The Azami Line of Mt Fuji is the most feared climb in all of Japan. It's not the longest, it doesn't finish the highest, but man is it steep.
It gets over 20% in places, so it seemed a pretty logical choice for the opening climb of the World Everesting Project - tough, iconic, beautiful. Adam from Ride Japan was hosting me, and was keen to make the climb his 2nd Everesting too.
We'd ridden a pretty solid loop two days before (read about that here), but missed the Azami climb due to weather and light, so I was going at it sight unseen. The big thing that was most playing on my mind were the metal grates on the climb. I had been warned that there are metre wide metal drainage grates on the steeper parts of the climb, and in the wet they were bloody dangerous both on the climb and descent. We considered a different Fuji line instead, but threw caution to the wind, and decided to do Azami as planned anyway.
A midnight start meant we should have a reasonable finishing time, so that's what we went for. Grabbing our nutrition from the local convenience store at 11:30, we headed off.
The forecast had been for dry, so it was *somewhat* concerning when it was bucketing down when Adam and I drove to the base of the climb. Oh well, nothing for it but to put our jackets on and get rolling. It wasn't too cold, so at least there was that.
Out on the road, we could see bugger all. Just the 20 or so metres around us, the rain and fog had us boxed in. Then a 1km sign came up, and I asked what it was. Adam said that was a climb marker, which made me feel tops, as I didn't realise the climb had properly started yet, I just thought it was a false flat leading to the climb. Turns out we were riding up a 7-8% gradient, just with the weather and darkness, my perception was all screwy! The first 3 km are pretty straight and consistent. Just a case of find a gear you like and pedal away.
At about the 3.5 km mark, the road starts winding back and forth in big sweeping bends, and it's still a place to comfortably sit and spin. The rain was still coming down, though a bit lighter, so we took our jackets off as it wasn't cold.
Then the 6km sign turns up (the markers count up by the way). Fuck you 6 km sign. I grew to hate that sign on the 8 laps that we did. It meant we were half way up, so that was good. It also meant we were in for 2.4km of pain. The road really ramps up after this, with sustained pitches well into the high teen gradient and above. So we just pedalled in the rain, in the dark, up a steep-as-balls hill. There wasn't much else we could do. Every bend you hope for relief, and instead the mountain punches you in the face with a wall of tarmac rising through the forest. I can see now why this climb is so feared.
Eventually the 8.4km sign arrives (they put a sign every 200 metres), and it feels flat at that moment, though it was something like 5%. At this point I checked my Garmin to see what time it was, only to find that I hadn't switched it on. What the bloody hell man?!?! How bloody amateur is this? I swore a lot, like more than normal, but there was nothing I could do now, but keep going. Adam had ridden ahead by this point, which is fair enough, the dude has a lazy 17 goddam kilo advantage on me... (Side note, I just hugged him at the train station, and it was like hugging a young tree - LEAN). So I rode the rest if the way on my own, taking each of the ramps as they came.
At the top, Adam was waiting for me by the store. It wasn't open yet, so we had a quick bite, mentally preparing for riding down that wet, steep and very windy road. I was shit-scared of the grates. They were just wide enough that in the wet they would bite my tyre if I got the angle wrong on the way up, and my whole bike would do a little sideways drift action. It was disconcerting.
We agreed to be really cautious, and went easy. First grate, no worries. Second grate, same. Third one, FUUUUCK!!! My front wheel slipped a bit, but I was okay. A couple more grates came and went before I took the wrong line, and my front wheel slipped into the gap between two grates. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck... But I stayed upright. I also learned to watch for the correct line across the grates. That was the last time that day that they bothered me, I had the grates dialled in after that.
At the bottom we ate some more, chatted a bit, before I started my next climb. That same routine we kept for lap after lap after lap. I start first, Adam goes past somewhere around the 5km mark, and waits at the too before we descend together.
Lap 2 meant the clouds had gone, and from the base we could see all of the hiker's lights snaking their way up to the summit of Fuji to see the sun rise. There was a trail of lights that could be seen, it was actually really rad to look at. From 3km onwards we were in forest all the way to the top, it is a very closed in climb. Another bonus of lap 2 was the store at the top had opened, so every lap they would give me a bowl of mushroom soup, and I had somewhere warm to sit with an unlocked wifi. Bonus.
Once it got light, things changed a bit. Somehow being able to see the climb made it tougher. Especially the opening 3km, which was pretty damn straight. It plays with your mind, just tapping away, with the end seemingly never getting closer. The marker signs every 200m taunt you also. Seeming to make your progress feel even slower.
And we just kept rolling. I'd feel a bit sleepy from time to time, but a coffee or a coke at the top would sort that out. The army also did a great job of keeping us mentally occupied. There is a large military zone nearby, so throughout the day, at odd intervals, we could hear cannons, explosions, gun fire, jets and helicopters. It was a bit odd, but kind of funny. Unless that was actually a large coup or something, and I haven't watched the news yet...
By the end of lap 5 it was pretty warm. My Garmin showed 30 degrees, and very humid after the morning's rain. That long opening stretch got pretty tough under the sun, but was relieved by the shade of the forest on the rest of the climb. The roads were now pretty dry too, so on that descent we both opened up and went for it. The top half with it's very steep sections, tight corners and metal grates is very technical to ride, but Adam and I were both on disc brakes, which meant we could brake very late and hard, and fly through the turns. As it opened up into more flowing corners down the bottom we could really lean into the bike over through the bends, and the last 3km was just a case of squat down on the top tube, getting as low as you can, and fly. I got over 98 kmh down there! I got the KOM of the descent on Strava too. Winning.
I'd realised by now that my slower pace meant my last lap would probably be in the dark, and I had a chat with Adam about it. He said he might not wait for me each lap then, and see if he could get an extra lap in to go for the High Rouleur's Society and get 10,000 metres of climbing. So we left the keys on the rear tyre, and went out separately from then on, waiving and shouting as we passed each other. Bade rocked up around this time too. He was doing the same Fuji 3 Peaks loop we'd done 2 days prior, but was going quicker, so managed to fit in Azami no sweat. A brief wave in each direction from him, and that was our only sherpa of the day. The only other supporters were the family who ran the store at the too. They kept giving me a bowl of soup, smiling, and generally being confused as to why the hell I kept riding up there.
I have some super easy gearing on my bike for this trip, and so the climb never got all that hard. If ever I felt a bit tired, I could stick it in the 40 tooth cog and keep pedalling. It was very quiet for traffic, so that wasn't an issue. I wouldn't have it in my bike normally, the gearing is actually too easy, and makes it tough to stand, but for this trip it serves it's purpose.
1 lap to go and it was going to be dark soon, it was getting really blowy, and there were heavy clouds about. Grabbed my lights, chucked on a long sleeve jersey, and threw a gilet and rain jacket in my back pockets. I saw Adam not long into the climb, and we stopped and spoke. He wasn't going to do another lap, as the weather was too shitty at the top, but he had completed the everesting. His 2nd, and the 2nd one ever in Japan after Bade had completed one last year. So he went back down to wait for me to finish at the car.
In the dark, wind and rain I just kept tapping away. Was kind of funny that the ride was going to start and finish in the weather. I was already thinking ahead. Ahead to the beer I was going to have at the top. Ahead to what I'd post on instagram. Ahead to the next ride in Spain. I realised I wasn't struggling. Yes I was tired, and riding slowly, but it wasn't hard. I was getting through this ride with diesel still in the tank, and that was so relieving. I'd been worried about making the distance, and with having sponsors on board, it was a lot of pressure to achieve, but being able to ride easily like this just felt tops. I'm sure it won't last through the trip, but it felt bloody tops at the time!
At the top I greeted the confused people at the shop one last time. They gave me 2 bowls of soup this time which I appreciated as the weather was SHITHOUSE. Inside I bought 3 large cans of Asahi, because it's what you do when you finish. One can down the hatch, and the other 2 to celebrate with Adam down the bottom. I messaged him, and he already had bought some cans and was waiting! Great minds... I was pretty scared of the descent, and considered just jumping into a waiting taxi. I already had done the climb 8 times, so the everesting was complete. A taxi ride wouldn't have changed that. But I didn't. It was a challenge, and my rational mind will generally up and piss off when there is a challenge at hand. So I set about descending in high wind and rain in the dark. Like an idiot. But joke is on scaredy Dave, because the weather cleared up as I got lower down, and the descent was fine. Victory for bull-headed Dave.
A couple of cans more, a tonne of meaty pizza, and that day was a wrap. Funnily enough it occurred to the three of us at dinner that we were the only three people to have completed and Everesting in Japan, and we were all Australians!
So sights firmly set on Spain now. The Rocacorba is calling.