Monthly Archives: September 2013

Happy Endings

Southern Alps

Yatsugatake and the tap tap tap of rain. I had longingly looked outside every morning waiting for this chance, the chance to try roads I have never ridden, a luxury less common nowadays.

Tap tap tap. Maybe tomorrow.

A little adventure; a token sense of discovery, a chance to map a new route. No recommendations, no hearsay, no guidance, just an old fashioned paper map and a careful eye for contour lines, rivers and the shape of the roads.

Tap tap tap. Maybe tomorrow. Or the day after.

A little sense of mystery where it may lead, not knowing if that barely visible line is a road that can be ridden. And the possibility – successfully accomplished – of getting lost.

Tap Tap Tap… Tap … hang on … Jezus! Run !  Run get my bike… clear sky !

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IMG_8548Spectacular views of the southern alps in the dawn light as I descended a long long way into the valley and a huge unanticipated climb to Shinshu Toge, an old road from Yamanashi to Nagano prefectures, deserted of people and cars. And perfect for a minor tradition in such infrequent circumstances, I take the freedom to relieve myself in public, not huddled in the undergrowth, but proud and relaxed, in the the very middle of the road. The road drops down into thousands of acres of farmland, and trucks and tractors thunder along dusty roads – all this at 1400m above sea level.

And then a final long straight climb past the toy town of Kiyosato, never ending up to the Yatsugatake Kougen Line – a family of dear cross in front of me, a nonchalant glance thrown in my direction. Lunch with the family in a restaurant buried deep in the forest, and a 10km hilly warm down to the lodge.

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Route:
http://connect.garmin.com/activity/371370725

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Spine o’ the North (Flashback: 2008)

Bikes, Shrines & Inclines

First in my “Flashback” series of documenting old bike trips to this blog. If you like mountains, deep valleys and old rustic onsen, you won’t do much better than the Tohoku region. I did this twelve day tour in September of 2008,  following the mountains north to south, the very “spine of the north”.  


Misty Mountains

The Departure 

After riding nothing but my twitchy and temperamental road bike for the last three months, it felt remarkably comfortable to be cycling on my loaded touring bike, cycling through the Friday evening Tokyo traffic – the solid steel frame and heavy panniers soaking up the bumps in the road, and the well-worn Brookes leather saddle feeling like a familiar armchair. I was to catch the “Akebono” night-train from Ueno station heading to the Tsugaru coast, Tohoku, and the bike practically steered herself to the station. I was treating the ol’ girl to…

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Into the Sun

Only 92,960,000 miles to go

Only 92,960,000 miles to go

The sun is slightly hazy behind clouds, pumped up inside the vivid curves of their hard grey boundaries, combustive oranges, reds and golds, bursting to get out; and the sharp edges of the mountains rise in silhouette below them, still many miles away.

For probably the first time, I’m on the Arakawa river heading west at dusk. I’ve taken advantage of a 3pm flex-time release from servitude, hidden deep in the annals of the company working guidelines: the unofficial rule is, of course, don’t even think about it. “If you need me” I say, “email me or call my mobile”. I’d leave the iPhone in the kitchen and knew my private number isn’t listed in any work directory. A few heads turn round in surprise. Is he really leaving at 3pm ?

Oh but it’s worth it. By 4:15pm I was on the bike: a completely different feeling, a liberating feeling, and I forget this is a work day. Blue skies, the universal peacefulness of the last couple of hours before sunset, bike paths losing a battle against aggressive foliage, and dragon flies whizzing left & right & up & down in front of me. The occasional one in to me. And one, spectacularly perishing on my sunglasses. I keep my mouth closed, but that doesn’t some some buzzing insect find it’s way inside my ear until I put it out.

And then the clouds break and everything in front of me is bathed in a spectacular deep blood red. The world pauses. And for a split-second, or maybe a hundred years, it’s only me.

It darkens quickly, and I still have two hours left of my route; up to the deserted Tamako lakes, through a unlit forest and then trafficked roads back home. The night and the unfamiliar route exhaust me quickly and I arrive home four and a half hours after I left, aching all over, dehydrated and somewhat nauseous. But a 100km on a school night…

Can’t help smiling at that !

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