08 January 2018

Shizuoka Coast - Ichigo Line in Winter! First Brevet of 2018

An Audax Saitama rider takes his turn to pull, with former Audax Japan Chair Midori Shiroki (aka "Kaichou")
on the O-Kuzure Kaigan 大崩海岸 betweeen Shizuoka City and Yaizu.
(O-kuzure) means basically "big landslide". That is why they ultimately build this bridge out over the water!
On January 7, Jerome and I joined a Shizuoka Audax sponsored 200km event, the BRM107いちご200km, our first Brevet of 2018. I have not done a Shizuoka-sponsored ride in at least 3 or 4 years, but many of the Kanagawa Audax and Randonneur Tokyo events, not to mention our first Fleche route with our Audax Chubu-based team members, have overlapped with significant parts of this course. And today there were many other riders and friends from Kanto, and Chubu--notably, Shuichi Tanaka, our Fleche leader (aka "sensei" -- he is a pediatric surgeon after all), who rode much of the course with Jerome and me. It was only at the finish, when we could meet many of the faster riders who had started at 630 or 7AM, instead of 730AM, as did we, that we found Jun Sato, Tak Kawano, and many others. We were riding much of the way passing and being passed by Hirokazu Suzuki, solo Race Across the West participant, who "wrote the book" on randonneuring (literally). Normally I would be way behind him, but he was on a relaxed pace, riding with his wife. And there were Yurika Murakami, the Kamanos on their tandem (legal in Shizuoka Prefecture, unlike some other Japan locales), Akihiko Kamishima, Noriko Sakai, Midori Shiroki and so many more familiar faces. I am sure others would have joined as well, but for Maya Ide's Audax Kanagawa January 6 200km brevet the day before. (The ideal solution was to ride BOTH events, 200km on Saturday and again on Sunday, as at least Kamishima-san did!).

The only unfamiliar stretch of the route was the climb SW of Shimizu-shi to NihonDaira (日本平)which gave us a spectacular view of the Suruga Bay, Mt. Fuji, Izu in the distance, and the connected mid-sized cities along the coast that make up Shizuoka. Of course, we passed row-upon-row of Japanese tea bushes, and mikan trees, on that climb. It was only 260 meters of elevation gain, starting at sea level, but it was steep at places and came after 135kms of road, so it took some real effort!
The view from part-way down Nihon Daira. Just behind the smokestack on the mid-right side is Miho no Matsubara.
It was a beautiful winter day, only really cold, numbingly cold as we stood around in a shadow with a cold breeze listening to the morning briefing.
Cold briefing and speeches. As usual, Jerome gets attention as the only rider with bare legs. Crazy.
The start/finish were at a closed elementary school, located just at the southern end of many kilometers of Numazu/Nishi Izu coastline fast food restaurants, ramen shops and gasoline stands, where it changes into a beautiful, peaceful coastline. Several rooms at the school have been converted by the Numazu city government into "Numazu Cycle Station". They have rental cycles (1000 yen a day for a "cross bike"), maintenance tools, men's and women's changing rooms, some other supplies, maps of the local area, AND free parking for cyclists who arrive by car.
Numazu Cycle Station. Warm inside, cold outside!
The location makes this a great jumping off place for a Nishi Izu exploration -- and a perfect way for someone to try cycling in Japan on beautiful, low-traffic routes. And it can be used by groups, such as Shizuoka Audax, so I expect this will not be the last event they hold using this start/finish.Indeed, this is just where I reached the coastline on my Nishi Izu ride last month.

For better or worse, the brevet route headed in the opposite direction, North toward the cities and traffic. But it was early morning Sunday, and the route was well-planned, so traffic was manageable, even when we ended up riding alongside some traffic jams.

We warmed up as soon as we were on the road and the sun rose, and by the first checkpoint, at Miho no Matsubara, I changed to lighter gloves and cap, and took off the "rain legs" chaps I had used to block the wind from coming through my cycling tights.
Mt. Fuji from Miho no Matsubara
(This area, with its famous Fuji view, is part of the Mt. Fuji UNESCO World Heritage Site)
At Miho, the biggest crowd was at a soccer training facility for the Shimizu S-Pulse, the local J League team, where a scrimmage was underway. In fact, we saw S-Pulse ads on the local buses, and lots and lots of other S-Pulse imagery around.

From Miho, we rode onto the Ichigo Line, a beautiful stretch of road just south of Nihon Daira between Miho and Shizuoka City, famously lined (on the inland side) by strawberry fields and entrepreneurs. Many of the places selling strawberries have several teenage girls dressed in brightly colored down jackets, waving at passing drivers and beckoning them to pull into the parking lot and buy some berries. On our return leg in the afternoon, Jerome and Tanaka-san stopped at one place to wait a few minutes for me, and we all enjoyed strawberry soft-ice cream (it was that warm, in January!), before continuing.

I can remember some rides in the past where I faced such severe headwinds on the Ichigo Line that I could barely move forward. It was so hard all I could do was laugh, put my head down, and pick a goal -- catch that rider 25 meters ahead, try to keep up with a runner (!), or just make it to the next sign. And I can remember heading west/SW along this stretch of coast as the sun was low to the horizon, creating headache-inducing glare.

Not yesterday. We had gentle tailwinds or calm in both directions! And in the morning we rode West, away from the sun, while in the afternoon we rode East, also with the sun at our backs and great visibility.

As for the term "Ichigo Line", I knew the road was named after the strawberry fields and shops for which it is famous, just like the "Fruit Line" in Yamanashi, the "Salad Line" NW of Shiojiri in Nagano, and the "Beef Line" in Ibaraki. But a Japanese friend pointed out that the "Ichigo Line" is National Route 150, as in "Ichi-Go-Zero". And close by was Route 1, which also can be pronounced "Ichi-Go-Sen".  So maybe the "Ichigo" name is a more clever play on words that I never noticed before?

We did a loop at the the western end of the Brevet route, going out along the coast and the O-Kuzure Kaigan, a beautiful stretch of steep coastline between Shizuoka and Yaizu.
Jerome and Shiroki-san, on the O-Kuzure Kaigan climb, Fuji further away now

Looking SW, after the climb at O-Kuzure Kaigan.
On the return we went inland, entering Fujieda and following local roads over a low pass roughly parallel to Route 1, then back into Shizuoka City.

The first short climb is O-Kuzure, the second is the return from Fujieda to Shizuoka, the last is Nihon Daira.
A very, very flat brevet for Japan! Less than 1000 meters climbing.

Our route - around the top of the Suruga Bay from East to West and bak.
All-in-all, it was a very good day and a great start to the new season. Jerome and I stopped at an onsen hotel (Hakkei-en) in nearby Nagaoka to soak our tired bodies, then got some fast Chinese food, in an attempt to wait out the traffic jam on the Tomei expressway. (Japan must be the only developed country in the world where there are traffic jams returning to the cities on the evening of the MIDDLE day of a 3-day weekend. What is the purpose of the 3-day weekend, if not for people to return on the 3rd day?)  In the end, Google told us we could save 10 minutes if we avoided the jammed Tomei and instead came via Route 1, Hakone Shindo, the coastal bypass, and Yokohama Shindo and Dai-san Keihin. Indeed, it was a reasonably fast trip home, then to bed.


Richard said...

Thanks for your inspiring report. Due to a change in my lifestyle this year I've been too busy to ride much, but your Positivo posts have kept the cyclist alive in me :-)

Is Fuji lacking in snow this year? I see it from 'my angle' every day, but it seems to be stark from every angle. If so, it's very worrying.

David Litt said...

Thanks, Richard.
There was noticeably more snow when I rode Nishi Izu almost a month earlier!
I think no new snow fall and a lot of sunlight/melting since then.
But it does not take much precipitation to change that. No doubt we will get the typical wetter winter weather from late January through mid March. ...
Hope you can get back on the bike soon!