Or as we like to call it “The Tour of Indulgence – Japan Edition”
By Andrew Cherriman, but only made possible by the gang.
Bjorn – Chief Organizer and Negotiator
John – Chief Engineer and Data Analyst
Mrs John – Courier and all round good sport for putting up with us.
Raoul – Sweeper when needed and Pace Setter when not (don’t post that ride, you’ll be thrown off the team)
Matt – Rapha consultant and provider of Sky ultraviolet lube (who would have know such a thing existed!)
Mrs Matt – Chief interpreter and nutritionalist, and again all round good sport for putting up with us.
Russ – Equipment Limit Tester
Mike – Chief Food Tester
Noel – Rouleur extraordinaire, Downhill maestro and the best wind break a man could ask for
It was many months ago that Bjorn suggested we do a trip to Japan and offered to start the organization, by the time we got to Tokyo, I think he was wishing he hadn’t bothered and the aptly worded disclaimer on one of the final emails said it all. To paraphrase”I’m going to Japan to ride my bike. If you happen to be in the same place at the same time, that’s great, otherwise see you some other time you useless *&%$& ”
The plan was to ride around a bit trying to understand the street signs and then climb Mt. Fuji or at least that’s what I got from the various organizers emails. Who was the organizer again, we must get a better one next year?
The problems started almost immediately after a fine dinner at the restaurant used in the final scene of Kill Bill as our chosen club for the first evening in Tokyo “Bauhaus Tokyo” was closed for a public holiday, not only that but the second choice, almost certainly as good music as it was next door, also proved to be shut for the holiday. Fortunately for us, this prompted an early night which is probably just as well given the distance we had to ride the following day.
Ok, so one of the beauties of Japan is the ease with which you can bring your bike onto a train, just as long as you have a cover. Yeah right, as long as you don’t run into an officious ticket inspector who knows there is a rule but isn’t quite sure what it is.
Much negotiating by Bjorn resulted in an understanding that if we took the wheels off, we made the bikes smaller and then he would let us on, or at least that’s what we thought we’d agreed. We headed towards the platform to see the ticket man running after us looking very angry and shouting. We headed for the train knowing full well that Japanese trains leave on time and if we could be on the train at the departure time, we were good.
And so the dance began, the ticket man threw one person off then moved on to the next, and as he moved on, the person who he had thrown off, got back on 🙂 But finally sense prevailed as the conductor of the train turned up and told him it was fine just as long as we had covers. Problem solved, we had found the man with the knowledge, an important thing we were to find in Japan. Everybody knows there is a rule but not everybody knows what it is.
So day 1 got underway and a blistering pace was set leaving a few of us wondering whether this was a tour of indulgence or were we setting the scene for a tour of despair. Now the thing to remember is that this was a hotel to hotel ride with no support car, so no bail out options, just ride until you get to your hotel, and hope your mates are going to wait for you 🙂 Often a forlorn hope, but they say it’s motivational.
The route was broadly flat although a nasty climb in the middle was unexpected. A small interlude in the middle to board a ferry and eat ice cream was most welcome and with relatively little trouble, we rolled into the hotel. The hotel said we had to leave our bikes in the carpark, but a quick recce uncovered that the carpark was completely open to anybody wandering in and so having assessed there were lifts that bypassed reception, the bikes were quickly stashed in rooms for the night. Dinner was a never ending selection of local delicacies most of which Mike wouldn’t eat and lashings of beer and Sake.
Day 2 didn’t start so well, it was raining; hard! We put the rain jackets on, those of us that had them and set of we planned a small detour to visit the largest wooden Buddah, and to visit a little island with a shrine up a mountain. Bjorn told us they were cultural icons, but even after 90 minutes, most of us were just looking for the nearest coffee shop to warm us. Yes, when on a bike we are all philistines. It was at this point we realised that a) we were soaking, b) we were cold, c) we had only done 30km in 2 hours, d) we had 150km to do today and e) we had no support. Time to put our heads down and pedal. And so ensued a long, long day in the saddle punctuated only by stops at the riders friend “Family Mart” to take on more food and warm drinks, and one stop at a bike shop we found for several of us to buy more thermal clothes. The shop owner didn’t seem keen to let 8 dripping riders into his pristine establishment, but we played the ignorant white man card and them made up for it by spending way more than he thought he was going to make on a wet Friday afternoon.
I wont regale you with tales of the journey. Suffice to say Matt and I were ditched by our ‘mates’ and only that fine fellow (for a Frenchman) Raoul stayed back to make the lantern rouge a 3 man show.
On turning up at the hotel, it seemed that we had found another man who knew there was a rule but didn’t know what it was. He was determined to keep our soggy bikes out of the hotel, and suggested we lean them against a tree in the car park. surprisingly we weren’t too happy with the idea of $100,000 worth of bikes being alone and unlocked all night, so Bjorn negotiated with the manager for the hotels only meeting room for the 2 day stay and a large plastic sheet so that we had an impromptu club room and maintenance area.
Dinner was indescribable, no, really, it was indescribable. We have no idea what part of what animal we ate, but Evangeline did a fantastic job of emptying the woman’s kitchen of every carbohydrate that she possessed. It seems a little Japanese does indeed go a long way.
Once you get to the national park, and yes bikes do have to pay the 200 yen entry fee as it seems we are less than 125cc, it is a 24km continuous climb of between 5% and 8%. Actually really nice once you settle into a rhythm. On a bright sunny day it would be lovely and even on a wet dreary day it was ok. I think the view would be great, and you can all refer to google to see what it would look like if you could see further than 200m. Matt and I just worked our way up following the “no man left alone” rule. they have helpfully put km markers every 1km, which some of us loved, and some of us found very annoying. I think at th ebottom they are crushing; 23km to go 5.6% is not a great sign, but the closer to the top you get the better they are 1km to go is much more pleasant.
More coffee to warm up, a change of thermal top into something dry, and several of us bought commemorative Fuji waterproof tops for the descent. The fact that you can but Fuji waterproof tops shows you just how often it’s raining up there!
The clouds cleared just long enough for a couple of photos of the top of Fuji.
The descent was cold, fast and wet, with only one crazy moment when at a road construction area, the man told us to stop and the 3 in the group at the front weren’t sure if their brakes would actually stop them in time. Wet roads, steep descent, carbon wheels, bad, bad combination!
Dinner was a never ending Japanese meat BBQ with lashings of beer and sake.
And so to the final day over 100km descent from 1000m to Tokyo. Hold on though if you think a 100km descent has no climbing, think again, there were a few nasty ones in there and by the end of the ride we were all pretty dead. The biggest lesson for us though was in planning who carries what spares. As Russ developed a split in the sidewall of his rear tyre, we realised, that while between the 8 of us we had 19 tubes, not one of us had a spare tyre. Note to all people arranging group trips. You always have enough tubes among you, share out the other stuff you might need. Tyre, Chain tool, chain, gear cable, brake cable. The list of essentials is short and not very heavy, but not having one can either be a fatal end to the ride or make the rest of the day very uncomfortable.
With the help of a park tools tyre repair patch we nursed Russ back to the hotel in Tokyo where much thanks was offered to Bjorn for his excellent organisation and for putting up with our sh$^e all weekend.
Oh, as a final note, for those thinking about it. The roads are narrow compared to Singapore, and I think we have found a country where the truck and car drivers give even less space to cyclists than here, in particular they do like to cut in after they have nearly overtaken you, so be warned travelers and keep your eyes open.