30 December 2011

January 2 - Manfred von Holstein Memorial Hakone Ekiden Ride

Just a note to mention that the Hakone Ekiden ride is coming up soon, on the morning of January 2.  The weather forecast is good, as usual:  partly sunny and a high of 10 degrees C for Tokyo on the 2nd.  Of course, it will be cold in the early morning.

The planning this year is entirely at the TCC site (to the extent you can call it "planning", given Ludwig's absence this year).  The group will use his instructions from last year. Details can be found here on the TCC BBS.

For anyone not familiar with this glorious event, reports of 2011 can be found here.  And links to prior years can be found here.


Well, another Ekiden ride has come and gone.  I had hoped to ride with both my sons, but Henry awoke with a mild fever, so it was just Geoffrey and me.  We stayed off of the Ekiden route until somewhere past Yokohama Station so that we could make quick progress without all the red lights, spectators and police, and so keep ahead of the runners despite a late start.  This worked fine and we joined we were only waved off the runners' route once, by a policeman who seemed to be sending all of the cyclists off of the "bypass" route and onto the old road past Totsuka Station.  The routes reconnected a bit later.  We were presumably behind the TCC group from the point where we joined the route -- did not see any familiar faces.

We rode past the thousands and thousands of spectators to Odawara, where we took a long stop and watched the runners pass, then hopped the train home.  Mt. Fuji was obscured by clouds, and it was not quite the same without doing the final climb to Hakone -- not nearly as much exercise and not the same intense cheers from the crowd as on the climb.  But the seaside was spectacular, the roads were dry, and it was great to do this with Geoffrey during his short winter break visit to Tokyo.

Done with our ride, at an Odawara 7-11

The final left turn before the Odawara checkpoint

Toyo University has a big lead already in Odawara.
Kashiwabara, their "king of the mountains", extended it to 5+ minutes
breaking his own record on the climb to Ashinoko/Hakone
Waseda is in second place at the end of Day 1

Cold Valley

The cold sky lightens, 6:30AM December 30, on the cold Chuo Line
back from cold Otsuki, as we approach cold Uenohara

For at least the past month, Jerome has been talking about a "repeat" of last year's attempt to complete that most difficult of winter ultra-endurance cycling events, the "inland mountain route" from Tokyo to Kobe on the last two days of the year, arriving just in time to join the Beeren Club for a ride up the route to sacred Mt. Rokko ("Rokko-san") for the ritual viewing of the first sunrise of the New Year (the "Hinode").

Your humble correspondent joined the first leg of the trip last year, as far as snowy Lake Suwa in Nagano Prefecture (host to the 1998 WINTER Olympics) ... then hopped a train home.  This year, with my older son back in Tokyo from university for a very short of visit, I told Jerome that I could not join him.

On a family overnight trip to Izu this Monday/Tuesday, our shinkansen train was delayed in both directions, because of snow on the tracks between Maebara and Nagoya.  I fired off an email to Jerome -- if there was snow on the relatively low-lying outskirts of Kansai around Maebara, what would the mountain valleys and passes be like Northeast of there?  Surely, only the most courageous (or foolish) cyclist would even try to find out.

On Thursday morning Jerome called.  "You know, the weather has become much warmer and has been dry since Monday, I've been watching the forecast and I think I should be able to do it."  True, it was noticeably warmer in Tokyo on Thursday (low of 4 degrees C, high of 11, according to my morning newspaper), and if this trend held then it would be much better than what we experienced last year.  Jerome said he wanted to get an earlier start than last year, 2AM, so he could be in the Kiso Valley (or over Kamikochi ... madness in trying that route) early in the afternoon.

I hated to see him try this alone, and also wanted a good test of my new dynamo lighting setup, so told him that I might join the first leg -- just the ride out of Tokyo in the dark, assuming I could make it out of the office at a decent hour on the last day of the year, get my bike ready, get some sleep, and manage to stumble out of bed in time for a 2AM start.  No need to wait or call if I was not out front and ready to go.

I awoke at 1:45AM after only a few hours of sleep.  Tired.  We were on the way from my house before 2:15.  The weather was not so cold in Tokyo, but he mentioned that Yazaki-san, the dean of the Beeren Club, had told him it was snowing in Nagano on Thursday.  Jerome had given up the idea of Kamikochi passage, and was instead aiming for Nakasendo through the Kiso Valley.  This should have sent me right back to bed.

The first leg was uneventful, other than a gradually increasing headwind.  The Shimano dynamo hub and Phillips Saferide LED worked beautifully.  We took Yaen-Kaido, then Machida-Kaido and the south side of Lake Tsuikui, joining Route 20 (Koshu Kaido) just over the hill west of Takao.  This route is almost exactly the same distance as going via Takao, but avoids one climb of several hundred meters, in exchange for a few shorter climbs.  Neither route has any significant traffic between 2AM and 4AM!

It was just as we passed Tsukui-ko that the weather started to get really cold.  At a tunnel before the bridge over the lake, the temperature gauge said it was minus 3 degrees C -- and we had not even started the long climb inland up the valley to Sasago.  Rock sand had been spread on the bridge to prevent black ice.  We made our first convenience store stop at a 7-11 just over 50 kms into the ride.  Even Jerome put on some shoe covers, though he did not yet avail himself of a jacket.

According to Garmin Connect, the AVERAGE temperature for the entire 80km ride was -2.8 degrees C (or 26.9 degrees F) -- and that includes a first 20 km that was mostly well above zero degrees C (or 32 degrees F).  Between 4 and 6AM, on the ride out to Otsuki, it must have been -4 or -5 degrees.  My water bottles were frozen within minutes of the 7-11 refill, even though I had added hot water from the convenience store's thermos.

At least my feet were warm.  I had used a combination of thin wool socks, shoe liners, Gore windstopper/felt-lined overshoes, and "kairo" mini chemical warmers, and this managed to barely keep the cold at bay from my toes.  But I had not planned on real sub-zero temperatures.  After the first rest stop, as I shivered through a few short downhills before my engine heated up again, I thought my face would turn to ice and fall off.  My Sugoi-brand head covering, usually just fine for Kanto mid-winter rides, was inadequate.  And even my Nalini winter tights, Assos winter jacket and Craft inner layer with "windstopper" front panel were too thin.  I bid Jerome farewell at Otsuki, around 5:45AM -- I would have slowed him down significantly if I continued.  I sought refuge in a convenience store by Otsuki Station.  My skin was very cold to the touch, not just on my extremities.

I hopped the 6:17AM train back toward Takao, then on to Tachikawa, then the Nambu Line to Musashi Mizunoguchi.  Each of these three was a local train, so the doors opened every 2-3 minutes on average.  I would just start to warm up from a weak heater under the seat when the train car's 8 double doors would open, admitting blasts of cold air and returning the car to sub-zero.  It was a cold 2-hour ride home.  Only on the last train, from Musashi Mizunoguchi to Kaminoge, did I finally feel at all warm.  Then a hot bath and sleep.

I got an email note that Jerome made it to Kofu by 7:30AM ... but hit strong, gusty headwinds thereafter.  He eventually turned around on the climb past Nirasaki, to return to Nirasaki station and get a train for Shiojiri, the entrance to Nakasendo/Kiso Valley.  Did the weather actually get better as he headed by train further inland, to the NW, and to a higher elevation?  I doubt it.  Did he have the sense to stay on a train through Nakasendo and to Gifu, where he was planning to stay with friends?  I hope so.  Stay tuned.

Update, Evening of December 30:  Jerome reports that he remounted the bike at Shiojiri and made it through the Kiso Valley, suffering continually in (cold) headwinds, and arrived at his friends' place in Gifu Prefecture.  He was completely knackered (if I've got that Brit expression right) and suggested he might try to find a less mountainous route for day #2 of his ride. At least the weather forecast for Nagoya/Osaka area looks dry, partly sunny, and low/high temperatures of 1 and 10 degrees C respectively, so this bodes well for his chances.

Update, New Year's Day:  I received a call from Jerome just after midnight, reporting that he was approaching Rokko-san and Kobe, and another note this morning that he had made it successfully.  He departed at 10AM on the 31st from SE Gifu and rode hard, via the North side of Lake Biwa and the Japan Sea (the city of Obama), then over some (icy) mountain roads into Kyoto-fu and on to Kobe.  The weather cooperated on the 31st.  The hardest part was the headwinds and cold after Kofu, in the hours after we parted ways on the morning of the 30th.

12 December 2011

Chesini Storm Trooper

New bike for my son Henri.
Almost ready. Will replace his wonderful size 52 green Giant bike. HIs is now almost as tall as I am. As a front derailleur ist just a waste of money and additional weight in Bremen I connected instead a storm bell to the left STI lever. Always wanted to have one when I was a boy.

It works wonderful, when you shift the bell starts to become very noisy. This one commands respect on the streets of Bremen.

05 December 2011

Union Fixie

Just completed yesterday the built-up for my first fixie, just in time for a test ride on the weekend. Red theme on a blue basis.

More photos here.

In September I bought an old Union frame from the Seventies at a very good price, an opportunity too good to be missed. As nevertheless I didn't want to spend too much money I thought that a fixie would be a nice and inexpensive project. As usual the right parts accumulated slowly over the course of time. I had no previous experience with a fixie drive train so I had to ask some experts for help and naturally I also made some stupid mistakes. Note in case you don't know: Track bike cogs and BMX cogs have different thread diameters.

Union used to be a large Dutch bicycle manufacturer in the same class as Gazelle, Batavus and Sparta. The company is defunct now, but they made mainly Dutch shopping bikes just as their competitors. Tom probably knows precisely what I am talking about. For marketing and image reasons Union sponsored a racing team in the Seventies. But as they were not able to produce racing frames by themselves, they asked Motta in Italy to weld the frames and labeled them "Union". This is the story I was told about the frame I bought.

I assembled quite a mixed bag of components. I got some mid-priced Campa Record brake levers and Campa Gran Sport brakes as well as a NOS Chorus crank from 2006. I also found some beautiful Mavic 500 hubs and Mavic clincher rims.

Again, as usual I saw some nice parts that I desperately wanted to have and which made the whole project expensive beyond reason. The red saddle is brand new, a replica of an old version and while it is still much more affordable then a carbon saddle it is still way more expensive that it should be. I also bought new hoods for the brake levers which cost about the same money as the levers itself and a NOS 3ttt Gimondi handle bar. But I just love the Gimondi handle bar shape which is a hybrid bewteen a classic racing bar and a track bar. And when I saw the red Veloflex tires at an internet shop in Toulouse I wanted to have them too. Luckily the tax return came just in time to pay everything off.

The weather was miserable today so I just took the bike to the Universum. This was the first time I rode a fixie for a longer distance. David and david gave me the chance to ride their fixies for a few meters in Tokyo but today was very much different. As could be expected I am too stupid to ride a fixie and I need a fixie training camp. So lets see if I can get used to it.

If not I am working on my new Chesini winter bike. Life has alternatives.

Yabitsu in December -- a Reminder

Mt. Fuji seen while descending the South side of Yabitsu Pass, with viewpoint/tower in foreground.

Sunday December 4 served as a reminder of what a great place Tokyo is for a road cyclist.  The weather was Spring-like (sunny and a high around 20 degrees C), and the countryside was full of cyclists.  Jerome and I were able to enjoy a spectacular ride through hills, forests, by lakes and along the seacoast, and hop a train to be home around 4PM.

120 km

We went out One-kansen, around the North side of Tsuikui-ko, over to Miyagase-ko, up to Yabitsu Pass, then down the south side and on to the coast line, which we followed back to Kamakura.  Not a particularly long or tough ride, but just spectacular.
Some road construction on the "normal route" around North side of Tsukui let us here.
Can you see Mt. Fuji in the distance -- under the wires?

The Miyagase-ko rest area was buzzing with people and their dogs, not to mention cyclists.
We met a couple, 65 yr olds, who live in Fujino and were going to ride up Yabitsu.
The husband stayed on the big ring and beat me to the top. He said they ride 13-15K km each year.

Miyagase-ko from the rest area.  Xmas lights ready on the lower left.

A river runs through it -- the lower part of the valley on the North approach to Yabitsu.
At the beach near Enoshima.  Lots of sailboats and surfers today, December 4!

27 November 2011

Wheel No. 00001 (and dynamo hub)

Today I built my first wheel -- Shimano dynamo hub (DH-3N80), 32 DT Swiss Competition (2-1.8-2 double butted spokes), Ambrosio clincher rim.  It will not be my last.

Nice instructional DVD by Bill Mould, an Alexandria Virginia based wheelbuilder, makes it easy as 1-2-3.  One mistake in lacing required me to backtrack 5 minutes or so, but otherwise it went quite smoothly.
Moved some bike tools indoors for comfort, and so I could watch the DVD as I worked.
Note to self:  any future housing must have room for a bike shop area indoors.
... Now I just need to wait for the LED light I ordered for use with this ...
I should have gotten a truing stand, tension meter, etc. and learned how to build wheels years ago.  I suspect I would have had many fewer wheel problems if I had been prepared to maintain them properly.  Checked the tension and trued 2 other wheelsets, and replaced the bearings in the front hub of a commuting wheel as well.

UPDATE:   I ordered a Busch + Mueller Lumotec IQ Cyo Plus LED front light, and a Philips LED SafeRide dynamo front light 60 Lux from Bike24 in Germany. They arrived Tuesday so I was able to try them in the evening.  I wish there were some darker streets near my house ...   It was easy to connect these -- removing the front brake and then using the brake bolt to hold the light's base/adapter to the frame, then winding the wire around the right fork.  The Shimano hub has a very easy to use terminal for the wires -- easy to plug in/unplug when you remove the wheel.

The B + M is smaller and lighter than the Philips.  It also was a bit cheaper (46 vs 62 Euro).  But I think I made a mistake in ordering the IQ Cyo Plus -- a model without any "senso" (automatic light detector) or a manual on/off switch.  The IQ Cyo T senso plus -- which Yan (commenter below) has -- would be a better choice.  Anyway, the B + M has a very bright "standlight" which runs from a capacitor and stays on for several minutes even when the hub is not spinning.  The main light is also quite bright -- significantly brighter than my Gentos LEDs. 

But it has an odd beam pattern, with a bright trapezoid in the middle and some weird dark spots.  This would take time to get used to it, I think.  And the model I ordered is not "switchable" -- and seems designed for a rim "bottle" dynamo where you switch it off by lifting the dynamo away from the rim of the wheel.  My error, though I could add a manual switch if I wanted to ...  A mixed verdict.

The Philips is impressive.  It is really bright (brighter than the B + M, I think, and WAY brighter than my Gentos LED lights).  It has a very smooth, even beam pattern, which projects a carpet of bright light a long way ahead onto the road as you ride, and also manages to throw a bit of light wider to the sides and onto the ground near the front of the bike -- perfect.  Also, I got the right model -- with off/on switch, and a separate cable if I want to add a rear LED as well, or connect to another device/charger.  The standlight is dimmer than the B + M, but still enough for checking a map and being visible to others.  This is consistent with the results of a tester/blogger in the Netherlands reports -- it seems comparable to the much more expensive Supernova E3 Pro or Schmidt Edelux.

The dynamo and Philips LED Saferide light are staying on my commuting fixie for the time being.

26 November 2011

At the Kawasaki Keirin Track

With the brakes and bullhorns off, and 48x14 gearing,
my commuting fixie is a real track bike!
MOB did it at end of 2008, others have since, and now it was my turn to join Hiroshi and his Keihin Pista club for one of their sessions on the Kawasaki keirin track -- to ride the "bank".  Gunnar and Tim S. also joined for this event.  Tim mentioned that he lived in Portland at one point, and offered to provide info and intros to the cycling (and cycle racing) scene before my visit in February.

It was a great way to spend Saturday afternoon, and I look forward to another visit soon.  It took awhile to get used to riding high on the steep banked curve, but it was much easier to get to the top of the bank than I had thought it would be, since on the keirin track the approach is very gradual from the flat to the top of the bank.

There were actually people in the stands as we rode ... all of whom were just there to bet on and watch via big screen some keirin races being held elsewhere (Shizuoka, today) and maybe have some shochu.  It was great to go into the velodrome the back way, pass the large room where some of the riders were hanging out, schmoozing, training and tinkering with gear, and to emerge in the infield with music playing and an audience.

Next time I will need to remember to count the number of one lap "pulls" that I do when
we ride in a line.  Lots and lots of laps, just not sure how many.
Gunnar's track bike -- Chrome frame, chrome wheels, chrome stem and bars and post!
Hiroshi, Gunnar and Tim are #2, 3 and 4 in the line.  Tim was riding the bike Eric borrowed for Saiko --
the GS Astuto carbon frame with Ultegra DI2 electronic shifters and GS Astuto 50mm carbon tubulars.
And there they go!
Practicing my track stand (?), smiling after a try at the Flying 200m
Time flew by, it got colder, dusk neared, and it was time to go, as the facility began to shut down.

Industrial strength rollers for riders to warm up before the race.
More rollers, Hiroshi with his Nagasawa track bike,
and the entrance to the area where the keirin riders were hanging out.

19 November 2011

I'm Going to Bike School!

"Congratulations! Your application for attending classes at United Bicycle Institute has been processed and you are now officially enrolled in the Steel TIG Welding Frame Building class, February 13-24, 2012  (class#  2012-59)  in Portland, Oregon."

The plan is for this to be my Audax randonneuring frame.  Design suggestions are welcome.  It will be TIG welded, so a bit more flexibility in design than if it were brazed/lugged, even as a first time builder, though I doubt I will be trying anything 'curly' with the chain/seat stays.  Who knows, depending on how it turns out, it may not be the last one I build ...

News from PE UK

its been a while positivistas...

News from PE UK. Another wonderful trip to the mountains North of Madrid last weekend. The Hotel Palacio Miraflores really is an undiscovered gem. Try the gourmet package - as we have twice this year - and had the two best dinners of the year... oh, and the riding is good too! (although a bottle of champagne, a couple of cocktails, a bottle of red and a cigar don`t make for comfortable hill climbing the following day)

And a new bike... long story but we are now the proud owners of a `curly` Hetchins Magnus Opus with campag 50th Anniversary componentry throughout. This is a thing of rare beauty. Here I am taking possession from previous owner Len (archivist of the Hetchins society) more pics of the bike here.

Love to all J & D.
Oh, and we're getting married next year...

14 November 2011

Saiko 2011 - Race of Destiny

I knew it had to be a race of destiny, as the hand of God seemed to part the clouds and the sun shown down upon the start area at Saiko, as I neared the race registration on Saturday afternoon.

Mt Fuji from our lodgings.
Another year, another trip to Saiko for beautiful fall weather and foliage, a weekend at the mountain and a day full of exciting races.  Gunnar, Jerome and I stayed at the same well-outfitted, comfortable Sasuga cottage in Oishi, Kawaguchi-ko as Ludwig and I had last year, and cooked a riders' dinner of pasta, as well as sampling a number of the local products.  We could not find fresh local vegetables in November, so instead we sampled the products of a number of micro breweries, mostly dunkel (dark beer) and weizen (wheat beer).  Fujizakura Kogen; Fujiyama; and one more brewer whose name I've already forgotten.  All very nice, even the forgotten one.  I was looking for Baird Beer, since I met one of the managers there recently, but did not see any on the shelf in Kawaguchiko.

As for the results, EricinIkebukuro from TCC did well in the X-class in his first JCRC event, 14th place, with an average speed over 41 kph, and he should get a decent class placement.  I think we will see him again next year on the JCRC circuit. 
Only one "bike leaning" photo this year.
... and one "bike hanging" photo for good measure.

Gunnar, making a guest appearance for Ludwig, whose back is still giving him problem, easily hung with the B-class group for 49 out of 50 km, and was positioning himself for the final sprint ... when he got hemmed in between 2 riders, with someone cutting him off from the left and forcing him into a crash.  Fortunately, no broken bones, and it looks as if with a new derailleur hanger and some wheel truing the equipment should be fine.
Far right -  Gunnar with B class, after 2 laps, Jerome's finger pointing him out.

Broken derailleur hanger, blood on elbow -- typical race stuff, as Hiroshi looks on
Hiroshi made a good showing in 60km S-Class on his beautiful Colnago ... but was blocked by a crash in front of him within 3 km of the finish and so was not able to contest for the podium.  He passed Jerome and me driving home along Doshi michi in his very, very small car, and gave us a friendly "shave and hair cut, 2 bits" honk of his horn.
It's all good!

I enjoyed my C Class race, and managed to do well enough so I should not get bounced to D at least.  I stayed on the right/outside edge of the group the entire race, so I would be in the "lee" protected from the headwind as much as possible in the far side of the lake.  This worked well for the most part, and on the first 2 laps I was able to conserve energy and yet creep up the group so I was relatively near the front (no more then 20-30% of the way back, on the far right) when we hit the turn and the short nasty uphill 2 km from the start/goal.  Even though plenty of people passed me on the short uphill, I managed to keep in contact with the group each time and recover quickly.

Best team kit
On the last lap, on the penultimate turn on the far side of the lake, about 3 km to go, I was pretty far back in the group and went into the turn again on the far right ... but there were 2 riders directly ahead of me, and the front one slowed suddenly.  I hit my brakes to avoid barreling into the rider directly in front, and my rear wheel locked and skidded left a few inches.  Fortunately, I did not lose balance, and the 5-10 riders behind me in the group were all on my left, so no one hit me either ... but I had decelerated way too much and was off the back just as the acceleration started.  I hauled ass and caught the back of the group just before the hill, but was pretty much out of gas and lost contact again ... finishing about 100 meters behind the main bunch at an average speed of approx 40.4 kph.  I was 46th out of 60 who registered and maybe 56 who started, 52 of whom finished (or 94 out of 188 in the 3 C-class heats, measured by overall time).  This kind of racing requires repeated intense bursts of energy, and I top out far below the level it takes to do really well. 

Okay, maybe I was misled by the shaft of sunlight piercing the clouds on Saturday afternoon, and it was not a race of destiny.  But it was fun.

Jerome and I rode back to Tokyo, leaving Saiko around 3:45PM, as Gunnar would need to hop the train home with his non-functioning derailleur.  It was dark within an hour, as we passed Yamanakako. 
Only 100 km more to ride.

06 November 2011

Days 3 and 4 - Maizuru to Hiroshima-ken

The P.E. communications base has just received the latest in a series of updates from Jerome as he continues on the road westward.  He stopped in Maizuru on Friday night in "real" lodgings, then braved the rain much of Saturday along the Japan Sea coast past Tottori and to Yonago, and headed inland from there late Saturday evening.

He eventually stopped to sleep -- in an enclosed bus stop, Brevet style.

When he consulted an elderly woman local resident this morning about the location of the next convenience store or other source of breakfast, he was invited inside her house to dine, as she took pity on a bedraggled cyclist.

He made it to Miyoshi (in Hiroshima Prefecture, but about 65 km NE of Hiroshima City), and is hopping a train to start the process of drying out and resting so as to be presentable for Monday business meetings.  Approximately 860 km in 3 1/2 days.
The route below is what was on the maps I handed to Jerome at Tsuruga.  I'm not sure if is exactly the route he took, but should be very close.

05 November 2011

Day Two -- Shokawa to Tsuruga (and beyond?)

After a night in the comfort of the Sakaeya Ryokan in Shokawa, in deep rural Northwest Gifu, I awoke feeling at least as if at least my cold had not gotten any worse, and I could start day two on the bike without holding Jerome back, or doing myself any damage.

It was apparent from walking around the inn, and from the offer that we leave our bikes inside the front door, blocking access, that we might be the only guests.  In the morning, when she brought coffee to our room and we settled up the bill, we asked the innkeeper about the place.

So, it must be quiet now, before the ski season.  Do you get many guests in the winter?  She replied, "Hmmmm, well I guess there is a little ski area up the valley ... " [Translation: "No guests in winter"]. Well, how about in the summer then?  "It is pretty quiet around here in the summer." [Translation:  "No guests then either."] The inn was in good shape, the room we stayed in looked near new.  Finally, she volunteered, "sometimes we get a group that will stay when they play at the golf course up the road."  When was the inn built?  "This building, in 1989, ... but we have been open since the Taisho era, and are now the 3rd generation.  We used to get merchants stopping through on their travels, but ever since the expressway was built ... not many people come around here."

I guess most businesspeople take the expressway, instead of riding their bicycle to a business meeting 900 km from home ...

We left in the fog and climbed very gradually (1-2-3% grades) out of the valley less than 100 meters vertically and 8 km or so further onto a plain where we reached a small settlement - Hirugano Kogen/Takasu Cho.  There was a Daily Yamazaki convenience store, complete with benches across the front exterior, the main one occupied by a very satisfied looking cat.  The cat clearly belonged to the store, as its water and food bowls were under the bench (Jerome noted that the cat's porcelain bowl was made in France, and of a type he had once imported into Japan, in a previous job many years ago -- yet another small contribution he has made to the welfare of Japan).  The sun came out as we ate breakfast.  A younger man waiting for a shuttle bus to take him to his job at an onsen chatted us up.  When I mentioned to the older man at the cash register how calm ("otonashii") the cat seemed, he seemed genuinely glad that I had noticed and assured me that there was a second cat around that was the opposite, always hiding from customers and sneaking around.  As we mounted our bikes to ride off, two very energetic looking old ladies pulled into the parking lot in a mini-car and literally applauded and cheered when they saw two odd foreign cyclists, just heading out.

With that send-off, and the fog completely burned off, we saw that the fall colors were still vibrant, the air clear and clean, and we were on the beginnings of a very gradual 20 km descent, much of it along a river valley.  All seemed right in the world.
Hida Highway, Route 156, in Takasu

On the descent down Route 156 in Takasu
On this stretch, I saw a pension (inn) with the name "White Pecker".  At first, I could not imagine why a pension might have that name (?), then it struck me -- the bird in "shiro tori" (White Bird) must be a wood pecker, not the swan that uses the same characters but is pronounced "haku cho" instead.

Anyway, we reached Shirotori and turned to the west onto a 400m elev climb, first up a circular bridge -- the Japanese road equivalent of a spiral staircase -- and then found yet another entrance to a road tunneling through a mountain, closed to bicycles.  Instead we headed up the old road, far under a different expressway.  Again, it was a connector to the mid-air Tokai Hokuriku Expressway, closed to bicycles.
Yes, the dot way up ahead is Jerome, now in good climbing form.

Now above the highway, looking back down at White Bird, Gifu
Cresting Aburazaka Pass ... shorts and short sleeves in the mountains in November!
Then we looped back and forth and eventually were above the same ribbon of road, reached Aburazaka Pass, and began almost 50 km of gradual downhill and flat, slowed only by a headwind as passed some long reservoirs and then descended the winding gorge of the Kuzuryu River.  Neither of us knew what to expect here, and so it was a pleasant surprise that we found ourselves on a good road surface, without too much traffic, and on a cool sunny day even the reservoir was sparkling.  We were very happy to emerge from the gorge into the flat area around Echizen Ohno, out of the mountains at last and ready for lunch of "rice omelet" and side dishes.

The next segment of our trip illustrates an important rule of cycling in Japan.  Never assume just because a road is "National" instead of "Prefectural" that it will be a major route.  And never assume the "Prefectural" one will not be.  This seems especially to be the case in Fukui Prefecture.  Fukui Prefecture seems to have more funds than the National government for road construction and repair.  It is known as the "nuclear Ginza", the home to 13 nuclear power plants, the most concentrated in the world, and it looks very prosperous -- the biggest houses, largest birth weight babies, and most medical clinics per capita, also, according to an article in the most recent Businessweek.

We left Echizen Ohno and headed onto National Route 476, which seemed like the most direct road, bearing south of Fukui City -- hypotenuse instead of legs of the triangle.  Strangely, it had no traffic.  After a few kilometers we passed a "road closed" sign warning we would need to stop in 1 kilometer.  Then a climb started, into the woods and the road narrowed to a single lane -- more of a "rindo" (forest road) than a "kokudo" (national road). We came up to the road construction sight, and found this.

The hole was very deep, and there was no obvious way around on either side as far as one could see.  The helper down in the trench was using a cord to pull himself up and out of the steep bank.  The bulldozer operator took one good look at us, then a long puff of his cigarette, then said "you cannot make it on a bicycle; you will need to carry it".   It was a remarkable statement of the obvious -- no, my bike cannot ride through a 5 meter deep, 10 meter across hole!  Yet it was also incredibly bold and helpful -- no effort to turn us back. No worry about liability if we should slip and fall clambering into or out of the hole.  In fact, the helper in the trench with the cord held my bicycle so that I could lift it first and then climb out with my hands free.  After offering our thanks, we continued up National Route 476, again no traffic for the next 10+ kms, as we climbed a few hundred meters to a pass, along the ridge, then down the other side and into and through another beautiful, isolated farming valley.
Route 476 looking back at Echizen Ohno

Kokudo, not Rindo (?)
After 22 km on Route 476, we finally reached PREFECTURAL Route 2.  This looked to offer our last climb before Echizen City, again a short cut in exchange for going over a hill.  On my map, it looked to be 200-250 meters to the top.  But after a short uphill at 2-3% grade, we saw a new tunnel mouth, and the pavement inside the tunnel was tipped down away from us.  Whoosh, we zoomed through the base of the mountain and came out on the plain just to the west of Echizen City, onto Route 8 -- a major road with heavy truck traffic, but at least a decent shoulder.

South of Echizen, Route 8 is unpleasant, but difficult to avoid.  It heads Southwest over several small climbs and eventually reaches the Japan Seacoast offering a very nice view down the bay and across to the Tsuruga Peninsula, where the sun was already low in the sky.
Tsuruga Bay, Fukui

Tsuruga Peninsula, Fukui -- there is a nuclear plant just this side of the tip of the peninsula, in the dark shadow, just about 10 km from the city center, while the accident prone "Monju" proto-type fast breeder reactor is just around the corner

There were a few others at the rest area, snapping photos and admiring the view.  And we met another long distance cyclist, traveling from Komatsu, Ishikawa Prefecture, toward Osaka.  He was stretched out on a bench resting, just like we do sometimes.  And he had extra lights for night riding, large water bottle, and plenty of clothes, just like we do. 

His bike, on the other hand, was a mama-chari, and he was going at a slightly slower pace.  And he was missing a good number of teeth, and did not say anything about business meetings on Monday.

At least it was reassuring to know that we are not the only long distance cyclists in Japan.

Time to head for the train station.
I told Jerome that I had had enough, and planned to hop the train home from Tsuruga, another 20 km ahead.  Two days and 410+ km was already too much, pushing my luck with the cold.  And I would just hold him back if he wanted to press on far Friday night.

So we made good time through the traffic on Route 8 into the prosperous looking city, ate dinner at "Gusto" near the station, I gave Jerome a spare light, batteries and the complete set of photocopied maps, and we managed to attach his headlamp onto his helmet far enough back so it would not pull the helmet forward.  Fed and restocked, he headed off another 50+ km to Maizuru, where he again found real sleeping accommodations Friday evening, to continue again on Saturday.  I hopped the train back to Tokyo, and was in my house before 11PM.

Saturday I have been feeding him weather updates and mileage information.  He was in heavy rain from midday to late afternoon when he reached Tottori, but the rain seems to have let up along the Japan Sea Coast as predicted, so he decided to continue on in the direction of Yonago by bicycle on Saturday evening.  Any more detailed reports of Day 3 (or 4) will need to await his return.