31 May 2009

Tour de Kyushu

Here is the PowerPoint presentation that Craig put together for anyone that is interested in seeing some more detail of our recent tour. I put together a video although it doesn't include (yet) the 10GB of photos that the support crew took!

Tour of Kyushu 2009 from Knotty on Vimeo.

25 May 2009


Can somebody remember a more cycle-intense Positivo Espresso weekend, than the one which has just passed? I must say that I am mighty impresses by the achievements of Sunday.

James is hanging out in Kyushu with the guys from WSA I know only to well. It seems that they are covering kilometer after kilometer will reducing the wildlife in wild dinner courses.

David, Jerome and Ludwig made some pretty impressive rides with many kilometers and elevation meters, supporting Tom to achieve eternal stardom in the Itoigawa race. He came in sixth overall according to his blog, which is very, very, very impressive. I am also happy that he survived the madness in the tunnels between Hakuba and Itoigawa.
Tom [left] taking a sharp turn down from Otarumi.

In the meantime I finished on Sunday morning in forth place of the 2A race in the Tour of Japan Tokyo stage. Well actually not me, but my alter ego Thomas Flindt who raced instead of me and even told the organizers that he is not me. But they didn't change the name anyway. I am lucky that this race does not promote me to C class ranking.

And in the afternoon I finished even better with the TCC Team of Phil, Alan and Naomi: 10th place overall and 2nd place in the mixed category at the Bike Navi Hitachi Naka 7 hour endurance race. Wow - cool guys. At least I was the investing hand behind the team's success.

Hm, I should really do more rides on the hometrainer to fulfill future expectations. But it is just too boring. I am totally envious of what you have done, guys.

Thanks also to Ryoko and Stephen who faced a sport challenge of a different kind; attending my marketing lecture at the ICU for hours. You were too kind.

24 May 2009

Madness on Route 20

Complementing David's earlier post, here is my own story about yesterday. I too started from home at 4:15am but that was five minutes later than planned and as a result I was not on time at the appointed place on Tamagawa. Checking voice messages lost me a few more minutes. The headwind was such that I could never catch up two riders drafting each other without exhausting myself, which I was keen to avoid. I was amazed how many people were already out and about at 4:30am!

I must have caught up almost with David and Jerome as I reached Tom at the starting line at something like 5:54 - without any stop at the Seven-Eleven and taking the short-cut through Hachioji.

So off I went with Tom at 6:00. Tom had declared he would attack Otarumi at a brisk pace to break away from the crowd (of 20 starting a time). So he did, and very soon it was only Tom, two Japanese riders and myself heading up Otarumi. Thanks to drafting Tom I had no difficulty keeping up, but I was worried Tom was exhausting himself a little too much as my pulse was getting slightly over 160 and I was wondering what his was like.

As we got close to the top and everybody seemed to get slower I broke away to go under the bridge a few seconds before the rest. 13:17 - not my best time (13:00), but quite close, even though I felt far less stretched than usual - the power of drafting I guess.

Now the real madness started. Tom was obviously keen to win at any price, including his own life. We had caught up with two trucks that had passed us on the way up, and while they were not particularly slow (which trucks are in Japan?), they weren't fast enough for Tom. So he decided to overtake one of them in a relatively sharp left-turn curve, getting onto the opposite lane even though he could not see whether there was any traffic coming up, nor could he have returned to the downhill lane as the two were separated by these killer blocks on the centre line. Complete madness!! The remaining three of us refrained from such or similar manoeuvers and as Tom isn't the fastest downhill racer caught up with him soon, and at the traffic lights in front of the Sagamiko station the four of us were again one group.

From there on, Tom and a young guy from the Fuji Heavy Industries racing team kept taking turns in leading the group. I would have loved to take my turn, but even drafting my pulse varied between 150 and the low 160s and I deemed it unwise to exhaust myself beyond that. The fourth rider must have thought the same as he stayed stubbornly on my back wheel.

We went on like this at fast speed to Otsuki, on the way passing Jerome and David. Just before Otsuki, the Fuji Heavy rider had his front wheel punctured. He managed to keep riding (must have had a special kind of wheel) but complained about the high friction. After a few kilometers he gave up to fix the wheel.

So it was only Tom, the other guy and me left. I started taking my turns in leading the group, and eventually also the third guy did. Tom was getting exhausted and the other guy showed no such signs. My back started to hurt increasingly, but as we started to do steeper climbs I had the chance of getting out of the saddle to relax my back which kept things under control.

On the final ascent to Sasago Tunnel, the third guy broke away from Tom when I was last. I followed in measured pace, and by the time I realised he was trying to make a best time to Sasago he was too far ahead for me to catch him without getting my pulse into anaerobic territory. I was still second and I think Tom wasn't that far behind. I did not stop and kept going right into the tunnel, and never saw Tom again. Because he must have passed me as I went into the Seven-Eleven down in Kaiyamato.

The time we took from Takaosanguchi to Sasago was 1:50 (and maybe a few seconds). Only the winner of the entire Itoigawa race last year was faster than that! Wow - what a pace. I had averaged 29.6km/h from home to Takaosanguchi (excluding the stops for checking my phone messages) - not bad considering the headwind. At Sasago the average was  slightly above 30km/h, despite all the climbing!

As I hadn't had a drop of water and nothing to eat since leaving home and had gone 105km at record speed, it was time to get reasonable and take a break. So relaxed a bit in front of the convenience store and let some of the slower riders pass. We had overtaken almost the entire group of 20 that started 15 minutes ahead of us by the time we reached Sasago.

I rode down down towards Kofu, overtaking again a few even though I wasn't killing myself to go fast. As I was taking a short toilet break, the Fuji Heavy guy caught up with me. What a pleasant surprise. We decided to ride together. I pulled him through all of central Kofu, claiming I knew a short cut. Well, looking at the GPS trail (see below) I realised later that I had taken one turn too many (mislead by a sign that indicated the way to route 20) and thus it wasn't really a short cut (though at least didn't make the route longer either).

Outside Kofu, we took turns as we seemed to run out of steam in turns. That allowed us to keep a steady pace, and at the next check-point my cycling computer still showed the same average of slightly above 30. I took a longer break at the nearby convenience store than he wanted and so he took off without me.

By that time, we had encountered countless situations where trucks overtook us without leaving more than a few centimeters between them and us. At a traffic light, I shouted at one of them, though he had been one of the lesser evils - the trucks with long trailers were the worst as they seemed to forget that they had a trailer. Truck traffic was getting increasingly dense, and legs, arms and even trickot became quite black! It became clear to me that all these cyclists on the road were annoying the truckers so much that they decided not to care much any more.

I dreaded the thought of another 75km of nightmare with potential fatal consequences to Matsumoto, and potentially more of it beyond. Besides the scenery wasn't even that great and I was asking myself what I was trying to achieve. So in a town called Hakushucho I decided to abandon the idea of making it to Itoigawa and to instead head for the mountains.

Nearby was the beautiful Yatsugadake range (literally eight peaks), with all the nice kougens on the foot of it. I climbed up into these kougens and travelled through them in the same direction as route 20. Quite some up and down at an altitude of 1,200 to 1,400m. Eventually, the road was closed for repairs and I had to head down for Chino. By that time the headwind had developed increasing strength, and it wasn't particularly pleasant fighting my way towards Lake Suwa, the last sight I wanted to see for the day. Still, better than fighting the same wind all the way to Itoigawa, as the forecast had said.

Suwako with the Yatsudake range in the background,
seen from Shimo-Suwa towards Kami-Suwa/Chino

I cycled once around the pretty large lake, then was lucky that I went into Kami-Suwa station just as a Super-Asuza back to Shinjuku was about to pull in. But "super" is all relative - despite stopping only at Chino, Kofu, Hachioji and Tachikawa, it still takes 2.5 hours to Shinjuku! I had come a long way.

I decided to get off at Tachikawa to drop by Y's Road in Fuchu to get my chain exchanged. After 7,200km, it was very worn and shifting gears had become quite fickle. Lucky move, for when I got onto the bike outside Tachikawa station I noticed that the derailer had been badly bent and I was hardly able to ride. On the train, the trolley lady had pushed her heavy trolley with full force into the backside of my bike sticking out from behind the last row of seats in the car.

By the time I got back home, I had covered 260km in all, and with the first 150km ridden at racing speed - a new record.

All that remains to hope is that everybody made it savely to Itoigawa and that Tom broke his own records and came in first!

"They Must Have A Very Powerful Politician"

That spot in the distance ... is Jerome heading up the Enzan side of Yanagisawa Pass via a Route 411 sky bridge.

Click on this photo to enlarge and see the cyclist:

As we ride our bicycles in the Japanese countryside, we sometimes come across an extraordinary (and extraordinarily expensive) piece of public works infrastructure. Among these great feats of engineering (and fiscal stimulus/deficit spending), perhaps the most impressive are the bridges that cross, not water, but land -- soaring out into thin air, as it were, arching across some obscure valley to ease the passage of the (very occasional) larger vehicle that might try to navigate a steep mountain pass so as to deliver a large object to a village of a few hundred (or more like a few dozen) old people. In my experience, these great strips of asphalt are of most use to (1) the large dump trucks that go up and down the mountains to move earth in order to build even more spectacular infrastructure, higher up and farther away, and (2) cyclists!

Among these public works, the construction projects of the first half of the "first lost decade" of the 1990s have got to be the best of the best, the creme de la creme. When one comes upon such an engineering marvel, it is difficult to suppress an exclamation, "wow!" Such was Michael's reaction on a trip he took with Ludwig to the western edge of Chichibu this Spring.

And so it was, that I led Jerome on his first ever trip over Yanagisawa Pass on Saturday, he uttered the inevitable "wow!" Always an astute observer of political economy, one of Jerome's other phrases immediately came to mind, a phrase frequently heard from him in coming upon similar marvels. "They must have a powerful politician." Indeed, Yamanashi's politicians are so powerful that they are STILL building skybridges toward the top of Yanagisawa Pass (doubtless after a hiatus during the Koizumi era), to further ease travel to the mountain top coffee and soba shop. And we saw numerous large dump trucks joining Route 411 from a mysterious side entrance at about 900 meters elevation, just near the turn off to Kamihikawa Pass/Daibosatsu Pass where we had lunch ... as we had seen another mysterious line of dump trucks coming out of the woods at Sasago earlier in the day.

(Unfortunately, the politicians on the Tabayama-mura (NE) side of the pass have noticeably less clout, as evidenced by older bridges, rough road surfaces, and little more than "ordinary" repaving work we saw on the descent. Tabayama may be still in Yamanashi Prefecture, but it is clearly on the wrong side of the hill, connected more closely to Tokyo than to Koufu. Out of sight, out of mind, as they say. ... Or maybe the good leaders of Tabayama did a trade with the politicians of adjacent Kosuge-mura, and decided they would much rather spend tens of billions of yen on the new road AROUND Matsuhime Pass and toward Sarubashi area. That road will make it much easier to get the dump trucks and cyclists to and from Kosuge and even Tabayama.)

Enough about infrastructure. On to the ride report. ...

Jerome and I left my house at the ungodly hour of 4:15AM, planning to get to Takaosanguchi and over Otarumi Pass ahead of Tom S., who had a 6AM start time for the Tokyo-Itoigawa ride. We did not see Ludwig/Manfred at our rendezvous point in Komae and, leaving mobile phone messages, headed on toward Takao at a slower pace. After a VERY brief stop at the traditional Positivo Espresso 7-11 in Takao, we headed up Otarumi. As we passed the start for the Itoigawa ride, Tom hailed us from across the street where he was warming up. 5:52 or 5:53AM ... a 7 or 8 minute head start giving us plenty of time to get over the first hill and ride with Tom a bit along the first stage.

Jerome was suffering. His legs "felt like cotton" and he had "no power." He struggled on every uphill section during the morning. (I was not worried, since I knew he would recover eventually -- he always does, a question of "when" not "if.")

In any event, we made it along Route 20 out to Uenohara, and through the dip just to its west (75 meters elevation loss followed by a similar climb). I climbed faster than Jerome and was several hundred meters ahead by the top of the slope. I heard Tom's voice call from behind just in time to see a train of 4 riders passing me by. I accelerated, hopped on the back and joined Tom, Ludwig (what happened to our rendezvous, Ludwig?) and two Japanese riders. They were going at a good clip, between 35-40 kph on the flat. But Tom seemed to be doing all the pulling. This did not seem fair to me, so after a few minutes, when they slowed perceptibly, I passed the train and settled in front to do my share ... after all, that was the idea, to help Tom go for the victory, sacrificing my "double wide trailer" body by acting as domestique and wind screen, for even a few minutes. Somehow, my move must have confused one of the Japanese riders, who now can up alongside me and asked me in English, "are you living in Chofu-shi?" The apparent non-sequitur puzzled me, until I remembered that, indeed, Tom lives in Chofu ... so I responded politely that no, I live in Setagaya-ku near Futako Tamagawa. This seemed to satisfy him and he let me complete a pull for a few minutes.

After about 5km, as we approached Torizawa, the road turned up briefly, giving me the perfect opportunity to bid farewell, slow down and await Jerome. I pulled up alongside Tom, gave him as big a cheer as I could muster, and then settled back to watch them disappear up the road. Looking forward to Tom's full report, but I understand he averaged 30.4 kph, up from 29.7 last year. The whole experience brought back memories of last year's Tokyo-Itoigawa ride, and absent (David J. and Juliane) or injured (Michael K.) teammates. Jerome caught up with me after I pulled off at the Torizawa Seven Eleven, and after some food and rest (having travelled almost 80 km from home), we continued toward Sasago.

We turned off Route 20 to head up the old road, Route 212, toward Sasago Pass. Jerome rested again, trying to cool down and even lying in the road for a few minutes.

When I tried this delightful climb back in early April, I marvelled at the lack of traffic, the road being "closed for winter" still over the upper stretch of the climb. Remember that this road was once the actual Koshu Kaido -- the MAIN ROAD from Tokyo to Koufu and beyond. Indeed, while there has been a train tunnel between Sasago and Koshu (Kai Yamato) since 1902, the Sasago tunnel for cars and trucks was only completed in 1958, and it charged tolls until 1973. Doubtless the traffic volumes dropped considerably as traffic shifted to the new Koshu Kaido, which made it possible to go 3 km THROUGH instead of 12 km or more OVER the mountain. Then in 1977, the Chuo Expressway opened between Otsuki and Katsunuma, going through yet another tunnel, and the traffic began to shift even more.

I am very pleased to report that, even with the road now open, there is still almost NO traffic over Sasago Pass. Most of the climb is a beautiful road anywhere between 5 and 10% gradient. It looks like this (with apologies for the shaky camera hand while trying to climb a 7-8% grade with one hand off the bars). ... I could have taken 5 more videos of similar length, also without seeing a single car, climbing in delightful shade and a cool breeze:

Climb to Sasago #1 from David Litt on Vimeo.

In any event, we were soon down the other side and onto the "Fruit Line" -- the road that grips the edge of the valley around to Enzan, affording a spectacular view of the entire bowl, with snow capped Southern Alps in the distance. Somehow I had not realized how hilly this road is, when taking it in the other direction. While it goes along the side of the valley, it is nearly constant up and down. The weather and views were glorious, looking over the vineyards of the "Grape Capital" of Katsunuma toward the pear and cherry orchards of Koshu and Enzan (much less shaky video).

The Fruit Bowl of Yamanashi ... from the Fruit Line from David Litt on Vimeo.

We even had a nice view back toward Mt. Fuji, along the Fruit Line we had just taken.

After a brief debate over the merits of trying Odarumi Pass (elev 2360 meters), versus taking Yanagisawa Pass and heading back toward Tokyo, we headed up Yanagisawa.

We were both famished and overheated, Jerome was still without power, and we nearly collapsed after remounting our bikes upon discovering that a restaurant we passed at 700 meters elevation was not yet open for the day (10:40AM). The lower slopes of this road ought to be called the "Fruit Knife", as it cuts straight up hill, steeper than it looks.
We ended up stopping at a place at 890 meters elevation, just at the turn off to Kamihikawa/Daibosatsu Passes. They treated us well, giving us towels to help dry after washing ourselves with water from their outside faucets. After lunch on the local delicacy of "Houtou" -- a kind of strip-like udon dish with thick broth -- and taking over the restaurant for awhile, Jerome rested on a bench nearby ... and recovered.

He started slow on the next leg of the climb, but by the time we reached the upper slope Jerome was firing on all cylinders, officially declared recovered, and he made it to the top well ahead of me as I stopped for photos and ran low on gas.

We quickly descended to Oume, with time only for 3 stops -- soft ice cream at the Pass, a brief stop at the westernmost convenience store in Tokyo ... at Okutama town near the westernmost train station, and then at a traditional stop at Aurore Bakery in front of Oume Station. From Oume we hopped the train home, having ridden just over 200 km and climbed around 3000 meters for the day. I turned in early and made up for lost sleep.

21 May 2009

10.000 HITS

It went (almost) unnoticed that we had 10.000 hits on the Positivo Espresso website some days ago. So I checked: For the first 5.000 hits we needed from 14.11.07, the start of the site to 26.09.2008 precisely 316 days, for the second 5.000 hits we only needed 228 days. It is also very encouraging that we get comments from readers outside of the "core group".

Let's not fool ourselves, app. 5000 hits are from Tom, David, James and me, checking every 10 minutes on an average day what has happened. Also I am a lttle bit suspicious about the counting algorithm, probably counting only hits on the main page, but not on the posts.

But hey, also Apple was not founded on one day and we have much more modest goals.

Sorry to blog about this peripheral topics, but my rides on the home trainer are even more boring.

17 May 2009

It's ITOIGAWA time again !!

The 38th edition of the Tokyo→Itoigawa Fast Run Classic is coming up real soon. Weather forecast looks OK....for this coming Saturday (May 23) when I will be attempting to finish 1st in my age group. I am scheduled to leave Takaozanguchi at 6:00.
David L. might be riding out as well as far as Lake Suwa or who knows even further. Jerome and Michael are out...who is in...Ludwig? James? who else?

Kazahari Rindo (forest road) Conquered*

If you had not heard, Jerome and I are training for Transalp; he just returned from 2 weeks of eating and drinking his way through France and Senegal, and we were looking for mountains!

Not just hills, but mountains! STEEP mountains! The kind of mountains that Tom and Ludwig write home about.

We headed out up the Tamagawa early Saturday, under dark skies.

By the time we got upriver as far as Fussa City our plans were a bit up in the air because of the threat of rain (it turned out to be only a few drops, but looked ominous at the time), and some serious jet lag for my returned teammate.

Instead of Matsuhime or Yanagisawa, we thought prudence the better part of valor, and eventually decided to head up Kazahari.

Kazahari Rindo -- I had never been on it before. It is truly in the "lost valley" of the North Akigawa -- I had not been even on the lower reaches of that stretch yet this year and forgotten what a picturesque setting the valley is. More North Akigawa, please! The only problem -- and the reason it is still undeveloped -- is that there is NO WAY OUT.

No way out, that is, unless you count the crazy route up the Kazahari Rindo, with grades of 15-18% over long stretches, and a fence blocking all traffic (except foot and bicycles) at the top; or the other, poorly maintained, partially closed and also very steep road over Nokogiri-san ("cross cut saw mountain" -- just as ugly a hill as the name would suggest) and down the other side to Rte 411/Oume Kaido. Nokogiri is one of Laurent's favorite climbs, but the only time I did it, my tires were slipping treacherously on the rough, damp surface on part of the climb where the road had poor drainage, and on the descent I sat on my brakes so hard that my front tube overheated, causing a flat.

Anyway, others have written plenty about Kazahari Rindo in the past, and I did not have my camera along, so let me suggest you visit Ludwig's and Tom's posts.

I was a bit concerned about trying this hill with my 53/39 crankset, rather than the compact 50/34. At least, on the descent, I would have my tubeless tires and would not need to worry about flat-due-to-overheating.

The good news, Jerome and I made it through the Kazahari Rindo with NO PROBLEMS. We did not even walk on the steepest section. The road surface is smooth and well-maintained the entire way, even on the section between the fence at the top and the "kinoko center" (mushroom research center?), and we might have broken some records.

We are ready to claim the "reverse polka dot" jersey for Positivo Espresso!


*Our full route from Fussa was: continue up the Tamagawa to Oume, then Yoshino-Kaido to its terminus, then Oume Kaido (411) up to Okutama-ko Dam and along the lake to the far end, ascend the back side of Kazahari on the normal road with about 100 motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts going through their paces, DOWN Kazahari Rindo (YES!!!! Conquered!!!!) and the North Akigawa, back to the Tamagawa and home. Average moving speed of around 27 kph for the entire ride, and an even 162 kilometers or 100 miles.

We passed a TCC contingent (Deej?) on the North Akigawa, just below the entrance to the Rindo. Hope they had a nice climb.

12 May 2009


Crashed into an autobike on Kan One while riding out with Ludwig on Sunday. Result: two fingers of the left hand broken, perhaps surgery and at least six weeks out of action. Will be back mid June if rehab goes well.

In the meantime I will read all your posts and hear you talking about riding and racing. I will become very envious which in turn will hopefully speed-up my recovery.

Big Pass, Pine Princess Pass

Is the water safe to drink?

That was the question that became an obsession briefly on Sunday afternoon as I climbed up the closed Maki-Koganezawa Forest Road, slowing working my way up the back side of the hill toward Otoge ("Ootouge," or "Big Pass") on a great Sunday ride,

I left home early and quickly rode to Oume, then out Yoshino Kaido and Oume Kaido to Okutama-ko; then up to the top of Matsuhime Touge ("Pine Princess Pass"), arriving by Noon.

As usual, I stopped to enjoy the view on top of Matsuhime.

Matsuhime Touge from David Litt on Vimeo.

Click here to see a larger version of this photo, on which the names of the various sights from the Matsuhime viewpoint are legible:

The weather was spectacular, hot and a bit humid down below in the valleys, but nothing like the summer, and on this one rare occasion I felt as if I had raced the Tokyo heat to the higher elevations and won!

From Matsuhime it was a very fast descent from 1250 to 650 meters elevation heading South, and I turned off the main road at the reservoir behind Fukashiro Dam ("Deep Castle Dam?"). I slid my bicycle under the locked gate and headed through the tunnel, a first for me but following in the footsteps of many Positivo Espresso riders (Tom, Ludwig, Michael).

I had tried to fill my water bottle at the "Lake Fukashiro" park rest room, but thought better of it given the large warning signs that indicated the water was not drinkable (just like the water at Matsuhime). I started riding up the road slowly, knowing that without any food left and only about 300ml of water, and having consumed several liters of liquid just to try and stay hydrated so far during the day, I would need to conserve energy to make it to the top. Google Maps' terrain feature had led me to believe, correctly, that even though the top of Otoge is 1560 meters elevation, the North (back) side of Otoge is not nearly as steep as the climb up from Otsuki on the other side, and I was in the shade much of the way.

Also, based on Ludwig's posts from earlier this year, I knew that the road condition on the North side was too poor for a carefree descent. The road seems like it is used only for some TEPCO maintenance of electric power facilities (including some mysterious tunnels into the hillside -- very Area 51) and is shut off to all other traffic. There were two short gravel stretches where the road is under repair, lots of landslides (but none blocking more than 25% of the road surface, and too many rocks to count -- but nothing to create any difficulties in climbing slowly on a closed road in bright daylight and dry weather).

I rested when I got to another gate, somewhere around 1200 meters elevation, having finished my water long ago, running very low on energy, and with another 350 meters elevation of climbing ahead. It was at least peaceful, like this:

Otoge -- climb from the North side from David Litt on Vimeo.

There were streams running down the hillside, and I was tempted to drink the water ... which looked perfectly clear and safe. But having hiked in the Appalachian mountains in the eastern U.S., where just about every stream has enough giardia lamblia to require water purification of some kind, made me cautious. I pushed ahead and finally, after another few kilometers, came to various signs of life -- a van or two parked by the side of the road, a cyclist descending, two motorcycles (dirt bikes) and then a wood cutting team with chain saws, the senior member of which was standing in the road supervising. I asked and he assured me that the water was "probably" completely safe, that he and his crew drank it all the time. I filled up my liter bottle, immediately consumed about half of it (delicious!), and hopped back on my bike.

Then it was up to the pass, around yet another gate (watch out for bears at the top!), took one look back at the last gate, and then a very quick descent the last 15-20 km to Otsuki Station, to hop an express train to Tachikawa and ride the last 25 km home from there, for a total of almost 170 km and 7000 meters of climbing (calculated using Tom S.'s altimeter ... something more like 2300 meters elevation on my altimeter, the truth probably somewhere in between.)

More next weekend!

06 May 2009

Umegaya Pass? Golden Week Traffic?

I remember Golden Week ("GW") for bizarre traffic jams like the one Michael mentions in his blog post earlier today, or this one that I encountered on the forest road up (and down) Wada Pass back in 2007 -- total gridlock, cars unable to pass, and once stuck in line unable to go back either, and the line getting longer minute by minute:

On Saturday morning, I did run into an unusual traffic jam heading out of town, about 60% of the way down the back of Otarumi Pass outside of Takao on Natl Route 20. I went by the line of cars and trucks, and was amused to find several road cyclists, Japanese of course, patiently waiting their turn in the line of cars. I realized it must go several km further, to the traffic light at Sagami-ko station or the entrance to the expressway, so I turned off at the bottom of the hill, cut over to Route 412 and took Charles' once secret route (Rte 517) on the hillside south of Sagami-ko. The GW traffic there looked like this:

Much better.

I've been taking advantage
of the work holiday and my kids' school schedule, until the rain came Tuesday afternoon and work returned today (need to run in to the office this afternoon). So far, my rides have been:

1. Wednesday -- "The Ride" over Yabitsu and Hakone Passes -- as fully documented in a previous post. 155 km and lots of climbing.
2. Saturday -- out past Takao/Otarumi, Rte 517, then back over Wada (ura Wada) and home. 135 km and one real climb.
3. Sunday -- recovery ride with my son Henry, by train from Chofu to Takao-san guchi, then riding over the hill and back home via Tsukui-ko/Yaen-Kaido ("the other Route 20"). 75 km. recovery, true recovery.
4. Monday -- Fast afternoon ride to Itsukaichi, up to and through the Koubu tunnel, and home via Uenohara and Takao/Hachioji. 145 km and one real climb.
5. Tuesday -- Out early, via Oume into Chichibu as far as Yamabushi Pass, then back to meet Stephen C. near the start of the Nariki/Tokyo Hill Climb, and together via his place (water refill) over Umegaya Pass, and with Stephen showing me the Southern entrance to the Tsuru-Tsuru Onsen climb ... before we parted ways and I rode home in gradually increasing rain. 150 km, one climb (Yamabushi) and a fair number of smaller hills.

None of these really worth its own blog post, but still a good set in total.

Henry celebrates at the summit of Otarumi, his biggest climb yet:

Some of you may (or may not) be wondering -- where is Umegaya Pass? I was asking myself the same question when Stephen told me it was his preferred route to Tsuru Tsuru Onsen ... as opposed to the forest road from Yoshino Kaido that TCC and Michael took (not sure if Stephen knows that way). As for Umegaya Pass, Stephen led the way up a climb that looked quite familiar, even in the darkening clouds. As we approached the top, it occurred to me that this little steep nasty climb from the North is what we call "Jerome Hill" when approached from the South. Mystery solved.

05 May 2009


Looking at the weather forecast, I realized that Monday would be the last good weather day of the Golden Week. As I did not enjoyed some serious riding so far, I thought that this would be my last chance. I felt inspired by Tom's Kazahari-Matsuhime loop.

But still there was a lot of work to do, so I could leave the house only at 11 and headed for the Tamagawa. The cycling road along the Tama was extremely crowded and I was happy when I could take the shortcut via "Charles Village Road" to Itsukaichi. Finally after 2 hours I arrived at the 7-Eleven before the start of the Kazahari climb just outside of Itsukiachi. I mean, where else would I take a rest?

Met two other riders there, one of them, Greg, I met three or four years ago exactly at the same place and also last year at the Itoigawa Fast Run where his girl friend drove his "support vehicle" and I was totally envious (of the service of course, not so much of his girl friend). I guess the chance that my wife will support me on such race is slightly lower than that Germany will occupy Poland again by force within the next few weeks.
When I said that I wanted to climb up Kazahari and Matsuhime (it was later than 1 PM already) they looked at their watch and I decided, yes, definitely it was time to go.

Instead of going all out from the beginning, a tactic which is also called "litty approach" after a famous rider from the Positivo Espresso team who blasts along the Tama at the start of each ride [the opposite being called a "froggy approach", after a Positivo Espresso rider who gets better and better with the distance of a ride. Then, to list them all, there is the "spilly approach" which is going all out for 24 hours, regardless of climbs and distance] I tried to do my own tactic: Staying in the 150s BPM range for all of the climb and then exhausting myself on the last 3 kilometers.

So when I came to the Y junction, the fork to Tomin no Mori on the right and Kobu Tunnel on the left, I was running at slightly below 20 minutes. Which is good, but there were times when I was glued to the wheel of Tom and I made it in 15 minutes. It is more difficult to do alone.

The second part, up to the tollhouse was done in less than 32 minutes, which is very good indeed. All the way I could keep the tension and I was able to keep my legs pedaling all the time.

Then the third part, from the tollhouse to Tomin no mori is here I normally run out of steam. But today I had my best time ever there, it only took me less than 13 minutes, including a furious sprint at the end.

DONE. 1:04:25 min is a very good time for me and probably hard to beat without loosing much more weight. This is not as fast as Tom, but at least it is a time which allows me to see Tom picking up his ordered Soba noodle from the shop, rather to see him sitting outside with the finished bowl in front of him.

After a very brief stop at Tomin no Mori I continued to climb up to Kazahari. A lot of stupid racing bikers were assembled on top, navigating the curves with their knees on the asphalt, friends and girlfriends taking photos.

But the road down to Okutama are now in perfect conditions and I reached 66 km/hr going down. Instead of taking a break at Kosuge, the village before the Matsuhime climb, I decided to eat while riding which saved more time. When I arrived at the village there was some kind of local festival (matsuri) going on. I never saw that many people in Kosuge, which was for me so far the typical 過疎村 (deserted village), only consisting of farmers in their seventies. The village is in a valley along a river and a huge number of big carp streamers 鯉のぼり was suspended from a steel wire fixed between the hills on the East and on the West side.
Very beautiful, but also a lot of traffic. As I was very tired from the trip up to Kazahari, I took it easy but I tried to maintain a constant pace. After all the traffic and people in Kosuge it was nice to be alone in the mountains. Although still a lot of bikes and cars up the road, even some strange tricycles were overtaking me.

After a very short break on the top I descended down, always careful of the traffic. Arriving at the lake I checked out for the entrance to the O-toge road which I easily found. But by now it was already past 5 PM so I decided to head home and took the easy way down to road 20 and then further to Torizawa Station.
Traffic on road 20 was a complete mess. also I had to wait 30 minutes for a train bringing me back to Takao - unbelievable, these are German conditions! Have you ever waited for a train 30 minutes in Japan ?

Anyway, a nice ride and at least some compensation for not going down to Izu.

02 May 2009


Woke up in time, had prepared the bike already the night before and was ready to go out and ride based on a grand master plan. But would we be able to stick the plan? I mean, for perhaps the first time ever?

Weather was just fabulous, as David used to say, "world records are achieved under these conditions." But weather is one thing. Leaving the house at 6:45 AM another. And then dragging the bike through boring but unfortunately hilly Yokohama before finally arriving at the Tamagawa. I was too early, had splendid time to drink my coffee and waited for James, David, Graham and Jerome to arrive. They brought Jon and Craig with them who needed to do some more training before cruising Kyushu in mid May.

Up the Kan-One. Somehow I was very much in competition mood. I tried to climb up the hills as fast as possible and if there was any rider seen on the road I tried to catch up with him. That was maybe a little bit stupid in view of the long climbs we had in front of us, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. Then along the tank road and through Hashimoto for the first break.

The "Tank Road" from David Litt on Vimeo.

A break gave me ample time to explain the merits of my gravity-zero wheels to Jon and Craig. By chance they are also for sale.

Jon and Craig had to leave us - strict mongen imposed by their better halves were given as reason - but Stephen was on his way to Aihara to add to our team.

So I phoned Stephen, who, to my surprise was on his way in his car, plus 30 minutes late as he had forgotten to take his cycling shoes with him. Plus travelling from Ome to Hashimoto is never a good idea (it is anyway not a good idea to get to Hashimoto in any fashion) plus that Stephen had no idea where he was, where to go and never ridden in the area. But hey, he has an iphone and Google maps which is as much compensation as life can offer.

But anyway, I thought I would never see him.

So the rest of us rode along our favourite Tsukui lake North road (thanks, Hiroshi)

Short descent on N. side of Lake Tsukui from David Litt on Vimeo.

... and then a short stretch along Doshi Michi towards Miyagase Lake where we made the first of many serious stops.

Miyagase Lake rest area from David Litt on Vimeo.

At one of the many soba shops we had a good meal of soba, Jerome had in addition some fish which I would never have eaten while on a bike trip. David had a "Kalbi" steak-kebob (kushiyaki) -- also not mid-ride food. We waited for Stephen but we couldn't reach him on the phone any longer. I recommended him to pack his car in a car-bag and take the train, as in Japan anything can be taken on trains provided that it is properly bagged. The amount of bags you can buy at Tokyu Hands is just amazing ; Bike bags, car bags, children bags, garden bags and of course Louis Vuiton bag bags.

And off we were to Yabitsu. Ah, Yabitsu one of my favorite climbs which never makes me tired. The wind was good and I was in good moos, so I started to go up fast. Within no time I was alone and started the real climb which leads to places like "hell swamps". In my head I was humming "highway to hell" but my body was slowly running out of steam. But what was that: "A rider with a yellow Wachi shirt was forcing his way up just before the final teahouse at the river - Stephen has made it and was attacking Yabitsu obviously to surprise us at the top : "Hey guys, finally here?". He has left his car in Aihara and has taken the short road to Yabitsu while we took the more beautiful and much longer one and had a long, long soba lunch at Miyagase lake.

The valley to Yabitsu from David Litt on Vimeo.

Middle stretch on Yabitsu climb from David Litt on Vimeo.

So I talked briefly with Stephen and then I accelerated again, my motivation now on the top and the goal only some three kilometers away. There is one stretch after the tea house which is a little bit steeper and harder, but after that it is OK. Although one thinks constantly that the pass is just around the corner, but it is not.

And up I was a final sprint : 51:39 min new record and 10 minutes faster than last year at the same point in season. Cool. I felt like Lance Armstrong winning his eighth tour.

Stephen came in second, followed by James, David, Jerome and Graham. Then again, no one else was racing against a clock (or each other). We didn't spend too much time on top and only briefly surveyed suicide opportunities. This is a famous love double suicide spot, you know.

The group (Graham, Stephen, David L., James and Michael K.), stopped for the view and a photo just onto the Yabitsu S. side descent:

Our own personal team photographer, Jerome:

Then a fast downhill to Hadano where Graham left us while the rest of us, believe it or not stuck to the original plan and proceeded to Ninomiya and then long route one further to Odawara and Hakone. Now we were on familiar Ekiden turf.

At the 7-Eleven before the start of the real climb in Hakone I tried to stop David, who just went on, and then James, who signed that he would continue to ride. But with Jerome and Stephen I could convince them to take a break.

And then we started the 850 meter Hakone climb. I used to do this once, in the peak of the season and after a ride straight from my home. This was already the third time this year, including two times after Yabitsu. But nevertheless with so many km in the legs it is a hard climb. We lost Stephen already at the start and up to elev. 600 Jerome and me were going roughly at the same pace. Then I was getting faster, maybe because of the food and finally I arrived at the top. Not in a good time, but at least without a stop in one go. I hate to give up in the middle. I hate to stop. I don't care if I am slow but I want to ride up in one go.

Up on Hakone the weather was still good but very cold. I met David and James at the Hakone 7-Eleven (I knew that they were waiting there - we always rest at 7-Elevens!) and shortly afterward Jerome came as well. Where was Stephen? After a few minutes I gave him a call at he was still at elev. 700, about 20 minutes to go. David was pushing that he needed to catch a train home and it was getting also cold and dark so we told Stephen to return while we went through with the original plan and continued to Hakone Pass and then to route #20.

Oh, beautiful route #20 (not to be confused with Koshu Kaido National Route #20 or Yaen Kaido Tokyo route #20). Many true things have been written about this extremely beautiful road, mainly by myself, rarely by others. But this is really my favorite road in Japan, slightly curved like the unshaven legs of Juliane, with a nice and steady gradient moving down like the underbelly of Jerome. Perfect views to the West deep into (no comparisons any longer, I am not Raymond Chandler), Shizuoka and via Fuji and to the East to Kanagawa-ken.

The bike is running smoothly at 40 km/hr plus and one has to navigate the curved but never ever to brake. David is so fast on this road, it is almost impossible to catch him. James is also fast, but sometimes he is overtaken by crazy mini cars who threaten to take them of the road.

The driving skills of mini car drivers : Mini cars - mini brains.

So with the first 8 km or so one descents on road 20 from elv. 850 to 650, along Jukoku Toge and then to the legendary Atami Toge. Then there is this brutal stretch where it goes down from 650 to basically 0 with 5 or 6 km. The hands are on the brakes constantly and white clouds are ascending from the brake pads. The rims can be seen glowing lightly in the night as they are becoming hotter and hotter. One moves his behind further and further back and finally touches the back wheel to add braking power. Only with this advances method it is possible to navigate this road downwards. Basically it is a free fall.

So we arrived before 5:30 PM at Atami station, bought more than enough beer and took the Shinkansen home. And who happened to join as in Odawara? Stephen who has managed the long way home from the Hakone climb back.

One beer was not enough to do all the trip justice and recount all the wonderful adventures we had. Also this post cannot do it. So I am hoping that James and David will add some photos, data and videos to show the full extent of this glorious trip. [I've added some videos and photos -- though my skills as a videographer obviously need improvement. David]

I mean there are many things you need in order to fully enjoy a ride out. A good bike, strong legs, perfect weather, a nice road, not too much traffic and good company. Only when "Set" and "Setting" are right the result can be perfect [The older of you may remember that this is original a concept by Timothy Leary]. This ride was a close to perfection as it can get.

A little more video..

Wed Apr 28 Ride from Knotty on Vimeo.