16 September 2013

SR600: The Challenge ... Remains

Jerome and I planned yet another attempt at the Fuji SR600 this weekend.

This time, we would NOT be riding in stifling mid-summer heat, as Jerome had when he tried it last month.  And we would NOT start at night, with inadequate rest, as at end of June.  And we waited for a 3-day weekend, allowing time to start very early Saturday, finish very early Monday, and largely recover by Tuesday morning.

The nice thing about a "Permanent" Audax course is that one need not conform to the organizer's schedule.  No need to ride it in pouring rain or sweltering heat.  Instead, the course awaits us, whenever we choose to ride.

What we had not planned on was this weekend's typhoon, #18, which dumped some of the heaviest rainfall amounts in recent decades over much of central Japan.
Yet another photo of bike with Yamabushi Toge sign in background
We slept Friday night at a business hotel in Hachioji, were on the bikes by 3:40AM and were off from the start at Takao Station by 4:10AM, nearly as planned.  We made decent time, despite intense humidity, through western Tokyo, Chichibu and Gunma, and were at Karuizawa by 1PM.  The traffic was heavy on old Route 18 up to Karuizawa -- a road I had always thought was deserted.  Apparently a significant portion of the nearby population had decided to get a photo of Megane Bashi on the long weekend, as the parking lots nearby were at full capacity.  Of course, Karuizawa itself presented a long line of sitting traffic on Route 18.
Yet another photo of bike with Megane bashi in background
Someone puts a face on the "end of construction zone" sign up the hill from Megane bashi
By the time we left Kusatsu and started up Shirane-san toward Shibu Touge, it was dark.  Only a few hundred meters elevation about the town, we entered the clouds.  The clouds got thicker and I could no longer see Jerome's tail light ahead.  I spend the next 90 minutes or more completely alone, in the foggy dark, climbing with the edge line and dashed dividing line of the road the only visible markers.  Every 5 or 10 minutes, a vehicle would pass, creeping up or down the mountain -- its lights creating a glow as if it were a submersible moving through the deep ocean.  It was an otherworldly experience.  As my altimeter reading exceeded 2050 meters, I decided to cross the road and ride along the right hand edge, worried that otherwise I would miss the turn off into the checkpoint at the summit.
Road construction pylons add a bit of a guide on the climb up Shirane-san to Shibu Toge
Finally, I reached the Shibu Pass, 2176 meters, and found Jerome lying down at rest in his rain gear, waiting for me.
A bit different photo of Shibu Toge -- the highest point of any national highway in Japan (2176m elev).
The fog lifted after we descended a few hundred meters on the western side of the mountain, offering us a fantastic high-speed, clear-and-dry road, night-time descent all the way down to the valley, ending up at lower than 350 meters elevation.  

More convenience store food; more resting lying down on the pavement while digesting; then a 900 meter climb up to Sugadaira Kogen (1321 meters), followed by another spectacular night-time descent to Ueda.
Sugadaira sign and Dydo vending machine, at 2AM
We arrived at Shinano Kokubunji (Checkpoint #6), just past Ueda, around 2:45AM.  We had traveled more then 300 kms and climbed almost 6000 meters.  Jerome suggested we rest at the nearby "michi no eki" (rest area) he thought he had seen on a previous trip.  There was none, but we quickly found a real "eki" (train station) just up the road, with a nice veranda and generous roof overhang.  There was plenty of room to lie down, with our bicycles, and not fear the rain.
Entrance to Shinano Kokubunji, at 2:45AM
When we awoke a little after 5AM, only a light rain was falling.  We were on track and ready for the second half of the event.  But a note from a worried spouse about massive downpours in Tokyo, and closer to us along our intended route, caused us to think twice about the climb up to Utsukushigahara and back into the high mountains.  We checked the weather forecasts online.  Yamanashi Prefecture, through which we would pass on Sunday evening, was predicted to be a disaster area.  Rivers would overflow their banks; hillsides would slide down.  Evacuation preparations were being made for Doshi-Mura, a 20-30km stretch that we would pass in the wee hours of Monday morning, around the same time as the typhoon.

So instead of heading up the mountain, for once we adopted the more prudent course and hopped the bullet train home.

SR600 Fuji.  The challenge remains.

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