15 April 2018

Spring is Sprung! 4/14 AJ Tamagawa 300km Brevet

In Gunma on Route 299, between Kanna Town and Ueno-mura
I was really looking forward to yesterday's April 14 brevet. This type of event, after all, was the reason I joined the AJ Tamagawa chapter of Audax Japan.
-- A start and finish about a 35-minute spin from my home.
-- That would take me on familiar, but beautiful roads I do not see often enough.
-- That gets out of Tokyo before the traffic, and returns after.
-- With a tough, rewarding first half ... and an easier, forgiving second half.
-- In a beautiful season for this part of the world (and, as it turned out, with ideal cool, cloudy but never cold cycling weather -- the kind of weather in which world records are set (by those in the shape to do so).
I was not disappointed!!!
At the start area at Futako Tamagawa ... last minute repairs to a randonneuring bike?
Or just one of many abandoned mama-chari?
Our route -- clockwise, out through the mountains, back on the plains
We started a few minutes after 6AM. (I was in the second wave of starters, officially slated for 6:10AM, in fact a bit earlier). Another group would start at 7AM. 90 people had signed up, but there were 25 DNS's, according to the staff. I guess the forecast for afternoon and evening rain scared people away?
In any event, I was the first rider to go through "bike check" for the second wave, and was off. Within 45 minutes, I passed a few of the riders who had left 10 minutes earlier. Around Tachikawa, our route left the river and switched to some major roads -- roads Jerome likes but I usually try to avoid. Fortunately, traffic was still light.
On Nariki Kaido. Flowers and flowering trees.
At Higashi Oume Station, we entered the Nariki Kaido, the cyclists' most well-known route into Chichibu. After several short climbs and 3 tunnels, I was in Naguri and slowly ascending the valley that ends at the base of Yamabushi Pass -- all very well-known, rewarding territory for a road cyclist day trip from Tokyo. Then, a quick water stop at the "holy fountain" (our name for the shrine 1-2 kms from the base of Yamabushi).
The "holy fountain" -- delicious water, and free
Looking toward Yamabushi from the holy fountain - no cars even at 830AM.
Looking back from the holy fountain ... an Audax rider in the distance - no cars
Here, a few riders passed me, ... and a couple more on the climb. I am overweight and not as strong as in some years. I really needed this event for training, and I was not surprised that I struggled a bit on the climbs. Then again, I made it, and what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. If I can get in some decent GW rides in series, keep swimming on weekdays, and then make it through the Chubu Audax 400 next month ... I just may be back in shape.
Hairpin turn - steepest section on the Yamabushi climb.
Spectacular new buds and light green leaves on the adjacent slope, even on a cloudy morning.
Anyway, from the top of Yamabushi I was down and at the river in Chichibu in no time, it seemed. From 625m elev. to 190m ... the low point between Yamabushi and 800m Elev Shigasaka Pass.
The Arakawa, early on its journey from mountains to Tokyo Bay.
I remember the first time I made it to Chichibu by bicycle, back in the Positivo Espresso heyday. It was a hot day, and the town seemed dusty and downtrodden. Not yesterday! The roads have been repaved (including a formerly nasty, bumpy, even dangerous stretch of Route 299 coming into town from the East), pedestrian areas widened, historical buildings fixed up, and even some convenience stores have bike racks (and inside seating). The town looks, well, worth stopping over sometime to spend an afternoon and night, and getting to know a bit instead of just riding through. Of course, it still has the lovely hilltop "Muse" park across the river, and it still is a gateway to many mountains and rivers.
Route 299 between Ogano and Shigasaka Pass - VERY light traffic.
An example of the typical farmer's garden on this road.
And we saw lots and lots of small solar farms, even more, and larger, later on around Tomioka and Fujioka.
After Chichibu, we stayed on Route 299. Of course, the only thing that remains the same about the road at that point is its Route number. Once past Ogano ... just a few kilometers west of Chichibu city, the traffic volume drops to near zero. The climb up Shigasaka Pass was tough, for tired legs and an overweight body, but beautiful.
From the Shigasaka Climb
From the Shigasaka top
Entering Gunma, finally
Then it was down the hill to Kanna, past the dinosaur exhibits, and onto the grinding 0, 1, 2% uphill to the west toward Uenomura. This area is known as the site (up on one of the mountains) of the crash of a JAL 747 jumbo in 1985. But I know it for its lovely, peaceful nature. My favorite stop is the "Kawa no Eki" (a play on the typical "Michi no Eki") at the west end of the town, where one can sit and watch the river from an amphi theater, bamboo on the opposite bank. I bought some "tako yaki" to refuel a bit for the climb to the entrance of Yu-no-Sawa (湯の沢) Tunnel, at 710meters elevation.
On the short (3km) climb to the entrance to the 3km+ tunnel from Uenomura to Nanmoku/Shimonita
Once in the tunnel, the grade turned into a descent, losing at least 50-75 meters elevation in the 3km tunnel. The descent continued after the north exit, and it was a quick descent to Nanmoku and the next checkpoint at a beautiful "michi no eki".
Beautiful "Michi No Eki Oasis Nanmoku "with delicious breads for sale
And lots of vegetables too ... alas no room to carry them home by bicycle
I bought some delicious dark bread, filled with nuts and other goodies, weighty. I gave away part of it, ate part of it, and took the rest with me (where a few bites at a time helped keep me fueled the remainder of the ride.

By the time I left the Nanmoku checkpoint, it was almost 3PM. I was only 1 hour ahead of the cut off for that point, shockingly slow, with half the distance left! If I was done with the climbing, the weather forecast for the rest of the ride had looked grim. We were about to head east along Route 254, with a stiff headwind predicted. Then sometime around 5 to 7 PM, the rains were supposed to it.

In fact, over the next stretch the winds were light to non-existent so I could make good time. And the rain held off to the finish. If the scenery was boring after dark, at least I was riding many roads I knew reasonably well, or at least could recall having ridden sometime in the past, if not in a few years. That really helped in the dark. By the time we headed downriver from Oume again, the winds had picked up into a swirling gust. At first, this was a crosswind. But then, it became mostly a tailwind and pushed me the last 20-25 kms home. This video from near Sekidobashi (where I stopped for the last of the bread) gives some idea, though it was actually taken during a "lull" in the gusts:
As I munched on my bread, I saw two riders zoom by. They were gone long before I mounted up, but I thought (maybe, just maybe, I can catch them). Sure enough I could finally see them and made it through the same traffic light (barely) at Tamagawaharabashi, and was only 75-100 meters back passing the Keio Oval and as the road bends left. Then there is a right turn at a traffic signal.  They were stuck behind cars waiting at the light. I crossed the road, so that when the light turned green, I could use the crosswalk and immediately turn right. I did so and was off with a zoom. I had passed them without even figuring out who it was ... immediately, I thought, perhaps I should have been more social and joined them for the ride in? But with a tailwind, and my eye on the clock, trying to get to the goal within 17 hours, I felt not a moment to lose.

AJ Tamagawa had commandeered a room in small structure in Futako for the finish. It was not easy to find ... for a newby. Only one Audax PBP reflective vest hanging outside in the dim of a streetlight, and a couple bikes inside the fence, gave it away. Precious minutes lost finding it ... so a 17hr 02min finish -- plenty of time given the 20-hour cutoff, but not fast enough to do really long events (600, 1000, 1200) and get enough sleep/recovery during the event.

The check-in building was little more than a shed, but there was space for us to check in, plenty of light and warmth, and a place to sit and discuss the ride and get some small snacks and a cup of tea. I rode this event alone pretty much the entire way -- so I was glad to chat with some people I had passed, or who had passed me. Eventually the two riders I had passed came in ... and one was the tiny woman rider from Kansai who had zipped through the Isabella Byrd series last year, riding some with Jerome and me on the 600k leg. Sure enough, she had started at 7AM, so instead of finishing 5-10 minutes behind me, was actually 45-55 faster. Many of the others at the finish are familiar faces ... but none who I know well.

Jerome missed the event, returning from a business trip Saturday evening. So as I was eating a late lunch, I got an SMS from him:  he was 100kms into the ride and on Shigasaka!  As I write this, he is well over 200 kms and heading through Saitama toward Oume, and on a pace for a 14 hr ride.

1 comment:

Richard said...

Thanks for posting these reports David. In these Facebook + instant gratification days, it's lovely that you take the time to write up and illustrate ride reports.