29 December 2014

Last Big Ride of the Year

As in 2010, 2011 and other past years, Jerome was planning a bicycle ride to Kansai at year end to join his friends from Team Beeren and witness the January 1st sunrise from the top of Mt. Rokko.  He was going early (Dec 28th instead of 30th) to spend 2 days in Nagoya with friends.  I told him I would be happy to ride the first leg from Tokyo with him, as long as I could be back home in time for a long-planned family dinner.  In the end, I rode 185 kms to Shizuoka-shi, then another 15 kms home from the Shin Yokohama train station.
Our Route.  We parted at around the 175 km mark, Jerome continuing along the coast.
Ti Travel Bike and Bette Noire rest in the sun along the Suruga Bay west of Numazu
As usual, Jerome wanted to take an interior route.  Last week, he suggested an early (2AM?) start, going over Yanagisawa Pass and descending to Kofu in late morning, then getting over Fujimi Pass and into Nagano/Chino before dark.  He had said he did not want to take Kiso Valley, so I suggested maybe he could go via Iida instead -- from Okaya or even via Tsuetsuki Pass.  After our ride on the 26th over Yabitsu, at the height of early afternoon temperatures, revealed black ice and quite extreme cold at 500 meters elevation, he dropped the idea of 1475 meter high Yanagisawa as unrealistic. Likewise, slightly lower Tsuetsuki seemed more appropriate for skiing than cycling.

I sent Jerome a note early on the 27th with a report of the forecast temperatures if we took Koshu Kaido (Route 20) in the morning.  Otsuki -6 (C) at 7AM.  Suwa in Nagano -8 (C) at 7AM, -5 C at 9AM.  I urged him to try a coastal route, despite the traffic, and in an accommodation he agreed, this year, that it would be more realistic.  They say this has been the coldest December in Japan in recent years.  No doubt there will be other, warmer years ahead when we can try the mountainous internal route at year-end.

We met at Marukobashi, a bridge over the Tamagawa, around 4:45AM, and crossed into Kawasaki, then Yokohama.  Jerome had mapped a route via Shin Yokohama, then for 12 kms on a limited access road that I had not used before.  I think I noticed a bicycle with a line crossed through it where we entered the road's elevated portion just beyond Shin Yokohama (I believe it is "Yokohama Kanjo Ni-go" -- Yokohama Main Route #2).  Anyway, at 5:30AM on a Sunday morning at year end there were generally 2 or 3 lanes heading south and barely any motorized vehicles, so no harm, no foul, and a very fast route to the intersection with Route 1 -- just a little before Route 1 merges with the end of the Yokohama Shindo at Totsuka.  Do not try it on a normal day in normal Yokohama traffic. Once we joined Route 1 we were on the Hakone Ekiden route as far as Odawara.
Early on the climb toward Atami Pass, Mikan trees and sea visible.
After a first quick 7-11 rest stop 35 kms into the ride, we pushed on to just before Odawara, where we stopped for a relaxed breakfast at a "Gusto" family restaurant.  Then on the coast road toward Atami.  Traffic had picked up and this coast road is crowded, especially on sections where there is no toll bypass.  But the sea and hills can be beautiful, and were this morning.  I had suggested to Jerome that instead of descending past Atami Station and taking Route 20 or 11 to Atami Pass, we might try the crazily steep alternative back roads to the Atami museum of art (MOA). This saves a bit in terms of elevation gain, and is a much nicer, lower traffic climb.  But it still a hellishly steep climb, and does involve stretches where walking is faster than cycling (as I proved, passing Jerome twice off the bike as he stayed on).
A flat ride, with one big exception. ...
As we turned off the coast road to start the climb, we pulled off to strip off our sub-zero layers and prepare for the heat we would generate on the climb.  A policeman walked by with his New Year pine boughs to decorate the front of his police box around the corner.  We greeted each other "Yoi Otoshi Wo Mukai Kudasai".  He came back a minute later bearing a box with lots of small chocolates -- mint, almond and white/dark mix.  We each took a mint.  He insisted we have one of each type. Japanese community policing at its best!  ... Must be nice to be in the police in a country where the citizens do not bear arms (guns).
Reward at the top of Atami Pass -- Mt Fuji comes into view.
Spokes glisten in the sunlight.  The wheels are new.
But the bike (and I) were here back in September on the R-Tokyo Ise 1000km event.
 ... in pitch dark well after midnight.
On this trip Jerome was riding his touring frame, the"bette noire" or "black beast".   He tells me that it is a very comfortable ride, but very heavy, complete with rear rack and bags, fenders, heavy tires, etc.  Not a climber's bike.  Not quite the climbing handicap of a broken rear derailleur such as Friday, but still a considerable one.  Indeed, I waited several times on the climb, and was up the pass at least 5 minutes ahead of him, riding my Ti travel bike.  The climb was painful, especially on the lower stretches which had some nasty 15-20% grades, and many sections that were more than 10%. The reward was a spectacular view of Mt. Fuji, which stayed visible to our right over the next 3~4 hours.  And then we had a great, low/no traffic descent down Route 11 to Kannami.  Then we slogged through the sprawl and traffic South and East of Numazu, before enjoying the relief of the coastal road, Route 380.
Mt. Fuji as seen from Tanna, on the western descent into Kannami.
Jerome and Mt. Fuji as we approach Numazu.
We joined Route 1 briefly to take a bridge over the Fujikawa, then again traveled on side roads I know well from brevets past.  As we passed though Shimizu, I said farewell to Jerome.  He continued along the coast line, while I took Route 1 to Shizuoka Station and the train home.

Jerome reported headwinds on the next stretch -- not unusual for winter on the Shizuoka Coast.  The wind let up before he made it to Hamamatsu.  After it began to rain, he stopped for the night at a business hotel in Toyohashi, over 300 kilometers from Tokyo, and leaving just a short ride to Nagoya for the following day.

UPDATE:  Jerome completed the ride to Nagoya, some local spins in following days, and went on to Kobe as planned on December 31.  Around 600 kms for the trip!  On the evening of December 31 it snowed in the Kansai area.

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