Back in Japan – Yoko Dirt Time

Due to my last work project running long in Sasebo, my time back at home was just a week long before I headed back to Japan for some work in Yokosuka.   I flew back into Japan on a Saturday evening and decided to try and shake off some jet lag with ride on Sunday.

After grabbing a rental bike and setting it up with my pedals and some sizing tweaks I was through on the bike garb and on the road.   Today was not an exploration ride but a return to the Fugato-yama area which is one of my regular stomping grounds when I am in this neck of the woods.

It was a beautiful sunny day with a touch fall briskness in the air.  Despite only having about 6 hours of sleep after being up for 26 hours I felt really good on the street riding out to the trails.   I think this was a combination of being a bit fitter than I have been in the last six months coupled with still be ing a bit on Japan time with only having a week on US time.  Whatever the reason, I was digging having some energy in the tank and some iron in the legs while out in some nice nature.

The trails were in exceptionally good condition.   Obviously it had not rained heavy for maybe a week as some of the sections that are hellishly slippery when moist were fairly managable which was another bonus. 

It was a substantual act of being unselfish that I stopped to take this photo.  This is a long section of awesome flowing gravity feed goodness that just makes you smile.  Most times of the year the steep hillside is somewhat hidden by the vegitation.  With winter on its way the mixed forest flora is thinning out some to reveal more of its often “stealth” exposure.

Yoko-Reflective Sign

I did not have a huge route planned out here on this day as I had plans for the evening.   I had a handful of street miles to ride back to my hotel after popping out of the woods.  So there I was “just riding along” on the sidewalk along highway 16.  I managd to clip a sign like the one above while going about 20mph that jerked my handlebar pretty hard.  I was able to correct enough to keep from going full on body surfing on the concrete but the bike went way off line and Iended checking a concrete wall with my shoulder.    My head also smacked the wall, but my helmet completely earned its keep so the melon was no worse for wear.

For those who have been wondering, my test reveal that roadside Japanese concrete seems to have an average grit fact of somewhere between 30 and 45.   

After a very stingy shower, I hopped back on the bike and rode a did a few more miles of street riding over to friends Ken and Emi house.   We had nice evening of catching up things over tasty Japanese microbrews and a yummy homemade dinner.   It was a mighty fine opening day back in the land of the rising sun!

Exploring Mt Eboshi near Sasebo

Mount Eboshi is the most the promeint mountain surrounding Sasebo.  So of course I had to go up there and see what the deal was as I had been told there are trails up there.  I had even been given a very rudimentary map.  During my first visit I realized the map was pretty outdated and soon was relegated to remain in the pack as backup mountain money.   Luckily there were a few trailhead maps that I was able to key off during my second visit and things started coming together (sorta).

This is pretty much your average trail look near the top of the mountain.

Ready to get your chunk on?  (Yes this is the trail)  This this is pretty much the most extreme section of trail in the area, this type of rock is found interspersed along the trail and provide some nice character and features.

While stopping to smell the flowers this critter came along.

Check out this lookout/rest stop.   Look at this angle on the benches.  Does that not just scream, “Take a load off, lay back and relax”.

A skinny little bench cut that reminded me a bit of the SART.  It was one of my favorite and longest sections.  There is a lower section to this trail that appears to be rarely used that was also superb but suffered from some deadfall.  I spent some time and cleared the stuff that could not be ridden over.  I was hoping to see it continue on down the mountain but it stop at a road instead of crossing it and continuing onward.  Bummer.

Sort of a hazy view from the summit of Eboshi.   There are three trails going up to the summit, one is pretty mild, one looks nasty, and the other I have verified is a hike-a-bike pain in the arsh with just a merger 309 steps on the final section to the top.


Yes I counted them and even took notes  — I didn’t have a pen 🙂

A view from coming down the south side of the mountain.

While there is are some nice sections of trail I have yet to find a good trail that cashes out most of the four plus miles of climbing it takes to get up here on the road.   Most of the trails are up on top and none of the trails I have found go more than a third of the way down the mountain before dumping out onto roads.  I have found remnants of trails but the pace of Mother Nature’s reclamation program there just does not seem to be enough use to keep some of them from becoming overgrown.   With a few or so seasons of TLC  this place could be a far east MTB mecca quality playground.   More to follow…. 🙂

Snooping around Sasebo, Japan

So work has taken me back across the International Date Line for some more adventures in Japan.  This time I am in the south of Japan in the city of Sasebo.     The work is interesting with some new challenges to keep me on my toes.  I even have run into some old freinds from San Deigo who are calling Sasebo home these days.   What was really cool upon arriving here were all the freaking mountains I saw on the drive from the airport to the city.   Forested ridgelines that seemed to go on forever was pretty much the norm.  Early last week, I snagged a rental and have started snooping around.   With promenant peaks in just about ever direction there is plenty to explore.   There is not much of a organized scene here MTB wise, but there is a culture of hiking and what I would call “Micro-National Parks” in the area.  

This past sunday I checked out some of the in-town mountains.  There was quite a bit of road interconnecting to get to the trails but I think it was worth it.  This is an exceptionally pretty area so it was more like a tasty road-touring cake with some yummy dirt frosting on top. 

The view of the a small slice of the “99 Islands” from Mt Ishidake.

Zippy along the trail on Mt Akasaki.

Hmmmmmmm, where to go next?

The chunkier route less followed.

Brushing this out of your face along the trail is kinda cool.

Brushing these off your face is not so cool.  They get about as big as a silver dollar and while harmless they can freak you our when you get “Bulls-Eyed” right in the face with them.   This has happened more times while riding in Japan than I can count.

One of the mountains within the city limits of Sasebo is Mt Yumihari.  It is sizable and the roads are a bit steep.  While I have been on Mt Yumihari a couple of times already, there is no real trail system but more a like series of not quite connected trails.


Still there appears to be plenty of stuff worth exploring.

There are some stunning views from the summit, but I thought some of the more interesting bits were off in the back corners and the not quite so accessible spots.

This little spot about several hundred meters past and a brisk climb from all the parking lots was absolutely empty and made a pretty tranquil spot to chill and knock back a snack.

I recognized this as soon as I saw these as they were also near Mt Takayama near Yokosuka.   This is the basement foundation for a anti-aircraft gun battery used during World War II to protect the port of Sasebo.   I could not help but think what must have been gone through the minds of the soldiers manning this battery on August 9th 1945 when “Fat Man”, the second atomic bomb, was dropped on Nagasaki just 30 miles to the south.   On a clear day they would have had an unobrstructed view of ground zero and the mushroom cloud that reached upwards of 60,000 feet.  I’m sure they must have felt and heard it for sure.   Talk about being a witness to history.

There was this faded sign nearby.

By this time I was getting pooped and the my daylight buffer was getting a little short for full blown by myself and unaided by maps exploring.  I went down the mountain on a new route that included an extremely narrow one-lane paved road and took notes on all the various trails heading off here and there to be snooped at on another day.

It was a great day on a bike and I slept like a baby that night.

Fujimi Panorama MTB Park, Japan

This past weekend I spent a day at the Fujimi Panorama Resort near Nagano get some downhill action on.   In 2004 I rode here twice with my XC bike (Intense Spider) and it was a freaking blast.  I was super excited for the return trip here as I now own a better suited bike (Intense 6.6) and have five years of skills development to put to the test.     Of course getting my bike to Japan is an interesting and still unfinished story.  I decided to go cheap and ship it USPS as it only cost $65 to ship an oversized 70lb bike box.  I should have asked how long it would take but did not.  I should have as I have since found out that it takes 3-6 weeks.   So here I am the day before the trip and still my bike, armor, helmet cam enclosure, shoes, etc… is not here.   The good news they have some good rentals at the park and you can get a full kit that includes a well equipped downhill mountain couch, full set of armor, full-face helmet, lunch, and a day lift pass for about $150. As luck would have it my friend Ken had to cancel so he let me borrow all of his gear that included his pig big.

Ken has a really awesome bit of mojo bolted to the fender on his bike.  I was present when this stick and Ken’s relationship first started.  At this park five years ago Ken took an unplanned aerial tour of the forest along the A course and this was his souvenir from the tour.

Notice how far up the stick some of the “moisture” marks are.  Ken basically had this thing impaled up to where my fingers are at it in one of his butt checks.  He literally ripped him ripped himself a new one. Needless to say Ken was a real (Carnage Warning) Pain in the Arsh to be around.   While Ken was not laughing his ass off, some of us where in stitches.  God did he act like he had a stick up your ass.  Man have we had some great pun at his expense since then.

So anyway, despite my postal misfortunes I had a fully capable gravity oriented rig and was headed up the mountain.   I showed a couple of my new friends the easier “C” course down the mountain as I wanted to get a feel for the bike before.   In addition to a different bike, it was my first time riding with flats.   It was bit of an adjustment, but for lift-assisted riding I could get used to it.

After the first run I felt pretty comfortable with the bike and decided to give the “A” Course a run.   Man was it awesome.   I remembered the course well enough to allow for some downright ripping speed.  Last time I was here I did a lot of brake checking on the jumps and sucked the bike up underneath me to keep things on the ground.  This time I was letting the bike go and sometimes I was even preloading before the kickers.  There was one kicker in particularly that I got so much more airtime than I expected as the trail just fell away after the kicker with a slope that nearly matches trajectory of a fast moving bike.  While never more than six feet off the ground, I floated for well over 30 feet before touching back down into a buttery smooth landing zone.  While there were several spots I scared myself,   the run is best described as a continual string of “Joygasms”.  (Thanks Dan for the word) 

I spent the rest of the day just digging the ludicris speed downhilling.  That is until near the end of my forth run.  The bottom of the A course has an optional more technical section that is a couple yard long before it rejoins the main line as you come into a rocky sweeping turn.  I rejoin the main trail will a good head of steam going and I leaning into the turn really hard, when my rear wheel breaks loose, the bike get sideways to the trail and I come off the bike and the bike goes flying some 15 feet before he hitting a tree.

While I did not have a scratch on me the bike’s front wheel looked a little wose for wear.   It iwas hard to walk a big bike down the mountain (even a short distance) with a rear wheelie.  So I call up my buddy Ken with the classic I got some good news and some bad news.   I spun it that the bad news was I would not get another run down the mountain and the good news was that see a brand new front wheel in his future. 🙂

The good news up that  I could have only gotten in one more run in so no huge loss.  I swung by the 4X course to see the happenings there.   There we plenty of groms and adults out on the course.

At the end of the day we stopped at an onsen (hot springs) in town and let the muscles loosen up for an hour or so before hitting the road for semi-longish drive back to Yokosuka.  The onsen was an great way to end an awesome day of riding.  In Japan the onsens are a nude affair so no pics.

The drive back was pretty cool as well.  Above is a view from the road we exited the mountains.

The evening view of Mt Fuji from a gas station in Gotemba.   I slept like a baby that night.

Bike Luggage Bingo

What a pain the butt, I had over the last couple of days getting by bike packed up and ready to go to the east coast with me on a business trip.  The original plan was to ship the bike ahead of me and have it waiting for me at my hotel when I arrived.   So I packed the bike into my Trico Sports Ironcase Bike Box.   I have used this thing in the past and it is great.  Through your bike as well as most of your other bike stuff in there as well.  Well the price checking this box in as luggage has gone up from sometimes free or $75  to $125.   UPS was quoting the weight as about $70 to ship it.  Great, I could save some money and not have to fuss with the bike box through an airport terminal.    I get to UPS and HOLY CRAP!   Seems that due to the size of the box it falls it falls into the irregular catergory and they want to ring me up for $153 each way.   No thanks, I’ll take check it on the flight.  

I live about 10 minutes from the Carlsbad commuter airport that I would be flying out of so I decided to swing by on my way home with the box and make sure I would not have any problems beyond dropping some coin to get it on the flight.  At first the guy was like, “sure no problem, a bike box is a bike box.  Pay your $125 and you will be good to go”.  At this point I questioned him because I read somewhere that I weight restriction had changed as well and I did not want any surprises the morning of my flight.   After a bit of keystroking, he confirmed that there is a 50lb weight limit is in addition to the special charge because it is a bike box.   This means that the airline wants $250 one-way to take my bike along for the ride.  I would need to get this bike box down to 50lbs to make it even worthwhile to bring.

So I took everything out of the box and weighed.   Ouch!, the box along weighs 27 lbs.   That does not leave much room for the bike.  Out goes everything but the bike.  Crap! Still over weight.   I finally take the tires and tubes off the wheels off.   Geez, just a fraction over.   Off goes the water bottle holder.  BOOM!   50 pounds 0 ounces.

50 pounder

Now I had the problem of dealing with all the crap I took out of the bike box.    Now I’m traveling for three weeks and I have to both some work presentable attire as well as chill out clothes, and I only want to do laundry once a week.  Then means I have a little more stuff than I would normally bring along.  So clothes, camelbak, helmet, shoes, pedals, tires and tubes all go into a chick-sized suitcase.  I weigh it, DAMN, 51 pounds!    So I transfer a pair of shoes into my carry on back and all is good.

crap to get in luggage

So time to travel.  When I checked in at Carlsbad, the ticket guy checks the weights, calls it all good and charges me as regular baggage, all total just $40 bucks.  Sweet!   We will have to see how the return flight works out.

The flight to LA was uneventful, but the rest of the trip was a different storry.   My flight out of LA is delayed because they are servicing the plane. I had a tight connector schedule so I hopped on the phone and had my connector into Virgina switched to a latter flight.  Two hours later, the call is made to switch us to a different plane and about an hour later we are shuffling onto another plane.  Once loaded on the plane, we are informed that the engine may have sucked up something into one of the engines while the plane was taxiing to the gate and the engine would need to be inspected.   After one hour of seating on the plane at the gate, we are shoved off.

Needless to say I did not even make my latter connector.   So I get a free stay at Hyatt O’hare.  I’m pretty sure noboby ever books a room at his hotel, it is all stranded  travelers.   The following day, I would finally get into Norfolk.  The rental car place would turn out to be a silver lining in this little storm cloud.  I get hooked up from an econobox speck to a respectable gas guzzling SUV.   Sweeet, big pimping and I get to help melt the polar icecaps…..I’m cool!   But hey lots of space for a bike with the seats folded down.   More to follow…..