25 April 2011

No Photo Brevet

I did not bring a camera on this Saturday's Brevet.  It would be enough just to try to keep my cellphone, blackberry and wallet dry.

Jerome and I completed the 400km Aoba April 23 Brevet, leaving Saturday from across the Tamagawa near Noborito (where the Odakyu Line crosses the river, about 7km from my house) and returning to Machida, traveling via Hanno area, Chichibu, Gunma, then the climb along the old Route 18 (Nakasendo) up the famous 183 marked curves to Usui Pass and Karuizawa.  From Karuizawa we took the same route as last year's Numazu-Karuizawa-Numazu return leg through Nagano -- to Saku, then Rte 141 for the climb to Nobeyama/Kiyosato and down to Nirasaki and Kofu in Yamanashi.  Then around Kofu in the dark on the auto race course known as Rte 20, up Misaka-michi (Rte 137) to a long tunnel through to Kawaguchi-ko, Rts 139 then 138 past Yamanaka-ko, and then down Doshi michi (Rte 413), then via Rte 412, Rte 510, Rte 508/63, and Rte 57 back to Machida.  According to the organizers approximately 4800 meters of climbing (my altimeter malfunctioned at various points).  And almost 430 km, including getting from home to Noborito and back from Machida, as well as the usual short detours.

The rain.  It was raining hard when I awoke Saturday morning.  Our newspaper deliveryman managed to ring the doorbell when he put the Nikkei in our mailbox, sending our fearless watch dog, Max, into a frenzy of barking at 4:30AM (upon inspection, this incident seems more a design problem of poor bell/button placement near the box opening than carelessness on the deliveryman's part).  So I had an extra hour to contemplate the rain before starting my departure preparations.

Jerome arrived on time, and we rode in the rain to the start.  He was clad in short sleeved/short legged summer cycling wear and a loose fitting blue poncho draped over his handlebars which, he explained, was the only way he could avoid getting wet from internal moisture (he had a warmer Look outer layer -- not waterproof -- in his pack).  So instead of an "orange bullet", he looked like a "blue sail".  We underwent an unusually demanding Brevet bicycle inspection at the start.  Jerome was told the poncho (his only real rain gear) was non-compliant, seeing as it was outside of and so blocked visibility of his reflective vest.  He stowed it for the time being, though it re-emerged later. 

Fortunately, within 30 minutes of the start the rain had stopped, and we even found ourselves on dry pavement for awhile ... until Nariki kaido on the approach to Yamabushi Pass in Chichibu.  Chichibu's Yamabushi must be one of the dampest places in the entire Kanto region, since it always seems to be raining here when it is only cloudy closer in to town.  We found ourselves in a drenching rain, mountain sakura barely visible in the mist on the hills nearby, and standing water on the road during the descent to Rte 299, a bit treacherous and much slower than usual.  Rte 299 into Chichibu city was again dry, as was the entire 3rd leg of the Brevet, until we reached the rest area on the Nakasendo (here, "old" Rte 18) just at the bottom of the climb to Karuizawa.

Once up the monumental 20km climb, with its 183 designated curves and over 6000 METERS of elevation gain, RIDICULOUSLY STEEP with a grade of 34% (oops, typos -- that would be more like 600 meters of elevation gain, with a 3-4% grade) we reached the edge of Nagano Prefecture, near Karuizawa.  At the soaring pass (elevation 958 meters above sea level), we looked down on Karuizawa far, far below us (well, actually 8 meters below us, at an elevation of 950 meters).

Nagano Prefecture did not send its greeting committee.  It must not have been happy to see us.  The weather got cold.  It got rainy.  On the climb to Nobeyama, the rain got heavier, and the temperature dropped.  At the top of the climb, there was fog, and heavy rain.  At least not ice.  The road was wet enough so that the edge where a bicycle could ride was a visible trench of water, the pavement depressed by the weight of 10,000 trucks and their heavy loads.  Passing trucks on the climb gave us a nice spray.  We stopped at the Kiyosato checkpoint just after 9PM and declined directions to the nearby rest area that was available for riders, wanting to get down off the mountain and out of the rain as fast as we could.

After a fast 25 km descent, we stopped again at a "Gusto" restaurant between Nirasaki and Kofu, taking an hour or more for dinner and a rest.  My feet were wet and refused to dry at all.  I was cold, even in the restaurant, even sipping hot soup and coffee, and could not sleep.  Jerome slipped and fell -- treacherous cycling shoe cleats to blame -- walking on the way back to our table from the "drink bar".  Fortunately he was okay and the only damage was a shattered water glass that surprised the young couple dining near his landing area.  As we left and went out to our bikes, we left big puddles under the table.  One employee, who had not seen me pay a few minutes earlier, ran out after us shouting (politely -- this is still Japan, after all) "customer, the bill please!"  ... until I explained to him that he should check with his colleague at the register.  Not our must successful Gusto stop ever.

Anyway, we reached the 4th checkpoint later than I had expected, and quickly left for the climb up Misaka-michi to Mt. Fuji.  Jerome went ahead of me on this climb, and I slogged it out, but only felt a need to stop just enough to pull out an energy bar to keep well-fueled.  After the LONG tunnel and very, very cold descent down to Kawaguchi-ko, I caught Jerome, who waited for me.  The stars and a half moon were out, clouds gone, and it was only a few degrees celsius, 2AM now, nearing the coldest time of night.  Jerome went ahead again on the gradual climb from Fuji Yoshida (850m elev) to Yamanakako (1000m elev), but I eventually caught and passed him.  We rode together and he pulled me into the wind as we rounded Yamanakako for the checkpoint on the south shore.  Jerome inquired about the sleeping place the organizers had mentioned nearby.  The friendly clerk pointed it out, just next door, but said it was of course closed at this hour (after 3AM).   He chatted with us and did not object when we remained inside to eat our cup noodles.  Three other cyclists, including Jun Aoyama, and then another solo rider, pulled in after us.  The group of three riders had taken a hot bath at the Kiyosato rest area, and looked a lot fresher than I felt.

We left ahead of them, I warmed my freezing hands and feet a bit with heat generated on the short climb to the tunnel at the top of Doshi Michi (our second "Yamabushi Pass" in the same trip!).  As we descended Doshi Michi, a purple color appeared in the sky to the East.  Eventually birds began to chirp everywhere.  The moon looked smaller, there was still mist on the hillsides, but the mountain sakura were spectacular in color.  It was a glorious dawn, as we enjoyed the lower part of this effortless section of the ride.  By the time we reached Sagamihara, I was hot.  My gloves had dried, the sun was shining down and it was hard to imagine what we had gone through.

At the finish, we sat in Denny's with the organizers and other arriving riders, enjoying breakfast.  We learned that ... many signed up (80?), but only 50 started the ride.  By the time Jerome and I finished, at almost exactly 24 hours from the start, 11 riders had called in to the organizers they were dropping out.  We were the 9th and 10th finishers, and another 29 riders remained somewhere out on the road.

Now just one more (600km) qualifier and I'm bound for Paris-Brest-Paris!


Jimmy Shinagawa said...


Tristan Whitehead said...

Sounds EPIC!!!

Unknown said...

no photos needed! Mental pictures formed by one's fantasy reading David's awe-inspiring account/epos can sometimes be even better than real pics.

mob said...

Great achievement and great story. If we would do a training camp on Mallorca with you guys we could cover the same distance we did in 6 days within two.
No really, I am very much impressed and I'm looking forward to the report about the 600 km brevet. Would be unbelievable if you start at PBP 2011.

Still, being in bed with a nasty cold, imagine to ride out in the cold, dark night with heavy rain showers I am somewhat gald to be here.

David Litt said...

Thank you for all the words of encouragement (and exclamation).

Tom: Yes, there is some "fantasy" mixed in, especially I got great amusement from the numbered curves on the climb to Usui Pass -- not quite the Stelvio, but a very nice road and a much easier approach to Karuizawa than the one Jerome and I took last August - up Rte 43.

MOB: I hope not only to "start at PBP 2011" but to finish there!

mob said...

In your case: starting=finishing is almost guaranteed.

Manfred von Holstein said...

Totally insane. First of all, riding through all this beautiful landscape in the rain and in the dark - what misery! Secondly, doing all of this to be able to enter the ultimate torture - 1,200km of pure suffering. This is only for the very toughest!

JUN Aoyama said...

Littさん 4/23の御坂は清里までひどい天気でしたね。その分、最後の道志道は天気も良く、路面も乾いて朝日も昇り、とても気持ちよかったです(^o^)