2017, a year in cycling by cycling ambassador Stephen Wolfe
My wife Kyoko and I started out 2017 with a cycling adventure as part of our planned trip to New Zealand, a place neither of us had been. We spent a month in the country, and managed to take an electric bike tour of Wellington, our first time on E-Bikes. They were very heavy, and hard to maneuver, but I must admit they helped on the climb up Mount Victoria. The following week we journeyed to Christchurch, a city devastated by an earthquake in 2011. The experience was sobering, but the resourceful Kiwis are busy rebuilding. Christchurch was also the start of our cycling tour of the famous Otago Trail. The Otago Trail goes from near Mount Cook on the southern island, to near Dunedin, a major port. The trail is an abandoned rail line that served the gold and silver mines in the Otago region near the mountains. The line continues to utilize the original tunnels and trestle bridges and 145km has been rehabilitated for cycling travel with hard-pack gravel. Because the steam trains used for the ore cars were not very powerful, the average gradient is only 2%, making for an easy climb from East to West. However, taking the even easier choice, we started in Clyde, an old mining town, and rode mostly downhill to Middlemarch, spending the night at several other old station towns along the way, and even trying out the ice sport of curling in Naseby’s indoor rink. From Middlemarch the rail line is still active, so we took the train through some beautiful gorges to Dunedin. Overall, the people were very friendly, the food and coffee (the Kiwi’s only ever drink flat whites, and even McDonald’s and Burger King only had espresso machines for coffee) were great, and the scenery along the trail was unmatched.
Back in Japan, I took what was my second tour of the Shimanami Kaido, a route in Western Japan that is fast becoming a destination for cyclists from all over the world. Kyoko and I first rode the route in December of 2016, and were so struck with the beauty of the riding across six islands and connecting bridges over the Seto Inland Sea–from the largest island of Honshu to the smaller island of Shikoku–that we vowed to come back soon. My enthusiasm for the ride (and food) was contagious, I guess, as two of my friends expressed an interest, so in April I was down there again. The 75km route, although along local roads, is well-marked, and each of the six bridges have dedicated cycling/pedestrian travelways, including the Kurushima Bridge, the world’s longest triple suspension bridge at 4.1km. The area is known for its citrus fruits and delicious fish, and the meals we had did not disappoint. We stopped halfway to stay at a Japanese inn and use the local hot springs to ease fatigue, and finished on the second day. My friends, not being dedicated cyclists, took public transport on the return, so I cycled on to another route in the region (more about that later). Along the way we met cyclists from many different countries, who availed themselves of the many bicycle rental locations along the route.
Later in the spring we traveled to Kagoshima, a city on the southern-most main island of Kyushu. Kagoshima is one of the major cities on the island, is full of history, and features great Berkshire pork products. We took a day tour by rental cycles around Sakurajima, an active volcano across the bay from Kagoshima. The lap around the island was only around 35km, but there was ample evidence of previous eruptions everywhere. The volcano almost continuously spews ash.
May brought the Japanese edition of L’Eroica. The tour was plotted around 4 of the lakes at the foot of Mt. Fuji, and over 100 participants gathered with their vintage bikes to ride the course, which featured some wet, muddy sections. I rode the De Rosa I’ve had since I bought it new in 1980, and had a great time riding and talking with fellow vintage bike owners.
I decided that for my 68th birthday I would climb Mt. Fuji as far as the paved road goes. The climb is about 24km with an average grade of 5% and 1,200m of ascent, which makes it quite similar to the Full Sandia Crest ride in the Albuquerque region (21.5km, 5%, and 1,150m), although the Fuji climb ends at 2,300m and Sandia peaks at 3,246m, making the altitude more of a factor in the latter. In September I also participated in a “fun ride” put on by the Bandai area in northern Japan to promote the region. The 65km run was around and up Mt. Bandai, with a total of 1,400m of climbing, and lots of good food at the aid stations.
In October we went to Spain, the first time for my wife and over 40 years since I was last there (Franco was still in power at the time). Needless to say, Spain has changed dramatically since then, and the many areas we visited were vibrant, full of great food (ham, cheese, and wine), and nice people. During our time there we spent a week in Girona, the cycling capital of Spain and a place where the amenable winter weather and great cycling roads have led many pros to spend the off season. Our first day of riding was up to Olot for a ride down the converted rail line. The 60km ride featured lovely scenery of ancient volcanoes and farmland, and mostly downhill riding along the well-maintained trail. Our second day was a circular route to the Vall de Llemena, a quiet and unspoiled rural area near Girona. The following day we took our bikes on a train (the trains are well set-up to accommodate cycles) to a nearby village and toured six medieval villages. On the fourth day, the bike shop that arranged our self-guided tours had a group ride, which I joined for a 90km loop around the city. On the final day we rejoined the converted rail trail to ride from Girona to Sant Feliu de Guixols on the Mediterranean. It was very easy to see why Girona is so popular with cyclists. Cyclists were everywhere!
The last big tour of the year was with a friend who works at the same Japanese steel company where I used to work. We traveled down to Hiroshima, and from there took a ferry to the Kakishima Kaido, one of seven cycling routes established in the Shimanami region mentioned above. This island route featured vast oyster farms along the seacoast, and totaled about 90km. We over-nighted in Kure, a town where the famous Yamato battleship of WWII was built, and the next day we rode over 5 islands connected by bridges along a very rural and beautiful shoreline road, with a stop in a village that features houses from the Edo period of Japan, built over 150 years ago. A short ferry ride at the end took us back to the Shimanami Kaido, over four more islands, and ending in the shipbuilding town of Onomichi, a total of 110km. We are looking forward to seeing how 2018 unfolds and though we have nothing definite planned, are sure it holds adventure.
Editor’s note: You can learn more about Stephen and meet more of our cycling ambassadors on the Team CSP-SBI members page: https://swbikeinitiative.wordpress.com/team-csp-sbi/team-members/