22 December 2014

Winter Solstice Ride ...

In some U.S. cycling groups (okay, crazy Audax riders for the most part), there is a tradition of evening rides on the winter solstice.  We did not try an evening ride, but we did get in a great daylight ride today, December 21.

Jerome and I took one of the classic near-Tokyo hill routes, heading Northwest up the Tamagawa then out past Itsukaichi and on up the Akigawa, through the Kobu Tunnel, South to Uenohara, back East over Otarumi and Takao, and home.  140 kms, and an easier alternative than the true "Reverse Paul Jason", which would add more hills near Uenohara and the "ura Wada Pass" climb instead of Otarumi.

The weather was great for late December, far better than earlier in the month.  Yes, it was a bit cold at the start with roads still damp from overnight rain, and still only 5 degrees C and 95% humidity (!) according to a sign as we climbed on the Akigawa.  But it warmed gradually in late morning and toward midday as the sun burned off the clouds, with the high temps bumping into low double digits. This was MUCH warmer than a few weeks ago, and MUCH calmer than the winds of last weekend.

After we stopped at the Togura 7-11 before entering the hills, 2 Japanese riders arrived on bikes that were obviously set up for Brevets.  Once helmets and caps were off, we could recognize them -- Kato-san, the leader of Velo Club Randonneurs Aoba, and another Aoba member.  They recognized us, as well.  Of course, Jerome and I made an impression with Aoba as far back as the April 2011 very cold and wet 400km Brevet we rode with them -- Jerome riding in shorts and short sleeves, with a rain poncho flapping in the breeze, as smaller, lower body fat Japanese riders struggled with all their winter/wet weather gear on to keep warm enough to avoid hypothermia.

After the Togura 7-11, I pulled ahead of Jerome on the climb up the Akigawa, and waited in the sun at the south side of Kobu Tunnel.

Bike leaning. At Kobu Tunnel on the border of Tokyo and Yamanashi 
More bike leaning ... this time with the tunnel and the Gokiso wheel logos visible

Finally blue sky and sunlight, just in time to dry the road before we descend at high speed.
Jerome arrives!
Jerome has had a heavy travel schedule in recent months with his new job and Asia-wide responsibilities.  Indeed, he missed each of the Ise 1000, Nishi Tokyo 200 and Chiba Minami Boso 300 events I did this fall, and nightly eating and drinking during travel have taken a toll compared with his shape a few months ago. But it looks as if his travel will lighten up over the next few months, and no doubt he will soon be zipping up the hills again ahead of me.
Looking back up toward Kobu Tunnel NW of Uenohara
Meanwhile, I felt great today.  The Gokiso wheels really do seem EASY to drive and hold a higher speed.  I guess I may just be in good shape, or maybe it was the lack of significant headwinds, but today I only pushed myself only to a very limited extent (really trying to drive it on the last few hundred meters of the climb to the mouth of Kobu Tunnel), but still set Strava "personal best" times for the overall Akigawa/Kobu Tunnel segment, then again on the climb up the back side of Otarumi. This is encouraging, very encouraging, as I plan for 2015.

Jerome wanted to stop for some liquids before the Otarumi climb, and we happened to pull in to the "bike and walking station" at Ohara, near Bijotani.   They are set up for cyclists -- including tires, tubes, a floor pump, and a relatively full set of tools one can borrow as needed.  As we parked our bikes, a young lady came out of the shop carrying a piping hot bowl of ramen on a tray and disappeared down the hillside,  She later returned and was chatting with the folks in the shop.  She was introduced by one of the men (who might have been her father, given the pride in his voice) as At-chan, a police woman on her day off.  We joked a bit with her, Jerome asking if she rides a "shiro bai" (the large, white police motorcycles), I if she was an "omawari-san" (beat patrol cop).  No, the man responded, she is a detective, part of an anti-drug crime unit based in Atsugi.  Impressive. Maybe her "I'm just a normal girl" style is just an act for an undercover operation?
Cycle and Walking Station Yumeya -- formerly a 7-11 here.
Plenty of tire and tube choices in case of a nearby mid-ride difficulty
The shop master shows us the tool collection
Basic foods on offer -- ramen, soba/udon, Gyu-don, etc.  Coffee 100 yen.
Across the street is the historical building used as a resting place by Daimyo (feudal lords) en route to and from Edo (Tokyo) during the Tokugawa period.  The building was shared by Daimyo from Iida, Takato and elsewhere in Shinshu (now Nagano Prefecture).  I have done the tour before, and Jerome did so today.  A very nice local feature.

All in all, a very nice ride not just for late December/winter solstice, but for any time of year!

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