24 July 2009

Saturday Ride July 25 - Nagano Shinkansen Touring

As I said on Friday, "I'm thinking of getting up early again and trying something a bit different -- maybe hop the Nagano Shinkansen to Karuizawa (or better yet, one stop beyond to Sakudaira and from there a local train to Koumi), and then ride back over the intervening hills into Chichibu -- Manfred country -- or head west toward Utsukushigahara/the Marchen Line, the Venus Line, etc. ..."

It worked, mostly! Nagano Shinkansen is a great option. It is easier and faster for me to get to Tokyo Station than to Hachioji, and a very fast trip from there--just over an hour to Karuizawa, a few more minutes to Saku, or if you prefer, on to Ueda and Nagano--much faster than getting to Enzan. A great way to extend our riding area to another climate zone in the summer, when needed. The cost is 5250 yen from Karuizawa back to Tokyo, but well worth it.

I was on the 6:24 train from Tokyo Station, at Karuizawa by 7:30. I continued to Sakudaira, and by local train up the valley (Koumi-sen to Koumi), assembled and was on the bicycle by 8:45. The major climb of the day was from Koumi (Elev 850) up through Matsubara-ko kogen, past Koumi Re-Ex Ski Resort, and eventually meeting Rte 299 (the "Marchen Line") up and over Mugikusa-Touge (Elev 2130 meters). The climb gets easier (flatter) higher up and there was almost no traffic, so it was quite relaxed taken at a leisurely pace. After a few nice vistas on the climb, there was no view to speak of from the top as the morning clouds blocked most of Yatsu-gatake and everything to the West (where the South Alps should have been).

A photo of the sign marking the pass, which is fairly broad and flat, as seen in June edition of Cyclesports:


Over the top and starting down the other side, I rode into the clouds and some wind and drops of rain.


For the first time in quite awhile, I was riding on the Fulcrum Racing 1 wheels with tubeless tires (rear rim replaced by Nagai-san). I had forgotten how plush and fast the ride is ... extremely comfortable, and I looked down at the speedometer and was surprised to see that I was going over 50 kph on the first slight downhill, though it felt more like 30.

The road descends to the Tateshina area on the West side--a huge wooded vacation area many miles across, homes hidden away on what looked like reasonably generous lots. I headed North on the "Venus Line," going up and down between 1350 and 1700 meters.


After a quick early lunch stop at a ski area's ramen/soba shop (NOT Positivo approved--they make a fairly poor excuse for a bowl of ramen), the weather became increasingly sunny, but the area is high enough to be blissfully cool.

... Somewhere I got off the Venus Line. I missed the road to Utsugushigahara and ended up going straight north and starting a descent. I was on a great road, and there were fields, horse farms, lakes, and more vacation homes (almost all shuttered or otherwise looking deserted).




I headed down a valley toward Mochizuki, eventually reaching the point where the last thing I wanted to do was climb back toward Utsukushigahara -- its mountains not even visible. A nice descent, very gradual descent down the lower valley--what could be any one of a hundred similar landscapes in the Japanese mountain countryside:

Rte 152 from Tateshina toward Mochizuki, Nagano from David Litt on Vimeo.


I reached Rte 142 (The Naka Sendo) and took it east toward Saku, completing the loop to where I had left the shinkansen in the morning. ... but my ride was far too short because of the wrong turn, and not enough climbing, so I decided to keep going East and took a route through southern Saku and up a small valley to (Nagano Prefectural Rte 44, though not marked.




I was off the map that I had brought with me, but remembered that there was a connecting road toward Karuizawa. The road had no traffic and climbed from 700 back to 1300 meters. It was hot and sunny, lots of blue sky. I finally got to the marked turn-off for the "super forest road??" toward Karuizawa. The road started through a ghostly area of unsold vacation home plots (I can imagine the ads "secluded paradise ... only 20 km to the nearest supermarket, conveniently located only 1 hour to the nearest expressway entrance; road not plowed in winter").


From the ghost town, only 20 km winding through the forest to Karuizawa, with ups and downs, twists and turns, but mostly downhill the last 10 km. In the middle of the forest, equally far from either end of the road, there was a toll gate -- an old guy sitting in a trailer in the middle of the forest who came out and opened the gate for me (bicycles free!). He must need to get up and open the gate at least once or twice an hour.

Then down through a vacation home area on a hillside south of Karuizawa, and another 5-7 km left for a victory ride down a main road and through town to the station. I felt as if I was finishing a big solo breakaway, put down the hammer, full gasAs I got into the more crowded streets I sat up, back straight, and tried to make it look really easy without losing speed. In the end, just under 130 km and 2800 meters of climbing, mostly at a leisurely pace and in somewhat favorable conditions. No one pushing me to ride fast or far--much, much less intense than Michael and Tom's ride with TCC. No particular training goal for once. Just an opportunity to see someplace different and spend a sunny day outside covering some nice territory. And home for dinner.

Next time ... maybe another try at Utsukushigahara? Or 2000+ meter Kuruma-zaka Touge (North from Sakudaira, instead of South)? Or maybe a longer ride out from Tokyo, take the "Crystal Line" NW of Enzan 1/2 way up Odarumi Pass, but don't go down to Kofu. Instead head North over Shinshu Touge and down the valley to Sakudaira, then hop the train home? Maybe all three options?

5 comments:

mob said...

Tom and me will join the TCC Tour de West Side :

http://www.tokyocycle.com/bbs/showthread.php?t=1427

Meeeting at 9 AM in front of Itsukaichi Station.

Kazahari and then if the weather is OK Tom, Thomas and me are going to climb Matsuhime, Otoge and return on route 20 / 35 to Tokyo.

If the weather is bad we will return to Ome.

Please join if you have time.

TOM said...

Really enjoyed reading your Karuizawa-Utsukushigahara travelogue David. This is exactly the type of more or less leisurely ride I would like to do more often myself..enjoying new sceneries instead of trying to beat every other togebaka record!

mob said...

Looks like a fantastic ride I would like to do with you in the future as well. A good idea to take the Shinkansen out to the North (and not only to Mishima as in the past) and explore some of the beutiful climbs there. and that you did it without big preparations and annoucements shows how easy that is.

As for Tom's comment, I like both, riding competitively and breaking new Togebakas and also doing longer leisurely rides in new territories. These are exclusions.

mob said...

Sorry, I wanted to say that these ar eno exlcusions, one can enjoy all kind of rides.

Manfred von Holstein said...

Very nice ride indeed, even without Utsukushihara. It is great to see you venturing into new territory - I feel less lonely now...

Agree taking out the shinkansen is a good idea. I have taken it to Jomokogen for the JCRC races and it worked very well. There is a lot to discover out there as well, and it is the same distance as Karuizawa or Sakudaira. Karuizawa, Sakudaira and Takasaki are actually just within cycling distance from Tokyo (200km and of course many passes) so it is also possible to ride out and come back quickly by shinkansen (as I have done twice).

Now that the summer is upon us, I definitely want to get further away from Tokyo - am considering staying over night in Nagano or maybe even using my miles to fly to Hokkaido for a weekend. Happy to have some company!