Blog post by Mark Hardy
Well the first entry in the Whistler chronicles does not start in Whistler but Kyoto Japan. I decided to go to Whistler via Tokyo to get in some business meetings and some riding over the weekend. So I travelled down to Kyoto and met up with Vincent Flanagan, an aussie MTB legend from the 80s and 90s who has been living in Kyoto area for 17 years. He knows the area well and runs bike tours in the spring and autumn for international groups of 10 or so people over 10 days riding around the surrounding area.
As I was leaving Tokyo yesterday, another earthquake struck the Tokaido area to the north. I was in the my room of the hotel at the time when an announcement came over the building PA that an earthquake was imminent and not to use the elevators. Sure enough, 20 seconds later the building starting swaying and looking out the window from the 36th floor I could see all the other buildings doing likewise. A bizarre sensation. The swaying went on for a few minutes before I headed down to the lobby on the 28th floor to check out. The earthquake was a 7.1 but I never heard if there was much damage – I doubt it. Unfortunately the main lifts to the ground floor did not like the earthquake and refused to start up again. So I had to walk down 28 floors to the ground. Easy for me, not so for the several groups of people I met coming the other way hauling their baggage and sweating like crazy. Pretty soon I was on the bullet train to Kyoto and checked into a cheap local hotel for the night.
Vincent picked me up at 630am at my hotel. It had been a typical hot and sticky Japanese summer night and the temperature was already 27 degrees (forecast top of 33). For the weather geeks, the dew-point was 24 so very humid.
Vincent knocked up the first decent coffee I’d yet had in Japan and after a couple of slices of toast with vegemite, it was around to his shed to get set up on a bike. Vincent works for the Trek Japan team so has picked up a few late model Trek Madones (his entire collection is impressive). Got one set up to fit me and we were soon on our way. The tight twists and turns of Kyoto’s lane-ways soon gave way to semi-urban rice fields on Kyoto’s outskirts.
We then turned up a narrow valley and followed the stream for a long gradual climb. The roads became very quiet very quickly. After about half an hour of easy climbing we took a hard left hand turn for a steep little pinch and then a very nice twisting descent with some hairpin turns. The roads around here are very narrow and with a car coming the other way there is barely room for get past. But all the corners have mirrors so it’s possible to hold a lot of speed on the descents despite the blind corners. Besides, Vincent is a great descender and formed a good buffer ahead of me. 🙂
We crossed into the next valley up a stunning climb of about 3km through a beautiful pine forecast. Despite the heat in the sun, once into the forested areas it was quite cool and the riding very pleasant. The descent that followed was about 15 minutes long at a perfect gradient and hardly a car to be seen.
When we hit the next valley we followed a river upstream for a good 40 minutes or so. Vincent decided to get on the front and hit the gas and we were sitting up 30 to 40 km/h on the gradual uphill and I was getting pretty hammered. After an ice cream break we hit out on the biggest climb of the ride which was a 10km climb up to about 800m ASL. My legs were pretty fried by now and Vincent scooted away up the hill. We met again just before the KOM. The descent down the other side was scary; very steep, bumpy and numerous hairpins with weird, fat and variable radii – very hard to get right. But before long it flattened out and we were in the final run back into Kyoto.
We finished up just short of 100km in about 3.5 hours and 1100m of climbing. We were riding in forest most of the time so the heat was not such a factor. Will definitely try and bring some gear along on future trips to Japan and try for some longer more adventurous rides. There is some beautiful mountain scenery here and the roads are just perfect for long rides. Reminds me of the forests of northern California but always green. Vincent says a lot of Europeans compare it to Switzerland.
Now I am back in the Shinkansen (aka bullet train) returning to Tokyo watching Japan’s endless suburbia blur by at 300km/h. A few more business meetings tomorrow then I fly out to Vancouver tomorrow night. I expect my next day’s riding will be Wednesday in Whistler.
Cheerio for now.