Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Caffeinator

Feeling Good, Looking Good


Friday 20:03. A pint of Guinness please barman. A few drinks. A few more. Bit of a blur. Saturday 14:23. Reunion. A few drinks. A few more. Bit of a blur. Sunday 00:57. End of film. Al Pacino, Robert de Niro. Super Violence Action Thriller. Bit of a blur. 05:55. Alarm. AlarM. ALARM ! Holy Crap !! My coffee. Where is my freakin COFFEE ??!!  07:10. Set off on bike. No Caffeine. Grim.

I usually start these early morning rides with a 7-11 Mt Rainer Roasted Double Espresso Super Shot, kicking me into action, eyes on stalks, alert through the traffic out to the mountains. Keeping me attentive to the hungover truck driver on an amphetamine downer, the distracted low rank yakuza in his souped up Toyota Corrola with his 20,000 yen hooker, the sleep deprived taxi driver and his single minded veer across the carriageway for the next fare… and I’m ready to twist my bike away from danger, keeping me safe.

Need Coffee

But somehow, this morning, the coffee was just not there. I know I bought it last night, on the way home, but I couldn’t  for the life of me find it. What the f*** ? WHAT THE F*** ? I had to leave and take on the road without the aid of my regular stimulants. The simplest obstacles became a roll of the dice against fortune. A mis-timed run through a red light… close. An unseen kerb stone… caught it just in time. A pile of frozen vomit… what a way to go. At the 40k mark I could bear it no more and stopped at a convenience store. Glancing inside I saw Evard Munch’s The Scream looking right back at me: my reflection in the store’s plate glass window. Give me a DAMNED COFFEE I said to the checkout girl. Nicely, now. “The Mt Rainer Roasted Double Espresso Super Shot. PLEASE !”. It came refrigerated, and it was 2 degrees outside, but I sucked it up … oh, what relief.

It was turning into a beautiful day, and I danced a little out of the saddle on the first hills, enjoying the gentle rhythmic rocking of the bike as I climbed, the frame and the the wheels providing subtle feedback from the scarred and dimpled tarmac. Life doesn’t get much better than this ! I climbed towards Yamabushi Toge through narrow tunnels of pines, bathing in the aroma of freshly cut timber as I passed the sawmills, noticing small natural ice statues formed by streams coursing by the road. There were a few other cyclists out today, and I nodded hello to them as they descended. One guy came off on a patch of ice, hidden in the shade, and hit the asphalt hard, sliding down past me. I helped him up – a young fellow, he was shaken but fine. “You need a 7-11 Mt Rainer Roasted Double Espresso Super Shot” I suggested, cheerfully. But he gave me an odd look, straightened his handlebars and remounted his bike; in unnecessary haste, I thought.

Someone else on Yamabushi Toge

I reached the top and turned round, looking forward to the descent. Sunlight filtered through the slatted gaps of the trees and I gently leant the bike into the corners – watch out for that ice, Steve! The temperature gauge at the side of the road showed 1 degree C – positively balmy.  I should be sunbathing.

But before long the wind became cold, and started hitting me head on, biting into any exposed flesh and finding devious passages through the layers of clothes to my skin. The light had seemingly changed, bleaching any remaining colour from the landscape, and I willed myself onward, through passageways of bare trees and dry lifeless foliage. The road threw harsh reflections into my eyes from the painted centre line while black ravens watched me cruelly from their telegraph poles. Would this torment never end ?

A small restaurant. At last. Lunch. Nice enough. But the coffee… oh yes! I scalded my lips and tongue in the hurry to drink it, desperate for that caffeine hit. “Here” said the kind lady, slightly alarmed by my rapacity, taking the coffee pot from her husband in the kitchen, “Finish it off”.

The small chocolate dessert was delicious and I put away my map, spirits buoyed by the blue sky. A tail wind ! And look at the lush velvet greenery of those hills ahead, and the avenue of trees, leaves rustling in the breeze, taking me there, while the pedals moved around almost on their own accord, a hot knife through butter. A couple of swallows danced and flitted in front of me, and truck drivers smiled at me from their cabins.

Yep. Life doesn’t get much better than this…

Life is Good !

Ride memo: 160km cycling with 1300m climbing. Route data is here.

The Temptress of Tomin No Mori

The icy realm beyond

Just as the mythical Sirens of ancient Greece would use their enchanted songs and music to lure sailors to their death into the rocks, so the mountains of Okutama called to me this morning. “What’s a bit of ice” they seemed to sing, “it’s all but gone…”.

I was skirting the far side of Lake Okutama-ko having spent most of the morning riding out from Tokyo. The sky was a perfect blue, the air crisp, and the sun was almost warm; already I could feel a hint of spring. I’d left early morning heading west, the sun low in the sky behind, casting an orange framed silhouette of me peddaling, a mesmerizing shadow puppet, forever just out of reach, legs moving up and down like a piston, a kink in the gears clicking like a metronome.

But I could ill afford to lose concentration on the road in front of me. Even in Tokyo small piles of dozen snow lay uncleared by the kerb, and crooked fingers of ice clawed their way surreptitiously into the road. Out here, like Tokyo, the snow had mostly disappeared, but in some ways this made it all the more dangerous. It was too easy to be complacent, to forget that two weeks of bitter temperatures – it was -9 last night – had left small pockets of ice; some of them ovals of hard white marble, polished to a silky luster by the hostile wind. But some were black, the only visible warning a dull reflection like a puddle on the road, and barely this could be seen away from the sun. They were few, but they could be deadly – it only takes one, after all.

On the way home

And it was taxing work, scanning the road like a vigilant sentry, braking anxiously before every shady stretch, offering a little prayer before every tunnel entrance. Going up, at this speed, I think I could manage it, but would I have the same discipline coming down ?

Passing my regular soba shop, the last outpost before the valley starts to rise, I turned left on to the iron bridge to reconnoiter the approach up to Tomin no Mori. It was quiet, nothing but the wind (which was gaining in strength). Usually at this time on a Saturday there would be motorcycles racing up and down this stretch of road, their riders smoking cigarettes and drinking cans of coffee in the lay-by further up. Today there was no one, and I realised I hadn’t seen a single other cyclist. A small reflection of light betrayed a glossy patch on the road a few yards ahead.

No, I said aloud, today it just ain’t going to happen.

No ice next week, please

Odysseus had saved his crew by putting wax in their ears so they couldn’t be seduced by the beauty of the sirens’ song. So I turned my back on the road to Tomin, fighting thoughts of other climbs, and set off back down the valley. Heading east, I kept my eyes on the cobalt blue of the lake to my right, putting distance, little by little, between me and the mountains behind. I had seen sense. Today, at least, I would not be beguiled by their lethal beauty.

Ride memo: 180km cycling with 1100m climbing. Route data is here