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Part2 - Kokushi Tohge
You always hit one extremely steep hill to get away from the coastline. Then there are a few more hills to go over before hitting the main climb up to the Izu Skyline. When the road changes to gritty concrete from smooth asphalt, we get a muscular workout at a cadence of 30rpm. It's too steep for steam rollers to lay asphalt here.
Diesel buses crawling past look like rockets launching with thick black smoke whilst no-torque Japanese cars need 7000revs to just get over the crest. My front wheel is flopping everywhere and staying in the saddle is nearly impossible.
The surroundings change here from coastal cliffs to covered forests. We find several kilometers of fine gravel road to shortcut the busy section of the town out to the Okuno dam. Sounds of the rocky stream almost cancels out those from the bikes. A soothing sound, almost as good as the 50km/h strong tailwinded stretch where you hear nothing but the friction of the tires and the tarmac. Seiichi is the only victim of the sharp rock.
The first real climb comes above the Okuno dam, but only a brief one. Just a few months ago this was a toll road. A mere 50 yen toll for bikes back then was just a formality, but a light wave at the bored toll-man usually provided enough entertainment for him to let you through.
Turning left off Route 12, after a stretch of leafless cherry trees, the surroundings change again to a typical countryside scene with local villagers and farmers. What we call the "satoyama" is perhaps the most representative of the old Japanese lifestyle. It's not 100% natural (actually there is quite a bit of human intervention) but zen-like, done in a way to rhyme with the nature. An amazingly relaxing environment.
Soon we see the mountains up ahead, surrounded by wasabi farms. The second climb of the day up the Kokushi Tohge is nearing, a gentle single lane climb through a cedar forest. Followed by a mystical and smoothly cornered descent. Beautiful…If the road was not closed off from a land slide.
The detour we take is also a climb through a small mountain. Delayed by the detour, we only make a brief stop at the convenience store for a much needed mid-day refuel. We are half way, at the eastern half of the peninsula. Relatively small but repeating climbs and descents prevents us from getting any kind of rhythm. Interval-like efforts let fatigue sneak up on the legs.
The second half heading across on the western side of the peninsula is a different world, with everything in a much larger scale.
"The road is steep, the surface is concrete with deep scores zigzagging across it to aid traction. A bus chugs up in low gear belching black smoke."
- Vincent Flanagan
"Little rough in the first half, fine red gravel in second half. This precious road probably is high on the list of the next pavement plan."
- Daisuke Yano