making sure we followed the correct route, instead of taking a fairly obvious shortcut. I asked about the quake? Had they heard? "Yes." Well, what of it? Would the ride go on? "Sure".  Any damage in Nagano City? They shrugged their shoulders.

A few hours later I rode through the area near the epicenter of the quake, going South to North right through the center of Nagano City, past major buildings, government offices, and up the hills, along the edge of Shinshu University Education Department's campus.

It looked chaotic that afternoon. The streets were jammed (... with usual weekend afternoon traffic). An evacuation area, typically used as an athletic field or school "ground", was full of people (... who, judging from the uniforms I saw and the age of those wearing them, were not SDF or firefighter "first responders", but rather seemed to be playing and watching a high school baseball game). 

Seriously, I did not see ANY damage, nor any sign that there had been an earthquake a few hours earlier. The same was true for Ogawamura ... where we descended a highway in the pitch dark at very high speeds for nearly 20 kms to get to the last checkpoint of Saturday. It would NOT have been a happy occasion to come across a massive crack in the road at such speeds.

Yes, one fellow rider noted, they really do need to fix the nationwide earthquake alert system to weed out minor ones that do not cause any damage. I guess at this point anything in Nagano that will be damaged by a mere "5", (okay, it was "5 minus"), has already been damaged. Everything left standing is sturdy enough to get through a quake. Maybe they need to up the threshold for these nationwide alerts to everyone's mobile phones?

-------------

The Start
Reflective vests show the riders signing in -- around 30 showed, of fewer than 45 who signed up.

The midnight start was at a river's edge just south of Tsuchiura Station -- less than 1 hour and about $20 by train from Shinagawa via the "Tokiwa" express. Somewhat fewer than 45 persons had registered for the ride, and I don't think any more than 30 showed up. Midnight start? 600kms? Mountains en route? Something other than the threat of an earthquake had scared them away. At least the weather forecast looked great -- a beautiful Saturday, and a cool Sunday with rain only coming in the evening, long after our finish! I even took the fenders off my chosen bike, the wood-framed Renovo, so that I could fit it easily in a "rinko" bag for the train.

At the start, I recognized several of the Chiba organizers by face, if not by name. And some of the riders were familiar as well. One, Nitta-san, came up and introduced himself as having done the Utsunomiya ride 2 weeks ago. Another, who said his first name is Kijiro, ended up riding the first 100kms with me. As we rode he said he had lived in Sydney and Tasmania at one time and that he wanted to get a fast start since he is not a strong climber. I could have said the same ... he finished at least 2 hours ahead of me!  (This was my slowest 600km yet, except for the Seattle summer gravel grinder). Anyway, it was good to have a riding companion in the early, dark stretches. He was not as much of a stickler for traffic rules and signals in the middle of the night in the countryside as many Audax riders -- I guess from the experience of living abroad!

The pre-ride briefing was quite different from some I have heard. Yes, it did include some key information (at turn 95 on the cue sheet, go "right" instead of "left"), it focused mostly on where one might get good food along the route in the hours we would be riding. The speaker was obviously NOT going to settle for convenience store fare on his rides. I could have kicked myself for not having pen and paper handy, though I swear I noticed a few of the places mentioned as I passed. In the end, I ate almost entirely at convenience stores this trip.

-----------

Outbound
Heading toward Takasaki on Route 354 at first light

Still no traffic on Saturday morning. It gets light between 4 and 5AM this time of year.

Waiting for a traffic light (same old, same old) along the river near Takasaki, with Kijiro and two others
Anyway, I made great time with Kijiro to the 62km checkpoint, and still good time with him and then others (after I fell behind him) through Takasaki and up a very slight slope to the 150km checkpoint west of Annaka.  From here, I knew we had a climb ahead - the mightly Usui Pass, with its 175 marked curves. Seriously, it is not much of a climb, starting around 400m elevation and cresting just under 1000m, with less than 7% grade and plenty of flat stretches. And it was beautiful, cool and green. I still felt okay at the top, into Karuizawa.
View of the Gunma mountains -- and electric wires -- from Route 18 Bypass near Annaka

A bit further along -- same mountains, still high voltage electric wires

The classic shot - Meganebashi (the "eye glasses bridge") and bicycle,
on the quiet old road, Route 18 climb to Usui Pass/Karuizawa
Karuizawa took longer to get through than I remembered. And there was heavier mid-morning traffic. I had already ridden 180 kms. I started to tire and was saved only by the long descent down the "Asama Sun Line".
Starting down the "Asama Sun Line" toward Komoro then Ueda
After my convenience store stop and the secret control, we joined a Route 18 bypass around the northern side of Ueda, hugging the hills, then crossed the Chikuma River and stayed mostly on local Route 77 all the way to Nagano.  We were going into a headwind now, and well over 200 kms into the ride.

Obasute

I passed a sign for "Obasute" train station.  "Oba-sute" or "Uba-sute", literally translates as something like "abandoning grandma" and refers to the mythical ancient Japanese practice of abandoning older women family members to die by exposure in winter, when there was not enough food to feed the rest of the family.  There is no good evidence that this was actual practice, but they did name the town and train station after it, and so I guess elderly women, past child-bearing age, were not seen as serving much social function back in some parts of pre-modern Japan. You can see a depiction in the 1958 classic film "Ballad of Narayama". There is even a woodblock print of a son carrying grandma off to the mountain in the train station.
Grandma grabs a branch -- she doesn't want to go?
I am told that the reason grandma is grabbing a branch is NOT to fight her son, but rather so that he will be able to find his way home through the woods by following the fallen, broken branches. And indeed, in the film, the grandma accepts her fate that she will be abandoned on the mountain in her 70th year. Rather, her only concern is that she must first find a wife for her son so that he can be happy without her.

Quail Confections

Our route went past what looked like a very tranquil setting for a shinto shrine. There was a sign for "Uzura-Mochi" at what looked like a shop/cafe and there was an "Uzura Hotel". I think of "Uzura no tamago" and so know that "uzura" is quail. Sure enough, these are quail-shaped rice confections (dai-fuku). I did not try one, but I did enough the peaceful shrine grounds for another brief rest. 
Structure in Hachimangu shrine in Chikuma

Entrance to the Hachimangu shrine grounds in Chikuma

Massive tree trunk and some of the shrine grounds
I've been through Nagano on bicycle a number of times before, but this time the route took me past many prefectural and public buildings. I noticed the signage for the courts, tax collectors, the judicial scriveners' hall, and various prefectural and regional offices, as well as Shinshu University. After climbing a short hill to a "T" we finally turned left onto Route 406, to a checkpoint and then onward through the hills and to Hakuba.

The "Town With No Demons"
Reservoir on the climb from Nagano-shi to Kinasa
Old farm buildings and Route 406 in upper Kinasa
The road keeps going up, gradually, for a long time. Fogged camera lens.
At the checkpoint AJ Chiba staffers told me it was 18.8 kms to the top, with 1000 meters' elevation gain to a pass around 1400 meters elevation. That was wrong. Actually, it was 33 kms to the tunnel/pass at the top, just above Hakuba, and the elevation at the top was more like 1100.  But the route had plenty of up and down (~300 meters of down with 1000 of up?), so at least they were correct that the total elevation gained on this stretch was close to 1000 meters.

The upper valley was rustic, and beautiful, and we were there at a great time of year, farmers planting in the fields on their tractors in the muck of rice paddies, flowering trees, a nice "michi-no-eki" in the town where they were selling soft ice cream cones. All was good, except my exhaustion and the unremitting brevet schedule limited my ability to enjoy it all. I would love to go by train to Nagano and then ride my bike through here, on my own schedule.

I loved the name of the town. I could read the characters, which seemed to say "demon" "none" "town", or 鬼無里.  The word for "town" used is "sato", which is more like "hamlet" or "village" or "my hometown", a more personal term than "machi" or "mura". A very familiar, friendly word. The name of the town is pronounced Kinasa, readings I had never heard before for those characters. Hard to forget -- the town with no demons ... but one demon-like, never-ending, gradual hill!

I rested any number of times, and the top never seemed to come. Until it did. And it was spectacular, with a view across to the Northern Alps of Japan stretched in a line above Hakuba. I remembered this view from Tokyo-Itoigawa almost a decade ago ... except then we were down in the valley, looking at the peaks through electric wires. This was, indeed, worth the entire trip.
The elderly photographer stayed fixed in this pose for at least 5 minutes as I snapped shots.
He was waiting for the perfect sunset shot.
I did not have time to wait for the sun to descend ... spectacular vista from Route 406 up the hill east of Hakuba
Hakuba

In the dimming light, Hakuba looked very welcoming. The rivers, mountains, forests, friendly, smiling younger folks who looked as if they worked at ski lodges or on the slopes in the winter.  I wanted to stay and explore the town. But, to quote Captain Jack Aubrey, there was not a moment to lose!
River at Hakuba Village

Road at Hakuba Village
The next section was riding around the back side of Lake Aoki at dusk. I've gone by this lake many times on a bicycle, but always on the main highway. Our route took us in a loop around the western shore, through woods past cottages and leisure facilities, always with trees above and the lake to the side. Not a single car, nor other bicycle, was seen until I arrived at the checkpoint at the far end of the lake.  The soft light was magical.  I ruled out the idea of trying to capture it in a photo. Too dark and dim for that. You had to be there.

Night Ride

On the return, it was a short (5km?) climb, then a long (25km?) descent through Ogawamura to the last checkpoint of Saturday.  The descent was pitch dark, black, with no traffic until several roads had merged further down the valleys. After yet another convenience store check-in, I considered my position. I was done with all of Saturday's climbing, probably 70% of the elevation covered, even if only 55% of the distance. And despite the Kinasa slog and many rests, I was still around 2 hours ahead of the time limit arriving at this checkpoint. Now there was a long flat stretch back to Ueda, then the one climb over Karuizawa, and more downhill and flat to the finish. I started to feel confident about completing the event within the time limit. I just needed to get to the next checkpoint, between Annaka and Takasaki, by 6:56 AM. Piece of cake. Oh, and several at the checkpoint noted that the weather forecast had changed. It would be raining in Nagano by morning, and in Kanto by mid-afternoon Sunday. This was about 6-8 hours earlier than the previous forecast. Maybe I should have brought those fenders along?

I left the checkpoint alone, and rode only very occasionally seeing others. I was clearly toward the back of a very small pack of randonneurs. I wanted to sleep, at least for an hour or two. But Local Route 77 had little in the way of sleeping candidates. No 24 hour coin laundries, no internet cafes, no Gusto family restaurants after Chikuma. We passed a Domino's Pizza -- no seating. And plenty of convenience stores -- no sleeping. A google maps search turned up a day-onsen that was open until 1AM in Kami Yamada along my route. It seemed like a "real" onsen with outdoor bath, sauna, food service available, etc., for only 630 yen.  I arrived there around 1030PM. The attendant was friendly, but shrugged his shoulders when I asked about a place I could lay down for 30-60 minutes after my bath. And the food service was over. Oh well, I figured, I would try to find a place to lie down in the bathing area.

This is at least the 4th or 5th time I have tried a mid-ride onsen. It just does not work, at least not without a decent recovery sleep to follow. My body is in an extreme condition, and the onsen heat does not help since I know I need to get back on the bike soon after. I tried lying down on a bench outside next to the outdoor bath. Too cold after a few minutes, even with a large rented bath towel. I tried sleeping in one bath. Too hot and I could feel myself dehydrating.  Eventually, I gave up and went to the entry area, got some drinks from the vending machine (coffee/milk etc.) and put my head down on a table, sitting in a chair. I left by 1230AM, having had no real sleep, and feeling nearly as tired as before.

Our route went up the South side of the Chikuma River from Ueda toward Komoro. This was a low traffic road, a nice choice in the day. But at night, the repeated up/down was a killer, blocking me from getting momentum and draining my remaining strength. I rested inside the cover of a walkway underpass for 10 minutes, then pressed on. I stopped at a vending machine for an energy drink, nearly out of water -- no services on a long stretch of this road. Two other riders passed me and I tried to hop on with them, riding together or at least with them in sight all the way to where we joined the Route 18 Bypass in Komoro. The hills felt as if they were at a 15% grade. In fact, they were more like 7%.

Then, finally, as the first light cut the pitch darkness, I was up on top, and going through Karuizawa again, this time on the "bypass". It was a fast road, and on the stretch from 1002 meters elevation to the low point, around 935 meters, I zoomed. It was still long before 5AM, and the next checkpoint was just down the hill and a bit of a way down the valley, and did not close until 6:56AM.
The route taken ... most of it, at least.

Panic #1

I arrived at the checkpoint, raced in, and got my receipt. I practically screamed at the clerk. "I'll take this. Just quickly get me the receipt! Quickly! Here's the cash! No bag needed! Just the receipt. Quick, ring it up. Issue the receipt first! Issue the receipt fast!" The receipt showed ... 6:56AM. Another few seconds and I would have been out of time.

What happened?

First, the Route 18 Bypass leaving Karuizawa to the east does not go out via Usui Pass. Instead, it goes over an adjacent mountain. Add an extra 100+ meters of climbing. Even at 5AM, I did not like the bypass road. It is a wide road with sweeping curves, and the only traffic on it at that hour was going FAST. Big trucks, small cars, it did not matter. I was not steady, and they were zooming.  Finally, at least I was at the top and onto the descent.

Within a few minutes, I started to fall asleep on the bike. I pulled over and rest my head on the handlebars, tried again. Started to doze off and pulled over. A third time. This time I found a nice strip of protected concrete behind the guard rail and lay down for 5 minutes. Surely now I would be revived enough, if I just crept down the hill feathering my brakes. Wrong.

I awoke suddenly, just as my left side of the handlebars hit the high concrete retaining wall next to the road. The bike and I went tumbling onto the surface of the road. Ouch!  I waited 5 or 10 seconds, then started to try and move. Some sharp pains, but nothing obviously broken, at least. My right toe ached, my right knee, left elbow. The brifters on my bike were jammed toward the center, bar tape torn on one side, handlebar bag and contents strewn over the roadway, seat and seat post twisted at a 15 degree angle.  And the DI2 rear derailleur was no longer shifting.

But, but ... no broken bones. And after 5 or 10 minutes of work, the bike was rideable and almost as good as new. No scratches on the frame I could see. Only the loose left brifter could not be fully fixed -- I could not easily tighten it with the wrench I had brought, but the rear derailleur was working (after I replugged a wire), and everything else was okay, and the brifter was usable.

In the end, it took me over 40 minutes to get down a hill that I would typically do in 20 minutes or so.

How far was it to the checkpoint again? Let's see. It seems as if the address is "Takasaki" and not "Annaka"!!!  It looks like it is ANOTHER 20 KILOMETERS from the BOTTOM of the hill! That is cutting it VERY close. Now THAT woke me up!

I gave it my all.

As I passed the signs for Central Annaka and Annaka Station, I figured I had at least 5 minutes' to spare and still arrive within time. My GPS was acting up, so I tried to adhere to the cue sheet to find the PC. First, I remember being told at the briefing that we needed to stay in the MIDDLE of 3 lanes to avoid a left turn near here. I moved to the left edge of the middle lane. Immediately, a horn behind honked loudly and repeatedly at me!  I sheepishly pulled over. Where was our turn? And why did we leave Route 18 Bypass? I went down an exit from an overpass (was that the left turn to avoid? or the correct one?  And I re-entered the main road again. Eventually I got out my iPhone and uploaded the Ridewith GPS file. I could finally see the route, and retraced to get off the main road and go around. But I was still a few kms from the checkpoint!  It would be VERY close. Every red light was a risk of being late. I sprinted, or as close as possible, the last kilomter.

My watch said 6:56 as I pulled into the PC and ran into the store. The receipt also said 6:56. Whew.

The Rain

The rest of the ride - still another 145 kms - was flat. Easy, right. Just roll it home and maintain an average speed around 20kph. Well, yes, and no.

First, my GPS device's "route" function was haywire. It was rebooting itself repeatedly. And though I had the cue sheet, I had not bothered to print a map ... my iphone and GPS versions had worked so well in recent rides. I made it fine to the 540km PC, with plenty of time to spare.

Panic #2

I realized that the time limits for the PCs were set for a 600km event, but our finish point was actually 609 kms. So we had an extra 9kms tacked on to the final leg. Then the rains hit. Gradually getting heavier and heavier, reaching downpour level when I was just southwest of Tsukuba. My GPS device was for all practical purposes useless, my iphone screen would not work when wet (and the battery was down at a few percent, and my cue sheet was telling me about roads I could no longer find, some unmarked).  I knew I was off course, and had taken a long route to get back on course, ... but to no avail. Was I going East? North? Had the road turned back West? I felt as if I could spend the rest of the day riding in circles around Tsukuba. Finally, I found a convenience store where I could dry my phone, look at a map, and figure it out. As it turned out, I was only 6-7 kms from the finish (as the crow flies), and if I could just get back to the route, I had enough time.
At the finish - Flash Cycle near Tsuchiura Station
I made it to the finish with 15 minutes to spare ... out of 40 hours. And there were at least 5 other riders behind me.  An easy 600km, that was not so easy. With this, I have completed my "super randonneur series" of 200, 300, 400 and 600km events, so should qualify to ride the Central California Coast randonée (1000km version) in late August.
The downpour as my train leaves Tsuchiura Station
Tsuchiura Station's cyclist-themed waiting room, on the platform
Tsuchiura is trying hard to attract cyclist visitors. At the station, there was a room where we could assemble/disassemble bikes, use lockers, change clothes, wash grime off things, even showers are available. Plus several bike shops at or near by, rental cycles, etc. etc. Good for the day-tripper. (Lockers not accessible at night, according to the signage I saw).