So… here we go, finally an update from the land of the rising sun. Why have we fallen off the usual DN wagon of posts out on the same day faster than a German logistics firm? Simple really:
Its been fucking huge
Yip, both days have been 7 hours in the saddle and closer to 9 hours out in the Japanese alps. I’m therefore a day behind as well. So, given my current state, please excuse compromised grammar, degraded ability to tell story and perhaps a lapse of being able to filter out inappropriateness. I am also going to do a mash up here of the travel day and Day 1 of riding… You’ll see why.
Like some sort of Spec Ops Cols assassination squad (well, really just the Welsh Assassin, I only carry the supplies and eat them), we came from all corners of the globe to rendezvous in Tokyo to get this short but mega sweet mission underway. First order of business, work out how to get 3 bike boxes, 2 Grimpeurs, a Nomad and an extra large man purse into our mini rental unit:
The Krypton factor challenge complete and we were on the road! There is something exciting and deeply satisfying about starting a road trip with your homeboys… But that can depend on your timing and technical ability, allow me to elaborate with a couple of #Dirtytraveltips:
- Driving one side of Tokyo to the other in rush hour – Quite difficult
- Driving one side of Tokyo to the other with GPS that is allergic to highways or toll roads – Cunt
Still, it did have an upside – Epic amusement factor of watching a high structured and organised person interact with a GPS that was 80% in Japanese, especially when he knew he could do a better job:
3 hours quickly became about 7 to our destination (note – Soon to become a theme of the trip) and once again Google maps was a winner… Clearly its one of the best thing ever invented by nerds. Not to be deterred by it being close to midnight, the Grimpeurs decided to open up their account early with a battle over the duvet:
The first day of riding couldn’t come soon enough… Everyone was amped to ride and even though we were beset with day one faffery that would have earned us a punch in the face from the Dok, we had important things to cover off on a trip of this nature.
Case in point – We did what any group of highly groomed cyclists do when you get to the Alps, throw down and have a massive Rapha off. I hit hard with sheer volume, Hawk muscled in with some collector items no longer available… but The Welsh Assassin struck back in true form to blow us away with a piece of kit you can’t buy on-line… His Rapha KOM win an ominous sign of what was to come:
Given that we had done Snozza proud with our awesome collection, we decided it was time to put it to real use and not just use it for a ride to the coffee shop, stretching it on the way and covering it in croissant crumbs (not looking at you corporate cyclists). Yes, it was time to get the action underway. Finally the memo about matching kit and bikes was properly acted on:
That photo says a lot… I’m giving away 10kg’s on the Welsh Assassin and a solid 8kg’s to the Hawk… ‘No big deal’ says the non-cyclists, ‘holy FUCK that’ says cyclists in the know and who could imagine what that means on a climbing trip. Don’t worry, that shit comes home to roost all over my face very soon.
I knew Japan was beautiful, last year taught me that… But this was a different zone, so still didn’t know what to expect, but it started out exceeding any expectations that may have been floating around straight away. Stunning lakes and valleys unravelled before us as we sped to our first big date with elevation on day one. I spent a moment here with the WA, one of the few times I saw him all day:
Here’s what I’m talking about, some lake action… Unfortunately for me, appears I can’t tell one lake from another, something that didn’t help me out later on:
It wasn’t all sexy lakes and rolling hills, there was one nemesis – Tunnels… Lots of tunnels. And scary ones too, narrow, quite long and wet, not the good kind either. The Welsh Assassin disliked the tunnels the most, causing him to drop the hammer through them, so basically the first hour was an interval session, yay… Here we enjoy a brief respite from both the tunnels and hammering:
Passing through our first city of the tour, Matsumoto, it was time for the first real test of the Alps tour – The Utsukushigahara Climb. 20km’s long, average of 6% for a 1200m elevation gain. FART. I had visions of it slowly winding its way up gently, which prompted me to say to the boys “How about I lead you out for the first couple of K’s and you go for the KOM chaps?” Fucking good luck there… The start was a WALL of doom, 21% and a back shattering nightmare of epic proportions.
I was on the midgies wheels for 25 seconds, before disappearing out the ass in the first 50m of the climb, possibly zig-zagging… May be on video… 1 hour and 40 minutes of solo grinding later we were reunited. The only upside? It was a beautiful climb. Well, sort of… It was fucking hard, but looking out to either side the scenery was awesome and reminded me why I love riding big alpine climbs like this… Sort of love:
I know my climbing hasn’t been great of late, but fuck today I was battling… At some stage I am going to have to create a project to properly get some semblance of climbing form back (last seen in 2006? Or maybe Spain last year?). I had also forgotten how hard these kind of climbs are. I was actually having massive flash backs to Italy last year, some of the scenery was the same, but it was also how hard the climb was. For some reason I thought the Japanese alps wouldn’t be as hard, but fuck me, they are! I got to the summit where the boys had been waiting for some time… By some time I mean the Welsh Assassin did it in 1.16… GAAAAAAA, brings me to an important point;
Battle of the Grimpeurs update – Who took the first blood? If they say form is fleeting and class is forever, then the Welsh Assassin must be one classy motherfucker. He danced away from the Hawk, who turned up to a compact fight with a BIG chainring, the WA making him pay for his technical limitation on the opening section of 20% pitches.
Not to sound gushy on it, but it was a joy to watch him ride, if an Action Man toy made love with a Welsh Mountain Lion, then the offspring would be the WA. He’s like some sort of science experiment on a bike, relentless, smoother than Salty Welsh Butter and an ability to crush at will on little to no training that is something to behold. The only downside? He has to wait around a lot at the top of climbs:
We needed a summit shot, but no one was around to take one of us, so we decided the “best thing” to do was take a group selfie… Seemed like a really good idea… At the time… May not happen again, ever:
Quickly moving along… Summit scenery was pretty handy as well, the boys soaking up the mountain air and the long descent to come.
This was one of the last times that things were going according to plan… Here is where the story starts to get… Well… Comedic, at the time in a black comedy kind of way, but now its just a classic tale of why you always need contingency. Just think of this as a Japanese Fawlty Towers…
On the big descent (this being an out and back we were retracing steps), I had to take evasive action to avoid a rogue bus, thus separating me from the Hawk’s back wheel. I then made the left hand turn I thought my comrades had made to head back into town. Alas, they had gone straight… I therefore found myself separated from the Dirty herd at the bottom of the 20km downhill. Not to worry, what’s the best thing to do?
Lost part 1 – I thought to compound matters in my semi fucked state the best thing to do was promptly get lost in the suburbs… Don’t take it the wrong way when I say “it all looked the same”, but I was going around in circles, agitation levels starting to increase slightly. No matter, head to the city centre… Boys will be there sipping Latte’s.
Lost part 2 – I managed to find myself and then the city centre… Which meant it was the perfect opportunity to get lost again. Like a cunt. So, what does it look like to be as lost as fuck in down town Matsumoto? All those weird red lines below the main line paint the picture well:
Still, this isn’t 1986 is it? We all have awesome and addictive smart phones! No drama, just call the Hawk. No answer… Phone dead. Ok, message the Welsh Assassin… Message him again… Message him again… Call him… Forget his phone is chillaxing back at the hotel:
So, at this stage, unbeknown to me, the boys had climbed back up the Col of doom to look for me, enlisting the aid of the owner of the Il Pirate cafe (yes, named after Marco Pantani!), who was about to launch a full search and rescue mission. The WA taking the opportunity to essentially climb almost all the way back to the summit to look for me… (AKA – Secret training miles)
Meanwhile, I decided the only contingency I could invoke was to head back to base… If I could find the right road. Atfuckinglast I managed to find the road out of the city… YES! Slightly relieved, but still anxious as to where the lads were, I continued on with my contingency plan to return to base. My logic being we were losing light and I was slower than them. I knew it was one road all the way back with a left turn to climb home… Couldn’t go wrong from here right?
Lost part 3 – Ah… Well, I knew at some stage we had a split tunnel to deal with, and my brain seemed to be convinced we were staying at Nagawa (we weren’t), so when I was in a tunnel that split with a sign to Nagawa, I went, cool – that way. No cunt, not that way… I started climbing and headed through several very long tunnels… Which suddenly didn’t seem that familiar…
Its at this point you don’t want to believe you’ve gone the wrong way. You’ve made an investment… You’ve committed. What if its the right way? Should I press on? There’s a lake to my right, so that’s ok (it was the wrong lake). At this point the narrative in my head went from “This will make for a good post” to “Fuck this is a cunt”. Those that know me well know the only thing I hate more than Pressfit 30 BB’s is being lost, so there’s a slight chance I was having some negative emotions pouring out my mouth at this point.
Eventually I made the hateful u-turn and retraced my steps. As an upside, fuelled by rage (at my fuck ups) and anxiety (fuck its getting dark soon and there’s still a way to go) resulted in me being able to drop the hammer to make it to the turn off back to the hotel. The downside? I still had a rather nasty climb back up to the bliss of the hot pool and desperately needed food.
Thank fuck that the Strava segment builder is a turd and got the elevation wrong, it was closer to 3,000m of climbing as opposed to the advertised 4,000 and I have never been more thankful. The final 7.7km climb up to the hotel took me 40 painful minutes as I ground up, arriving home more fingered than an ambitious intern and worse: No sign of the lads. I wanted to upload to strava and then collapse, but thought it was best to now launch my own search and rescue mission in the Dirty mini rental, thankfully the Grimpeurs arriving back just as I was about to jump in the car.
For a lot of people, what would come next would be lots of abuse and general melting down, but not here. I think its a combo of relief that everyone was home in one piece and that a massive day out was over! Not to mention why you only do these trips with your homeboys. Whilst I had ridden 150km’s and climbed 2700 meters in 7 hours, the boys had done closer to 175km’s and over 3,000m in their Dirty Nomad hunt.
So… A debrief was very much in order, not to mention a few beers and an all important process change discussion. A rather epic first day was in the bag… Some valuable lessons on navigation and phones and the importance of having a contingency plan! Kampai!
If you feel like getting lost as fuck in Japan, here is the Strava file, so useful:
A quick teaser for day 2 (which was today)… It has been even BIGGER than day one if that’s possible… It was a rather special day, so may take a while to craft that post. Stay tuned!