21 September 2017

Cycling in Portland - Better and Better

The new bicycle/pedestrian bridge.
I was back in Portland for awhile to visit family at the end of August and earlier this month. Cycling there just gets better and better. I found this trip that it was MUCH easier to shuttle between the place I was staying and downtown Portland via bicycle than by car. The Trolley Trail and Springwater Corridor Trail have transformed in my view the areas of Sellwood, Milwaukie and Oak Grove. And the Tillicum Crossing bridge (light rail, bikes and pedestrians only) is great. They have an LED display that shows cyclist crossings so far this year, and on the current day.

Downtown obscured by the Ross Island Bridge (and Marquam Bridge) from the bike trail

In Milwaukie looking across at Lake Oswego

Oaks Bottom with spectacular purple flowering grasses

Its a wildlife refuge!

19 September 2017

Vol de Nuit (Night Flight)

SR600 Nihon Alps - Second Try!

I recently reread Le Petit Prince by Antoine St.-Exupéry. Of course, St.-Exupéry was a pilot in the early days of aviation, and the narrator of that, his most famous work, is a downed pilot in the desert.

But St.-Exupéry's real existential masterpiece about flying is Vol de Nuit (Night Flight).

Some people look askance at me when I mention that I will do a long ride during, or through, the night.

I say: read Vol de Nuit.

I will never fly a primitive small plane over the Andes at night, but cycling the Akiba Kaido at night may be as close as I get.

A 2016 review of this 1931 novel in The Guardian explains some of its magic. Fabien, the pilot, tells his wife, "It's great leaving at night. You pull the throttle control, face south, and 10 seconds later you turn the landscape round and head north. The city has become just part of the seabed."

Indeed, that was the feeling as I headed onto the climb to Fuefuki Pass out of Chino. Only a few minutes (it took more than 10 seconds, but not MUCH more), through a short tunnel and onto the first turn -- in the dark I turned the landscape around -- and I was alone, the lights fading into the distance. In 15 minutes, Chino and Suwa were ... just part of the seabed.
The Shoreline of Lake Suwa and the lights of its southern Chino-side shore visible below as I climb into the sky
After I emerged the next morning at the Kagura hot spring on the Tōyamagawa, I met a Nagoya motorcyclist. He told me he was afraid to ride his motorbike on Akiba Kaido at night. What if you have an accident, and no one is around? What if a wild animal shows up? A sudden storm?

I laughed. Japan really is a "village society". Of course he would feel uneasy alone at night on this highway. I think many Japanese would feel uneasy alone in the woods, just as many who, as I, hiked and camped in the Oregon cascades as a child, who celebrate and thrive in wilderness, would relish it.

I have ridden Akiba Kaido twice before, I know that you really DO need to watch for deer around Oo-shika (大鹿--the town of "Big Deer") and on the entire descent after Bunkui Pass. And I know that, for the cyclist, Jizo Pass is not a pass, just a signpost in the middle of the climb up to Shirabiso Kogen. I even know where the road is rough or sudden turns dangerous. So, to paraphase Nicholas Lezard in the Guardian: what could be more conducive to reverie than the solitude and majestic spectacle of riding Akiba Kaido at night?
My bike rests at Bunkui Pass, a Japanese "power spot"
Last time I tried the SR600 Nihon Alps, in August 2014, the rain started at the first pass, Fuefuki. It was a downpour by the time I got to Bunkui and beyond.

This time, I saw spectacular stars--Orion, Casseopeia, a bit of the Milky Way--all the way until I was most of the way up the climb to Shirabiso Kogen. A quarter moon appeared over the eastern ridgetop when I was about two-thirds of the way through the night.

I rode Fujimi Pass (970 meters), Fuefuki Pass (1250 meters), Bunkui Pass (1428 meters), Jizo Pass (1314 meters), and Shirabiso pass (1833 meters).
Time for a short rest, but another 600 meters elevation gain ahead!
And solitude! From the beginning of the climb to Bunkui Pass--10 kms before its crest--to Shirabiso, I was passed by only ONE car. I met deer, yes; stray cats, yes; I heard odd whistling animals somewhere in the woods, yes. People and cars, no.

But the rain did come, eventually. A few drops on the last minutes of the climb to Shirabiso after 430AM, then a steady, hard, cold pour. I had been riding in summer gear pretty much, enjoying cool weather and only sweating on the climbs. Suddenly, I was at 1833 meters (over 6000 ft) elevation, in 5 degrees C (40 F) weather and rapidly getting soaked. I knew that I would get no help at the hotel further along the ridge (tried that in 2014), and that the descent to follow was technical, slow, and dangerous. I put on all my gear -- arm and leg warmers, rain gloves, cap, jacket and rain chaps. It was not enough to last for long, with damp sweat already from the climb and hard rain. I immediately set off, picking the fastest, best route I knew off the mountain. In places I could ride under thick green trees, on dry pavement, but then would emerge into a blast of cold water from the heavens.
Shirabiso Pass ... STILL not the top of the climb. 80 meters elevation more aheadl
At the bottom of the hill, I knew I was no longer in danger of hypothermia. It was at least 6-7 degrees C warmer here, and my gear had served its purpose, barely.

I rode further down Route 152 until I found a bus stop with a roof. I could not think clearly there and was not warming, so I went further to another bus stop. This one had walls and a tight sealed door, a sign indicating a box for hikers heading into the mountains above to drop off their route plans upon departure, and it was warm and snug inside.

I quickly figured out that this was just the first band of what would be a major rainstorm, followed by wind, as Typhoon 18 moved up the Japanese archipelago. I had hoped to get a largely dry Saturday and another 170 kms, to Gero Onsen before the rain would start. But it was already here, and would not cease.

So I researched the local onsen, found the Kagura Onsen down the road, enjoyed a nice foot bath until opening time, then a real bath, then lunch, a ride to Hiraoka on the Iida Line, and one of the slowest trains ever to Toyohashi (3 hours), then a shinkansen home.
These free foot baths are not uncommon at hot springs in Japan. They can be life savers as warm feet
spread a glow throughout the body when cold and wet.

It took me multiple tries before everything lined up perfectly and I rode a successful SR600 Fuji in May of 2015, in beautiful, perfect conditions. The SR600 Nihon Alps is harder: bigger mountains, more remote, hotter valleys, and the main climb not even accessible until June. So I am not surprised at a second failure.

This time, as last, the weather made it extremely difficult. Last time impossible, with roads closed and evacuations; this time ... I abandoned too soon to know for sure, but likely impossible. It will not be my last attempt. But next time I will only go with an excellent weather forecast!
The weather just after my return to Tokyo. Still another day of rain ahead in Nagano.
The course is spectacular, with the start at Kobuchizawa, then a climb out of Chino and onto the Akiba Kaido, the passes west of Iida, Norikura, and then Tateshina/Yatsugatake. It remains on my bucket list.

07 September 2017

Private Bike Share companies in Seattle

Last year September in Seattle, the public bike share program, sponsored by Alaska Airlines, was prominent. But it did not do well, and went under since that visit.

This year, there are NEW lime green bikes in evidence. These are private bike share companies, like the ones that sprung up in China last year. There are over 1000 bikes in Seattle already by 2 companies, and no doubt more on the way. Lime Bike launched at the end of July, joining Spin. The bikes are similar, distinguished by their colors more than functions.

I rode MY bike to a lunch today at the Pioneer Square neighborhood at the South end of downtown Seattle, and could see these bikes parked in random locations. Like Uber, a user finds a bike by checking her mobile phone app.

The question remains, are there enough people in Seattle who want to ride a bike but do not already have their own bike within easy reach?

31 July 2017

NYC - 450,000 bike trips per day

Nice article in the NY Times today online about cycling in NYC. Quite a difference from 20 years ago.

23 July 2017

Matsuhime Pass, ahead of the heat

View from near the top of the climb to Matsuhime Pass, looking back down the valley toward Saruhashi
Today Jerome and I wanted to ride, but the heat has been awful. I decided that I would be on a 613AM train from Musashi Mizunoguchi, arriving at Saruhashi at 746AM, meaning I would need to leave home before 545AM.  Jerome wanted to join, but was planning to go later ... but take an express from Shinjuku to Otsuki. I told him he could catch me on the climb. I missed the 613AM train, and ended up at Saruhashi around 815AM. ... and Jerome only 15 minutes or so behind when he started from Otsuki.

The strategy worked really nicely. We met at the top, and enjoyed the last 2/3 of the ride together. The heat was bearable, much more shaded roadway on the South side of Matsuhime than I remembered, a slight breeze, and little traffic (and no traffic at all on the "old road" to Matsuhime Pass, now that Matsuhime Tunnel is open and the old road is closed off on the South approach to the Pass--but still accessible for ingenious cyclists).
Leaving Saruhashi ... but this is not the famous bridge.

Beautiful empty road! Route 139.

Many types of flowers along Route 139

One of the stretches of Route 139 that has not yet been widened. Eventually it should all be 2 lanes, as most of it is.

Approaching Fukashiro Dam.

Hydrangea at the dam in the small rest area.

The reservoir is almost empty. Only generating 124kWs!
(I checked online and my Hiroshima solar project was over 450kWs at the same time Saturday morning 

Turn left just before the LONG Matsuhime Tunnel ... Then go around the locked fence and through several shorter, completely unlighted tunnels.

On the climb. Much more shade than I remember. I took it slow and easy ...

We came from down there. Up, Up, Up!
The bus driver must have been asleep somewhere in the back of this bus. No sign of activity... 

At Matsuhime Pass

Jerome arrives. Wonder why the included English on this one? ... if only they had done so where we entered below, we would have been on notice ...

On Yamanashi Rte 18 after Tsuru Pass, traditional stop for water/rest on the left.

No one is taking care of the gateball court this year. The elderly are now too few and old for gateball!

More hydrangea!
A cold beer and cold udon for recovery at a place in Uenohara complete with bike bar/rack

At Uenohara for the trip back to town. Girls in yukata for summer festivals?
The ride was only 60kms, with around 1700 meters of climbing. Plus another 10kms or so in town getting to/from the trains (and with a stop at C Speed to chat with Hiroshi). I feel as if I have "acclimated" a bit to the heat and humidity for this year, but also as if over the next month my rides will involve early starts and rinko transits to skip the miserably hot slog from and back to town and start nearer climbs that will take me to pleasantly cooler elevation.
Maybe I have reached the point MOB did, where I will no longer have the patience for a slog along the Tamagawa and through the sprawl of Tokyo suburbs? Maybe I will be a regular rinko bag user? Okay, I WILL be a regular rinko bag user, especially after I complete a planned move closer to the middle of Tokyo for the Fall.

21 July 2017

Eat Like a Tour Racer - 6000 kcals a day


How Fast was Bardet on the Izoard?

One of the fun things about Strava is comparing oneself (or one's friends) with a famous rider like Romain Bardet, now in 2nd place overall for this year's Tour, 23 seconds behind Froome.

Yesterday, on the finish climb to the Col d'Izoard, Romain Bardet was SO fast, that he took the Strava KOM ("King of the Mountain" -- fastest time recorded) on the last 2.0 kms, averaging 20.9kms per hour, this on a 9% grade after already having climbed over 3500 meters elevation and ridden 175 kms on the day.

By comparison, a strong rider in the Etape du Tour event there last Sunday ... did the same stretch in 15:25. I would be delighted to finish it in under 20 minutes at the end of such a hard day!

P.S. Did I mention that I met Bardet again last fall year at the Tokyo TdF reception?  Did I? Perhaps I dropped the name once or twice?

Dip in the Akigawa and "Sashimi Konyaku" at Michiko's Sobatei in the Woods

A hot day last Sunday, but I still got in a nice ride with Jerome to the Akigawa.

GPS off for a few stretches. Around 135-140kms total.

Faded signage along the Tamagawa.
A nice stop early on at Lohas 24 cafe and coffee roasters
It has fast become a cyclist mecca. ... like MOB's future shop in Bremen!
The roasting equipment, apologies for reflection in the glass.

In no time we were past Itsukaichi

Left at the "T", less than 50 meters, and the steps down to the secret swimming hole

Ahh, looks nice!

Sleeping Frenchman

Beached whale
Up the hill 300 meters more elevation, to Tokisaka Toge
And the Toge no Chaya Soba-tei Michiko! 

An Edo era building hidden back in the woods

Konyaku Sashimi - a Positivo Espresso favorite.

Still Ajisai here!

And these too were beautiful, ... what are they?