In 2013 I came to Japan with a ton of physical and mental energy. It was compounded by the open arm welcoming I received in a rural town of 4,000 on the Southern tip of Japan's northernmost island - Hokkaido, aka Hokkaido wa Dekkaido. (北海°はでっかいぞ）for "Hokkaido is Huge." The preceding article is to highlight what I felt to be necessary steps (for my situation) to accomplish a 220km charity ride. I've met hundreds of fellow amateur athletes in my life and friends of friends and acquaintances who could do the same or more. I just so happened to be presented with the idea of raising funds for a local charity named HEC - Hokkaido English Camp - which hosts students from across the northern island on a week long camping trip and offers one Junior High School student the opportunity to travel abroad to the English speaking country of their choice. I'm a big proponent of camping and travel - the camp could of been done in Latin or Klingon and I'd still try to raise funds for it. Also I think with this ride I'm subconsciously trying to convince my brothers who are older and more athletic that I can keep up with them and we should do a long bike tour or hike together in South America.
Here are the details of the ride.
The year 2013 - - 220km (136.7 miles) bicycle ride through 2 mountain passes on a single gear mama chari (In America the closest thing to it is a beach cruiser).
Step 1: Secure a Mama Chari (Check - the previous exchange teacher left this behind)
Step 2: Map a route (Check - google maps, focus around some landmarks)
Step 3: Training (Check)
Step 4: Tell town folk the plan, wait for them to stop laughing, ask for donations. (Check)
Step 5: Donations of USD 10 cents or 20 cents per kilometer completed. (Check)
Step 5b: Also explain the map/logistics to students...they don't seem to laugh, they actually believe you're going to accomplish it, otherwise you probably wouldn't be trying. A few even start to talk about their own pursuits of wanting to ride to this or that town someday.
Step 6: Do the thing (......)
Let's go back to Step 3: Training
Because of Step 3, while the Principles and Sensei's laugh or dismiss the idea (some not so), I can laugh inside and withstand the discouragement and use it for motivation.
Previously in 2012 I had completed a 100 mile ride using a late 1980's bike that looked something like this...
And...ironically enough designed in the U.S. yet built in Japan...
Thank you Mr. Packard for letting me borrow this.
Again in 2012 I completed a 4 day bike tour knocking in about 200 miles carrying my camping gear, using a modern road bicycle this time...and my friend Mark road from LA to SF and we hike together so if he could ride that far... I knew I had some gas in the metaphorical tank to take this hummer of a "mama chari" bicycle on a looong ride. ..
This is what my training schedule looked like using the Mama Chari.
Monday: Ride 30km's total to and from an English club in a neighboring town after work
Tuesday: Simple stretches and Hatha Yoga
Wednesday: Ride about 40kms around the countryside
Thursday: Onsen (hot bath)
Friday: Ride out to the city about 50km
Saturday: Swim/hike or play any random sport
Sunday: Ride back home about 50km
Weekly totals: Try to meet about 200km's (including small rides to the grocery store or what not)
Test prep for the real thing...2 weeks prior
Friday: Ride out about 50km (high pace)
Saturday Morning: Ride back home about 50km (high pace)
Sunday Morning: Ride back out to a friends about 50km carrying camping gear (high pace)
Monday Morning: 10km hike on Komagatake Volcano - about a 14% grade on the hiking trail
Monday Evening: Ride back home about 50km (high pace)
Now it was just do my basic rides and get plenty of rest with a few exceptions to taking in a baseball game for the office team or shooting hoops with the Junior High students. Afterall, my goal was to finish at steady enough pace to snap a few photos with the phone camera, not set a time record. After all, the donations would come in by the km, not the pace.
3:30 a.m. : Wake-up, eat some bread and double check my gear
4:30 a.m. : Get on the bike
I originally planned to wake up with my alarm clock at 4 but with the addrenaline pumping inside it was not necessary, this is a reoccurring theme it seems. The sun was not yet out and it was still a bit misty out. I passed by a few construction workers working on the road, faces barely recognizable in the still street lit morning a quiet town. I made my first turn of about 5 on this long loop course.
The first turn led to open fields of a now growing light upon the mist above the rice fields awaiting harvest. It may sound lame, but as I looked into the mountain pass (Nakayama) I could see the blaze of the sun beginning to appear and while I look behind to the West I could see the moon surrounded by faint stars.
I couldn't see it but felt something, something roll onto my cheek...water...a tear? *cough cough* alright enough of that - I strapped my helmet back on and now headed into the Mountain Pass - time to get tough. As rivers flowed steady a few big rigs passed by adding to the wind which was causing my feet to get めっちゃ "me-cha" or "hella" cold as the freezing temperatures nudged its way into my boots (yea I didn't own a pair of bike shoes yet). As aesthetic as the frost was on the plants and trees, it just showed me more reason to get out of the pass and into some warm sunlight. I began to book it towards the other side of the mountain.
8:30 - About 60km complete. Take an hour rest and enjoy the seaside view from Hakodate
The second turn.
I started from the West, went East, now going South towards the most southern tip of Hokkaido - Matsumae. There is a surprise phone call. It's a JTE - a Japanese Teacher of English at the school I teach English. We teach together in a team teaching format and he is on top of his game to say the least.
JTE: "Where are you now?"
Me: "Still riding, just passing Hakodate"
JTE: "I see...where will you go next?"
Me: "To Matsumae Castle"
JTE: "I see...what time will you be there?"
JTE: "Ok, see you there!"
I pass along the East coast of Hokkaido and get a honk from a friend, Nick who was an English teacher in Fukushima-cho (not the Fukushima with the nuclear power plant). I then pass along a cafe which I've never seen open since that day but is perfectly situated along the coast. Although on the East Coast of the tail of the island, it is named 'West Coast Cafe' making me feel at peace as I hail from the West Coast - California.
Then through the next mountain pass through the town of Fukushima-cho. I was beginning to feel a bit drained at this point as I was anywhere between 80km and 100km but going through what seemed a bit like an endless pass, until I hit this nice downhill slope that helped me feel the wind and the reason I love hills on bikes.
About 120km complete at 12 noon
The Third Turn - Matsumae Castle
My lunch break and meeting my newly found support staff of the JTE and his wife who so happens to be a school nurse. So should anything bad happen, at least I have backup.
I'm not sure if this was just phone editing for fun or if this is what I was seeing. Anyhow nothing a good old cone of strawberry ice cream couldn't fix. After chowing down on the cone like a little kid sitting side by side with my 50 year old male JTE and his quiet but driven wife, I stood up and added some weight to my backpack, filling it with some omiyage (souvenirs) for those who donated to the ride. It was just about 1:30pm and it would get dark by 5:30 so this meant one thing, time to get going. 4 hours with another 100km to go...I'm not likely to hit that mark.
The Fourth Turn and I'm back on the coastal road which will eventually lead to my house where I started this thing. To my surprise, the JTE and his wife begin to tail me. They now play a game of hopscotch with me. They pull over at any rest stop and as I pass they clap, cheer, get back in their car, pass me, clap, cheer, stop at the next rest stop, I pass, they clapp, cheer, get back in their car, pass, clap, cheer, and this continues for 100km's...I was going to speak of how I really hit the metal to the pedal and did my best to hit high stride on the last 100km as I wanted to get home before dark, but the real story was the support from these 2 folks. They could have done anything else on this fine weathered day but they chose to follow around a travel bug filled young adult with a phone camera on a bicycle normally reserved for school kids and grandmas and poppas to ride around town running grocery errands.
Here is my last good ながめ 眺め view before sundown.
200km 5:30pm entering the town of Esashi-cho
The Fifth and Final Turn
Again really pushing the only gear on this bike to stay awake, or was it my mind trying to stay awake? I made it into Assabu, the town I started in, where my work is, where my students are, my garden, and most importantly, my bed.
220km 6:30pm and about 80,000円 awaiting in donations later...
Some good folks out there will help if given a half decent explanation of what we're trying to accomplish.
Don't listen to the people who say their is nothing to photograph in the countryside. (not that I doubted the beauty of - I asked to live here).
Thank the local car mechanic who also tunes bicycles and doesn't charge for it - I had no flats, no chain problems - I can't say the same for some ride bikes I've been on with 18 speeds on it meant for these mountains.
I feel physically in very good shape, this was done in second hand gear, and in third or fourth rate gear in terms of the 'sport' of bicycle touring. What this means to me, if I just can ignore the 'time' of completion, it is important to understand the health benefits of using a bike that doesn't have all the fancy gears. It's like using a jump rope versus buying the most expensive basketball shoes. Surely the $5 jump rope used properly will increase your skill level just as much if not much more than a pair of the "best" shoes.
To bring it home, I enjoy researching and testing out different training methods as well as gear. The next blog will cover an ultra marathon and training for it. Thanks for reading and I hope some of this will resonate with your training methods and help myself truly come to terms with accepting a slower pace over the course of these various adventures.