30 March 2010

A Tale of Two Towers

When I arrived in Japan in 1998, I worked the first two years in Hamamatsu/Shizuoka in the factory of a now famous Swiss elevator company. I was transferred to Tokyo in 2000 and since I am returning to Germany in a few weeks, I thought it might be a nice idea to ride from Tokyo to Hamamatsu on my bike as a conclusion of my stay in Japan. As the distance between the two cities is about 270 km which is hard to ride within one day, I decided to split the trip into two legs. On Saturday evening I rode from Tokyo to Yokohama and on Sunday I did the remaining stretch.

Note: This post is dedicated to the Yellow Giant aka Travis who rode from Tokyo to Nagoya on road 246 and 1 in January this year. He has my full respect as he had stayed on the man roads for more than 400km. As the end point of his journey was the house of his parents in law, I still suspect that the main purpose of his ride was to have an convenient excuse to do absolute nothing there but to lie around, watch TV and eat good food. Also, when asked next year if he will come again, he might answer: "Again? I cannot ride there every year!".

Well, actually I enjoyed the last squash match of my life at the TAC with a friend and rode home on my bike afterwards. The next morning I woke up at 5 AM in fabulous shape, ready to roll.

The weather was not really good, cloudy, but at least no rain forecasted until 3 PM. I was blessed with a very strong tailwind, so I made good progress along the Nakahara Kaido and later on road 1 towards Odawara. I tried to control my heart rate and not to overdo it, even when I had a chance to go faster. This early on a weekend day, the traffic was rather light and I arrived at 8 AM at the 7-Eleven on the start of the old Tokaido up to Hakone. One signboard said something about only 100 km left to Shizuoka - cool. I almost made it.

The mountains ahead were completely covered in mist and I was afraid of snow and rain up there. Typical 三寒四温 weather. I started the climb up to Moto-Hakone and again I tried to pace myself in the 140 - 150 HRM range, so that I would not exhaust myself too much. Nevertheless it took me only 54 minutes to reach the top, which is almost as fast as the second time when I went up there with Ludwig and Jerome. It was cold up there, only 1 degree plus, a little bit foggy but no snow and no rain. So I continued to Ashinoko and Hakone pass before taking the very fast downhill road 1 to Mishima without stopping.

First stop after Mishima (this town always reminds me of China) at a 7-Eleven and checking the maps: It looked much better to continue on road 380 along the coast; this is a road we have previously used to ride out of Mishima in direction Western Izu peninsular. Done. This road was also fast and the traffic was acceptable and again in no time I was in Shin-Fuji where I promptly got lost. Looking now at the map, I notice that I made a detour on road 396 but as this is the only other road to cross the Fujikawa river except the road 1 bypass (not allowed to be used by bikes) I had no other choice anyway.

This should happen quite a number of times: While it is no problem to ride on road 1 all the way between Tokyo and Mishima (nevertheless it wouldn't be my suggestion to do so), large stretches of the same road are barring cyclists from usage. Warning signs not to enter are all over the place and even if I love to take forest roads which are not allowed for public traffic, I hate to ride on these fast roads leading through flyovers, bypasses, bland correct underpasses and the like. How Travis did this - I don't know. I would have been scared to death out there.
Strangely, the distance to Shizuoka did not decrease during the last three hours of riding as much as it was supposed to decrease. Was this some Kafkanian castle trick from the Japan Highway authorities? And furthermore I have reached the point where the mountains were rising so steeply directly from the sea, that there was hardly any land left between there flanks and the water. And the few land remaining was used for the most important purpose of the country; to accommodate the Tomei highway, the national road 1 and the railroad line.

At the end of road 396 I couldn't possibly ride on road 1 which was hardly distinguishable from the parallel highway; that much were the number of lanes, the amount of traffic and the speeding of cars and trucks. But luckily there was a signboard showing the way to Satta Toge (薩埵峠) which sounded interesting enough to give it a try. We would not mention these types of passes in our weekly ride report, shallow hills with not much of climbing. But this one had a partly very steep approach of more than 20% slope and after a lot of hours in the saddle every climb becomes (more or less) a respectable challenge. The weather was good on top and to look through the Mikan orchards down on the roads and the sea was quite nice. That is how and why Satta Toge became Positivo Espresso approved.
Now, after riding down on the other side, I came into the (rather boring) port city of Shimizu, where after some maneuvering I found road 150 leading along the coast. Another time, road 1 could be avoided. This stretch of road 150 is also known as "Strawberry Line": On the left side is the beach, even some stretches of sand not covered by giant tetraeder concrete blocks and on the right side are greenhouse after greenhouse filled to the brim with mature strawberries that are screaming: "Sell me! Sell me!". And this is the precise reason why in intervals of perhaps 20 meters poorly paid students are dressed up as giant strawberries and red pandas. They carry strawberry lampoons on strings which they are twirling through the air to indicate to passing cars that one can buy here, well, strawberries. To be honest, this offers the same degree of excitement as speaking with my wife about recent trends in figure skate dressing.

But finally I have made it into Shizuoka city and crossed the Abeguchi river still staying on road 150. However, when I wanted to continue along the road I came to another long tunnel and there was no way I could pass through. Road 150. Tomei highway and the Shinkansen line where all swallowed by mountains and
road 1 had disappeared in the North quite a while ago. After trying some small roads at the tunnel portal to no avail, I rode back to the city and managed my way through thanks to the help of some locals. Road 416 was beautiful and gently swinging along the sexy curves of the coastline. The locals have warned me that I would be moving "up into the mountains", but what they mean by mountains is something we would refer to as "Yamanote" perhaps. Also, I asked if there would be any tunnels and the answer was "NO", spoken in a way like one would say: "Of course, not!". I came through three of them.

Which was actually good, because by now the weather had very much deteriorated and it began to fizzle. I was getting wet fast so in one semi-tunnel (one side was almost open to the sea with some nice window cut-outs), I decided to a) take a piss looking like a roman statue in an alcove and b) put on my rain jacket. It was high time, outside of the tunnel it had started to rain even harder and I could barely made a few more kilometers before I had to stop at a (yes, I admit it) Family Mart in the town of Yaizu.

Now, again I checked the maps, had some yaki-soba, tried to stay inside as long as possible. As I was looking outside I noticed that it had started to hail. Small white hard balls of something between snow and ice were falling from the dark grey skies and made a tremendous noise when colliding with the sheet metal parts of cars.
I was ready to give up. There were at least 80 km left to Hamamatsu, it was already close to 3 PM and the weather didn't look like becoming better any moment. I thought, OK, let's give it one more try and I continued to ride. Within minutes I had that typical sensation of wet feet. One knows, that now the socks and shoes are soaked and that this will remain so for the rest of the ride. I was so desperate that I started to hum Rick Astley songs.And suddenly the rain stopped. Just like in Woodstock, 1969. No rain, no rain. Also the surface pf the road was dry and the sky ahead had the color of eye-pleasing grey. But when I looked behind me, the sky had the color of sock-soaking dark grey - so everything I endured must have been true. The wetness of my socks and the last notes of a Risk Astley song reminded me of this truth.

OK, so now I could move on, crossing the Oikawa and riding along road 79 to one of the biggest incidents of ruthless and senseless wasting of tax payers money in the shape of the new Fuji Shizuoka Airport opened in June 2009. I checked the website to make sure that this airport is offering the staggering amount of 20 national and 6 international flights per hour! No, I was joking, this is the number of flights per day. I guess during rush hour there are more trains leaving the station closest to my house per hour than flights the whole day there. JAL has a high share of this flights which is their fate: As a quasi national carrier they have to serve all this micro airports and mini routes in Japan. More flights are done by the home airline, Fuji Dream Airlines (FDA, owned by Suzuyo). I don't know what you think which you hear the abbreviation FDA, but apart from "Feine Deutsche Art", a German Punk Band from Duesseldorf in the Eighties, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION is probably close to what most people would come up with. I had to laugh which I checked the Japanese website of the FDA (the airline, that is) and they introduce their (three plus one) travel destinations by displaying pictures of typical food of the region. Food after all?
Now, how do you come to this airport, if not on the bike from Yokohama? Well, the next train station is 6 km away. Funny enough, the next train line is precisely under the airport, being the Tokaido Shinkansen line, but no train stops there and neitehr are there any plans to built a station. Luckily. And to Shizuoka City it is about an hour by bus. I would dare to say that from many places in Shizuoka, one is equally fast at Haneda airport in Tokyo or at Chubu Airport in Nagoya.

It never stops amazing me, how these dinosaurs of poor infrastructure planing appear suddenly in the middle of nowhere-Japan. It is the same with Fuji Speedway: You ride there by bike or by car, there are no big roads, no signboards, nothing. Suddenly, they pop up in front of you.

OK, I had to stop to get angry with myself and eventually get cancer as a consequence and start doing something for my health, i.e. to continue to ride. Road 79 was quite pleasant with a lot of ups and downs and before long I was in familiar territory in Kikugawa and Kakegawa where I joined again road 1 for a short stretch. Now that I was sure that I would make it and almost in daylight, I decided to pay a short visit to my old factory in Fukuroi.
The factory got ISO 9001 approval on Christmas Day, 1997 but even 12 years later it was still lacking Positivo Espresso approval so I changed this quickly. Also the test tower for a budget elevator (Smart) was still standing on the factory ground. As this is one of the few meaningless things I helped to become reality in my working life, I PE-approved the elevator as well before I wanted to leave silently. But, oh God, someone was coming out of the building, he had seen me and there was no way I was going to get away unnoticed. This looked for trouble! But, the guy just got into his car without caring about me and drove home (actually it was precisely 5 PM, so he didn't even made one minute of service overtime work at the office there). Then I remembered that this was precisely the work attitude of many of my colleges I have worked with at Schindler: If something doesn't fit into the precise frame of one's work assignment, it can be ignored safely. I always had my problems with this attitude and I am sad to note that this hasn't changed ten years later.

From there on I rode on road 413 and 1 through Iwate and finally crossed Tenryu river into Hamamatsu. I could now see the second tower, that is the bubble-area Act City skyscraper close to the main station.

An hour later I checked into a small business hotel with bike storage, was sitting in a yakitori bar and drinking beer and munched on some very delicious pieces of something on wooden sticks.
The circle was closed, I was back where I started 12 years ago.

8 comments:

Manfred von Holstein said...

Hilarious... And I am glad you made it through in one piece.

Now I know why you asked me about the weather in Mishima when we spoke Saturday night...

With so much kilometres in your legs, almost anything is forgiven, but maybe you were a little bit harsh on our old employer? It was a Sunday after all, and somebody working there even on a holiday speaks for the incredible dedication people had to the company.

mob said...

Well, what should be forgiven? Where have I sinned?

Perhaps I am a little bit harsh on my old employer but I should be forgiven as they have failed to fully utilize the wonderful potential of the economy elevator in the end. Perhaps you forgot that the nation-wide call center of the company is located at the factory and that the guy was probably maning one of the shifts. This is not overtime or dedication.

andy said...

great story - as always!

I guess the song that stuck in your head was "never gonna give you up"!? Funny how songs get hold of you when the going gets tough. Surprised "love in an elevator" didn't make an appearance!

Last year as we enjoyed a few drinks the night before Tokyo~Itoigawa, I sang some Celine Dione to a few of the guys. They were really angry when I met them at the Goal in Itoigawa. The theme from "Titanic" kicked in just before Omachi apparently....

Enjoy the rest of your time here!

Andy

mob said...

Yes, it was "Never gonna give you up." Why is it that songs one does n't really like pop up in such important moments of one's life? Why not this one :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oskM5XD_Yc4

Are teenage dreams really so hard to beat?

andy said...

Good choice mob! That is one of the songs that has stopped me going insane in the garage this winter.

http://www.jyonnobitime.com/time/2010/02/30-something-kicks.html

In my opinionated opinion, one of the best 3 pop tunes ever written. The other 2 being this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvO7HNQPFRI&feature=related

and this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPudE8nDog0

I keep pestering my wife to learn the female vocals on this one for when people ask us to do a duet at karaoke. So far she hasn't shown much interest!

Andy

David L. said...

Another masterful blog entry! We will be lost without you.

Jimmy Shinagawa said...

Is it just me, or is there quite a resemblance between Mob and Mr. Rick Astley?

MaKo said...

Wow! What a great journey!
I was amused by the sellers on "Strawberry Line", surprised by the hail, curious about what would happen to you in front of the test tower, afraid that there seemed to be nothing getting better in the factory and felt nostalgic for the beer restaurant near Hamamatsu station if I was correct.