Monthly Archives: April 2015

Return to Ushiku and a puppy update

School broke up today and my plan was nothing more than going home, relaxing and drinking beer for the rest of the day. I have a little issue with just relaxing, I need to be doing something. So I thought, I could cycle to Ushiku and be back home in time for beer before it gets dark. It was a lovely day, blue skies, very little wind. That sealed the deal. Plus I just found a forever home for the puppy, now named Juno and was curious about the other one. Could I help that one too?

So, off I set. Firstly the second puppy was nowhere to be seen, neither was the old man. Around the area I could no longer see a water or food bowl, so my thought is that he found another home for the pup. I hope anyway.

The ride was great. I didn’t follow the same route as my last trip as I didn’t want to end up on the busy road again. I used the Google iphone app to find a walking route and mostly followed that, but took some detours knowing that the Google app would reroute almost instantly.

Along the route many trees were covered in wisteria. I love cherry blossom season, but it often seems man made or influenced. But wisteria just grows naturally on the trees, it is a purple extravaganza. I was just teaching my students about the history of purple and this was in my mind when I saw these gorgeous flowers.

The route is pretty much the same as my last post so I won’t repeat myself here. I will post some new pictures though. Also I used the iPhone app for this post only. It is easy to use but does post larger sized  pictures.



Ushiku, Shrines and Puppies

It has taken me a week to add this post due to an incident that happened on the ride, don’t worry I am ok no accident or anything.

For this ride I went down the “inside” bit of Ushiku swamp. It was a lovely ride that I will certainly do again, today was a little rainy so a sunny day would be great. I used the app Strava only and stole the route from a fellow Stravian.

Here is the route.

Just after I set off I almost ran over a couple of puppies that were roaming around.

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They were very cute and young. I stopped and played with them for a few minutes. I had seen them the day before and I rode this way to see if they were still roaming around, they were. Nobody was around to ask about them, but I could see a water bowl. I left them and continued on the ride, I would check on them on the way back.

The ride was along regular roads and passed by typical Japanese countryside. Recently I have seen a massive increase in solar panel farms. They have really taken off since the big earthquake.

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The app was easy to follow and I kept it on the map page rather than look at the stats. IMG_2312 IMG_2313

I saw other creatures on my ride.


One thing I really like about Japan are the mirrors everywhere. Local governments and regular people put them up. They really help seeing around corners and things coming out of drives. At first I didn’t trust them and always wanted to look for myself, but once you get use to them they make you feel a lot safer. You should still look though.


At the turn around point there is a small shrine overlooking the lake.

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Then as I was starting to head home I saw a sign for another shrine. It was up a steep path. I managed to cycle up it and speed up it too. It was short, but I felt proud of myself.

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It would be a great place to stop for a picnic on a brighter day. There are also public toilets here.

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On the way back I thought I made a mistake on the route and was heading on to a highway, but it was just a very busy road. On these roads I would usually use the path as they are often quite wide here and made for cycles on busy roads. But on this road there was a big kerb I could not get up and I must have missed the entrance. I cycled like crazy to get off the road and felt so relieved when I did. On the opposite side there were a group of cyclist. I bet riding in a group feels safer, but by myself I felt very exposed.

Anyway, I went back to check on the puppies. I wasn’t really sure what I could do, I think I really just wanted to play with them. This time there was an old man there and he explained that they were put out of a car and then the car drove away. He was looking after them for now, but didn’t know what do do with them. He then picked up one and handed it to me and said “lucky” in English. I asked “Honto? Really?”, where he replied, “dozo”, which mean something like “here you go”. So now I had to walk 2km carrying a puppy and pushing my bike after a 50km ride. All the while I was thinking, what am I doing? what am I going to do with this dog?

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I didn’t have anything and I was supposed to be meeting some school evaluators an hour later. I threw the dog in my car and drove straight to a pet shop and “tree-hugger girl” and “over-prepared man” helped me get stuff like food, poo bags, leads, collars, a toy chicken and shampoo. It was quite expensive. I then rushed to pick up the visitors, and the dog, now called barnaby, threw up in the car. The old man was feeding them people food. Later that night I gave the dog a bath and found it was a girl and renamed her Juno after a childhood pet.

She is the sweetest thing, it took her a few days to settle in and start to be playful. I had to take her to work each day where the other staff helped look after her. The students adored her. She has yet to bark and falls asleep when frightened. The vet says she is healthy, apart from a few fleas which she has been treated for. I slept downstairs on the couch for a week as I didn’t want her to go in the tatami room. Turns out she is perfectly house trained, bonus, but is in the chewy stage. Tonight she is sleeping at a potential forever home for a trial. There is another possible home lined up next week. It seems very quiet at my house now.

Up Mount Tsukuba – almost

Ok, this was my first attempt on my giant bike to get up Mount Tsukuba or rather, up the back of it. A friend told me about a quieter route that goes around the back that many cyclists use. The main route can be chocker-block with cars with people going for hikes and being all touristy.

This is the route I took.

Again I used two apps, Runtastic and Strava, with my heart rate monitor.

I compared the two apps and in this case I really like Strava. I like the comparisons over segments. If other riders have done the same route it shows how you did compared to them. I didn’t do well, but I don’t mind. This was my first attempt over this route and I can only get better.

I read this book recently: Click here for the amazon page

climb like a pro

It was interesting, but a bit too competitive for me. I just want to get fitter and up the hill, not race. But it did let me know that I need better cadence, not power. Plus when other riders were zooming past me it made me remember not to worry and I will get better.

So on with the route. As I made the route on Google maps, it did put a few rough patches in. I felt like I was on the Paris-Roubaix, which is on TV right now.


There were no convenience stores along the route, but there was this handy local produce shop. I suggest stopping here and getting some food and drinks.

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Then eat it at this lovely park, especially if you do it during cherry blossom season. Soon after you will see other cyclists as you will start to go past carparks full of other people on this part of the route. You could skip the first bit and just go up and down from here. I wanted to do a circuit though.

Then it starts to go up. Last time I was around here I basically walked the whole way up to the torii gate or the point where you can catch a ride on a cable car. This time I rode/walked the road that takes you to the top car park. I would guess I rode 30-40% which is a huge improvement. I knew it was extremely ambition to think I could cycle all the way to the top or even part of the way, but you have to start somewhere.

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There were many other cyclists on the route going both directions. Many people passed me and it was inspiring to see them. The views were great.

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When see this bridge you still have a little way up to go, but the road starts to get much busier as it joins back with the main car route. There are cars on this route, but they are slower. After this point there are many boy racers trying out their cars, it was a little scary. I don’t think I have seen as many Lotus cars in one day. I saw some children on the route, one had a car following it with hazards on, which was a wise move.

When you are very close to the end of the ascent you will see this shrine.

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There is still a little more to ascend from this point, but then the pay off…the descent.


There are a few measures in place to slow people down though I think these might cause issues on rainy days. It doesn’t matter how hard an ascent is, coming down the other side is awesome and worth it all. I can’t wait to get fitter and be able to get all the way up to really earn this pleasure.


The route I made didn’t make use of the RinRin, but I decided to take it as it was right there.IMG_1648

I also decided to skip another off road section, but was greeted with a better route that took me down a street with many traditional houses. By this time my phone was dying, even with an extra battery, that seemed to affect the camera functions.

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And that was my day. This weekend I cycled 100km, spring has sprung and so have I.

Cherry Blossom Bike Ride

After it finally stopped raining I decided to go on a ride. I haven’t been on a 30km+ ride for a while and I think my bum is starting to forget how to sit on a bike. Right now Ibaraki is at the tail end of the cherry blossom season, days are getting longer, temperatures are rising, flowers are blooming and the insects are out. I mean really out, when you ride along a river remember to keep your mouth shut.

Here is the route I took today. Along the Kokaigawa river. I have done this route before and wrote about it, but this season is stunning. The whole west side of the river has a small road. It has the occasional car to deal with and they can get it bit close. Keep your eyes open and you will be fine. I decided to come back a different way as you can see by the route. The east side is fine, but I kind of wish I had come back the way I had gone.

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Once you get to the building shaped like a large insect you will start to see loads of cherry blossoms. At this point you have to look out for foot traffic. All the way along the route you can see the yellow blooms of rapeseed.


You can also get great views of Mount Tsukuba. I was so happy to get out and see the beautiful scenery I stopped and lay down in the fallen sakura, hence the full on picture for a change.

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Just around the bend from the cherry trees is this amazing view. I almost fell of my bike.


If you are anywhere near Mount Tsukuba and are tired of the RinRin, this a great alternative route.

To Strava, Runtastic or Mapmyride, or just not.

I haven’t been on a long cycle for a while, just too busy with work. But I have gone on lots of smaller rides. I have been trying out various apps to record my rides. I use an iphone and there are a plethora of apps on itunes. So here are the ones I tried over the last two weeks: Mapmyride, Strava, Runtastic, and Wahoo (heart monitor).

I recently switched from mapmyride to strava on the advice of a friend. I find both are great apps and websites. I must admit having the connection to someone on strava made it more interesting for the short time I used it. Unfortunately, none of my other friends will use any kind of app as they don’t live in Japan, cycle that much, or like technology. I mention living in Japan because if you let an app record what you are doing and it automatically shares it live, that could be a problem. It lets everyone know you are not at home, where your home is, and where you store your expensive bike. This is not such an issue in nice, safe Japan, but it has been an issue in other countries. This news report and this one gives a few more details about this.

Anyway both of these apps record the same kind of information, but I like the interface of Strava more than mapmyride. Both systems let you create maps, but only mapmyride lets you upload GPX files which is important to me. Strava on the other hand has many more people using it and there are lots of maps already out there to borrow or share. Mapmyride has routes and courses, which to me seems confusing and unnecessary as I would create one on my computer expecting it to show on my phone and it doesn’t…unless I send it to myself via an email. Annoying.

After this trial I decide to try a few more things. I then reverted back to runtastic which I used to use quite often. It has a number of apps. There is an all in one app for loads of sports, a mountain bike app, and a road cycling app. There are free and paid versions. I have all the paid versions because I am an idiot. The all in one app works well, but I prefer to use that for running and the cycling ones for cycling…because why buy them otherwise. I researched the differences between the mountain bike app and the road cycling app…and there isn’t one. Apart from a minor detail that the maps it finds for you are definitely road based for the road one and the mountain bike one will flag trail routes. So you don’t need to buy both. I like that you can also create maps and upload gpx file. You also don’t have to email maps to yourself as they sync seamlessly with the app. Runtastic is a popular system and there are loads of routes out there. I also like that you can use the all in one app on a treadmill, though you do have to input the distance via the website later. I have found only Nike+ works really well on a treadmill using a step counter.

I also use the app and website myfitnesspal and all of the apps mentioned (not counting Nike+ because they are elitist) syncs with that effortlessly.

Then to top it all off I tried to connect my old heart monitor with the apps to see what kind of feedback I would get. I found out my garmin gps watch and heart monitor does not sync with an iphone because it works on ANT+ and not bluetooth. I decided to get a new heart rate monitor and opted for a wahoo tickr as it has bluetooth and ANT+ and it was much cheaper than a new watch. I used it for running and it connected to runtastic perfectly. I have yet to use it when cycling because I am having a lazy weekend. I do not like the app that you are “supposed” to use as it looks so boring and naff. Good equipment poor apps, but that us just my opinion. Others may really like it.

Anyway, back to my lazy weekend.

UPDATE – 2016/05/01

I decided to add a bit as this page gets more hits than the other pages combined. A year later I still use the Strava app and website, almost exclusively. I sold my Garmin watch and heart rate monitor then bought a TomTom multicardio sports watch. I got it second hand on eBay. It works seemlessly with strava, and doesn’t drain my phone battery. The battery on the watch lasts longer than the Garmin I had so when I go out all day there isn’t an issue. It has a built in heart rate monitor so I don’t have to wear a chest strap. I can also use it for treadmill workouts and hiking (in the freestyle mode). I love it and highly recommend it.