22 April 2019

Paris Brest Paris (PBP) -- Only One More Qualifier Left for Jerome

This weekend Jerome completed the Velo Club Aoba randonneurs' "super 400" brevet.
Lots and lots of climbing
The event had around 6000 meters of elevation gain, hence the "super" designation. It started with the gradual climb to Lake Okutama then on to Yanagisawa Pass (elev. 1475m), then dipped down to Kofu, Elev. low.

The riders then climbed up to Shinshu Pass (elev. 1500m) , with some extra riding around the Crystal Line area on the Yamanashi/Nagano border, before dipping into Nagano through Kawakami-Mura, back through Nobeyama and down to Minami Alps/Kofu area again. 

Finally, there was a climb up to and through the Fuji "five lakes" area - Motosu-ko, Shoji-ko, Sai-ko, Kawaguchi-ko, and Yamanaka-ko (high point "only" elev. 1100), then a descent down Doshi Michi and back to Tokyo.

Only 25km left!
Fortunately, the riders had almost ideal riding weather. Cold in the wee hours up on Mt Fuji, but otherwise fine. None of the ice and snow that hit Jerome last month on a similar VCR Aoba 300k event.

I woke at 4AM and rode out to the Machida/Sagamihara area, past the end of Onekansendoro, to greet Jerome as he came back in. Mindful of the Audax prohibition on assistance by non-entrants, I did not let him draft and stayed away up the road as I rode back in. He was pretty thoroughly knackered, and lay down flat onto his back at the goal.
Reminds me of PBP
VCR Aoba traditional finish at the base of "hospital hill"

We stopped by Seijo Gakuen Starbucks for a quick coffee with the Tokyo Cranks on the way back into town, and I got at least 80km of riding in.

Jerome and I will both try the Okitsu Classic 600km brevet in a few weeks. I am already PBP qualified, but I need at least another 600k to keep up the endurance from Tasmania if I am to do PBP successfully. The Okitsu ride is a very nice course, one I have done twice before but not since 2015, so I look forward to it. Jerome needs this to complete his PBP qualification.

17 April 2019

A Cyclist's Late Afternoon Delight - Hakone/Tsubaki Line Loop

Today I wanted to swim in the morning, then get in a decent bike ride.

But I got out of bed a bit too late for Wednesday morning Masters' swimming. And I needed to post some materials for students and send a couple work emails ..,  The work took much of the morning. Then I called to wish my father a happy 86th birthday, and started various other tasks that kept me sitting at my desk until mid-afternoon.

So it was after 345PM when I got to Shinagawa Station, way too late to actually ride out to nice territory before dark. I was on the 4:04PM Kodama shinkansen to Odawara, and on my bicycle by 4:45PM, heading up Route 1 to Hakone Yumoto.

As with last week, I took the old road, Route 732, from Yumoto up the hill toward Moto Hakone. Again the road was nearly deserted. I cannot imagine why I did not take this route regularly years ago, instead sticking to heavily travelled Route 1 -- the ekiden route, not to be confused with the Bypass version of Route 1 that does not allow bicycles. Route 1 traffic is so awful that I generally avoided Hakone.  But Route 732 is really nice, based on two different rides up, different days of the week and times of day.

The upper slopes of the hills were full of flowering sakura, even if the lower elevations are now "done" for this year.

By the time I got to Moto Hakone, it was near dark, and the temperature had fallen from 18 degrees C at the bottom of the hill to around 10 degrees C at the top. I could see Mt Fuji peaking through the clouds just over the trees of Hakone Jinja.
Mt Fuji peaking out from behind the Torii of Hakone Jinja

There was cloud cover and the forecast did not suggest it would get much colder at night, so I decided I could climb a bit higher. I rode to the southern end of Lake Ashinoko, then climbed a road up toward the Kanzansan Observatory, I think Route 75.
Another view of Fuji from early on the climb above Ashinoko
The "observatory" looks like a sightseeing location, and no doubt has a spectacular view in the daytime, something like this:
Someone else's photo from Kanzansan observatory
But at night in the clouds, there was no one in sight. There was a sign that said the temperature was now 5 degrees, and I put on my jacket and arm warmers for the descent. I probably could have made it past a sleeping toll booth operator and ridden down the toll road turnpike straight back to Odawara, but I did not want to push my luck. Instead I headed down the Tsubaki Line, a soaring 16 km descent to and then around the edge of Yugawara.
What Kanzansan Observatory looked like to me
I thought about hopping a train from Yugawara -- the station looked bright and cheerful after the dark, solitary descent. But the next local train to Odawara was not for 19 minutes -- and Odawara was less than 20 km away. So I rode my bike. I took Route 740, the "high road" from Manazuru to Nebukawa, passing and being passed by only a few cars over this 9km stretch. Even the last few km in to Odawara were nice.

The ride was only 60km, but it included over 1200m of climbing, and took me up over 1000m elevation. This ride should be great in Fall and Spring, a nice option for someone who lives near Shinagawa Station.

Strava info is here.

15 April 2019

Visit to Italian Embassy

My workplace (Mita Campus of Keio Univ) is right next to two large enclosed gardens.

One belongs to the Mitsui Tsunamachi Club. I have read that to join you need to be a senior executive in a Mitsui group company. I went to a dinner there in 2016 and saw the lovely garden in the back. Now that I know what is inside, it has lost its mystery and allure, and I do not give it a second thought.

The other walled compound is the Italian Embassy. It has a famous Japanese garden that dates back to the 17th century, when the site was the "naka yashiki" of the Matsudaira clan, close relatives of the Tokugawa rulers. After the abolition of the feudal lords, only the Tokugawa and Matsudaira were converted into new nobility. I still needed to see it, somehow.

The easiest way would be to visit someone who has a north-facing office high in the building on the north side of my campus. But no need. Today, I was invited to a launch reception for an innovative energy-related business that was recently acquired by an Italian company. Finally, my chance to see the inner sanctum.

But something even more magnificent awaited. As I walked toward the main door of the embassy, I saw it -- a De Rosa Protos carbon racing bike, with integrated seat post, and Campagnolo Super Record EPS electronic shifting, carbon rimmed wheels ... the bike was in a stand but not secured -- I could pick it up and feel that it was as light as a feather. Italian style!
De Rosa Protos - Bellissimo!
As I looked out at the Italian garden in the dark, I remembered "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis", an Italian film I had shown at the Yale Law School Film Society during my days as a part-time projectionist. The film is about an incredibly wealthy Jewish family, living in a walled garden estate, during the rise of Mussolini. They try to shut out the world ... but in the end, the world comes in, and they are all sent off to the death camps. No man is an island, nor any family.
Photo of part of the garden in daylight, taken from the veranda.
The bicycle was more of a treat than the garden.

So I think I will avoid walled gardens and ride my bicycle(s) outside in the world.

Glorious "Jason Paul" Ride -- Important Nomenclature Update!

Cyclist heads up the Akigawa going for Tomin no Mori.
Last week I got an email from a student about an assignment. "Prof. David", it began. An unsolicited apology email came about 2 minutes later using my last name instead of first. After learning that Japanese almost never use first names with "san", nothing sounds less natural to me than "[first name]-san" as in "David-san". (well, I've been in Japan long enough so it sounds more natural now that it once did, but still ... only dogs, foreigners, and little girls get called "[first name]-san" in most settings.
A memorial in the Akigawa Keikoku (gorge) -- the flag reminds cyclists to obey traffic rules
And "manner up"!
A day later I needed to write a short recommendation letter for a student who wants to go on exchange from my university law school in Japan to one of our U.S. partner schools. Written in roman characters, the student's first and last names each is a common Chinese family name. And in Chinese and Japanese (and Korean) of course the common order is "family name" then "first name", no comma. I struggled a bit -- should I refer to the student as "Mr. XX", or XX-san, or just "YY" (the first name)? In the Subject line I used "XX, YY" with the comma the clue that family name came first, then in the body of the letter I first used "Mr. YY XX", then later on just used the first name XX -- more familiar and friendly -- to emphasize that I actually know the student.
On the western approach to Wada Pass.
This is a problem more widely for anyone whose first and last names are easily, perhaps intentionally, interchangeable -- family names like David, Duncan, Mason, Paul or many others (or, in recent decades countless girls' first names like Kennedy, Madigan, Monroe, Riley, Taylor ...). And don't forget the character from the book Catch 22, Major Major, who not surprisingly achieved the military rank of ... Major. And given the different ordering in Asia, the problem is far worse.

Ron Paul, the perennial libertarian party Presidential candidate, could just as well be Paul Ron. It is only due to his son, Rand Paul, becoming a Senator and then becoming even more famous by getting beaten up in a fight with his doctor neighbor over lawn mowing and other simmering neighbor feud issues, ending up with six broken ribs in the hospital, that we can remember "Paul" is the family name.
Only a hint of Mt Fuji's shoulder below the clouds looking bac on the climb to Wada Pass.
This brings to mind one of our favorite Positivo Expresso rides, the "Paul Jason", named after a mysterious visitor who joined us on one of our first attempts over this course on a sweltering day back in 2006 (or 2007). He is immortalized and given the honor of having the route named for him. The ride goes out Jinba Kaido, over Wada Pass, through the nasty short climbs of the Golf Course Hills of Uenohara (our name), then up Route 33 to the Kobu Tunnel, down the other side to the Akigawa and back toward town via Itsukaichi.
If you missed this weekend, you will need to wait until next year to see the sakura
 ... along the Tamagawa.
But we rarely ride the "Paul Jason". We enjoy far more the "Reverse Paul Jason". The East side of Wada is a miserable narrow and steep climb, plenty of 15-16%. It is terrible if you meet any traffic and must dismount. The west side is far better, if longer. Likewise, the Kobu Tunnel climb is short and manageable from the Akigawa to the North, but seems really long from the south.

So it was with these thoughts in mind that Jerome and I decided to do the ride yesterday. Why the "reverse Paul Jason", I asked? Why not just the "Jason Paul" ride? Jason could be the first and Paul the family name -- just like Ron and Rand! We took a vote and decided to implement the change immediately. Done.
Tachikawa, along the Tamagawa, still blossoms
Tachikawa. along the Tamagawa
Well, the actual ride took a bit longer before it was "done".  160km distance with 1750m of elevation gain for me.

We met at 810AM along Meguro Dori near Jerome's place, headed upriver and out to Itsukaichi. Jerome complained that his old Look bike was slow, and he was struggling. Something must have gone wrong with it after it bounced on the icy pavement repeatedly as he fell again and again while walking down upper Doshi Michi from Yamabushi Pass a few weeks ago. We raised the seat and made a few other minor changes, and it seemed better.
Random flowering hillside on the Akigawa
Where are the cars? Akigawa Keikoku
There are the cars -- stuck behind Jerome as he "owns his lane".
At the turnoff for the climb to Kobu Tunnel
More mokuren (magnolia) and nadarezakura (weeping sakura)
I felt quite strong riding out to Itsukaichi and up the hill from there. But I was weak by the time we got over the Kobu Tunnel. My stomach was bothering me (Maybe I should not have drank the full 500ml coffee/sugar drink at that Itsukaichi Family Mart?), and as the sugar wore off I was near bonking through the Golf Course Hills. Jerome gave me his "asa banana" spare supplies, and I ate my only energy bar ... enough power to get up the west side of Wada. Jerome again struggled on that climb, and at Wada I got a cup noodle dish and chatted with the only other cyclist up there while I waited.
On the descent of the Uenohara side of Kobu Tunnel
On the lower part of the Wada climb - sakura, tea plants, palms, and more!

It was all downhill from there, but with some gusty winds, sometimes headwinds, the trip was still hard. Anyway, a successful ride and good training for Jerome's attempt next week at the VCR Aoba "Super 400" brevet with its 6000m+ of climbing.
Jerome crests Wada

These nudes are holding up well -- here on Jimba Kaido since the first time I went up it in 2004.

The blue sheet and ropes are not lasting as well as the sculpture. She looks about to free her bonds. ...
Strava link is here.

07 April 2019

Return to Hakone and Ashigara

Along the Sakagawa
I woke up on Friday determined to get in a morning ride, before some mid/late-afternoon meetings. I need to teach on Saturday late mornings this month, so if I do not get out some Fridays, I will lose all the fitness I got in Tasmania.
Hakone the old road
No cars?!

I was out of my house at 624AM, good enough to be on the 640AM Kodama shinkansen to Odawara, arriving at 707AM. I was on the bike quickly and headed for Hakone.
Along the old road
This time I finally tried the "old road", the alternative route up to Moto Hakone and Ashinoko that goes up the same hillside as the Route 1 Bypass ... but had blessedly little traffic. I can see that this road would probably "bottleneck" where it joined Route 1 at Yumoto, and so may not be an automobile option, but for a bicycle it was far better than Route 1, or the Route 138 option to Sengokuhara. It was a lovely climb, from just above sea level to over 800m. I rode along Lake Ashinoko, past Hakone Shrine, along a familiar route through Sengokuhara and the T intersection to Route 138.
I passed two cyclists ... and none passed me!?!

Steep bend

Ashinoko - a cold stiff breeze
After a convenience store stop, I took Route 138 to the turn off for the road over Mt. Kintoku and down to Ashigara. The road is gated, and the only time I have ever taken it before was with Jerome once at year end. We went around the gate. This time, the gate was open, but it was guarded by an old man in a blue parka with an orange traffic-directing wand. "The road is closed!" "You cannot go through". I protested.  "Surely a bicycle can pass. I will get off and walk around the construction."  He would not budge.  "But, but, I need to get to Minami Ashigara. Is there any other way?" He tried to tell me I could stay on 138 then take Route 246 down the hill.  "Route 246, are you crazy! That is way too dangerous! I'll get hit by a truck, surely there must be another way?"  "Well, there is another "michi" over the mountain -- the entrance is down there past the shrine ... but a "chari" (bicycle) .. can you make it? With that chari?"  Anyway, I went to look at the alternate route. It was a steep paved road ... that turned into a rock strewn trail. A hiker was coming down. He said it would take me about an hour up walking. I pushed and carried my bike, then carried it over my shoulder.
Road construction ... easily passed by a bicycle
Anyway, after some tough climbing over rocks and walking with the bike, in less than a kilometer, I came to a place where the trail crossed the road that I had wanted to taken in the first place! I switched to the road. There was one crane I needed to pass on the way up, some more machinery inside the tunnel, and there was a LOT of work on the retaining walls along the road during the descent on the other side. All the construction folks were polite, even friendly. At one point, the road really WAS closed off, but there was a side route up over a mountain shoulder on a rindo (forest road) around the blockage. It was a very nice side trip.
Just came up that detour

Looking down at Minami Ashigara
Then it was down the other side, through the sakura along the Sakagawa again, opposite direction from last Sunday, and along the coast to Chigasaki before hopping the train home.

Kintaro Land

Rest house

Site of Kintaro's birth?

Add caption

Add caption

Almost back to the main road

On the descent
Strava data is here.

Hatena ride?