What are we talking about here?
C2C = coast to coast = Pacific Ocean to Japan Sea
Touge = A pass between two adjacent territories traversing some sort of natural geographical barrier = 峠
Grenade = a small package with a big punch!
So, a relatively short ride (compared to an ironbutt) from the Pacific Ocean to Japan Sea via as many twisty bits as can be strung together. All in a day!
Starting on the coast of Sagami Bay, down by the Seisho-bypass in Kanagawa, we shot up through Yamanashi, Nagano and Gifu before sailing down to the coast in Joetsu, Niigata.
The alarm sounded at 3:10am with a favorite inspirational song of mine which only comes on alarm duty if I’m going to do something that really pushes my buttons but have to wake up uncomfortably early to do it. It did its job! I was out of bed, kitted up, relatively wide eyed and ready to roll 20minutes later. Helped that the prep had been done the night before and was able to drift off to la-la land by 9pm.
Had to get my finger out if I was to meet the first rider of the day, my favorite wingman, JamesK. Of course he was waiting at the local 7-11 having foregone his usual lap of the Shuto in light of the challenge ahead. We had a bite to eat with a side serve of light ride banter. I knew his mighty steed, the USS-FJR-Equipped, would be stocked with anything and everything an endurance rider could want on such an adventure, in total contrast to my FZ1’s current minimalist setup. But, the day before he’d discovered a nasty looking crack in the rear shock mount and luckily his bush-mechanic reinforcing was holding for now. I had never before doubted he’d make it to the end of any ride and the FJR like-wise, so left it at that. Good luck JK!
20minutes later we rolled in to Oiso port to find Andreas and John waiting. John on a Harley XR and Andreas the giant on a BMW GS. A quick peruse of both steeds showed a pair of well equipped bikes ready for a good ride. But I winced when I saw how pristine John’s Harley was, knowing the roads it was going to face and the grime it was going to collect. Never fear, it wasn’t dipped in the standard tractor chrome but was almost completely bathed in sinister black. The BMW wasn’t dressed in shipping containers, space shuttle navigation aids, wind deflectors or anything else big elephants usually get adorned with. But it was sporting an Ohlins rear which in Andreas’ hands could mean some surprises ahead. Actually, both bikes were being ridden by capable riders with more than a little experience.
Right, two more to come and 5am had just ticked over. We heard them coming before we saw them. First in was Tony on the green-machine Ninja 636 closely followed by Volker on the classic red Fireblade. Tony is a long time ride buddy and not lacking in experience or wingman skills. He’s ridden all 47 prefectures of Japan and is somewhat of a walking, talking, riding human navi! With James and Tony in your pack, you’ve got the two best wingman any road warrior could want. Volker is somewhat of a legend to me and his current ride, borrowed from a friend while he was here for the fortnight, was quite a legend also. While his riding style is simple, smooth and a pleasure to follow that fireblade is a friggin smack you in the face Frankenstein! I found myself marveling and wiping away the drool more than a few times. The easy to see Ohlins front and back and Arrows system were the smack in the face and then the aftermarket ‘anything that could be bolted on’ and missing anything that didn’t add to mechanical performance drew out the drool factor. Oh yeah, he happened to be able to ride it, too.
Well, we made our way to the water’s edge for the obligatory photos. This time by the waters of the Pacific under a rising sun, by the day’s end we hoped to be by the water’s of the Japan Sea to the North on the opposite coast of Japan’s main island, Honshu. Only 5 of us would be there at the end!
After the LeMans style start, which I dominated , James, John and Andreas rolled out with myself, Volker and Tony close behind.
Andreas lead us out of town and off to Hadano via the winding river road to where we fed our furnaces some breakfast and then topped off the tanks for the first challenge of the day, Yabitsu Touge.
Well, I managed to be the last one fueling up and waved the pack on ahead and then proceeded to drop my change from the self-serve change machine. Yep, the ground wasn’t flat but I was lucky there was no one around at 6am to laugh at a grown man hobbling down the slope after accelerating yennies. By the time I got in the saddle, I couldn’t hear that sweet arrows of Volker’s. Alone, I faced the daunting task of riding a road that had taken me out before. Not to mention it took me out on my last attempt at a twistybutt. It freaked me out a bit and I questioned and cursed the ride Gods but.. . .. in the end.. .. . this is how I balanced the scales enough to ride it out: Last time I’d ruined everyone’s ride(Sorry and thank you sooo much Tony, Andreas and Pete) when I crashed out and the ride was cancelled. This time they could ride on oblivious for some time and I’d be able to coax them into continuing if I crashed out again if I was conscious. Actually, I had avoided this road until now and wanted to face it and dominate it. With no one tailing me, I could face it with grace and respect and get back on equal footing with this particular piece of challenging licorice strip. It used to be my favorite place to tune the suspension and power-commander for hillclimbs and I needed to be back there. And finally, I was the route planner! Yep, no one to blame but myself, right?! However, I’d been hoping to sit mid-pack and skulk through. . .coward. Not anymore!
Well, taking it easy, running a gear high and staying away from the rear brake(suspicious culprit in last crash), I caught John and Tony about 2/3 of the way along that dastardly road and the Harley was playing a sweet tune that just reeled me in. But it seemed like John was working a little to keep it moving at a reasonable pace through the tight stuff. Kudos for the decent pace though.
James, Andreas and Volker were nowhere to be seen. We caught up to them chatting at the end of that road and everybody shuffled out together again. I dropped back to plug in the heat and switch on the navi log. Took me a while longer to catch them this time as the route was a lot more open and meandering. Had to pass a ZX14, 1098 and an African-Twin to get to them, too. Yep, it was an interesting morning out. Finally caught the tail of the pack on the Doushi-michi where again Tony and John were making good time on super-cruise with the other 3 out of sight.
Next stop was the turn off for the 24 and James, Andreas and Volker were already waiting again. We marveled at the quiet roads, beautiful weather and that Doushi. Always a good ride that one. Then we were on the road again. I lead us for a run at a favorite mountain pass of mine, Douzaka Touge. A short time later I realized I’d forgotten the heat again(it wasn’t warm) so pulled over to plug in as the pack sailed by. By the end of the 24, I was back in the lead. I like that road and was feeling the rhythm of the road. Kind of helped that James and Andreas had pulled over to wait for the tail
Next stop was Sasago Touge 25rolling kms away. And in between? Yep our first problem, some sort of Navi glitch that got all the units having a redirecting-fit. I’d experienced something similar near the Linear Motor Car track(experimental Mag-lev line) before and we were near there again so.. Well, it sorted itself as we had a little fun making our way up and over Sasago Touge. Then it was over the Tomei Expressway by bridge and up into the narrow winding Daibosatsu Line.
Man, that road has a killer hillclimb when running from north to south but when running south to north, like we were, it is a wrist killer and a fair sphincter workout. On the downhill we encountered our first oddity, the lady driving a car in the opposite direction on a hairpin with a rabid sausage-dog on her lap that was trying to bark and claw its way through the side window to get a bite of us. Amazing what is legal. . . Should have been called the Daibutsu Line!
We stopped as the road levelled out for a breather and were making good time. Beautiful place to stop as the cherry blossoms were still blooming up there in the mountains.
Everyone was jovial but already feeling the torturous twisties. Well, everyone except Andreas who boasted that life was GREAT! on the ambling elephant. Back on the road, we all took a little respite from the super tight stuff as we made our way to the 2nd fuel stop then a dawdle along the Fruits Line and into the Yamanashi Hills before getting back into it on the Crystal Line.
The Fruits Line was nice, The Crystal Line bumpy, dirty, broken and exhausting. In between was the KofuGaijinBikers test-track which always puts a smile on the dial. But seriously that Crystal line was a shocker! Rock falls, crevices you could lose a front wheel in, sandy crap and tree debris everywhere. It was a friggin nightmare! Not to mention the super bumpy stuff that kept JamesK, who was nursing a sick rear shock, on tender hooks. I think we were all glad to get off that road, everyone except Andreas!
They say that battling through the tough stuff makes everything else all the more sweeter. The top of the Radium Line and the 610 through Shinshu Touge and Okura Touge through the 68 were a treat.
That put us on the 141 and our second navi blunder. Mine and the Garmin 2610’s 2nd that is. See the 2610 can only log 100 points on a route before it gives up and makes a beeline for the goal. Lame, I know but we make do by reloading the map and running the next 100 points. The trick is knowing when the last 100 points are up and reloading on a straight or when stopped before that happens. Not many straights on this run so.. .a lapse on my part and we ended up a fair way further up the 141 than intended. By we, I mean Volker and Tony who were navi-less following me. Yep, the blind leading the blind. Actually, should have switched on the Tony navi instead!
Always looking to make a minus a plus, we had some hares to hunt and the 480 to the Meruhen Line(299) is always fun. Climbing out of the 480 and up to crest the 299, we stopped for a freezing photo at the top of Mugikusa Touge – Japan’s 2nd highest national road at 2127m (didn’t dare tell em it was only 3℃ up there) then got back in the chase.
The dirt short cut between the Meruhen and the Venus Lines drew some incredulous looks from my wingmen but we soldiered through to get a taste of the Venus Line before stopping in at the combini by the lake for some lunch. It was around 12:30pm and we hadn’t eaten for more than 6hours or had a decent rest for about two and a half. Pit-stop time. I called James and discovered they were about 15km ahead stopped for fuel. Not too far off.
It was a windy lunch. We ate warm food and emptied/filled our depleted fluid tanks. Tony lost some lunch-plastic to the blustering wind roaring off the lake and we all got the chills and some, a new hair-do to boot. Luckily, I had the heat to go back to.
It was windy, overcast and cold in them there hills. But we had the Venus Line’s sweet spot to look forward to. But first, our third fuel stop of the day at the corner of the 194 & 40. We were filling up around every 150km which may seem early but when your average speed is under 50km/h that’s at least 3 hours between fuel stops. Anyhow, friendly staff there! Or were they just happy to be making a killing on their fuel?
The second oddity of the day: how fuel on the Expressways is heavily regulated, no matter where they are, but places like this, that aren’t so distant or require an expensive infrastructure but have a monopoly can charge the max rate. Both have a monopoly, right?
So, tanks full, with possibly Japan’s best piece of tarmac ahead, we headed up the 194/460 to lighten the hearts. I’d followed Volker a couple of times before and wanted a glimpse of his magic on this road. Besides, he had been tailing me for hours, I was tired and the road ended in a T-junction where he HAD to wait for us. So, settled in for the show and a lesson or two. He still didn’t seem to move the body much. No out of the saddle antics or knee dragging but the feet were definitely dancing. Great rhythm in the gear change, brake and bank for corners, every time. Smooth lines and always with the Arrows exhaust at a purr to growl. He knew and loved the 194/460 and the quote of it being one of the best roads in Japan is all his. Thanx Volker, you taught me some smoothness again and made my riding less stressful from there.
Finishing up the Venus Line with the sharp hillclimb and winding downhill, we swung west headed for a scenic series of goatish ridgerunners that had me thinking back to the Daibosatsu Line. We made our way into the thick of it and were soon dodging crap and bumps on the climb to Takeishi Touge, our eleventh touge for the day. Maybe 10 minutes before that though, Oh HELL NO! It was NOT supposed to rain and this was a bad place for it to start. It was always going to be a tough stretch and one of the reasons I had warned everyone the schedule would change if rain was likely. But,yep, the spits started to appear on the screen. And the spits turned into spats and then it was a drizzle and getting worse. Pulling over with falling spirits to don the rain gear, something was laughing at me from the depths of the woods to my left.
Man that road was tough and the rain ruined the Utsukushigahara Skyline which is usually a nice slow ridgetop winding scenic glide. A little wet under rain gear in cold windy conditions, the wind and rain made an interesting road just a PITA! I began to wonder how the pack ahead and the crotch rockets behind were fairing.
Coming down the 254 I saw a newish looking tunnel and thought, Yes! Here’s our chance to catch up! Not even 10 metres past the point of no return, I realized this wasn’t a new tunnel and I’d screwed up. We were headed into a warp hole that would spit us out way off course too far away. Yeah, some nasty expletives roared down that tunnel with Volker’s Arrows, Tony’s Akra and my Graves.
The belch of three pissed riders passing out the ass end of that tunnel to find a toll gate and more rain was more than I could take. I already felt like I had a cold coming on, I’d just added 40 minutes to the ride and then the toll machine ate my yennies without lifting the gate. The pressure relief valve blew and I started roaring and kicking the toll machine. I’d been misled, spat on and fallen through a black hole! There was no way I was going to be robbed by a friggin robot! My antics drew the attention of the toll trolls and they came running to the rescue of the robotic co-worker that would soon be seeing them discarded to the too talented and expensive pile. So I roared a bit at them too, poor guys, and they soon apologized and lifted the gate for us to sail through. Right, time for a stop and stock take. Riding like that is not benefitial to one’s survival. Tony, looking frightening inside his lid, needed it too. He lead us to a combini and we pulled in for a much needed rest.
It went something like this:
Me to Tony: ‘You alright?’
Tony: ‘I’m MISERABLE’
Me: (ok…took the words right out of my mouth)
Me to Volker: ‘You alright?’
Volker: ‘Are we going to the hotel?’
Me: ‘Not me!’
Volker: (looks miserable)
Then, a while of silence as we collected ourselves, drained bladders, fed, watered, and generally wound down. About a half hour later we were on plan B, bypassing a couple of touges, trying to cut 40 minutes from the ride and NOT headed directly to the hotel at the goal. The guys were relying on me to get them back in the game and I was trying but I’d burnt off more BT016 than I’d realized on the 480/194/460 playing catchup and having fun with Volker. Now it was struggling with wet fast sweepers. Unnerving? Yes. Impossile? No. Fight on!
Reaching the Panorama Line was a relief as we all knew it and loved it! It rolls, flows and lightens the heart. It is rarely straight and a real roller coaster through fields and over blind crests. Tony said to look out for tractors and he was right! We came across a biggun trundling up the road in the opposite direction.
Nursing the tyre, we were a little ahead of our augmented schedule and pulled in for our 3rd fuel stop on the 59 in Gifu. The rain had stopped and we were feeling a little more optimistic being about 2/3 of the way done and just looking at our bikes showed we’d done the hard yards to get where we were and they looked the better for it. 100% street ridden!
James called to say the 502 was closed and they were back-tracking to the 292. We were back in the game!
Swinging onto the 292, we got our first wafts of Kusatsu and its odorous onsens. Now, I detest sulphur onsens and my skin seems to dislike them even more but I like the 292 and am always caught in a conundrum climbing to or descending from the peak of the Shibu and Yamada Touges(Japan’s highest national road at 2172m). But this run settled it! That is, for me, one of the most magnificent roads in Japan in Late April. It had only opened a few days before and climbing through the barren sulphur-steaming wastelands of rock and gravel to find growing walls of white snow lining the roads the higher we went was marvelous.
Add to that the switchbacks, sweepers and grand vistas and it quickly jumps to the top of the must ride pile!
About 3/4 of the way up the sun was falling and dimming and I remember rounding one turn and only seeing the glow of the setting sun, no longer viewable, over the craggy horizon and a sign on the side of the road saying something about snow chains in red and thinking, no sun equals black-ice and.. . oh hell no! Get me the hell off this freezing peak. But the beauty and smooth lines kept me truckin. Gotta say that is the first time I’ve ridden next to a snow-caterpillar, though. I hope you’ll forgive my reluctance to stop for a pic but here’s a few from Tony.
With a growing relief we gingerly weaved our way down the north side of the peak in the deepening dark, headlights brightening on 1-2 metre snow walls guarding the roadside. Then, hauling ass in the opposite direction on the climb, I could see bike lights approaching. That’s a brave pair I thought. Then the mighty FJR roared past with the GS close in its wake. They’d made a left instead of a right which had bought them back toward us. Hahaha! I was wagging the tail in our train and got to see all of us wave a cheerio to our misguided amigos who were soon melting rotors to get the hell off that peak with us.
We glided along together until the next turn-off and a red light where we touched knuckles for the first time since the morning. But where was John? Maybe he was ahead. 2 minutes later we were stopped at a 7-11 getting the lowdown on each other’s adventures. Seemed John had made been terminally lead astray by his navi and was so far off course he’d decided to jump an expressway and take the long haul home instead. Too bad, he was closer to the end than the start and it was smooth sailing ahead. Well, he’ll just have to do it again sometime J
We enjoyed being back together, marveled at the roads and conditions we’d run and I prostrated myself before the brave riders who’d suffered my route in the treacherous conditions. They didn’t burn me at the stake or even berate me a little. Volker was quiet, Tony just laughed, Andreas said it was a real ride and had enjoyed it and James said it was awesome! So, that settled, we got down to figuring our route to the hotel. We couldn’t take the 502 which was set to be a good one but would have to wait. So we figured a twisty enough route around that road and set off in the dark for our final touge. Soonish, Volker and I pulled in for our 4th fuel stop while the slightly lagging train missed our turn off and trundled on by. We soon caught up, though.
After a little meandering and miss direction, with the rest of the train still needing fuel, we started up the Gifu side of Sekita Touge. From the top, we’d be able to look out over the lights of Joetsu city to the Japan Sea and our goal. But alas, it wasn’t to be. The weather had stumped us again.
The run up there was fun as the snow walls grew higher and higher with each hairpin and to see the road abruptly end, covered in snow but still running on up under that yet to melt blanket of frostiness, in a way, reflected many people’s attitude to what we do. There were 5 riders standing on that road that night and every one of us knew it was possible! Just not yet.
Everyone seemed excited by the obstruction and it was quite a fitting final touge, really.
Tony and James soon found us another twistyish way around and we were off again to the hotel. Tired and lacking stamina, I settled into the tail of the train for the run around and down to Joetsu. James set a smooth pace in the dark moonless night under a starry sky. Gliding down out of the mountains, the air grew thicker and warmer with the scent of the closing Japan Sea. I could finally wind down the heat and settled into tail of the train, just as we’d started all those hours ago and we edged closer and closer to the goal, racing against the clock.
We decided to skip the coast stop as our hotel was almost on the coast and we had to check in before 10pm. The coast photo could wait for the morning when it could be seen J.
That’s right, haven’t had a time update in a while have we? Well, let’s just fast forward to the end then. We arrived at the hotel at 9:40pm after leaving the Pacific at 5:10am. So that meant we had been on the road 16.5 hours and were in desperate need of a feed, beer and a soak. The hotel’s restaurant also closed at 10pm so we had to hustle through check-in, uncloaking and for some face-scrubbing, to be fed and watered before soaking out the road stress in the onsen. Luckily, the onsen didn’t close till midnight.
Just before midnight, fed, watered and warmed from the soak, we coalesced on the hotel porch. Most drank beer, some smoked cigars and all recalled the day, spun tales and bathed in the afterglow of achieving our 1st Coast to Coast Twistybutt. Little did we know we’d actually actually checked into James’ ARRD clinic
All-in-all a fantastic challenge! A few times there I felt to be riding and struggling alone until I looked ahead or in a mirror and saw my compadres doing it hard right there with me. One of the peaks was hooking up together again at that 7-11 on the 403 and finding we were actually doin pretty well and this was a pack of riders worth doing it with!
The next day Andreas went west, headed for gale-force winds and Kyoto, the rest of ran an interesting route east to the Kanetsu Expressway where Tony and Volker slabbed it back to big smoke while James and I took the longer way home. Another tale, another time .. . .. .