30 August 2016

Randonneuring in Oregon, on the Oregon Randonneur Bike

On Saturday I joined the Oregon Randonneurs' ("ORR") 400km Lebanon/Dee Wright Observatory Brevet, in near perfect weather.

This was the first time I have ridden a brevet in Oregon (Portland, Oregon being my hometown and where my parents still live). It also was my first brevet on the custom, purpose-built "Oregon Randonneur Bike" that Bob Kamzelski of Bantam Bicycle Works built for me last year and I initiated at Cycle Oregon 2015.

Vincent, who came to Hokkaido for the 1200km in July, made the trip from Seattle for this one, and I joined him and another SIR member, Audunn, for dinner on Friday evening near the start.

Of course, brevets are unsupported long-distance events, usually very spartan. Some Audax clubs go out of the way to provide some refreshments, or a manned "control point", a snack or a cup of soup at the finish.  Of course, the longest and largest events provide more -- meals, showers and sleeping facilities along the way. I was told the Oregon rides are at the spartan end of the spectrum.  The pricing (free entry) certainly matched.

Indeed, this ride had only 8 participants on 7 bicycles (one tandem), including 3 from the Washington-based Seattle International Randonneurs club, one from the east-of-the-mountains Desert River Randonneurs and myself visiting from Japam.  (There was another Oregon ride the same weekend -- a 600km -- and both were styled as "makeup rides" for anyone who had missed another earlier in the year).  The ORR representative who staffed the ride emailed us in advance to warn that he would be joining the ride, so riders would need to show up  at 5AM sharp or be left without a card (but also, no worries, if we lost or rode without a card -- it would all be figured out in the end).  It was a welcome relaxed approach to the brevet rules, in contrast with Japanese "a rule is a rule" bureaucracy.

The ride had two challenges for me: first, nearly 3800 meters of climbing, and second, extremely limited opportunities to get food and water en route.  No 24 hour 7-11 or Lawson convenience stores. No vending machines by roadside in the middle of nowhere like in Japan.
Elevation profile for the initial 260 (out of 400) kilometers - 3 long climbs, 2 of them with over 1000 meters elevation gain.
We started at 5AM sharp from Lebanon, Oregon, a town on the eastern edge of the Willamette Valley SE of Albany (which is South of Salem and North of Eugene).  It was still pitch dark, unlike a 5AM start in Japan.  After a warm up stretch on dark country roads, we eventually started a long climb up a paved National Forest road that peaked out at km 96 or so at around 1250 meters elevation.  I was a bit worried that with US Route 20 to the south closed down temporarily, there might be extra traffic on this road.  I needed have worried. There was almost no traffic.
Dawn at the reservoir East of Sweet Home, Oregon
Ward and Audunn climb ahead

Who is that big shadow?
View from the top toward the East
Along the climb, which paralleled a reservoir then creek, there were many families camped -- trucks and SUVs, tents, tables and cooking gear all visible, with the occasional boat or dog.  I rode with Ward and Audunn of SIR until about the 70 km mark, as the road turned up and I fell back.  As usual, Vinny started slow and then just got faster and faster.
Inside the restaurant at Marion Forks. The river runs just beyond the patio in back.
The first control was at the restaurant at Marion Forks.  It was only when I got there (11AM) that I recognized the name or place -- I had driven by it many times on the North Santiam highway en route from Detroit Reservoir to the Sisters/Black Butte/Bend area.  I was looking forward to an early lunch, so was a bit disappointed to see Ward and Audun settling up as I entered.  They had had some pie and stocked up and were heading out.  I sat down and ordered meat loaf.  They were out, so I switched to a hamburger.  As I was waiting for my burger, Ron and Kathy pulled up on their tandem, with Bill. They got their brevet cards signed and headed back to the bike.  What, no food?  Kathy explained that the following weekend they were doing a series of 3 rides out of Baker City, each of which required that you carry all the needed food (and water). This was a training run for them and they were fully stocked on the tandem.

I was still waiting for my burger a few minutes later when Vinny pulled in around 1125AM and showed me how it is done. Instead of ordering from the menu, he asked the waitress "what do you have that is fast"?  After rejecting a few choices, she finally suggested a sandwich.  He ordered one to eat at the counter, and one to go.

I amended my order to add a turkey sandwich to go.  His sandwiches arrived before my burger!  He got the check and settled up while eating, ... so I followed suit.

In any event, we headed out at the same time and were together on the first few climbs, until he pulled away. I saw Vinny again at the last water stop before the climb to McKenzie Pass/Dee Wright Observatory (the Ollalie at Mckenzie Bridge campground), and as he descended from the pass while I still climbed.  He finished in around 21 hours, way ahead of my 23 hrs 45 mins.

The stretch after Marion Forks was for me somehow by far the hardest.  We climbed up almost as high as the pass we had come over, then had a long descent punctuated by some intermediate climbs.  But the entire stretch of 50kms was the shoulder of a busy road, and with direct sunlight and warm temperatures.  The heat was nothing like Japan, but it was still mid-day heat and sun, with speeding traffic nearby, and already nearly 2000 meters elevation gain and 150kms under the belt.  I was very happy to finally, just after 3PM, reach the entrance to the climb up to Dee Wright Observatory and realized that the winding road had little traffic and plenty of shade.
Now the main event!
I was tired and hot on the climb, despite the shade and moderate (for summer) temperatures.  At least I knew it would just get cooler as I climbed.  And I had filled 3 bottles at the Olallie campground, so would have plenty of water.  Right?  Well, I started climbing around 500 meters elevation and would be going to 1600.  By 750, I had already used 1 1/2 bottles as I slowed from exhaustion.  I pulled off at a campsite/trailhead, borrowed an empty picnic table in a "day use" area and lay down for a good, 10 minute nap.
A beautiful view lying flat on my back.
Before I left I approached a family campsite wtih 3 huge coolers.  I asked the mother if they had any spare drinking water.  She pulled out a 500ml PET bottle of water (the kind they sell at Costco?) and handed it to me.  Saved by the kindness of strangers. With this reserve and the cooling weather, I regained my confidence.

Around 1100 meters elevation, Ward and Audunn passed me heading back on the descent.  A bit further it was Ron and Kathy on the tandem, riding with Bill.  And not far apart Vinny, just as I started the long (10kms?) flattish stretch at the top toward the pass.
Finally a (mostly) flat section around 1400 meters elevation.  ~10kms and 200-250m up to the pass.
It was 6PM by the time I got to the observatory at the pass, and I sat down for some food, rationing my last bottle of water sip by sip. I was a bit worried about the headwind, VERY stiff at the top of the hill, that I would ride into on the return (fortunately, it was not a problem beyond the very first stretch).
Getting closer to the pass now. Lava flows abound.
The cue sheet required us to answer a question about the sign on the door to the restrooms at the observatory monument. There was an unmarked building that LOOKED like a restroom, but without any markings, and with a sign on the wall, not either of the doors.  The night before Audunn had said something about needing to ride a few hundred meters beyond the pass ... so I took a spin down the East side to see if there was another parking lot and more obvious control point and restroom. There was not, so I climbed back up, investigated and confirmed that, sure enough, the unmarked building was the restroom and the sign on the wall must have been the one intended.

North Sister and Middle Sister, from near McKenzie Pass

A nearly identical view.
In any event, I was still at the summit when Paul arrived, the last of the 8 riders. I was delighted to have some company and we rode relatively close together as far as the next control, 40 kms down the hill at the McKenzie Bridge General Store.
Is that South Sister just over the ridge on the descent back to McKenzie Bridge?

The store had very limited choices for food that could be eaten on the spot. Lots of junk, and some groceries and frozen food that required preparation. At least there was yogurt, an ice cream bar (my body craves milk products at this point in a long ride) and hot coffee.  On a second trip into the store I ventured into the "courtyard" out back, which I realized was where the restaurant is located.  Next trip, I will head straight for the restaurant, and ask for something fast.

But for now, there was not a moment to waste.  Paul told me to go on ahead as he wanted to keep to a deliberate, steady pace -- a tortoise to my hare -- and I rode alone the last 145 kms of the ride (except seeing Paul once more, coming into Coburg as I was leaving).  It was a fast 60 kms stretch on the highway along the McKenzie River to a turn off to Camp Creek Road.

On Camp Creek Road there was no traffic, after midnight now, and I could incredible stars, the milky way visible together with thousands of others. Perfect temperature; my body not complaining.  What a joy.  This is the kind of stretch that brought me to randonneuring back in 2010, and it is always welcome.

I made excellent time to the next control at Coburg, as my Garmin track shows.  Well, actually, my aging, always buggy Garmin Edge 800 crashed just before Coburg. It seems to have deleted my recording for this entire stretch in doing so. Anyway, I just needed to "bring it home" the last 60kms, which began with a straight, flat stretch of around 20kms.  I was thinking I could finish by 4AM or so, but then the road headed into foothills.  A few short climbs set me back, and I ended up rolling in at 4:43AM.  At the all-night gas station where we got our proof-of-finish receipts, the guy manning the gas pumps seemed to have full knowledge of what I was doing and who I was with.  He asked about the other rider, and I assured him "Paul should be along before long."

And then it was done.  No celebration.  The early riders already packed up and gone, somewhere. Vinny and Audunn back to eat and sleep again at their hotel.  I loaded up the car, got some drive-through food and coffee at the local McDonald's, napped for 30 minutes, and drove back to Portland, where I showered, bathed, and went into a deep, delightful recovery sleep.

16 August 2016

Viviani beats Cavendish at Rio in the "Omnium" for Gold Medal - Get Ready for Shuzenji 2020 Games

I am not a regular fan of track cycle racing, but every once in awhile see a report that grabs my interest. I think back to autumn of 2011 when Jerome and I were guests at the Rabobank-sponsored opening of Japan's beautiful wooden track velodrome at Shuzenji.  There were lots of prominent riders, including pretty much any Japanese rider of note (Arashiro, Beppu), and some special guests including Mario Cipollini and Elia Viviani from Italy.  We got to hang out in the infield with Viviani, Michael Morkov, and some top Italian women pros.

So I was pleased to read today that Viviani has won the gold at the Rio Olympics in the "Omnium", a kind of cycling decathlon, or more accurately a sextathlon, since there are only 6 events rather than the decathlon's 10.  

Very impressive ride for Italia.  Some nice photos on the Reuters site, accompanying their report.

As for Cavendish, he seems to have a bit of difficulty following the rules.  In one of the events he cut inside and rode below the inner boundary of the track to pass a group, resulting in a penalty.  In another event, he swooped down and cut off a Korean rider causing a crash that eventually toppled other riders, including Viviani.  Maybe if he had more practice on the track ... maybe if he had visited Shuzenji back in 2011?



... I recently learned that the 2020 Olympic track cycling will be held not in Tokyo at a new facility, as originally planned, but in Izu at the velodrome where Jerome and I attended the above-referenced opening "Track Party" back in 2011. One of the cost-cutting measures to avoid new "white elephant" facilities?

Apparently some changes will be made to the Shuzenji velodrome expand the seating capacity (which is minimal).  So for any fans of track cycling, you can enjoy an onsen (and some Baird Beer) at Shuzenji and plenty of racing at the track.

It would really be a wonderful event if it in October (as the Track Party was).  Too bad it will be held in the August heat.

15 August 2016

Ride Back from Karuizawa

A friend recently bought a place in Karuizawa that he and his wife plan to run as a "guest house" in high season, and use for themselves and friends the rest of the year.  It is within 15 minutes' walk of the shinkansen station, so seems to have no difficulty attracting guests.  In fact, the cars were lining up nearby in Karuizawa when I arrived on Saturday afternoon.
The quiet countryside?  Lines of cars in both directions.
I rode to Tokyo Station, rinko'ed the Ti Travel bike, and was in Karuizawa before I knew it.  Then 5 minutes or less by bike from the station to the guest house.  Door-to-door just over 2 hours, despite peak summer travel.  Not bad at all.

We took a short afternoon spin through some areas on the south side of town, climbing through a quiet area of second/vacation homes to the entrance to the Myogi-Arafune forest road that I had ridden from the other end back in 2009. It was a decent climb up to the road entrance, and we were ready to loop back.

The forest road was closed in the direction we wanted to go.

 ... but we figured this would just add to our adventure.  Indeed, the road was passable 90% of the way by bike, though we needed to dismount and walk or carry our bikes a few times.

Classic Gunma mountains -- the rindo skirted the Nagano-Gunma border.
Maybe neither city or prefecture had the budget to maintain a road that included the other?

My host pointed out that we were very close to the site of the Mt. Asama corporate lodge of Kawai Musical Instruments site of a 10 day seige when Japanese Red Army members holed up with a hostage and a cache of weapons back in the early 1970s. I guess the day the police stormed the building to break the seige is a marathon live broadcast event that everyone remembers in Japan who saw it.  Anyway, the vacation home areas south of Karuizawa seem quiet.  Last time I came into town in 2009 via the forest road, they were deserted.  At least this time, the absolute peak of peak season, I could see cars in driveways and some people out gardening or strolling.
The only exposed stretch of expressway between two long tunnels, from the forest road on Saturday afternoon.
My main ride was the return trip to Tokyo on the next day, around 180 kms door-to-door.  I left at 730AM or so.  I usually go in the opposite direction -- brevets, even the SR600, leave Tokyo and pass through Karuizawa.  And there was that trip Jerome and I took in 2010 where we arrived in Karuizawa via Chichibu, Shigasaka Pass, Tano District and Shimonita.  That was 183kms and 2750 meters of elevation gain on a very hot day.
Going under the expressway Sunday morning.
I thought about doing a "reverse" of that 2010 route, since I would at least shave maybe 8-900 meters of elevation gain off by starting from the high ground.  But when I got to Shimonita and recalled that in this direction I would need to slog uphill for over 20 kms, the last 3-4k ms climbing inside a tunnel, I opted for a slightly easier route around the south side of Tomioka, with a relatively short stretch on congested Route 254.
Almost no traffic to Shimonita, after getting past the expressway entrance route ...

Central Shimonita.
Bike leaning. Close to central Shimonita.
Say "Shimonita" and most Japanese think "Konnyaku" - a kind of vegetarian gelatinous
low calorie food included in "oden" and various "nabe" dishes.
Konyaku plants without flowers -- a perennial. These fields dot the landscape around Shimonita.
180 kms and almost 1500 meters of climbing -- not bad for a "downhill" route back to Tokyo.
On Gunma Route 193 - again no vacation traffic here
My route took me through the town of Karaku.  The michi-no-eki was not yet open.
But I noted the bike racks and lots of other attractive features for a return visit.
These michi-no-eki can be very pleasant surprises.
Also in Karaku SE of Tomioka. Spacious old houses and a stream at roadside.
Jerome was planning to ride out to meet me, and he ALMOST made it to the top of Yamabushi Pass, despite a late start.  As it was, I met him on the Tokyo side of Yamabushi as he climbed through 450-475 meters elevation, and we rode the last 80 kms or so home together, arriving back on schedule a few minutes before 5PM.
Still hydrangea in bloom on the north side of Yamabushi.

Flowering trees north of chichibu.
On Sunday night, my thought was that I am not doing enough of these classic one-day 130-200km rides this year or last.  It is hard to fit them in with my current schedule AND focus on the longer 400, 600 and 1200km events that take preparation and recovery.  Maybe next year?

07 August 2016

Rio 2016 Olympic Coverage from Japan -- Exceeding Expectations Early!

Belgian victory in the road race.

As a foreigner living in Japan during the past two past Olympics, I can remember the frustration of TV coverage that focused almost exclusively on certain heavily promoted national Japanese heroes, ignoring the other 95% of the games.  I remember mindless feel-good commentary (even in the face of contrary results), inconvenient scheduling, and lots of downtime.  It was not a happy time.

This year, NHK Sports seems to have decided to STREAM ONLINE FOR FREE (with recordings available afterwards in case you were sleeping or working), a huge number of events, without commentary!  I will not promise that everything is online or how long the recordings are available, but an awful lot is.

I am not sure if the most popular events in Japan are realtime (say, the Men's 400meter individual medley swimming final, with 2 Japanese medal hopefuls, who placed 1st and 3rd, though still more than 2.2 seconds off Michael Phelps' world record) ... but it was possible to watch the entire first night Rio swimming schedule streamed on Sunday, a few hours later (given the time difference), and to fast-forward through all the waiting and introductions.  Better yet, you can actually hear the announcer in the arena speaking English, and listen to the competitors congratulate each other and the relay teams celebrate at the end of the race!
Hagino captures the 400IM.
The entire men's cycling road race was streamed live ... and can still be seen today, all 7 hours and 30 minutes of video.  I watched some late Saturday night, then on Sunday morning watched the last 15 kms, including the crucial developments as V. Nibali and another rider crashed out on the last twisting descent.  Okay, the motorbike drivers are not quite as gifted as on the Tour, and they could not keep up with Nibali's 3-man group on the descent, so all we actually witnessed were two riders down on the asphalt by the time the camera came around the bend.  But there were plenty of other crashes caught on camera, and the overall quality was a heck of a lot better than the (free) streaming access to the Tour here in Japan.  And you can go back today and watch it again.
Only one of the 3 seems to have any legs left in the last 100 meters.

Olympics via NHK streaming update (August 18):

The Rio games continue to be a pleasure in terms of access to streaming content.  Yesterday I got an email reminder that one of my "kohai" from Yale, Katie Grace, would be running in the preliminary of the women's 800 meter track & field event, with a link to this NY Times story, more focused on her mom, a fitness/aerobics queen from a different era, before Title IX.

This morning I could wake up and watch a streamed recording of the race as she qualified for the semi-finals.

Yesterday, however, I had an unpleasant surprise.

The "NHK man" rang my doorbell, looking to collect my NHK fee.  (Perhaps compliance is down recently ... as the broadcaster is ignored by most Japanese under the age of 60, and its "three basic tenets" of current operations are said to be "avoidance of controversy, pandering to audiences, and parochial nationalism.")  I had to tell the bill collector "sorry, I do not have a TV".  (This is actually true -- I "cut the cord" recently and have no TV, relying entirely on the Internet and mobile data/telephony).  He asked "but are you watching 'One Seg' wireless or via your PC"?  I just said "NO" and "sumimasen" and closed the door.

After he left, I felt kinda sorry for him.  'One Seg' is a Japan-only format to get TV broadcasts on mobile phones in Japan.  Not supported by the iphone (without an add-on tuner/receiver).  Toast. History. Goes in the museum alongside "i-mode" data transmission.

But that was a little white lie about not watching on my PC. I wondered, do you think he somehow figured out from my IP address that I have been on their website? Are we in that much of a survelliance society? If so, does he know all my browsing habits?  And are they really trying to charge via the NHK law for viewing a website?  In this case, all I have been doing is access a website which, in its FAQ page, indicates that there is "no charge" for the service:

These guys must be desperate, grasping at straws.