21 October 2018

The Perfect Paul Jason* Ride

Spectacular view of Mt Fuji from the west side of Jimba Kaido/Wada Pass
Satoyama bliss from the golf course hills of Uenohara

I love the lower stretch of the Wada climb via Daigo Rindo, beautiful stream, trees, traditional farm houses.
Today was just spectacular cycling weather. Cool enough to climb with ease, warm enough so I could descend without putting on a wind shell (though close at times). Clear blue sky, babbling brooks, like a dream sequence in a movie.

I did the Paul Jason* route -- out over Wada (but taking the Daigo Rindo - no traffic - route that climbs to the North and somewhat above Jinba Kaido, then the "golf course hills" of Uenohara, then Kobu Tunnel, and down the Akigawa. Since I rode out from Takanawa, I hopped the train back from Musashi Itsukaichi.

(gps track here)

I thought if I planned it right I might ride up the Tamagawa with the Tokyo Cranks, then catch a group that was leaving Takao at 8:15AM to do pretty much the same route. I was too late for the Cranks, and I think I passed the other group on the "golf course hills", as they took a longer (and flatter) route through Uenohara. I did meet two foreigners on road bikes as I approached Kobu Tunnel. They were named Paul and Jason. What luck!

Actually, they were named Alex (if I remember correctly) and Paul. They had been resting and photographing at a spot within a few hundred meters of the tunnel entrance, so I said my hellos and powered by as they started up. I did wait at the bottom of the descent from the tunnel and chatted a bit with Alex when he arrived. They were doing a "Half Fast" route, but said they were late to the start and on their own ... sounded familiar.
Crossing back over the Tamagawa just before hospital hill.

Crossing again at Prefectural Route 20 to take the Asagawa paths toward Hachioji.
The views of Mt. Fuji were so spectacular, I really thought that major companies should sponsor a photographic exhibit.

These would be some of the TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Company) sponsored viewpoints:
Sponsored by TEPCO -- they own the wires!
TEPCO - we obscure the whole horizon, not just Mt. Fuji!
And this one could be sponsored by the Keio Railway company:
Sponsored by Keio private railways -- that's our train in front of the mountaing!
And this and many other could be some of the Toyota ones:
Mt Fuji - Obscured by Toyota!
Anyway, not much more to say except that I felt good, did not push too hard, and loved every minute of the ride.  Yes, still too slow on the climbs, but better than during the brevet two weeks back, and the roads were so much better. The rest I'll tell with photos.

Baseball and fall cosmos flowers


At Wada Pass!

Hikers' guidepost.

After the golf courses, descending toward Yamanashi Rte 33.

On the Route 33 climb

Looking back down the Route 33 climb

This is actually the road angle ... but it is a side street off of Route 33.
*Positivo Espresso did this ride first as a group on a sweltering hot day back around 2006 or 2007, joined by a new Australian cyclist in town, Paul Jason. The climbs were brutal in the heat. He ended up horizontal in a shaded stairwell of an apartment building next to what is now the Lohas coffee roaster/cafe by Y's Road, at the time a 7-11. He did not come back to ride with us again, so we named the ride after him.

Some earlier reports of this route, from 2016, 2013, 2012, December 2010 and both summer 2009 and winter 2009.

Update. A few days after the ride, I moderated a presentation on Japan's energy policy by the editor / co-author of a new book on the topic. The cover photo was another "Mt. Fuji, Brought to you by TEPCO, We Own the Wires" photo. Laugh out loud, as they say!

08 October 2018

Okutama 200km brevet

At a stop for water refill near Tachikawa, tree heavy with fruit in the background.
On Sunday I joined the AJ Tamagawa 200km Okutama brevet, my last Audax ride of the year. 

The course was a loop entirely within Tokyo prefecture -- from Koenji down to Haneda, then up the Tamagawa to Fussa, then up the Akigawa to Musashi Itsukaichi, the very popular cyclists' route climbing to Tomin-no-Mori, Kazahari Pass (Elev. 1138 meters or around 3800ft), and down the back of the hill to Lake Okutama. Then back down the Tamagawa to Oume, and along Oume Kaido all the way bak to Koenji.

You can see the ride here on Strava.

What's not to like? Much of this route -- the rural part -- used to be an almost "routine" one day Positivo Espresso weekend sortée, but I have not done it in recent years. These days, if I start the climb up the Akigawa, I always turn left mid-way and go through Kobu Tunnel (Elev. 625m), descending down to Uenohara, with another shorter climb on the return (Otarumi Elev 392m), or maybe instead return by climbing the west side of Wada Pass (Elev. 600m), as these significantly shorten the return to town.

The day before the ride, I printed the cue sheet, downloaded the GPS track and took a closer look at the route. From Koenji to Haneda, we would travel most of the way on Kan-nana Dori. Kan-nana is a major "ring road" and, while cyclists are permitted, it is one of the routes I avoid. Still, with a 6AM start on Sunday in the middle of a 3-day weekend, traffic would be very light, so I thought it must be fine. I looked more. The route would continue via Kan-pachi Dori for at least 7 kilometers, to Shimo Maruko. I had never even considered riding on this part of Kan-pachi, another major ring road and one to avoid. Still, it would be early Sunday, and so must at least not be too dangerous.

The route continued up the Tamagawa, on road, not the cycling path. I prefer road to path on most stretches. But further on, the organizers had us take an almost 10km stretch on Shin-Okutama-Kaido, through Tachikawa and beyond. This is another road I try to avoid, at least the stretch through Tachikawa. Jerome likes it as a fast alternative. I am terrified of the traffic and lack of any shoulder. Still, we would be early on Sunday, and so traffic would be light. ... well, actually, by that point, it would no longer be early, but mid-morning. Traffic might not be so light.
My alarm rang at 445AM Sunday as planned. My bedroom felt hot and humid. Indeed, the passage of a typhoon in the Japan Sea north of Tokyo had brought warm, if sticky weather. The high temperature Sunday would be over 30 degress Celsius. Lack of enough sleep and humid weather had me on the defensive from the get go, but at least I had everything ready to go so just needed to grab a quick bite (and a cup of cold brew coffee), clean up, throw on my cycling wear, get on the bike and shove off, almost sweating from the start. I made it to Koenji by 545AM, well ahead of the 6AM start. 
Bike check 
No bicycle parking allowed!

Really, "no bicycle partking allowed"

In fact, I had been assigned to a 630AM "C wave" of riders, so I need not have rushed. I wished I had slept another 30 minutes ...
The C wave was called, and my bike inspected, so I headed out. No one was following, and I made it through the first traffic signal to cross under Kan-Nana and head South just as the light changed yellow. I made the next few signals likewise just as they changed, and for the next 20-25 minutes I saw no one behind, nor anyone ahead from the B wave that had left 10+ minutes earlier.  I enjoyed a side/tail wind and made good time. Of course, it was nearing 7AM, and there was starting to be traffic on Kan-nana, but manageable. And even on Kan-nana, there are traffic signals, and bicycles cannot take the crossing overpasses, but need to take the surface level exit/entrance ramps, and wait at the signal. 

Shrine gate at the entrance to Haneda Airport
Near our turn off from Kan-nana, I caught up with a large group of B wave riders in a line -- maybe 7 or 8 of them. I joined but found they were going too slowly. In Japan Audax riders are very polite about passing each other. But the result is that sometimes one, slower rider, is pulling for far too long. No rotation. And with infinite traffic signals, a large group is awful. The start-up time to accelerate is very long, and it is impossible to time one's speed to try and sprint through a signal, seeing the walk light change from solid green, to flashing green, to red, and the signal go to yellow. You inevitably get stuck. So I passed the group as soon as practical.

 It was after 730AM by the time I entered Kan-pachi. There was heavy traffic around Kamata (as always), but there were other brevet riders not so far ahead and behind, so at least the cars and trucks would be on the lookout for cyclists. We finally turned onto Tama-dzutsumi Dori and reached the river again at Marukobashi.
Crossing the Tamagawa at Mutsumibashi

Crossing the Tamagawa at Mutsumibashi
From here, the ride upriver was very familiar, and no surprises, just some wind gusting from the front and side to contend with. I made it to Mutsumibashi and the wind seemed to weaken a bit on Mutsumibashi Dori out to Itsukaichi. Our first timed control point was at a Seven Eleven across from Musashi Itsukaichi Station, 79 kms from the start, and over 92 kms from my home. The place was mobbed with cyclists (not from our event) and motorcyclists. Wow. Everyone seemed to have the same idea -- what a great day to head up the Akigawa by bike. But it was getting quite warm now.
Entering the Akigawa gorge area.
As I headed up the Akigawa, I noticed many cyclists coming DOWN the hill already back toward Itsukaichi. Some were alone, but many were in groups, larger and smaller, and many had rucksacks. Cars, motorcycles, and bikes all mixed. Finally, I noticed this sign on the left side of the road:

The road had been closed from 6 to 8AM for the Hinohara Stage, Tokyo Hill Climb. That explained the riders. They had done the Hinohara stage hill climb first thing in the morning, and were headed back down and home. No doubt they had brought an overnight change or warm gear in rucksacks that were delivered at the top. Of course, today no one needed warm gear even on a long descent. The gear stayed in the rucksack.

waterfall at 770m elevation, just past the former tollbooth site.
I really struggled on the climb, overheating if I pushed hard at all on the sections exposed to sun. By now it was almost midday. I had been hot since the beginning of the ride, my feet felt hot. I rested once at the turnoff to Kobu Tunnel. Many riders passed me. ... but as I got back on the bike and continued the climb, I passed many of them. They had just chosen their rest stops a bit further up! I had forgotten that there is actually some up and down, and more up and down, on the middle part of this climb. And the "up" can be steep. I rested again -- laying down -- at a turn off around 600 meters elevation. And rested again briefly at the former toll booth, before a push up to Tomin no Mori. Nothing good about my climbing speed nor these rests, but at least I had plenty of company. The lack of enough sleep, what seemed like a hundred start-stop traffic signals, the heat, and the swirling winds had taken their toll. Still, I knew that once up the hill, I could roll it home, pretty much assured of finishing if I were just careful. So I rested and then continued. 
Tomin No Mori

One reason to avoid the area around Kazahari used to be the motorcyclists who would practice racing through the curved stretches at the top. Then there was a year when motorcyclists were banned, and it was blissfully peaceful.  Well, the motorcyclists are back, and were out in huge numbers on Sunday. I guess after the 6-8AM road closure for a cycling event, they wanted to make sure everyone knew who really "owns" this stretch of road. A group of 6 motorcyclists kept doing a loop between two parking lots near the top -- I think they zoomed past me at least 5 times, some of them passing within inches, as I slogged from Tomin no Mori to their parking lot just shy of Kazahari Pass. I could smell exhaust, and hear their shrill engines, the entire stretch.
Then, I was past their turnaround point. It was like night and day. Peaceful, quiet and beautiful. Then all too soon, I was onto the descent to Lake Okutama, around the lake, and heading down the hill toward Oume. 

The stretch along the lake and the hill toward Oume on Route 411 includes many dark, noisy, damp tunnels. And there was very heavy traffic on Sunday afternoon. At least we were in our Audax gear - reflective vests, good front and rear lights. There were many motorcyclists as well, zipping around the cars and passing, zooming through the tunnels and other stretches. Before long, we came upon the scene of an accident, a car and two motorbikes pulled over, ambulances, police, the whole works. Some time must have passed as the injured were out of sight and the authorities out in force, and the driver of the car was being interviewed by the police. A few minutes later when a Ducati motorbike zoomed around some cars and cut in just in front of me ... I having foolishly left a safe distance between myself and the next car -- I screamed at him. I doubt he could hear. Another ten minutes, and I could hear more emergency vehicle sirens ... they seemed to be coming from across the river, on the bypass route. In Okutama-cho, near the train terminus, I passed a huge new fire station that has been built in recent years. At least the emergency vehicles do not have so far to travel now for these inevitable motorcycle accidents. Another 10 minutes on, I passed two motorcycles with sirens, ridden by blue-uniformed firemen/paramedics racing up the hill. These fire department motorcycles looked outfitted for medical care. I don't remember seeing them before. How many accidents in total?
I once knew that it is best to avoid Route 411 between Oume and Okutama mid-afternoon on a warm weekend day. This was buried somewhere in the depths of my local cycling knowledge. I needed, and got, a reminder.

Wow, Sunday's route included long stretches of Kan-Nana, Kan-pachi and Shin Okutama Kaido, as well as Route 411 (Oume Kaido) tunnels around Okutama and down to Oume ... so many roads that I usually want to avoid, all in a single event!

From Higashi Oume, we cut inland less than 1km on Nariki Kaido then took a road along the edge of the hills. This was a nice route, at least in the Sunday late afternoon. It was noticeably cooler, with the sun far down. I missed the next control point -- a Family Mart across the road -- as I focused on traffic congestion and turning cars at the relevant corner. A few hundred meters further, I approached a brevet rider at a red light. I said "we should be at the control point soon." His response "we just passed it". I thanked him and turned back.

After the control, we took Iwakura Kaido, which goes just along the western edge of the Oume tea fields (茶畑). The sky was beautiful and blue as dusk neared, the fields stretching out to my left. 

The last 30 kms back to the finish was unmemorable. Many, many, endless traffic signals, and long lines of cars. We took Oume Kaido most of the way. The last ~10kms it was a wide road with several lanes each direction, and a real tailwind. But before that, there were long stretches of standing single-file traffic, and bicycles needed to pass in a narrow space wedged against the curb. It was impossible to make good time. At least I felt strong again, fully recovered from the earlier struggle on the climb.

What can I say about Oume Kaido? Well, it is better road into town toward Shinjuku than Koshu Kaido. But not much better. I think there is a very good reason we take the Tamagawa in and out of town to the West and NW.

At the finish there was a party going on. The always professional Yoshida-san logged me in. Naito-san and a team of volunteers were serving us ramen wearing "Ramen Naito" or ラーメンないと t-shirts.  I wondered, is this "Naito" a play on his name and "Knight"? They were like knights to us.

I sat at a table of Audax regulars - Ryuu-san from Saitama Audax, Yoshiaki Philippe, Sugibuchi-san and others. They all did the 5AM start, or just came by for the ramen and company.  The ones who had ridden looked as if they had been at the finish already for hours by the time I arrived. Takemura-san, the head of AJ Tamagawa (now Vice Chair of Audax Japan), sat down and joined me. He said he welcomed me participating and sounded eager to get my help. He struggled in English, but I got the general idea. I think realizes that with a role in the AJ leadership, he will be called upon to coordinate with the global Audax organizations, and he will need help when they hold events that are open to riders from overseas. He said AJ Tamagawa wants to host a 1400km event in 2021, with international participation. I told him that, subject to time, I am delighted to help out.

The ramen was delicious. What type of ramen, I asked Takemura-san? Hakata? Sapporo? Some other region? He said it is "Jiro-inspired".  Jiro-inspired?! Jiro is the famous Tokyo ramen whose HQ shop is just next to Keio Mita campus. A Keio institution, where the line forms before the shop opens in the morning. But if this is Jiro-inspired, where are the bean sprouts? Where is the garlic? The massive portions? Well, he explained it is all in the style of noodle and the broth.  In any event, it tasted delicious:  Perfect noodles, delicious pork (cha-shu), and the salty broth really hit the spot for a dehydrated rider.

I chatted for quite awhile, then got back on the bike and rolled home, bathed and slept.