True the forecast looked both hotter and wetter than I would like to do this ride, but it is either this weekend or maybe late October. No other chances this year for an SR600.
|Start at Kobuchizawa Station -- proof of my 10:30PM departure.|
|The quiet road awaits|
|Chino 7-11. No distinguishing features.|
Then it was up onto the climb to Tsuetsuki Pass. Within 5 minutes, I was in another world. Yes, the occasional car would pass, but otherwise it was completely dark, except for the distant lights of Chino down in the valley from the occasional viewpoint. It was sticky and damp, but not actually raining, yet. Less than 5 minutes into the climb, I heard an animal shriek very loudly on the hill just above me to the right. What was that? Not a beer, or deer. What kind of bird? Or perhaps monkey? I think I have never heard anything so loud in the woods. But whatever it was, it did not sound like any predator I could imagine, so I ignored it and continued the climb. I see only one or two small animals crossing the road as I climb, too far away to identify.
Finally, the top of Tsuetuki, at 12:30AM, at least 450 meters above Chino. Some rain on the pass, and very humid. Then a gradual, 15km-plus descent to Takato. I had been warned to be on the look-out for deer on Akiba Kaido at night, but did not see any on this stretch.
|TsueTsuki Pass -- in the dark|
The real rain started on the climb to Bunkui Pass. Despite my lightweight rain shell, I was quickly soaked through. I would remain soaking wet much of the next two days. But even at night, in the mountains, it was a warm, Japanese summer rain. The net effect on someone like me, who carries plenty of body fat, is POSITIVE. It cools me. True, I need to be careful to avoid chafing in the hands, saddle or feet, and need somewhat grippy tires, but this I can prepare for. Otherwise, rain is far better than riding in the Japanese summer heat, and rare that I actually feel cold, even if soaked through.
Finally, the top. No cars at all after Ichinose -- and indeed, none on the road the next 50 kms or more, until well after I rejoined Route 152 south of Shirabiso! The views on this road are spectacular, a river off to the left, so it is a shame to ride it in the dark, or the rain/clouds, or in my case, both. I could see one or two lights from campsites somewhere off to the left, far from the road, but little else.
|Bunkui Pass Elev 1424 meters - a "power spot" of some kind -- the real rain has started|
Now starts the longest uphill I will face until Norikura. From O-shika, I climb the very narrow (and wet) Route 152 up to Jizo Pass, Elevation 1314 meters. Of course, this "pass" is just a bend in the road and the climb continues.
|Not really a pass, just a turn in the road on the long climb.|
Well, the view is not much today. Just clouds.
|Spectacular vie. 6:30AM.|
Now for the descent -- I should get 30 minutes or more of rest on the bicycle as I head down the forest road to the South and eventually get back onto Route 152, 1000 meters below me.
No rest. The descent is wet, technical, narrow and very steep. I passed at least 15 cars parked at Shirabiso Highland, and other 10-15 at a campsite just along the ridge, so I know that cars do come up and down this road. Plus the motorcycle is ahead of me on the descent, at least a few minutes. I am on the brakes almost the entire time, worried whether I can stop quickly enough if I should happen upon a car or hazard. I am out of the saddle with my arms fully extended and butt off the back of the bike to avoid toppling over headfirst on the steeper bits of downhill. I rest halfway down at a viewpoint, finally able to see across the valley. There is a village here perched on the steep slope that reminds me of cliff hanging villages elsewhere in the world. Amazing that it still exists here, not having plunged down the hill in an earthquake or (rain induced?) landslide.
|View across the valley half way down Shirabiso. From one of Shinshu's 100 sunset spots (just like Nozawa Onsen)!|
This would be a spectacular descent in good weather, but now it is just painful, and long. And I am wondering -- if any SR600 requires 10,000 meters of climbing, couldn't they have cut out Shirabiso, taking the RIGHT fork at 1500 meters elevation, and saved us all a lot of pain and suffering?
Back on Route 152, I start to make better time. Just as I approach the village of Wada, where there are signs advertising an onsen/michi no eki, I hear a "ping" from my rear wheel. One drive side spoke broken. I pull into the town, remove the broken spoke and adjust the wheel. The onsen looks open, but no food available at this hour, so I continue on Route 152 and then 418. Then a right turn onto Pref Route 1 past a reservoir, then up a short, brutally hot and seemingly steep hill past Anan Town Hall, PC 4.
|Anan town hall -- almost at the top of a painfully hot, steep little climb|
... But the Okitsu 600 continued north up the valley beyond Iida. This time, I must make a left turn and go to "Central Iida". I guess Iida must have been a castle town, since its "center" is not down by the river, but over 100 meters (elev) up the gradual slope to the west. Finally Iida Station, my next PC. It is hot, I am tired, I would like a restaurant. ... but nothing good and fast looks open this Obon weekend near the station, so I grab some Circle K pasta and lie down for 15 minutes on a bench. Then onto the climb into the western hills. The weather looks ominous.
|Proof of passage -- Iida Station|
|Ominous weather. That is the hill I will climb toward Iida Pass and Odaira Pass.|
|An overflowing stream on the climb to Odaira Pass.|
|No view here, ... but just to the east side there would be on a nice day.|
From Odaira Pass I descend again, down, down to the west. I find my first "nice" weather yet this trip. Cooler, drier, and even a tiny bit of blue sky visible ... for some minutes. It is around 530PM. I am more than 250 kms into the ride, and have done almost half the climbing, and I have used only 19 out of 54 hours. For the first time I think I may just make it!
|At Gero Station -- 745PM.|
Then only 3 "short" climbs, the highest to 697 meters elev., on the way to Gero. By the time I get to Gero Station PC, it is 7:45PM. 2+ hours behind plan, but still plenty ahead of the clock to sleep a few hours here and then finish within the limit. More rain. An email from my wife about road closures and floods in Takayama, just north of here and my next stop. Well, I may not make it, but if I get a few hours sleep I can try. I tell the innkeeper my plan, and he says I should just leave my key in the room if I head out after 11PM. Reception will be closed/locked when I depart.
An email from my wife alerts me to WARNINGS. There is flooding in Gifu. Record rainfall in Takayama. In one place almost 170mm of rain in an hour (almost 7 inches). And much much more over a 24 or 48 hour period. Roads closed. Evacuation notices for several thousand residents already. And the rain is going to continue at least through Sunday.
I am up at 1130PM on the road around 1145PM. The SR600 Route take the less-traveled local route 88 out of Gero along the west side of the Hida River, instead of parallel Route 41 along the Eastern shore. No convenience stores on this side. So I will need to live on my energy bars for the next few hours. As I continue, more hard rain. Unseen rivers roaring down the valley in the dark on one or the other side of the road, or coming down a hill and under the road. Then no more houses around, just a pitch dark road up the hill through a forest, with water everywhere. Gifu Prefecture Route 98.
It seems to take forever, this climb. I get off and rest, walk, ride again. The energy bars are not doing it for me. I should have gone off course and gotten at least a convenience store pasta. Finally, around 215AM, I get to the shrine just before the top of Kuraiyama Pass. Elev 1015 meters. 640 meters up from Gero.
|At Kuraiyama Jinja Photo #6|
|At Kuraiyama Jinja Photo #7|
|Finally, Kuraiyama Jinja Photo #8. Gate and shrine visible!|
The road looks different than when I came up. It is still pitch dark, but now it is strewn with debris and running streams where a few hours earlier it had been reasonably clear.
Down in the valley, I pull over for one stop en route, in a sheltered, dry and enclosed bus stop, to warm up a bit during an intense squall, then I cross the river onto Route 41.
|This enclosed, dry bus stop would have been a better place to hide out than the shrine up the hill!|
Getting home was an adventure. When I mentioned in the morning that I should go to the station and check on trains, the hotel manager told me I could take a 10:26AM express train, and pointed me to a "home center" on the edge of town where I could get a bike cover or tape and XL garbage bags, to try to wrap my bicycle and board a train.
|Hida River -- I wish I had taken a video to show the incredible water volumes.|
So I unpack the bike and do what I should have done already, when I headed to the home center. I head down Route 41 along the Hida River. Only 110 kms from Gero Station to Nagoya Station. Several massive downpours along the route.
As I just pass from Minokamo though into Aichi Prefecture -- Kani-shi and Inuyama-shi and beyond, Route 41 becomes a fast limited access highway. Another prolonged thunderstorm hits, and quickly the road has 3-5 cms of water. People are looking out their car windows toward me at stoplights, wondering who is crazy enough to be riding FAST on a bicycle in this weather. I have not seen a road cyclist since just outside of Iida on Saturday.
Finally, Nagoya Station, time to dry and pack the bike to the extent practical, and a quick (1hr 40min) standing room trip to Shinagawa via Shinkansen. By the end I rode 450 kms and climbed around 6000 meters ... in how much precipitation? More than on the Hokkaido 1200! Much more!
More news about the rain and flooding in Japanese (with video) at the linked site (unless and until the link goes dead). Record setting amounts of rainfall. Over 20,000 were evacuated from their homes in Takayama-shi.
|Gifu Record Rainfall, Flooding and Water Damage -- from NNN via Yahoo Japan|
|Page 1 of Gifu Road Closure List, August 17 1:30PM|
UPDATE: The aero bars worked okay, except after 200 kms I really did miss the room along the bar tops covered by the armrests. I removed the armrests and found this gave me the best of both worlds -- I can stretch out onto the mini aero bars, but still get full use of the bar tops. This is potentially a winning set-up for brevets where aero bars are not prohibited and yet I do not need the front Ortlieb bag. PBP does not allow aero bars. Some local Audax rules also may not....