By late afternoon we had made it to the start/goal location, at "Satoland" in NE Sapporo. We met many old friends -- the more devoted Japan Audax riders who tend to show up for the longer, crazier events, and the event organizers who included both AJ Hokkaido and Japan Audax leaders. Lots of familiar faces from the 2012 Tohoku 1700 brevet week. Kiwa-san of AJ Hokkaido, who rode Rocky Mountain 1200 far faster than I, greeted me. Inagaki-san shared his meticulous ride plan -- always a source of useful information, sometimes critical to success. Take Kawano, of Audax Saitama, who volunteered for the first 600km ride Jerome did, back in 2011. Maya Ide, who organized the Fleche this year, and was on duty to help the foreigners.
There were also a number of non-Japanese riders. Mostly a big group from Taiwan (including Yiping, who stayed in the same hotel as me at PBP), but also some Germans, Australians, and others. A few whom I met and spoke and/or rode with included:
--Lothar, a German who lives in the U.S. and, according to Maya Ide, was the person responsible for bringing Audax events to Korea when he lived there at one point;
--Vincent, a Nigerian who is a doctor in, and longtime resident of, the Seattle, Washington area. He is a very active member of the Seattle International Randonneurs. Vincent had just completed a 2100 km event in Sweden, and rides multiple 1200km events every year in the U.S., Australia, Europe and elsewhere. He did the "pre-ride" for the 2012 Cascade 1200.
--Alexander (Alex) Neumann, a German who was at Schwalbe Tour Transalp in 2009, when Jerome and I rode, at the Rocky Mountain 1200 in 2012, and London-Edinborough-London in 2013. Alex organizes rock music festivals and fundraises for charities when he is not riding his bike.
--Peter Heal, an Australian who rides a recumbent and, according to Vincent, holds some kind of record for the fastest time crossing the Australian continent via bicycle.
|The traditional pre-ride briefing, on a grander scale|
In any event, we were off and on the road at 8:40PM. The roads were wet with plenty of big puddles of standing water and rain off and on, harder then lighter. After a few kms of turns we eventually joined Route 275 headed to the NE, and enjoyed a tail wind for the next 50 kms. Riding in a group, often with Jerome, Vincent, Asano-san from Audax Saitama and a number of the Taiwanese riders, we made great time. Jerome pulled most of the time, though I spelled him once in awhile. We were at the first control point (100.6kms) before midnight.
The rain picked up, and the wind shifted so it was mostly cross- and head- rather than tail-wind. No more riding in a big group, but Jerome, Vincent and I stayed together. It turned into a long slog, especially when we needed to fight the wind. I fell back and only caught Jerome and Vincent when they waited. In any event, we got to the second control at Lake Kanayama, in the wee hours before dawn. Light food was served and we could take a "power nap" in a darkened room, then up again in 25 minutes to continue.
|Jerome, post power-nap|
|Lake Kanayama -- a brief respite|
It was already light out, of course, just after 5AM, and I saw a group of about 10 tiny, tiny deer scurrying through a field as we passed between them and the Lake a few minutes after the control point. The rain stopped for long enough that the pavement started to dry ... and then it started to rain again, hard.
I struggled mightily on the climb to Karikachi Pass, Elev 644 meters, no power. Bonking? Or just fatigued from an overnight ride of around 200 kms at this point? I ate one bar after another, and the banana I had brought along from Lake Kanayama. In any event, Jerome and Vincent waited for me at the top -- joined by a number of other riders. I just rolled on and started the descent, worried that I had consumed nearly all my food on the climb and unsure where we would find the next services.
|Karikachi Pass, Elev 644m. Highest point of the ride. High point?|
|Descent into rain and clouds ahead|
We finally found a "Seikomart" in Kuttari, about 22 kms from the top of the pass. Even pasta and other convenience store food did not restore me, and Vincent and Jerome again quickly went ahead on the short climb out of the town. After about 10 minutes, Goto-san of Kinki Audax went by with her 2 riding partners. She was waving a wallet, asking if it belonged to me. No. Must be Jerome's. (In fact, it was Vincent's). This sprint up the hill by Team Goto was above and beyond the call of duty, and took a lot out of them. Indeed, I passed them later on.
We had several long stretches of straight roads. We would go to the North many kilometers, into a headwind and with a seemingly endless 1, 2 or 3% uphill. It was a challenge even to keep at 20 kph. Then we would turn East for another long stretch, wind from the side/rear, and a long 1 or 2% downhill, much better! Then north again, and the same slog as before. Why isn't this area flat? Why does it slope down to the South and East? This entire area was agricultural -- fields with a wide range of crops, and dairy farms of Tokachi.
Jerome, who recently worked on a cheese "joint production" venture for a France-based cheese company in Hokkaido, said the Tokachi area is Japan's leading dairy region, but each farm has an average of only 15 cows. Hardly critical mass or economically viable.
The worst of the rain came as I passed Lake Ashoro and descended a hill into the town of the same name. I rode through the town another 4 kms to the control (another 7-11 convenience store), where Jerome and Vincent were waiting. They were surprised to see me only 10 minutes or so after they arrived -- a sign of my on-the-bike recovery somewhere after Kuttari. Jerome insisted it was time for a proper lunch, rather than more convenience store crap. So we rode all the way back through town to find a restaurant that served steak, among other things, and could handle 3 soaking wet cyclists. They found some chairs we would not destroy with our dampness, and bought is bath towels as well to help dry out. The food was good and the detour of only an hour and 8 kms extra riding was a reasonable trade-off for the warmth.
We headed out again and passed the control point a second time. We arrived together at Rikubetsu, where Jerome and Vincent stopped for some liquids at a convenience store. I continued and started the next very gradual climb, to Misono Pass. After more 1-2-3% climbing on Route 242, the route turned onto Hokkaido Route 113. I welcomed the real climb of 6-8% gradient, since it suggested I could get to the top in only a few kilometers, as proved to be the case. Then it was a very nice, easy descent from the pass down into Kunneppu, and a turn to the East and down the valley to Kitami. Great, the Kitami control was our target for our first real sleep. We had beds waiting, food, our drop bags with dry clothes and extra chamois cream -- everything we needed.
As it turned out, the control point was located at least 5 kilometers to the SSE of Kitami, and required us to pass through most of the city, then ride up a small valley to the base of a ski area. My pace slowed noticeably on this valley. But it was around 5:30PM when I arrived, only slightly off my long-term ride plan. Jerome and Vincent arrived around 15 minutes later. They make a great riding pair, whereas on these long rides I like to trade off between riding with others and alone and without worry or pressure about pace. In fact, I think Vincent might have persuaded Jerome to get some fenders on his next bike, so he can ride these events with SIR without being treated as a leper ...
|From Sapporo to the Kitami Control Point|
Maya Ide was one of the staff working the control reception, and she warned us that the Japanese weather service had issued warnings for the area we were about to ride through -- strong winds, heavy rains, and lightning. The typhoon had accelerated and its remnants would pass much closer to the eastern tip of Hokkaido (Cape Nosappu) than earlier predicted. We could continue, but at our own risk, and should be on watch for dangerous conditions. Of course, we would have a vicious headwind for much of the next 200 kms to the Cape and turn-around.
We decided to get a decent sleep, wake at 1030PM and leave the control at 11PM. I was assigned a tatami room with Lothar and Alex. They said that they would wake at 830PM, and in fact Alex said later that Lothar's alarm had gone off before 8PM. I slept through it all and got up as planned at 10:30PM. 4.5 hours of sleep = 3 REM cycles. After another quick bite to eat and some preparation, and I was ready to go. At 11PM Vincent and Jerome looked in no hurry. Same at 11:05PM. So a few minutes later, around 11:10 I announced to them that I would head out first. I think by now they expected this. They would catch me eventually, no doubt. According to Jerome, they did not leave until 11:30PM, and only Vincent caught me, a few minutes before the top of Bihoro Pass.
In any event, it was a fast ride from the Kitami control to Bihoro town, then a stop for coffee at a 7-11, and the wee hour climb to Bihoro Pass, around 500 meters elevation. The climb was not steep, and the road was good, despite rivulets of water. At one point I saw a large white-bottomed deer that raced away from me along the road. This seemed a different species from the miniature animals of the prior morning.
|From Kitami Control to Bihoro Pass ... and back again|
I was alone most of this stretch, but could often see a red tail light of the cyclist ahead, providing a goal for me to reach and pass. It seemed as if I passed at least 10 riders between the control and Bihoro town, and another 10 between the town and the pass. I think many of them were the same people, as my coffee stop gave up any time advantage I might have gained.
It was around 1:45AM by the time I got to Bihoro Pass, amid sheets of rain. I was surprised to see a big group of riders at the pass-side parking lot and facilities. One of the organizers waved me off the road, and we were given the bad news. The police had closed roads around Nemuro/Cape Nosappu due to the storm, and so we could not continue. The Hokkaido 1200 was officially cancelled. The mood was surprisingly festive, riders enjoying each others company and having fun battling the elements. Somehow it was OK not to finish since the organizers had made this decision -- or rather had it made for them by the police and public safety authorities.
|Huddling in the vending machine lobby at Bihoro Pass|
|Party at the Pass! Close that door. No, it is automatic -- do not touch it, just get out of the way!|
|Heated mens room!|
|Sorry, but you cannot go down the SE side of the hill. But still smiling in the wet, dark and cold.|
We chatted with the other riders at the pass for awhile, then headed back toward Kitami for more sleep. Others who waited longer said there was a spectacular view after dawn.
The rain had stopped to the NW by the time we approached the control, and we even saw blue sky at time! Of course, when I next saw a weather forecast on TV, the total expected rainfall for Thursday to Saturday morning for Hokkaido was supposed to be over 300 millimeters. That is 30 centimeters, or ONE FOOT of rain.
But we decided to head back by van to Sapporo, no interest in a long meandering ride after nearly 500 kms of the event and then the letdown. I rented a van and we drove back to Sapporo with Alex, Vincent and Jerome and our bikes. We drove over beautiful Sekihoku (Rock-North) Pass. We picked up Vincent's gear that the Sapporo Nada Inn, then stopped at the Sapporo Beer Garden for 100 minutes all-you-can-eat/drink "Genghis Khan" grilled lamb, vegetables and beer, then it was back to Satoland for bike dis-assembly, packing and sleep. On Saturday morning we awoke early, headed to New Chitose International Airport, dropped off the van and hopped our flights back to Tokyo.
|Two Positivo Catteni riders join us for a photo as we near the end of our Genghis Khan feast.|
It was a huge let down to have the ride cancelled ... but still a great adventure, with new friends made along the way! I cannot wait for the next event! And of course, we will look forward to seeing Vincent, Alex, Lothar, Peter, Yiping and the Taiwanese team and all our Japanese friends next year at PBP.