|Along the Sea of Japan north of Matsue|
We arrived in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, on the 22nd, checked in to the Ivy Square hotel (which in May hosts the Education ministerial of the G-7 summit, as posters announced around the town and hotel grounds), and cycled over to registration and to joined a welcome pasta buffet dinner. Kurashiki is a tourist destination -- a historical merchant center with well-preserved buildings from pre-modern Japan. The start of our ride would be in Hayashima, just a few kilometers to the Southeast.
|G7 Education Ministerial meetings coming soon to Ivy Square Hotel - Kurashiki|
Despite the relatively small numbers, a ride of this length takes a lot of work to organize and pull off, and the Okayama team (Ms. Sawada and Mr. Yamaguchi), together with the many volunteers, did a great job. (Special thanks to Maya Ide, Yutaka Moriwaki and other English speakers who looked after the foreign participants).
|Waiting for Da Bra italian restaurant to open for our welcome party/early dinner|
|Jerome and I leave the Ivy Square hotel shortly after 3AM|
|Special briefing for the non-Japanese speaking riders|
|Finally dawn on the first day of the ride -- already well into the route and taking the hills on a quiet road above the fray|
|Our route, starting and finishing in Hayashima SE of Kurashiki, SW of Okayama City|
|The Seto-Ohashi comes into view - further spans barely visible in the distance|
“Ohashi"means "big bridge" and this one deserves the name. The longest double deck bridge in the world at 13 kms.
|At the base of the Seto Ohashi.|
Many spectacular views from elsewhere of this seemingly endless steel bridge
|PC1 - cruelly placed at the top of a nasty hill|
|Then again, there was a nice view from the hilltop, amidst the (rare for Japan) olive trees|
--Hiruzen Highlands area with its ski areas and highlands reminiscent of Nagano and soaring cycling roads;
--Matsue castle, and the nearby areas of the Japan Sea with its emerald blue water;
--the beautiful stretch of islands and bridges starting from Kure and extending to Okamura Port (NOT to be confused with the much more famous and heavily used "shimanami kaido" stretch of islands and bridges between Onomichi and Imabari); and
--Fukiya village on a hilltop in Takanashi City, Okayama, with its Edo-style houses.
|Convenience store with in-store seating! Becoming more widespread, thank goodness.|
I sit with Jerome, Inagaki-san, Peter H. (Aussie colors visible), Mark T., Yoshida-san and others.
|One of many, many no traffic stretches as we travel from Setonaikai to Nihonkai|
|Local diary products at a PC on day two in the Hiruzen highlands|
|Another empty road - in Hiruzen highlands|
|I was too rushed for time to get many flower photos this year ... but the flowers were everywhere|
First, there were several places where there seemed an obvious shortcut to the route planned by the organizers. On the climb out of Kurayoshi the second morning, for example, Jerome and I passed an exhausted looking Japanese rider as we neared the top. We came upon the same rider again 15-20 minutes later as he came out of a short-cut. He mumbled something about "mis-course" but it was pretty clear he was tired, worried about the cut off, and taking the shortest, easiest route he could find. There were plenty of other similar opportunities, including some major ones to save both distance and climbing.
Of course, a few well-placed "secret" checkpoints will diminish the risk of someone attempting to cheat and take a shorter route. Unfortunately, the Okayama organizers did not seem to understand the meaning of a "secret" control. They had some controls marked on the cue sheet and in the brevet card as "secret", but the locations were announced in advance, and so these were really just like other controls. I appreciate the kindness of the "secret" controls being identified in advance, but I wish the course would not have created such obvious opportunities for riders to cut corners.
|Mt. Daizen from near the village of Yoshihara|
|mountain sakura in bloom|
|After passing Yonago, on a flat stretch along the "nakaumi"|
|Jerome enjoys our green tea rest stop|
|The tea master at work|
|Higuchi-san comes up to me as I snap a photo|
|Passing Matsue castle|
|NW of Izumo at a cape/turnaround checkpoint - a Eurus energy project|
|Again for this checkpoint the organizers sent us up a nasty short hill for a view|
|Dusk near Izumo|
|Lots of shipbuilding on the inland sea - this plant in Mihara even though the company name is |
Imabari Shipbuilding (named for a city on Shikoku just across the inland sea from here).
Jerome waited for me repeatedly during the ride, and we ended up doing probably half the ride together (with him pulling 40% and me 10% of the total ride). The other half we were not far apart -- usually with him needing to wait for me at a PC or hilltop. My right shifter experience serious problems about 825 kms into the ride. Even after opening it up and cleaning it as best I could, my innermost rear cog and the 4 smallest outer cogs were not functional. As a result, my top speed on the flats was significantly reduced. Still, the timing was about right, since I was already done with 80%+ of the climbing and I could not sustain much more than 25 kph on the flats anyway on the homeward leg.
|Hawaii? Okinawa? Actually no. - an island in Kure City, Hiroshima|
|The sun fades and sky gets deeper and deeper shades|
|resting rider feet in view|
|Fukiya village, Takanashi city|
|Wow! Typical $7.50 lunch (tip and tax included) in the Japaense countryside, just a few kms down the hill from Fukiya village at a "teishokuya" (cafeteria)! 840 yen special.|