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Ride First ride in Japan (Nikko National Park)


Jul 27, 2022
With great help from two alert co-Tokyo Cycling Club members I could pursue my last minute decision to go on my first Japan cycle tour for the weekend.

On Wednesday I made the decision to go for it knowing I had only half the necessary preparations done. In fact I only just had my bike, and cycle clothing, and this plan, and a few hours of spare time in between job, sleep and eat.

First thing I did was.. Google, to find a worthy destination. I found BikeTourJapan who portrayed some wonderful group tour options in Japan and decided that I would borrow their 5 day itinerary through Nikko National park, but instead do it in two days. Entered the start and finish locations in my Garmin Connect app and found out is was 140km. Perfect for two days.

Second thing I did was.. Google, to find missing gear I didn't have or didn't bring from home. I forgot my Garmin GPS in the complete rush of getting on the plane, which was on my birthday, and hence the day after I celebrated my birthday, amidst worries for Europe's airport luggage tsunamis combined with my brand new way too expensive supercool birthday gift bicycle, last minute dismantled in a plane bicycle suitcase, in the process of migrating to another country, being tasked to set up a new branch, my CEO visiting upon arrival and. Anyway. I forgot my GPS.

I found this site Tokyo Cycling Club, which seemed pretty active and subscribed and the next day I was admitted. Great. On Thursday I posted a request for a bike bag which I already knew was compulsory travelling your bike in trains in Japan and the GPS. Boom. Same day answers. Great. I could buy 2nd​ hand bike bag the same evening and on Friday afternoon I got my hand on a Garmin Edge 1000. Quickly I went to the cycle shop (Y's Road @ Shibuya, found on Google maps) to gear up with spare tires, a pump(!), food supplements and stuff, right on time to catch the train a few hours later.

This didn't come with another big help from a Japanese colleague whom I asked to help me get through the Japanese websites and book a train ticket and two hotels, one near the starting point and one halfway.

I learned a tough lesson not to trust the first advice of Google (sorry, there's a lot of Google in my story I realize) Recommended routes. I overlooked the 550 meters walking through staircases, traffic lights, and street navigating while carrying a packed bike and backpack between non-connected Hibiya Station and Tokyo station. Completely soaked in sweat and having demanded direct directions from fairly overwhelmed, but eventually helpful randomly found uniformed people at the massive Tokyo train station I managed to really just in time board the Shinkansen with my reserved seat. I should have taken the other (by my colleague recommended) Yamamote-line route.

Hostel in Nikko was just great. Having a hot spring onsen in the hotel and taking a solid diner with one deserved, but only one, bottle of beer. Waking up, day of judgement. Did I underestimate things or would this be a great adventure. Probably the last.

It was hot, it was steep. I was carrying 3 liters of water, my bike, my luggage and my own 87kg up the mountain. This is logically not what I'm used to back in the Netherlands but I had mountain gears and I championed the 1351mtr elevation gain. Downhill while pulling brakes and eagerly not loosing hold of my steering grips speed went up to dazzling 69km/h Strava told me later.

One thing I really celebrated was the fact that last minute I had bought heavy duty front and rear lights. So it appeared that even during a bright sunny day you are exposed to the frequent and close tourist traffic. Specially in dark spots of shade under trees, being blocked from view by other cars and the dark, long and moist mountain pass tunnels. I learned that carrying 3 liters of liquids not needed. Having the odd restaurants and shops available along the route can allow you with ease two large bidon bottles and if you like one spare bottle in the backpack.

The second day was much alike. Another great Onsen hotel. Another ride through magnificent mountain scenery. Still, again way too much traffic to really enjoy the surroundings. Steep climbs and precautionary food intake for energy supply to the muscles. I did prepare by bringing energy/electrolytes powders for in the bidon but certainly was pleasantly surprised by the abundant availability of INenergy at FamilyMart stores. One of these certainly boosts you back up the bike when you are in the yellow/red.

Heading back in the train from Ota-train station to Tokyo I had actually the biggest shock of the weekend.
I boarded the Toll Limited Express to Asakusa which is a train with regular luggage compartments at the back of the wagon. My bagged up racing bicycle was still a little too large to fit in, but with support and agreement from the train steward I could place my bike there while protruding partly into the center aisle. At the next entrance I watched closely how some new passengers entered and found that indeed it was hindering them a little. While I moved my way up to my bike to check on it and see if I could rearrange it better, a man gets up in front of me, walks to the back and plain and simply kicks my packed up bike over.

I was completely shocked and ran up to the guy asking what got into him. He responded unresponsive, probably did not expect the owner of the bike just behind him. But what can you do? Your wheel may have been dislocated or a spoke may have broken but its all packed up and your adrenaline rushes through your system. I got the conductor involved who excused himself a lot and advised to put the bike in the entrance hallway of the carriage. Still you feel treated like a strange non Japanese and non Japanese speaking curiosity that makes a lot of noise.
It seemed that my bike survived and later it proofed to be indeed ok. Before disembarking and still spiked up I went up to this same guy who actually had his kids and wife around him. Probably to no avail, but I mimicked again my unbelief over him, had my phone app telling him, with a friendly Japanese woman's voice, that he should feel ashamed about himself and got off the train.

Despite this unpleasant afterburner I look back at a great adventure.
One I wouldn't have wanted to miss!

Nikko cycle 20220730_101257.jpg
To cycle and feel the morning breeze speaking to you is the freedom we search for.
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