Thursday, 29 May 2014

Exploring the mountain roads of Mikawa

After I discovered some nice looking mountain roads in Mikawa , I set out for a day exploring them with my partner Tamaki. We took the train with our bikes packed up in rinko bags and arrived in the small river side town of Mikawa around 9.15am which gave us plenty of time to unpack the bikes and grab some snacks from the nearby convenience store. The day was already hot and continued to get hotter reaching 30 deg mid afternoon. Luckily most of the day we were in the shade as the mountain road had a fantastic canopy of shady trees that keep the sun off us. I had printed out a map I made and we did our best to follow it , but I need to make a better map as there are many unmarked roads and a few confusing turns along the route.

The mountain road we took starts out on a sealed road steadily climbing up to a mountain village where we saw a small carp farm and discovered a nice fresh water spring. In the village we also spotted the start of another mountain road we did not know about. Many of the small side roads are not marked on any of the maps and make exploring the area a challenge. Not far after the village the sealed road turns to gravel and with a steady gradient and several steep pitches makes a good workout on a single speed MTB, I am pleased to say my 33T - 16T gearing was perfect for this route allowing me to ride the entire route without walking at all. 

After following the map carefully we finally crested the summit were the gravel ended and the sealed road started again, after a short rest and some food we headed downhill and were treated to fantastic views on the surrounding mountains. There was a small crew of workers clearing rocks from the road but overall it was pretty nice and not long before we reached a small mountain village marked on my map

At the mountain village on my map there was only one sealed road leading to the left so that is the road we ended up taking, in reality we should have cycled to the right through the village and taken the next road to the left instead. 

The road we took to the left was fantastic but did not bring us down to Tsugawa instead we arrived in Tsunogami kohan  on the other side of the mountain , bypassing a camp ground and onsen before coming out onto route 459 which then required a short 10 km ride around the river side back to Tsugawa station. 

We rode to a nearby liquor store and bought a few beers and snacks for the train ride home. Overall it was not a long ride at all , maybe about 35km in total but one of the harder short rides of I have done this year. Now I need to make a better map before I head into the hills of Mikawa again ! 

Monday, 26 May 2014

The toughest bicycle race in the world

Well on the 13th of June this year a major sporting event will take place , no its not the world cup soccer !, but the worlds toughest bicycle race called the Tour Divide from Banff in Canada to Antelope Wells in New Mexico , a total distance of 4418km all off road !. While this race has become even more popular in the last few years due to the fantastic movie Ride the Divide still many people are unaware of the event the reason for this being - its an underground event with no entry fees at all, anybody of any age can take part and there are no prizes at all.

Why is it the worlds toughest bicycle race ?, well lets compare the most famous long cycle race in the world - The Tour De France to the Tour Divide . 

First of all riders on the Tour De France have a team bus , a fancy hotel to sleep in every night, team masseuse to help those aches and pains of the days ride, Good meals every day, lots of sleep, the team mechanic to look after their bikes and spare bikes if required. Yes the tour de France is hard but the clock stops every day and starts again the next morning

The Tour Divide has none of the above, the riders have to carry everything they need, the have to find places to stay e.g pitching their tent on the top of a cold mountain pass, they face some of the worst road conditions you can imagine - long stretches with no water, deep mud, snowy mountain passes, cold river crossings & grizzly bears. The clock starts in Banff and finishes at the border in New Mexico its one huge 4418km stage race and if their bike brakes down they have to be able to fix it !. 

Who is attracted to such a race - well that answer is as varied as the types of bikes people use to complete the course, many of the riders are veterans looking to better their previous time, brake the current record or they just want to find out if they can make it . Many riders do not make it at all and pull out for a number of reasons such as the weather , mental breakdown , physical  problems or mechanical .  There is no live television coverage of the event and I hope that never happens  as that would turn it into something that its not supposed to be. It is the ultimate bike packing adventure race in the world and anybody who finishes is a winner . There are many riders who have become well known from their record braking rides on the Tour divide such as Matt Lee, Jay Petervary , Oillie Whalley just to name a few and every year new riders take up the challenge, for those of you who would like to follow the race you can become a blue dot junkie and follow the riders daily progress on spot tracker , via the Tour Divide website. This year a few Kiwis will be taking part and as a single speeder I will be also watching the single speed riders as well. Good luck to everybody that has entered for 2014 !. Pictured below are a few of the riders from previous years. 

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Camping guide book - Family Outdoor


For some time now my mate Brian & I have been searching the local bookstores and scouring the net for information on local campsites in Niigata . Many years ago I did happen to see a guide book for Niigata Ken detailing all the campsites but at that time I thought I would never have the chance to go camping again so did not purchase it. Yesterday I asked at a local bookstore and they showed me the book pictured above which I readily purchased, it details 130 camp sites throughout Niigata ken and Sado Island and provides the readers with a list of all the facilities, prices, contact numbers and a map of the campsite location.  There are so many campsites that I did not know about including quite a few campsites that are free . This guide book will come in very handy for planning overnight bikepacking trips and my extended 6 day tour in mid Oct.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Adventure By Bike - part 2

As mentioned in the last post, it was already cold and wet and after a short break at the convenience store in Mikawa I turned on my lights and headed off into the pouring rain. I had ridden this section of road many years ago but had forgotten the way but soon found route 17 on which the Mikawa campsite was located and made it to the camp just after 4.30pm much to the surprise of the office staff as it was certainly not a day for a long bicycle ride. I explained that I had a tent and they said I could stay for free, I have no idea if that was the rule - bring your own tent and stay for free ! or they just took pity on a wet  & tired Kiwi . The first thing I wanted was a hot shower so one of the staff walked me across the campground to a fancy looking 2 story log house where some paid showers were located on the 1st floor. 100 yen for 2 mins so I changed a note at the main office and took the bike over to the log house. Whilst on the way to the log house I looked at my options for a dry campsite, there were none as it was now raining hard and everywhere was wet. Then I found the perfect spot under the log house , it was fine gravel which was perfect for pitching my tent and as the camp staff said I could camp anywhere I set about pitching my tent and getting all my gear out of the rain.

I was so happy to have found a dry spot in which to pitch the tent, my new tent is a Stash 1 from Serria Designs and this would be my first night testing it out - at least I would not have a wet tent to dry in the morning. This spot also provided me with a nice dry area for cooking dinner which was two packets of instant pasta followed by a couple of cans of beer.

I was rather tired and after a bit of reading and checking the map for the following day I soon feel asleep, that night it rained hard and the wind was strong as well so I was lucky to be under cover. The next morning I got up at 5am to a perfect sunny day in the mountains , took my time over breakfast which was some porridge and a coffee and packed up and headed out of the campsite at 7am. The view from the entrance to the campsite overlooking the village of Mikawa was fantastic in the morning sunlight. 

The remainder of the ride followed the steep accent on route 17 and an awesome downhill to the outskirts of Murumatsu which was all completed in fine weather. The last 30km or so over the plains into Niigata city was a nightmare because of a strong head winds, it took every last bit of energy  I had left to make it back into the city which included 2 stops for food. Nearer the outskirts of the city I was able to take a side road with a tail wind - it was a joy to be pushed along at 25 km per hour without pedaling on a flat road . I arrived back at my partners cafe just after 12.30pm totally exhausted but happy to have had a real Adventure By Bike - total distance for the 2 days was only 156km 

Adventure By Bike - part 1

Adventure by Bike - is the motto of the bicycle brand Salsa which I ride and yesterday & today I certainly did have a big adventure. It is very easy to sit at home and study maps and look at new routes on Google but sometimes unexpected things happen along the way that can totally alter your plans and if you are an adventurous type you just make the best decision at the time and carry on. That is what ended up happening on my latest 2 day bikepacking trip.  I set out luckily at 8.30am on Thursday morning and the weather was not too bad but I expected it would get worse throughout the day but my main aim was to ride out to Tsuioka , stock up at a shop and then ride the newly discovered Shibata Nunbu Rindo. Brian had warned me this road was one steep mother and I almost made it to the top on my single speed, but decided that walking for a bit would be the best idea. Along the way I stop off at a campsite and the starting point for some hiking trails and even found a Mama Chari with a basket full of cold drinks at the summit which I found puzzling as there is no way a Mama chari could have ridden up that road, there was even a cold drink sitting on a bench ?. The downhill left me grinning from ear to ear as it was great fun but had to take it easy as it started to rain.

After reaching the locked gate at the bottom I proceeded up the valley to the Takadani Shinden park to stay the night. It was not long before I arrived there and I had made good time as it was only 2.30pm in the afternoon - plenty of time to set up the tent, take a hot shower and have a few beers . 

 But it was not to be as the camp manager said the entire campground was closed to campers due to rampaging wild boars who come down from the nearby mountain at night to find food, if they had found me they could have had pasta , potato chips and beer . I used to hunt wild pigs back home in NZ many years ago and if the camp manager had provided me with a rifle I would have happily stayed to obtain some wild pork.  As the only other option was a 5000 yen per night log cabin I pressed on back to the village of Akadani , filled up the 2ltr camelbak with some nice fresh spring water and headed down hill to the village of Mikawa to the nearest available campsite. As my Father used say that really threw a spanner in the works as I would now not be able to explore the other new mountain rd I had hoped to do on Friday morning  By this time it was cold and raining and luckily I had a good merino wool cycle top to keep me warm and good wet weather gear . The weather had turned for the worse and I had to be at the next camp site at Mikawa before they closed at 5pm .  What happened - check out part 2 of Adventure by Bike to find out !

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Serria Designs - Stash 1 lightweight touring tent

Last year the heaviest item I had to pack on the bike was my 20 year old Fairydown Alpine 2 man tent, it is still a great tent and a 100% waterproof which is great but I do not need the luxury of such a large tent while bike packing as I only need somewhere to sleep. So after a lot of research I decided on purchasing the Stash 1 from Serria Designs . It filled all the needs I wanted being only 1.1kg and easy to set up and hardly takes up any room in my Revelate Viscacha saddle bag unlike my bulky 2 man tent. Today with some free time I rode to a nearby seaside park to learn how to set it up , it was rather easy to erect for the first time and will give me just enough room for the air mattress & pillow with the sleeping bag on top. There is a small amount of room at the bottom of the tent if you needed to store something ,but the space outside the door offers plenty of space for a bag and those stinky shoes you have at the end of a long days riding. Today I will purchase an additional 4 lightweight pegs to keep the fly tighter off the tent which will be handy if you happen to get rained on which is quite likely living here in Niigata Ken.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Next bike packing trip

Right now in Japan its the Golden Week holiday which for many people that means about 4 - 10 days off in a row depending on who you work for , but for people like myself who work in retail stores its just another week with the usual day off. So later on this month on the 15th & 16th I have two days off together and have marked out a nice over night bike packing trip into the local mountains to one of my favorite camp sites which is located in the mountains of Shibata . The Takidani shinden koen camp site is maintained by the local Shibata city office, its clean, tidy and has great facilities and you can not beat the price. It is only 500 yen for a basic campsite and another 100 yen for a nice hot shower at the main lodge building. the total distance of this trip will be about 130km or so but as it is a 2 day trip there will be plenty of time for exploring. The sections marked in blue on my map are new mountain roads I have recently discovered, one is a short cut that  starts in a village of Arakawa near Tsukioka and goes up and over Mt Magiyama and down into the village of Nakanakayama which brings you out to the end of the Shibata cycle path and onto route 14 which is not far to the above mentioned campsite. On the second day  I will explore another mountain road that starts from the village of Kamitsunagi and heads inland up into the mountains and down into the Araya river . From there I will follow the familiar route Brian & I have named the big loop. Should be great fun and look for an interesting blog post later this month.

Happy cycling