Archive for July, 2009

Fugato-yama exploration

July 26th, 2009 by MTBBill

Well I’m back on the right side of the International Date Line and I must say I had a really cool time in Japan but I’m glad to be back at home where I have more “normal” things to fill up my day like leaky facets, broken sprinklers, kid’s hockey games and other family goodness.

The last two weeks in Japan were pretty busy so not much time to play online, but I did get in some riding.  Specifically I went out to the largest chunk of forest on the pennisula.  Most of my friends refer to this area as Fugatoyama, but it is actually a sizable chunk of the Kanagawa Wildlife Protection Area that has several names.  Topology-wise there are a series of ridges lines that form a reverse C shaped bowl with a river that forms and flows from east to west  of out the outlet of “the bowl” and onward to Segami Bay.  Most of the riding occurs and the northern leg of the “C” and down the northeastern flanks of the ridgelines down to the Tokyo Bay side of the pennisula.  

In 2004, I had done quite a bit of exploring on the southern leg of the reverse C. There are nice sections of trail in that area interspresed with hike-a-bike and aggressive sections.   If you have ever ridden Bell Ridge or Los Pinos in Orange County it is sorta like that but forested and the trail is often criss-crossed with roots.  I had snooped around for connections between the North and South legs but had mostly found brutal steep hikes that were “Advanced/Expert Hike-A-Bikes”. 

 

I really wanted to find a connector that only included some “Upper Intermediate Hike-A-Bikeage”  After a good bit of research I had some proposed routes that inlcluded going into “The Bowl”.   There is an awesome chunk of trail going into the bowl.  It is wonderful sweeping flowing singletrack that gracefully looses its elevation into the bowl.  I was hoping to find such another trail leading out of the bowl to the south.   Hope…..Hope on it’s own is for idiots who are too stupid to come up with a plan.  The plan was to be mentally prepared for a brutal hike-a-bike up to the south or bailout on a proposed trail along the river to the west.

“The Bowl” is an amazing wooded area that rivals some of the best forested scenery I have ever been in. I found myself not making much headway and I was enjoying every minute of it.  

I learned a really interesting bit of information from some of the locals about the snakes of Japan.  All of the venonmous snakes have slited eyes while all of the non-venonmous ones have round eyes.   The drawback to practically applying the information is that you have to get close enough to them to figure it out.

After exploring most of the options in the west end of the bowl I was soon started picking trails that would take me towards the southern ridges.  The bowl is not as much of a bowl as I had expected as there were some smaller ridges inside of the bowl that proved to be beaters.   This was by far not the first I had failed to fully appreciate the thin topo lines spaced closely together.   My payment to the mountain gods would come in the form of burning calves and triceps as I carried, lunged, and pushed my bike up the trails less traveled.

Once I had gotten up onto these intermediate ridges, I was presented with some trail options that left me scratching my head.  It was one of those things were I was pretty sure were the splits would take me but knowing and confirming are two different things.  I took a couple of these options as out and back to confirm were they were coing before continuing along my intended route.  

The next series of trail options shed off yet some more elevation and took me further down into the bowl.  When I reached a point where there was supposed to be a four-way intersection, I only found a T-intersection with my intended direction being the missing leg.    From pouring over my Japanese maps I figured out that I would have to take a long uphill climb that would most likely be hike-a-bike way to the west to catch the southern leg of the “C”.  I already knew the southern leg would also have a bit of hike-a-bike between the riding sections.   I was feeling fatigue creeping in but more importantly I was mentally growing tired of the hike-a-bike exploring.   I opted to take the trail option that followed the stream/creek downstream.

Boy was I glad I went that way.  After a good bit of technical riding, the trail started mellowing out and the riding got real flowing and just awesome.  I now started encountering some hikers here and there.  The further west and downstream I went the more mellow things got.  This was one hell of a great “bailout”. Eventually the “trail” ended at and old road that has been turned back over to mother nature when the wildlife protection area was established.   Mother Nature is doing a mighty fine job with this road.

Over the next few miles the trail/road turned to a dirt road, then a paved road and before long I was back in rural civilization.   I ended up taking a series of streets and trails back to the apartment.  While cruising back I got to thinking that if this was back in the states, it would surely be designated wilderness area or some kind of sensitive area that would be off-limits to bike.  Hats off to the Japan and thier outdoor culture.  Trails are trails over there.  You can ride your bike anywhere you dare too including national parks and thier wilderness equivalent.  From what I understand there are only a few trails in the entire country that are off-limits to bikes. One of them is Mount Fuji and that is closed only during the busy hiking season.  After dinner that night I broke down and packed up the bike and got all packed up to finish that last bits of work and fly home the following evening.

Exploring the Kamakura Mountains

July 16th, 2009 by MTBBill

Last weekend I went out to revisit some of the Kamakura trails I have been on in 2004 and also check out some of the trails I had never ventured down before.   This area is really awesome and it offers a lot of great trails that range from mild buffness, to scary hairball rocks and roots.   Navigating around here can be real interesting.  There are lots of trails optons and not all of them are well marked.   Even when marked, there is the whole language barrier thingy for me to help keep things interesting.

There was no shortage of good trails.  

 One of my favorite things to do when riding out here is to stop by this mountain rest stop were you can grab a bit of local grub as well as a mid ride snack.  It seems like you are out in the middle of nowhere until you come upon this place.   This group of hikers I had been leap frogging around for about and hour or so as I checked out most of the various splits in the main trails while they plodded along.   

 Yummy Oden.  It is mostly different types of Tofu, veggies and seaweed. 

 After lunch I decided to check out a route that none of my friends had tried before.  (Or at least not talked about)     The trail started near the mountain hut and went to the Kencho-Ji Temple in Kamakura.  

 For being a trail to place considered peaceful and good, the trail was more like a guantlet of trail evilness.  There were enough roots, rocks and drops to get most riders thier fill of technical playtime.  This would be a good trail to come and session all the features on. 

After a but of tough riding and a fair amount of hike-a-biking I arrived to the mountain peak above the Kenchoji Temple.   What followed after this was a very long, narrow and steep set of twisting stairs.

The stairs lead to the upper area of the temple known as the Hansobo which is the temples inner sanctuary. There are numerous and very impressive statue of creatures known as Karasu-tengu which roughly equates to Crow Goblins.  They are considered part of the protective spirit of this place.

 

 The Kenchoji Temple ranks first among Kamakura’s so-called Five Great Zen Temples and is the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan.   It was built in 1253.

The light was pretty crappy that day for taking pictures and I seemed to be having a “bad camera day” for some reason when it came to getting a good shot of the temple buildings.    There were lots of artists out working on thier craft and I soon figured out they had all the right viewpoints.   Thier paintings were much more interesting than any pictures that I was trying to get that day.

After spending about an hour on the temple grounds I meandered my way through downtown Kamakura and back to the apartment.   It was good to get in some culture along with a nice chunk of riding as well. If you like to read some more about the Kenchoji Temple first check out this site before hitting up Google.

I love bamboo!

July 5th, 2009 by MTBBill

Who cares about the little retaining clip dohicky thing anyway?   That is what I have often thought about the clip that goes onto the end of the post used on XTR brakes to keep the pads and the spring in the calipers. I have also thought of these as being along the same lines as “lawyer tabs” on forks.   I mean the post is screwed in anyway.    Okay so I noticed the clip had went missing a week ago.  No big deal.   Well out on a ride a couple of days ago it became a big deal.  All of the sudden my back brake went completely dead.  Lever to grips and no pumping would help.  I was also in the middle of precarious dip in the trail so it was “exciting” to get through the section and then get stopped.  I check out the brakes and holy smokes!  There was nothing back there.   Both pads, spring and retaining pin gone.   At that moment it hit me that I was a good ways from getting back to a street where I could limp back “home”.   I was also nearly at the highest elevation I would be for the entire ride.  Every route I knew of to get off of the mountain (I was exploring a new area for me) involved a white-knuckler descent.

Well I was not going to get anything fixed if I did not find my brake bits.   The good news was there was only about a 50 yard section of trail from where I knew by brakes were working perfectly to the spot of total failure.   Not too far of a distance, but the trail is only about 12″ wide and dense foilage is all along the edges.  So off in search of I went.

When I was growing up in North Carolina my Dad and I did a lot of hiking and one of our hiking activities was looking for Indian arrowheads and artifacts in argriculture fields and along the river and lake banks.   After tiling and fresh rains was considered prime time for looking for these.  It was good Father-Son times.   Beside it being a fond memory, the point I bring this up is that you develop a skill for scanning the ground and looking for stuff when you do this activity much.   I went into scanning mode and started looking for the brake bits.   I first made a quick pass along the trail just to set my end points and see if I could get lucky.  Nothing on the quick stroll.   The second time down the trail I went much slower and was focusing on just the 12 inches of the trail.   I managed to find one of the pads.   How can I fix this with one pad?  Better keep looking.  One more really slow pass netted me the other pad that was laying about three inches off to the side of the trail and was paritally hidden by leaves.  What a lucky bastard I was.   It had taken about 40 minutes so far and I was not interested in prolonging this anymore.  Time to figure out what to use for the post and spring.    My zip ties were too big and while I had some wooden matches for a retaining pin, a couple of rides ago I gave up all of my tape to boot a friends sidewall so I was out of something easy to hold the matchstick in place.

There is one thing in bountiful supply in Japan, bamboo.  It is nearly perfectly round, smooth and comes in an assortment of diameters.   I stripped a piece of bamboo of its leaves and slipped it into place folded it over and the small end was flexible enough to allow me to use it as binding string.   Sweet!

Now what to do for a spring?   Bamboo to the rescue again.   I got a bigger diameter section of bamboo this time and cut out a section slightly bigger than the normal gap in the pads.   I then split the bamboo, cut to  length and wedged it between the two pad backings.  The folded over piece of post bamboo also served to hold my spring piece in place.   After a few quick tests I was stoked to see the green bamboo was providing enough spring action. I felt confident enough with the setup to not bail on the ride.  I ended up riding about another 20 miles that day.    The following day on my way our for a ride, I swung by a local shop and picked up a set of pads, a spring and retaining pin.   I put it in my pack so I would have a “spare” in case my bamboo should break. :)         

“Feeling” my way around — A Nippon Navigation Weekend

July 2nd, 2009 by MTBBill

The weather Gods showed favor on us last weekend as we had a couple of days of no rain and it looked like it was going to hold through most of the weekend.  Friday afternoon, Dan and I headed out for some riding in an area near Zushi. 

We were enjoying the afternoon as we had plenty of daylight ahead of us.  We had time to stop and smell the flowers (so to say)

Over the course of ride through the  area we came to one of those spots were either going to be at the apex of your loop or you are going to jump ship and head for another area near Kamakura and extend your loop.   The fork in the road at this junction was at the top of a pass know as the Asaina-kirodoshi.  Kamakura sets on the ocean, but is also surrounded on three sides by mountains. They are not tremendously tall, but really steep.  For defensive purposes notches, passages and passes call kirodoshi were cut through some of these mountains. The Asaina-kiridoshi is one of the seven greater kiridoshi leading in and out of Kamakura.  It was built in 1241 and is rumored to have been built in a single night.   We opted to descend the eight century old road down towards Kamakura and see if I could figure out a route I followed a local on five years ago. 

After quite a bit snooping around I had to resort to “Umm, it feels this way” tactics.   My “it feels this way” tactic has gotten me and the poor saps with me in trouble on more than a few occasions.   We were starting to watch our daylight as things can get dark really quick under the foliage of the forest.  Just when I was really starting to doubt if I was on the right track, I recognized a trail feature and had a “full navigational recall” occur.  The feature is a trail junction know as the Okirigishi juncture, in the Nagoe Kirtoshi pass.  (It was too dark in this area to get a photo) This pass was used primarily from 1185 to 1333 to connect the Kamakura and Miura areas.  It was just a narrow path back then just wide enough for a single horse to pass through.  Today it is still narrow and quite a bit on the burly side with some natural stone steeps that require your due diligence to navigate.

There are a few spots along the trail were some trees were and underbrush are strategically cutout to provide scenic viewpoints.   It was amazing to see home much light was actually being obscured when under all the foliage.  Below us and in the distance were could see where we were going to be dropping out at.

From here to there took a little longer than expected and there were a couple of trail junctions were some thinking had to be done before choosing a direction.  We ended popping out right where I expected (okay hoped is a better word :)  ) to and we still had just a bit of daylight to play with.  From here we did some street cruising back to where we started from.   We did make a pit stop along the way at a small mom and pop restaurant that my friend Ken turned me onto during a visit last year.  The food here is just awesome with the kind of yumminess that “grandma used to make”.  The husband and wife who run the place are in fact grandparents and she kindly treats us like one of her grandkids.  She sees enough of the local mountain bikers that she keeps a newspaper around so that we can cover up the chairs so we do not funk up there chairs.  She even helps me out when I screw up my Japanese and notices when I use a new phrase.   It is always more than a meal when eat here.    I slept good that night.

The following day still looked good and by lunch time I had polished off all of the work than needed to be tended to so Dan and I headed out for some more exploration.  This would be another area that I had ridden a few times five years ago and but I was always just tagging along.   We did quite a bit of street exploration before finding a route up into the trail system.  I had never been this way before to get up into the trail system and we went for quite sometime before we came to a trail junction that “felt” like I had been here before.   Riding around over here would be a whole lot easier if I was just learn kangi, hirokana and kitokana.

A few trail junctions later and I knew where I was at and where we were going.  Takatori has some really cool technical features strewn about on the trails.  The section below is gnarly little root fest and it is also the spot where five years ago I cracked by sternum and bruised up a few ribs pretty good.

The summit of Mt Takatori is the site of an old stone quarry that has become a favorite spot for area climbers.  There are at the least a dozen such faces where folks can come and get thier climb on. 

 

The quarry area also has some cool rock features to play on so we did.  Here is Dan giving his front tire and fork a workout.  Take note that Dan is riding with flat pedals and no shin pads.  Dan told this was the first time and months he had gone for a ride without them on.

I have a feeling that Dan is going is not going to forget those next ride.

After playtime on the summit, we set off on another trail that included a bunch of steps to descend, but the cultural payoff is really awesome.   You are literally just riding along and pop out into a clearing with this in front of you.

This carved relief statue is around 30-40 feet high and is simply impressive.  If you do not say something along the lines of a awesome, wow, or holy crap when you first see this then something is wrong with you.  Dan was pretty stoked to see this.  After this point we continued  along the trail that included lots of steep descents and natural log steps that dumps us out at the bottom of Takatori off the north slope. 

From here we worked our way back up the mountain on a easily climbable road.  Once back at the peak were retraced our way back to where we started.  I have a new to-do list item to go back and explore the numerous trail juctions in the Takatori area.  By the time we got back I was pretty much done and spent the rest of the evening relaxing.  A couple of days well spent.