16 March 2017

Some Memories of Mitsuaki (Micky) Inagaki

The empty road
At around 630AM local time on March 15, 2017, Micky was struck and killed by a truck while riding on the South Island of New Zealand, where he was participating in the “Tiki 1200” event together with friends from around the globe. Another rider he was with at the time was seriously injured. 

(To Japanese, he is “Inagaki-san”, but to foreigners he insisted on “Micky” since it is friendlier, easier to remember and pronounce than either “Inagaki” or “Mitsuaki”. As a Japanese-speaking foreigner, I would always call him “Inagaki-san” in Japanese and when with Japanese, but will stick to “Micky” in English.)
In recent years, Micky served as the President (or Chair - the Japanese term “kaicho” would usually translate to “Chair”) of Audax Japan, a responsibility he took very seriously. But that understates his role. He was really the “Permanent Ambassador to the World” for Audax Japan. He was always striving to improve Audax in Japan, to boost the capabilities of Japanese riders, to encourage them to participate in events abroad and foreign riders to come to events in Japan. He was a “sensei” (teacher) to us all, dispensing wisdom wherever he went. He had and made friends everywhere with a big welcoming grin across his face, and was for many a key link between Japan and the world. He did this without ever really mastering English (or, for ACP matters, French), but somehow always managing to achieve understanding, to get his meaning through and understand others. He was a shining example of “private diplomacy” and of someone who made a difference in the world while following his passion. It is difficult to imagine a life more full or better lived.
My first memory of Inagaki-san is from one early season Shizuoka brevet when I was trying to secure enough mileage to get a spot for 2011 Paris-Brest-Paris from Japan. I had only ridden my first Audax event in 2009, and it was my first time riding in Shizuoka — I thought it would be warmer there than in Kanto for a winter brevet (it was), and in any event in those days the Tokyo area brevets always seemed to be fully booked by the time I thought about entry. 

As we were standing around at the start at a parking lot outside of Fukuroi, Inagaki-san was talking a lot, and saying interesting things. A group of six or seven riders had gathered, but Micky carried the conversation, as if the others were there to hear his observations. I did not know anything about him, but he struck me as really different from the typical brevet rider I had come across in Japan. My first impressions were that he was outgoing, opinionated, vocal, upbeat, very knowledgeable and clever. He was all that, and more. I saw him regularly after that at events inside Japan and out.
Who was he and where did he come from, I wondered? The core members of Audax Japan have known him longer than I and know much more, but I learned that he attended Kyoto University’s faculty of medicine. When he was young (a student?) he enjoyed serving as crew on a racing sailboat, he once told me--they won an ocean race around the peninsula that is southern Wakayama Prefecture. He had a map of the San Juan/Gulf Islands in his house. And he early on developed a love for photography. 
He did not like medicine, so instead of becoming a doctor, he became a business consultant. (I note that despite his career decision, he would often volunteer helpful medical advice to suffering randonneurs). I do not know the details of how he started or developed his consulting business, but somehow he had lots of good ideas that corporate Japan needed … Company management needed someone creative, outside the system, to offer suggestions and help them create new businesses. He did well enough at it so he could, at an early age, design and have built his house in Tateshina, Nagano not far from Lake Shirakaba. (His partner Tomomi told me that they met somewhere in dealing with design matters for the house, as she worked for a company involved with design). He did well enough so that he could live a good life with Tomomi at their house, he could enjoy being a ski instructor in the winter nearby, and he could pursue his many passions, including cycling, photography and, of course, traveling the world while cycling and photographing.

Micky was also a bit mischievous and playful, and always had that big grin on his face, even when he was suffering on a ride. In 2012, on a 300km Brevet return from Hirosaki (Aomori) to Tendo (Yamagata) during the spectacular Saitama Audax Golden Week “Tohoku 1700”, as he caught up with me on a long climb in cold rain, he gave me a surprise “push” forward grabbing my lower back (or jersey pocket) with his hand. I was not expecting this surprise “attack”, and I almost lost my balance! I veered off, and he ended up going in the other direction. I stayed upright, but he went down onto the pavement of the deserted highway. He hopped right back up and onto his bicycle none the worse for wear, and I could quickly forgive him since he had obviously meant to help, not harm. I guess he was reminded that when a smaller object pushes off a bigger one, the smaller one usually ends up going flying!
Micky on that wet, cold ride from Hirosaki to Tendo, recovered from going off the bike.
Always one more climb ahead!
That year, 2012, Micky taught me how successfully to complete long, 1200km events: 

Plan ahead!
Micky almost always studied the route carefully in advance, he read trip reports of prior years’ rides on the same course. He had a ride plan, and knew every water stop, restroom, potential sleeping location, restaurant and food source on each route. He pushed other Japanese riders to do the same, especially when riding major events outside of Japan. He did not like seeing Japanese riders who had no difficulty with 1000 or 1200 km events in Japan show up, jet lagged and with an inadequate plan, at events overseas, as they would almost inevitably get in trouble, not manage it well, and DNF.  But planning alone is not enough. As they say, “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” Of course, he was flexible enough so that he could manage even when his plan went awry. (He told me about this happening during Super Brevet Scandinavia in August 2013, when he got several flat tires, missed a crucial ferry, and was racing against the clock, sleep deprived and exhausted, for much of a 1200km event.)
In 2012, we rode the Cascade 1200 and the Rocky Mountain 1200, both getting the “Can Am” medal (as did many others, mostly from the Seattle International Randonneurs and BC Randonneurs, the two host clubs).<
On the Cascade 1200, I remember him collapsed at an afternoon control just before we did the climb up Loup Loup Pass together, starting the most magical part of that event — Loup Loup at sunset with a purple, pink sky, then Twist, then riding through the old west theme town of Winthrop, player piano going in the saloon on the main street in the evening (!!!), and a starry cool evening ride with the sound of a river alongside the deserted highway to the control at Camp Mazama, where riders gathered around a big common table and enjoyed hot comfort food (mac cheese!) before getting a few hours of sleep.  Micky somehow got to and left Mazama before me — and we separately suffered the cold rain/almost sleet and fierce headwind of Washington Pass and Rainy Pass, but we met again in the afternoon, at a McDonald’s full of very tired riders, before the final stage back to the finish. We formed a group of 7 or 8 riders, and rode in a “lanterne rouge” team, talking and enjoying the late afternoon … and early evening through Seattle’s Northeastern exurbs — with Micky, Bob Koen, Tim Lucas, Will Danicek, Jun Sato and Matthew O’Neill (who, like Micky, was killed on a randonée by a driver yielding a massive lethal weapon of a vehicle). We all reached the goal in 88 hours and 55 minutes.
2012 - A very tired Inagaki-san at the McDonalds before the last stretch of Cascade 1200.
The next month, before Rocky Mountain 1200, Micky told me that the key was to get to Jasper (a bit over 400kms) around 9PM (after a start at 10PM the previous evening), and get some sleep then head out in the wee hours (230AM?). That was the only way to get to the next control and make it over the passes of the Icefields Parkway in time to arrive at Lake Louise before that control closed. If you could get to the top of the last big pass on track, you would be fine — cruising to Lake Louise, and you could almost “roll it home” the last 500 kms. In an event that saw almost half of the riders abandon during the first day’s miserable cold rain, I was determined, above all else, to get to Jasper. I did, and I was okay.
Happy to see old friends - Micky and Will Danicek at the start of Rocky Mountain 1200
Showing off the CamAm medal, at the Kamloops closing party
In 2013, we both rode London-Edinburgh-London. Both coming and going, I could enjoy a fairly long stretch riding with Micky at night on this 1420+km monster — a day longer than the typical 1200km grand randonée. I remember a long, dark, damp and so somewhat boring stretch on the return between Barton-on-Humber and Market Resin where Micky was getting tired. He declared that the way to stay awake and alert was to sing and shout out. He proceeded to do so for at least the next hour, beating back his fatigue, not a care in his mind. Eventually I faded back from the cacophony, too fatigued to maintain the group’s speed and a bit relieved to be back in the quiet night, the yelling/singing fading into the distance. 
Micky holds forth at the LEL check-in. With camera.
Micky was always helping other riders. I remember an end-of-season, early October monster 600km brevet in 2012 that Jerome and I entered, sponsored by Kanagawa Audax. It was a small group at the start, and an even smaller group at the finish! The ride went out over Yanagisawa Pass (elev 1475), then around Kofu, over Fujimi (elev 975) and down to Chino, then over Daimon Pass at Lake Shirakaba (elev 1500), down to a 7-11 turn around point, then back up over Daimon Pass, all the way around the west side of Mt. Fuji, then back up over the NW shoulder of Fuji on Route 71 (elev 1130), and back to Tokyo via Tsuru Pass (Elev 875) and a bunch of local hills.  Not an SR600 but close, with only 40 hours!  As we climbed Daimon Pass, cold rain started, and by the time I descended to reach the turnaround 7-11 I was thinking of packing it in -- just a bit further to a hotel in Ueda, then an easy train ride home in the morning. But there, set up across the parking lot from the 7-11, was Micky, with hot water for tea or soup and places to sit, a tent to keep off the rain. I don't think it was official support. He just saw the bad weather, realized we would be in trouble, threw a bunch of stuff in the back of his car and headed down the mountain to set up an aid station. After that, how could I even though of abandoning the ride? I headed up the hill, and completed the event with Jerome, the second day weather mostly pleasant.
After these experiences, seeing Micky at major (and minor) events was, for me as for countless others, a matter of course, something we almost took for granted — Hokkaido 1200 last year, of course he was there! I was no different than hundreds of other randonneurs in Japan and around the world who knew and recognized him. After he became AJ President, I was delighted to help him from time-to-time with some materials in English — he really wanted to add some English content page to the Audax Japan website to encourage foreign participation in Japanese events — or a quick repair or loaner of a bicycle wheel with a dynamo hub—my specialty. And I remained curious about the man. How had he figured it out to live a life so different than so many others in Japan, so independent and with such an endless spirit of challenge and curiosity.
So when I wanted to plan a ski trip with my sons when they were in Japan for the holidays at the end of last year, I called Micky to ask about the ski areas near him. He said we could stay overnight at his place -- there were six ski areas within short driving distance, including the one where he was an instructor. He would figure out one where we could rent equipment (including three pairs of boots for our large size feet), and ask the head ski instructor if we could get a special price. His one caveat was that he was working a major transaction involving the replacement of his mother’s house in Osaka. She is now in her 90s and needs a single floor residence designed to be easy for an elderly person to navigate. This would be her house for the remainder of her life, and would be his and Tomomi’s after they grew to an age where it was no longer practical or fun to live in the woods, 45 minutes’ drive down a mountain from the nearest supermarket — a place they obviously loved but that was just not practical once they would reach an age when driving would be difficult or doctors should be nearer. 
Of course, Micky said he has the relevant licenses (architect? real estate transaction? both and more?) and was doing the design for the new house himself. And if he could reach a deal with the contractor so that the demolition would start in December, then his mom would be living with Tomomi and him in Tateshina, and he could not take guests.
When we spoke a few weeks later, he said that he had not been able to reach an agreement with the contractor, so the project was on hold until the new year. So I planned an overnight visit just after Christmas. In the end, there was not enough snow for the ski areas to open that week, so instead of skiing, my sons and I visited Ueda, the home of the feudal Sanada family, featured in 2016’s NHK historical special (Taiga-Drama), to see Ueda Castle and other sights, then stopped at an onsen, and headed up the hill to visit the Inagaki house. On the return, we visited Suwa and saw some of its shrines, famous for a festival where young men ride massive logs down a hillside and try to avoid being crushed while doing so. 
I am really glad that I got to do this trip. Micky was his usual, affable, talkative self, and explained the many interesting features he had designed into their house that made it a comfortable place to live in the woods — features not really obvious to the untrained eye. I could see many of his photographs, some of which had won amateur photography prizes, and series of photos he had taken during earlier travels. He was hard at work designing his mom’s Osaka replacement house, and again explained some of the thinking that was going into the design. Of course, there were MANY Audax medals and awards on display—Micky collected them all. 

He was talking about a mid-winter trip to Paris for Audax business at a meeting of the ACP governing body. He did not really need to go, but thought he should, just in case he could contribute. And he was planning the New Zealand trip, a return for him. I was thinking about joining … almost booked my plane ticket and got flight info from him … but frankly it looked like too hard an early season ride for me. And I wanted to visit close riding friends in Europe I had not seen in 3 years, who now live in Mallorca (cycling heaven) and could not manage both trips.
Tomomi — with help from Micky for a wok full of fried rice — cooked us a wonderful Chinese dinner (each course delicious and distinct flavors, too many to count), and explained the raw materials that came from their garden or the nearby woods. And the next morning, for breakfast, we enjoyed a variety of Tomomi’s wonderful homemade breads. (One of the “next” projects for the house was to be an outside brick oven for baking even more of those delicious breads.) It snowed overnight, so I got to put on the tire chains (bought a decade ago, finally used) so that we could get back to the main roads and down the hill to Suwa without slipping off the road.
I had always wondered whether Micky and Tomomi would enjoy living so far from the city, high up on a hillside. Now I understood. It was a very happy household. And I am delighted that I got a chance to introduce my two sons to Micky, as they are making decisions that will affect how they live their adult lives.

I can only imagine the grief that Tomomi is suffering. I read Kaz Tachikawa’s note that she had gone to New Zealand with Micky as a volunteer to support the event. She was working with a group of mostly locals around the clock over the four days, preparing food, manning the controls, dealing with the logistics. This accident, this death, affects all of us so much, it really is hard to take.

Eric Larsen's photo of Micky at the beginning of the 2016 Hokkaido 1200.
Always a smile and a challenge ahead!
Yesterday, I rode with my friends down, and up the climb at Sa Calobra, one of the “iconic” climbs of cycling — not as tough, but just as spectacular as the Tourmalet, L’Alpe d’Huez, Mont Ventoux, the Stelvio and a few others. We are still in the early weeks of the season here and were late getting started, so we had the road almost to ourselves on the climb back up the hill. Not a single tourist bus the entire day on a hillside that is sometimes clogged with them. The weather was perfect. As I looked across the valley, I could see a ribbon of empty road, switchbacks lit up by sun shining through a gap in some passing clouds. There really ought to be a rider there, I thought. I wanted to see Micky bobbing back and forth as he climbed. I know I will want to see him come along up the road on all my future rides.
That is all for now. It has only been 30 hours since I heard the awful news. I cannot make sense of it, or process the consequences for Tomomi, for Micky’s mother, for his friends in Japan and abroad, for Japan Audax. This will take time.

Postscript:  On November 11, 2017, the day of Japan Audax's annual meeting, a memorial event was held for Inagaki-san. At the time, it was announced that Micky is now honored at Madonna del Ghisallo, the cyclists' shrine and museum high on a hill overlooking Lake Como in northern Italy. He is the first Asian rider to be recognized, his Japan Audax jersey now hangs in the museum, alongside the greats of Italian cycling. It is a fitting honor, well-earned. 


Bill Watts said...

Thank you so much for this. I rode with Micky a fair bit during SBS 2013, which you mention. From that experience, I knew some of the things you mention here, but you have given me a much better understanding of who Micky was. My headlamp went out during this ride, and I had lost my backup, so Micky lent me the light with which I finished the ride. I will be forever grateful to him for that, and I will also always appreciate his generosity and good cheer. He was a wonderful man.

PoiterH said...

Thankyou David.
Well said.

Anonymous said...

Great guy, always a smile and excited to see people again.

Joel Disini said...

My condolences, David. I met Inagaki san during those 2 dinners before and after the Hokkaido 1200 in 2016 (which, incidentally, you missed). They were hosted by Audax Japan, which I thought was extremely, extremely gracious. I found Mickey to be quite a character! I wish I had gotten to know him better. He felt like someone you wanted to ride with at on a dark stormy night, in the middle of nowhere, at the lowest point of your brevet. He seemed to be so full of encouragement! Thanks for letting the world get to know him a little better. - Joel Disini

Ulf said...

I,m sad in my hart . I,m appropriates my first LEL to Mr. Micky . He was my friend. / Ulf Lindgren

Vincent Muoneke said...

I always called him "Mitsuaki"

Elaine Astrue said...

I was just looking the other week at the SBS 2013 finisher's photos. His smile was radiant, beautiful.


David Litt said...

I have finally had a chance to look through my photo archives and added photos from Cascade, Rocky Mountain and LEL.

David Litt said...

Here is a great tribute by Bill Watts -- this is what a great impact Micky could have, really just by helping someone on one event (SBS 2013). It sums up some of the great things about randonneuring as a "team sport" of sorts, things that Micky understood!