Woke up in time, had prepared the bike already the night before and was ready to go out and ride based on a grand master plan. But would we be able to stick the plan? I mean, for perhaps the first time ever?
Weather was just fabulous, as David used to say, „world records are achieved under these conditions.“ But weather is one thing. Leaving the house at 6:45 AM another. And then dragging the bike through boring but unfortunately hilly Yokohama before finally arriving at the Tamagawa. I was too early, had splendid time to drink my coffee and waited for James, David, Graham and Jerome to arrive. They brought Jon and Craig with them who needed to do some more training before cruising Kyushu in mid May.
Up the Kan-One. Somehow I was very much in competition mood. I tried to climb up the hills as fast as possible and if there was any rider seen on the road I tried to catch up with him. That was maybe a little bit stupid in view of the long climbs we had in front of us, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. Then along the tank road and through Hashimoto for the first break.
A break gave me ample time to explain the merits of my gravity-zero wheels to Jon and Craig. By chance they are also for sale.
Jon and Craig had to leave us – strict mongen imposed by their better halves were given as reason – but Stephen was on his way to Aihara to add to our team.
So I phoned Stephen, who, to my surprise was on his way in his car, plus 30 minutes late as he had forgotten to take his cycling shoes with him. Plus travelling from Ome to Hashimoto is never a good idea (it is anyway not a good idea to get to Hashimoto in any fashion) plus that Stephen had no idea where he was, where to go and never ridden in the area. But hey, he has an iphone and Google maps which is as much compensation as life can offer.
But anyway, I thought I would never see him.
So the rest of us rode along our favourite Tsukui lake North road (thanks, Hiroshi)
… and then a short stretch along Doshi Michi towards Miyagase Lake where we made the first of many serious stops.
At one of the many soba shops we had a good meal of soba, Jerome had in addition some fish which I would never have eaten while on a bike trip. David had a „Kalbi“ steak-kebob (kushiyaki) — also not mid-ride food. We waited for Stephen but we couldn’t reach him on the phone any longer. I recommended him to pack his car in a car-bag and take the train, as in Japan anything can be taken on trains provided that it is properly bagged. The amount of bags you can buy at Tokyu Hands is just amazing ; Bike bags, car bags, children bags, garden bags and of course Louis Vuiton bag bags.
And off we were to Yabitsu. Ah, Yabitsu one of my favorite climbs which never makes me tired. The wind was good and I was in good moos, so I started to go up fast. Within no time I was alone and started the real climb which leads to places like „hell swamps“. In my head I was humming „highway to hell“ but my body was slowly running out of steam. But what was that: „A rider with a yellow Wachi shirt was forcing his way up just before the final teahouse at the river – Stephen has made it and was attacking Yabitsu obviously to surprise us at the top : „Hey guys, finally here?“. He has left his car in Aihara and has taken the short road to Yabitsu while we took the more beautiful and much longer one and had a long, long soba lunch at Miyagase lake.
So I talked briefly with Stephen and then I accelerated again, my motivation now on the top and the goal only some three kilometers away. There is one stretch after the tea house which is a little bit steeper and harder, but after that it is OK. Although one thinks constantly that the pass is just around the corner, but it is not.
And up I was a final sprint : 51:39 min new record and 10 minutes faster than last year at the same point in season. Cool. I felt like Lance Armstrong winning his eighth tour.
Stephen came in second, followed by James, David, Jerome and Graham. Then again, no one else was racing against a clock (or each other). We didn’t spend too much time on top and only briefly surveyed suicide opportunities. This is a famous love double suicide spot, you know.
The group (Graham, Stephen, David L., James and Michael K.), stopped for the view and a photo just onto the Yabitsu S. side descent:
Our own personal team photographer, Jerome:
Then a fast downhill to Hadano where Graham left us while the rest of us, believe it or not stuck to the original plan and proceeded to Ninomiya and then long route one further to Odawara and Hakone. Now we were on familiar Ekiden turf.
At the 7-Eleven before the start of the real climb in Hakone I tried to stop David, who just went on, and then James, who signed that he would continue to ride. But with Jerome and Stephen I could convince them to take a break.
And then we started the 850 meter Hakone climb. I used to do this once, in the peak of the season and after a ride straight from my home. This was already the third time this year, including two times after Yabitsu. But nevertheless with so many km in the legs it is a hard climb. We lost Stephen already at the start and up to elev. 600 Jerome and me were going roughly at the same pace. Then I was getting faster, maybe because of the food and finally I arrived at the top. Not in a good time, but at least without a stop in one go. I hate to give up in the middle. I hate to stop. I don’t care if I am slow but I want to ride up in one go.
Up on Hakone the weather was still good but very cold. I met David and James at the Hakone 7-Eleven (I knew that they were waiting there – we always rest at 7-Elevens!) and shortly afterward Jerome came as well. Where was Stephen? After a few minutes I gave him a call at he was still at elev. 700, about 20 minutes to go. David was pushing that he needed to catch a train home and it was getting also cold and dark so we told Stephen to return while we went through with the original plan and continued to Hakone Pass and then to route #20.
Oh, beautiful route #20 (not to be confused with Koshu Kaido National Route #20 or Yaen Kaido Tokyo route #20). Many true things have been written about this extremely beautiful road, mainly by myself, rarely by others. But this is really my favorite road in Japan, slightly curved like the unshaven legs of Juliane, with a nice and steady gradient moving down like the underbelly of Jerome. Perfect views to the West deep into (no comparisons any longer, I am not Raymond Chandler), Shizuoka and via Fuji and to the East to Kanagawa-ken.
The bike is running smoothly at 40 km/hr plus and one has to navigate the curved but never ever to brake. David is so fast on this road, it is almost impossible to catch him. James is also fast, but sometimes he is overtaken by crazy mini cars who threaten to take them of the road.
The driving skills of mini car drivers : Mini cars – mini brains.
So with the first 8 km or so one descents on road 20 from elv. 850 to 650, along Jukoku Toge and then to the legendary Atami Toge. Then there is this brutal stretch where it goes down from 650 to basically 0 with 5 or 6 km. The hands are on the brakes constantly and white clouds are ascending from the brake pads. The rims can be seen glowing lightly in the night as they are becoming hotter and hotter. One moves his behind further and further back and finally touches the back wheel to add braking power. Only with this advances method it is possible to navigate this road downwards. Basically it is a free fall.
So we arrived before 5:30 PM at Atami station, bought more than enough beer and took the Shinkansen home. And who happened to join as in Odawara? Stephen who has managed the long way home from the Hakone climb back.
One beer was not enough to do all the trip justice and recount all the wonderful adventures we had. Also this post cannot do it. So I am hoping that James and David will add some photos, data and videos to show the full extent of this glorious trip. [I’ve added some videos and photos — though my skills as a videographer obviously need improvement. David]
I mean there are many things you need in order to fully enjoy a ride out. A good bike, strong legs, perfect weather, a nice road, not too much traffic and good company. Only when „Set“ and „Setting“ are right the result can be perfect [The older of you may remember that this is original a concept by Timothy Leary]. This ride was a close to perfection as it can get.