2 October - 24 October 2000
I was able to put last months Long Letter together on October 3rd when once again it rained. However, when I got up on the 7th it only looked like it was going to rain and I was out on the road soon after 7:00. This may have been my worst mistake of the day, if I had stayed in bed like any normal person I would have avoided all that came to pass. But, I would have also missed the experience that I will relate to you now.
I rode northwest again to the town of Ogawago, about 11 Km from home, and rather than staying on 41 as I did last week I turned north on 399. Just finding 399 was a little confusing; there were two signs in town pointing north and I guess either would get you there but it turned me around for a little bit. When I finally got on the road it was a gradual climb that became a real grunt after the first Km and this went on for about 2 Km before it eased up to a 5-6% climb. It was about this time that it began to sprinkle; my second big mistake of the day - I continued to ride. This continued for another 5 Km with only one slight flat spot in the whole uphill struggle. Then I saw a sign that said 8% and thought: what the hell I have come this far I'll just see what is over this climb. Third bad mistake of the day! As I was climbing I thought it was getting harder and harder but attributed it to my conditioning and the hard climb that I had put in so far. It finally reached the point that I stopped and walked about 100 meters before it seemed to ease some and I then rode on until I saw THE SIGN. It was raining pretty good when I took pictures of this so I am not sure of the quality but I sure hope I can read it when I get them developed because this sign simply said 15% with an arrow pointing up and to the right. I QUIT! I should say I quit going up, now it became a challenge to get back down. The brakes are wet, the road is wet, the road is steep - I am faced with the same situation that hurt me badly in 1990 when I crashed in these conditions. The same thing almost happened once again but I did learn something from that previous experience and I stayed upright and got stopped. I then walked down four sections that looked too bad to ride. What I found out on the way back was that I had ridden about 300 meters of 8% but then the next 700 meters were 12% but this sign was only on the downhill side. I found the same thing at the section out of Ogawago where I had struggled before; it was about 2 Km of 11% but only marked on the downhill side. I ended the day very wet, very tired and only 43 Km on the odometer to show for it; but I survived it, I learned some more about my bike and some more about me. That can't be too bad of a day - beats the hell out of working!
Here is the SIGN. I have never seen a 15% grade marked in the United States. To the best of my knowledge the steepest grade that I have ever ridden was 13% on a county road east of Elmer City, WA, just north of Grand Coulee Dam. The first picture was just a warning about what was coming.
The experience continued on the following day the 10th. This time I road again to Ogawago but turned off of 41 onto 135 to the west with the intent of riding a loop back into Taira. It was a climb once again up into the mountains but the day was beautiful and all was well until I hit another segment that had to be over 12% that continued to go on and on. I had ridden a couple before that had been as steep but shorter and I walked the last 100 meters of this one to reach the crest. The top 200 meters of this monster are very beautiful with trees on all sides of a very narrow road that winds like Lombard St. in San Francisco but I couldn't finish it. Then within another 2 Km there was another one that took it out of me again; I think yesterdays effort was telling on me also. At the top of this one there was a dirt road where I thought a paved road should be from my best map guessing so I took it. Not a good move! It continued to be dirt, or dirt frequently interrupted by mud holes, and downhill. By the time I had reached the point of no return and knew that I wasn't on the map any more I started thinking about how I was going to get out of this one! If you don't know where you are the rule of thumb is to continue downhill. There are people and roads downhill - always. Sometimes they are a long way downhill, but they are there. After 3 Km of this bush-walking, bike dragging fun I once again joined the same road that I had ridden up. At about 1 km into the woods I had come upon a group of 5 Japanese that had 4 wheeled almost to the end of the drivable road. I was fighting the bike and a mud hole desperately as I went by them but casually waved and shouted a hello. I would love to hear the stories they are telling now about the crazy foreign cyclist they saw in the middle of the forest! I got a similar reaction from a woman working her orchard near the road where I joined it again. She saw me coming down the hill out of the forest, pushing my bike along as I tramped through the waist high weeds. I have no idea what she was saying but she was calling very excitedly to her husband as I waved and went by. Not much of a cycling day if you just looked at the 35 Km on my cycling computer but it was more fun than doing more Km on the same well trod routes.
The far right picture is what my 'road' looked like as I was making my way through the woods. I seem to always find mushrooms when I'm out in the woods and can't resits getting a picture. The orchard was just downhill past the trees in the forground with the paved road at about the center of the picture on the left.
I have been looking at this mountain to the west with radio and TV towers on top for the last 7 months; that is I have been looking at it IF the miserable weather would allow it. Looking and dreaming of what it would be like to ride to the top; could I? What would it be like? What will I see? These are the questions that haunt bicyclist I think, at least this one. On 17 October I set out to answer the questions and to climb this 735-meter version of my personal Moby Dick. I had decided to do a loop ride to the top by riding up 399 again and then turning on an un-numbered road that turned west about 1 Km north of the highway 41 turn to the east. It was only a 2-3 Km ride from there to the steepest part of the ride for the day. I walked the last 200 meters of this very steep climb to a ridge summit and took pictures from there showing the open hillside rock quarrying that is seen almost everywhere. It was then a 13 Km grind up the mountain with only one vehicle passing me along the way. There was a reason for that but by not being able to read Japanese I was oblivious to that until I was upon it, the road was closed where it joined the main road to the top (I had apparently ridden through closed signs on the way up). I came upon a roadwork crew that was as surprised to see me as I was them. They were all smiles and even moved some barricades to let me get past their work site; again I would like to hear some of the stories that were told about me in the bar that night. There were two cars at the top with nobody around one of them but two couples were just returning with some mountain vegetables (weeds) to the second one when I arrived. They were also very animated by my achievement and were only too happy to take a picture of my bike and me. The weather had been great for the ride, partially cloudy, but it was getting darker by the minute so I said a little prayer at the mountain top shrine and hoped that would get me off the mountain before it rained. A lot of hard breaking on the main road back into Taira on the way down, I think this would be a more difficult climb up than the way I had come. It took me about 2 and 1/2 hours to do the climb and 38 minutes to get home; the ride up was 2 Km longer than the return. A short day by the reading on my odometer but a very hard one that has given me bragging rights to the highest paved summit in Iwaki. There aren't many Japanese that have been to the top of Mt. Mizuishi and very few that have been there by bicycle!
This is looking at Mt. Mizuishi from my bedroom window on a good day. The rock quarry at the top of the steepest climb. A shot of what I climbed, and then walked some, to get to the quarry. If you look close you can see another quarry just over the lower green hills across the valley.
In the row below there is a picture of yours truly, the King of the Mountain. I think this sign says Mt. Mizuishi. That is Taira and most of Iwaki City in the distance and the Pacific Ocean on the far horizon.
The shrine that I stopped at before my decent.
To finish off this Letter I thought I would re-address the eating in Japan issue that I was fixated on when I first got here. I went through the adaptation process in Bulgaria and have managed to do it once again here. I never committed to writing what I did while in Zlatograd except when there was a food shortage so I thought I would give you an idea of how I have managed in Iwaki. I thought I needed to speak the language to eat out in restaurants and that was as much a motivator for my Japanese study as anything - and it is required. However, with that said, I have managed to fall into a routine that uses almost no Japanese and I have continued to eat rather well, expensively but well. First, breakfast is usually nothing to eat or if I start work at 10:00 I will have coffee and a muffin (Thu, Sat & Sun). Lunch, or brunch on days that I start work at 13:20 (Wed & Fri) is at a Coffee Shop that serves 3 kinds of spaghetti; it seems that I usually stop by there on one of my days off also (Mon or Tue). The other lunch of the week is usually from the Train Station Deli; which is also the source of my dinners on Wed & Fri. The big advantage of getting my meals there is price and I can see what I want and point to it; the staff now knows me well and we are teaching each other how to order (salads, fried fish and squid and my usual choices)! My other dinners (Mon, Tue, Thu, Sat & Sun) are cooked at home meals that tend to be vegetable stir fry (with eggs, pork or fish), or beans (pinto or Lima with some pork). The entire home meals are supplemented with bread loaves from a bakery across the street from work where I pick up 2-3 a week. The supermarket (Fujikoshi) and the liquor store are both on the way to and from work so I have got it made! It is a point; grunt and look at the cash register total kind of existence but you can get along. I just wish I could say that I have managed to loose some weight!