Exploring Takeyama

Last week we had a fair amount of rain on the Muira Pennisula of Japan which is about an hour south of Tokyo.  Moisture on the mostly clay-based soils here makes the trails quite slick so I was not expecting to see any trail action when the sun showed up for the first time in a handful of days.   

I decided to do a little exploring on the streets and see if I could find some new areas to ride when things dry out.  I have had a Japanese map of this area since 2004 so I whipped out my old friend and started looking for the thin dashed lines and mountain tops.

The map while written in Kangi which (I can’t read the stuff), is great for matching up with street signs and trailhead markers.   One of the more important Kangi symbols for a wandering MTB addict is the top of a pitchfork looking one in the circle pictured above.   It is “yama” and used on its own means mountain.   The other important one to note on the maps are the counterclockwise swastikas.  This is used as a symbol for a temple.   Hilter and the Nazis are pretty much the Johnny come latelys for using this symbol as its use goes back over 3,000 years.   Despite the Nazis twisting the popular meaning of it, in most cultures the swastika is a traditional symbol of life and good luck.   I have found that the mountain top temples almost always have decent trails leading up to them.

The mountain for this little adventure was Takeyama.  So I headed out for some street cruising to get over to the area.  The plan was to find the access road/trail that goes up the mountain.   I approached the mountain from the northeast so I started scoping out all the small streets in the area and worked my way along the eastern side.  It is very common to find small villages and towns located at the bottom of the mountains where there is ample access to water sources.   There are often many small patches of family farms interspersed along the creeks and streams as well as the lower portions of the mountain where the terrain is transitioning from steep to the mellow valley floor. There is often a network of small trails that connect these small farm patches.  I was hoping to find a trail coming down from the top of the mountain to one of these patches. 

I did find such a trail heading up the mountain off of one of the farm trails.  The forest was a mix of large bamboo and hardwoods.  I only went a short ways up the trail when I discovered that it had been washed out and after scrambling around the washout the trail become so overgrown to the point of virtually being gone.   The high amount of annual rainfall here allows mother nature to reclaim that which is not used in as little as a single season.   I went back down and continued my snooping on the east side.   I knew there was a fire road coming down this side of the mountain but I was not having any luck finding it.  There were several business and private areas that were locked up and I was beginning to think the fireroad might not be publically assessable .  After a while of not getting anywhere on the eastern side of the mountain I decided to try approaching from a different side.  

I cruised downhill with lots of speed along the streets until I reached Tsukuihama beach on Tokyo Bay.   It was time to refuel with some energy snacks Nippon-style.  While enjoying my snacks and taking in some views I was also scanning over my map to get an idea of where to go next.  The southwest corner looked promising as there where farmlands and at least one secondary road going over a saddle to the west of the mountain. 

Once back on the bike I started working my way towards the mountain.  When I went by the local train station, I noticed a sign with an arrow and the Kangi symbols for Takeyama.   Japan has a very strong hiking culture and it is common to find directions to trailheads at the closest train stations.   This was a sweet find.  I followed the signs that took me along a riverside path before directing me onto a narrow paved road that in some spots was about the width of an average golf cart path in the states.   


My destination can be seen in the distance in the photo above.   There were three peaks to get over on my intended route.  The first one is obscured to the far right and out of frame, but the other two with the radio towers on top can be seen.  I could already tell there was going to be some steep ups and downs between those two peaks.  With the expected moisture on the trail, I was prepared to hike-a-bike most of the route that lay ahead.   

The paved roads and signage brought me to the actual trailhead and the trails were indeed slick in spots.   When the grades were mild you could get in some peddling but add much grade or roots and you had some serious treachery to contend with.   It was all good as I was mentally out for a bike assisted hike anyway.   On the way to the first peak I came across one of these statues on the trail.   I need to find the purpose and history of these statues, but they are really cool and added to the exotic nature of being out here. 

Steep trails over here typically have log steps on them.  Without them you are not going to get up  some of the trails when they are a little moist.  The more established trails have replaced the wooden logs with concrete faux logs.  They have a fairly natural appearance, are a god send when hiking up and provide a technical challenge when riding down them.  As an added bonus when riding these on a rental hardtail, you will also get to fully stress test any dental fillings you may have. 🙂

The first peak I went over was Miura-Fuji, There were various spiritual monuments on the peak of which I knew little of thier meanings.  I met a Japanese man here who had an amatuer radio rig setup on the peak.  I used to have a amatuer radio license as well and we knew enough of each other’s language to have a short conversation about how he was talking to his friends in Sapparo on the radio.  Considering Sapparo is over 500 miles away it, was a good haul with the equipment he had. 

Soon I continued on and headed for the second peak.  As I had expected I lost some elevation before having to regain it all and then some.   It is hard to convey how steep some of these mountains are in pictures.  In the case of the picture above, the angle that I am looking down is not captured.

The trail beyond to Muira-Fuji went on for a sizable ways before coming out onto a fireroad.  This had to be the fireroad I was looking for earlier in the day but had missed.  There was only one way to know for sure where the bottom of the fireroad came out at.  So I descended the fireroad and I was surprised at its length.  When I got to the bottom, I realized I had gone right past it thinking it was a driveway to an adjacent home.  If I have ridden another 50 feet closer to the entrance it would have become obvious that it was the fireroad.  Now that I knew the where the bottom of the fireroad was I turned around and retraced my way back up the fireroad.   It was a good climb and I continued onward past the singletrack I had originally come in on. 

It was pretty mellow climbing the rest of the way up to the second peak, Mt Hodai. The views from the peak were a letdown as the flora growth obscured any views. What was interesting was a large concrete structure sunk into the ground. I could not figure out its purpose.  I later found out from a Japanese friend of mine that during WWII a large anti-aircraft gun battery was here to defend the area against American bombers.   It never shot down an American plane.  

From the Mt Hodai peak, I went back down the fireroad just a short ways and picked up a singletrack that headed over to Takeyama.  There was not as much hike-a-bike as I had expected and I soon found myself at the peak.  The views from Takeyama were somewhat dulled from the marine layer that was still lingering.  The exceptional part here was the Takeyama-Fudo temple.  It is a small traditional temple with ornate wood work and an overall design that was exceptionally interesting. 

Where does one start and the other begin?

After perusing around the temple grounds, I snooped around for another trail heading off the peak.  There was one heading down to the Southeast but I was looking for something to the north.  I descended the brutally steep concrete road access road for the temple looking for a northside trail.  I had to keep my speed in check as I did not trust these concrete roads that had some moisture on them.  There had to be some sections that were over 20% grade.   I did find one promising looking trail, but opted to save it for another day. Once back down at the bottom I went back into street cruising mode and made my way back to the apartment.  I was pretty stoked with this day as it turned out to be so much better than I had expected.

Green Goodness on Ogusuyama

It has been raining almost solid for the previous two days which will basically make the trails way to slick her in Japan until early next week.   When I say slick, I mean like butter on a tile floor slick.   While my playtime this weekend is going to be off the trails, earlier this week I got out to one the “local” loops,  Ogusuyama (aka Mt Ogusu).  Like most of the riding I have done over here there is a bit of street riding involved to get there.  I enjoy these street rides as I always see something culturally interesting.  

On this cruise to the trails while on one of the many tiny side streets, I passed by an onion stand that caught my eye.  This stand was totally unattended and there was not even a window of a home within sight.  It was totally on the honor system.  There was not even a one-way coin box.  Just pick out your onion and drop your 100 yen (About $1) in the box. If you need to, make change.  I think this one little stand says a lot about the values and culture of rural Japan.

The last little bit of pavement passes by a really thick and sizable patch of bamboo that always real cool to look into.  The canopy is so thick that I have never seen direct sunlight on the ground here. 

Once on the trail, the light drizzle from the day before had left some slippery spots on the trail.

 

I rode this area back in Decemember, but did not hit up all of the trails. I made a point to hit up the trails I had missed last time.  Ogusuyama is the highest peak on the Muira Pennisula and the trail I took drops down to far side of the pennisula from Yokosuka.  

I have no idea what actual name of the trail I took is but most of my friends have just referred to it as Trail 3.   This trail was really fun as it had great flow and cashed out the elevation in a way that allowed you to carry plenty of speed in most sections. 

This is one really cool trail marker.

Once down the on the other side of the pennisula I did a bit of riding along the streets before picking a dirt access/fire road to head back up the mountain.  While there were some steep pitches on the climb overall it was not brutal.  I have certainly climbed plenty of uglier fireroads.

 

Once back up on the top of the mountain, I decided to a take a path less traveled.  While I noticed this faint trail heading off in the bush before, I had never ventured onto it.  Today I gave it a shot as I had a decent idea of where it should go.   I was riding solo in foriegn country on a lightly used and new to me trail.  Throw in the fact I have an extremely rudimentry knowlege of the language at best and you should see why I felt so alive with healthy dose of excitement coupled with just a dash of anxiety. 

The trail ended up coming out pretty close to where I expected it and I enjoyed the stroll back to the apartment.   It was another good day to ride a bike.

Single Tracking in Zushi, Japan

I arrived in Japan last Saturday for a handfull of weeks worth of work in Yokosuka.   The travel schedule to get here is a tough one as your internal clock is totally thrown out of wack.   I spent most of the week just stuggling through the day and having a tough time sleeping at night.   It took until Thursday for my “body clock” to get adjusted.   Finally getting some rest was a good thing as I was looking forward to getting onto some single track this weekend.  I shipped my 6.6 here vice putting it on the plane so I would not have lug the cumbersome box on the trains to get to Yokosuka from the Tokyo airport.  

     

 My bike had not arrived on Friday so I rented a hardtail.  One of my friends and his wife had just purchased a new home and invited me over to check it out.  I declined on having them pick me up at my hotel.  Instead I opted to have a nice cruise along the streets which I had nearly forgotten what a cultural experience you can have along the streets of a foreign country.  I had a nice time visiting and catching up on things with my friends.   Afterwards, I had a really cool late night cruise back to the hotel. 

The following morning it was time to get onto some dirt.   I had not been on the trails between Zushi and Kamakura since 2004 and I was looking forward to it.  It takes a quite a bit of riding along the streets from Yokosuka to get to the trailhead, but like last night riding along the streets is an experience all to it’s own.   I had barely started on my way when there was a bunch of of activity going on over the roses at Verny Park.

It had been a long enough since I was last here that there were spots where I was unsure if I was going the right way or not.  Every time I would start to get concerned about my route I would see something that would jog my memory.   I love riding when you are route finding or someplace new as your senses seem to elevate just a little.  While this route was more about rediscovery, it was extremely fun just getting to the trailhead.

Once I got to the trailhead, it was time to get some hike-a-bike on.  Like many of the trails in this area, there are some steepness to be dealt with.   The opening trail up onto the ridgelines was every bit as steep as I had remembered.  I did not count them but I’m guessing there are at least 100 wood log steps that got the calves burning in no time flat.

Once up onto the ridge the trails flowed and swooped gracefully through the trees.  Most times there were fairly buff in nature but there were numerous section of roots and rocks to test your skills.  I rode here many times in 2004 and this ride was like catching up with an old friend.  

I forget the Japanese name for this section of trail but I believe it loosely translates to “Roots of Death”

I like the way this signs bridges the language barrier. 🙂

Visually this is one of my favorite sections of trail out here as it passes by one of the numerous temples in the area.   Nearby Kamakura is steeped in deep history and many of the trails are centuries old.  I played on the trails here until I late in the afternoon and then enjoyed the street cruising back to Yokosuka.  I finished the evening off with a tasty plate of curry from a tiny mom-and-pop resturant that I was turned onto during my last visit here.   It was not a bad day to have a bike 🙂

In the Land of the Rising Sun

This week started off with a flight from Seattle to Tokyo.  I spent the week here in Japan meeting with clients (so to say) and scoping out some projects coming up in the summer of next year.    I spent the better part of 2004 working and riding in the area so I was looking forward to reconnecting with some old friends and possibly sqeaking in a ride.   I had a very productive week and managed to catch up with my core group of Japanese and American friends here.   It is nice having locals for friends.  Work hard during the day and enjoy friends and off the beaten path cuisine in the evenings was the routine.   There may have been a beer or two involved as well 🙂   I was not sure if my schedule was going to allow me to get in some trail time or not and early in the week the weather was not cooperating either.   Near the end of the week the skys cleared and while generally brisk throughout the day it was nice.  

Friday morning it was clear enough that Mount Fuji was visible in the distance.  By Friday afternoon the skys hazed up enough that the mountain was hidden, but my to-do list was complete and I found myself with some daylight left to burn.  A couple of phone calls revealed that all my buds were tied up so this would be a solo affair.  This was cool as I have done this trail system many times and I was looking forward to some trail solitude. I grabbed a rental hardtail and headed for the trails.   It is about a 3 mile street ride to the Ogsuyama trail system.  It is uphill most of the way as you head away from Tokyo Bay.   It did not take long to click back in the routine of riding on the other side of the road here.  More importantly you have to remember that most of the danger comes from the opposite direction that you are used to glancing at.  I did have one exciting moment two blocks into the ride that drove the message home. 

The street ride was great as it was just as much of a cultural experience as it was a good warmup.   I was soon off of the main streets and into the back streets and the more rural communities.  It is common to see small gardens in these areas right along the dimunitive streets.  I always enjoy looking at them as they provide such contrast to the cities below.

I was soon onto singletrack and I had forgotten just how slick the clay soil can be with just a little moisture. Often times this clay was combined with roots and leaves.   Even with the tire pressures somewhat low it was often really tricky and it some spots hoofing it was the only way to get up.  Going down was a bit easier but still it was mongo tricky. 

This picture does a poor job of depicting the grade or slickness of this stuff.

The trails are not all a slick rooty mess,  sometimes it is incredibly buff with mucho flow.   Most of the trails I rode today have seen some debrushing work in the last year as they were much less crowded with brush than I remembered.   I also ran into a few hikers and they were always very polite and often they would say something to the effect of “Wow” or “I’m amazed to see you here”.   This trip was also good to brush up on my very rudimentry Japanese.

The route today involved going over the top of Ogusayama and taking an often steep singletrack down the other side of the mountain (and pennisula) to Sagami Bay.   I remembered a bunch of log steps but I forgot it was something like a thousand or so steps.   The rental hardtail was beating the crap out of me on this stuff and I had to take a breather after every 100 or so steps.

 

Those steps and log fencing you see in the pictures are not wood but carefully crafted concrete logs made to look pretty natural. 

Once I got down near Sagami Bay I popped out onto a street and rode about half a mile to pickup a service road to go back up the mountain.    It starts out as narrow pavement, then gravel then dirt.  Many of the local riders call it the “Seven Steps to Heaven” as it is quite steep but flattens on seven occasions on the climb.  You are pretty shaded on most of the climb so the views are limited with the exception of a few spots were you can peek through and get a good appreciation for the general steepness of the Japanese countryside in this area.

After getting back on top of the mountain, I picked up another trail that would take be down the southeast flank of the mountain and back to my side of he pennisula.   This trail is one of my favorites in this system and it did not disappoint.   I have not been in Japan at this time of year before, so I was enjoying more autumn colors that I had not seen before.

This section of trail has a very Pacific Northwest feel to it

I soon popped back out onto surface streets and starting making my way back.  I made a stop at local store to grab a snack.  I forget the name for these but they are rice triangles that are stuffed with different things and then wrapped with seaweed.  I think of them as Japanese Clif Bars.    They have all types and some of the are a highly acquired taste.  I typically stick to the light blue ones as they are filled with tuna.   These are yummy, a great ride snack and only costs 105 yen (About $1).

After the snack it was mostly of series of downhill street cruising back to where I started.

After returning the bike and cleaning up, I spent the evening having dinner with friends in a tiny Mom and Pop resturant near the town of Zushi.  After hitting the post button, I will packing up the laptop and headed for the airport to go home.  Ironically, due to the the international dateline, I am technically already home 🙂