Friday, January 15, 2010

The failed trip to Fuji

This going to be a rather rambling post, so if you want to know how everything turned out, just jump to the bottom.

Japan has a tradition at the end of the year, called "bounenkai" ("forget year meeting"). Essentially, it's a drinking party for ringing out the old year and to forget all previous problems and difficulties. If you have a large circle of friends and family, and you work at a large company, there's a good chance that you might end up going to 2 or 3 bounenkai parties a week for 3 weeks in a row. That's a lot of serious partying, which could also get very expensive if you have to pay for part of the costs yourself. Each party can be different. so there's no general rule. One year, I went to a seaside resort for an overnight stay, with a couple of rounds of tennis at the beginning of the day, and a banquet dinner at night. Another time, it was just a quick dinner at a restaurant that included lots of drinking. There's a growing number of Japanese that have serious reactions to alcohol, so they'll just have soda or juice instead at these parties.

This year, the school I work at threw their bounenkai at a nice Italian restaurant in Odaiba, and of course there was a lot of drinking, which included some very nice shouchu. Shouchu is a special kind of alcohol that can be made with anything containing sugar, such as cane sugar, sweet potato, or some kind of grain. I'm not sure which brand was available this time, but it was in a ceramic jug, and included a long-handled wooden dipper for pouring the shouchu into the glass. Very nice, and rather expensive. Fortunately, it was free. Then, at the end of the party, there was a series of drawings for handing out prizes. Surprisingly, I won something that was appropriate for me - a gift box set of energy drinks, protein powders and joint strengthening supplement pills, from Nature Made.

Switch tracks here. Normally, the year-end holiday period lasts a few days at the end of the year and into the beginning of the next year. In my case, it's unpaid time, but it ran from Dec. 23 to Jan. 8. I've been using this time for family gatherings in Tokyo, reading manga, and visiting museums and galleries. But, what I really wanted was to direct. No, wait. What I really wanted was to try riding my bike out to Mt. Fuji. It's over 85 miles each way, through a series of big hill ranges. Initially, my thought was to ride out early one morning, stay over night and then come back the next day. If I wasn't too out of shape, each stage would take 6-10 hours. But, the roads on some parts of the route are bicycle-unfriendly and I decided instead to just ride out 4 hours, see where that would take me and then return home right afterwards. With luck, I'd eat lunch somewhere in the middle and not get sick from it.

(Sentry of the Moon. Located between the train station and the lake.)

I've always had a problem riding more than 50 miles at a stretch, or if the ride took more than 3 hours. I eventually learned that I'm one of the few people that need to snack on light foods and energy bars every 45-60 minutes. So, the night before, I stocked up on snack bars, and added some of the protein powders and drinks from the bounenkai party prize. My route would start from Noborito, go north to Fuchu along the Tamagawa river, then turn west at the Asagawa river and pick up route 20 to bring me into Takao. I've made this run several times, and it's 45 minutes to Fuchu and another 45 to Takao. After this, I'd go up into the hills along 20 and come out the other side. I'd only made this part of the run once, and it took 30 minutes going up and I'd turned around to return home after reaching the top. The downhill stretch of 20 would take me to Sakamiko. After that, I'd take 20 to Ohtsuki and then probably have to stop because the rest of the route to Fuji would be toll roads. At a minimum, I wanted to get to Ohtsuki.

Jan. 3 was nice and pleasant. A little cool, but maybe in the 50s F. When I set out at 7:30 AM on Jan. 4, the air was right at freezing. (Of course, on Jan. 5, it was back up into the high 40s.) I had a winter cycling jersey over a t-shirt, winter cycling gloves, sweat pants, tennis shoes and my helmet. My toes and fingers went numb within 10 minutes and never recovered. My core was fine, but the extremities were in pain. There was a slight head wind along the Tamagawa, which disappeared when I got to Fuchu. But, the cold air was so heavy that it slowed me down horribly. My 95 minute ride to Takao turned into almost 2 hours. When I got up into the hills in the Takao range, the sun got blocked out by the trees and I started freezing again. (The air did warm up as the day wore on, but only when I was in direct sunlight). I paced myself up the hills, but the rivers that were frozen over, and the frost still on the ground, led me to think that it'd be better to get over the top of the ridge back into the sun as quickly as I could. The other side of the ridge was all downhill, but Fuji was blocked out by clouds, ruining any hopes I had for a photo op.

I coasted down to Sagamiko and stopped to take pictures of the famed green lake a few blocks away from the train station. It was now 3 hours into the ride, and Otsuki was another 33 kilometers off. Route 20 narrowed down to 2 lanes with no shoulder or sidewalks, and was getting crowded with cars making the "U-turn" trip back home at the end of their vacations. It wasn't worth the risk of continuing and possibly getting hit by a truck, and I'd probably spend well over 2 hours on this last leg, so I headed back.

Back in Takao, I did a little sightseeing, checking out some of the ruins around the town. It was now 4.5 hours into the ride and I was getting tired and just could not warm up enough. So I focused on continuing on to Fuchu. One thing that slowed me down even more were the number of pedestrians out strolling on the bike path. I am happy that I was pretty much the fastest thing out there, passing many other cyclists on road bikes, but I was still hobbling along at 25 kph. Then I hit the headwinds blowing along the Tamagawa and dropped down to only 14 kpm. Even still, only two or three other riders were fast enough to pass me. But, the wind has always been my enemy, and even with all of my energy bars and vitamin drinks, I was completely drained when I finally got back home. Total trip took 6 hours and 10 minutes, and covered 119.45 km (just short of 75 miles). Nowhere near what I wanted to do, but if I'd tried actually getting to Otsuki I would have been in even worse shape at the end, so I am counting my blessings here. I never did get a good view of Fuji, either. Sigh. Obviously, though, trying to get to Fuji and back in one day during New Year's rush is outside my skill set.

It took 3 hours at home to finally feel human again. I went through half of the drinks and powders I'd gotten from the bounenkai party. Thank you Bounenkai!

(The rabbit in the background is advertising a dentist's office.)

(Toastem - the home renovation company that works like magic!)

(A kappa. This one accepts cash donations for the local community center nearby.)


For those of you that just skipped straight down here from the top of the post, here's what you're looking for: everyone died. There were no witnesses.


Shiroibara said...

What an adventure! I'm glad to know that you survived (even if no one else did). Do you have plans to try again when it's warmer?

TSOTE said...

Thanks. Well, if I went back out I'd probably still not be able to get much past Sagamiko. Any farther than that and I'd need to make it a two-day trip, and I'd prefer to have someone ride along with me for safety reasons, then. Right now, I'm riding solo because I haven't found anyone that rides the same routes I do. I'll see what happens in the Spring, but I'd like to keep my options open, yes.