27 November 2011

Wheel No. 00001 (and dynamo hub)

Today I built my first wheel -- Shimano dynamo hub (DH-3N80), 32 DT Swiss Competition (2-1.8-2 double butted spokes), Ambrosio clincher rim.  It will not be my last.

Nice instructional DVD by Bill Mould, an Alexandria Virginia based wheelbuilder, makes it easy as 1-2-3.  One mistake in lacing required me to backtrack 5 minutes or so, but otherwise it went quite smoothly.
Moved some bike tools indoors for comfort, and so I could watch the DVD as I worked.
Note to self:  any future housing must have room for a bike shop area indoors.
... Now I just need to wait for the LED light I ordered for use with this ...
I should have gotten a truing stand, tension meter, etc. and learned how to build wheels years ago.  I suspect I would have had many fewer wheel problems if I had been prepared to maintain them properly.  Checked the tension and trued 2 other wheelsets, and replaced the bearings in the front hub of a commuting wheel as well.

UPDATE:   I ordered a Busch + Mueller Lumotec IQ Cyo Plus LED front light, and a Philips LED SafeRide dynamo front light 60 Lux from Bike24 in Germany. They arrived Tuesday so I was able to try them in the evening.  I wish there were some darker streets near my house ...   It was easy to connect these -- removing the front brake and then using the brake bolt to hold the light's base/adapter to the frame, then winding the wire around the right fork.  The Shimano hub has a very easy to use terminal for the wires -- easy to plug in/unplug when you remove the wheel.

The B + M is smaller and lighter than the Philips.  It also was a bit cheaper (46 vs 62 Euro).  But I think I made a mistake in ordering the IQ Cyo Plus -- a model without any "senso" (automatic light detector) or a manual on/off switch.  The IQ Cyo T senso plus -- which Yan (commenter below) has -- would be a better choice.  Anyway, the B + M has a very bright "standlight" which runs from a capacitor and stays on for several minutes even when the hub is not spinning.  The main light is also quite bright -- significantly brighter than my Gentos LEDs. 

But it has an odd beam pattern, with a bright trapezoid in the middle and some weird dark spots.  This would take time to get used to it, I think.  And the model I ordered is not "switchable" -- and seems designed for a rim "bottle" dynamo where you switch it off by lifting the dynamo away from the rim of the wheel.  My error, though I could add a manual switch if I wanted to ...  A mixed verdict.

The Philips is impressive.  It is really bright (brighter than the B + M, I think, and WAY brighter than my Gentos LED lights).  It has a very smooth, even beam pattern, which projects a carpet of bright light a long way ahead onto the road as you ride, and also manages to throw a bit of light wider to the sides and onto the ground near the front of the bike -- perfect.  Also, I got the right model -- with off/on switch, and a separate cable if I want to add a rear LED as well, or connect to another device/charger.  The standlight is dimmer than the B + M, but still enough for checking a map and being visible to others.  This is consistent with the results of a tester/blogger in the Netherlands reports -- it seems comparable to the much more expensive Supernova E3 Pro or Schmidt Edelux.

The dynamo and Philips LED Saferide light are staying on my commuting fixie for the time being.

26 November 2011

At the Kawasaki Keirin Track

With the brakes and bullhorns off, and 48x14 gearing,
my commuting fixie is a real track bike!
MOB did it at end of 2008, others have since, and now it was my turn to join Hiroshi and his Keihin Pista club for one of their sessions on the Kawasaki keirin track -- to ride the "bank".  Gunnar and Tim S. also joined for this event.  Tim mentioned that he lived in Portland at one point, and offered to provide info and intros to the cycling (and cycle racing) scene before my visit in February.

It was a great way to spend Saturday afternoon, and I look forward to another visit soon.  It took awhile to get used to riding high on the steep banked curve, but it was much easier to get to the top of the bank than I had thought it would be, since on the keirin track the approach is very gradual from the flat to the top of the bank.

There were actually people in the stands as we rode ... all of whom were just there to bet on and watch via big screen some keirin races being held elsewhere (Shizuoka, today) and maybe have some shochu.  It was great to go into the velodrome the back way, pass the large room where some of the riders were hanging out, schmoozing, training and tinkering with gear, and to emerge in the infield with music playing and an audience.

Next time I will need to remember to count the number of one lap "pulls" that I do when
we ride in a line.  Lots and lots of laps, just not sure how many.
Gunnar's track bike -- Chrome frame, chrome wheels, chrome stem and bars and post!
Hiroshi, Gunnar and Tim are #2, 3 and 4 in the line.  Tim was riding the bike Eric borrowed for Saiko --
the GS Astuto carbon frame with Ultegra DI2 electronic shifters and GS Astuto 50mm carbon tubulars.
And there they go!
Practicing my track stand (?), smiling after a try at the Flying 200m
Time flew by, it got colder, dusk neared, and it was time to go, as the facility began to shut down.

Industrial strength rollers for riders to warm up before the race.
More rollers, Hiroshi with his Nagasawa track bike,
and the entrance to the area where the keirin riders were hanging out.

19 November 2011

I'm Going to Bike School!

"Congratulations! Your application for attending classes at United Bicycle Institute has been processed and you are now officially enrolled in the Steel TIG Welding Frame Building class, February 13-24, 2012  (class#  2012-59)  in Portland, Oregon."

The plan is for this to be my Audax randonneuring frame.  Design suggestions are welcome.  It will be TIG welded, so a bit more flexibility in design than if it were brazed/lugged, even as a first time builder, though I doubt I will be trying anything 'curly' with the chain/seat stays.  Who knows, depending on how it turns out, it may not be the last one I build ...

News from PE UK

its been a while positivistas...

News from PE UK. Another wonderful trip to the mountains North of Madrid last weekend. The Hotel Palacio Miraflores really is an undiscovered gem. Try the gourmet package - as we have twice this year - and had the two best dinners of the year... oh, and the riding is good too! (although a bottle of champagne, a couple of cocktails, a bottle of red and a cigar don`t make for comfortable hill climbing the following day)

And a new bike... long story but we are now the proud owners of a `curly` Hetchins Magnus Opus with campag 50th Anniversary componentry throughout. This is a thing of rare beauty. Here I am taking possession from previous owner Len (archivist of the Hetchins society) more pics of the bike here.

Love to all J & D.
Oh, and we're getting married next year...

14 November 2011

Saiko 2011 - Race of Destiny

I knew it had to be a race of destiny, as the hand of God seemed to part the clouds and the sun shown down upon the start area at Saiko, as I neared the race registration on Saturday afternoon.

Mt Fuji from our lodgings.
Another year, another trip to Saiko for beautiful fall weather and foliage, a weekend at the mountain and a day full of exciting races.  Gunnar, Jerome and I stayed at the same well-outfitted, comfortable Sasuga cottage in Oishi, Kawaguchi-ko as Ludwig and I had last year, and cooked a riders' dinner of pasta, as well as sampling a number of the local products.  We could not find fresh local vegetables in November, so instead we sampled the products of a number of micro breweries, mostly dunkel (dark beer) and weizen (wheat beer).  Fujizakura Kogen; Fujiyama; and one more brewer whose name I've already forgotten.  All very nice, even the forgotten one.  I was looking for Baird Beer, since I met one of the managers there recently, but did not see any on the shelf in Kawaguchiko.

As for the results, EricinIkebukuro from TCC did well in the X-class in his first JCRC event, 14th place, with an average speed over 41 kph, and he should get a decent class placement.  I think we will see him again next year on the JCRC circuit. 
Only one "bike leaning" photo this year.
... and one "bike hanging" photo for good measure.

Gunnar, making a guest appearance for Ludwig, whose back is still giving him problem, easily hung with the B-class group for 49 out of 50 km, and was positioning himself for the final sprint ... when he got hemmed in between 2 riders, with someone cutting him off from the left and forcing him into a crash.  Fortunately, no broken bones, and it looks as if with a new derailleur hanger and some wheel truing the equipment should be fine.
Far right -  Gunnar with B class, after 2 laps, Jerome's finger pointing him out.

Broken derailleur hanger, blood on elbow -- typical race stuff, as Hiroshi looks on
Hiroshi made a good showing in 60km S-Class on his beautiful Colnago ... but was blocked by a crash in front of him within 3 km of the finish and so was not able to contest for the podium.  He passed Jerome and me driving home along Doshi michi in his very, very small car, and gave us a friendly "shave and hair cut, 2 bits" honk of his horn.
It's all good!

I enjoyed my C Class race, and managed to do well enough so I should not get bounced to D at least.  I stayed on the right/outside edge of the group the entire race, so I would be in the "lee" protected from the headwind as much as possible in the far side of the lake.  This worked well for the most part, and on the first 2 laps I was able to conserve energy and yet creep up the group so I was relatively near the front (no more then 20-30% of the way back, on the far right) when we hit the turn and the short nasty uphill 2 km from the start/goal.  Even though plenty of people passed me on the short uphill, I managed to keep in contact with the group each time and recover quickly.

Best team kit
On the last lap, on the penultimate turn on the far side of the lake, about 3 km to go, I was pretty far back in the group and went into the turn again on the far right ... but there were 2 riders directly ahead of me, and the front one slowed suddenly.  I hit my brakes to avoid barreling into the rider directly in front, and my rear wheel locked and skidded left a few inches.  Fortunately, I did not lose balance, and the 5-10 riders behind me in the group were all on my left, so no one hit me either ... but I had decelerated way too much and was off the back just as the acceleration started.  I hauled ass and caught the back of the group just before the hill, but was pretty much out of gas and lost contact again ... finishing about 100 meters behind the main bunch at an average speed of approx 40.4 kph.  I was 46th out of 60 who registered and maybe 56 who started, 52 of whom finished (or 94 out of 188 in the 3 C-class heats, measured by overall time).  This kind of racing requires repeated intense bursts of energy, and I top out far below the level it takes to do really well. 

Okay, maybe I was misled by the shaft of sunlight piercing the clouds on Saturday afternoon, and it was not a race of destiny.  But it was fun.

Jerome and I rode back to Tokyo, leaving Saiko around 3:45PM, as Gunnar would need to hop the train home with his non-functioning derailleur.  It was dark within an hour, as we passed Yamanakako. 
Only 100 km more to ride.

06 November 2011

Days 3 and 4 - Maizuru to Hiroshima-ken

The P.E. communications base has just received the latest in a series of updates from Jerome as he continues on the road westward.  He stopped in Maizuru on Friday night in "real" lodgings, then braved the rain much of Saturday along the Japan Sea coast past Tottori and to Yonago, and headed inland from there late Saturday evening.

He eventually stopped to sleep -- in an enclosed bus stop, Brevet style.

When he consulted an elderly woman local resident this morning about the location of the next convenience store or other source of breakfast, he was invited inside her house to dine, as she took pity on a bedraggled cyclist.

He made it to Miyoshi (in Hiroshima Prefecture, but about 65 km NE of Hiroshima City), and is hopping a train to start the process of drying out and resting so as to be presentable for Monday business meetings.  Approximately 860 km in 3 1/2 days.
The route below is what was on the maps I handed to Jerome at Tsuruga.  I'm not sure if is exactly the route he took, but should be very close.

05 November 2011

Day Two -- Shokawa to Tsuruga (and beyond?)

After a night in the comfort of the Sakaeya Ryokan in Shokawa, in deep rural Northwest Gifu, I awoke feeling at least as if at least my cold had not gotten any worse, and I could start day two on the bike without holding Jerome back, or doing myself any damage.

It was apparent from walking around the inn, and from the offer that we leave our bikes inside the front door, blocking access, that we might be the only guests.  In the morning, when she brought coffee to our room and we settled up the bill, we asked the innkeeper about the place.

So, it must be quiet now, before the ski season.  Do you get many guests in the winter?  She replied, "Hmmmm, well I guess there is a little ski area up the valley ... " [Translation: "No guests in winter"]. Well, how about in the summer then?  "It is pretty quiet around here in the summer." [Translation:  "No guests then either."] The inn was in good shape, the room we stayed in looked near new.  Finally, she volunteered, "sometimes we get a group that will stay when they play at the golf course up the road."  When was the inn built?  "This building, in 1989, ... but we have been open since the Taisho era, and are now the 3rd generation.  We used to get merchants stopping through on their travels, but ever since the expressway was built ... not many people come around here."

I guess most businesspeople take the expressway, instead of riding their bicycle to a business meeting 900 km from home ...

We left in the fog and climbed very gradually (1-2-3% grades) out of the valley less than 100 meters vertically and 8 km or so further onto a plain where we reached a small settlement - Hirugano Kogen/Takasu Cho.  There was a Daily Yamazaki convenience store, complete with benches across the front exterior, the main one occupied by a very satisfied looking cat.  The cat clearly belonged to the store, as its water and food bowls were under the bench (Jerome noted that the cat's porcelain bowl was made in France, and of a type he had once imported into Japan, in a previous job many years ago -- yet another small contribution he has made to the welfare of Japan).  The sun came out as we ate breakfast.  A younger man waiting for a shuttle bus to take him to his job at an onsen chatted us up.  When I mentioned to the older man at the cash register how calm ("otonashii") the cat seemed, he seemed genuinely glad that I had noticed and assured me that there was a second cat around that was the opposite, always hiding from customers and sneaking around.  As we mounted our bikes to ride off, two very energetic looking old ladies pulled into the parking lot in a mini-car and literally applauded and cheered when they saw two odd foreign cyclists, just heading out.

With that send-off, and the fog completely burned off, we saw that the fall colors were still vibrant, the air clear and clean, and we were on the beginnings of a very gradual 20 km descent, much of it along a river valley.  All seemed right in the world.
Hida Highway, Route 156, in Takasu

On the descent down Route 156 in Takasu
On this stretch, I saw a pension (inn) with the name "White Pecker".  At first, I could not imagine why a pension might have that name (?), then it struck me -- the bird in "shiro tori" (White Bird) must be a wood pecker, not the swan that uses the same characters but is pronounced "haku cho" instead.

Anyway, we reached Shirotori and turned to the west onto a 400m elev climb, first up a circular bridge -- the Japanese road equivalent of a spiral staircase -- and then found yet another entrance to a road tunneling through a mountain, closed to bicycles.  Instead we headed up the old road, far under a different expressway.  Again, it was a connector to the mid-air Tokai Hokuriku Expressway, closed to bicycles.
Yes, the dot way up ahead is Jerome, now in good climbing form.

Now above the highway, looking back down at White Bird, Gifu
Cresting Aburazaka Pass ... shorts and short sleeves in the mountains in November!
Then we looped back and forth and eventually were above the same ribbon of road, reached Aburazaka Pass, and began almost 50 km of gradual downhill and flat, slowed only by a headwind as passed some long reservoirs and then descended the winding gorge of the Kuzuryu River.  Neither of us knew what to expect here, and so it was a pleasant surprise that we found ourselves on a good road surface, without too much traffic, and on a cool sunny day even the reservoir was sparkling.  We were very happy to emerge from the gorge into the flat area around Echizen Ohno, out of the mountains at last and ready for lunch of "rice omelet" and side dishes.

The next segment of our trip illustrates an important rule of cycling in Japan.  Never assume just because a road is "National" instead of "Prefectural" that it will be a major route.  And never assume the "Prefectural" one will not be.  This seems especially to be the case in Fukui Prefecture.  Fukui Prefecture seems to have more funds than the National government for road construction and repair.  It is known as the "nuclear Ginza", the home to 13 nuclear power plants, the most concentrated in the world, and it looks very prosperous -- the biggest houses, largest birth weight babies, and most medical clinics per capita, also, according to an article in the most recent Businessweek.

We left Echizen Ohno and headed onto National Route 476, which seemed like the most direct road, bearing south of Fukui City -- hypotenuse instead of legs of the triangle.  Strangely, it had no traffic.  After a few kilometers we passed a "road closed" sign warning we would need to stop in 1 kilometer.  Then a climb started, into the woods and the road narrowed to a single lane -- more of a "rindo" (forest road) than a "kokudo" (national road). We came up to the road construction sight, and found this.

The hole was very deep, and there was no obvious way around on either side as far as one could see.  The helper down in the trench was using a cord to pull himself up and out of the steep bank.  The bulldozer operator took one good look at us, then a long puff of his cigarette, then said "you cannot make it on a bicycle; you will need to carry it".   It was a remarkable statement of the obvious -- no, my bike cannot ride through a 5 meter deep, 10 meter across hole!  Yet it was also incredibly bold and helpful -- no effort to turn us back. No worry about liability if we should slip and fall clambering into or out of the hole.  In fact, the helper in the trench with the cord held my bicycle so that I could lift it first and then climb out with my hands free.  After offering our thanks, we continued up National Route 476, again no traffic for the next 10+ kms, as we climbed a few hundred meters to a pass, along the ridge, then down the other side and into and through another beautiful, isolated farming valley.
Route 476 looking back at Echizen Ohno

Kokudo, not Rindo (?)
After 22 km on Route 476, we finally reached PREFECTURAL Route 2.  This looked to offer our last climb before Echizen City, again a short cut in exchange for going over a hill.  On my map, it looked to be 200-250 meters to the top.  But after a short uphill at 2-3% grade, we saw a new tunnel mouth, and the pavement inside the tunnel was tipped down away from us.  Whoosh, we zoomed through the base of the mountain and came out on the plain just to the west of Echizen City, onto Route 8 -- a major road with heavy truck traffic, but at least a decent shoulder.

South of Echizen, Route 8 is unpleasant, but difficult to avoid.  It heads Southwest over several small climbs and eventually reaches the Japan Seacoast offering a very nice view down the bay and across to the Tsuruga Peninsula, where the sun was already low in the sky.
Tsuruga Bay, Fukui

Tsuruga Peninsula, Fukui -- there is a nuclear plant just this side of the tip of the peninsula, in the dark shadow, just about 10 km from the city center, while the accident prone "Monju" proto-type fast breeder reactor is just around the corner

There were a few others at the rest area, snapping photos and admiring the view.  And we met another long distance cyclist, traveling from Komatsu, Ishikawa Prefecture, toward Osaka.  He was stretched out on a bench resting, just like we do sometimes.  And he had extra lights for night riding, large water bottle, and plenty of clothes, just like we do. 

His bike, on the other hand, was a mama-chari, and he was going at a slightly slower pace.  And he was missing a good number of teeth, and did not say anything about business meetings on Monday.

At least it was reassuring to know that we are not the only long distance cyclists in Japan.

Time to head for the train station.
I told Jerome that I had had enough, and planned to hop the train home from Tsuruga, another 20 km ahead.  Two days and 410+ km was already too much, pushing my luck with the cold.  And I would just hold him back if he wanted to press on far Friday night.

So we made good time through the traffic on Route 8 into the prosperous looking city, ate dinner at "Gusto" near the station, I gave Jerome a spare light, batteries and the complete set of photocopied maps, and we managed to attach his headlamp onto his helmet far enough back so it would not pull the helmet forward.  Fed and restocked, he headed off another 50+ km to Maizuru, where he again found real sleeping accommodations Friday evening, to continue again on Saturday.  I hopped the train back to Tokyo, and was in my house before 11PM.

Saturday I have been feeding him weather updates and mileage information.  He was in heavy rain from midday to late afternoon when he reached Tottori, but the rain seems to have let up along the Japan Sea Coast as predicted, so he decided to continue on in the direction of Yonago by bicycle on Saturday evening.  Any more detailed reports of Day 3 (or 4) will need to await his return.

Tokyo-Hiroshima Day One -- Norikura in November

Jerome waits for me at the top of Norikura Rindo (2700m elev in the Japan Alps), wearing his new Rabobank helmet and all the warm clothes that he brought on this trip -- the only time I've ever seen him bundled up like this.
Over the past week, Jerome and I made plans for the previously announced trip from Tokyo to Sanda/Kobe, taking advantage of the Culture Day" holiday Thursday and a day off work Friday.

First, Jerome contacted Yazaki-san, a longstanding Beeren member who lives in Kofu at least part of the time, and who also has a small farm plot and house where he grew up in the country just west of the City, off of Prefectural Route 12 between Minami Alps and Nirasaki.  Yazaki-san seemed happy to give us a place to stay Wednesday night, and mentioned that a few friends were already coming over in advance of a volunteer event on Thursday.

Next, the destination was changed to Hiroshima, as Jerome had business meetings there scheduled for Monday.  We debated the details -- would we go through the Kiso Valley along Nakasendo, or over Norikura (2700 meters elev), or compromise with Nomugi Pass (1675 meters elev); would we stop in Takayama after 200 km and 3300 meters climbing, or press on so there was hope to get all the way to Hiroshima?  In the end, we agreed only that we would need to stay flexible, adjusting our plan based on weather and progress.

Finally, I stayed up late Monday night waiting for sign-offs or comments on a document from client teams in NY and Tokyo, and awoke Tuesday with a sore throat.  I took the train in to work, and it seemed like half the people in the train car were coughing or sneezing -- cold season is here, even though the weather outside feels more like September than November.  I felt marginally better on Wednesday, and hoped that if I just did not get worse, I would be able to ride on Thursday.  I needed to at least try.  The weather forecast promised 3 days of mostly dry, warm weather for all of our route -- the last best chance to ride in higher mountains this year -- and I could not let Jerome down lightly.
Yazaki-san (on the right) and one of his Sophia cycling buddies.

The Yazaki collection.
A late night "snack" of tempura, persimmons from the garden, eggplant from the garden, and a range of other foods and drinks.
Yazaki-san picked us up at Nirasaki Station before 9:30.  He and his friends seemed like a great group -- all of them cycled together at Sophia University 40+ years ago, they are now between 65 and 68 in age, and still ride together at times, even those who spent decades off the bike.  When we arrived, just before 10PM, the table was laid for us with lots of dishes prepared from Yazaki-san's garden, including a large plate of delicious sliced up persimmons, and several tasty eggplant dishes.  (Thursday's volunteer event consisted of a potato digging/harvesting experience at the farm for a group of handicapped persons from Tokyo -- some of the same members who had done the running leg of a triathlon, with Yazaki-san and his friends taking bike and swim segments, in Akita Prefecture last summer).  They were enjoying a night of eating and drinking going strong when I awoke briefly at 1:30AM, two hours after I had gone to bed to try to get enough sleep so that I could ride early on Thursday. 

Jerome and I woke early and left as quietly as possible, grabbed breakfast at the Lawson down the road, and were on the road in earnest by 5:45AM.  I felt a bit weak and achy despite a decent night's sleep, and decided to try to ride well within myself and just not "blow a gasket" that would take me out of the trip before I managed to complete at least a day.

Route 12 is a very nice, quiet road for cyclists running North-South around the western edge of the Kofu metropolis, especially at 6AM on a holiday.  I remembered taking it the other direction at 11PM on a Saturday night, on the first Brevet I rode in 2009, when it was equally quiet and smooth -- the experience that made me decide that riding at night in Japan was something I might enjoy a lot, though I had always avoided it before.  We made good time over the first 12-13 km to the North, where Route 12 ends at National Route 20 -- exactly at the Nirasaki checkpoint for the Tokyo-Itoigawa Fast Run Classic.

The first two climbs of the trip, from Nirasaki up to Fujimi, and then from Suwa/Okaya up to Shiojiri Pass, seemed very easy and gradual, despite my cold.  I realized that every time I had done these before, it was after coming from Tokyo.  I had never done them "fresh".

We left the main road after the descent into Shiojiri from the pass, and wound our way up an down through the farmland, eventually joining the "Japan Alps Salad Line."  I had ridden the "Fruit Line" on the hillside between Enzan and Katsunuma in Yamanashi, but never the "Salad Line" in Nagano!  True to name, there were lots of stands selling fresh vegetables, and persimmons ... all too heavy to carry onward.

We met Route 158 and headed west up the valley along the Nagawa, past several dams and across the big one at the top of the valley, then through several kilometers of tunnels and toward Kamikochi, our third climb up to the 1000 m elevation range.

This trip offered a mix of massive Japanese infrastructure, huge gashes across the landscape, massive eyesores, and spectacular natural beauty.  The climb up the valley was no exception, with beautiful fall colors on the slopes and a free running river full of rocky rapids, but the most impressive sight by far the incredible concrete monstrosity at the top.

The tastefully designed "water and electricity" exhibition hall at the tunnel entrance.
 We made it onto the Norikura climb by 11:30, pretty much on schedule, and left tunnels and dams behind.  We rested around 1400m elev, where there were some restaurants and shops, near many resort homes in the woods.

Our next rest was at 1800m, where a "rest house" was closed and a gate blocked any further progress by automobile.  A few older couples wandered around the parking lot snapping photos before hopping back in their cars and turning around.
Looking back down the valley -- too late for fall colors at this elevation.
From a bit higher up.

I climbed the last 900m elevation as slowly as I have in years, no power at all when I tried to push too hard, but not giving up.  It was not particularly steep, or hard, just long, and I had no power at all today. More rests and photo stops at various points along the route, then gradually adding clothes -- leg warmers, shoe liners, arm warmers, full fingered gloves, a skullcap that covered the ears.  
A long and winding climb.
The Canyon stops for a look at the view, in its Brevet incarnation today - Topeak Dynapack seat bag, wheels with the wide Velocity A23 rims/White Industry hubs/Vittoria Open Pave 24mm tires, and, most important, 36 rear spokes.  Also, double front and double rear lights (plus a third front and rear light on my helmet).

Jerome climbed ahead and waited for me at the top.  I had warned him he might want to wait a little below, so he could warm up when he started to ride again ... but he found a place in the lee of the wind only a fwe meters from the top.  The temperature was just slightly above freezing, and a howling wind hit after we rounded the corner and started down the other side.

The top of the mountain and everything down a few hundred meters below the pass was in the clouds. It looked nothing like the beautiful summer scenery I remembered from Half-fast Mike's video of the same descent on a warm sunny day in July.

Other than Jerome, I saw only one hiker -- heading downhill within a kilometer of the first gate -- for almost 30 kilometers of riding.  Great not to worry about tourist buses when rounding the corners on the descent ... but a little bit scary if we had somehow gotten stuck.  The huts we passed were all boarded up tightly for the winter -- not easy to pry open, even for shelter from a storm. Jerome kept well behind me on the downhill -- the worst case I could think of was that I would crash, he would ride into me and go down, and then we would both be lying wounded on the mountain as dark and cold set in.

Before we knew it, we were down the hill and onto a long, fast stretch down a beautiful river valley to Hida Takayama.  We coasted around the town, enjoying the scenery and noticed it seemed bustling with tourists, including plenty of foreigners.  After almost giving up on finding any restaurant appropriate for two sweaty cyclists' early dinner, we finally saw a yakiniku (barbeque) place, Rokubei.  We picked the "all you can eat - 90 minute Gifu beef" course, and consulted the cook about our route.  I was ready to stop and get some sleep, check into a business hotel and try to recover for a stronger second day.  But the yakiniku master said we would be very, very lucky to find any rooms free in Takayama, where the holiday overlapped with a festival (not the main autumn "Takayama Matsuri", a few weeks earlier, but something more obscure yet still sufficient to pack the hotels).

Rokubei's master
We left town and continued west on National Route 158, hoping to get a further 80 km to Shirotori ("White Bird"), which looked large enough so it might have accommodations -- as confirmed by the yakiniku cook.  The map showed we would need to climb 3-400 meters up and over Odori ("Little Bird") Pass, 1002m elev, then down and up over a Matsunoki  ("Pine Tree") Pass, 1086m elev, down again and up a third (1150m elev) pass, on the first half of this ride.

There was a 4-km tunnel under the first hill, but it was marked "closed to bicycles" and on the map it looked as if it poured right into the expressway at the other end, so we did not chance it and instead headed up and over the climb.  Again, we found ourselves on a perfectly good road with almost no traffic.  I plodded along.  Jerome waited at the top of each little climb. 

Mounting up in the dark after
finishing dinner.
The temperature dropped down to 7 or 8 degrees C.  Finally, we got a lucky break, as on the third climb we reached our own tunnel entrance, at least 30-35 meters below what we had expected would be the last pass, then headed onto a descent.  In the dark along much of this route, we could see the shady outline of an expressway, high in the sky, emerging from one side of a hill, crossing open space, and disappearing into another tunnel.   The Tokai-Hokuriku Expressway -- it must have been a very expensive road to build.

After the descent from the third after-dinner climb, we pulled into a "michi no eki" (rest area) at Shokawa, near an entrance to the expressway.  The rest area was cold and dark, only a few camper vans in the parking lot with people sleeping overnight, and the restrooms and vending machines functional 24/7.  After getting hot "banana au lait" drinks from the vending machine, and using the facilities (heated toilet seat!), I noticed a darkened board with a list of hotels and ryokan (Japanese inns).  It was 9:45PM.  After almost 250 km and 3500+ meters of climbing, I needed to stop.  If we kept on to Shirotori, we might be too late to check in anywhere.  Even now, in the countryside, the odds were against us.  Jerome called at least half the 20 places on the board.  They were closed for the season, or full, or "already preparing for tomorrow", or asleep and not answering the phone.

Eventually, he found a kindly innkeeper, the lady who runs the Sakaeya Ryokan (栄屋旅館, tel 05769 2 2016), together with her husband.  She took pity on us and agreed to take us in, for "su domari" (just a place to sleep, no meals -- she did not have extra supplies for breakfast).  We enjoyed rice crackers and tea (or, in Jerome's case, beer), a hot bath, a place to rinse and hang our clothes, brush teeth and shave, all the comforts of life, even a nice futon and a TV (sorry, no cable), and most important, a full night's sleep, so we could continue the next day.