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Part3 - Kaigandera Temple
We restart with heavy legs. The second half of the journey is a more open ride with sky visible as we climb and descend. With two more passes, we drop Seiichi and he is lost from visual contact. Yuji is hanging on but, as the sky suddenly darkens, he falls off. Always talking in training languages, Yuji is the most properly trained rider but at the same time has the least experience.
Up the penultimate climb, Hotch Tohge, Yufta and I begin to attack each other. Dancing out of the saddle, I seem within reach, but can't quite catch him. My only memories now of the climb was a golf course and just for a moment we could see Mt. Fuji in the distance. Oh, and I also remember who reached the top of the climb first.
The other side of the Hotch Toghe is a straight descent, we lose 500m elevation in a matter of a few minutes and now traverse across Akeno. The whole village is on the gentle southern slope of the Kayagatake and they claim to have the longest daylight hours in the whole country. We seriously doubt that, but the view is fantastic with farmland and the 3000m high south Japan Alps range across the valley, where the sun is about to set.
One last climb, the whole 900m of it through a back road. Smart car navigation systems and locals use this road to avoid tourist/truck traffic on R141. It's steep. And now, the sun if officially set.
Churning up through the monochromatic world, what was forest is now just a dark cloud with asphalt barely reflecting light from the moon. Easy to concentrate on riding now with nothing to see. Or it was for some of us. Switchbacks at the Kaigandera Temple is where we go into the woods. Yuji has totally lost his vision and Seiichi has totally lost contact. All we can do is yell and wait for the echo. I predict there is another one hour of riding, at least.
There are two sources of light from here; automobiles and a half moon. In pitch dark automobile lights do not help, but the ever soft half moon provides steady, uniform lighting. With pupils fully open, this surreal world becomes comforting. We pass a few old mountain villages, a field full of bright susuki grass, and a grand outline of the Yatsugatake mountains. Yufta and I are the men of the second half and lead up to the last climb, Hirasawa Tohge. Yuji arrives a few minutes later, mumbling something we can't comprehend, and eventually Seiichi.
With steam rising off our bodies, we head back as a group for the last few kilometres. Still no one talks, but I can tell that we are all satisfied to have bagged this one in the history book. One and a half hours in the darkness was certainly not planned, but it brought out each riders character clearly.
"I race the 120km and 24 hour solo mountain bike races, but this is totally different type of pain. The mental stress coming from not knowing what's coming up feeds straight into physical stress" - Seiichi Watanabe
"I don't particularly have any speed on flat nor climb. In fact, I hate climbing. But there are times, when everything clicks in the right way, not necessarily fast (yet) but pain fades and I feel very good. Finishing strong is important to me, so I feel like riding again." - Daisuke Yano
"Everything I tried to do was painful and the darkness was a huge obstacle. I couldn't enjoy even a fraction of a second on the last few hours of the ride. Lack of preparation, or maybe it was all mental…" - Yuji Uchiike
"Finally the last pass is conquered and Yano reassures them the downhill in the dark is smooth as a bub's bott so no fear to be had. The clanging of the bells at the train crossing is like that on the final lap. The end is just ahead. Those flickering lights in the distance, like a lighthouse beacon, are the porch lights of home." - Vincent Flannagan
"The shadow from the half-moon light seems darker than the sun's" - Yufta Omata