Tag: Brompton

A Second Bite of Biwaichi

Fatigue, muscle soreness and endurance were going to be the order of the day on the Kangaeroo crew’s second leg of Biwaichi, the circumnavigation of Biwa, Japan’s largest lake.

Mrs. Kangaeroo had completed the 70-plus kilometer first leg with barely a hint of trouble, but not being used to cycling, it was going to be the second day that presented a big test as it would display her recuperative powers.

Typically, she was magnificent! She woke with a huge smile and full of beans, getting into her Kangaeroo.com jersey and racing down to the hotel restaurant for the fancy buffet breakfast.

The buffet, as is often the case, left a bit to be desired (unless you’re really into Japanese breakfasts, in which case it was quite acceptable).

The restaurant, however, gave early risers like the Kangaeroo crew a great boost by having massive windows with a lake view, from which we were greeted with a glorious sunrise.

Following the previous day’s magnificent weather, the rising sun also lifted expectations, so we set off with a light heart and deep gratitude, especially as the hotel presented us with a bottle of water each to drink on our journey.

Once again, the early part of the ride offered a wonderfully maintained bike track that made riding a delight.

After about 3/4 hour on the road we cam across a huge windmill.

Closer inspection revealed that the windmill was just one of three in the area, and these served as symbols for what looked to be a wonderful glamping site.

Seeing the windmills was to be the highlight of the early morning.

Continuing along the bike track there was little to see as one campsite followed another on the lake side to our left.

To our right were large numbers of holiday houses, most of them apparently deserted.

The “Japocalypse” of a stagnant economy, low birthrate and rapid aging was clearly evident near Lake Biwa, which is actually more of a vibrant place than most due its proximity to the Keihanshin megacity made up of Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. Yet the decay and degradation afflicting much of non-urban Japan was clearly evident, together with the hangover of the 1980s bubble economy.

Most notable views came not from the lake, but the mountains of Takashima, which were covered by a blanket of mist and clouds.

It was quite an impressive view, especially as the day was essentially sunny, which made the clouds stand out more.

Also spectacular was a torii Shinto shrine gate in the water, which is one of the symbols of Lake Biwa.

Unfortunately, it’s located on a part of the Biwaichi course that uses main roads.

Stopping was not only inconvenient, but also uncomfortable.

The Kangaeroo crew made a brief stop, took a shot and headed on, hoping that we would be back on isolated bike tracks and getting lake views while off the main road as soon as possible.

It was not to be.

In fact, the course essentially continued along the main road through to the bottom of the lake, becoming more built up with each kilometer traversed as we drew ever closer to Kyoto.

What’s worse, though, was that there were not a great deal of lake views.

Considering we were on a circumnavigation of the lake, not being able to see the body of water was a bit disappointing and detracted from the sheer delight of the previous day’s riding.

The lake side has its appeals, with resort hotels, pachinko parlors, shopping malls, speedboat races and other pleasures that attract the local population, but it’s not really fare that the Kangaeroo crew get into.

One highlight, however, was passing through Ogoto, a place Kangaeroo had long sought to see in person but had never gotten around to doing so.

Ogoto is the location of one of Japan’s top soapland brothel districts, joining Kawasaki and Gifu.

It was this dubious honor that may have owed to the unattractive nature of the road.

There is a story, possibly apocryphal, of the late Emperor Hirohito touring Lake Biwa in the 1970s.

It was then the heyday of the soapland, or Turkish baths (toruko buro) as they were then known.

Route planners realized the Emperor, who had been born a god even though he had long renounced that status by then, would be driving through the fleshpits of Ogoto.

Quickly, a solution was sought, and within mere weeks a new road was built that avoided the district and saved the Emperor from having to see it.

Forward 40–odd years and it appears economics and changing mores have done to the Ogoto red light district what the prudes pulled off in the Me era, with little sign of the area being anywhere near its once heralded glory.

Drawing to a close of the day’s ride, the Kangaeroo crew came across a quaint, typically German-style cottage.

It looked so out of place it was worth a look. Turns out it was a restaurant set up as part of a sister city relationship.

Rumbling tummies decided it would be Deutschland uber alles, so we waited for the better part of an hour for a place.

It was worth it. The veal and pork served were exquisite and the garden setting delightful, even as the day began to cloud over.

While waiting to dine, Kangaeroo also realized he’d had his camera switched to the Effects mode for most of the day, making nearly all of the 200 or so photos he’d taken look like cartoons or something out of a Ralph Bakshi movie instead of photographs. A Google search revealed that the process was irreversible, which put a bit of a dampener on the day.

Worse was to come after the Kangaeroo crew rounded the bottom of the lake at Seta and reached their hotel, the Royal Oak Shiga.

Expectations were high as it was a beautiful hotel commanding a hefty rate, but worth indulging in, according to Mrs. Kangaeroo.

How hefty, though, we weren’t to know until checking in.

It was then we discovered that the hotel had double-booked us and double-charged us, inclujding one charge for a pricey suite.

Upon investigation, the hotel admitted its fault, contacted the booking service and pleaded for the charge to be refunded.

The booking service, Agoda.com., was less than forthcoming.

For he next few hours, the Kangaeroo crew went back and forth with the hotel Agoda, trying to fix the fuck-up.

Eventually, after we rejected the offer of a refund in Agoda dollars valid for a few weeks, the booking service backed down and agreed to a full refund.

By that time, the day had been spoiled and we had paid for a pricey hotel room that we could barely enjoy.

At least we learned never to use Agoda or the Royal Oak chain again.

Biwaichi Day 2

Reversing Destiny

Almost 25 years ago, Kangaeroo picked up a newspaper containing an article about a park created for people to experience life in a different perspective.

The Site of Reversible Destiny was created without horizontal and vertical lines to try to shape a new way of looking at art and architecture, as well as life in general.

The revolutionary park was created under a concept of reversible destiny by architect/artist couple Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins.

And Kangaeroo was hooked. A visit to the park was immediately on the bucket list.

And stayed there without being crossed off for 2 1/2 decades.

In the meantime, both Arakawa and Gins died, despite having both dedicated their final decades to works focused on not dying.

A visit almost occurred in October 2018 when Kangaeroo cycled through Yoro, the town in Gifu Prefecture where the park is located. Pressing issues prevented that from happening, though.

Delightfully, another opportunity to get there arose this year, and this time, the long-awaited visit took place.

Kangaeroo found the park a delight, having always enjoyed Dadaism and the avant-garde, which have clearly influenced the work by Arakawa and Gin.

Works inside the park have catchy names Like the Zone of Clearest Confusion, Critical Resemblance House, Kinesthetic Park, Trajectory Membrane Gate and Geographical Ghost, adding to their attractions.

Having finally visited, though, brought about a strange sense of emptiness.

The park is visually spectacular, occupying a large hill and its expansive works spreading widely.

Perhaps the emptiness came from learning about the demise of Arakawa and Gins?

They had both been comparatively young, and still at the peak of their careers, when the park opened.

They died in severely reduced circumstances, having lost large sums to Bernie Madhof’s Ponzi scheme that symbolized the 2008 global financial crisis.

Arakawa died in 2010 and Gins four years later.

Brommie, also something of an anomaly, carried Kangaeroo to the site and fit perfectly into place.

He was supposed to be traveling from Kyoto to Tokyo, but an impending typhoon stopped that and he ended the journey in Nagoya.

It was a reversal of destiny, apt for having finally fulfilled an almost half lifetime’s desire.

Reversible Destiny Foundation

Site of Reversible Destiny Leaflet

Tour de Kagoshima-Kyoto Day 9: Nara to Kyoto

Our tour has reached Kyoto, remarkably with only minor injuries and not a single puncture in the more than 11,000 kilometers the cyclists covered collectively since setting out from Izumi, Kagoshima Prefecture, on the morning of October 1.

The group battled a barrage of rain on the most prominent of climbs on Mount Aso and Koyasan, but got through unscathed each time.

The tour drew to a close in a journey between the two ancient capitals of Nara, where participants frolicked with the deer roaming freely through the city and saw its lauded Great Buddha at Todaiji, and Kyoto, where the group lunched at Inari Taisha Jinja.

Only a farewell dinner remains in a tour that passed way too quickly, but ends with typically outstanding timing as Typhoon No. 19 prepares to slam into Japan.

Incredibly, the final leg of the tour also included an unexpected encounter with a pack of kangaroos.

These marsupials were manufactured types, though, located in a children’s playground alongside the bicycle track running between Nara and Kyoto. The poor macropods had been crafted with a look of sheer terror on their face, perhaps because they were aware of Kangaeroo’s shoddy guiding?

Brommie performed outstandingly on the final leg of the tour.

His broken rack makes him harder to push, but that shouldn’t be an issue for a couple of days at least while he carries Kangaeroo back to Tokyo.

Thanks to Pedal Pedal, Japan Biking and all the tour participants for making it such a magnificent time for Brommie and Kangaeroo.

Safe travels!

And so it goes.

Tour de Kagoshima-Kyoto Day 8: Koyasan to Nara

Glorious weather almost a complete turnaround from the previous day was the hallmark of the penultimate day of the 2019 Kagoshima to Kyoto cycling tour.

Sunny skies greeted the riders as they roused from their sleep in a chilly Koyasan temple.

Riding remained cold and rugging up was the order of the day with the first 20 kilometers of the ride a rousing descent from Koyasan onto the plains of Wakayama Prefecture.

Riders maintained a steady pace following the outstanding bicycle tracks along the Kinokawa River joining Wakayama and Nara prefectures.

Riders passed through some wonderfully quaint mountain villages, rustic farming neighborhoods and winding roads, many barely traversed by other traffic.

Lunch matched the high quality of the ride, with the dishes made earning the highest regard among cyclists of probably any meals served on the tour.

The afternoon was a continuation of the river riding.

Cyclists cranked their bikes along the rivers as they gradually moved toward central Nara.

Finally, after some hiccups in an industrial area and battling train tracks, they wound their way through a delightful series of backstreets in the ancient capital before reaching their lodgings, many completing century treks on the tour’s longest ride.

Perhaps the best news of the day in some regard was the re-emergence of Brommie. The finicky fold-up had virtually no need to climb and would thus not hold up any other riders, so he was given his chance to ride again. And he took it with both wheels open.

Unfortunately, he bumped a few times too many and opened a gash in the welding on his rear rack. Not a major problem, but one that will cost several tens of thousands of yen to repair.

Arriving in Nara, all went their separate ways. Our remaining time together is now less than 24 hours, but we have formed what will hopefully be some lifelong bonds.

Tour de Kagoshima-Kyoto Day 7: Matsuyama to Wakayama

A moving day allowed the tour riders to freshen legs ahead of the trip’s biggest climb, but that didn’t mean it was an easy day.

Riders had a free morning in Matsuyama before assembling around midday to catch a bus to Tokushima.

Activities engaged in during the morning included watching a festival, visiting Dogo Onsen hot spring and climbing up to Matsuyama Castle to check out the views of the city.

The bus trip to Tokushima was largely uneventful and after about two hours, participants marched on to the Nankai ferry for the journey to Wakayama, leaving Shikoku in their wake.

The ferry trip lasted about two hours and the troupe arrived on Honshu in the dark.

Taxis were called and a fleet shipped the cyclists into central Wakayama, passing by the brilliantly lit Wakayama Castle.

Brommie, like all the bikes, was not called for today. He won’t be called for tomorrow, either, with the big climb ahead.

Saikyo to Teito is also a write-off, courtesy of the impending typhoon.

Tour de Kagoshima-Kyoto Day 5: Beppu to Uchiko

Glorious sunshine greeted tour participants as they woke in Beppu, coincidentally on the morning the Wallabies, Australia’s national rugby team, would be playing a World Cup match in the same city.

After a quick breakfast the entire tour assembled and hurtled off down the hill toward the beachfront.

A ferry ride from Kyushu to Shikoku awaited, and the team rode onto the huge ship, tied up the bikes and moved upstairs for the long ride.

Repairs and adjustments were made to bikes on the boat trip, but upon alighting, cyclists immediately rode off up the river until reaching a mountain standing in the way of the path to the destination of Uchiko.

A grueling, but visually stunning ride lay ahead up a series of switchbacks with mandarin and other types of citrus trees dotting the mountainside. Views downward became increasingly spectacular as the rugged terrain of Shikoku became increasingly evident.

The ride down was exhilarating, but cautious due to the large amount of debris on the track.

It was a ride along the plains from that point, passing through Ozu, with its castle overlooking the town, and hitting the river in the very extensive set of bike tracks in the area.

There was still a lot of time left in the afternoon as the tour rolled into town, but the time could have been spent better as luggage had been delivered to the wrong places.

Once things were sorted out, Kangaeroo headed off with the tour organizer to recce a possible route for the following day.

Views of Uchiko

Heading up a mountainside offering spectacular views, hopes of a great ride were high, only to be dashed upon learning the mudslide that had closed the road some years ago remains perhaps years away from being cleared up.

It was back to Uchiko, a delightful town filled with Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1925) era buildings. There, we ate a delightful dinner courtesy of Ze Germanz, and spent a blissful night’s sleep.

Tomorrow it’s off to the Ehime prefectural capital of Matsuyama.

Brommie in the back of a truck

Brommie didn’t have the greatest of days today. Having struggled up the slopes the past couple of days, he was relegated to the reserves bench and spent the day idling away in the back of the truck. His day will come again, though.

Tour de Kagoshima-Kyoto Day 4: Kurokawa to Beppu

Glorious weather greeted the tour today, paving the way for some amazing riding.

The group set out from the gloriously quaint hot spring resort town of Kurokawa.

Slowly but surely, the riders wound their way through forested areas, driving ever upward until reaching the Kuju ski ground, the highest point of the entire tour at 1,140 meters above sea level.

Despite reaching the tour’s literal high point, it wasn’t all downhill from there.

Travels along undulating roads followed over the next 30 or so kilometers along beautiful thoroughfares such as the Yamanami Kaido.

The group inched ever downward, though, until reaching the hot spring town of Yufuin.

Following a delicious lunch, the way out of Yufuin involved a brutally grueling climb at a back-breakingly slow pace.

Once the climb was over, it was for the most part a descent at furious pace along National Route 500.

Upon reaching the outskirts of Beppu, it was off the main track and onto a switchback for some more fun.

Brommie near Beppu

Brommie performed brilliantly in circumstances not ideal for him with so much climbing. He incurred his first problem of the tour when his chain tensioner flew off, but this was the result of Kangaeroo over-oiling him.

Once the tensioner was re-applied, it was all systems go again, but Kangaeroo is jeopardizing others’ fun, so it looks like Brommie will be packed away again for a while.