One Hundred Months of Centuries

One hundred consecutive months of at least one Century (i.e. a bike ride of 160.9+ km) a month complete! I started doing long distance bike rides in March 2012 and from September of that year started doing at least one Century per calendar month.

This latest ride in Izu covered 172.5 km (on Strava) and also added 24 VeloViewer tiles.

A ride in west Izu in December is almost like a personal tradition for me. As the weather turns drier in the winter there are so many nice Fuji views to be had and you can ride around the entire peninsula without climbing a single hill higher than 300 m.

Well, that’s the theory. But it actually rained for the first two hours and the return route through the center of the peninsula that I took to get back to Mishima had a climb to 650 m elevation and only 7 C in the dark. I had about 1,000 m of elevation gain on the way down to near Iwachi Onsen (south of Matsuzaki), but another 1,200 by replacing the hilly coastal road that I had come on with Rt15 and Amagi toge/Rt414 on the way back.

We met up at 8:00 at Mishima station. It had been raining on my drive on Tomei from Tokyo, but seemed to almost have stopped by the time we set off, so I left my rain gear in the small backpack I was wearing. The rain picked up again, bringing back memories of my rainy Fleche ride from Aizu to Tokyo in mid-October. Our first stop was at a 7-11 on the Izu north coast, before we headed out to the NW corner.

The Honshu coast was completely obscured by rain clouds, no views of Mt Fuji. However, gradually the sky brightened and the rain stopped. We bought some mikan from an unattended roadside stall (9 mikan for 300 yen) which we shared at a viewpoint overlooking Ida village.

First we could make out the side of the mountain, with snow visible at the top of the visible portion, just below the clouds. In Heda we visited the sandspit with the shrine. In clear weather you can view Mt Fuji behind the entrance to the local bay with the tori of the shrine in the woods on the sandspit from a small pier the locals use for fishing. The water there is crystal clear.

Then we climbed the biggest hill on the way to Toi, where we had Chinese lunch (because it was quick and December daylight is short). After that Jochem headed over the mountains to the center of the peninsula to catch a train back while Colin and I continued to Matsuzaki as fast as I could.

The rain had washed off all the chain lube and it was squeaking. I had to re-lube from my little container, which fixed it.

From Matsuzaki, Colin headed inland on Rt15 to get to Shimoda while I continued towards Iwachi onsen / Kumomi onsen. On a hill overlooking the Matsuzaki coast I took pictures when three Japanese road cyclists came up. We started to chat. In the end it turned out one lived in my neighbourhood (within half a km) and I had met with one of the others at a Half-Fast meeting a couple of years ago! The world is such a small place 🙂

Since I was running out of daylight, I headed back north and took the same route Colin had taken. From north of Shimoda I headed towards Amagi toge. My feet were wet the whole day from the rain, even though I had bought a simple pair of socks at a convenience store to change, because the shoes were still wet. My fleece trousers were also moist from not wearing the rain pants in the morning. So I wasn’t very comfortable, despite wearing the rain jacket as an extra layer. Dry feet are crucial for comfort and I resolved I will finally do something about keeping my shoes dry in the rain.

In one place the road passes a corkscrew-like ramp. The whole climb is very steady, mostly 5-7%, so not difficult but just long. It’s about as much climbing as Yabitsu pass, but less steep. The road is kind of remote, with no houses around and I could hear many deer whistling in the forest, but cars were passing quite regularly. North of the tunnel at the top of Amagi pass it was a loooong descent (more than 20 km of coasting). Once that leveled off I could follow the river and main roads back to Mishima, with no significant climbs.

I got back home around 01:00 in the morning, showered and went to bed. It felt good to have done the big ride for the month and extended the streak into the triple digits, which was my aim for the whole year.

Izu is always well worth a visit.

I don’t know how many more Centuries I’ll manage in December but I plan to continue in January 🙂

My team “Maillot 24Tokyo” ride of AR Nihonbashi Flèche 2020

The Fleche Nihonbashi 2020 (フレッシュ日本橋2020) will remain my longest ride of the year, I am sure. I rode 403 km from the hotel in Aichi where we set off on Saturday at 06:30 to my home in Tokyo on Sunday (on Strava). During that time I slept 3 1/2 hours and experienced 18 hours of rain.

In a Fleche, teams of 3-5 bicycles have 24 hours to ride a distance of at least 360 km towards a central meeting point. I had successfully participated in a Fleche in 2019. Two members of the 5 person team this year were different from last year. Like last year, only 4 of them actually rode.

Our event team name was “Maillot 24 Tokyo”, a pun on the fact that we were going to ride 24 hours (“ni shi”) to Tokyo in our new AJ NishiTokyo jerseys. The 2020 run was originally scheduled for April but due to Covid-19 it got pushed to October 17-18. Because virtually no randonneuring events have taken place from April to September, many randonneurs’ fitness has suffered and DNS (“did not start”) is more common than usual.

I had been watching the weather forecast closely. Our start was in Toyohashi, Aichi prefecture and the planned goal in Totsuka, Kanagawa. Normally, the prevailing wind conditions would give you something of a tailwind along this relatively flat course. We had only about 1000 m of elevation gain in the first 2/3 (240 km) of the ride. However, as the date of the ride came closer the forecast became rainier by the day. Ultimately it rained on Saturday from before the start to when we decided to officially DNF (did not finish) in Okitsu, Shizuoka after midnight. The north-easterly headwind that we had for most of Saturday more than made up for the relatively flat course. That and three punctures by one team member meant we could not finish within the time limit. We did finish the ride on Sunday after just a few hours of sleep at a Kenkoland hotel and public bath, riding back to Kanagawa and Tokyo together.

I made my way to Toyohashi by car on Friday. Everybody else took the shinkansen. I drove to Lake Hamana (Hamanako) halfway between Hamamatsu and Toyohashi. There I unloaded the bike after which my wife and daughter headed back in our car for a separate adventure. After 26 km I arrived at the hotel a little after noon. Since I couldn’t get into my room until 15:00 I first had lunch at a convenience store on us tax payers (1000 yen Go To Travel coupon) and then explored the city by bike. Toyohashi has a castle museum, which is free to visit, in what is now the city park (formerly the castle grounds). After I checked into my room the other participants arrived, minus one who chose to DNS due to the weather forecast. What a sensible person! 🙂

While preparing the bike in the morning I decided that I was going to be too warm in my full rain gear, even with 11 C. I wore my rain jacket on top of my base layer and team jersey, but not the rain trousers — just my regular uniqlo shorts (65% / 35% polyester / cotton). Only on the last convenience store stop before sunset did I finally put on the rain trousers, as well as a windbreaker under the rain jacket. That was perfect temperature-wise.

The weather was very gloomy all day, with a steady drizzle and wind. There were no other cyclists around as we headed out 45 km to Cape Irago, the westernmost point of our ride. 7 km later we did our first convenience store stop for a 15 minute break. Then we headed east along the coastal road. After about 105 km we stopped for lunch (ramen and gyoza). It was only 11 C for most of the morning. I think the warmest we saw was 16 C around Shizuoka-shi.

These are two of the 5 bridges running side by side on the southern end of Lake Hamana, where it drains towards the Pacific.

Hamamatsu in Shizuoka is home to both Kawai and Yamaha pianos. You can actually tour the factories by appointment (or at least you could before Covid, not that we would have had time for that). Both Aichi and Shizuoka have a lot of Japanese-Brazilian immigrant workers, so Portuguese tends to be a common second language on signage, like Russian in parts of Hokkaido and English in the rest of Japan:

The Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station in Shizuoka is one of the most tsunami-exposed plants in Japan and mostly upwind from Tokyo. It sits directly above a fault line where two tectonic plates meet in a subduction zone (the most dangerous type of fault line – 9 of 10 of the biggest earthquakes in the last 100 years happened at subduction zones). All 5 units at Hamaoka were shut down in 2011 and a planned sixth unit was cancelled.

After 166 km we passed Omaezaki, another cape. The Shizuoka coastline turns north there. From there we were heading up Suruga bay, with the west coast of Izu across the sea. You could have admired the west Izu coast and Mt Fuji if the weather had been good, which of course it wasn’t. 2 km after we took checkpoint pictures at the cape we stopped at another convenience store. I completed my rain wear and thermal layering as it would soon get dark.

At one point we lost two riders at the back and turned around to find them fixing a front wheel puncture in the dark. Later in the ride the same bike punctured at the rear wheel, twice. Eventually we used up all 700C spare tubes we had (two of us ride 650B and rely strictly on our own tubes).

By then it was getting clear that we could not stick to the time plan and that we wouldn’t make it in time. The headwind and rain were too much of an obstacle to that and the punctures didn’t help. We stopped for dinner at a Cocos restaurant. Our ride leader suggested taking a break for the night at Kenkoland Suruga in Okitsu, where he had rested at brevets before. I was very reluctant to do that as it would effectively have cut my biggest ride of the year in two. For me, technically one ride ends once I sleep in a bed. Ultimately I am very glad though that I finally went along with the change of plan. I would have missed the best part, even if that 403 km ride sort of is two rides now.

Close to 1:00 we parked our bikes in the car park of the Kenkoland. Fortunately rooms were still available and Go To Travel discounted the room rate with breakfast. I set the alarm for 05:30 and was out like a match after my head touched the pillow. When I looked out of the window in the morning the rain had stopped. On the very left I could make out one side of Mt Fuji with fresh snow on top, then many smokestacks of chemical plants near Fuji City, with the Izu coastline to the right. I was very happy about the change in weather. Breakfast started at 06:00 and we were out and on the road again around 07:00.

Within minutes we got great views of Mt Fuji. Our course joined the Old Tokaido road, on which people had travelled on foot between Kyoto and Edo back in the old days.

About 260 km from the start we crossed the bridge over the Fuji river, which is a big turning point in the 300 and 400 km brevet courses of AJ NishiTokyo. Here the ride joined up with rides from Tokyo that I had done before. It’s crazy when you feel like you’re almost home but actually still have to cycle another 140 km! 🙂 Somewhere on the way to Numazu we switched from the road to a bicycle path on top of the tsunami barrier at the beach, which continued for many km. The views from there were fantastic and we took time for pictures, now that we didn’t have an arrival time to beat.

After Numazu and Mishima the road climbed into the mountains south of Hakone to Atami pass. I had crossed Izu only at Hakone or further south between Shuzenji and Ito. More Fuji views in the mountains. On about 10 km we did one fifth of the total climbing of the 400+ km ride. We passed the MOA, an art museum near Atami. The descent to Atami was very steep and treacherous (one minor crash but the rider could continue). I was glad I had disk brakes and wide tires for traction.

Once we got closer to Odawara,traffic got quite bad, as it usually does on a Sunday there, especially as this was a day with decent weather immediately after a rainy day.

As we had officially called in our DNF already, we were all free to go any way that would work for us. The ride leader and another member headed to Odawara station to have a meal together before using their rinko bags for the train ride home. Another member and and I cycled back another 73 km to Tokyo via Rt135 and then Rt246 which again was very busy. But we got home safely about 36 hours after we had started.

A few things I took home from this ride:

Preparation for an event like that is really important. I had all the clothes I needed, all the cables and other electronic gear, no issues whatsoever and I also didn’t really carry anything bulky or heavy that was unneeded on this ride. Recent rides in cooler and partially wet weather had helped me figure what clothes to bring.

Physically I was well prepared due to my recent long rides. It was my 10th ride of 150+ km since the beginning of August. One of them was another brevet (i.e. with time limits), others were rides with faster friends (Thanks, Peter!).

I was very happy with the new GPS. The Wahoo Elemnt Bolt performed flawlessly. I rode the last 160 km without recharging, but on Saturday I could also charge it on the handlebar in the rain without issues. I loved the way it announced turns from the RWGPS cue sheet. The maps on the unit aren’t great but workable until you zoom out too far.

Sleep planning also worked well. I got sufficient sleep the week before. The day before the ride I got up early, which made it easy to go to bed early and fall asleep easily the night before the ride. The short night at the Kenkoland worked out pretty well too.

Two major changes I would make:

I need mud flaps for the mudguards to keep spray off the shoes, especially going through puddles on the road. That would also prevent lubrication issues on the chain. I had to relube with donated chain lubricant on the second morning (I had some in the bottom of the bag but my friends saved me from having to search for it) as the splashing water had washed off too much oil.

And I want some shoe covers for the rain, to definitely make sure my socks will stay dry when it’s wet out there. I had brought a second pair of dry socks which I used on day 2, but I could have done better with proper shoe covers.

I am glad I didn’t stubbornly continue the ride on my own without a hotel stop in the early hours of Sunday. Day Two was much more enjoyable with my friends and safer too.

I would join another Fleche ride in a heart beat. With a good team it’s one of the most enjoyable formats of randonneuring.

See also:

My First Flèche Ride (366 km in 24 hours as a team)


On Saturday/Sunday April 20/21, 2019 I rode the Flèche ride I had signed up for in December. This will probably remain my biggest ride for the year.

The objective in a Flèche is to cover as much distance as possible in 24 hours as a team, with a minimum of 360 km. You can not stop at any place for more than 2 hours and you have to cover at least 25 km in the final two hours of the ride. Teams consist of 3-5 members, with tandems counting as one member. At least three members who have ridden the entire route together have to reach the goal. Traditionally Flèche rides are held on the Easter weekend in France. In other countries dates may differ because of the climate, but the Audax-Randonneur Nihonbashi Flèche did coincide with Easter. I was part of Team NishiTokyo and the ride started from Machida.

There were supposed to be 5 of us, but one person did not make it to start, so only the 4 of us took off at 07:00 on Saturday. The three others were seasoned randonneurs. Ride leader Mr O. participated in Paris-Brest-Paris in 2015. In fact he was wearing the hi-viz vest from that event. I had first met him at a 600 km brevet. Last year Mrs N. won the Audax Japan “Randonneur of the Year” award: She completed a 2400 km brevet around the coast of Hokkaido, i.e. twice the distance of PBP. Mr D. organises brevets for AJ NishiTokyo.

I had little doubt that I was going to be the weakest rider in the team but it was going to be a team effort in which we would always ride within sight of each other, not even WATT on climbs but climbing together.

I rode to Machida the evening before to spend the night at a cheap hotel (Toyoko Inn Fuchinobe, under 5,000 yen per night). Trying to minimize luggage this time and with no rain forecast, I opted for shorts, a short sleeve jersey, a light wind breaker and a t-shirt to wear as a base layer for when it was colder. I wasn’t sure if that was going to be enough. I was the only one in bare knees and my ride mates wore long sleeve jerseys, but it worked out temperature-wise and I never felt too cold while we were in motion. At the Nishi Izu brevet on March 30 I was also the lightest dressed participant.

Mr D. had prepared a cue sheet with average speeds between all the turns and major landmarks. Besides the PCs (points de controle) for which we needed to collect receipts to document that we passed there, he had also picked three Japanese restaurants for 30 minute meal stops. Normally on long distance rides and brevets I only eat food I buy at convenience stores or dried fruit I buy before, as it saves time. So I knew we would have to be riding considerably faster in between the stops. We also cut out all photo stops. All pictures I took we either stopped for a different reason (PCs, traffic lights, etc) or I took shots while in motion. We didn’t even stop at Yamanaka-ko for a group picture with Mt Fuji.

Mr O. had only slept for a few hours before the ride, but he led the group for almost the entire ride. His speed was very consistent. Mr D. was in second place, then me, with the rear covered by Mrs N. who made sure we stayed together. Sometimes she would suggest for me to speed up “if possible” to close a gap with Mr D.

After we crossed from Kanagawa into Yamanashi on Doshi-michi (Rt413), Mr D. started having problems with his knee. He had already abandoned a 300 km brevet the weekend before because of knee problems, which he didn’t want to exacerbate. We traded places, me moving up to Mr O. and him being followed by Mrs N. Even if he had to drop out of the Flèche we could have completed as a team because we still had three people, but I was also worried about Mr. O.’ s lack of pre-ride sleep.

At Michi-no-eki Doshi we had a short break. Like on my training ride to Yamanaka-ko two weeks earlier there were lots of motorcycles about. There were fewer bicycles than I expected. A new cycling base shop had opened not far from the road station, no doubt trying to capitalise on the increasing interest in Doshi road from the 2020 Olympic road race course.

We made it to the Doshi-michi Yamabushi-toge tunnel 10 minutes ahead of schedule, about 60 km from the start and at 1130 m elevation. I expected we’d be OK time-wise if we made it there on time since that first 1/6 of the course had almost half of the elevation gain. The legs got a short respite on the descent to Yamanaka-ko. the cherries were in bloom along the lake but we kept our pace towards PC1, where we only stopped briefly to collect receipts. A few km after that we pulled into the parking lot of a noodle shop. The food was served quickly. We used the toilet after ordering to minimize time.

Along Kawaguchi-ko Fuji was not as clearly visible as before and we picked up a head wind. Via Saiko we climbed to the main road and then Rt71 through the Aokigahara forest. We didn’t stop for the view of Motosu-ko at the pass but headed for the descent towards Shibakawa on the Fuji river. On the west side is was colder and Fuji was totally obscured by haze or clouds. I did put on my wind breaker for the 30+ km descent. We made it to the Familiymart at PC3 almost an hour ahead of schedule. It was now the middle of the afternoon.

We turned east at the Fuji river bridge towards Numazu. First there were a lot of traffic lights but then there were longer stretches in this urban area where we could just keep on going. Everybody had a story to tell where someone had slept by the roadside around here on some brevet or other. For the first time Mr O. slowed down a bit as he was getting sleepy. We turned south into Izu and 35 km after PC3, stopped for another restaurant. While we waited for the food, everyone was sending out pictures from Yamanaka-ko, to let others know we were OK.

Evening approached as we headed into the center of Izu, past Shuzenji and up into the mountains. Mr D.’s knee problems became worse and he had to call for a break. Mr O. probed his leg muscles with his fingers and it seemed to help. We climbed to the pass in the dark, now considerably slower to help out Mr D. but it also made it a lot easier for me. At the top I put on my wind breaker again for the descent towards Ito. We had used up some of our time savings but still reached PC4 ahead of schedule.

We saw fireworks light up above the Izu east coast. Between Toi and Odawara there were 4 climbs of various sizes, the biggest one at Manazuru, where we used prefectural road 740 high above the main road. The pace was relatively slow there as most of us were getting sleepy. Before Odawara we rejoined the main road and the course became mostly flat. 264 km from the start we stopped at a Denny’s restaurant for a meal and a turbo-nap. It was hard to believe we still had another 100 km to go.

Meanwhile the BRM421 300 km Fuji brevet by AJ NishiTokyo had started in Machida at 22:00. I was wondering if or where we would meet participants heading towards Odawara from Enoshima, for their clockwise loop around Mt Fuji. Indeed we came across the staff car parked by the side of the road, waiting for the fastest rider of that event to pass through and to take pictures. The staff members welcomed us with big cheers, took our pictures and we actually witnessed the first rider coming through soon after. As we rode east towards Enoshima we passed all the participants of BRM421 and shouted out encouragement towards them across the highway.

The nap at the restaurant seemed to have helped Mr O. and the flat route was better for Mr. D.’s knee. It became harder again for me to maintain the pace, but that was a good thing because it meant we could finish it as a team. We blazed down the west coast of Miura past Enoshima, Kamakura, Zushi and Hayama. Then we turned away from the coast towards Miura-Kaigan station for PC5, a 7-11.

The first birds could already be heard in the night as the morning approached. A mere 8 km from PC5 we collected another receipt at PC6, a Familymart in Yokosuka, to document we didn’t take any shortcuts. The more important next destination was a Jonathan restaurant in Yokosuka at km 337 where we arrived before 04:00. This was our designated 22 hour spot. We would eat and rest here until 05:00, 2 hours before the ride closing time, before our last ride segment of at least 25 km. The designated minimum goal was the Familymart at Yamashita-koen in Yokohama, just south of Minato Mirai, which was 26 km, for a total distance of 362.4 km.

We had just over an hour at the Jonathan restaurant. After having some food we all took a nap, until awoken by the alarm clock set for 04:50. We paid individually at 05:00, took our receipts and set off for the goal. We had almost 2 hours left to cover 26 km. There were traffic lights but not that much traffic. In between traffic lights Mr O. pulled us again at 28-30 km/h. As we got closer and closer we had an ever increasing margin against bad luck, such as a last minute puncture that could have screwed everything up. When we got close to Yamashita-koen, Mrs N. suggested not stopping there to collect receipts to prove we covered the minimum distance but continuing on towards Tokyo since the spirit of the Flèche is to ride as far as possible in those 24 hours. So we continued on past Minato Mirai and on to Rt15 as the clock moved towards 07:00. We would only get credit for the shortest distance from the last PC (Jonathan) to the 24 hour point, so not all the distance we rode counted towards the result. We all had coffee at a conbini on Rt15, where the 24 hours expired.

After that we collected and sorted our receipts and filled in the PC times on the brevet cards. Then we got back on our bikes again and rode another 27 km to Hibiya-koen in Tokyo, now without any clock ticking but still not much slower. We handed in our brevet cards with receipts for checking at the reception desk. There were teams that had cycled here from Sendai, Niigata or Nagoya. I met several randonneurs I knew from other events. The chairman of Audax Japan was also there. All the teams were called up on stage one by one, to briefly introduce themselves, with the team’s route projected on a screen behind them.

And there we were, all four of us, with a certified distance of 366 km in 24 hours (and over 3,000 m of elevation gain):

The ride home alone from the event seemed like the hardest part. All the adrenaline must have dissipated and the smallest climbs seemed painful. At home I went to bed and slept for 4 hours until dinner.

On Monday the legs were still complaining on the shallowest of grades. The next day they felt almost normal. The third day I felt fine again.

Dekopon, Cherry Blossoms and Some Rain: BRM330 200 Km in West Izu

The dekopon season will be coming to an end soon, but to compensate the shorts-and-short-sleeves season has started! I enjoyed both on Saturday, buying local dekopon (4 big juicy ones for 300 yen) in West Izu. The roadside stand worked on the honour principle: I dropped my coins into the collection box and took one bag of fruits.

I was the only rider in shorts at the start of the 2019BRM330 200 km brevet in Mishima, out of 13 who had shown up, out of 30 who had signed up, the others having been put off by a weather forecast that predicted a high chance of rain in the evening.

I drove to Mishima on Friday night with the Elephant Bikes NFE in the back of my Prius and parked the car in a coin parking lot (700 yen for 24h). I stayed at the Toyoko Inn, which was also going to be the goal of the 203 km ride which started at Mishima station. There were 2 courses, the hilly Matsuzaki course and the insanely hilly Darumayama course. I had tried and DNFed the latter in 2017, so it was Matsuzaki again for me.

Before the 08:00 start I loaded up the course on my GPS unit, but hit an unexpected snag when it reported a file system error that required a factory reset of the unit, meaning I’d lose my stored breadcrumb trail for navigation that I normally use. So I had little alternative but using my phone and the paper cue sheets for navigation. However, I had not brought my usual plastic cover for the phone to protect it on the handle bars in case of rain, nor had I weather proofed the cue sheets. The map bag of my front bag is not totally waterproof.

I used RWGPS to load the course and map and it gave me verbal directions in English throughout the ride. I kept the phone connected to a 10,000 mAh USB battery in my front bag until the goal. I have two USB batteries and two phones. There’s always a plan B and sometimes a plan C! 🙂

When the rain started to come down on the way back near Toi, I covered the phone with a plastic shower cap from a hotel stay which I secured it with rubber bands. I always keep one shower cap in the front bag as an emergency cover for the leather saddle or whatever. When my wet fingers made the touch screen difficult to operate, I used spare dry socks that I also kept in the same bag to wipe the screen dry again.

During a brevet on February 10, 2019 organized by Audax Kinki, a participant was sadly hit from behind and killed by a car in a tunnel. Brevet participants are required to wear reflective vests throughout the ride, but sometimes they wear a backpack which could partly obscure the reflective vest. Thus we were asked to wear the vest on top of any backpack. I actually brought two reflective vests, one to wear and one for my light string backpack (for spare clothes) to “wear”, which made getting changed quicker. I had bought the second at a brevet reception when I had forgotten the original one at home.

Most of the starter group did not spread out much until we turned the NW corner of Izu and the bigger climbs started. I took some pictures of the others and the scenery, but it was too hazy to see anything of Mt Fuji or even much of the mainland coast of Shizuoka on the other side of the bay. Mt Fuji remained totally hidden for the entire day.

As it got warmer towards noon I started fading a bit. I would have been really uncomfortable in long pants and thermal jacket. I was now riding on my own but comfortable in the knowledge that I was 50 minutes ahead of minimum pace at that point, which should normally ensure that I would complete the ride under the time limit.

There were a fair number of cherry trees, but most of them weren’t in full bloom yet, many quite sparse at the top still, so I didn’t take too many pictures of them.

There were only two timed controls on this course between the start and the goal, with 161 km in between. Near the southernmost point of the ride there was a photo check: We had to take a picture of a viewing platform on a mountain road together with our brevet card to prove we passed there. I climbed the mountain road together with a young couple. They had already suffered a puncture in NW Izu that had cost them time, while I frequently stopped for pictures.

From there I enjoyed a long descent to Kumomi Onsen. I had visited there in December and then climbed Mt Eboshi, which offers a breathtaking scenery of the coast. We passed Iwachi Onsen, where I had often visited by car when our children were still little.

I was trying to make it to near Heda village by sunset, where a staff member was taking pictures of all of us as we passed, but my own pictures took priority. At the last conbini in Toi before the wilderness it started raining and I put on my rain gear. On the descents I had to be a lot more careful. The wet asphalt soaked up all the light.

The rain became quite intense and I couldn’t help thinking of the 17 non-starters who had listened to the weather forecast… but with my time buffer I expected I’d still make it in time, unless I had bad navigation problems in the last 20 km. The phone became difficult to use when its touch screen got wet. Once, the RWGPS app somehow ended up back on the route selection and I had to restart the Navigation, which seemed to have cost me my downloaded maps 🙁 Now I could only use the turn by turn instructions to follow the course, but no map view. Fortunately, those turn by turn instructions worked flawlessly, even if the sound volume wasn’t always high enough to be clearly audible. Worst case I had to check the screen. Twice I went off-course but it soon let me know and it recovered when I backtracked to the wrong turn.

After more than 3 hours of riding in the dark I finally got close to Mishima station. When I stopped at the traffic light across from the Toyoko Inn, a staff member waved at me and handed me a note with the finishing time after I crossed. It was 21:19, only 11 minutes under the cut-off time. At the goal reception I presented my brevet card, the receipts from PC1 and PC2 (both 7-11 stores) and showed a photograph of the viewing platform. I had successfully completed! The young couple also made it. They arrived a mere 2 minutes before closing time. Another cyclist who had punctured on the last part of the ride in the rain was over the time limit.

On the drive back to Tokyo I stopped twice at Tomei expressway service areas for some rest, as I was too sleepy. When I got home I unloaded the car, took a shower and went to bed at 02:00. Two more weekends before the 360+ km Fleche ride for which I’m preparing.

2019 AJ NishiTokyo 200 km Miura Peninsula

This is one of the last views of Mt Fuji I had last Saturday (2019-01-19), when I rode my first brevet of the year, BRM119 NishiTokyo 200 km Miura Peninsula. I also saw Mt Fuji from the Yamate area of Yokohama (near the Foreign General Cemetery), from the waterfront south of Yokosuka and from various spots on the west coast of Miura, including just before Enoshima.

This 200 km ride around Miura peninsula from Machida to Machida is one I have done before, though much of the course outside Miura was different from last year’s. There’s a 13h 30m time limit (6:00 start, 19:30 close), with two timed checkpoints and a third location for a picture check. I finished in 12h 42m. Together with my ride back to Tokyo it came to 237 km (on Strava).

First Brevet of the Year

January brevets here are always very popular and fill up quickly when the signup period opens. BRM119 by AJ NishiTokyo was no exception. It filled up the first evening.

For a 200 km ride this course has minimal elevation gain (less than 1200 m) so it’s not quite as physically challenging as other 200 km brevets (hence maybe easier for people you didn’t ride much since the end of the 2018 brevet season in October), but there are no easy brevets. In this one you trade mountains for traffic lights and some busy roads. The January chill definitely will suck your energy, especially before sunrise and after sunset. You will be using a lot of energy just to stay warm, even when simply breathing in cold air!

The temperature on the ride ranged from -1° C at the start to 19° C near Jogashima, before dropping back to 5° C at Machida. This is a huge swing that’s difficult to dress for. I have a large front bag with sufficient space for clothes (and food), but I don’t know how others handled it — probably by feeling very chilly for the first few hours and very warm during the day!

The temperature swing aside, the weather was near perfect. The sky was nearly cloudless for almost the entire day. We were spoilt by ocean views and Fuji views.

I rode from my home in Tokyo to Machida the night before, as I had booked a room at a ToyokoInn to better cope with the early start time (06:00). This is a chain of inexpensive hotels. The rooms are clean and offer all the essentials. The ride reception to pick up one’s brevet card opened at 05:00, with a pre-ride briefing scheduled for 05:30. I went to bed at 22:00 to get more than 6 hours of sleep. My alarm went off at 04:10 and I left the hotel 40 minutes later.

I was well prepared for this ride. It was my third Century (160.9+ km) ride of the month, all three of them started no later than 06:00 so I knew the temperatures before sunrise and how they would feel in what I was wearing.

These are my improvised shoe covers, a pair of old merino socks with strategically cut holes for the SPD cleats, during testing the week before:

I had more than enough clothes with me, for example a choice of a winter jacket or a windbreaker to wear on top of my LS merino jersey and I used both, at different times.

I wore most of my clothes at the start at 06:00 from Machida:

The only time I really did feel cold was when riding back to Tokyo after the event, as I hadn’t bothered to change back into my thermal underwear and base layer and consequently felt the wind chill on my hands. I improvised some poor man’s Bar Mitts ™ out of plastic bags and rubber bands that kept my hands toasty warm for the rest of the ride.

Pacing myself

During the descent towards the Tamagawa river from the west I could see the whole of Tokyo below me in the dawn, including the skyscrapers of Shinjuku and Tokyo Skytree, the 634 m broadcast tower on the opposite side of the city.

About an hour into the ride, the sun rose. It was dazzling us at times. Near Kawasaki station we hit rush hour traffic, but after that we switched to a cycling path by the riverside. After 48 km we reached PC1, the first control. Here I took off some of my layers as it was warming up.

Between there and Tsurumi we were cycling near the port area, with many trucks carrying heavy shipping containers on the road.

In Yokohama we passed Minato Mirai with its old brick warehouses and other historic buildings. After a Yamashita park we climbed up to the Yamate area, also known as the Bluff, a hillside that was home to the first foreigners who arrived in Japan for trading when Japan opened to the world in the final years of the Tokugawa shogunate. I got a surprising view of Mt Fuji from just outside the Foreign General Cemetery on the hill.

With a large group it’s always tempting to try to hang on to faster riders and I probably ended up doing that, riding a bit too fast for the first 60 km or so of the ride. Then my legs gradually started to complain and I dropped the pace and stopped for food near Yokosuka. I kept a more sustainable pace for the rest of the ride and felt pretty good. I also stopped often for pictures.

After Yokosuka you get good views of Boso peninsula on the opposite side of Tokyo bay. The scenery becomes more rural. By now the temperatures were much milder. I was riding without my winter jacket and later even removed my base layer under the long sleeve jersey.

I passed Hayama, Zushi and Kamakura on the west coast, enjoying views of the ocean and Mt Fuji. After Enoshima the road turned off the coast and headed north. I had a comfortable time buffer and didn’t have to worry about control closing times.

It was still daylight at PC2, the last control. From here it was 31 km to the goal. Once the sun set, the silhouette of Mt Fuji in the dusk was still visible to the west and I stopped a couple of times for more pictures.

I arrived at the goal with about the last fifth of the participants still behind me. AJ NishiTokyo staff served hot drinks and snacks. We talked and took some pictures of each other and the arriving finishers.

Outlook into the season

My next brevet will be a 200 km ride in west Izu at the end of March which will be a lot more hilly, but before that I will do at least one Century ride in February. In April I will be participating in a Flèche as part of a mixed 5 person team riding 360 km in 24h to meet up with other Randonneurs in Tokyo. Most likely I’ll also be riding a 400 km brevet in May.

I am not aiming for a 600 km ride or for completing the Super Randonneur series (200, 300, 400 and 600 km) this year, let alone participating in Paris-Brest-Paris 2019 in August. Rides up to 400 km are enough of a challenge for me 🙂

2018 AJ NishiTokyo 400 km Fuji Big Loop

On Saturday/Sunday, May 12/13, 2018 I finished BRM512 (BRM512富士大回り400km), at 400 km my biggest brevet of the year. After having abandoned the 300 km BRM414 AJ NishiTokyo brevet around Mt Fuji due to atrocious weather conditions on April 14/15, 2018 (see report here), I had been a bit nervous about this one. It does an even bigger loop with more elevation gain (3500 m vs. 3000 m) and in my case, because I’m a slow cyclist, more time spent not sleeping.

I love the splendid Fuji views and the great variety of scenery that AJ NishiTokyo’s 400 km brevet offers. It covers 4 prefectures (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Yamanashi and Shizuoka). In both years in which I had completed the 400 previously (2015 and 2016), I pre-rode it as a personal ride on my own two weeks before the event, which really helped to prepare myself (2015 and 2016 reports).

On the day of this ride my father, who passed away from cancer about 5 years ago, would have turned 80. As a keen hiker, he would have appreciated the views and the camaraderie of this event. I was thinking of him a lot this day.

Preparing for the ride

The abandoned 300 km in April shook my self-confidence, since it was the first time I had abandoned a brevet on a course that I had successfully completed before, even if it was due to an external influence such as extreme weather. I then decided on a crash course to get into shape for the May ride, still doing only one long ride a week, but picking difficult ones.

Cycling legend Eddie Merckx is often quoted as having advised: “Don’t buy upgrades, ride up grades!” Personally I somewhat doubt he would have said that, given this English play on words would not work well in other languages, that Eddie was from the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium and back in those days he was far more likely to be interviewed by French, Italian, Dutch or German-speaking journalists than English-speaking ones. Nevertheless, as advice it is spot on 🙂

There are a couple of courses that I tend to ride only infrequently (such as once a year or less) because they’re so hard. One of those is the Oume Temple Loop, a mountainous course near Hanno conceived by my friend Deej. Most years I only rode it once, if at all, but then in 2017 I ended up doing it twice just one week apart, each time with a different friend. I really thought that exercise helped me on my subsequent Fuji 300 brevet, which I finished with a personal best time despite insanely hot temperatures.

So for this year I put the Oume Temple Loop back on the menu. One week after the rained-out Fuji 300 I cycled to Oume to pick up six other people and we rode the course. One highlight is the Takayama climb, a big climb of 8 km that gets steeper and steeper and tops out at over 20%.

You will pay for this effort on all subsequent climbs on the ride. The scenery is beautiful though. Many of the rindo (forest roads) are exceptionally quiet. It’s a world apart from Tokyo.

Two days later I announced a repeat of the ride for the next weekend and was rejoined by one of the participants from the first time and three others. Again it was very hard. I don’t know if the memory of the previous ride helped or discouraged, but we did it.

The next weekend I organised a ride up the Kazahari rindo, a forest road in Hinohara with up to 19% that has a reputation for being painfully steep, followed by a visit to the Nippara Limestone Cave.

Altogether I did 5 rides of 178 km or more on the 5 weekends before BRM512. I think especially the Temple Loop rides were excellent training, both physically and mentally.

In the week before the ride I tried to avoid staying up too late and took a nap on some days if I had got too little sleep for some reason. I also watched the weather forecasts for Saturday and Sunday for several locations around Mt Fuji, to make sure there was no chance of rain.

The Monday before the brevet I took my Elephant Bikes NFE to Tim of GS Astuto to install new brake pads and check the rotors as I knew the pads were pretty worn out. It turned out the rear pads were actually worn down to the metal. With fresh resin pads the brakes are fantastic again.

On Friday evening I loaded up the bike to cycle 29 km to Sagamihara, where I had booked a room for the night at Toyoko Inn, so I could get plenty of sleep and would only have to cycle 3 km to the start of the event. Despite having rested the whole week I didn’t feel particularly energetic on the way to the hotel, but it always depends on how you feel the day of the ride. A good night’s sleep can make a lot of difference.

25 hours of adventure

My alarm went off at 05:40 in the morning. I had gone to bed around 22:00 the night before, but woke up twice during the night. I took a quick shower, got dressed and picked up my things to check out. Soon I was on the road. 10 minutes later I arrived at the park for the brevet start. I greeted old friends and picked up my brevet card at the AJ NishiTokyo reception. A lot of the conversations as we were waiting for the briefing were about the last brevet, the washed-out Fuji 300 km. 57 people who had signed up were sensible enough to not even start. I met two of only 8 finishers out of 23 starters. Fortunately the forecast for BRM512 was much more favourable – no rain, a high of about 27 C and a low of about 13 C.

After the briefing and safety check we were off. I think there were about 70 of us. Before we got out into the countryside, we had to stop for a number of traffic lights. At one of them, the lead cyclist wanted to turn left following the course of the brevet in previous years, while the new course went straight. As I pulled up next to her, I pointed out the three areas where the route had changed from the years before. Perhaps she had not studied the new route in detail. I had sat down in front of two computers with two monitors, comparing the old and the final new route side by side about a week before the ride.

I also always make sure to download the route as a GPX file to my GPS so I can follow a breadcrumb trail on its screen, a virtually foolproof way of navigating a course.

Despite the length of the course, even out in the countryside I was often within sight of other cyclists, and sometimes drafting or leading someone. That’s always reassuring, as it tells you that your performance is reasonable enough.

The organisers had replaced one untimed check on the way to Yamanakako with a timed check point near Kawaguchiko, at about 900 m above sea level. Previously PC1 (point de contrôle 1) had been only after the descent from Motusoku, at much lower elevation again, which allows one to make up time lost climbing from sea level to the elevation of the Fuji Five Lakes.

I stopped at one convenience store before entering Doshi road (national route 413) to buy food and some bottled milk tea, then again at the Doshi road station (Michi no Eki Doshi) around km 51. The climb from there to the tunnel felt hard. I was feeling my legs, but I knew the biggest climb would be out of the way and if I could only maintain any time buffer ahead of the required minimum speed that I was left with by then, I could finish the ride by maintaining slightly less than a 15 km/h average, as long as I didn’t get too sleepy.

I saw the first Fuji view around Doshi village and was surprised how clear it looked, because there were some clouds in the sky. Nevertheless, on the other side of the pass, the views got even better.

On the shore of Yamanakako (Lake Yamanaka) I could see the snow-capped peaks of the Japanese Southern Alps, which is actually fairly rare. Half the time you can’t even see Mt Fuji from the lake that lies right in front of it! It was a gorgeous day for views.

From the north side of the lake we followed a minor route, away from national routes 138/139 that we had taken in 2015/2016. The roads were much more quiet. We passed forests and a flower park. Most of it was downhill too. Finally PC1 came up, around km 82. I was 41 minutes ahead of schedule, which was not bad. I bought some food and kept the receipt as proof of the passage.

This 7-11 store was right in front of the entrance to a 2.4 km long tunnel. As I was eating and talking to staff and other cyclists, I saw two cyclists in reflective randonneur vests enter the tunnel without stopping for the PC. Later, as I had almost crossed the tunnel, I saw them come back towards the PC inside the tunnel as they must have realized their mistake.

After the tunnel the route followed the north shores of Kawaguchiko and Saiko, again offering beautiful Fuji views and opportunities for photographs. Then the road climbed to meet up with Rt139, but only followed it for 6.5 km, with the Aokigahara forest on our side.

I was looking forward to the national route 300 turnoff for Motosuko (Lake Motosu). There’s a famous spot facing Mt Fuji where you get the exact same view of it as you see on a 1,000 Japanese yen bank note (well, except for the seasonal amount of snow and the reflection of the mountain on the lake surface depending on how smooth it is with wind, etc). Everybody stopped here to take a picture.

Right after that we entered the tunnel for the Motosu road descent, the biggest and fastest descent on the entire course. On a previous event one of the participants had a bad accident here and had to be airlifted to a hospital, so AJ NishiTokyo staff will always point out to be careful on this descent.

There are some nice views on this descent too and I stopped again for pictures. After the steepest part we turned off for Yamanashi prefectural route 9, which crosses over to an adjacent valley, then another long descent all the way to PC2 near km 133. After the time gained on the fast descent, I was now 1:25 (85 minutes) ahead of the minimum pace.

There were no big climbs on the way to the untimed checkpoint near Minami Alps at km 156, so progress was good. In fact, we even had a nice tailwind. Though this would turn into a headwind on return, the return route also starts with a fair bit of descending that initially more than compensated for the headwind.

I passed a TDK factory in Minami Alps that had beautiful rose bushes facing national route 52.

The checkpoint on top of a loop-shaped ramp provided a nice view of the wide mountain valley at the heart of Yamanashi prefecture, including Mt Fuji. Though it was still almost another 50 km to the half-way point of the ride, it felt like we were already half way there.

There I met my friend Mr O., usually an extremely strong rider, who was resting and looking exhausted. He had not had enough chance to cycle this year to prepare himself. He decided to do the safe thing and retire from the ride.

The return route passed through small towns with a nice descent.

I could still enjoy the Fuji views from the Minami Alps side, which were as clear as from Yamanakako and Kawaguchiko.

Gradually the road became more level and the wind more noticeable, especially after we rejoined Rt52 along the Fujikawa river to the coast. Then we crossed the river near Minobu and followed the Minobu railway line. The road became more hilly and evening approached. There’s a lot of construction going on for the Chūbu-Ōdan Expressway that will connect Chūō Expressway to Shin-Tōmei Expressway when completed.

I don’t really like those hills along the Minobu railway, especially after dark when there are no more views, so I was glad when about half an hour after sunset I reached PC3 in Shibakawa (219 km from the start), 2 hours and 14 minutes (134 minutes) ahead of closing time.

From here it wasn’t far to the coast and I crossed the river, now heading east towards Numazu.

At daytime there would have been more Fuji views, but at night it was just city streets. Every now and then I came across other cyclists who passed me.

I was just keeping a steady pace, every now and then yawning or standing up to relieve my bottom, which was starting to complain about the amount of time spent on the bicycle saddle.

In Numazu the route turned south into Izu. After Shuzenji it became more rural. I was looking forward to the tunnel at the top of the pass and the descent towards Ito. I made it to PC4, 290 km from the start, a little after midnight, now 2 hours and 15 minutes ahead of closing time. I took a 5 minute nap on a chair inside the convenience store. Others were sleeping too.

For the night ride I was wearing long johns under my shorts and also a base layer under my jersey, but no windbreaker which remained unused for the entire ride. It never got cold enough.

It felt great to descend to the east Izu coast line and to finally hear the ocean waves. It was still dark and I could admire the many stars above the ocean, since there was a lot less light pollution than in Tokyo.

Even after the descent there are four significant climbs between Ito and Odawara, the biggest one being for the road high above Manazuru which lasts for about 4 km. I was feeling safe in the knowledge of having made good time so far. I did yawn every now and then, but the nap had helped. My legs felt OK, not particularly strong but not suffering either and my bottom was OK as long as I made frequent efforts to stand instead of sitting throughout.

It was still dark in Odawara but dawn gradually arrived on the ride east to Chigasaki.

I saw newspaper motorbikes deliver morning papers and the odd surfer heading to the beach already. Soon after Rt 30 split off the coastal road I saw the 7-11 sign that announced PC5, the final control (367 km from the start). To get my receipt and to use the toilet, I bought a cup of coffee and a sandwich.

I had only 36 km left and was 2 hours and 4 minutes ahead of closing time. I basically had 4 1/2 hours to get to Machida. Two years ago, I had been one hour ahead of closing time at PC5 and still made it despite a puncture 16 km from the goal that chewed up most of the time buffer.

There were still more Fuji views on the way to Machida. Rain was forecast for the late afternoon and I could see clouds and occasionally feel raindrops, but rain was still a long way off.

Sunday morning traffic and traffic lights slowed me down but looking at the remaining distance and time, I figured I had a chance to make the goal by 08:00, a full two hours before goal closing time at 10:00, so I pushed harder. It was not easy after 24 hours on the road, but I tried anyway. I didn’t know if I would make that time until the very end. It was only when I rolled up in front of the Cherubim Bike Shop, greeted by AJ NishiTokyo staff who confirmed 08:00 as my arrival time, that I knew I had completed the course the full two hours under the limit!

I parked the bike and got out my brevet card and receipts to have them checked. After signing for the result, I opted for the medal (1,000 yen extra). Then I had some coffee and snacks and chatted with staff members and fellow participants about the course and about bikes.

About riding long distances

It’s hard for normal people to comprehend how someone can ride 200, 300 or 400 km in a single ride, but each of these rides builds on previous rides in physically and mentally conditioning you for the next challenge. We dare to do more challenging rides only because we successfully rode other, initially also intimidating rides.

Any road cyclist who has done 50 km rides can do 100 km rides, and anyone who has done 100 km rides will find 200 km rides within reach. As long as you keep the effort sustainable and keep eating and drinking and ride a bike that fits you, you can keep on going for a very long time. At some point, sleep will become the limiting factor, which then becomes a question of average speed vs. control closing times and your tolerance for sleep deprivation.

This 400 km course may actually be becoming my favourite AJ NishiTokyo course, rivaling even the 200 km West Izu (Shiokatsu) course that I also love for its views.

Though it’s longer than the smaller 300 km Fuji ride, I don’t think it’s necessarily any harder. Certainly, in recent years I’ve been able to finish the 400 km with more spare time than in the case of the 300. Perhaps that’s because the effort in the 400 is more concentrated in the first part, when the legs are still fresh, while the 300 saves its biggest climb for halfway into the course. Also, while the 400 has one third more distance than the 300, it only has about one sixth more climbing. This should allow for a higher average speed.

Beyond the 400 km brevet

I won’t be riding the AJ NishiTokyo 600 km brevet to Lake Suwa and back in early June because I’ll be away on a business trip. So there probably won’t be any brevets for me until September or so. Instead I’ll be just riding with friends again, maybe explore some new routes.

Again this year I won’t go for Super Randonneur (SR) status, which involves riding 200, 300, 400 and 600 km distances all in one season. 600 may be beyond reach for me under all but the most favourable conditions, because it’s hard for me to build up enough spare time to sleep enough to keep functioning. Gaining SR status in 2019 is also the qualifying condition for participating in the 1,200 km Paris-Brest-Paris event next August, which I am not currently aiming for.

I very much enjoyed my bicycle tour in Italy with my son Shintaro a year ago, where we only covered about 90 km each day, but had nice meals in little restaurants in the countryside.

If I were to try more cycling in Europe or elsewhere overseas, this is more like what I would like to try, while keeping up randonneuring as a challenge here in Japan.



BRM414 300 km Fuji, Wet and Windy Edition

On Saturday/Sunday I cycled in the 300 km brevet around Mt Fuji organised by AJ NishiTokyo, like in the six previous years. Last year I set a personal best time of 18 hours 51 minutes, which is 1 hour 9 minutes under the 20 hour time limit. This year I was not so hopeful. As the day approached, the weather forecast had turned increasingly worse, finally predicting heavy rain and very strong winds on the course between midnight and about 10:00 on Sunday morning. As it turned out, that forecast was spot on!

I had done the 300 km Fuji brevet in the rain once before, in 2014 (see pictures here), but this time turned out far worse.

After getting a couple of hours of rest on Saturday afternoon, I cycled 28 km to Machida for the late night start (22:00). In 2014 I had taken the train there and it had already started raining on the way from Machida station to the event starting point. We then had the pre-ride briefing inside the Cherubim bike shop. This year the rain held off until almost 40 km into the brevet, on the way to Enoshima.

At the start

The crowd at the start was much smaller than usual. As it turned out, most signed-up would-be participants had chosen not to start (DNS) due to the weather conditions. I had cycled to the start in my rain wear, but took it off at a convenience store near the start because I was starting to sweat in it. Four years ago I had worn my Polaris rain jacket, which is even warmer. For fear of overheating I went with a lighter jacket this time.

At the briefing we were told about two of the bail-out options, should we chose to retire from the ride. Both Odawara and Gotemba have train stations, but by the time we were to arrive there, the last trains would have left. Nevertheless there would be places around the stations where we could take shelter from the weather until the first morning train.

After the bike inspection we set off. It was quite windy, but no rain yet. Up to Enoshima on the coast I rode more by myself than in a group.

A couple of km before we reached the coast the first rain drops started falling and it steadily picked up. The first check point was a 7-Eleven store about 2 km east of Enoshima. I got there about 10 minutes to midnight.

When I came out of the store again the wind was fierce, whipping up sand off the beach which hit our faces and got on our teeth and into the eyes. The road was narrowed for some roadworks, so being pushed around while cars were passing wasn’t pleasant.

I was worried I’d be cycling into a headwind on the way to Odawara, but the wind pattern wasn’t very consistent. Whichever way it shifted though, it did slow us down. Also, there was little chance for riding with others.

When I reached PC1 (point de controle) in Odawara, 72 km from the start and 100 km from home for me, it was 40 minutes later than last year. I knew I had to get well ahead of the 15 km/h average that dictates control closing times and the overall time limit while I was on the flat part of the course to make it to PC3 in time, after hours of climbing on the west side of Mt Fuji later in the day.

After Odawara I put on my do-it-yourself shoe covers, fashioned out of some plastic bags and tape, to keep my shoes and socks dry. Nevertheless, as I started climbing up to Gotemba, which sits on a saddle between the Fuji and Hakone volcanoes, gradually I was getting soaked more and more. My long sleeve jersey and my uniqlo long johns were absorbing cold rain that leaked through the rain gear. I think my Polaris rain jacket would have done a much better job at keeping me dry.

I cycled with another participant for the middle part of the climb, but then stopped at a convenience store for food and a toilet break. My eyes started getting irritated. Either the rain was washing sweat into my eyes, or it was sand stuck to my face since Enoshima that got washed into my eyes. Taking off my glasses and wiping my eyes with the back of my gloves or the fingers didn’t help much.

The climb leveled off near Gotemba but the wind and rain were still picking up in intensity. At this wind speed the rain drops felt like pin pricks to the skin. At dawn the atrocious weather and the near absence of people gave the scenery an almost apocalyptic feel. From here it was about 25 km downhill to Numazu, but with no prospect of the weather improving soon. This was perhaps the coldest part of the course due to of the combination of rain, early morning hours and wind chill while descending. I was already shivering with cold while alternating between closing my left and my right eye to avoid the burning feeling.

Checking my notes, I was now running about an hour behind my 2017 times. The lack of a time buffer already made it questionable if I could make it to PC3 in time even if I could make it to PC2 OK. On this course my time buffer usually decreases significantly from PC2 to PC3 due to the time loss on the long west Fuji climb.

More importantly, the combination of eye trouble, hypothermia symptoms and the strong wind made me think about the risks of continuing. Even if I could coast down to Numazu, if I had to abandon the ride after that I would have to climb back up to Gotemba to get back home or ride the full course. That’s when I, remembering the advice at the pre-ride briefing, decided to find shelter from the storm in Gotemba and to head back to Odawara once things had improved.

Two or three other cyclists passed after I turned around and I shouted out to one of them that I was retiring. I found a McDonald’s on Google Maps that was open 24h and not too far away. I locked up my bike outside and walked in with my front bag. I bought myself some breakfast with coffee and sat down in a corner. I could take off my rain jacket to let my jersey dry. After eating I took a nap. When I woke up again it was still raining hard. Around 08:00 I called the organizers and let them know I was retiring from the event and would cycle home by myself.

An hour later it looked like the rain had eased a bit. I cleared my table and headed outside again. It got warmer as I descended towards Odawara. I took pictures of the muddy, swollen rivers I passed.

After about another hour the rain stopped. The black and grey rain clouds against the sunlight at the coast were beautiful.

I joined the coastal road and headed east, past Enoshima to Kamakura.

There I crossed the mountains over to the Tokyo bay side of Miura peninsula, then up to Yokohama and Kawasaki. I got home about 24 hours after I had set off, with 283 km of cycling. I hadn’t caught a single glimpse (let alone taken a picture) of Mt Fuji, but I was glad to be home safely.

This definitely wasn’t the most fun bike ride I have done, but unlike other difficult rides I have done, I also didn’t get much of a feeling of achievement out of it — the first time in 7 years that I didn’t complete the Fuji loop. Perhaps this is one time I should have decided to stay home when I saw the consistently bad weather forecasts. It would have been the rational thing to do. But for me, long distance cycling is not that rational a thing to do. Much of it is a mental challenge as much as a physical one.

I do long rides because I love the views, but partly I also do long rides so I won’t be afraid of doing long rides. They can be intimidating. I can take on bigger challenges only because I have faced smaller challenges before. You overcome fear of being stranded in a strange place by venturing out there and facing the challenges. Sometimes I learn something about myself from the experiences. It can be a balancing act. I am never 100% committed to achieving my immediate goal, because there are more important objectives. To be able to continue doing long rides, I can’t get seriously injured or worse, so I need to decide what risks to take and when to cut my losses.

My next brevet will be BRM512 AJ NishiTokyo 400 km Fuji Big Loop (BRM512富士大回り400km), a course I also rode in 2015 and 2016. Hopefully with nicer weather than last weekend 🙂

Links:



Getting ready for BRM414 NishiTokyo 300 km Fuji

A week from now I’ll be riding BRM414 NishiTokyo 300km Fuji (BRM414西東京300km富士), a 300 km clockwise loop around Mt Fuji from Machida to Machida (Sat, 22:00 -> Sun, 18:00).

In May 2012 this course was my introduction to randonneuring and I’ll be riding it for the 7th consecutive year.

This year the course has been updated in a couple of places. The checkpoint at Enoshima has moved from the public toilets near Katase-Enoshima station to a 7-11 further east. PC1 in Odawara has also been moved to a 7-11 with better toilets. PC2 in Shibakawa is in the same place, but has switched from being a Circle K to a Familymart. Around Kawaguchiko-Fujiyoshida the route has been moved from N139 to smaller roads nearer to the lake, avoiding some of the notoriously rough road surfaces there. The rest of the route is the same as last year.

The 22:00 start followed by 7 hours of riding through the night makes it essential to get plenty of sleep before the start. I’ll take a good nap in the afternoon before I ride 28 km to the start. Some rain is forecast for Saturday. Hopefully the ride itself will be dry, but I have once done this course with it raining for the first 150 km, which is not much fun (and it’s a pity if Mt Fuji is obscured by rain clouds).

This weekend I will be riding another century distance (160.9 km or more) as my last preparation ride before the event. This should make April my 68th consecutive month with at least one century ride.

BRM520 300 km Mt Fuji

There is one cycling event I have ridden every year since I started long distance cycling five years ago, the 300 km brevet around Mt Fuji organised by AJ Nishitokyo. It was my introduction to randonneuring in 2012. This year I rode it for the sixth time, with unexpected results.

For the first four years I rode my Bike Friday Pocket Rocket, a folding road bike with 20″ (ETRTO 451) wheels. Last year I used my new adventure bike, the Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer, 650B randonneur bike with disk brakes. Most of my cycling friends expected the bigger wheels would make a big difference on the completion time: The event has a 20 hour time limit and I had always struggled to stay under the limit. The last two years on the Bike Friday I had finished with 11 minutes and 15 minutes spare. The first time on my NFE I finished in 19h 45m again – the same time to the minute as a year before! The Bike Friday really has been a great bike for me and if I had not been fast on it, that wasn’t because of the bike but because of the engine! 😉

Because this event starts at 22:00 at night, with the first 6 1/2 hours of riding through the night, getting enough sleep upfront is essential. I tried to avoid staying up much after midnight for the week before the ride and took short daytime naps on Thursday and Friday. On Saturday afternoon I went to bed at 15:00, planning to sleep until 18:00, but mostly rested. I don’t think I slept more than about the last hour.

I left home at 18:50 to cycle the 28 km to the start in Machida and was intending to ride home after the event too. So that’s 56 km on top of the 304 km of the event itself. I took it very easy, knowing I’d have plenty of time.

I bought bananas at a convenience store a few km before the start. The reception at a park near the Cherubim bike shop in Machida opened at 21:00. I saw many new faces, including younger riders.

It had been warm and sunny all day and the forecast for Sunday was the same, so I didn’t even wear a windbreaker at the start. Only for the early morning descent from Gotemba to Numazu did I bring my nylon rain pants, because that was going to be the coldest time of the night, before sunrise and going downhill for about 25 km.

The briefing started at 21:30. There aren’t any changes to the course from the year before, but temperatures would be quite different as last year’s event had been run about 8 weeks earlier in the year. Knowing it would get hot on the long climb on the opposite side of Mt Fuji, I decided to build up a decent time buffer until the morning, when it was still cool, so I would not risk overheating as much later in the day.

After the security inspection we started. The route to the untimed checkpoint in front of some public toilets in Enoshima (38.6 km), where we had to collect a signature on the brevet card from staff members, was pretty urban, with streetlights, cars and traffic lights all along. I made good time and arrived before midnight. It helped that I didn’t have to stop to take off a layer.

There was a large group motorbikes near the checkpoint. I came across groups of bikers throughout the ride, including several encounters with Bōsōzoku clubs making a racket on their two stroke bikes and weaving about on the road.

About half of the 35 km route from Enoshima to PC1 at Odawara I was drafting other cyclists, similar to last year. The Nitto Randonneur bars make it much easier to use my drops to get into a more aerodynamic position to save energy. I arrived at PC1 at 01:26, with 86 minutes spare, 5 minutes more than last year.

After Odawara the route starts climbing until it levels out at an elevation of about 400 m around Gotemba. I was still riding mostly with other cyclists. In Gotemba I put on my wind breaker and nylon pants for the descent. I rode down to Numazu with another cyclist, separated only temporarily when I stopped to take a shot of the first Mt Fuji view around 04:00, still about half an hour before sunrise. A waning moon hung in the eastern sky. It reminded me that we’re only three months away from the total solar eclipse in the western US on Aug 21, 2017.

Though I was yawning at times, I felt no urge to take a nap and continued on to Fuji city, maintaining my pace. I only stopped for a few quick photos of Fuji in the early morning light.

I counted down the distance to the Fujikawa bridge, where the road turns away the coast. I used the public toilets near the Tomei expressway entrance, so I could avoid queuing at PC2, only a couple of km up the road.

I tried to take pictures of Mt Fuji from the south-west, but the sun was behind it and the air was too hazy.

I made it to PC2 by 06:56, 132 minutes ahead of closing time. This was 26 minutes earlier than the year before.

It was still early in the morning, but it was already getting warm. From here it was about 36 km uphill, from close to sea level to about 1100 m. Some of the road was shaded under trees, but most of it was exposed to the sun.

Having done this brevet before, I knew this part of the ride was both rewarding for its views of Mt Fuji and green landscapes, but also tough for the relentlessly climbing road where I was pedaling in the heat. I had also done it on a rainy day, with only a few degrees above freezing, that wasn’t much fun either.

Until the climbing started I had consoled myself that even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the elevation (adiabatic cooling) would somehow make it bearable. Somebody forgot to pass that message to my Navi2coach GPS, whose thermometer displayed as high as 39 C at one point.

The air may have been cooler over the meadows and forests I was passing, but the south-tilted dark asphalt of the prefectural road 71 soaked up just as much sunshine at elevation as it would have at sea level. I was like riding on top of a barbecue. I stopped a couple of times for views and pictures and that made it easier to continue.

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I made it to the top around 10:30 and pulled into a parking area and view point overlooking Motosuko (Lake Motosu).

I took a couple of pictures, ate a banana and got back on the bike again. After a bit of rolling terrain the road descended. The forest surrounding it is called Aokigahara (青木ヶ原), also known as the Suicide Forest for the number of people who picked it to take their own lives there.

At the bottom of the descent, the minor road joined major Rt139, which is usually crowded with cars. Some of it’s surface is very rough, especially around Fujiyoshia. This is where the wide tires of my NFE really helped. They give me the confidence to descend faster even where the road surface is far from perfect.

After Fujiyoshida came a 25 km fast descent down to Tsuru. I didn’t have to pedal much and trusted my tires to deal with the bumps and cracks at speed, with several other cyclists in trail, none of whom ever tried to overtake me until after the road leveled out. It was till before noon and heating up more and more.

At 12:20 three of us pulled into PC3 at Tsuru. That was 92 minutes ahead of closing time. I knew I had previous made here with only 35 minutes spare. I was now 47 minutes ahead of last year’s result. But it was still going to get hotter for another hour or more from here.

The final 66 km from Tsuru to Machida were the hottest part of the ride. I used my lightest gear a lot, climbing slowly to avoid overheating. I am not usually someone who worries much about heat stroke. I drink sufficient water and keep the effort down when I feel it’s getting too hot out there, but this time I was starting to worry. Three or four of us stayed together more or less continually for the last leg of the trip, nobody willing to go any faster in this heat. I counted down the distances to the top of each climb.

Finally we made it to Doushi road (National route 413), for a lengthy descent. we stopped at a convenience store where AJ Nishitokyo staff met with us. Some ice cream cooled me down a bit. Based on the remaining distance it looked like I could finish before 17:00, with more than an hours pare. That would be my best result ever.

I felt relieved when I crossed the last major bridge, where I crossed back into the urban area of Sagamihara and counted down the final kilometers to Machida.

At 16:51 I pulled up in front of the Cherubim bike shop, together with one of the other participants. I had finished 54 minutes faster than in 2015 and 2016.

I’m very happy to have made it safely. I thanked the AJ Nishitokyo staff. As always they took good care of everyone. The route is difficult, but rewarding. I often incorporate large parts of it into other long distance rides that I do privately.

As to why I finished so much quicker this year, I am not sure. Looking at the elapsed times between PCs both years, I gained 21 minutes between PC1-PC2, another 21 minutes between PC2-PC3 and 7 minutes even from the last PC to the goal, in the heat. So I was pretty consistently faster. The first 73 km to PC1 is where I gained the least relative to last year (5 minutes), probably because I was already working hard there last year. Overall I took about a 100 photographs on both rides, so it wasn’t that I stopped less for pictures.

Perhaps my two recent rides of the Oume temple loop, with 2500-2700 m of elevation gain on 180+ km of cycling each time, helped prepare me for the amount of climbing 🙂 Whatever it was, I’m happy!

Oh, and I did ride 28 km back to Tokyo after the brevet, tired and sleepy, but I made it safely. I won’t be able to ride AJ Nishitokyo’s 400 km brevet this year due to business trips and I’m not sure yet if I’ll attempt the 600 km brevet in September again – I have DNF’ed (did not finish) it three times so far. Finishing it is a bit like riding a 400 km brevet, then finish this 300 km brevet starting from the bottom of the big climb at PC2… Pretty insane!

What I enjoy about these brevets is not just the scenery and the challenge, but also the camaraderie and shared love of cycling among randonneurs. We all have this same passion.

The Joy of Six Hundred (revisited)

The Elephant NFE at the start

I’m back from my longest ride of the year, BRM604, a 600 km randonneuring event from Machida to Lake Suwa (Suwako) in Nagano and back. Had I successfully completed it under the 40 hour time limit I would have made Super Randonneur (SR), the feat of completing brevet distances of 200, 300, 400 and 600 km in one season. As it were I dropped out after the halfway point and cycled back to Tokyo at my own pace. The total came to 580 km with 4561 m of elevation gain. This makes June my 46th month in a row with at least one ride of 160 km or more.

In 2013 AJ NishiTokyo organized a trial run for a new 600 km brevet course (2013BRMpre921) which I joined. You can read the report I wrote about it here. Not even having successfully completed a 400 km brevet at the time, it was not entirely surprising that I DNF’ed (Did Not Finish) that ride. The experience did not discourage me from trying again in 2014 (2014BRM621) and 2015 (2015BRM530).

I did complete 400 km rides in both 2015 and 2016, the latter on my new Elephant NFE randonneur bike. With more experience I planned better this year, but in many ways the outcome was remarkably similar to that very first attempt.

On my first attempt my biggest problem was the huge spread in temperatures between daytime in Shizuoka and night time in Nagano. In 2014 I cycled a lot of the distance in the rain.

This year I prepared by wearing or carrying clothes for hot, cold and wet weather including shorts and trousers, short and long underwear, a wind breaker, a rain jacket and full fingered gloves.

I also addressed the sleep deprivation by getting as much sleep as possible upfront. I avoided staying up late several days before the event. On Friday I checked into a hotel in Sagamihara at 19:00, with lights out by 20:00 to get up at 03:00 for the 05:00 start from Machida. With all the extra clothes I found my bike quite heavy on the Onekansen climbs to Machida. My legs did not feel in shape. I finished my early convenience store dinner in my hotel room and went to bed as early as I could.

At the ride reception

Takeru Daijo's bike

There were 38 people at the start. A couple more had signed up but chose not to start, perhaps due to the weather forecast, which included a high chance of rain on the second day. This is already the tsuyu season (rainy season), with hydrangeas in full bloom everywhere.

Hydrangeas in bloom

On the way to Enoshima, most participants already passed me. I was the last but one participant to get his brevet card signed at the untimed check point in Enoshima. I reasoned that at a 600 km brevet perhaps the mix is biased more towards the stronger sort of rider than it is at shorter distances.

Enoshima manned check

Unlike at the 300 km Mt Fuji brevet in March that takes the same route as far as Odawara I had very little chance of drafting anyone on the flattish first part. Still, I was over an hour ahead of schedule by then, based on the 15 km/h average used for checkpoint closing times. I took very few pictures and did not even stop for gorgeous Fuji views all the way from Enoshima to Odawara, as I wanted to put as much time as possible into the “time bank”. I knew I would need it for the big climbs and for having any chance at sleep later in the ride.

Atami castle

The weather started out as clear and sunny, getting pretty warm early on. Not until the afternoon did it get overcast and a bit cooler. I ended up drinking plenty of water throughout the ride, both when it was hot and later when temperatures dropped.

Once the coastal road started getting hilly as we crossed into Izu I could not really extend my time savings much, but at least the heat did not wear me out and I felt better than on the ride out to Machida the night before. I enjoyed the fast descent towards Shuzenji after the pass on Rt12 from the coast at Ito. Descending was definitely a strength for the Elephant NFE, as its wide 650B tyres float over uneven roads. At PC1, a Lawson conbini 141 km from the start I was about 1:15 ahead of the cutoff time, which is not a great amount, but not terrible either.

Near Shuzenji, Izu

From here to PC2, a Ministop conbini in Fujikawa 184 km from the start, the road was mostly flat so I was hoping to increase my time buffer. From Mishima to Fuji city the road is urban. The sky had become overcast and Mt Fuji was fully obscured by dense clouds. I was counting down distance to the river crossing, where the route turns away from the coast and becomes rural again. By PC2 my time buffer had only increased to about 1:20.

Railway bridge under construction

The next check point was 74 km after that was PC3, a Lawson in Minami Alps. The route became hilly, following the Minobu railway line before joining Rt52 and other flat roads again. It was more or less the same as the 400 km brevet, except clockwise around Mt Fuji instead of counterclockwise.

Evening approached in Yamanashi and with it a slow drizzle started. I put on my wind breaker and continued.

Between Izu and PC3 I only came across two other cyclists still on the same part of the course, meeting or leapfrogging each other at conbini stops.

When I rolled up to PC3 after 22:00, I was down to a single hour spare before cutoff time. The summit near Fujimi before Suwako was about 40 km away, almost all of it uphill.

Standing outside the Lawson in the rain, I made a phone call to the organiser, Mr H. at PC4 at Suwako. I told him where I was and how little time buffer I had left. I figured I might not make it to PC4 by the cut-off time and did not want to keep him waiting there, but he reassured me he would wait until the closing time and I should go for it.

I changed into my long underwear, winter trousers and rain jacket and headed towards Suwako. With the minimal time buffer, even if I made the next PC, I wouldn’t have much time to sleep before the next PCs. I figured I needed to be at PC6 at least 2 hours before closing time. From there it was a 30 km climb to a pass above Lake Motosu (Motosuko), which was the part I least liked about the 300 km AJ NishiTokyo brevet. Without that time buffer I couldn’t make it to PC7 at Yamanakako. So realistically, there was no chance I would complete the 600 and make SR this year. But I could still go for it and do better near Suwako than I had done the first time, to avenge my defeat by the cold temperatures then.

By this time the roads were pretty deserted, except for the occasional truck roaring past. The rain was pretty steady. The temperature was down to 13° C. Getting closer to Fujimi, I came across cyclists heading the other way, already past the halfway point and we waved or shouted encouragement at each other.

I arrived at PC4 with half an hour spare. Mr H. was sitting outside with one other cyclist. I bought food and drinks and got my receipt, then sat with them and talked. I said I was going to head on to PC5, which I had never made it to before. After the rest, Mr H. started packing up his chairs while the other cyclist and I headed back on the road.

It was now over 23 hours since I had got up and the need to get some sleep was starting to catch up with me. I did better sleep-wise than at any previous attempt, but once I climbed to Fujimi toge it became pretty clear I needed a nap. I couldn’t find any conbini with a cafe corner with chairs inside, so I stretched out right in front of another one in the parking lot, still sheltered by the roof of the building, with my spare clothes bag as a pillow. When I woke up again I felt better and headed on.

I then decided to give up PC5 and head back to Tokyo the same way I had done in 2013. Without a train option, my return would extend into Monday morning anyway, so it made sense to keep the route as direct as possible.

Passing a whisky distillery

From Fujimi to Minami Alps the route was almost exclusively downhill. My TRP Spyre disk brakes with sintered pads were effective in the rain but boy, are they noisy when wet! I hope I didn’t wake up any sleeping locals.

Anticipating the longest/fastest/most expensive underground (subway) in the world - the Chuo Maglev train

For the first time on any of my rides that passed through Minami Alps city I could not see Mt Fuji from the Yamanashi side — it was too cloudy.

As I headed south on Rt52 (Minobu michi) the views were very atmospheric: Low clouds on the mountains and steam rising from the forests.

I crossed the Fujikawa bridge for Rt9. The road heads up a rural valley, then climbs to a tunnel over to the adjacent valley to join Rt300 (Motosu michi).

The rain appeared to stop and I swapped my rain jacket for the wind breaker, but it soon resumed again.

By then sitting on the saddle got painful, as my bottom felt pretty sore now. Throughout the ride I had stood up as much as possible to give it some relief, but it didn’t help much.

Motosu climb

I also got sleepy again. Not quite halfway up the 650 m elevation gain from the base of the climb I decided to take another nap. I picked a small spot only about a meter from the road, where the guard rails formed an angle away from the road. A car would basically have to be crashing through them to hit me here. Again the spare clothes bag formed an excellent pillow.

The view from Motosu michi

The higher I climbed, the better the views got and the rain did eventually stop. I made a lot less progress than I had anticipated, especially with the nap, but I felt much better for it. Without any time limits I could take my time for pictures and to enjoy the views. I had enough bananas and water. If it wasn’t for my difficulty of sitting, it would have been great.

The 1000 yen shot

Finally I got to the tunnel that took me over to the lake shore. As I exited it, a stunning view of almost cloudless, almost snow free Mt Fuji behind Motosuko awaited me. I stopped for pictures. This is the scenic view depicted on the 1000 yen banknote, except that by June Mt Fuji has less snow on it than on that image.

An Elephant at Motosko

The road along the lake shore took me back to the main road to Kawaguchiko and Fujiyoshida, Rt139. On the climb I had already noted some difficulties cleating in with my right shoe. Not long after I got on Rt139 I encountered the opposite problem: I couldn’t disengage the foot from the SPD pedal. In the end I had to slip out of the shoe and then stood by the road side in my sock, inspecting the pedal mechanism. It turned out that one of the two bolts attaching the cleat to the sole of the shoe had come undone. Consequently the cleat stayed locked to the pedal even when the shoe was twisted sideways to disengage it. Fortunately the loose bold had not dropped out yet, as the cleat mechanism of the pedal still held it in place. I got out my Allen keys, undid the other bolt and checked out all the parts. Then I put both bolts in place again, carefully matching the layout on my left shoe, whose bolt tension I also checked. After that I could ride on without problems.

Near Kawaguchiko I met Sebastian, a cyclotourist from Chile who had been riding from Fukuoka in Kyushu towards Tokyo. He greatly enjoyed his cycling experience in Japan. He was going to stay at a camp site near Mt Fuji for the night before heading on towards Tokyo the next day. We discussed routes and cycling in general in Japan.

Sebastian from Chile

The major roads around Kawaguchiko are in a notoriously bad state, but to my surprise I found that one major section heading into town had recently been renovated with smooth new asphalt. Hopefully the other direction and other parts will follow soon.

Maybe it was due to the rain in the morning, but instead of the bad traffic jams around Rt139 that I’m used to, the roads were virtually empty — unheard of on a Sunday afternoon. I think traffic was the most quiet of any of my trips around the Fuji Five Lakes area. It was really enjoyable. Oh, and those Mt Fuji views! It only got better 🙂

After the climb from Fujiyoshida towards Yamanakako I could coast downhill a bit. At the traffic light on the lake shore I crossed over to the cycling path that runs around the east side of the lake. The sky was blue, Mt Fuji sat there in the evening light like on a picture postcard, the air was fresh and I had the cycling path virtually to myself. It was like the heavens were trying to make up for soaking us with rain the night before and the morning.

Mt Fuji sunset

I cycled to the convenience store next to the turnoff for Rt413 (Doshi michi) and took a break there. I enjoyed some coffee and warm food, then changed into warmer clothes again for the night ride on Doshi michi. The pass to Doshi was actually at the highest elevation of the entire course.

The climb from the lake to the pass felt steep as I got closer to the top, but it’s relatively short. After that comes a long fast descent to Doshi village and beyond. Again I felt very confident with the NFE’s tyres and brakes.

Beyond Doshi the road keeps going up and down, so I had to work again. During the daytime the nice views of the mountain valley will distract you, so somehow at night the road feels steeper and comes across as more work to ride on. Eventually I crossed from Yamanashi into Kanagawa prefecture and into Sagamihara.

Near the Rt76 intersection I again stopped for some sleep. I lay down for almost an hour. When I woke up again, I felt pretty disoriented, almost as bad as on that first 600 km ride. I felt like I was in a dream and had to force myself to accept that, no, this was reality. I couldn’t just go back to sleep and wake up at home — I was really out here in the mountains where it was cold and night time and I really had to cycle every single meter home to Setagaya before I could sleep in a warm bed.

Another thing the sleep deprivation does to me is that the “people detector”, the part of our brain that helps us pick out humans and their faces from all kinds of surroundings (something developed by evolution to help us survive in dangerous environments), seemed turned up to high gain or had its “false positive” filter turned off. Many a tree by the roadside started to look like a person standing there. It was really weird, but not the first time I experienced that.

At least that wasn’t dangerous and it didn’t scare me. On the other hand I was pretty determined that, should I get sleepy again I would not struggle on drowsy and risk falling asleep on the bike. I would stop wherever necessary and sleep some more. As it turned out I could make it home all the way to Tokyo with that Sagamihara nap.

It was a little after 04:00 on Monday morning when I finally reached my front door. The birds were already singing and it was only half an hour to sunrise, some 48 hours after I had arrived at the start for the registration desk and the safety briefing before the ride.

I took my bags off the bike, changed out of my cycling clothes, took a shower and went to bed. I did not get up again until 7 hours later, at noon 🙂

What worked and what didn’t

I had very few issues with my equipment. There wasn’t anything I was really missing, though some items could have been replaced with something more suited to the job.

My camera, my phones, navigation using a GPX breadcrumb trail on the Navi2Coach and Google MyMaps on the phone, charging my device on the ride — all these things worked flawlessly like on other rides before.

I had no issues with the tubeless setup of the Compass Babyshoe Pass tyres. I just added a bit of air on the second day (the third day since I left home), over 400 km into the ride.

My feeding routine worked too – about half my calories came from bananas, the rest split between liquid food (cocoa, sweetened milk tea) and various breads. I brought along figs, raisins and nuts and finished all of those.

I have a Swift Ozette XL randonneuring bag on order, which is supposed to arrive later this month. With that I wouldn’t have to split items between my small front bag, a clothes sack and a drawstring rucksack I mostly kept on top of the front bag. Chances are, I also wouldn’t have dropped my wallet on the road once (I quickly retrieved it) or have dropped a bunch of bananas another time (ditto). The Ozette XL will be very welcome.

The cleat failure on my Shimano SH-M088LE shoes could have been prevented with maintenance, but honest – who ever checks bolt tension on cycling shoes? Well, not me at least. The left shoe is gradually tearing up, perhaps as a late result of damaged suffered in a crash last November. In case case it looks like I’ll have to order a new pair soon, after something like two years and 20,000 km.

The flaky performance of the Wahoo speed and cadence sensor on this ride came as a disappointment. I’ve already taken it off the bike and instead installed the Garmin magnetless speed and cadence sensor set, which has been getting good reviews. This was one of the cases where trying to save money ended up costing even more money.

I didn’t use to have problems with my Brooks saddles, but I do now. Neither the current saddle on my Bike Friday nor on my NFE works as well as the first Brooks I had. I don’t know if it’s me getting older or if the saddles have changed, but we don’t get along as well as we used to.

The rain wear bag that I used to hold other spare clothes besides the rain wear itself turned out not to be rain proof. Duh, stupid me for making that assumption! Next time I’ll wrap my warm trousers into a separate bag, if I carry it like that. Riding in damp clothes made the night time ride a bit chillier. I’m happy with my Polaris rain jacket, but still looking for better rain trousers and some covers to keep my shoes drier. I could also do with a mudflap on the front mudguard to reduce water splashing onto the shoes when I ride through puddles.

My Honjo Turtle 58 mudguards worked OK, but the clearance is very tight on the front wheel. I’m still not 100% happy about that. I may still switch to something wider.

Things I could do with near my stem (but the Ozette may partly take care of that):

1) A battery holder for recharging the GPS and phone with a short cable. Keeping the battery in the front bag worked but required careful positioning of the battery to make the cable reach where it needed to.

2) A rainproof camera holder to make it quick to take pictures. I used two small pockets inside the front back, but it took a bit too much fiddling to reach for the camera and the Nexus 6P phone for pictures.

3) Some kind of food holder (for bananas, trail mix, etc) on the handlebar.

Not ready for Paris-Brest-Paris yet!

Having struggled even with 300 km brevets, being able to finish a 400 km one last year was kind of unexpected. But this year I was able to repeat that feat, completing 3 out of 4 events necessary for SR status, or for qualifying for Paris-Prest-Paris in 2019 (if I do the 200-300-400-600 then).

Right now, finishing a 600 under the time limit seems as remote from finishing a 400 as the 400 looked after finishing a 200 km years ago. I reckon I would have to somehow make it to Suwako at least two hours earlier to have any chance of finishing the event. That means I’d have to ride about 2 km/h faster on average through the first half of event, and the difference would have to be even greater in the second half compared to my post-DNF ride home. How likely is that? It doesn’t sound totally impossible, but it is still a big step.

Ultimately, I know I enjoy untimed events more than brevets, with the chance to take pictures, to enjoy different kinds of food, with leisure to talk to people you meet on the road.

But brevets also add a challenge and are a chance to meet other cyclists with different levels of experience. They take me further away from Tokyo.

Being able to participate in PBP is gradually becoming a bucket list idea for me, something unique I would like to try once in a lifetime, just like this 600 km is something crazy I only do once a year. Though partly through the ride I swore to myself I wouldn’t do this again, I am sure I will be back again next year and give it a good try again.