13 April 2015

R Tokyo 400 to Minami Izu and Back - The hardest 400km?

At Jaishi Pass, Minami Izu, Traditional Positivo Espresso rest stop "on the asphalt" (no crash/slip, just "rest")
On Saturday (into Sunday morning), I joined the Randonneurs Tokyo (R-Tokyo) 400km brevet to Nishi and Minami Izu, and back.  Of course, a section of this brevet in Izu plays a role in Positivo Espresso's foundation myth--the first time I ever rode with both MOB and Juliane was a trip from Atami, up over Atami Pass, then over another pass, then down to Nishi Izu ... continuing on the coast all the way to Shimoda.

That was a very hard, wonderful and memorable day.  Getting off the train at Atami and starting up the 13-14% grade was like a real slap in the face.  But it ended on a beautiful beach in Shimoda, and a meal on the veranda at the Sunnyside ("gaijin") cafe before a train home.  So why not do essentially the same ride ... but take the shorter, even steeper MOA route up to Atami Pass and climb another kilometer up the ridge to Jukkoku Pass Rest House, and at the front-end add on the 90 kms from Tokyo out to Atami instead of the Shinkansen to make it 200kms one way.  Then ride the entire route back in the other direction in rain and dark to make it a 400, skipping the beach and meal.  You can see how I just had to try this one.

I really enjoyed the route selection that R-Tokyo and its leader, Tsumura-san, made on last September's Ise 1000km event.  So I was looking forward to another challenging ride and to finding at least a few new roads, even if mostly covering familiar areas. I was not disappointed.
Elevation profile - start out the hills with Atami Pass via the MOA Museum of Art
 ... then more and more hills, big and small.
Around 5100m climbing total, according to Route Labo.
4800 by RidewithGPS. 4600 by Kawabe-san/Strava recording.
The route from Kawabe-san's Strava feed -- my Garmin froze/died in the wet after 315 kms.
Only 29 persons signed up for this event -- very low numbers for a 400km brevet near Tokyo in April.  Even fewer showed up at the start -- barely into double digits.

Perhaps it had something to do with the weather forecast?  Or perhaps some people had signed up first, only later to study the course and hear rumors about how this would be an event only for the craziest, most obsessed and determined randonneurs?  In any event, I was one of three foreigners in this small group -- the largest non-Japanese percentage of riders at any Japan Audax event I have ever joined -- perhaps the largest percentage of all time?  The other two foreigners were Steve R., who is spending a sabbatical year at Waseda University and brought along his beautiful Waterford randonneur bike, and Ross C., a Brit living in Thailand who came to Japan to get in the better part of a week of bicycle riding in our beautiful Spring weather.

Steve and I ended up riding the last 75% of the brevet together.  This made a huge difference for me, kept me sane and focused, encouraged me when my energy flagged.  This is one reason I like the longer evetnts.  It is not easy to make a new friend on a 200 km ride in daylight.  But it comes pretty naturally to bond with someone on a 400 km ride in the rain, and most of us appreciate the company when trying to stay awake and alert on a climb in the dark up ot a mountain pass.

When I checked weather online Thursday night and Friday morning, the forecast suggested rain in Tokyo overnight Friday and through into Saturday morning, then cloudy but dry.  Later on Friday, the Tokyo forecast had shifted to suggest rain might last into the afternoon.  But Atami and the rest of Izu seemed forecast to be dry from mid-day Saturday, as before.  So I figured if I could just get through a few hours of showers, I might be rewarded with spectacular, dry and cool riding weather.

Alas, I was too optimistic.  In fact, the rain continued on and off until very late at night.  I was thoroughly soaked after the first few hours, and stayed that way until Sunday morning.  Fortunately, the temperature never dipped much below 10 degrees C, my SIR wool jersey provided just enough insulation for my torso even when soaked, and my hands and feet were reasonably protected.
Just past Odawara, the coastal road to Atami ... beckons in the distance?
I rode alone as far as Atami Pass, not wanting to be in a line of riders while trying to time the traffic lights on Nakahara Kaido heading out of town.  Once I got some daylight between me and a group, I went for it and pushed ahead at a brisk pace.  Of course, that all changed once I got to the hills.  I dismounted and walked one short 20+ degree section below the MOA Museum of Art.  Later, Kawabe-san passed me spinning up the hill as I stomped.  Then as I was slumped over my bars resting, Washizuka-san climbed by.  I almost did not see or hear him, until a slight creak of the cranks caused me to look up.  In any event, I made it to Atami Pass, then another 30-40 meters higher to the check point at the Rest House at Jukkoku Pass.
The parking lot at Jukkoku Pass Rest House.  No glorious views of Mt. Fuji today.
Cockpit of Steve R.'s made-in-Wisconsin Waterford randonneur bike.  The classic Giles Berthoud front bag
Sure, I just climbed 650 meters at a ridiculous grade in the rain, but what's not to smile about?
I especially liked the route choice between Atami Pass and Toi Pass.  The descent to southern Mishima was delightful as always.  But Tsumura-san chose the best route ... whereas when I made this descent with Jerome in late December we had veered left midway down the hill and ended up in a bowl at Kannami, needing to climb to get out.  This time we took a more gradual descent.
Next, I always found the route south from Mishima toward Shuzenji to be a slog through sprawl and along crowded roads.  But the R-Tokyo route generally hugged the eastern edge of the flatlands, along the bottom of the hills and traveled nice, secondary roads that gave a view of the communities. At one point we crossed a rail track and seemed about to turn left onto a major highway.  But upon close examination, our route turned left down a narrow road along the rail track, separated from the highway by a line of buildings.  No traffic.  Almost no traffic lights.  And some opportunities to get a sense for where and how people live.

(According to the following Tuesday's English version of the Yomiuri, some of the roads in the area photographed below are to be renamed for Shigeo Nagashima, of Yomuri Giants fame).
Lots of fresh green growth on the hills of Izu. Sakura line the river in the distance.
We cross the Kano River at Shuzenji.  More fresh green on the hillsides.
Starting the climb on Route 136 from Shuzenji to Toi Pass.  Near Funabara Onsen.
Out of Shuzenji, we climbed Southwest toward Toi Pass. No, we did not cross Amagi Pass, as in "Amagi Goe", that most famous of enka one can hear sung by Ishikawa Saori every New Year's Eve on NHK TV's Ko-Haku Utaga-sen.  I heard the song live last month, by Tanimura Shinji, not Ishikawa Saori, having recently driven over Amagi Pass several times, so could not help think of it as I was nearby this time.  The song's mention of わさび沢 or "wasabi ravines" certainly fits with Izu.  And the song's evocation of the cold and damp, and the 小夜時雨 (sayashigure) or "evening rain shower", also fit the scene around me.  Yes, we got plenty of rain showers!  Izu is known for its pure water, hence the perfect location for growing wasabi, and full of わさび沢.  And the water also makes it a great place for a brewery ... I was telling Steve about the joys of Baird Beer in Shuzenji ... and the topic came up again, just before, on cue, the "Baird Beer Brewery" sign appeared out of the darkness across the River Kano on our return trip.

On the climb toward Toi Pass -- Even mountain sakura bloom early in Izu
Washizuka-san (I think) and Steve on the R. 136 climb toward Toi Pass 
Spectacular view down toward the Nishi Izu Coast and a great descent ahead!
We will be on that skybridge in 5 minutes or so.
Looking north on the coast between Toi and Ugusu, .. north of Lovers' Point ( 恋人岬).  Very green. Perfect for lovers.
The clouds still threaten.  The earth looks incredibly fertile.
At Dogashima.  Clear waters and beautiful scenery.
And, of course, Izu is a land of onsen within a larger island of onsen.  Steve R. and I took a break at the turn-around in Minami Izu to rest at the foot onsen (ashi no yu) I remembered from a recent visit -- just 100 meters or so beyond our turn-around point.  We settled in just after the 5PM closing time, but it was an outdoor facility without any gate or lock, and we could soak our feet and warm our bodies until the caretaker stopped by to drain the tub around 530PM -- and he let us stay as the water slowly drained, another 10 minutes at least.  We debated the idea of heading over to the "real" Shimogamo day onsen for a full soak and food ... but neither of us had the confidence we would be willing or able to remount our bikes after such a stop.

Again, after a stretch with particularly cold and hard rain in the evening on the return leg, as I actually started to think about a DNF, we again found refuge at the coastal town of Toi Onsen, at the public foot bath.  I rested on my back on a bench at the edge of the steaming shallow pool, soaking my hands instead of feet.  The roof barely covered the shallow tub and benches, and I could not justify the effort to remove my shoe covers, shoes and double-layered socks.  But 10-15 minutes laying down, with my hands in the hot water and the warmth spreading throughout the rest of my body, was plenty to reinvigorate me for the climb over Toi Pass.

At Shimogamo Onsen - Yunohana Ashi no Yu
This I believe.  A good soak in hot water for cold tired feet.
Of course, the food on this journey consisted mostly of typical convenience store fare and a few energy bars from home.  We did make it back to Matsuzaki on the western coast of Izu in time for a quick dinner.  The signs coming into town told us that this is designated one of Japan's most beautiful towns, and it had indeed looked nice as we headed through going South in the afternoon.  But it just looked dark and wet on Saturday evening.  The first open restaurant we saw was a kaiten-sushi bar. Actually, it turned out to be a great choice.  They were serving only locally landed fish -- and there were 12 or more types.  Aji, Kanpachi, Iwashi, Nama-saba (or shime-saba), Kuromutsu, and on and on, many I did not recognize.  They insisted our wet clothing and gear would not be a problem and welcomed us.  The sampling we had was delicious, and the ara-jiro fish soup and tea were hot and helped warm up again.  I think the first time I have ever had sushi during a brevet, and definitely the first time for Steve.

Unfortunately, I did not get any photos of the sushi to share with you -- looking at Facebook I realize how important it is to share pictures of food with ones friends -- I did get photos of two other meals, so here they are:
Second breakfast Saturday at the Daily Yamazaki checkpoint in Hiratsuka
Sunday breakfast on Nakahara Kaido -- more caffeine and fuel to get through the last 20 kms.
As the only 2 American in the event, McDonald's seemed appropriate.
At the last checkpoint, in Hiratsuka, we were 5 riders in all.  I think only 7 riders finished, and the 5 of us all within 15-20 minutes of each other, none much under 26 hours nor over 26:30.  Three of us together rode the last kilometer or two as the "last" finishers -- the "lanterne rouge" position being a great honor in such long and difficult events.  At the finish check-in, I asked the clerk at the 7-11 to try to make sure all 3 receipts had the same time stamp -- to the minute -- so that we could share the honor. She got our items lined up on the counter, then entered them and issued the 3 separate receipts in under a second each, only asking for payment after all receipts had been issued.  Just another example among many (see this and that) of incredible service ... from a 7-11 part-timer.

29 sign-ups, only 11 or 12 starters, and only 7 finishers.

This was my slowest 400 km brevet yet.  But also one of the most memorable.

1 comment:

joewein said...

David, congratulations on this amazing achievement. You're nuts! :-)