It's been about 8 years since I first visited Miyagase lake. If I recall correctly the very first time I went there was on a clunky 'mamachari', a tiny one-geared basketed Japanese bicycle. The lake is a little more than 300m above sealevel, and the cycle there is just not doable without gears. At some point you're going to have to get off and push. Later, after I got my first touring bike, it still took me a while before I could manage without pushing. It's the last bit right before the lake that suddenly gets quite steep. I also had to take lots of breaks on some of the other sections, simply because I would run out of breath halfway into a longer uphill section. This particular trip has always been my benchmark; a way to measure my fitness; and I needed to do it again to find out where I stand compared to four years ago.
At the end of my previous Japan trip I cycled up to the lake again, leaving all my touring luggage behind at the hotel, and it felt like I was Superman. I had never been able to get to the lake that quickly! That's what one and a half months of hauling heavy luggage around Japan gets you, of course. I felt so fit then that I decided to do the Yabitsu mountain pass too, which starts at the lake and ends up halfway between Atsugi and the seaside. It goes up another 400 meters though, and my old me would never have even considered climbing 700+ meters in one day. But I managed. I wouldn't say easily, because no mountain climbing experience is easy. It's always suffering all the way through, just slightly more or slightly less depending on how much luggage you have and how fit you are.
I was extremely unmotivated to go out this morning. I had been rudely awakened by an earthquake at 5:30AM, my stomach was still upset from yesterday's food and I kind of felt that my performance would suck compared to four years ago, so what would be the point? But then, I did decide to go to Karuizawa a couple of days from now: a town in the Japanese alps that's almost 1000m above sea level. I'm going to need to know if I can make that climb, as well as make myself fitter and get used to being in the saddle while I've still got the time. So, off I went.
..and I finished it! I'm not sure if I ever got to the lake as quickly as I did today. The mountain pass was a bit trickier, but I think I finished quite quickly without too many major breaks along the way. It started raining just when I was close to the highest point, and I had to get off and put the rain covers on. I was worried that my brakes would fail me in the rain because I've been very unimpressed with my brakes in the dry (Kool Stop Thinline Dual Compound). All they do in the dry is squeak and really don't feel better than the generic blocks I had before, but when the rain started I was seriously impressed by the stopping power. I think they might actually work better in the rain than they do in the dry. So much grip! As I was racing down the mountain I stopped to take a photo at some point, and by some fluke of chance, just at that moment the same guy passed me that I was two days ago when I was cycling in from Enoshima. The chances of that must be pretty damn small. (Unless he reads this blog. Do you read this blog, gaijin-san?)
Motivation and mentality are still my main issues. I've become quite the scaredycat since last time, and decided to not leave things to chance for the next couple of days while I'm still in the greater Tokyo area. Another big problem is that it's golden week right now, which means all the hotels are fully booked. Leaving things to chance at the last minute if I can't find a camping spot would be problematic, so I've pre-booked cheap hotels/hostels for the two days after Atsugi, and am trying to pre-book camp sites when I get to Karuizawa and beyond. Another thing that greatly helped my mentality is something as silly as my saddle position. I've lowered it and made the angle less aggressive, which means I can coast while looking around without having to put pressure to keep myself in the saddle, and I can reach the ground easily with one foot so I can stop and take a quick photo whenever I feel like it. I'll stand by my previous statements of wanting to challenge myself and wanting to reach the goal rather than wandering around too much, but if you're in the saddle for 6+ hours a day then you've got to give yourself some comfort, otherwise you won't enjoy it. And that's really what it's all about: enjoyment.