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New Year and Fall

Start the year as you mean to go on, by cycling. In Japan, there is a tradition to go to a shrine on New Year’s Day. I had already been to one at midnight so was late getting up. When I finally did rise at 11AM I received a visit from a friend who was leaving that day. I said I was planning to cycle to a shrine, but by the time I would be ready to go then it would mean I would be late getting back. Plus I didn’t think I could make the 54km round trip given my lack of cycling lately. She said, “oh that is nothing for you!”.

So, then I thought damn it, if you don’t even try then how will you know. So I got ready quickly and set off.

It was a beautiful day for winter, blue and not so cold.

I use google to find the shortest route to places, that means I set it to walking mode. Unfortunately, that sometimes means it takes me down dirt tracks. These are fine for walking but not for a road bike. I should use the runtastic roadbike app, but that means setting a route before hand and not just setting off on a whim. So there I am on a dirt track and I see a puddle, I should not go through that on my lovely bike….hop over the middle ridge and use the non-puddly side, easy!

Whack, next thing I know I am on the floor in the puddle as my tires have no traction and went from under me.

See that shiny skid, that is my flight path. It didn’t hurt and I burst out laughing once I got up. My chain had bounced off, but luckily it was on the non-contact side so the gears were ok. I just threaded it back on and cycled away to a lovely 7/11 and had a drink and a sandwich.

When I put the bag on the handle bars to hold while I drank I noticed the bar, it was a bit skewiff on that side. Bugger. I checked the brake cable and it worked fine. I decided to carry on my journey and I will take the bike to the giant shop when I get paid. Still, buggery buggerty.

On the way, I passed a cool pottery shop.

Look at all those chickens, not the year of the rooster is it?

It was flat for most of the journey, but the last 500m felt like it was almost vertical. I got off and walked/pushed. There was a boy and his family coming down and he was saying over and over, I am tired. Me too, I replied.

It was worth it, though.

I stayed a while and played with some cameras. For a beautiful shrine, it was very quiet.

Then I quickly headed back as it was already 2:30pm and it would take me over 2 hours to get back.

It was a tough ride back, I was tired and my gloves were too big, which made them uncomfortable. Then just as I was getting annoyed with my choices I saw this;

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Was I getting over tired, wasn’t Mount Tsukuba behind me?? Wait that isn’t Tsukuba, it is Fuji! I have never seen it while cycling near my house. Wow!! and then just as quickly it was gone. But it’s appearance gave me a boost and then it seemed I was home in no time at all.

I had a bath and went to bed early, 54km done. Plus one damaged bike and a scrape and bruise.

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Here is part of my route, my watch died on the way back. It has been doing that lately. I think I need to unlink the cadence sensor to reserve the battery.

https://www.strava.com/activities/817465949/embed/1b4a86acdd94f6517efa049572bd593914fc3843

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Awesome Cycle Day and Penis Festival

Yes you did just read that in the title.

I subscribe to a local blog that posted some interesting photos of a shrine about 10km from my house. So I thought, that is a perfect distance to cycle and is close to a cycle path I like. It was just the right distance when I have just recovered from influenza and the wind is gusting, and I hate gusting wind. So off I trot or bike and for the first time in a few weeks I was not coughing in the slightest, not even the wind could blow off my smile.

It took less time than I thought to get there. When I arrived I was surprised to see festival paraphernalia. So now you can tell I didn’t actually read the blog and was just swayed by the photos and wanting to go out on my bike. I did read it when I got home 🙂
Anyway here are my photos from the event. You can read the blog I linked to for more information, it is apparently very detailed.

I bought phallic shaped mochi..but I am not sure if you are supposed to eat it or put it somewhere as an offering (it didn’t taste very nice).

On another note I got a new camera 🙂

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This is at maximum zoom.

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This is at wide open….the above image is on top of the mountain!!! 1200mm

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I mainly got it to capture birds without changing lenses.

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“wow” says the bird, “that canon sx50hs is amazing!”

My friends pointed out that I previously cycled to a shrine with boobs, so now I am all balanced.

Mount Houkyou and a break

I feel like I haven’t been on my bike for ages. It’s the end of a school year and that means reports. And for me that means working weekends as I don’t like working early or too late at school. Every report session means I have to write 30,000 words, with evidence, proof read many times. A dissertation on student achievements. And just when you think you have finished, a child does something you said they absolutely couldn’t and you have to rewrite them. Bless the little cherubs. Every teacher in the world hates writing them. If they say they don’t they are crazy or lying.

Anyway, I got sick to death of them this weekend and went out twice. First I went on an hour ride in honour of Bradley Wiggin’s and the hour challenge. I was so close, really….of course not. But on Strava.com I am first on two of the segments I created. I made them near my house and nobody else has gone on them yet 🙂 So I am the first for a day at least. I managed 22.2km, so less than half the world record, but it was windy. When I got back I tried to finish the reports, but failed. I was close to that too.

It did mean I was confident I could finish on Sunday, so I went for a cycle around Mount Houkyou. I had previous made a route when a student (8 years old) gave me a map and said it was a nice place to go. So I thought I would take her advice. I also added a few shrines to the route. I have been going up and down Mount Tsukuba recently, but I thought I would just have a pleasure ride today. Here is a gallery of photos from the route. It seems to look weird on the iMac, but click on a photo to see the full view.

Here is my route. At one point you can see I start going up “Furits Lane”, which I think is supposed to say fruits as there are many “fruits” about. But I couldn’t remember the elevation of the road and it was a pleasure ride. So I changed my mind. When I checked at home I found it was much steeper than my usual up and down route. There was also a huge snake on the road, but I always end up stopping and watching them slither away… and forget to take a photo. All in all a lovely day, and I finished my reports.

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.

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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.

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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.

Cycle and a hike up Mt. Tsukuba

Last night myself and a few friends decided to climb Mount Tsukuba in order to observe the sunrise. Yes, this entry has a few other people in it which makes a nice change. There are plenty of websites with information about hiking around this area, here are a some: Here , Here and Here. The latter site has a handy map and you can see the route we took, following the cable car starting at Tsukubasan Shrine.

Now, in order to get there in time I had to set off at midnight as I was cycling to the shrine. I tried to catch some sleep before then, but I just couldn’t drop off. So by the time I had to set off I had no sleep and was heading into a 2 hour plus cycle up a mountain, then a 2 hour hike up and 2 hour down, then a cycle back..I was surprisingly chipper.

Here is my bike all ready to go, with and without the use of flash. You can see it was quite dark as midnight tends to be.

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The roads were completely empty and most didn’t have street lights like this area. I was wearing a bright yellow coat to make myself more visible and made sure I had spare batteries for my front light (I had just changed the back and it uses less power). The route to the shrine was about 18ish km and the first 14km or so are pretty flat so I manage that in just over an hour. Our meeting time was 2:30am…so why set off so early?? Because it is a mountain and the last 3km or so are steep and I am not fit enough to cycle up, though I did manage more this time, so walk and push it was.

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The tori gate was a welcome site as I was done with pushing. Now to find somewhere to park the bike?? I couldn’t see any signs for bike parks, just car parks. My friends said put it anywhere, which I was a little uncomfortable with. I saw a couple of Japanese guys getting ready for a night hike too and asked them what to do. They said I could chain it near their car and they would say it is theirs if anyone asks..nice Japanese people.

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Now I had to wait for the others to arrive…Yeah I was first, I win..wait..that means I have to wait in the dark at a shrine eeeeek. Actually I am totally unafraid of the dark so it was no problem, I am afraid of a few things, but dark is not one of them which turned out to be a good thing on this walk.

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Two other people were supposed to be cycling, but alarm clocks, oversleeping etc meant I was the only cycler and the others were slightly late…apart from Blue Coat Man who was prompt and prepared as usual. As this is a public blog here are the codes for my friends.

Blue Coat Man
Sleepy McSnorey
Over Prepared Man
Tree Hugger
Solitary Man – not in any pictures as solitary man is also quite speedy.

As you can see from the pictures below the path is quite tricky and covered in rocks and roots. So my headlamp and neck LED were quite handy and handsfree.

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As the route was pitch black I didn’t bother taking many pictures, except when I saw this toad..in a hole! That was Tree Hugger’s joke. The toad is a famous symbol of this area and the oil from its skin is used to make a cream. Legend says that if the toad is placed in a mirrored box it begins to sweat because of the terror caused by its own reflection. Our toad looked very relaxed considering the sight of Gaijins shining torches on it in the dead of night. Sleepy McSnorey would have liked the box story as she kept us entertained with stories of different occasions when she screamed or caused screaming.

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The hike seemed to go on for ever and at one point it descended for a worrying amount of time, but Solitary man assured us it was the right direction (I was tempted to look at my GPS though). We got to the top with about 20 minutes to spare before the sunrise. I am a surprisingly slow walker on all occasions and often get left behind when hiking with a group, so it was very nice that Tree Hugger and Over Prepared Man stayed with me the whole route up and down. There was another small hike to to summit, but I was done. My back was really hurting and I was cold. Layers, layers people!!

Plus this was the view, quite misty and the peak for the usual view of the sunrise was covered in a steady mist. So I decided to stay put near the vending machines with hot coffee and toilets. By this time we had seen nobody, but the car park people. Then from nowhere a whole group of older hikers appeared from all directions and started calling out to each other. It seems in these parts the pensioners hike up this route regularly and are very spritely. Put our group to shame.

Anyway, Tree Hugger and Over Prepared man stayed with me and the others went to the summit.

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At this point we had time to kill and checked out the backpack of Over Prepared Man. He had forgotten to clean a few pockets before setting off and there were still work related items in there…plus parts of a washing machine, toothpaste, a billion pencils…you never know when you will need these items.

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By the time the others came back from viewing the shadow of the sunrise we had 3 hours to wait until the first cable car ride down. So choices, wait for the ride down, or brave my bad back and walk back down the 2 hours route. We went to the start of the route down and the first step down was agony, a sharp spasm. I said no, I couldn’t do it. But waiting 3 hours in the cold??

So I tried again and this time it wasn’t so bad. I was so glad I had my hiking stick with me. With each step we got closer to the bottom and my back became less painful…and the return of light cheered us up no end.

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Again I have to say thanks to Tree Hugger and Over Prepared man, thanks for sticking with me. Solitary man went ahead and left little notes along the route.

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And here I am closer to the end of the route.

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Of course there was still the matter of the 20km cycle home. Blue Jacket man offered to put my bike in his car and drive me home..but cycling down is the best bit and doesn’t take much effort. The ride back took half the time of the initial ride and was awesome. I love cycling down this route.

When I finally got back I had a hot bath which helped my back and I promptly fell asleep on my couch. Totals for the day 40km-ish cycle, climbed up and down a 877m (2,877ft) mountain = 21,000 steps = eat all the crap I like.

 

References
http://tsukuba.wikia.com/wiki/Gama_abura
http://japanhike.wordpress.com/2008/04/19/mt-tsukuba/
http://yamaonna.wordpress.com/2009/10/14/hike-mt-tsukuba/
http://tsukuba.wikia.com/wiki/Gama_abura