Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Great Bonk Almighty

What is he doing ? Why is he snaking round like that…on the wrong side of the road?

Route 32 en route for Showa-mura

Being only a week after a biking to Tokyo and back – 250km (150miles)  in a day each way, with one day off inbetween, and that on top of several tough rides the week before, it’s fair to say I was still shagged. But, my mate S-san was up for a spin, so we arranged to meet at 9.30am. This allowed time for the boy and me to do our community duty and help out with the village recycling collection. This was revealing as it was clear just how much booze the village had quaffed in the last quarter – quite a lot as it happens, with Sake the clear winner – but not not as much as in the long snowed-in winter nights I’ll be bound.

S-san arrived in his K-van in case he could tempt me to an ‘Exciting route! new route, new route!’ which involved driving to Miyashita. He couldn’t, firstly because driving before riding is a drag, and secondly because I had been on an abortive attempt at this exciting new route of his that ended in a mountain-top dead end and involved a lot of climbing. Better the devil you know said my tired legs, and I insisted on going to Miyashita via Numazawako, then onto 59, theoretically the three hours I’d suggested.

He cleaned and oiled my chain for me, a common courtesy amongst Arai Racing Club members it seems, but one that leaves me feeling somewhat like a monkey being groomed for nits and salt. I belong to the ‘grease it up and leave it’ school. If it was good enough for English children to be slathered in goose fat and sewn into their underwear for the winter once upon a time, it is good enough for me and my bike.

I was more worried about my newly fitted mudguards – why anyone would put eyes on a frame that didn’t have clearance for full mudguards I’ll never know. The passing of the guard, much mourned by this all weather cyclist. You have to trust your gear absolutely on these mountain descents, and hearing rubbing noises puts one in mind of tyre explosions and crumpled metal rammed under headsets, neither oif which is condusive to free flight round the hairpins.

Sure enough the first jolts brought the tyre and guards into contact, and the first miles were peppered with futile stops to wrench them into a good position. In the end S-san lent me his front wheel with a narrower tyre, and that solved it.

The perfection of the weather soon banished annoyance, and as we turned up onto the staged climb along the valley on 59 my legs woke up, and began to spin more easily. We threaded through the blue roofed hamlets amongst their paddies bursting at the seams with ripe rice, golden green against the deep black of the shadowed woods. The fields were busy with elderly couples harvesting rice with their beetling machines, their sense of satisfaction palpable at this the most rewarding time of their farming calendar.

Rice ready for harvesting near Showa

After climbing and descending the jewel-like beauty of 59, which becomes a mossy and broken up but rideable single track through woods by a tumbling stream, we turned onto the long drag up 32. S-san, began to flag, and started loosing my wheel. He is very determined, or 'gambario,' and said nothing, but I slowed a bit. Later he dropped further, then dissappeared, though by now I was going slowly. He hadn't said anything, but when he appeared round the bend he was weaving accross the road, sometimes riding on the right - what was going on? The effect was puzzling and quite comical. Surely he would have said something before when I asked him if he was OK? Finally, after 15 minutes of this, he cracked and called out that he needed to eat - he was bonking, the hunger knock feared by cyclists where all your blood sugar is gone. He had had food with him, rice wrapped in leaves from the vegetable stall by the station. He is an experienced ex-elite mountain biker, so why didn't he stop before, or say something?

This can only be another example of the limitation of the often laudable Japanese sensitivity to group feeling - on three hour rides we don't usually stop to eat, and it might feel too self-centred to spoil someone else's ride by stopping or breaking routine. Me, I'm English, and if I need to eat, I eat, even if it means stopping the others...even if it means eating the others,  and I'd expect the same. He still offered me half of his food, which wouldn't have left him enough to recover, whereas when I bonk I look at my companions legs and wonder whether they can spare one, and even my saddle starts to look edible. You wouldn't want to be adrift in a lifeboat with me for too long - you might wake up minus an arm.