Tagesarchiv: 24. Mai 2009

Madness on Route 20

Complementing David’s earlier post, here is my own story about yesterday. I too started from home at 4:15am but that was five minutes later than planned and as a result I was not on time at the appointed place on Tamagawa. Checking voice messages lost me a few more minutes. The headwind was such that I could never catch up two riders drafting each other without exhausting myself, which I was keen to avoid. I was amazed how many people were already out and about at 4:30am!

I must have caught up almost with David and Jerome as I reached Tom at the starting line at something like 5:54 – without any stop at the Seven-Eleven and taking the short-cut through Hachioji.

So off I went with Tom at 6:00. Tom had declared he would attack Otarumi at a brisk pace to break away from the crowd (of 20 starting a time). So he did, and very soon it was only Tom, two Japanese riders and myself heading up Otarumi. Thanks to drafting Tom I had no difficulty keeping up, but I was worried Tom was exhausting himself a little too much as my pulse was getting slightly over 160 and I was wondering what his was like.

As we got close to the top and everybody seemed to get slower I broke away to go under the bridge a few seconds before the rest. 13:17 – not my best time (13:00), but quite close, even though I felt far less stretched than usual – the power of drafting I guess.

Now the real madness started. Tom was obviously keen to win at any price, including his own life. We had caught up with two trucks that had passed us on the way up, and while they were not particularly slow (which trucks are in Japan?), they weren’t fast enough for Tom. So he decided to overtake one of them in a relatively sharp left-turn curve, getting onto the opposite lane even though he could not see whether there was any traffic coming up, nor could he have returned to the downhill lane as the two were separated by these killer blocks on the centre line. Complete madness!! The remaining three of us refrained from such or similar manoeuvers and as Tom isn’t the fastest downhill racer caught up with him soon, and at the traffic lights in front of the Sagamiko station the four of us were again one group.

From there on, Tom and a young guy from the Fuji Heavy Industries racing team kept taking turns in leading the group. I would have loved to take my turn, but even drafting my pulse varied between 150 and the low 160s and I deemed it unwise to exhaust myself beyond that. The fourth rider must have thought the same as he stayed stubbornly on my back wheel.

We went on like this at fast speed to Otsuki, on the way passing Jerome and David. Just before Otsuki, the Fuji Heavy rider had his front wheel punctured. He managed to keep riding (must have had a special kind of wheel) but complained about the high friction. After a few kilometers he gave up to fix the wheel.

So it was only Tom, the other guy and me left. I started taking my turns in leading the group, and eventually also the third guy did. Tom was getting exhausted and the other guy showed no such signs. My back started to hurt increasingly, but as we started to do steeper climbs I had the chance of getting out of the saddle to relax my back which kept things under control.

On the final ascent to Sasago Tunnel, the third guy broke away from Tom when I was last. I followed in measured pace, and by the time I realised he was trying to make a best time to Sasago he was too far ahead for me to catch him without getting my pulse into anaerobic territory. I was still second and I think Tom wasn’t that far behind. I did not stop and kept going right into the tunnel, and never saw Tom again. Because he must have passed me as I went into the Seven-Eleven down in Kaiyamato.

The time we took from Takaosanguchi to Sasago was 1:50 (and maybe a few seconds). Only the winner of the entire Itoigawa race last year was faster than that! Wow – what a pace. I had averaged 29.6km/h from home to Takaosanguchi (excluding the stops for checking my phone messages) – not bad considering the headwind. At Sasago the average was  slightly above 30km/h, despite all the climbing!

As I hadn’t had a drop of water and nothing to eat since leaving home and had gone 105km at record speed, it was time to get reasonable and take a break. So relaxed a bit in front of the convenience store and let some of the slower riders pass. We had overtaken almost the entire group of 20 that started 15 minutes ahead of us by the time we reached Sasago.

I rode down down towards Kofu, overtaking again a few even though I wasn’t killing myself to go fast. As I was taking a short toilet break, the Fuji Heavy guy caught up with me. What a pleasant surprise. We decided to ride together. I pulled him through all of central Kofu, claiming I knew a short cut. Well, looking at the GPS trail (see below) I realised later that I had taken one turn too many (mislead by a sign that indicated the way to route 20) and thus it wasn’t really a short cut (though at least didn’t make the route longer either).

Outside Kofu, we took turns as we seemed to run out of steam in turns. That allowed us to keep a steady pace, and at the next check-point my cycling computer still showed the same average of slightly above 30. I took a longer break at the nearby convenience store than he wanted and so he took off without me.

By that time, we had encountered countless situations where trucks overtook us without leaving more than a few centimeters between them and us. At a traffic light, I shouted at one of them, though he had been one of the lesser evils – the trucks with long trailers were the worst as they seemed to forget that they had a trailer. Truck traffic was getting increasingly dense, and legs, arms and even trickot became quite black! It became clear to me that all these cyclists on the road were annoying the truckers so much that they decided not to care much any more.

I dreaded the thought of another 75km of nightmare with potential fatal consequences to Matsumoto, and potentially more of it beyond. Besides the scenery wasn’t even that great and I was asking myself what I was trying to achieve. So in a town called Hakushucho I decided to abandon the idea of making it to Itoigawa and to instead head for the mountains.

Nearby was the beautiful Yatsugadake range (literally eight peaks), with all the nice kougens on the foot of it. I climbed up into these kougens and travelled through them in the same direction as route 20. Quite some up and down at an altitude of 1,200 to 1,400m. Eventually, the road was closed for repairs and I had to head down for Chino. By that time the headwind had developed increasing strength, and it wasn’t particularly pleasant fighting my way towards Lake Suwa, the last sight I wanted to see for the day. Still, better than fighting the same wind all the way to Itoigawa, as the forecast had said.

Suwako with the Yatsudake range in the background,
seen from Shimo-Suwa towards Kami-Suwa/Chino
I cycled once around the pretty large lake, then was lucky that I went into Kami-Suwa station just as a Super-Asuza back to Shinjuku was about to pull in. But „super“ is all relative – despite stopping only at Chino, Kofu, Hachioji and Tachikawa, it still takes 2.5 hours to Shinjuku! I had come a long way.

I decided to get off at Tachikawa to drop by Y’s Road in Fuchu to get my chain exchanged. After 7,200km, it was very worn and shifting gears had become quite fickle. Lucky move, for when I got onto the bike outside Tachikawa station I noticed that the derailer had been badly bent and I was hardly able to ride. On the train, the trolley lady had pushed her heavy trolley with full force into the backside of my bike sticking out from behind the last row of seats in the car.

By the time I got back home, I had covered 260km in all, and with the first 150km ridden at racing speed – a new record.

All that remains to hope is that everybody made it savely to Itoigawa and that Tom broke his own records and came in first!

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Eingeordnet unter 2009, David, Jerome, Tom

"They Must Have A Very Powerful Politician"

That spot in the distance … is Jerome heading up the Enzan side of Yanagisawa Pass via a Route 411 sky bridge.

Click on this photo to enlarge and see the cyclist:

As we ride our bicycles in the Japanese countryside, we sometimes come across an extraordinary (and extraordinarily expensive) piece of public works infrastructure. Among these great feats of engineering (and fiscal stimulus/deficit spending), perhaps the most impressive are the bridges that cross, not water, but land — soaring out into thin air, as it were, arching across some obscure valley to ease the passage of the (very occasional) larger vehicle that might try to navigate a steep mountain pass so as to deliver a large object to a village of a few hundred (or more like a few dozen) old people. In my experience, these great strips of asphalt are of most use to (1) the large dump trucks that go up and down the mountains to move earth in order to build even more spectacular infrastructure, higher up and farther away, and (2) cyclists!

Among these public works, the construction projects of the first half of the „first lost decade“ of the 1990s have got to be the best of the best, the creme de la creme. When one comes upon such an engineering marvel, it is difficult to suppress an exclamation, „wow!“ Such was Michael’s reaction on a trip he took with Ludwig to the western edge of Chichibu this Spring.

And so it was, that I led Jerome on his first ever trip over Yanagisawa Pass on Saturday, he uttered the inevitable „wow!“ Always an astute observer of political economy, one of Jerome’s other phrases immediately came to mind, a phrase frequently heard from him in coming upon similar marvels. „They must have a powerful politician.“ Indeed, Yamanashi’s politicians are so powerful that they are STILL building skybridges toward the top of Yanagisawa Pass (doubtless after a hiatus during the Koizumi era), to further ease travel to the mountain top coffee and soba shop. And we saw numerous large dump trucks joining Route 411 from a mysterious side entrance at about 900 meters elevation, just near the turn off to Kamihikawa Pass/Daibosatsu Pass where we had lunch … as we had seen another mysterious line of dump trucks coming out of the woods at Sasago earlier in the day.

(Unfortunately, the politicians on the Tabayama-mura (NE) side of the pass have noticeably less clout, as evidenced by older bridges, rough road surfaces, and little more than „ordinary“ repaving work we saw on the descent. Tabayama may be still in Yamanashi Prefecture, but it is clearly on the wrong side of the hill, connected more closely to Tokyo than to Koufu. Out of sight, out of mind, as they say. … Or maybe the good leaders of Tabayama did a trade with the politicians of adjacent Kosuge-mura, and decided they would much rather spend tens of billions of yen on the new road AROUND Matsuhime Pass and toward Sarubashi area. That road will make it much easier to get the dump trucks and cyclists to and from Kosuge and even Tabayama.)

Enough about infrastructure. On to the ride report. …

Jerome and I left my house at the ungodly hour of 4:15AM, planning to get to Takaosanguchi and over Otarumi Pass ahead of Tom S., who had a 6AM start time for the Tokyo-Itoigawa ride. We did not see Ludwig/Manfred at our rendezvous point in Komae and, leaving mobile phone messages, headed on toward Takao at a slower pace. After a VERY brief stop at the traditional Positivo Espresso 7-11 in Takao, we headed up Otarumi. As we passed the start for the Itoigawa ride, Tom hailed us from across the street where he was warming up. 5:52 or 5:53AM … a 7 or 8 minute head start giving us plenty of time to get over the first hill and ride with Tom a bit along the first stage.

Jerome was suffering. His legs „felt like cotton“ and he had „no power.“ He struggled on every uphill section during the morning. (I was not worried, since I knew he would recover eventually — he always does, a question of „when“ not „if.“)

In any event, we made it along Route 20 out to Uenohara, and through the dip just to its west (75 meters elevation loss followed by a similar climb). I climbed faster than Jerome and was several hundred meters ahead by the top of the slope. I heard Tom’s voice call from behind just in time to see a train of 4 riders passing me by. I accelerated, hopped on the back and joined Tom, Ludwig (what happened to our rendezvous, Ludwig?) and two Japanese riders. They were going at a good clip, between 35-40 kph on the flat. But Tom seemed to be doing all the pulling. This did not seem fair to me, so after a few minutes, when they slowed perceptibly, I passed the train and settled in front to do my share … after all, that was the idea, to help Tom go for the victory, sacrificing my „double wide trailer“ body by acting as domestique and wind screen, for even a few minutes. Somehow, my move must have confused one of the Japanese riders, who now can up alongside me and asked me in English, „are you living in Chofu-shi?“ The apparent non-sequitur puzzled me, until I remembered that, indeed, Tom lives in Chofu … so I responded politely that no, I live in Setagaya-ku near Futako Tamagawa. This seemed to satisfy him and he let me complete a pull for a few minutes.

After about 5km, as we approached Torizawa, the road turned up briefly, giving me the perfect opportunity to bid farewell, slow down and await Jerome. I pulled up alongside Tom, gave him as big a cheer as I could muster, and then settled back to watch them disappear up the road. Looking forward to Tom’s full report, but I understand he averaged 30.4 kph, up from 29.7 last year. The whole experience brought back memories of last year’s Tokyo-Itoigawa ride, and absent (David J. and Juliane) or injured (Michael K.) teammates. Jerome caught up with me after I pulled off at the Torizawa Seven Eleven, and after some food and rest (having travelled almost 80 km from home), we continued toward Sasago.

We turned off Route 20 to head up the old road, Route 212, toward Sasago Pass. Jerome rested again, trying to cool down and even lying in the road for a few minutes.

When I tried this delightful climb back in early April, I marvelled at the lack of traffic, the road being „closed for winter“ still over the upper stretch of the climb. Remember that this road was once the actual Koshu Kaido — the MAIN ROAD from Tokyo to Koufu and beyond. Indeed, while there has been a train tunnel between Sasago and Koshu (Kai Yamato) since 1902, the Sasago tunnel for cars and trucks was only completed in 1958, and it charged tolls until 1973. Doubtless the traffic volumes dropped considerably as traffic shifted to the new Koshu Kaido, which made it possible to go 3 km THROUGH instead of 12 km or more OVER the mountain. Then in 1977, the Chuo Expressway opened between Otsuki and Katsunuma, going through yet another tunnel, and the traffic began to shift even more.

I am very pleased to report that, even with the road now open, there is still almost NO traffic over Sasago Pass. Most of the climb is a beautiful road anywhere between 5 and 10% gradient. It looks like this (with apologies for the shaky camera hand while trying to climb a 7-8% grade with one hand off the bars). … I could have taken 5 more videos of similar length, also without seeing a single car, climbing in delightful shade and a cool breeze:

Climb to Sasago #1 from David Litt on Vimeo.

In any event, we were soon down the other side and onto the „Fruit Line“ — the road that grips the edge of the valley around to Enzan, affording a spectacular view of the entire bowl, with snow capped Southern Alps in the distance. Somehow I had not realized how hilly this road is, when taking it in the other direction. While it goes along the side of the valley, it is nearly constant up and down. The weather and views were glorious, looking over the vineyards of the „Grape Capital“ of Katsunuma toward the pear and cherry orchards of Koshu and Enzan (much less shaky video).

The Fruit Bowl of Yamanashi … from the Fruit Line from David Litt on Vimeo.

We even had a nice view back toward Mt. Fuji, along the Fruit Line we had just taken.

After a brief debate over the merits of trying Odarumi Pass (elev 2360 meters), versus taking Yanagisawa Pass and heading back toward Tokyo, we headed up Yanagisawa.

We were both famished and overheated, Jerome was still without power, and we nearly collapsed after remounting our bikes upon discovering that a restaurant we passed at 700 meters elevation was not yet open for the day (10:40AM). The lower slopes of this road ought to be called the „Fruit Knife“, as it cuts straight up hill, steeper than it looks.
We ended up stopping at a place at 890 meters elevation, just at the turn off to Kamihikawa/Daibosatsu Passes. They treated us well, giving us towels to help dry after washing ourselves with water from their outside faucets. After lunch on the local delicacy of „Houtou“ — a kind of strip-like udon dish with thick broth — and taking over the restaurant for awhile, Jerome rested on a bench nearby … and recovered.

He started slow on the next leg of the climb, but by the time we reached the upper slope Jerome was firing on all cylinders, officially declared recovered, and he made it to the top well ahead of me as I stopped for photos and ran low on gas.

We quickly descended to Oume, with time only for 3 stops — soft ice cream at the Pass, a brief stop at the westernmost convenience store in Tokyo … at Okutama town near the westernmost train station, and then at a traditional stop at Aurore Bakery in front of Oume Station. From Oume we hopped the train home, having ridden just over 200 km and climbed around 3000 meters for the day. I turned in early and made up for lost sleep.

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Eingeordnet unter 2009, David, Jerome