.. and on the seventh day he rested.
Too bad he wasn’t mortal or he could’ve jumped on a bike and done the Daisen Sunday Special! I make that poke to the omnipresent one in tongue in cheek protest.
Why? Well, we had originally planned on heading north for our Sunday adventure. After nearly 3 weeks of planning, an awesome Ironbutt schedule and route had coalesced that was the best yet. All we had to do was ride and enjoy it!
We’d planned gas stops, time to gas stop, break times and duration, meal times and incorporated a circumnavigation of a peninsula, a castle, a volcano, some of Japan’s finest seafood and the north tip of the main island. All set for a great ride. Until someone rattled the earth’s mantle? The early morning major earthquake to the north on the Saturday forced us to reroute and head west and take us on what turned out to be quite a good ride.
The ‘let’s ride‘ mobile mail had gone out to all the long distance riders I’ve ridden with about 3 weeks before, in the hope of a weekend Ironbutt to the north. 2 others were keen.
Mic was in! No going back for him. First mail reply was, ‘any chance we could make it a SS2000k?’ He hadn’t done a real long ride in more than a year and wanted to bravely (or blindly) test his stamina on his current torture rack, the GSXR600. None too disappointed when I said ‘no chance’ as I’d just done one the month before and this was a touristy type thing and not a highway marathon. Tenaciously he hung onto the hope that he could split off, do an extra 400km and meet up with us later down the route. Looking back on it and our sluggish off-highway excursion, he probably could have stayed on the highway and done it.
Collin and I had been planning on doing the northern leg for a while and he’d tentatively penciled in the 15th of June as a day when he had no other commitments. However, there was a twist. He seemed reluctant but determined and I could understand his wavering enthusiasm as he intended to deform himself by galloping the distance on his MV Agusta F4. How could one not support this endeavor? That’s what real bikes are for, riding! That MV sure looked and sounded sweet and the ride ahead would put it to a real bike test. But was Collin up for a 24hr yoga lesson?
After the April/May SS2000k, 12 days and 6300km of touring heaven, I’d been on a self imposed ride limitation of less than 500km a day. Had to get some regular sleeping patterns and reality back in order. But the FZ1 seemed to be itching every time I walked past it to catch the train to work and I had to turn my head in shame. But the planning for the northern route kept me content in anticipation of the ride being planned. I whispered the developing plan on passing the FZ1 more than once, as much to sooth the karma gremlins as to alleviate my shame. Along with the FZ1 my feet were itching too.
As noted, we had a bulletproof plan for an awesome north course. However nothing is finger of God-proof! And with that earthquake we had 18 hours to plan an alternate route. I threw up a cool route west that incorporated some of the roads covered in May and roughly calculated to over 1600km. Then the others went to work making it seem doable. Collin punched in all the way points on his Zumo to get us some much needed route detail and accuracy while Mic .. . what did Mic do here? Oh yeah, he agreed wholeheartedly with whatever was being planned, played around a little with the gas schedule and then went off to a sayonara party for a departing friend. Good job mate! Admittedly, he had already done a hell of lot on the north course planning.
Here’s how it panned out
Tokyo – starting at a gas stand in central Tokyo, easily accessible to all and our witness. Take the nearest expressway out of there and head for.. .
Himeji-jo – UNESCO world heritage kick-ass castle. Totally original and until this day as yet unconquered! Next .. .
Daisen – A sleeping volcano out west ringed with awesome twisties and vistas. Followed by .. .
Tottori sand dunes –Japan’s only desert. Let’s not go too far with the desert bit though. Just a pit stop really, on the way to.. .
Route 666 – hey, what can I say, it’s a hell of a road! After our escape from Hades .. .
Back to Tokyo – superslab it back via expressway.
The route worked out to be 1700+km with options, should we be ahead or behind schedule. But a lack of detail planning would mean we would be going old-school ride as the road delivers style. All be it with one modern addition, Colin on the Zumo guided Agusta.
Headed out East to West on the South line and returned along the North line West to East.
Not much to write about here. All the bikes had new oil and more than enough tyre for the distance. We all knew what to expect and packed accordingly.
I’d pushed for a 2am start so we could get back at a semi-reasonable hour for a late Monday start at work. Well, with my Saturday work and everyone’s Monday work commitments, it became the only choice. Besides, no one had started a marathon from that time before. Ah the learning curve.. .
Picture a corner gas stand on a five road intersection in the heart of Tokyo at 1.30am. Expressway humming overhead backed by a sky dimly glowing from the light pollution. The occasional free-flowing drifter exhaust wailing across the thrumming drone of down town metropolis and an endless parade of taxis filled with those that had missed the last train home. Here we find 3 Ironbutts on another journey that would take them everywhere but the metropolis, until 24hrs later. Hopefully.
Me – Fazer Colin – Agusta Mic – Gixer
Our start witness was another long distance rider who was out racing mini-bikes until midnight and graciously agreed to ride across Tokyo to see us off. Thanks Anthony.
Filling the tanks, triple checking the equipment, taking some photos and getting comfy we trundled out of the gas stand around 2.15am and headed for the Shuto Expressway to take us out of the urban maze and onto the Tomei expressway which would guide us some 300km into the morning light out west.
Gliding down the Tomei and stopping for gas only once we had the sun lighting the sky hot on our heals as we veered off left onto the Ise-wangan Expressway that cuts across NagoyaBay. A superb 3 to 4 lane elevated expressway, with great panoramic views, that rolls and flows along the coast before island hopping across the bay to the west side.
Heading further west we took the extensions out to the Shin-Meishin Expressway. A beautiful new road with near zero traffic and great views when exiting tunnels into new valleys filled with rice paddies and wooded hills. These wonderful views took us onto the Meishin Expressway and into the heart of Osaka and it’s dreaded morning traffic.
Shuffling into the traffic the three of us settled in for the stress. It slowed down and down and then we were doing 30km/h and thoughts of the ticking IBA clock rang an alarm. At this point the sign for a bypass(Keiji bypass) showed us to be only 2km from salvation. Patience fellas. It paid off with a clear run along the Keiji before rejoining the Meishin Expressway in much thinner traffic. That hurdle cleared, we followed the signs for a short run along the Chugoku Expressway heading west in search of our 1st sightseeing stop.
Before we got there, the fuel meters started complaining and my memory of the course was a little fuzzy this far west so a stop was called for. Kasai SA(service area) was just ahead with fuel, restaurant and facilities. Perfect! Pulled into the designated bike parking, dismounted and scrabbled around all hunched, warped and stiff. Especially the other 2 on there decidedly more unergonomic torpedoes. Breakfast would straighten us out. Gathered up the valuables and headed inside to feed the furnaces. A visit to the bakery with a coffee to wash down the solid fuel then made our way to a booth overlooking the parking area with a view to the bikes.
We gas bagged for a bit whilst satisfying our appetites. Immediately after, Mic was drifting, head in hand and eyelids setting. He needed another kind of fuel. Rest. So Colin and I gassed along for a while sorting out the route ahead and some gas-stop strategy. But we could only keep this up so long with Mic, ever the comedian, even managing to get us laughing in his sleep. It started like this. Head rocking, hand slipping down over his brow and with a start he’s back into his original rest position. Everybody’s seen it at one time or another. This continued deeper and deeper. Then Colin pulled the camera. He dipped and rose ever deeper descending into his slumber, only to rise with a start time after time. Finally, he had dipped too far and his head and hand ended there zombie dance. The neck snapped his melon upright again with confusion and embarrassment alternately fleeting across his glassy eyes. Then he saw the camera and a smile split ear to ear. We all had a laugh and it was time to head out again with Mic having lit his riding fire again and putting a smile on all of our dials.
We didn’t get too far as Colin seemed to have debilitated the Agusta. While gassing up he’d left the Zumo and headlight on without the engine running, as he does on his FJR, but now the Agusta wouldn’t even crank over. Time for his 1st lesson in push-starting. Luckily he’s a fast learner, the Agusta trumpeted it’s quad exhausts in a return to life and we were on the road again, headed for Himeji castle.
A little confusion on my part with the route into the castle grounds had us fishing around back streets until Colin fired up the Zumo and brought us in for a perfect photo op landing in front of the main gate.
Himeji-jo : One of Japan’s “3 famous castles” and the first to be given UNESCO world heritage status: Also known as the White Heron
In search of a better photo we headed around to the east side and found a road that led right up to the castle wall and a cool photo.
We had no time for legging it around the vast grounds or ooohing and aaahing at the intricacies or engineering brilliance. There was enough to behold from the car park. Besides, we were here to ride and next on the list was not so much a sight as an adventure. 200kms away was Daisen.
Daisen is a sleeping, almost dead volcanic zone ringed by memorable twisties and vistas. About 60km of them. Great elevation changes, hairpins, dog legs, sweepers, dense forest, volcanic dust pans, odd rock formations, valleys, bridges and jungle. We all loved the jungle passes. Hahaha! Not really, just a personal favorite of mine. Don’t know what the others were so worried about. Just because the edge of the road is utterly undefined due to the voracious consumption by the encroaching foliage. Could it be, that voraciousness had them worried about disappearing off the side of the road into the primeval tangle never to be glimpsed again? To me it just looked like a soft furry fringe along a most excellent meandrous ride. Aaah, now I get it! From their crouched torpedoes they had trouble seeing the asphalt carpet snaking its way through the entrenched green.
Heading back to the Chugoku and going west, we turned off north onto the Yonago Expressway before the Chugoku turned south west and its famous twisties started. Damn! However, the Yonago was nice and new with lots of tunnels but mainly single lane. Luckily it wasn’t busy and we could keep rolling along without the clock stressing us. We pulled off the expressway one stop early in search of some much needed gas. By this stage we could assume that Mic’s and my bike were the serious drinkers while the Agusta was showing a surprisingly frugal side. The gas-diversion had us rerouting along some cool old-forest lined byways to get us back on our original course leading into the Daisen loop from the north-west corner.
After pausing more than a few times to scan maps and navigation at nameless intersections with unnumbered roads, we finally made it onto the 158 heading south/south-west. The 158 being the 1st road in our 158-45-44-34-30-54 90% ring-around-a-mountain adventure. I’ve got to mention each of these roads alternately for their diversity.
158 gives the first up close views of the snow capped 1700+metre peaks of Mt.Kengamine whilst climbing at a steady rate. 45 is 25km of super-twisty heaven! 44 initially continues the twisties before smoothing out and running down a valley side. 34 is slowly being reclaimed, from the curbside in, by jungle. The blacktop is in good condition and there are mysterious mid-jungle oases of finely engineered dual lane super-twisties. But mostly it’s jungle running. 30 gets you back onto decidedly more civilized dual lane mild twists with nice farm vistas. 54 is the down hill run to the Sea of Japan coast with cool views to the west and east.
Halfway along the 45 we stopped for some cool pics with Mt.Kurasugasen in the background and some were having wrist trouble.
Around about 3/4 of the way along the 34 we stopped for a break and those who rode over their bikes rather than on, were none too impressed with the jungle nipping at there helmets on each corner. By this stage the fatigue was taking it’s effect and all were wondering whether the Daisen loop was worth it. On meeting the coast we were relieved to be on the next leg. Daisen is a great place to spend the day riding but a tough nut in an Ironbutt.
Hitting the coast we ran east along a comparatively boring, but relaxing, rt9 in search of the Tottori Sakyu. On the way we passed a seemingly endless row of mammoth wind turbines spinning swiftly in the coastal wind. As massive as they are, they were spinning like a child’s toy in the hand of an infantile God of wind. Only 1-200metres from the side of the road and I couldn’t help but be reminded of a front page news story I’d seen during the winter. It had illustrated how a wind turbine could separate at the base and cart-wheel some distance before tearing itself totally to pieces along with the surrounding countryside. Calculating the vague picture against the current distance, we were probably safe. Probably.
Tottori Sakyu is supposed to be Japan’s only desert and we were disappointed to find that all the signs in the area referred to it as the Tottori sand dunes. Once we got there we realized this title was more justified. About 3km by 1km of sand, roughly resembling dunes with dying or dried-dead trees on the fringes and a multitude of urban ant-like tourists crawling over it here and there. At least it had camels, apparently!
That’s a desert back there – The Tottori Sakyu – actually translates to Tottori Dunes
Deciding not to eat at the desert, the Touring Mapple(a rider’s road atlas and guide to great roads) showed a recommended restaurant close by on our next intended route. The Tea Room. So we made a bee line for it. On the coast and serving simple road fare, it had a large car park, was across the road from the ocean and was clean and accommodating. We chowed down some real cooked food and then pulled the maps to set us a course onward. The Zumo was telling us we would be back in Tokyo with an hour and a half to spare but Colin was skeptical, noting it seemed to be learning averages along the route and projecting scheduled times from that. Pretty cool function except we were planning the next 200+km off the expressway and it was averaging based on our past course which was 90% expressway. No help for it, time to soldier on.
That road out the front of the restaurant was the 178 and our Hyogo-Kyoto prefecture passage. So we swung east out of the car park and hit the road again, sea to our left and land to our right. The 178 has some nice pieces of coast hugging, large radius twisties with fantastic views broken up intermittently with smooth stop-signal free byways that seemed to link the wastelands between nice pieces of road. I’d learnt that the headlands these byways were bypassing hid some of the regions best and worst roads from the last time along there and decided, for fatigued Ironbutt safety, that skipping the polarity of those roads was a reasonable decision. But I still wanted to get out to some of those roads.
In and out of small towns, running through beautiful hills, rice fields and along wind swept coastal roads the local road route was starting to eat into our time. Coming up on Kumihama and the sky was looking more than overcast. A dark cloud was beginning to decend on us. Colin and I had been swapping lead duties, him with the Zumo and me with my vague memory of the route from last month and maps. We’d neglected to keep Mic active and pulling into Kumihama city he shuffled up next to me at a traffic light. I didn’t need to hear him to know what was going on. His eyes looked a thousand years old. I asked if he could hang in there 10 minutes more and relief seemed to flood some life back into his empty orbs. Giving him a goal instead of the endless trudge was what he needed. I dared not tell him Rt666 was our next stop about 5 minutes away.
We made it onto 666 and being somewhere between 3/5 and 2/3 of the way into the trek Mic died in hell.
He needed sleep and we were laying him to rest on the road to Hates. Not 10 seconds after laying down was he lightly snoring and recharging his sleep stocks. Quite an indication of his exhaustion as there was a hell of a racket from a lot of skeet shooting going on just down 666. He said no more than 10 minutes but we left him to his slumber while we evaluated our homeward options, until he stirred about 30 minutes later. On seeing his energy after the kip, I wished I had joined him.
Tired, with a dimming cloudy sky overhead, we decided to take the quickest route home. That meant expressways. It would cut off 2 more sights but making it back to our witness necessitated being back on time. This is one of the problems of doing a foreign IB challenge. We collect the receipts, illustrate our course, keep odometer logs but the witness requirement is the difficult part. In another country, where English is spoken and foreigners are not regarded so suspiciously, it would be easier to pick up a witness anywhere. But we need concrete witnesses that won’t make our ride verification iffy. So we set witnesses at the start and end points of each ride and then fill in the roads between. For this ride, our end witness would be waiting just off the expressway back in Tokyo. So we were Tokyo bound. 700 odd kilometers and 7-8 hours left on the clock. It was looking tight and Colin wisely pushed for the expressway home. I’m a glutton for twisties, he knows it and kept us on target. Good job Dude!
Now all we had to do was get to the expressway! The Zumo was showing us a circuitous route to the nearest expressway as it seemed we had no major roads going even remotely in the direction of an expressway. So the Zumo master prodded a route into the unit that looked more or less direct and was showing a reasonable arrival time. But it involved driving down the 666. Ooooooooooo! Last time I’d encountered this road I’d stopped there by pure coincidence to change into my heated & rain gear. The skeet shooting was a mere annoyance and only when I looked up at the sign by the roadside rest area did I realize where the hell I was. Was it really skeet shooting? Being alone, far from home and with a bucket load of twisties ahead I’d rather be riding on, I had mounted up and hightailed it outa there like a little girl. At least I didn’t cry.
Everybody set up for highway running again and we loped off down 666. The Zumo had us make a turn here, a stop there and before we knew it we were nowhere. The jungle roads were back. I could see Colin backing off in the lead but I knew it would be a link road and if we could make it through this dodgy area we would be into open country on the other side. Or totally screwed! But I love jungle roads so I slid past and motored on with the others tailing reluctantly behind. Luckily it was the former and we emerged 5 kilometres later on the back side of some scenic rice fields. A gorgeous reward for the jungle expedition. Raised road sections through the sprouting rice fields with some ibis cranes here and there, fossicking for their evening meal. With some darting and weaving through the local back roads, the Zumo was leading and we were following in the Agusta’s melodious thrum, heading back toward urbanity. But the Zumo has its floors and when it tried to lead us down a road ending in a rice paddy at the base of a forested hill we stopped for a powwow. Colin seemed stumped until I pointed out that the seemingly incomplete overhead roadway through the valley, and now just above us, had traffic on it. There was a sign back there somewhere, so the troops fell in line and we made for thehigh road above. That road took us to signs leading to the Colin’s Zumo guided Agusta set up expressway and our super-slab home.
The ride looses some flavor here as the return leg is always less enthusiastic and tiredness seems to dull one’s senses to the wonders and oddities around us. Besides, did I mention it was dark? Pitch black with the thick cloud cover and a thin slice of a moon never visible. Out of the cities, the merciless white line hypnosis seemed to be all there was. And kamikaze bugs. You could see them homing in on the headlights, only to miss and splatter across your face shield or dive into the growing bug graveyard on the chest and shoulders of the jacket.
Oh! And bloody bright tunnels. Lights ON lights OFF! Maybe it would be easier to count how many times the lights are turned on and off next time.
The route home took us 650+km along the following expressways: Kyoto-Jukan, Maizuru-Wakasa, Chugoku, Meishin and then onto the Chuo for the last 350 odd kms back to Tokyo. We just kept ticking along and didn’t stay together so much. We’d settled on a plan for when we got separated, to stop at the first SA/PA with gas after 160km from the previous stop. So we’d meet at the agreed stop, see all were ok and still functioning then gas up and head out again. No waiting to regroup after the gas up as some gas stands were only manned with 2 staff and that extra 10 minutes waiting would only be amplified by the end. Actually, we were beginning to run a little behind schedule each stop. Making the distance wouldn’t be a problem but making it back in time might.
As we climbed into the hills north east of Nagoya an increasing mountain cold was waiting for us. The temperature gauge had previously been floating between 20 and 25 degrees C. Perfect riding temperatures for that time of year. As we climbed both in altitude and northern latitude the temps dropped and dropped until it hit a low of 12C. Not too cold really but about 10C below previous average temps. Enough to make you feel it. Nobody wasted time to rug up, just soldiered on as the route back into Tokyo promised rising temperatures and the need to disrobe again.
Around our last gas stop on the expressway the Zumo was telling us that the Goal was still 240 something kilometres away. Damn that was near impossible with my bikes current tune. Maybe if I tuck behind the screen, be real slow and smooth with the throttle, leave the throttle lock on as much as possible and fill the tank to the brim it may be able to stretch it. Maybe! It had previously been doing around 210kms per tank on fills of 17-18litres. Another 15%? Mmmm So, told the pump monkey my dilemma and he went right to work like a moonshine salesman with a limited number of bottles and barrels full of liquor. He filled that tank with such devotion and patience I was impressed by his skill and commitment alone. Then I looked at the pump, 19.3 litres! Probably had less than half a litre in there before the fill. The extra fill was looking promising. Got back out on the road and it took 78km before losing the 1st bar. Great! It had previously vanished around the 55km mark. Halfway there. I sat with Colin for this leg and kept it steady and on target. The fatigue was starting to creep in though. Mic had rolled out ahead of us and was in the same situation, fuel consumption wise, as me.
Getting off the end of the expressway in Tokyo was a great relief. The gas stand was just around the corner and I was 58km into a reserve that I’d never dared push past 61km before. But we hadn’t seen Mic. He wasn’t at the gas stand either. Where was he? We pulled up to the pumps and gave our labored steeds a much needed drink. I threw a couple litres of Hi-octane into the FZ1 as a reward for getting me home AGAIN. But the time on the receipt showed the end of the fill was 2:04AM. I’d started at around 2AM. Had I made it? Seems I was 4 or 5 minutes late on the receipt. How long did the fill take? Well, I had managed 1742kms in those 24hrs and 5minutes. Hope the IBA sees it that way.
But where was Mic? Sent him a text and he called back almost immediately. Wasn’t he on the road? Nope, seems nature had called on his Ironbutt and a switch to the porcelain water chariot had become an immediate necessity. He said he’d done 1650 kms, or there abouts, and his bike was low on gas anyhow. He wasn’t concerned about the certification. He’d done it, he knew it and that’s all that he needed to make him happy. It wasn’t his 1st SS1600k anyhow. He was content in himself that he’d done it and on his GSXR600 no less. What a Champion!
All in all, from a great sunrise ride to a magnificent castle to an awesome volcanic ring of twisties to giant coastal wind turbines to the quasi desert and then the devil’s byway, it was a different way to do an SS1600k!
About 1420km expressway
320km local roads and byways