I have no clue why I do these things. But, if it’s there, I’ll climb it. I need to prepare a bit for the Azami Hill climb. And since I have a biz trip planned – I needed to get at least a decen recon of the route beforehand. I’m just that way. So – the only weekend available, I took the chance.
Well, unfortunately or otherwise , it was raining. Well, not quite raining, but pouring , and a little more than that it was a friggin spring Typhoon. Oh well, how bad could it be in the mountains? Yeah – it was pretty bad.
So – off I went with my family for a pleasant day trip to the mountains. My goal – ride the course and plot my strategy. My family’s goal – find a nice onsen and wait my finish. Not all things work out as planned.
Pleasant day – negative.
Course – farther away than I thought.
Weather – totally sucked.
Onsen – closed.
However – adversity breeds innovation and action:
1) Me: HTFU and <enjoy> the climb in whatever conditions God has given you. This build character and stamina.
2) Family: He’s a friggin’ idiot – there is no onsen and we’re going home.
1) I AM a friggin idiot for doing this climbing route – especially alone. The weather is insane, there is NO ONE on the road except some deer. If I crash I will die of hypothermia and who knows what else.
2) Family takes the smarter route and goes home, finds a nice Onsen bath close by. They are much smarter.
I finish the climb – totally burnt out. But, my sag bag is still at the station so I have some dry clothes. Change in the rain, grab a train beer and go home. Family is there. Dinner is on me this time.
Family asks: ‘Why do you enjoy suffering like this?’
I answer: ‘It’s not suffering, it’s a challenge. It keeps us in touch with life. ‘
When I heard about some fellow TCC members planning a ride from Tokyo to Mt. Fuji, then climbing Mt. Fuji and return in a day I thought, wow, now THATS the making of an epic road trip! Well, they DID it – and I was definitely intrigued enough to try it myself. Not wanting to do this alone, I shouted out to all my friends and a few replied that , yeah, we GOTTA do this! The plans were cast as firmly as possible and date was set – September 11, 2010. On the day of the event I learned that JF was too sick to ride, some others had canceled and eventually only Kori was ready to go. So – we made our last minute preparations and scheduled to shove off from Tokyo at 10pm. My last minute prep included eating about 1kg of whole wheat pasta and drinking a liter of Contrex. Thoroughly loaded with carb fuel and water, I wobbled off down the road.
Hooking up with Kori at Kichijoji, we started our ride out via Route 20. Since it was a Friday night at roughly 10.30pm, there was quite a bit of traffic. But it got less and less as we hit the foothills and made our way to Takao for our first mini-break. Reaching Takao, we refueled and started the short climb over to Sagamiko. About this time I noticed a strange noise coming from my bike everytime I stood up to power over the hills. It sounded like a BB click click so I wasn’t too worried. We made our descent to Sagamiko then on to Uenohara. Again on the climbing portions – click click click! Well, I really get annoyed by noisy bikes, so when we stopped at Otsuki for our next break I took a closer look. What I saw nearly freaked me out! My downtube had cracked ALL THE WAY THROUGH !! For the last several hours I had been hammering up hills and descending down them on a BROKEN FRAME !! Arrghhh!!
We still had the climb up Doushi Michi and farther on to the Gotemba via Subaru Line to manage. Kori was really worried that riding on a broken frame, in the middle of the night, in the middle of pretty much no where was not a good idea and we should just bag the trip in Otsuki and wait for the 1st train back. I was in agreement, though, knowing that the rest of the road was mainly uphill, our speed would be slow and if I could just splice the tube together it may hold out. I really really wanted to continue this trip! So, I bought some cloth tape and snagged some chopsticks from counter and put my Red Cross training to work. Afterall, A broken tube is not unlike a broken limb and both can be splinted to some degree of functionality. I broke the chopsticks into thirds then carefully positioned them around the crack area. Then wound tape in a figure eight and criss cross pattern.
When I was done, I tested it on a few short pushes up the hill and the click click was gone. So, I decided that we should forge ahead and just be very cautious. The worst case scenario was that my frame would collapse and I didn’t want to be going any faster than 20kph when or if that would happen. So, off we went into the very dark night. We pushed on and made good time to Fuji Yoshida where we stopped for a quick break and a sanity check. Mt. Fuji was in the foreground and we just had to get there!
The road levels off a bit and we made even better time up to Kawaguchi-ko where we planned to eat breakfast prior to the Subaru Line ascent to Gotemba (5th Station) We found a Jonathan’s Family Restaraunt close to the Subaru Line entrance and proceeded to pig out!
With our belly’s full, we started the Subaru Line ascent. I had ridden this a few months earlier for the Fuji Funride HC , so was prepared for the road and the climb ahead. For this trip I had chosen a very light 40/20 , 44/18 combo. So – pushing up the hill on the 40/20 was just right for an easy climb and keep the stress low on both frame and body.
Once you are on the Subaru Line, you climb through the hiking ‘Stations’ starting from Station 1 and going all the way to Station 5, which is the starting point of the main climb to top of Mt. Fuji.
We rolled through all the Station points and made our destination at Gotemba (5th Station) where we got ready for the most difficult part of the trip – the climb up Mt. Fuji!
Finally after procuring much needed water for the climb up, we secured our bikes and headed to the mountain. Our climb was starting later than we planned, mainly due to the broken frame incident, but we decided that we would see how far we could get before having to commit a turn around.
I don’t think anyone can really prepare you for climbing a mountain. You just have to do it. After all the years I’ve been in Japan there is really just one thing you must do – Climb Mt. Fuji. And I think ALL Japanese have this on their ‘to do’ list. The mountain is packed with people of all ages making the climb. And I mean all ages! You are walking up besides people in their 60′s, 70′s and 80′s as well as their teens, 20′s and in between! Everyone has the same goal – but perhaps for many different reasons. James and I had thought we’d bring up one of our bikes so we could stand on top of Mt. Fuji with our bike. We actually thought this idea was totally unique and original. HA! As I was climbing, I saw a guy carrying his MTB up the mountain! So much for UNIQUE! When I talked to him, he said that actually this was the SECOND TIME he’s done it. The first when he was 18, and now again when he’s 28 on 10th anniversary.
I can’t describe the terrain here – but needless to say it was basically 40 degree or more of just volcanic rock. There are no safety ropes or anything other than a few chains on the steepest portions to hang onto. You are literally climbing straight up on the side of a volcano with nothing to catch you if you slip. I had to get a shot of me ‘riding the bike’ as well.
By this time, Kori was really worried about the time and we decided to split up. I was on a mission to the top and hoped I could come off the mountain one way or another. We decided to try to rendevous back at the base – and if it was too late, then Kori would already be riding down the mountain. Since my frame was broken, I had thought I would just bag the bike and either taxi, hitch hike or bus back. (Famous last thoughts) I climbed the rest of the way to the top – and believe me – it was NOT EASY! I was climbing based on my heart rate monitor in order to keep within my VOmax and avoid over stressing my body. This meant I set a target HR of 145 max. And everytime I hit that, I would stop and rest until I got back down to 125. As I got closer to the top this meant I was stopping roughly every 25m !! Altitude is real! Finally I made it top the top, went to snap a pic but my battery was dead! I did get one shot from the summit.
At that point, the wind was blowing and it was like 5 degrees COLD. So – without any delay I started the descent. This is where things really got funky – cause the way DOWN the mountain is NOT the same as the way up! They put you on a series of switchbacks that is basically crushed volcanic rock. And the switchbacks are at about 20 percent and more grade – for 6km! My knees are not the best and I was really worried how I could get off this mountain. So, I took the trusty cloth tape that I used on my frame and taped up both ankles and knees completely. And I mean completely – I just wrapped up all 4 joints so I could barely walk. Then proceeded to ski-slide down the mountain. Well, this was OK until I crashed out and got serious road rash on my arm and hip. Taking it a little easier I eventually made it back to the 5th Station. The total time up and down was about 6 and half hours!! I arrived at 5th station just before 5pm and rushed over to the bus terminal to see about bus off the mountain. As Kori had warned – the buses stop early. In this case – 16.40 Which means I missed the last bus by 20 minutes! Arrghhh! I asked about taxi and was told that the cost is around 12,000 yen!! That means more than $120 to go just 25km! At this point I was really tired and had no energy left for anything. So , I got some small snacks and drinks and just chilled out for half hour to decide my fate. At that point I decided that with an hour left of daylight, I could try the descent.
Coming down the Subaru Line on a fixie is no picnic. Its 25km of more than 5% grade continuously. For a roadbike this must be the funnest descent ever! But on a fixie you are just a human sewing machine for more than 2hrs! And combine that with a broken frame AND the darkest dark you have every ridden in – well, lets just say – NO FUN AT ALL.
Suffering from flash blindness due to oncoming traffic, almost getting creamed from behind by dozens of cars, buses and trucks coming off the mountain, I found myself in a very surreal and freaked out state. Eventually I had to just get off my bike and walk for awhile to get my senses back. Finally I made it to the Subaru Line Entrance – and found enough strength to make the final descent to Kawaguchi Ko. At the closest convenience store I got an Aquarius Sports drink and a Corn Dog. My ‘reward’ for making it off the mountain alive and in one piece!
From there, it was just getting on the train and collapsing until I made it back to Tokyo. I lugged my broken bike back to my house, where it still sits, still in the bag.
Here’s a short video I managed to snag while I was riding up the Subaru Line:
After completing the Kusatsu Hillclimb after many years ( more than 20 in fact) of any kind of competitive cycling I was struck by the bug – again. The next event I registered into was the Mt. Fuji Hillclimb. This was a bit confusing as there were actually TWO events by the same name – and on the same day!! WTF!! In any case – I somehow managed to struggle through the registration process and figure out the ONE I was doing was the 10th Mt. Fuji Fillclimb and was being held on a relative consistent grade of 25km. Sounds good. The OTHER Mt. Fuji Hillclimb was shorter and more gnarly – GREAT! I’ll save THAT ONE for NEXT YEAR!
With that being said – I ramped up my training a bit to include more hills. My goal thus far is to really just get back in shape, lose weight and have fun. I have no intention of becoming a serious contender or racing at an elite level anymore. But I do want to go out with my friends, show some cred and hang with good riders on fun rides. Plus, when my daughter gets older – I’ll be in enough shape to <hopefully> coach her along, which would be a nice legacy.
Adding a small twist to this event, I decided to hook up with some fellow TCC members in a warm up ride OUT to the Mt. Fuji. Sounds good to me! I rendezvous with them in Takao and together we went to Yamanakano via roads I’ve never been on. This ride turned out to be a bit more than I expected, and it sapped my pretty hard, though fun nonetheless and would be a good test and conditioning ride.
On pre-race day – Kimm, Keren and I managed to get our race packages without any hassle and enjoyed the many bike booths located around the park area. It was pretty much cycling heaven with Mt. Fuji in the background.
Kimm hooked us up with an awesome Onsen Hotel – and believe me the hot soak felt great! We joined up with Phil and his family for a great Udon Nabe dinner then back to the hotel to chill and sleep. James made it in that evening and we prepped his bike for the race then crashed for the early morning start (6am).
On the ride out to the park – I hit a large grate on the bridge and promptly received a snakebite award. DAMN! The LAST THING I wanted was a flat. We repaired it quickly, then hooked up with another gang riding to the starting park. At the park – i frantically searched for replacement tire / tube. ANytime I get a snakebite it jinxes the tire. I simply can’t race on a tire that has been ‘bitten’. Luckily – one of the booth’s had not only the large allenkey for my CHUB HUB but also a lighhtweight tube and replacement Michelin tire. Sorry – no more Panaracer for me!
With that being accomplished – we found our starting grid and waited for the gun. Japanese races use nifty RFID timer – so you just ‘chip’ your bike and ride. When you cross the timing grid you are ON.
On the race itself, we follow a beautiful road leading to the 5th Station. Its a continuous grade of about 5 or so percent, with some steeper sections. All told, about 25km to the finish. James and I rode together to nearly the top, where he pulled away on the Colnago Master. I managed to grit out some more energy and finished strongly with the last 300m basically a stand up sprint. At the top we were welcomed by an amazing view of the mountain.
Looking around I spotted a guy on a Surly PUGSLEY! WOW! He made it up in just about 2hr!! Awesome ride!
Back at the park after the seriously tedious descent (what goes up – must come down) we ate some more Udon , snapped some shots then headed back home.
The final touch to an awesome weekend of riding – Mesquite Grilled Steak Dinner!