Travel

Mt. Shirane in Japan: One of the Greatest Days of my #BikeLife

On October 6, 2016 I was in the midst of my week long bike tour in Japan organized by my friend, Jim. Like all my memorable days on the bike, I remember is clearly as if it only happened yesterday. On this day, I experienced the most epic day of my #BIKELIFE, and it still is to this date. What made it so “epic”?

  • I’ve never experienced a day on two-wheelz where I experienced so many different EMOTIONS, weather, and scenery. It was a mind-fuck of sensory over-load.
  • I experienced contrasting emotions from extreme fear to intense happiness.

Here is my Strava route.

We all had the routes loaded into our Garmin so we could split up into separate groups. Group A was Jody the Speedy One. Group B was Katy, whom couldn’t keep up with Jody but tad faster than everyone else. Group C was everyone else. FYI, everyone else were older & recreational cyclists.

I will forever be stuck in group B because competitive cycling does not interest me and I am definitely not a weekend warrior.

Japan Bike Tour 10.06.2016
Kusatsu Onsen is a hot spring resort located in Gunma Prefecture, where we spent the previous night. We awoke bright and early to be spoiled by another decadent home-cooked hotel breakfast before rolling out. The Japanese and their attention to detail in everything they cook is impeccable and the food was my favourite thing about the entire tour (other than the riding!).
Japan Bike Tour 10.06.2016
This was the last photo I took of Jody away spinning inhumanly fast. The sun was shining, the air was calm, and it seemed as if nothing could ruin the serenity of the day.
Japan Bike Tour 10.06.2016
The trees opened up to our mountain of the day!! WOW!!!! Pictures again do zero justice– YOU HAD TO BE THERE to see it gradually unfold ahead of you. I saw the peak ahead of us and felt as if I was in heaven. Ecstatic, I struggled to keep up with Jody but the gap slowly widened and I settled into my pace. This shot was the last I saw of Jody, or anyone in the group for the next 2-3 hours.
Japan Bike Tour 10.06.2016
I began climbing the long twisty road up towards Mt. Shirane. The picture looks ever so tranquil but the wind could have given the famous gusts of Mont Ventoux a run for the money. I was literally riding up the mountain at 2km/hour, trying hard not to fall off my bike. The views were remarkable but I was afraid of taking my hands off the bar and if I stopped (which I did once to take a photo), it was so hard to get back on the bike with the wind.
Japan Bike Tour 10.06.2016
MAGIC // This is a wider shot of the long, windy road I so laboriously climbed. The winds were relentlessly against me the entire way and I felt as if I was barely moving but my mind was so free and full of wonder. I’ve never ridden in such difficult conditions but didn’t feel an ounce of pain at all (or so I thought– I probably just don’t remember it) because I was so entranced in a meditative state. When I rode past this point where I took this photo, I actually started crying! I really really didn’t want this day to end. I was so enraptured in Mother Nature’s absolute power and magnificence.
Japan Bike Tour 10.06.2016
It was always subconsciously there but I believe this day was the first time ever I realized the state of meditative trance a bike ride can make you fall into.
Japan Bike Tour 10.06.2016
As I climbed and climbed, the fog and clouds started to get closer. I felt a sharp drop in temperature as the seasons changed from spring to winter in a snap. The sun seemed to have disappeared behind me but the crisp air was refreshing, and my emotions were elated.
Japan Bike Tour 10.06.2016
I stopped at the top at this lake to put on more layers. It was getting really cold.
Japan Bike Tour 10.06.2016
I was starting to feel unsettled as I stopped to take this last photo of the switchbacks below me. No, I didn’t come from that way but I couldn’t help but to stop to smell the roses to bask in Mother Nature’s glory… or the frigid air– risking “cooling down” and the dreaded aftermath. This would be the last photo I would take before a harrowing ride in zero visibility where time seem to have stood still, and then a freezing descent to the other side of the mountain.

Just a few meters ahead, I came to a pass and was completely wrapped in the clouds, the wind were blowing at over 100kph, and I was in danger of being blown off my bike. Luckily this was low season and only two cars passed me because I got blown to the other side of the road a few times and had to get off and walk for a few meters. I’VE NEVER BEEN SO SCARED IN MY LIFE but surprisingly, I managed to stay calm and talk myself through it… ONLY BECAUSE I HAD NO CHOICE.

I got to a building somewhere at the top of the mountain, devoid of any souls except for a couple of straggling tourists in warm, bubbly jackets. I stopped to assess my situation and debated if I should wait for the the group behind me. There was a long, freezing, and windy descent ahead of me and I was really scared and didn’t want to go alone just in case something happened.

The cold eventually took over me and I decided that if I waited any longer, the descent was going to suck x1000000000. I ruffled in my saddle bag and put on everything I had, repeated one of my favourite mantras: “NOW OR NEVER”, clipped in, and started my descent (albeit, very slowly).

When I use to do really intense Crossfit workouts at the gym before I got into cycling, “NOW OR NEVER” was one of my mantras because my philosophy was always, “don’t think, don’t hesitate, just do!!” Same same.

Japan Bike Tour 10.06.2016
Approximately 45 minutes later, I was finally down at the bottom of the mountain! The first part of the descent was harrowing as I shook uncontrollably from the cold and slowly navigated the switchbacks. Then there was one point I turned a corner and felt as if I was back in spring again with a snap of a finger. The temperature rise was so abrupt and it enveloped me with not only warmth, but security. I was no longer tense and felt as if I was relaxed and free again.

The rest of the descent was phenomenal with wide swooping turns and a gradual glide though the forest… I remember thinking to myself, “wow this is one of the best descents I’ve never done!!”

Japan Bike Tour 10.06.2016
Back on the highway, I stopped to wait for the group at a fork in the road just in case someone without GPS came down first. We stopped a small restaurant in a tiny village and I had one of the best meals ever (especially after that harrowing adventure): oyakodon (chicken + egg rice bowl) and then we off to the Monkey Park!
Japan Bike Tour 10.06.2016
Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park // The lady at the restaurant gave me a this cute plaque as a souvenir, which I gave to Jody to give to his girlfriend later because she was super jealous she couldn’t be there with us. I would be too!!
I made some new friends that day!
Japan Bike Tour 10.06.2016
Pondering about life. What a great day!
Japan Bike Tour 10.06.2016
These little kids were so mischievous! They were playing a game with trying to grab our shoelaces and run away.
Japan Bike Tour 10.06.2016
It was getting late so we rolled out again towards our Japanese ryokan in Togari where we will be staying for the next two nights. To get out of the Monkey Park, we had to do some serious 17% descending on tight winding paths, gravel, and roads littered with leaves and branches. Another harrowing descent! I really hate descending!! Wahh!! But what goes up must come down.
Japan Bike Tour 10.06.2016
I saw a rainbow on the right and even though it wasn’t on route, I made my friend ride towards just for the photo. I’m sure he appreciated the incline. πŸ˜‰
Japan Bike Tour 10.06.2016
How magnificent is this?!? My god, I love Japan!!!
Lots of rainbows today… but you know what that means….
We finally arrived in town but we still had quite a ways to go to an onsen, dinner, and a warm bed.
The clouds were rolling in and a light drizzle rained down on us. At this point, I knew we were so close to “home” so nothing could have brought my mood down. My energy was great, my body was toasty, and the rice fields were too pretty.
Here is Jim, our great leader who picked our hotel for the next couple nights that is up on a hill with a good 5km climb, the last 2km being a stinging 12%+. Love!

This was one of my favourite hotels, not only because of the hospitality of our wonderful hosts, but because this means extra climbing every day. Yhayyy! I don’t know if everyone was as happy about it as I was though. I just love a good workout and hills making cycling fun.

Japan Bike Tour 10.06.2016
HOME SWEET HOME // I took this selfie the next morning, hence the sunshine.
Japan Bike Tour 10.06.2016
After a long soak in the onsen, we were treated to this delectable dinner, homemade by the family who ran the hotel. WE WERE SOOOO SPOILED and of course, this meal was EARNED so it tasted x100 times better!

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