Japan Update #12

Tuesday, April 2, 1996

It has been almost two months since our last report from Japan. We were back in America the first two weeks of March and got in some excellent cross-country skiing at Mt. St. Anne, Quebec. During the second half of both February and March the winds and the cool weather kept us from commuting by tandem most days. We admit it; we turned into cold weather wimps! Morning temperatures of 30F just don't lend themselves to comfortable riding, especially when combined with fierce winds in the evening. Usually it would be breezy in the morning (when it would be a tailwind) and then get to "gale force" by evening, when it was a headwind. Those trips home, in the dark, pedaling hard to go 16-20KPH just were not enticing. We could have done it, but it would not have been fun.

On the weekends we did get to do some riding, but not any of the longer rides. We would either head out into the wind to give us the good ride home, or we would do one of the hillier routes to be somewhat protected from the "breeze".

We got back here two weeks ago and have started riding again.

Two Saturdays ago we did the ride along the ocean to the mouth of the Tenryu Gawa (river) where we turn around and head home. I'm actually getting comfortable going through the sandy (wind blown) sections of this path, just downshift and floor it! This time on the way back we stopped at a koen (park) which we have passed many times but never went into. It has a great variety of play areas for the kids, many of which would not survive the liability conscious US, but look like great fun. There is a slide that is about 15 meters high. It is on a hillside. The slides here are rollers, not the smooth metal that we grew up with. There was also a "ride" where the child would sit on a large ball suspended by a rope, which was hooked onto another rope that went downhill. The child would ride the ball down the rope until it stopped by hitting a large spring. The stopping force was enough to make child and ball go completely horizontal before swinging back and forth. In the US it would be many liability suits waiting to happen. There were also tunnels, rope bridges, castles to climb, etc. Looks like great place for a kid to have fun. The fact that it had three different sets of bathrooms in this play area means it must get very crowded in the summer. Needless to say, we attracted more than our fair share of attention as we rode around the paths looking at the people playing and looking at us.

Two Sundays ago we decided to take the Hill route to work. This nice little climb takes the normal 30-35 minute ride and makes it 1 1/2 hours. The hill has three zones of climb. Steady but not too steep (high end of granny gear), steep (using all of granny) and then a few places where we wish we had more gears. We are a gravitationally challenged team (I weigh 220 lb.) but still, a 20 x 32 should be enough! On the way up the hill, in the first phase of the climb, we passed a community group out on a group hike up the hill. The leader (he did have the megaphone) yelled to us as we slowly passed them "Gambatte Kudasai", which means either strive or keep your chin up or something to that effect. The sight of us struggling up the hill on the Aluminum Santana certainly gave all of them something to smile at as they too strove to get to the top. From the top it is a wonderful coast down for a couple of kilometers. Doing the hill in this direction has most of the switchbacks on the way up so you can let it go somewhat on the way down.

We did notice that the hill was definitely steeper than it was before the winter. We are hypothesizing that the winter frost heaves made it higher and steeper, and that as we ride it more during the season we will beat the hill back down to the grade and elevation which we remember. Do other riders also notice this seasonal affect on hills?

That evening we hosted a Sumo party for some of our American and Japanese friends. Of course we felt just as stiff as one of the wrestlers who got thrown off the ring. You what they say, the bigger you are.... the harder it is to climb hills!

Last week it rained most days so we only commuted in one time. On Sunday we rode into Hammamatsu to go window-shopping. It still amazes me that we can get to within 4 blocks of the downtown by riding on small back roads and on the paved paths along the rivers. This is a city of 500,000 so getting all the way to the major downtown train station without having to fight traffic is a treat. It took us 1 1/2 hours to bike there (bucking the headwind) and it would have taken 1 hour to drive. Unfortunately the tandem does not fit into the spots in the double-decker bike parking garage so we just chained up to a light post. There were also many single bikes parked this way to avoid the parking fees. I don't know what the cost would be since we cannot use the lots.

We ate at an Indian restaurant and walked around to the different department stores. In the basement levels of the "departo" they usually have large grocery stores. And in these areas they always have many samples of the different prepared foods. As good bikers and culinary envoys from America, we feel obligated to have samples of most of the items being offered. There are some that we have learned to avoid, but most are quite delicious.

We stopped off at the bike shop downtown just to browse. This is the only "real" bike shop that we have been to in Japan. Most of them just carry the local commuter style bikes. This shop would hold its own against most shops in the states. It had everything from the commuter bikes to full suspension Cannondale mountain bikes. Seeing $4000 bikes hanging in the window is very unusual. They also carry a full range of expensive road bikes. They have all sorts of components and gadgets in stock. We were tempted to get the "Tour of Hokkaido" jerseys, but we know that we don't need any more jerseys. Give it time, we will succumb! Bike prices did not seem outrageous, but small parts and components were high. $16 for a Specialized wide mouth water bottle, $12 for a regular water bottle, $8 for no-name tubes are but a few examples. I have not seen 700c tires anywhere, though I assume this store has them, but not on display. I have seen 28" tires in most of the local bike shops. Of course, there were no tandems to be found. I'd really like to ride up to this shop on the tandem, but it is virtually inaccessible by bike, especially by tandem.

The ride home from Hamamatsu was a breeze, literally. We decided that we really like to have a strong tailwind. It is amazing how you can go 35-40kph in one direction and only 15-20kph in the other. I find the headwinds to be much more demoralizing than a hill. Anyone else out there have similar feelings?

Yesterday's commute was the first one in a long time in which we got to go home in daylight, at least most of the way. Things look so different when it is light out. Something about tunnel vision? I should mention that Sunday's ride was in shorts and short-sleeved shirts; whereas yesterdays ride was back in tights and jackets. What a difference a day makes!

I know I have mentioned the wind many times (too many times?), but we used to joke that we could tell how strong the wind is by how the flag poles flutter in the breeze. They actually do. The flag poles in front of the plant sway in the wind, even when they do not have flags attached. Strong wind. Difficult to steer when it comes from the side. I actually prefer riding into the wind over the short legs we have riding with a crosswind.

Oh yes. Lindy wanted me to mention that on our first ride back home after returning to Japan, I missed a turn. Captain error. Just forgot about it. She asked why I did not turn just as we passed it and I replied "is that why you stopped pedaling!". I had felt the change of pedaling and could not figure out what she was doing! This is one of those hard 90-degree turns onto a narrow road that is crowned and has a two-foot drop-off to a paddy field where the shoulder should be. Needless to say, one does not decide to try to make this turn if you don't slow down in time. I often repeat to myself, as we approach this turn, "Don't overshoot, don't overshoot".

BTW, while we were in the states we worked on some of the arrangements for the Southern Tier Tandem Rally. We are expecting to be the furthest traveling tandem team to both the STTR and the ETR. We will arrive in the states the day prior to the ETR so we should have good cases of jet lag each evening. Hope to see many of you at one or both of these Rallies.

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