To get the traditional summing up post going, there needs to be an important upfront disclaimer – I fucking love Japan. Its definitely the coolest place in Asia to visit IMO, and if there was a spare room going at the Hawk HQ I would be moving my reduced possessions and 5 bikes there ASAP. If its ‘on your list’ of places to visit, expedite that shit to the top and get booking. If you’re wanting to go there for cycling, then hopefully some of the below is helpful.
I had some valuable reader feedback this week as well – Along the lines of: “It looked epic, but all your stories are the same – ‘I ride up a big hill, I got dropped, its fucked me’ Why do you do it to yourself?” I like to think I’m semi responsive to feedback, except for when its dumb, so I shall do this summary post without a single mention of how hard the hills are… Or the fact the Welsh Assassin spent 4 days KOMing all over Japan.
The mission stats
Important we start here, as it underlines what a BIG 4 days in the saddle it really was. This would usually make for a massively solid week on the bike, let alone 4 days, quite pleased with this lot just quietly:
- Distance ridden – 452.3kms
- Total ride time – 21 hours and 36 minutes
- Meters climbed/ground out – 10,042m (blow us Mt Everest)
- Calories massacred – 12,037
Its probably one of the biggest trips in terms of volume, especially in a short space of time… I would probably recommend a rest day in there somewhere to be honest, do some touring around and then hit it again.
1. A word on location and accommodation
We stayed at Northstar on Norikura, and I have to say it was excellent. Why? They covered the essentials:
- Fucking awesome free wifi that was FAST
- Great breakfasts
- A shit load of space
- They knew everything about the area
- Built in Onsen hot pool
- Relaxed staff that totally got what the trip was about, English speaking to boot (I am so cultured). They didn’t mind me collapsing in the lobby at all… Not that I was miserable…
Plus, you get to sleep on the floor with your homeboys, so its just like being 10 again… So no actual change from an emotional age perspective:
We even had the run of the place for the first few days, which left plenty of room for our man purses:
Want to hit them, here’s the link: http://norikura.co.jp/en/?portfolio=northstar-outdoor-adventures
As for Fuji, we went high-end and got the traditional experience, which is not to be missed… Er… Aside from Breakfast. I can’t climb mountains on Fish to be honest, especially the day after… Ah… a really awesome time in the coolish mountain air and snow line? Place was flash as eh, with a golden view of Fuji across the lake.
In terms of nailing a location, Norikura is hard to go past. Out the front gate we had a cross road heading in 4 different directions. Like some moments we face in life, all different directions led to a unique route that you could make equally amazing and epic, it doesn’t get much better than that. By placing yourself at this epicentre location, your route design and options are endless.
But there is more to the Alps than this, there are whole other zones we never got to, which screams REBOOT to me… Sequel anyone? But, as a starting point then its hard to go past the Norikura HQ, good restaurants nearby as well. Fuck Japan dominates on the fried chicken front as well, massive bonus.
2. A word on format and logistics
We did Alps and then Fuji… Which is a 2 hour or so drive in between. On reflection we were probably tempted to do Fuji first and then Alps, how come? Well, its closer to Tokyo and an easier start, so a bit of a warm up so to speak. Either way, be prepared for the escape from Tokyo and have your navigator primed. Chances are your in-car GPS will be as cunty as ours was, so make sure you have a google map back up and aim for toll roads ASAP.
Best to work out your arrival time and then plan generously for how long you need to get down to the Alps area around Nagano… If you’re travelling with a petite Welshman, also ensure you factor in many toilet stops, you can’t just truck on through, ha, truck!
3. A word on the riding
Ok, so its fucking awesome, that much should be painfully obvious by now… But in all seriousness, why go to Europe when you can go here? If you’ve ticked off Col this and that, as everyone has these days, I would totally recommend heading here for something different, but absolutely under-utilised and rare. Did I mention its super deserted?
A couple of points to note however to make sure you maximise on the goodness:
- Temperature check – Yes, its supposed to be summer… And at times or in the valleys it really was warm. However, the further up you go, the colder its getting. Dok had to explain this concept to me several times on Trans Provence, but yes, its closer to 3 or 4 degs when you top out over 2300m in altitude, so prepare for that… May relate to the snow there, and the people skiing… No bullshit
- Makes me so wet – Its also the tail end of rainy season (I think) in late June, so pack the $900 Rapha rain jacket. I was stoked to use mine, as I managed to lower the ‘cost per ride’ of that particular garment from its baseline of $200 to closer to $175, result. Word up is that later on in July conditions improve, but then again, more roads would be open to the public so I suspect the trade off may be busier sections
- Darkness – As you may have picked, it got dark earlier than expected… Summer usually denotes darkness at 8pm or later, but by 6.30pm shit was tapping out in J-pan, so make sure you plan accordingly, minimise the faffing and get out on the road early
- Tunnelorama – Yes, its a convention of tunnels and they love them in this part of the world, up, down, narrow, wide. If you freak at tunnels, then perhaps take your medication before setting out. Recommend tail lights as a minimum, perhaps a head light for the dark one lane variety. The noise of the tunnels is a lot worse than the reality…
- Mini marts and Vending heaven – Place is rammed with those beautiful machines stoked with Coke, Aquarius sports drink or if you’re really desperate, water. Except for that cunt at the top of Nomugi Pass, which was stocked with Pepsi, the SRAM of soft drinks. As such, there are plenty of chances to refuel and believe me, you’ll appreciate them. Can’t go past a cheeky ramen for lunch either
- Beautiful lumps – Be prepared for a lot of up and down and not much in between, the downhills are equally as challenging as the climbing. Be ready for a lot of BIG ups and then warp speed and usually wet descents that may have variable road surface. It all adds to a feeling of general cycling utopia, you’ll never be bored.
4. A word up on the bikes
Have to say, the Cannondale Evo’s were simply awesome. The ate up the above mentioned terrain and Cols with more gusto than I tucked into a Family mart fried chicken special. There is no BS with these bikes (PFuck30 BB’s aside) and they just get on with the job at hand in an elegant and refined way:
Mine had been componentry problematic prior to departure, so I did what you’d normally do with any spoilt Ex-Pat kid, just threw money at it. Turns out it worked well and all the bikes ran drama free. A few thoughts to consider on bikes and gear:
- Brakes – The conditions are evil on pads and devoured half my pads… Wet conditions, heavy braking at high speed and a fair amount of grit means a lot of black shit on the frame. Recommend starting with new pads and taking some spares
- Spin to keep on spinning – So, the Hawk did the unspinnable and rocked up with a standard chain set. In a massive feat of strength the legend cunt then rode it out all week. He may ultimately admit that a compact would have been more appropriate and anything from a 34 x 27 or 28 would be the way. I could have gone for a 34 x 29 to be honest, most likely for next time. If compact is good enough for the Welsh Assassin, its good enough for ANYONE
- Garmin & Strava are your guides – Ok, so Strava route builder is totally fucked when it comes to determining elevation, consistently 1,000m overstating, but there is no doubt the combo of creating routes and getting them into your Garmin 800, 810 or 1000 is the business for these trips. We rolled without base maps and it was spot on. Aside from the day we got lost as fuck, which goes to show Tech is only ever as good as your ability to follow it
- Has anyone seen my Beard – Yes, people are busy fucking the Rapha brand by ordering it in XXL and then riding it to coffee on $20k Pinarello Dogma’s (instead of clogging up golf courses), BUT, there is no denying how good the kit is when you use it as it was originally intended – For real riding. When shit gets REAL, this kit is golden and works every time. I once again put the jacket, tops and cold weather gear through its paces and it was awesome. Shame I left the booties at home, my feet paying the price on day 3. The classic jersey being the real winner on this trip though and, when its done tastefully, you can’t beat matching:
So, that’s about it in terms of being matter of factly with the motherfucking advice… A few final pointers in case you weren’t rammed enough:
- Voltarin is fucking golden for missions in the mountains… Not sure if its technically cheating taking it in the evenings, but it saved my back!
- Always have a contingency and clear plan. I am fine with whippets climbing away from me (not that I have a choice), but always make sure with your group you are all aligned on what happens next and where the regroup points are. ALWAYS take a mother F phone… everyone!
- Always always always and fucking always go away on these trips with Good cunts, like these two legend units here, thanks for an awesome trip boys:
Stay tuned for the Dirty Video coming out of Japan… Crafting gets underway very soon… Murghahahahahaah!