"Mate is it ok if you go to Japan and ride at Mt Fuji" asked Andy, when we were planning the trip. Japan has been number 1 on my list of places to visit for ages, so getting to travel there and ride bikes was an absolute dream. "Yes dude, that will be ok."
Words - Dave Edwards Images Dave Edwards and Bade Stapleton
The flight from Australia is easy as, it's straight up, so there isn't even a change of time zone. Couple of movies, couple of hops-based-sports-drinks and you are there. The airport is like most in this world, big, and easy enough to find your way. I had a night on my own in Tokyo before meeting my hosts, so I caught a train in to Tokyo Station. That was no small feat, finding the right train was a challenge. But finding how to get out of Tokyo Station, that is a tough-arse thing to do. That place is a total rabbit warren, and it took me a while.
I discovered shortly afterwards that addresses in Tokyo aren't straight forward, and it took me and the taxi driver a good hour to find the apartment I was staying in, that was only 2 blocks away! Still, with no jet lag, it was an easy sleep that night. Bade from Connect Sport was one of my hosts, and I met him at the platform when he arrived the following day. We got on a train out towards Fuji, where we met Adam from Ride Japan, my other host. These two Australian cats run cycling tours in Japan, and I was going to experience some of what they had to offer.
That night we slept on mattress' on the floor, with paper walls. Tops - this was the Japanese AF experience I was hoping for. After a few cans and little sleep, getting going for our ride the next morning took some effort. We had planned for a test ride of an event Adam is preparing - The Fuji 3 Peaks. Ride a lap around Mt Fuji, and climb each of the 3 hors categorie climbs on the mountain. 250-odd kilometres and 5000 metres of climbing... Solid.
Rolling through Japan was exactly as I had imagined it. Dense and lush forest with good quality roads. It wasn't far to the base of our first climb, the Subaru Line of Fuji, 23.4 kilometres at a 5.1% average. We paid the 100 Yen ($1) entry fee, and got to it. Adam is whippet fast. The dude is lean, and is super strong, so off he went. Bade stayed with me, as we spun away easily. With the bullshit-crazy stuff I had for the rest of the trip, slow and steady was my game. The climb isn't too hard, it's just long. There was a lot of fog around, so we couldn't see a lot, so we just chatted and rode up.
Towards the top, the clouds parted, and we did manage to catch a brief glimpse of the big monster, but it was only fleeting. At the top of the climb there were A LOT of people. Buses had been driving past us up the hill all morning, and here we could see where they had brought everyone. Popular spot apparently.
The descent back down was awesome, fast and flowing, we had a blast. 3 solid descenders pushing hard downhill. I also discovered the total joy of descending with a good set of disc brakes. OMFG, the confidence you get from those is sensational!
From there to the next climb we rolled through the great lakes area, which was gorgeous, the sun even came out. Stopping to eat along the way, enjoying the scenery, and riding bikes. This day already ruled. But we had more climbing to do.
From the base to the top, the Skyline ascent of Fuji was shrouded in thick fog. The roads were mostly dry, just a thick mist was in the air. The same as before, Adam was off the front, and Bade rode with me. This monster is 26.4 kilometres at nearly 7%, and finishes at 2339 metres of elevation. It is a tough day out just on it's own. We were 120 kilometres into our ride when we got there...
We rode and we rode. Sometimes chatting, sometimes silence, a few cars, mostly quiet. Until we realised we'd taken a wrong turn... There is a flat section in the middle, and we rode that too far, and were descending the other side before we realised. Damn, turn around and nose back to the grindstone. Adam found us again, and suggested we have a think about whether we attempt the climb or not. It was definitely cool, very damp, and we had just jerseys on, not even a gilet for the descent. Being the ever-cautious, risk-averse person, I said "Fuck it" and we kept riding. The other guys rode off, and I plodded my way up. Not going to lie, that was tough. The thinner air towards the top, with the fatigue of the day so far meant that even an easy pace was an effort. They count down the distance to go on the climbs by 0.2 of a kilometre, so these signs served only to taunt my slow progress.
Finally, I got to the sign that said zero. Thank fuck for that. But the road still pointed up! What the hell? Screw you Japanese sign dude, you can GGF. Who puts the sign for the finish line at a place other than the finish? What's Japanese for arse hat? He had one job. Another couple of hundred metres, and we made the summit.
We went straight into the small shelter at the top, and I got to experience the 'joy' of a warm can of coffee from a vending machine... But we had to get down again, and we were wet and cold. I found some brochures, which we were about to be stuffed into our jerseys when I found three clean garbage bags. WINNER! Poked head and arms holes in, put on under our jerseys, and we were good to go. Except we need a summit pic, which we got, along with all of the tourists who wanted pics with us as they thought we were weird. They weren't wrong.
Those bags saved us on the descent. It was still cold, but bearable. Hot tip, IT'S THE FUCKING MOUNTAINS, so be prepared for mountain weather... Once we got off of the extension road at the top, we were onto a long, open, flowing and dry descent. Hammer time. Adam and I rode damn hard down here, and were rewarded with a Strava King of the Mountain for our efforts. That descent had me laughing all the way. The corners were all smooth, not too sharp, the surface was good and the straights were long. Tuck in, sit down on your top tube and fly down the hill. So much fun!
Curling back around the other side of the mountain, we realised that it was still foggy on the Azami Line, and descending that in the wet and fog in the dark was not an exciting idea, so we headed for home. A few little lumps and we got back to our hotel at Yamanakako, where I discovered the intensely regal nature of a Japanese bathing experience... I am building one of those in my house at home now. Worth a trip to Japan just to bathe. They know how to do it.
So riding in Japan is tops. They have gorgeous scenery, big mountains, great roads and good people. Plus the food and the bathing. On top of that, it's a no jet-lag trip from Australia. I will definitely be back. Plus Adam and Bade are bloody good blokes, and very strong riders. Good company makes for good rides.
Now I just have to be ready for Everesting that climb we didn't do...