24 March 2010

Wild Life


Ludwig isn't only know for his cycling skills. He is also a talented classical musician, playing the viola for the Low4 Pro-dark (Aoyama Symphonic Orchestra) Team [some names have been changed to protect the innocent]. As such he is known in our family as "The Obsessed", or "Der Bessesene" in German. On Monday, the Obsessed and I went out to take a closer look at the wild life in the mountains west of Tokyo.Back when we were still living in Tokyo, we had a German Aupair, Henrike, who was also a very skilled Cello player and played with the Aoyama Symphony Orchestra alongside Ludwig. When she was on a visit with us last month, she met some of her old friends from the orchestra. They promptly told her that Ludwig didn't come any longer to rehearsals because - I quote - "he is now obsessed with bicycle riding". So, when riding out with Ludwig these days, I always tell my family that I am riding with the Obsessed, so it will be a hard and painful ride, leading me to roads to bridges and passes to nowhere. I will come home late but alas, all of this is not my fault as I am just trying to hang on to the Obsessed. This has proven to become a very useful excuse which allows me the freedom to do almost any ride on any given day. Provided it is in the company of the Obsessed. Ludwig finally got his new Red Bull Cyclo Cross bike. As we still had to settle an account with road 76, we met early in the morning on Sunday at the Tamagawa and rode out the usual route along the Asakawa to Takao. Mount Fuji was shining bright and polished in the back when I made a photo at the Asakawa bridge that I always wanted to take, with Ludwig proudly sporting his brand new bike. In view of the dirt roads ahead I had mounted Bad Boy which made it hard to follow Ludwig on the flatter parts. As it was hard to follow him on the slightly steeper parts as well. As it was also hard to follow him on the steep parts and during the down hills and finally the stairs up to the platform of the train. OK, he is the Obsessed one, obviously. As a warm-up we scaled Otarumi, Ludwig rather fast and me rather slow. Almost every time I climb up there I remember that in 2003 I wasn't able to reach the top before dismounting about two thirds up. And even when I slowly move up these days, it gives me this nice feeling of having achieved something in relative terms. As we were not yet completely warmed up on the top, we decided to add Bijotani to our trip before heading for route 76. As usual, Bijotani was brimming with activities. "Activities" it this sense means that everybody is at home watching TV and nobody is seen outside despite the splendid weather. The gate closing off the road to Busu Toge [the pass on top of the road between Bijotani and the road leading to Wada Toge, which has been named Busu Pass for the time being] had been reinforced with additional slats on both sides and a new signboard was attached to emphasize that "really, really it wasn't possible to pass through, even for cyclists and hikers". No obstacle for us, though. The road was in better shape than I had remembered it. About two thirds up construction activities were being conducted, removing the old asphalt surface on a length of perhaps 200 to 300 meters. When ready, we can expect a flawless, perfect road with no cars [as there are gates on both sides] and an increase of the Japanese state debt to GDP ratio to finally over 200%.We took a short break on the top and noticed a small hiking path leading to 明王峠 (read myo-o toge). We left our bicycles at the entrance and followed the trail to the pass, which was supposedly only 500 meters away but added at least another 100 meters of elevation. There were quite a few hikers at the pass and a lot of warning signs; this seemed to be a dangerous place indeed. Nonetheless the view was beautiful, not only in direction of Mount Fuji, but also of the backside of hikers sitting in front of us.
Wow: "Let me hit the road - EMPTY HEADED" <!--[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]--> <!--[endif]-->
It is good to know that there are still people in this country coming up with poetic expressions, 1,000 years after Lady Murasaki has written a long version of the Momoyama area equivalent to current Japanese TV dramas and 350 years after Basho was looking for the narrow roads to the interior. If one followed the trail further - probably not possible by bike, but maybe fine by crossbike after all? - one would end up at Wada Toge, reaching it on the trail that starts just behind the witch house. <!--[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]--> <!--[endif]--> We then took the road down. Ludwig's new brakes were making an incredible noise, in particular when he was out of my sight; I thought that perhaps a flock of ducks on heat was coming forward to attack us. Actually the braking sound proved a real blessing, as it attracted many different forms of wild life and game onto the road. Coming down from Myo-o toge we thus encountered a small tribe of monkeys crossing the road and for the first time I was able to take a photo of one of them. Later we also saw some pheasants, as well as a roe deer on top of Inukoeji Toge. All of them, looking as if they were crazy for wild, animalic sex having heard the sound of supposed partners ready to mate. Perhaps not so attracted by the sound of brakes was a group of motor cyclists at a 7-Eleven at route 20 where we took a short break. To my utter surprise, these machines have even bigger tires than our cyclo cross bikes. Perhaps Dominic may also want to think about an upgrade for his Ducati 900SS.After riding all of road 76 to Aone, we then continued on our adventure riding road 76 up to Inukoeji pass. First we reached the right-wing radical camping side where rightist hoodlums can take showers while making threatening phone calls to liberal politicians from an anonymous phone booth. The road is closed about 3-4km further up by a gate which doesn't offer any significant resistance. Thereafter the road continues to be asphalted for another 3 or 4 kilometers but after that the dirt track and thus the real adventure starts, only occasionally interrupted by short stretches of asphalt on bridges or in tunnels. All of a sudden, a really, really incredibly terrible thing happened: While approaching another tunnel, a big rock came tumbling down the mountain, hitting me on my beloved Bad Boy, instantly killing me as can be seen in the photo below, which Ludwig was so kind to shoot instead of providing emergency aid. In order not to give Ludwig the chance to sprint away from the scene and be first up the mountain, my ghost mounted my golly Bad Boy and made a run to the top at full speed. Where, having got rid of my mortal bodily weight, I arrived a full 13 minutes earlier than him. I could hear him coming through the tunnel braking, although I thought at first that a sex-crazy herd of wild boars was on the attack. His lame excuse was that he had been threatened by rape of multiple wild animals after losing sight of me while taking photos of a supposedly idyllic nature which turned out to be less than idyllic in so many ways…We started to descend to Tanzawa lake. I felt a very low pressure in my rear tire which had allowed me to ride fast over the dirt trail but now the whole bike felt unstable in the curves on the fast downhills. I was very, very careful not to crash, but thinking it over as I write this post, I was dead anyway so the difference wouldn't have been too big if I had crashed, would it? Lake Tanzawa was beautiful in the sun, all glimmer and shimmer like a Shibuya nail polish studio. We took a short break and suddenly I found myself with a much softer than usual Ludwig, toying with the local pet. Instead of taking the easy road to 246 we decided that we would have time to do another pass, this time road 710 leading up to Hadano Toge.
This proved to be another very long and steep climb, including a nice false pass two thirds of the way up. Ludwig had kindly offered me to change bikes. He was struggling with Bad Boy while I was having a hell of a time on his new red bull. My riding impressions were the following: Riding the new cyclocross bike was a delight. This Red Bull X-Lite Cross AL-4400 is a bargain from German mail order company rose.de, costing only JPY 180,000 (but plus a rather steep JPY 40,000 shipping fees and import taxes) for what is quite high-value equipment. The China-made alu frame is very stiff - unbelievably stable on fast downhills. The Easton EA70 wheels feel light despite the 35mm Continental cyclocross tires. They become a bit noisy when going faster, but the drag seems relatively low. They performed superbly in the very difficult stony terrain. One feels much more safely navigating through and over stones and other debris on all the rindos, but also simply less bumpy over uneven normal roads. The SRAM Force gear set works well. I adjusted quickly to the different way of shifting up. Precision is very good. There are advantages and disadvantages over Shimano - probably more a matter of taste than ultimate performance difference. It is good though SRAM components are relatively light, so the entire bike off-the-shelf weights just 8.5kg, which is very light for a cross bike. The cantilever brakes work very well, in fact, better than any other brakes I have ever had. They are still very noisy, and I had a blast playing trumpet on them on downhills, alerting just about anyone of our impending arrival. OK, I admit it, I owe this break in style to my ghost writer… There were slope markers all over the place, reading 12%, 14% and 16%. It is funny how one relaxes if there is one indicating only 9%. We could see the road winding up ahead of us, a bit similar to the southern approach of Matsuhime Toge. We eventually scaled also this pass. Half way down on the other side, we faced the choice between making another short climb on a gated forest road or heading down as fast as we could to road 246 and then on to the station of Shin-Matsuda. It was very tempting to make another detour but it was also very late. It seems one could go almost all the way to the road to Yabitsu on forest roads - we must try another day. Well today we had to pay the price for our nice Myo-o adventures and headed straight for Shin-Matsuda. Strange how almost flat or even declining roads at the end of a long trip always seem so boring and endless. Yet we made it. Including the distance to our meeting point, more than 150 km of beautiful riding and more than 2,300 elevation meters scaled. I am afraid that this might turn out to be not dissimilar from my yearly elevation total for riding in North Germany in 2011.
http://www.mapmyride.com/route/jp/kanto/746126929869113155

4 comments:

TOM said...

Cool Ludwig, the Red Bull cyclocross...I see you were carrying a bottle of water...how unusual!

Richard said...

MOB, could you tell me how much your Big Boy weighs?

(I am sorry to ask such an overtly sexist question)

mob said...

Richard, I never checked the weight on a scale, but my guess would be that it is in the range of 12 - 13 kg without water bottle, bike bag and (unfortunately) myself in the saddle. My bad boy has frame size 56cm. I chaged the tires (not the rims) from 700x23 to 700x30, there is enough clearence at the fork and at the rear. 700x35 though would be impossible to fit.

I like the bike for city rides, mainly because of the flat handle and the disc brakes. The front suspension is useless, luckily it can be locked. In the flat and on the climbs there is a huge difference in performance compared to the light cyclo cross bike of Ludwig.

Richard said...

Thanks MOB, I was wondering how it compared to my new Rohloff internal-geared 700c bike. Disc brakes and flat bar, but lightweight steel fork. A tad over 11kg.

I often wish I was riding a lightweight road bike, but my spine would probably twist up and strangle me if I rode drops - and the only brakes I can live with are disc, which is going to add considerable weight to a bike.

Keep an eye out for Rohloffs in Germany. They have long been rumored to be working on a 'lightweight' version for road bikes.