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Part1 - Crystal Line
The last weekend of November usually means mountain slopes are bright with fall colors, but at 1400m Nobeyama has lost every single leaf and ground bushes enjoy the clear sun light. Even the evergreens drop leaves here. Animals gather food, and humans gather wood for long cold winters. We are ignorant of this as we prepare for a long ride.
The night before the first Yonretto ride, two in the morning, all the riders except for Vincent have gone upstairs to bed. Two bikes done, still one to go. Last minute arrival of parts, calls to Verona for spec confirmation and hardware issues cut into our sleeping time. Position? Forget positions. Get the saddle height and just go and ride it.
Around 7am sleepy faces come down the stairs. Some have forgotten why they are here for a moment. The fact that we have to ride bikes built a few hours ago on a long mountainous route is definitely not on our minds. Excuses for lousy legs are shared. Breakfast is consumed and little pre-ride rituals take place.
As we finally get the bikes out the door the field is still covered in fog. Farmers are done with harvest, but tractors with fertilizer trailers mow around preparing the field for next season. We have much to learn from them about preparation. Yuji, Seiichi, and Yufta are huddled up, waiting for some kind of instruction to start riding, Vincent and I just go.
5 minutes into the ride, already hitting 50kph, looking over bald Mt. Asama in the distance to the left. We keep an awkward distance to each other not from the speed, but from not knowing each other very much. Some still have no idea what we are doing. Is it a club ride? A race? A social ride? A photo shoot? Soon they find out that it's definitely not an easy ride, as Vincent starts to pull into the headwind with my elbow signal.
The course is constantly going either up or down, until we hit the first proper climb at the Shinshu Tohge. It's not a big one, but the road is wide and goes straight up through the field at 10%. We cross into Yamanashi prefecture (state) at the top and it's a contrasting layout with a narrow winding descent into the forest, still at 10%.
There are people with guns in this part of the country besides the police. Hunters here do it for necessity. They are farmers and need to keep deer under control. A pretty female hunter with a gun the size of her says four dogs were surrounding a deer just now. She has a rare Kawakami hunting dog, rumored to be bred with local Japanese wolves, now extinct, as are the bears that used to roam this particular area.
Another peak to ride up to. Mt. Mizugaki take us to the highest point at 1700m on a wide smooth road, and then changes again with a rough, narrow, twisty, steep descent. There is only one road to follow, so we settle into our own pace. Yuji and Yufta are loosened up and start to put distance on the rest of us. With only a few hours of sleep due to building bikes all night, Vincent and I have no idea what our bodies will respond to.
The rough, steep descent continues, the road dotted with occasional buildings and houses. The road narrows to a size barely passable for a car. It's a stressful descent, and hands start to cramp. This is the heart of the Crystal Line, a 68 km forest road made for…who knows what? No scenic open view, covered entirely by pine trees with steep, narrow, rough roads.
"Felt like my alarm went off as soon as I closed my eyes. Checked to see if others are awake yet. 3 hours of sleep and the first one to get up is not right, so my eyelids close again. Even the dogs are snoring. When I'm feeling good and legs are eager I get that tingly sensation that keeps me awake.There was not even the slightest sensation of an ant walking down my leg." - Daisuke Yano
"I have been coughing non stop for a week. Feels like a severe bout of bronchitis. Don’t need this before a long long day in the saddle. My breathing is bad and I wondered if I could survive the day. We’ll see." - Vincent Flanagan
"I had no idea of the difficulty and the volume of the ride. Is this supposed to be a photo shoot? Fun ride? Touring? Did I miss a hint somewhere?" - Yuji Uchiike