26 June 2019

Ride back from Karuizawa - New Friends and Unreliable Weather Forecasts

On Saturday I went to Karuizawa by shinkansen for an orchestra 合宿 (weekend event) -- an all-day string section practice, followed by a dinner and then evening party. I brought my bicycle in rinko bag since I hoped that, if I could get my friend Yuichi to bring back my viola in his car and the weather stayed dry, or dry enough, I could ride the bike home to Tokyo the following day.

The forecast was for clouds during the day and rain in the evening. But the weather upon arrival in Karuizawa Saturday morning was not good. Raining already, way ahead of forecast.
Leaving the shinkansen station 9AM Saturday
It cleared up in the evening, just when the forecast had been predicting the heaviest Saturday rain.
Mt. Asama ... en route to onsen after dinner (via car!)
The forecast for Sunday was for rain starting at 9AM or so in Karuizawa, and from Noon on likely elsewhere in eastern Japan -- Chichibu and other parts of northern Saitama would have rain by noon and through the rest of the day. Saturday's weather did not inspire confidence in the forecast accuracy, but I decided that if I woke early and it was dry, I would just head out missing breakfast and a short morning practice session so I could beat the rain for at least awhile.

It was light by 430AM, I was fully awake by 530AM, and dressed in my gear and in the closest 7/11 for coffee and yogurt soon after its 6AM opening (Karuizawa does not permit stores, even convenience stores, to open before 6AM). I was on the bike at 625AM.
Prince Dori

Route 18 through Karuizawa
Unlike last year, when my brevet route out of Karuizawa at the crack of dawn took me on the Usui Bypass, this time I took the old road, the original Route 18, and long before, the Nakasendo.

The road surface was wet in places, requiring care, but I enjoyed the gradual descent, curve after curve. I saw only one car and one motorcycle coming up the road on the first ten km, all the way to meganebashi, where several motorcyclists were taking a break. I even hit spiderwebs on this stretch of road -- no vehicle as high off the ground had gone down the road yet this morning!
Usually I've taken this photo while climbing instead of descending - different angle

Spectacular morning
At the bottom, a few km after merging with the Bypass, I pulled over at a Lawson convenience store for a first quick rest stop - bathroom break and iced coffee. As I walked into the store, a Japanese cyclist was just sitting in the cafe area to eat some breakfast. I noticed that he was wearing DHB brand clothes -- the house brand from Wiggle, an online shop in the UK that is a good source of lower cost, decent performance gear that magically appears a week or so after the click of a mouse.

He looked like a long distance rider, so I sat nearby and introduced myself. His name was Isono-san, and he said he was hoping to ride to Naoetsu that day, about 180km away and over two significant hills. I mentioned that I ride Audax/brevets. He said he did as well. I mentioned that I would ride PBP in August. He said he also would go. He just started riding brevets in 2015, not in time for the last PBP, and seemed very eager to join this one. We chatted for awhile longer and parted with "see you in Rambouillet in August!" I was glad that I struck up a conversation.
Looking back up the hill -- not a hint of rain, yet!
I made very good time now that I was through the curves of the descent from Usui Pass. I recently got my mini Aerobars off the shelf and put them on my Ti Travel bike, and they work! They really get me to pull my elbows and arms in, and even if I do not feel that I am much lower on the bike, just by pulling in the shoulders I cut a narrower profile in the wind. Before I realize, I am cruising 2-3kph faster than usual, without any more effort. If I want to use them on PBP, I had better ride them as much as possible over the next month, since currently my tolerance for this position on the bike is a bit limited.
Cockpit for PBP - Vision mini aero TT bars with Wahoo in the middle?
Anyway, I was enjoying this beautiful morning, low traffic ride and making great time on Gunma Pref Route 213 when, as I approached a red traffic signal, I saw a road cyclist round the corner about 75m ahead of me. The light turned green well before I got to the intersection so I kept up my pace. There was a rise as the road went over a minor overpass. I was gaining on the cyclist, who had slowed a bit for the turn. I thought -- I can blow past him! Indeed, I accelerated up the ramp, passing the rider on a very nice, understated Cervelo R5 (black carbon frame with black matte lettering) just at the top. I looked over and nodded ... and to my slight surprise I noticed that it was a she, not a he.

Anyway, I was zooming along at 45+kph down the other side of the overpass and did not give much thought to the rider, slowed a bit on the flat, and maybe a km later, I looked back. She was about 20m behind me, having no difficulty holding my pace. I accelerated a bit, then made a right turn at a T intersection, and after another few hundred meters headed up a hill.  I thought -- on the hill she will probably zoom past, but I tried to hold a steady pace. She was still there, a few meters back, not drafting, but not passing. Maybe she wanted to chat? So near the top of the hill, I sat up in the saddle and said "ohayo gozaimasu".  We chatted as we rode for a few km, until she turned off to the North to head for home. A local rider, she said she races cyclocross, and lives nearby in the "inaka". We made introductions (her name is Onikata-san) and traded contact info as I headed for home.
South of Annaka 
Rolling Hills Southeast of Annaka
So Isono-san, I will see you in Rambouillet, and Onikata-san, I will look you up if I am riding in the Annaka area again. What other mode of transport can you make two new friends while heading back to Tokyo on a Sunday morning?
Karuizawa to Sakado
I pushed on, hugging the southern edge of the valley between Annaka and Takasaki, and exploring some new (for me) roads around Yorii and finally getting a few very short climbs. It was just after noon, as I approached Sakado and Kawagoe that it started to rain. I thought I would get to Kawagoe, but saw that the same train line (which merges to become the Fukutoshin Line near Ikebukuro) goes to both, and the rain started to get quite hard just as I was within a km of Sakado. So I rinko'ed the bike and hopped the train.
"Solar sharing" farm in the hills above Yorii.
The trees growing under the module rows do not need much sunlight, apparently.
The rain seemed to stop by the time the train got less than half way to Ikebukuro. I thought about getting out to ride more, but I had had plenty of exercise, and I wanted to be awake for a later dinner with my older son, visiting from the USA.

Strava track is here.

20 June 2019

Cycling infrastructure in Tokyo -

I was thinking about writing something like this ... but Byron Kidd has done it first and saved me the time and effort. Good summary. (Click on the title below).

How is cycling infrastructure shaping up for the Tokyo Olympics?