Japan Update #11

Monday, February 12, 1996

The cold wave has broken. During the past two weeks we only biked into work twice. Two weeks ago Monday, and this past Friday. Although the temps were not exactly frigid, it has been below freezing each morning, and we just wimped out. The severe winds definitely contributed to the decision. We said that we could gage the severity of the wind by watching the flagpoles flapping n the breeze.

We have been riding on the weekends though. Waiting until the sun gets a chance to warm things up to at least the mid 30's helps. Of course, we also planned the rides so as to minimize the effects of the winds. Last Saturday was too cold and windy but on Sunday we headed west (into the wind) to Lake Hamanako. When we first got started I thought that we would be lucky to make it half way before the captains morale would be broken by the wind. However, somehow once we got into a groove, plodding along at 14 kph (9 mph) did not seem all that bad. We went along the Pacific Ocean bike path until it ended below Hamamatsu. We have done this part of the ride many times now. The path is really nice, except for those barricades that keep the 4 wheeled vehicles off. I must admit, I am getting used to them and now manage to snake the Santana through at about half speed. On this ride, that did not require much slowing down.

After the bike path ended we went along on side roads with the objective of heading west (go west young tandem, go west?). It's amazing how wonderful a lumberyard can smell as you approach and catch the aroma of freshly cut cedar. Based on wood prices around here, there was a fortune in this lumberyard! This area is actually very flat. On the bike path there are miniature tandem rollers, but otherwise flat, flat, flat. Of course this allows you to see where you are going, much like the lost wagon trains in old westerns. It looks close, but we just keep on pedaling and don't seem to get closer.

I had picked the end point of the route to be in a small park on the lakeshore. I had assumed that there would be rest facilities, which we would sorely need. There was actually a nice building with modern bathrooms, unheated, but clean. We have started noting in our heads where bathrooms are along our more usual routes. This park was virtually empty but we have been told that is gets packed in the summer. The lake we were at is one of the largest on the Pacific side of Japan. It is noted for the eels that are raised here. We did a circumnavigation of the island that the park was on and noticed that they are growing seaweed beds. We assume this is to promote more eels. Modern farming?

The return trip was uneventful other than the fact that Lindy was not sure she would make it. Severe fatigue set in about 20 km from home. I offered to leave her and come back in the car for her but she decided to tough it out. It was a tough ride and she was transformed into a couch potato after we got home. We averaged 15.2 KPH on the outbound, and 17.6 kph for the whole trip. As I have previously noted, our speeds are about 20% lower here than in the states. Lots of stops and sharp turns.

This past Saturday we rode into work for a few hours (I guess that's why we are here) and then took the HILL route back. The theory was that the uphill was northerly and the hills would shield us from the westerly wind and then the downhill would be into the wind but psychologically it would be OK since we would be able to maintain a decent speed. It actually worked! We had never gone in this direction over the hill; this is the reverse of the hill route into work. The climb was not too bad until the last 1.5 km. Then we were in our 20 x 32 most of the way. The last little uphill found us unable to maintain cadence, but with significant effort by both of us we made it up. Yes, Lindy pedaled on the uphill even our deal when we got the tandem was that I was responsible for the uphills, and she for the downhills. Some say I am not a good negotiator!

The downhill was a nice ride, although in this direction there are many, many switchbacks so speed has to be well controlled. Nice drum brake. The final part of the downhill was straight into the wind. It was amazing how fast 40 kph felt. With the extra wind in our faces it felt more like 40-50 mph! Where we should have been able to just coast in a tuck, we had to pedal. But at least we were not going 12 kph. It turned out to be a very satisfying ride, difficult but not disabling.

Yesterday we decided to circumnavigate the lake we had gone to the previous week. We drove to the park where we had turned around last week and started from there. It is interesting to note that we biked there (into the wind) in 2 1/3 hours and it took us a little over 1 hour to drive it. We did the ride around the lake in a counterclockwise direction (we drive on the left here) so as not to have to cross traffic as much. There was a bike path for about 3/4 of the route. It would start and stop but overall it was quite nice. This lake is home to thousands of migrating ducks and other waterfowl. It was stupendous seeing this sea of what looked like redheaded ducks. Also, the predator birds would occasionally fly over us holding an eel in their claws. Many people were out digging for clams.

There was a relay race for runners around the lake while we were going around so we would periodically pass the groups of people at the baton passing area. They would always wave to us and say Konichiwa (good afternoon). We stopped at one to check our map, and one of the men put a little kid on the stoker's seat while I was straddling the bike. Boy was I surprised. It felt like someone was walking into the bike. We did have to check our maps frequently since the route was a little more complicated than keeping the water on your left. Many inlets, points, and rivers to get around. There was one point that we rode around that had breathtaking views. In more ways than one. The path ended and we had to make a sharp right turn up a short hill that I don't know if we could have gone up with a running (pedaling) start. We opted to walk up the hill rather than risk trying to start on such a steep section. At the top the view back over the lake was wonderful. The sun was coming over our right shoulders and the air was clear. The blue of the water contrasted nicely with the forest green of the surrounding shores.

The ride finished with a 5-km section on a highway with a nice tailwind. We were going 40 kph in a 50-kph zone. It was good to have an easy finish since we were getting somewhat fatigued. The average for the trip was an astounding 17.5 kph. I am still amazed at how slowly we end up going on these rides. I know we are working as hard as we do in the states, but it just takes a lot longer. I think the frequent stopping for the barriers or slowing for the numerous sharp (90 degree) corners wastes a lot of energy. But I guess that means we get to eat more for biking less. That is one of the main reasons for biking right, to eat?

On a side note: We have learned that the great number of trains used here also means that there are a lot of train stations. This means that you can find rest rooms on rides out in the middle of nowhere. One we stopped at had a giant cow, about 3-4 meters tall. This is building where the toilets were. You do have to get used to mixed bathrooms. There is often only one toilet area with urinals out in the open (facing away from the door) and one or two stalls. Knock before entering. Toilets are also always-Japanese style. No sitting, just squatting. Tough in cleats.

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