30 November 2009

Further Update - Shoulder injury -- and random thoughts on cycle commuting and Japanese health care

Further Update: Checked in to Tokyo Medical Center on Tuesday afternoon.  On Wednesday, they were able to reset the shoulder with me under general anesthesia ... without making an incision or cutting up my muscles/tendons.  I'm out of the hospital this morning, with my upper arm heavily taped to my side/back for the next 3+ weeks so it does not "pop out" again.  Seems like everything went smoothly, and the usual pleasant surprise with a bill that is probably 10-20% what it would have been in the U.S. and leaves one scratching one's head as to how they can possibly pay salaries of the docs and staff.


Update:  The shoulder movement was not returning as quickly as it should have -- I cannot turn my arm outward or lift it up. I had my 2nd follow up visit yesterday to the doctor and still nothing showed on another x-ray -- so he had me CT scanned. The CT scan shows very clearly (1) a portion or the back side of the "ball" joint of my arm into my shoulder socket was crushed in the impact against the shoulder socket -- nothing that won't heal with time and still plenty of bone left all around it, but also (2) the arm is dislocated ... not all the way out of the shoulder socket, but about 1.5-2 cm shifted back from where it should be, and the jagged edge of the damaged part of the "ball" joint is riding/catching on the edge of the socket, which is why I have very limited movement, and also which prevented it from "relocating" to the right place on its own.

I'm going in Tuesday afternoon, for surgery, general anesthesia, Wednesday morning. They will try to "relocate" the shoulder and if that works, they won't need to make an incision.

If it does not, or looks like it risks further damage ... then they will do surgery to achieve the same result. Seems like the doctor wants to do this ASAP, says the longer I wait the harder the relocation will be/more damage to the non-bone parts. So I'll just get it done ... at least it is a major medical center with a good reputation from what I know (Tokyo Medical Center - Komazawa) ... rather than hunting for the best shoulder doc in Japan or hopping on a plane to get someone in the U.S. to deal with it (as some of my colleagues have said I am crazy not to do, given their perception about the difference between the higher end of orthopaedic surgeons in the U.S. and Japan, as well as their desire for an English fluent doctor). We shall see.

P.S. Maybe next time (if there is a next time) this doc will believe the patient when he says it hurts so much there must be a break or dislocation -- turns out there was both!


Original Post:

Komazawa Dori was a solid line of standing traffic on Thursday morning last week around 9AM. After passing Komazawa Park, at the Jiyuu Dori intersection, I could see not only the line of cars but also taxis blocking the shoulder that usually serves as an informal bike lane, so I went onto the sidewalk at the far side of the intersection, in front of the National Medical Center, slowing my pace.

The sidewalk is at an angle, tapering as it moves away from the corner, and a signpost of some kind blocked my view straight up the path. As I rounded the sign post, I came face to face with a college student (Y.O.) on a mamachari, going at full speed as he rounded it from the other side, starting to get a proper line to cross the intersection (late to class?). I swerved to try to avoid him, but we brushed left shoulder to left shoulder. At my very slow pace, and with my motion already to the right, that brush was enough to drive me off the bike and shoulder first into the pavement. ... If I had hit Y.O. head on, I probably would have done some serious damage to him, helmetless and probably 1/2 my weight, but as it was, he stayed upright and came back to see if I was alright.

I was not -- I lay on my back, a stinging pain in the shoulder immediately following impact. I could not move my arm. Anyway, Y.O. helped me over to the conveniently located National Medical Center, and spent the next 2 hours with me as I went through check-in, then by wheel chair to the orthopedics department, then down to x-ray/radiology, then back up to the orthopedics department, then to the sign out line, then the cashier. The bill was 6240 yen (US$70) without insurance. Then we walked across the street to one of several conveniently located pharmacies to get two types of pain killer and another medication to take to counteract stomach problems from one of the painkillers (another 3000 yen -- under US$35).

Fortunately, the orthopedist gave priority to a large foreigner writhing in pain and I did not need to wait long. I was skeptical when told there was no sign on the x-ray of a broken bone or dislocation, even though I could see the xray myself ... but was assured that, yes, it really could hurt THAT MUCH!!!!, even without either a break or dislocation. ... I've since heard colleagues mention scary phrases like "rotator cuff" (an injury one received upon being slammed shoulder first into the boards while playing hockey ... with a four month recovery period including rehab?). Maybe I will get my first MRI after I stop back at the orthopedist on Wednesday for follow up? Doesn't everyone get an MRI at some point in Japan (where the government-mandated cost is something like 10-15% the equivalent in the U.S.A.)?

The pain has gradually subsided over the intervening 4 days ... but it is only today that I can type at all with my right hand reaching the keyboard, and only with my arm very carefully positioned and without much stamina. And I'm still on painkillers and wearing a sling for the rest of the week--I hope no longer than that.

1. I may have a warped perspective, but I think Y.O. bears at least 75% of the blame for this accident, because he was going way too fast for an obstructed view part of a sidewalk, and did not seem to take evasive action. That said, my bike was not harmed, my insurance will cover any of the (modest, in Japan) medical costs, and I really did not see the point of calling the police or filing a report for an accident that occurred on the sidewalk, as opposed to going straight into the hospital for treatment.

2. I blame myself for deciding to ride on the sidewalk. I thought this stretch of fairly broad sidewalk, with very limited access from either side and relatively low traffic after passing the hospital entrance, would be safe, but sidewalks are a much more dangerous location than streets, in my view, since you are much more likely to have a Y.O. appear immediately in front of you, or to have a high school kid with gym bag come running out of a stairwell just as you pass. The only way to ride safely is to preserve an ability to defend oneself, and that is harder on the sidewalks.

3. Even when I stay in the street, however, I often recently come face to face with cyclists riding the wrong way on the shoulder, forcing me into traffic to avoid them. I always try to scream "hantai houkou" (wrong way) as I pass ... but I'm fighting a losing battle against the umbrella-bearing, mobile-phone-screen-viewing, wrong-way traveling cyclists of this town. There are more and more cyclist commuters in Tokyo with each year, most of them quite responsible, to the point of being ridiculous -- waiting at red lights at minor intersections even when there is no cross traffic nor a policeman in sight! In general more cyclists are a good thing because cars are more likely to expect and anticipate you -- but it is not so great when there are no bike lanes or other real accommodations. And I see more and more cyclists zooming right in front of pedestrians who are trying to walk across the street, terrifying them like something out of a Lucas Brunelle video of messengers racing across Manhattan, flitting through lines of traffic and pedestrians like schooling fish (There were 3 of these Brunelle videos among the short films I saw at Bicycle Film Festival, even crazier, much crazier than this one on Youtube -- music by ÜBERDOSE! -- from a few years back). UPDATE: You can see more Lucas Brunelle videos and material at his official site, including similar Stockholm and London rides ... but not yet the new NY rides I saw at Bicycle Film Festival.

4. I also am painfully reminded that the traffic, and risks, are much worse if I ride in at 9AM than if I leave home at 7:30AM. Now if I could just teach the clients to keep early hours, I would be fine.

5. The National Medical Center is impressive in at least one way. I have never seen so many elderly Japanese in a single place -- the equivalent of at least 10 or 15 country villages all sitting in the waiting areas around this hospital complex. Average patient age must be creeping over 80. Is this what the restaurants and trains of Tokyo will look like in 30 years? If it is, I don't think I want to be here to see it (at age 77).

6. What a great business the pharmacies across from the medical center have -- the one I visited, Terada, had an endless stream of customers, keeping 8-10 pharmacists busy at all times filling prescriptions. The shelves and bins were overflowing with more prescriptions, just waiting to be picked up.

I'll provide an update when I have a better idea of whether this is a 2-week, or a 4-month recovery and rehab path, and when I know what my injury is called -- something more technical than "tenderized/smashed up soft bits inside shoulder area").

ALERT -- Transalp Sign up - Tuesday Dec 1, Noon CET (8PM Japan time)

Family schedule next summer does not permit me to sign up for the Transalp for 2010, but I hope to try it again in 2011. In the (unlikely?) event that anyone is going to go for it in 2010, online sign up is tomorrow, Tuesday, at 8PM Japan time (Noon CET). Here is the Transalp website in English, and in German (Ludwig? MOB? Tom?) ... in case there are any takers. Of course, you need a 2-person team!

I recommend gathering all the necessary information in advance so you can sign up within a few minutes of the site opening to assure a spot -- worked for Jerome and me this year). They have posted "screenshots" of the application form on the site, so you can see what is required. ... once you get a space confirmed, they give you several weeks or more to wire the payment --- which, I must say, was a real bargain given the support and organization involved for a weeklong race in 3 or 4 countries.


Congratulation to our (undisciplined) team member Manfred von Holstein
(below right, with his friend captain Rumpelstoss and two Narushima riders)
on the occassion of his 40. birthday today.
"There is nothing a German officer cannot do."


We are planing to have our traditional (since 2008) first training ride of the year on January 2nd 2010 together with Tokyo Cycling Club. A gruesome ride from Tokyo (Kawasaki? Yokohama?) along the coast to Odawara and finally up the hill to Moto-Hakone. All the way followed by a bunch of incredible fast (and incredible young) university students ..... running.
Who will make it up to Ashinoko before they overtake you?

The reward for those who make it: The mother of all downhill rides: Route 20 from Hakone Pass over Jukoku pass and Atami pass down to Atami. And the mother of all quick returns.

January 2nd 2010. Mark the day.
[please also mark January 2nd 2011, 2012 and 2013 in case you bought calendars already]

29 November 2009

Temples and Shrines

This being the last ride in my 30s, I made yesterday a pilgrimage to some (semi-)important temples and shrines around Chichibu. Chichibu is full of them, so I had to be selective.

My first stop was at Shiofunekannon-ji, just outside Ome.
At 8am it was still so early no visitors were in sight.

I then cycled into the most southerly mountains of Chichibu, up an increasingly steep road (the steepest part must be at least 20 degrees) to Nenogongentenryu-ji - a first for me, but a temple which Tom visits quite frequently.
I was greeted by two devils guarding the entrance, and there were already a few hikers who had made it up the mountain (elevation 600m).

After a rapid descent to route 299, I cycled it up to and then through the 2km long tunnel - not a lot of fun with so much traffic, and in particular with so many dump and other trucks taking this route. It always amazes me how much dump truck traffic there is on route 299 between Hanno and Chichibu-shi. But then seeing that Chichibu basically sacrificed its house mountain and turned it into a huge quarry, it is not surprising what all these trucks must be doing. This place may well have the highest density of dump truck drivers in Japan!

Down in Chichibu city it was time to visit a shrine, the Chichibu-jinja.

Soon I was heading towards the last and arguably most important stop of my pilgrimage: Mitsumine-jinja. Somehow I felt well in shape and it took me only 1.5 hours to ride the 40km in distance and 900m in altitude from Chichibu to Mitsumine. At 1,100m the air was crisp and the many visitors were complaining how cold it was: something like 5 degrees. The sun had disappeared behind increasingly dense and dark clouds that were accumulating in the mountains around - the Chichibu plain itself was still in bright sunshine, clearly visible from up there.

I then rode on to try out a new rindo which according to Google should take me back onto the main road towards Chichibu-shi - or so MOB and I had discovered while studying the area online the night before. Indeed, not only did the rindo exist, it was open to all traffic, had surprisingly few warning signs, and turned out to be well paved and almost completely free of debries or leaves. After climbing to 1,200m, I reached a long and dark tunnel - one of those that threaten to unleash evil spirits on my fellow riders MOB and Tom, but usually leave me alone. After a bit of down and up there was another tunnel with another ascent, and then it was a very long and very smooth sailing down to the main road. Next time, I will definitely cycle up that side and take the main road down from Mitsumine. It makes for a nice loop.

Back at the outskirts of Chichibu-shi I was tempted to return to Ome via Arima-toge, but abondoned the thought as the long crossing (including the unpredictable building site Tom, David and Nishibe-san discovered the other day) would have meant I would have reached Ome only in complete darkness. Instead I took 299 up to just before the tunnel (and while it was full of traffic, thankfully all the dumb tracks were on their way back to Chichibu rather than heading up with me) and then headed up Yamabushi Toge. On my descent I caught up with two cars and one motorcycle which were preventing me from getting one minute faster to Ome, so much to their surprise I passed the mercilessly in corners and steep long sections.

I reached Ome station at 16:35, not long before complete darkness. 210km on the road, with something like 2,200m of climbing. And most importantly plenty of omairi to get me into a new decade.

27 November 2009

For those of you who want to get out in the mountains tomorrow

and are not afraid of a little adventure...here's the alternative to the well-trodden routes of Okutama & Chichibu...


RdV: 7:00 a.m. at ONEKAN / 18 intersection

Course: Lake Tsukui → Doshimichi → Inukoeji Pass → Lake Tanzawa → not decided yet (possibly return via Odawara ~ Enoshima coastline and then upward)

Tomorrow's ride includes "dreadful" Road 76 with long, tire-bu(r)sting unpaved gravel stretches not suited to road bikes. The Inukoeji Tunnel on top (1,060m) is pitch dark. Climbing tempo expected to be brisk. Anyone (still) wishing to join (in spite of my attempt at threatening/discouraging), should bring lights and put on sturdy tires/wheels....

Perhaps some other time?

24 November 2009

Pinchers from Hell

The last weekend ride has been already covered very well on the blog, however I would like to add some photos and comments in addition nevertheless.First stop on top of Otarumi Toge. Tom making photos of the landscape, Ludwig of me. Thierry probably resting on his bike in the back and David and Jerome still to come.Ludwig in shiny neon claded, still alive at the shores of Yamanaka lake with stars in his eyes and basking in the glory of double championships.
I practiced the characteristic "David Millar movements" with my bike at Yamanaka Lake in front of mount Fuji. In case I ever want to get rid of my bike, I will make sure to do it at this spot.Ludwig pulled underground by the pinchers of hell, disguised as monument to traffic safety. Tom is trying everything in his power to hold him back, but the weight of his sins (too many red lights crossed) is too heavy. Last time we saw him. If you meet somebody resembling Ludwig now, it will probably be Manfred.Then it got me. Could barely escape at the last moment to come home and tell my children about the terrible experience we made. As in case for the invisible octopuses living in the vault of the Sasago tunnel, they remained largely unimpressed by my stories of blood and gore.Oden heaven at the PE-approved Seven Eleven in Moto-Hakone. Oden to the people.


Here we can see improper eating behavior of two foreigners in front of a (PE approved) Seven Eleven in a semi-urban environment.And here we see proper behavior in comparison. Please note that Manfred is eating again a bowl of Oden which is neither proper nor improper. Both foreigners have moved away from the (PE approved) Seven Eleven in a less than semi-urban environment. The elevation of the eating place is significantly higher than the mighty Van Hai Pass (but irrelevant).

23 November 2009

Saiko Race TV Review

Just watched the Asahi TV program about the Saiko race this afternoon. As expected the program focuses on the adventures of the two attending "talentos", Yoshizawa/Morning Musume in the W class and "forgot his name" in C1. The performance of both is also something to be forgotten soon; both of them were dropped within the first lap, both of them finished in the forties out of less than 50 riders.

Basically I disliked the program as it was promoting bicycle riding in a strange way. Sure, it is nice to have a lot more people riding bikes than to see them in cars and trains, but I am not sure if I want to meet them in races when, among other things, my health is at stake.

I also found it somehow unfair that both of them had a (non-competing) helper at their side to support them throughout their races.

OK, perhaps I am to strict with them.

No shots from our races. But we could see James in full profile with Tiger and a little bit in the back Tsukino and Henri at one point. I recorded the program on our HDD and I hope I can manage some DVD copies if somebody is interested.

Year in Review - 2009 Passes and Hills

Three or four weeks ago, I went into the Starbucks in the basement of my building for coffee. They were serving "Christmas blend", and the music playing was definitely Christmas carols. It gets earlier every year. ... so I guess November 23 is really not too early for a "year in review" post.

I thought this morning that I would try to list up the passes (峠) I have ridden in 2009 so far. I'm sure that some others (Tom, Ludwig and Michael, at least) have ridden more and further, and could come up with a better list -- leaving aside Transalp! -- and Jerome might match me, including Transalp, but my list is not too shabby. The great thing is that has been my 5th full riding season in Japan, and I still managed to ride lots and lots of places I had never gone before. ... and there are already plenty of new potential rides on the list for next year, not to mention a few that I might get in by year-end. Here is the list.

Passes/Hills of 2009
[blue text means ridden by me for the first time in 2009]

1. Otarumi (Kanagawa border)
2. Wada (Yamanashi border)
3. Kobu tunnel (Yamanashi border)
4. Kazahari
5. Umegaya (Jerome Hill)
6. Nikka-zuka (next route to the East of Jerome Hill – not sure pronounciation and thus the romanization)
7. Fue-Kami (heading into Chichibu -- just past Higashi Oume toward Nariki)
8. Ozawa (tunnel into Naguri -- Tokyo/Saitama-Chichibu border )

9. Yabitsu
10. Shiroyama-ko (Hon/Moto-zawa Dam – the short climb NE of Tsukui- ko)
11. 三増峠 Sanzou Pass (S. of Tsukui-ko on Rte 65 – first leg of Kanagawa Brevet)
12. Hakone Pass (Shizuoka border)
13. Ashi-no-yu Onsen Iriguchi (Pass on Rte 1 at top of climb – Odawara to Ashinoko – name??)

14. Tsuru
15. Tawa
16. Matsuhime
17. Oo-toge
18. Kamihikawa
19. Yanagisawa
20. Odarumi (Nagano border)
21. Yakiyama
22. Hinazuru (not Suzugane!)
23. Mt. Fuji 5th stage
24. Yamabushi Touge (the same name as the pass in Chichibu – but also the name of the pass/tunnel at top of Doshi Michi)
25. Dosaka (Pass between Doshi Michi and Tsuru)

26. Yamabushi (the “real” Yamabushi)
27. Shomaru
28. Nenogongen
29. Karibazaka (on the Green Line)
30. [Hannari] (not sure pronounciation/romanization -- on the Green Line)
31. Buna (on the Green Line)
32. Arima
33. [Nitazan] touge (pass on the Naguriharaichiba Rindo)
34. Shigasaka (on border w/ Gunma)

35. Mugikusa Touge(麦草峠)
36. Suzuran Touge
37. Yagawa Touge (矢川 – on the Gunma Nagano border,
approaching Karuizawa from the South via “rindo”).

38. Jukkoku (十石峠on Gunma-Nagano border Rte 299)
39. Tsuetsuki Touge/杖突峠
40. Bunkui Touge/分杭峠
41. Jizo Touge/地蔵峠
42. Hyoko Touge/兵越峠

Shizuoka [no Izu rides this year beyond Atami!]
43. Jukkoku Pass (十国-- on rte 20 Hakone to Atami)
44. Atami Pass (Rte 20)
45. Naka-no-Kura tunnel (中之倉) [at top of climb up Motosu-michi to Motosu-ko -- WNW side of Mt. Fuji on Rte. 300 during Brevet]
46. Fuji Safari Entrance - high point on Rte 469 on S. side of Fuji (pass between small Mt. Kurodake and big Mt. Fuji)

Europe (German, Austrian, Italian Alps)
47. Oberjoch
48. Alter Gaittpass
49. Hahntennjoch
50. Arlbergpass
51. Bielerhohe
52. Tobadill
53. Pillerhohe
54. Timmelsjoch
55. Stelvio
56. Passo Foscagno
57. Passo D’Eira
58. Passo Gavia
59. Passo del Tonale
60. Mendelpass
61. Fai del Paganella/Andalo
62. Passo del Ballino

Forgotten , added later:
63.  Nokogiri
64.  Kazahari Rindo 


Guys, please mark already January 2nd, 2010 (2011, 2012 and 2013) for the traditional


As usual we can expect thousands of spectators lined up along the streets that will cheer us up all the way from Tokyo [or later] through Odawara to Moto-Hakone. An additional highlight will be the a suicidal fast downhill from Hakone to Atami on spectacular route 20 plus (hopefully) the Shinenkai afterwards. An event not to be missed.

More infos will follow.

Cycle Sports Decemeber Issue

I normally do not promote the purchase of Cycle Sports or any other publication except fencing (pardon - fanzines), but the new issue of Cycle Sports is simply too good and too thick to be ignored. For about 600 Yen you will get the magazine, the new Shimano catalog for 2010 plus the guide to the Cycle Mode exhibition in December.

The Shimano catalog is a good reference for prices. Shimano for cycling is, I believe, a little bit like Toyota for cars. One wouldn't buy their road bike parts for good design necessarily, but the pricing is (relatively) reasonable, the reliability and quality is excellent and spare parts are readily available almost everywhere in Japan. And they have the innovative products as well. If I would like to have something good looking on my bike I would prefer Italian, French or American parts perhaps. The DuraAce (hollowtec) crank set is of such pronounced ugliness that it hurts my eyes.

In the main magazine there are also some good articles about a Japanese "Toge" (Mountain passes) today and 30 years ago, conquered by the same guy. Why we can see that roads and infrastructure has improved and cycling technology has come a long way as well, cycling clothing is much more functional today but still designed in a way that we can be sure to laugh about in less than 10 years to come.

In the main magazine there are also stories about Bryon's Computrainer, Tom's new obsession Cyclocross and some infos about long fingered gloves and shoecovers.

This is the right stuff for the (occasional) train rides.

21 November 2009

Bonking in Hakone...

Thanks David (the role of domestique carrying 2-liter bottles in his back pocket fits you perfect!), thanks Ludwig for the humorous write-ups. It was another beautiful day, weather-wise and comrade-wise. I enjoyed talking with Thierry on top of Otarumi-toge (hope you’ll join us more often Thierry), with Jerome at the foot of Dozaka-toge, with Ludwig at the foot of Nagao-toge while (endlessly) waiting for Michael and finally with MOB himself aboard the Shinkansen between Atami and Shin-Yokohama.

The riding itself was fantastic and even the “sanrenkyu” heavy traffic jams did not bother me at all; it was thrilling and fun. The Mikuni downhill was super fast and Rd. 20 taking us further down to Atami was awesome! Michael is right; this has got to be one of the top 10 downhills in Japan in terms of length, smoothness and beauty of the scenery.

Yes, as one can read in Ludwig’s comments below, Michael seems to have suddenly gotten “the bonk” (this is a condition more commonly referred in Japan as a ハンガーノック or a hunger knock), a serious bout of hypoglycemia without any advance indication of the major collapse which would strike him and leave his companions completely mystified. When Michael finally did show up with a big grin on his face saying: “sorry guys…I had been bonking,” he was instantly forgiven! What a relief! I don’t know about Ludwig but I was starting to have hallucinations of MOB lying by the side of the road with blood streaming from both ears…

As soon as we rode all three together through the Nagao-toge tunnel, the fangs of traffic violation ogres almost pulled Michael into another inferno. Luckily I could get hold of Michael’s leg while Ludwig was holding onto mine (we enacted several versions - including one with Ludwig about to be squeezed - pictures of this fearsome ordeal to follow soon!). We somehow managed to escape and it was circling around lake Ashinoko that Michael completely recovered….gone were the symptoms of depletion and this time around it was Michael who imposed the tempo till the end!

My dessert of the day was a sweet ride in the darkness from Hashimoto over Onekan to my place.

19 November 2009

Bike spotting

Is that a Trek Top Fuel WSD?

Songs I would like to hear when riding

Perhaps because recently I have been bonking too much on climbs, I became pregnant with the idea to write a post about bicycle songs. You know, not this one, which is too obviously connected with the topic; but about the songs one is unintentionally hearing when riding.

Generally I don't ride with an ipod or similar on the bike and listen to music while riding. I feel uncomfortable going with the flow of the traffic in the city and it is exactly the silence I am looking for when riding out in the mountains. And the music I love to hear at home, say for example Ludwig Guettler playing Bach isn't exactly the music I would like to hear when, for example, trying to park a car in a reverse in a small space (as my friend Tobias used to put it perhaps 18 years ago).

But sometimes, in particular when riding up a steep slope, fragments of thoughts appear recurring in my head and sometimes they focus into a line from a song I have almost forgotten about. When I was riding up Koburi Toge on Monday for some reason I couldn't get this one out of my head. These are not necessarily my favourite songs, although this one is.

So what song to you hear in your head?

18 November 2009

Tokyo Bicycle Film Festival 2009 This Weekend Nov 20-23

It is that time of year again, as the Bicycle Film Festival comes to Tokyo, as in 2008 and 2007. Maybe this year I will stop by for a show?


Follow up note: Misako and I stopped by for the 4PM show today -- a nice crowd, and fun series of 12 short films in 90 minutes. The filmed races through NYC were crazy--crazier than anything similar I've seen.

This is a view from the entrance to the Spazio sunken courtyard, with the exhibition space visible.

There is supposed to be a "block party" at Komazawa Dori tomorrow afternoon.

15.000 HITS

OK, we are still four hits short according to Clstrmaps, but we have almost reached 15.000 hits on this website - that is the main page I suppose that counts. For the statistics:

0 - 5.000 hits from
14.11.07, the start of the site to 26.09.2008, 316 days,- 10.000 hits to 21.05.2009, 228 days
- 15.000 hits to 18.11.2009. 181 days

Now let's compare this with more than 127.000 hits at Hiroshi's website as per today.

I celebrated the event today with a 35 minute ride to Jiyugaoka, a cheese cake and a hot coffeee at Cafe Cabandon. My personal cafe at Tiffany's. Somebody got the connection?

Chichibu shines

Yesterday night I watched the movie "THE SHINING" by Stanley Kubrick. I guess one has really fallen in love with cycling when one cannot help thinking during the opening scenes that this might be a beautiful place to make long cycling tours. Despite the music that preludes the horror to come.Also motivated by the blogs of David, Ludwig and Tom about the great tours they made under beautiful skies on Sunday, I decided to ride out on my own to Chichibu the following day. The weather was not as perfect as on Sunday but it was warm, dry and without to much winds so I decided to ride from my house up to the Tamagawa and further up to Ome instead of boarding an overcrowded train as I normally do.

The "Tamasai" ex-cycling, now pedestrian with dogs obstacled road along the Tamagawa was as boring as ever. I noted however the increase of homeless settlements along the road, in particular under some of the bridges (Sekidobashi) which somehow links cycling to the ongoing economic downturn in Japan. Or for the cycling fanatics among us I would like to provide the proper analogy: These poor guys can barely afford mama charis and even hybrid-bikes with Shimano Sora group sets are well beyond their reach.

In order to reflect the actual situation I believe that the Japanese flag shall be modified: The red circle, symbolizing the sun, should be partly covered with a not so precisely round blue tarp which is so often used in homeless settlements. The final curtain is closing quickly in front of the Japanese sun.
Well, all the land between the river and the embankments is designed to be flooded in case of heavy rainfalls in the upper reached of the Tamagawa and that is why it is not such a good idea to settle there. The older members of the team may recall the floods of early 2006 and the devastation it brought to portions of the cycling track. The park close to Mutsumi bridge was closed for almost a year before it was finally reconstructed and opened again.

Naturally with these gloomy thoughts it took me almost 2:15 hours to reach Ome station. In no way my physical conditions can be blamed for this one.

There I conducted one of three fatal mistakes of the day: Instead of buying the fantastic "royal milk" at the Aurore bakery which provides plenty of energy for the rest of the day (I mean any day, regardless of the time when eaten and degree of physical activities), I opted to buy only two smaller pastries and subsequently I bonked later in the day when riding up the slopes. Which again provides a good argument to keep with approved team traditions.

The ride I had in mind was to do the most ridiculous routes, accounting for the longest distance and the highest elevation gains to finally reach the fabulous capital of Chichibu, fanciful and aptly named Chichibu-City. The former a promise, the later a joke.

So I started to ride along prefectural road 28 in direction Hanno and took #70 to the West until finding the entry to the fabled Hanachiba-Naguri Line. The climb was fast and I was completely alone after the first Y section. How I love the silence in the woods, away from all the noise at the Tamagawa. I then descended on the other side to road #53 leading to Yamabushi and Shomaru Pass which we have conquered also quite often by now. But before reaching Yamabushi, I took a right turn on #395 to Amamezasu Pass which at 480 meter elevation is slightly lower than the mighty Van Hai pass.

I like this climb. It is only 2.6 km long but covers an elevation difference of about 220 meters so it is somehow similar to Wada but not as demanding. Also it is very quiet and completely in the forest.
From the top one has also a nice view on the hair needle curves that are waiting for the adventurous downhiller on the other side. So basically I went up the same ridge from the South that I went over first from the North and now I was heading on National road 299 back in direction Hanno.

In Agano I did a left turn on #61 and went up the slopes of Koburi Pass (顔振峠). Although this road is also no stranger to the Positivo team, I guess it is less frequented by us. But the climb is really nice, short, less than 3 km, but covering about 300 meters up and at some points there are breathtaking views over the Chichibu mountains. The view compensated me very well for bonking. Plus I lost my water bottle somewhere, which was the second fatal mistake of the day.

I don't care so much about loosing water bottles. I have plenty at home and they keep accumulating naturally after attending races. However, this one was special at it has a very unique one directional flow valve attached to it. It is big and red and one has to pull it out with the teeth before starting to drink. I think it is the right bottle for somebody with a big mother-complex. Which I am not, but nevertheless the bottle was always good a for a laugh or two.

The skies were not as clear as on Sunday, but that gave the far mountains an interesting shade of different greys, almost like in an old Chinese ink painting. At precisely 500 meters elevation, Koburi Pass is even sightly higher than the mighty Van Hai pass.
From there onwards I rode along the Green Line. What makes Chichibu so different from Okutama and other places I have went so far is the unbelievable variety of paved roads criss-crossing the hills. There is always the feeling of choice and uncertainty. Why not taking this small road here for a change? Why not trying this one today? Sure, there are many rindos in other parts of the Kanto region as well and also many we don't know yet (the North approach to Wada until recently a good example). But Chichibu has so much more.

It is always tempting to take a new road, but not without water and at 4.00 PM on a mid November day in Japan. So I made my way up over the Mini-toge of the Green Line to the mighty Karibazaka Pass (at 818 meter higher than the mighty
Van Hai pass, Shiraishi Toge (higher than the mighty Van Hai pass) and finally Sadamine Toge (still higher than the mighty Van Hai pass).

The mother and daughter ramen operations at Sadamine Toge had already closed , perhaps for the rest of the season and I started to make the final descent into Chichibu city on road #11. It was getting dark already and I just arrived at Chichibu City limits, famously serenaded by Ike & Tina Turner in the Seventies.

OK, so here I was at Chichibu city on a Monday night at 5 PM.

Which reminded me of the only joke from my home town of Moenchengladbach which I really appreciate. See, I am coming from a non-discript town with almost no hills (the biggest one being artificial, the garbage dump), so we didn't managed to bring even one famous cyclist to the circuit. Our biggest claims to fame is the local soccer team which I unfortunately support since they were good and famous in the seventies. And which brought only sorrow and tears in the last 20 years. And then we have Nick Heidfeld, a formula one racer and Joseph Goebbels.

Anyway, the town is close to two bigger towns called Duesseldorf and Koeln (Cologne). These cities hate each other, which probably has something to do with the historical fact that one of them is catholic (Koeln of course, with its cathedral) while the other is dominantly protestant. They compete in many aspects, soccer, ice hockey, economical .... Duesseldorf became the capitol of the federal state, Koeln has all the media ... character-wise I definitely tend to Duesseldorf and I even lived there for some time in the 80ties and 90ties.

Now, back to the joke. Tuennes and Schael, two immortal characters from my home town (actual Cologne claims them as theirs as well) meet each other and Tuennes says:

" I bought a new motorcycle. That is so unbelievable fast...... If I start in Moenchengladbach at 7.30 in the morning, I arrive in Koeln at 8 already."

Whereas Schael answers:

"So what to you do at 8 in the morning in Koeln then?"

Same question, different context: "What do you do in Chichibu City at 5 PM in November?" Yes, it is along way home by train from Chichibu. I finally made it home by 9 after a 4 hour train ride, partly because I was too stupid to board the right train in Hachioji (again) which in turn allowed me to have look at the nightly silhouette of Ebina city. Third fatal mistake of the day.

All train, no joy, makes Jack a dull boy.

16 November 2009

Stay off the Rindos?

David L. heads upstream (literally) toward Arima Pass:
Tom, Nishibe-san and I had a great Chichibu ride over Arima Pass on a glorious fall day yesterday, and he has provided a write-up with some nice photos on his blog here. I'll remember the good things about this ride -- spectacular fall colors, perfect temperature range, beautiful views, fast trip home through Naguri/Nariki and then no headwind along the Tamagawa.

Fall colors on the lower slopes of the climb to Arima Pass:

So before they fade from memory, let me list a few of the negatives:

1. The forest roads (rindo) really can be difficult to travel at this time of year, especially the day after a heavy rain. The climb to Arima Touge (just a few meters higher than Kazahari) involved large stretches of road covered with wet leaves, puddles and water. No one had passed up the East side climb in weeks. Fortunately, the slope is not as steep as Wada or the climb up to the Green Line I did a few months back, so we could maintain enough traction to be able to ride all the way up. I did get a sidewall cut in my tubeless tire on the descent (I must have gone over one of the many smaller rocks in the roadway ... but at least I steered clear of the big ones).

2. As Tom notes, there was one stretch where the road disappeared and a 10 meter drop appeared. We were able to go around by walking down a steep gravel slope, walking up a stream and then up another slope. Tom had his cyclocross bike, complete with 35mm knobby tires and wide clearance brakes, and gleefully attacked the gravel slope (as he did the leaf covered road). Tom swore to us that there was a road here only a month or so earlier. Nishibe-san and I were less thrilled about it, with our thin tires and carbon frames. At least our wet feet did not get cold, since we had a long climb ahead to generate heat, and the weather was mild.

3. There were lots of little 4-wheel drive SUVs that had come up the back side where the road was open. Most of them had one or two men in them ... with rifles. It was definitely hunting season. I don't know what they were hunting and we did not see anyone with a deer or inoshishi (wild bore) on his roof, or even a rabbit or rat, much less a bear, pheasant or monkey. In fact, I don't think I even heard the crack of a gunshot. But it still made me a bit uneasy about being mistaken for something to kill.

4. As Tom notes, the 4-wheel drive SUVs were more dangerous weapons than the rifles. One almost ran me off the road a few km over the top of Arima. I was WAY over on the left side of the road, where there was plenty of room to pass, but he cut a corner and came within an inch or two of me, and refused to "adjust" at all once he saw me. Tom says the guys in the SUV were laughing. He was not going so fast (nor was I) but if he had hit me ... The next time something like this happens, I'm going to try to have the presence of mind to (1) put my gloved hand through the windshield to let him see just how close he is, or at least (2) give chase back up the hill since in 2-3 km he would have reached a gate that would have slowed him down enough for me to at least get the license plate and report to the police.

Some photos from near/at the top of the climb (see Tom's blog entry for more spectacular scenery photos):