Hot (and wet) (and windy) Haneda

Selfie in cycling helmet in front of Haneda peace shrine in the rain

I hadn’t planned on riding today because the forecast was for rain. But when I checked again this morning, the forecast showed little chance of rain before late afternoon. Nana checked Yahoo and agreed — it should be OK to get in a quick ride.

Before I set out, I had to refill Kuroko’s new tubeless tires. It’s been less than two weeks since they were seated and they’re still not fully sealed. Unfortunately, the Garmin doesn’t count the calories I expended with the portable tire pump before the ride began.

I want to talk to the manager

I got through the city down to the Tama River without incident, feeling good if quite hot. It was just shy of 30C at this point. But as I was crossing over the river into Kanagawa, I felt a couple of drops of rain. Well, no big deal. I’m not going to let a few drops of rain slow me down.

By the time I reached 15km the rain was coming down pretty steadily. I still had hopes it might pass over quickly — after all, the real rain isn’t supposed to come until late afternoon. But then before I hit the 20km mark, the rain was driving down in the wind (a headwind that was already cutting into my progress), nearly blinding me despite my shades.

Decision point

Wet bicycle leaning against tree on a rainy day
Brief shelter out of the rain

At this point I could turn around and head for home, or ignore the rain and continue onwards. At 20km I’m about one-third of the way into the ride. If I turned around I’d have another 20km before I got home, while if I continued it would be another 40km. Either way, I’d arrive home soaking wet.

You can only get soaked through once*

Fearless Leader Joe

* Once per ride, Guy Jean hastens to clarify

As I’ve already established during the Biwako ride, and confirmed in England (although not as thoroughly as FLJ confirmed in Scotland), I am not made of sugar. Since I was going to be just as wet either way, I decided to continue the ride. This wasn’t an intentional invocation of Rule No. 9, as the forecast had been for overcast skies with rain later in the day, but I feel good about the fact I didn’t turn tail at the first few raindrops. The only impact the rain made on my plans was to make me take things a bit easier, cut my rest stops short, and cancel my plan to stop for a snack at a convenience store along the way.

Instead I continued pushing on through the rain (which at least slacked off enough it wasn’t being driven into my eyes). Kuroko’s brakes set up a howling each time I used them, higher pitched on the 140mm rear disc than the 160mm front, but they worked fine. The bell on the other hand was muted by the raindrops which clung to it, so the Howling Discs (a great band name the rights to which I freely grant to the first comer) served the double purpose of warning people I was coming and slowing me down before I ran over oblivious pedestrians and little leaguers on bikes.

Now do it the other way

Selfie in cycling helmet in front of Haneda peace shrine in the rain
Are we having fun yet?

Despite the rain and the headwind (and the crowds of joggers, dog walkers and slower bikers on the path), I reached Haneda in pretty good time. I didn’t want to sit there long in the rain, and I didn’t have any of Nana’s world famous onigiri to eat (as we’d thought last night that I wouldn’t be riding today), so I messaged Nana that I was on my way home and set out again after a very brief rest.

The going on the way home was a bit easier as I had a tailwind, and the rain had brought the temperature down from nearly 30C to a steady and livable 21C. On the other hand, a lot of the little league games were breaking up and so the paths were crowded with gaggles of boys on bikes with baseball bats hanging out to the side and no conception of the rules of the road.

I had a very brief stop shortly after the 40km mark, and messaged Nana that I had another 20-25km to go. But by the time I’d climbed up the hill at Nikotama and stopped for the last rest of the day, the rain made it impossible for me to send another message to let Nana know I was OK and on schedule. The phone is waterproof, but there were too many raindrops on the touchscreen and it just wasn’t detecting my finger taps. And so after a very brief rest I continued on my way home.

I had my lights on for visibility in traffic as I worked my way back through the city. Fortunately, traffic was not heavy. I came to the little shopping street / train crossing where Kuroko had thrown her chain on the previous occasion, but this time there was no trouble at all when I did the same upshift at the same location. The mechanical gods smiled on us today.

I continued on home, keeping the pace up but taking care of the conditions. The new tires handled the job with aplomb. The ride was comfortable, the performance of the tires was fantastic, and there was never once a hint of lost traction on the wet (and sometimes muddy) streets.

Soon I was on my final descent. I kept the speed low at first, mindful of the visibility and difficulty in braking, but then put the pedal(s) down when the lights changed in my favor. I soon rolled up to a stop at the foot of our tower and shut everything down.

A decent pace

GPS route of round-trip ride to Haneda
That’s not a bad time at all

I didn’t set any PRs today, but I did keep up a decent pace overall. Not shown in the results is the really good total elapsed time of 3 hours 34 minutes — aided by all those minimal breaks — which may be a record for me on this route.

Otarumi Touge in the heat

Selfie with two sweaty cyclists at Takaosan Guchi cable car entrance

I hoped yesterday to get in a longer ride, and at the same time to make another assault on Otarumi Touge, the 392m mountain pass near Tokyo’s famous Mt Takao. I’d told the Halfakid I’d be leaving home at 8 a.m., and actually departed at 8:20 — not a bad start for me.

First mechanical: the Garmin

I had an issue with the Garmin right away: after I started it up and selected the course, it showed it was “Acquiring Satellites” and it stayed there. I waited a couple of minutes and then set out anyway, figuring it would catch up soon enough. In fact it took more than 7km — when I’d nearly reached the Halfakid’s flat — before it declared it was ready.

Scheduled maintenance

The Halfakid was just coming out of his flat when I rolled up. Before we set out, though, he wanted to install the new bike bell I’d recently got him. That took just a few minutes — the fastener was in an awkward position and we just had the multitool that I carry on every ride. That done, we spent a few more minutes pumping up his tires front and back. I’ve got an old floor pump sitting on my balcony that I’ve been meaning to give to him, but there hasn’t really been a good chance to bring it as it’s awkward to carry. So we used the portable pump that I carry on Kuroko.

More Garmin trouble

We set out together and I soon noticed that although the Garmin was tracking our location, it wasn’t recording the ride. I pushed the start button once again and it began recording. But then it reported we’d taken 40 minutes to do our first 5km. As we were maintaining a consistent pace above 20km/h at this point, it should have recorded less than 15 minutes. I have no idea what went wrong, but after that it settled down and recorded the rest of the ride with its usual accurracy.

(Just now as I’m writing this, the next day, I’m trying to restart the Garmin and it’s hanging on reboot. After many, many tries and forced restarts, I was finally able to get it to start up by turning off my phone, which is connected to the Garmin via Bluetooth.)

Going tubeless

Bicycle leaning against wooden railing over looking dry park pond
Kuroko sporting her new tires

This was my first ride since converting Kuroko to tubeless tires, and I was eager to see how they would perform. In just the first couple of kilometers I noticed a rythmic ticking noise coming from the front tire. Of course I immediately worried something was wrong and stopped to have a look. In fact it was just a couple of tiny pebbles that had been picked up by the excess latex that I’d left on the tread. I brushed them off and kept going, and within another couple of kilometers most of that latex had worn off as I’d expected.

The tires roll very smoothly, and they’re noticeably a bit narrower than the ones they replaced. I’d love to report that Kuroko felt a lot lighter and faster as a result. But the truth is I’ve been riding Dionysus for the past few weeks, so most of my reaction was to the difference in riding position, handling, etc., between the two bikes. I’m sure the lighter, narrower tires helped, particularly when we got to the climbing. Overall, the tires performed flawlessly and there have been no issues with them.

Crowded and hot

It was a hot and cloudy day with little wind. There wasn’t any bright sunshine, so we were a bit surprised when we came to our usual resting spot how crowded it was. A gaggle of seniors was playing croquet in the open gravel lot, with only a few in masks, and the tennis courts were packed.

We crossed the Tamagawa and headed upstream along the Asakawa. Immediately I saw another rider in a Tour de Tohoko jersey. I wondered if I would catch him and have a brief chat. “Oh yeah, I’ve done that, too!” But he was soon putting the distance on us as I felt my energy ebbing. I was hungry, and I’ve learned from experience that by the time I feel hungry while biking, I’m already fading fast. I wasn’t doing as badly as I did in early May when the Halfakid and I included this route as a leg in our first century ride, keeping the speed near 20km/h. When we reach our first rest stop I had one of Nana’s world-famous onigiri for energy, while the Halfakid had two, and then we continued onwards to Takaosan.

Greetings from France

At Takaosan, our usual picnic table spot by the FamilyMart was completely taken over by a baseball team (with no masks in sight). We chose instead to go to the nearby 7-11. We still didn’t get a place to sit, but it was a lot less crowded. I finished up the onigiri here and got an ice cream bar as well to help cool down. While we were resting, another cyclist approached us. “Where are you from?” he asked. “Tokyo,” the Halfakid replied, while I said, “United States.” We asked him where he was from and he said France. He didn’t have a lot to say after that, just mentioned there was more traffic than he expected. “We usually come on Sundays.” He was with two other bikers, both Japanese. I asked if he was going up the climb and he said no, they’d just come out this far and were going back.

We got our helmets and gloves back on and exchanged a “Good luck!” with our French friend, and started up the climb.

Litany of excuses follows

Even with a belly full of onigiri and ice cream, I knew I didn’t have my usual energy. The Halfakid, following patiently behind me, could see it, too. He kept up a string of encouragement and jokes as we started up the climb. I was dropping down the gears faster than usual, keeping my cadence up. In addition to the feeling of low energy, I had a headache. It may have been lack of sleep the night before (less than five hours’ worth), the fact I didn’t put on my sunglasses until after we’d stopped in Takaosan, my delay in stopping to eat when I was feeling hungry, or maybe a combination of these things. But I was determined to keep going.

I continued dropping gears. I went down to my lowest combo far earlier than I had on the previous attempt on this climb (and I did get into the lowest gear this time). The Halfakid meanwhile was contemplating in all seriousness whether he could make the top without down-shifting at all. On our previous assault he’d remained sur la plaque (on the larger chainring) about three-quarters of the way up, albeit unintentionally. I was still spinning, trying to keep my usual cadence of about 90rpm, which translates into roughly 9km/h in this gear, when the Halfakid said “See ya!” and rocketed past me.

The climb continued. Despite my listlessness, I was making progress. I tried not to stare at the Garmin, and at each switchback I’d say to myself that was another half a kilometer done, and encouraged myself that I could continue yet one more half a kilometer.

How to create a magnet

I knew I was nearing about the three-quarter point of the climb, still spinning and yet quite fatigued. I crossed over Annai River (which happens several times on the way up to the pass) and there it was! The point where I always give up and take a rest. It’s not just chance: on a switchback mountain road it’s only safe to stop in select spots. Good visibility in both directions, and a nice bit of shoulder so I’m out of traffic. In this case there’s a guardrail over the river, and immediately after that a broad shoulder (and a nice concrete wall to lean against). I noted the location — Nishi Kanba Bridge — and the distance. I’ve been stopping in this exact spot every time I’ve climbed this route, and in doing so I’ve made it into a psychological magnet. I see that and immediately my legs say, “Yay! It’s time to rest!”

So my goal for the next time up this mountain (which may not be until fall now with summer’s heat upon us) will be to get past this point. If I’ve broken that psychological barrier, will I be able to continue on to the top?

I’ve done this climb often enough that I recognize a number of features. After having a rest and setting off again from Nishi Kanba Bridge, I knew I was closing in on the goal. I passed the bus stop and again noted the distance, and I kept going. (I did make one or two more stops after Nishi Kanba, but the bus stop is not a good place for it.) An older Japanese man with long white hair flowing from under his helmet passed me speeding downhill, standing on his pedals, and shouted out a cheerful “Konnichi ha!” I smiled and waved and kept spinning.

Goal!

Somewhat cloudy view from Otarumi Touge
Somewhat cloudy view from Otarumi Touge

At last I reached the final turn, the one that I know from experience hides the peak just around its shoulder. Sometimes I stop right here for a photo, but this time I noted the distance and then continued on, rolling down the final couple of dozen meters to the spot we always choose to rest and drink water and enjoy the view. The Halfakid of course was waiting for me there, resting at a park bench. “Look at what gear I finished in,” he said, and I checked his bike and shook my head. He’d ridden up to the top in 50/19, or about 1.75m forward for each rotation of his cranks. Meanwhile I’d struggled up in 30/34, or about 0.58m for each rotation.

Adding it up

Or subtracting. The “magnet” bridge where I alway stop is just 640m from the top (distance — it’s another 20m or so of elevation). The bus stop is just 300m from the goal. It remains to be seen whether this knowledge is enough to inspire me to make it in one go on my next attempt.

Rapid descent

After we’d rested and drained our water bottles, we mounted up for the descent. I was fighting an irrational fear on the way down that my new tires would somehow roll off the rims during hard cornering, but I soon put that behind me as I caught up to the Halfakid. I didn’t try to pass him but was content to follow 5-10m behind. There was a car behind me as well, but apparently I was keeping up enough speed that the driver didn’t feel the need to pass me (and wasn’t crowding me, I’m happy to say). Mr Garmin reports that I hit a top speed of 49km/h, which seems about right. Strava, amusingly, from the same data put me at 60.5. Strava also gave me a PR on the descent, of which I’m sceptical as I was on the brakes a good part of this time, while on occasion in the past I’ve stayed off the brakes and let the speed build up as it will.

Additional refreshment

Selfie with two sweaty cyclists at Takaosan Guchi cable car entrance
Takaosan Guchi

We stopped at Takaosan Guchi for our usual trophy photo and then continued on to the FamilyMart. The baseball team had moved on and so we grabbed a picnic table. A quick survey of the convenience store resulted in a shock, though: no Snickers bars! We got some very juicy and tender fried chicken and some chocolate covered almonds and relaxed as we topped up our water bottles.

Continuing back down the Asakawa, I was feeling every bump through my spine up into the base of my skull. The tires are supple and do a good job of soaking up bumps, but the headache had left me very sensitive. I was still making good time, tooling along downriver at 30km/h, but each jounce made me wince.

As we approached the confluence with the Tamagawa we came into a headwind. I slowed my pace a bit and again the Halfakid zoomed ahead. I let him go and soldiered on at a cadence that felt comfortable to me. I was looking forward to crossing the river (“back into Tokyo,” as I think of it, although this entire route is within Tokyo — aside from the few dozen meters we go past the top of Otarumi) and having another rest, even if the seniors were still playing croquet. The wind let up for a bit and the Halfakid was waiting for me just before the bridge, and we rose up over the Tamagawa and found our resting spot with a nice bench. I messaged Nana that I was about 30km from home, but I didn’t give her an ETA just yet.

We followed the Tamagawa about 12km downstream before having a last rest and turning east into Tokyo traffic. I knew we had a bit of a rise coming up. It’s only a 2% grade for just over 1km, but when I’m tired it’s a challenge in its own right. At this point I’d ridden just about 100km, and I’d been up and down a mountain and … I somehow found the energy to get up that grade. We had our usual ins and outs with traffic, and then I was saying farewell to the Halfakid and messaging Nana that I would be home within about 50 minutes. (I always pad out this estimate so she won’t worry if I fall behind a bit.)

And that should be the end of the story

It’s not.

After leaving the Halfakid at his flat, I continued on for the remaining 8km to home. I soon came to the train crossing at Higashi Matsubara: a narrow road, with an abrupt climb up to the crossing and for a few dozen meters beyond. I shifted to the small chainring and made my way up without incident. But then, over the top and with the slightest of dips leading into the next flat, I shifted back to the large chainring –and the chain came off.

I was very lucky that the chain came off over the larger chainring, leaving it looping about the right crankarm, and not into the spokes as it had done during Lejog. I dismounted and had the chain back on the chainring in a matter of seconds (after unwinding it from the rear derailleur where it had twisted itself). Fortunately, I keep alcohol wipes in my bag and I cleaned my hands with one before continuing on my way.

I continued home without incident, but I noticed that every so often the rear was skipping. It seemed like the chain was trying to shift into a higher gear. I fiddled with the shifter paddles a bit each time and continued on my way. This is usually a sign of having the cable tension too tight, and if I’d been any farther from home (less than 5km at this point) I might have stopped and tried to fiddle with it. As it was I resolved to just put up with it until I was home.

And I got there without further incident. I didn’t try to set any records on the final downhill because of the traffic. And then when I reached the tower, the Garmin was showing just shy of 105km, so I looped once around the block to bring it up over the 105 mark.

GPS route of cycle ride from Shinjuku to Otarumi Touge
Otarumi Touge Hot!

This afternoon I stepped out into the Workshop in the Sky to have a good look at Kuroko and sort out why the chain had derailled, and why it was acting up after that. The first thing I noticed was the derailleur looked like it had bent. I wasn’t really sure how much it was bent, or if I could bend it back (it’s best to replace it if it really is bent), but I gave it a try. After a couple of firm shoves I was happy with the result.

Bent jocket wheel cageJockey wheel cage straight
Jockey wheel assembly before and after a couple of swift shoves

That done, I cleaned the chain prior to giving it a good inspection. I was a bit shocked by how black the degreaser came out after the cleaning — the chain hadn’t looked bad to me previously. I put the rear wheel back in and set about adjusting the derailleur. And in the process, I discovered the real culprit.

Bicycle chain with bent link encirled
The real culprit

One link of the chain was bent during the derailment. If I was on the road and miles from home, I’d whip out my multitool and shorten the chain a couple of links. As it is, I’ll be commuting on Dionysus tomorrow, and it’s going to rain the rest of the week. The replacement chain is scheduled to arrive on Tuesday. Once I’ve installed that and adjusted the front and rear derailleurs, I’ll be able to see if the rear mech is fine as is or also needs to be replaced. (It’s not all that expensive, but I’m hoping it’s not so fragile that I need to replace it after a simple derailment.)

Disaster strikes

Description and map of Lake Kasumigaura Area

With travel restrictions looming back in March, I wrote that my Ohio plans might be canceled. As a back-up plan, I chose the Tsukuba-Kasumigaura Ring Ring Road and floated the idea among my usual cycling friends.

Now we find ourselves in June, going on July, and the Ohio trip is definitely out. I started looking more carefully into the Tsukuba situation, and the first speed bump I encountered as the lack of onsen. There’s nothing I enjoy more than a long soak in a hot tub — even in the summer — at the end of a long ride, and a nice onsen will offer that as well as a fantastic meal.

I looked again at the official site, and soon arrived upon Plan B: the Lake Kasumigaura Circuit Course and the Kitaura Area Circuit Course are both near the town of Itago, and I soon located several likely onsen in Itago to serve as a base for both rides. So the new schedule will be to drive up as early as possible Sunday morning and cycle the shorter Kitaura route. Monday will be spent circling Kasumigaura, and we’ll return to Tokyo on Tuesday.

At Nana’s urging, and with her help, we’ve booked an onsen in Itako, Ibaragi, at the end of July, and a large van to carry both bicycles and passengers. The Halfakid and Tomo are in, so it will be three bikes and five or six people in the van.

Here’s where the disaster part comes in

I knew that I had a route map for the Lake Kasumigaura Circuit Course, but I didn’t have one for the Kitaura Area Circuit Course. The course maps available from the site are more descriptive than they are effective route guides.

But I knew that the Japanese version of the site included full route maps served by Yahoo’s excellent LatLongLab. So I started looking around in Japanese.

And I looked.

And I looked …

At last I remembered that I’d posted the LatLongLab routes previously, so I went back to that original post to see if it would offer me any clues. But when I clicked on that route … Disaster:

Screenshot of Yahoo page stating that LatLongLab is closed
LatLongLab is closed

LatLongLab is closed as of 31 March 2020. All the data and images have been deleted.

A huge blow, and a small consolation

The loss of LatLongLab is a huge blow to the cycling community in Japan. The organized rides I’ve participated in — Tour de Tohoku, Bike Tokyo — have used this, and I’ve taken advantage of a number of other routes that cyclists have posted there. The small consolation for Kasumigaura is that both routes are very straightforward: just keep the lake on the left (or on the right, if going around clockwise).

It’s a good thing I’m checking now, a month before the event. I have plenty of time to plot out the routes and load them into the GPS.

Lejog pictures and places, Day 9

View through car windshield showing pouring rain

Monday, June 24

Monday morning dawned rainy. I’d had hours and hours of sleep and was eager to get a car and start chasing Fearless Leader Joe. I was soon on the road and apparently so was he, deep into Scotland. The weather forecast was bad and getting worse. When the deluge hit it was of Biblical proportions. The rain came down so hard I had to pull off the road because I couldn’t see where I was going! FLJ meanwhile, thoroughly drenched, had found shelter and a pot of hot tea near Edinburgh at Badgers Brook, Broxburn.

After the weather cleared, we met up for the night in Perth.

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Lejog pictures and places, Day 8

Cyclist standing in front of sign at Scottish border

Sunday, June 23

Sunday morning, over a Full English breakfast, I let Fearless Leader Joe know that he’d be continuing solo. I was sidelined by saddle sores. We made a plan to continue to Penrith, where I would rent a car and continue to follow Joe up through Scotland. Unfortunately, we hadn’t counted on it’s being Sunday, and there were no rental places open when we arrived in Penrith. So we continued on together to Carlisle, where we had lunch and then found lodging for me for the night while FLJ continued onwards. And what a day he had! We’d already done 60km to reach Carlisle by lunchtime (after much faffing about in Penrith), but he put in another 100km before calling a stop for the night!

Thethwaite, Carlisle

Bicycle leaning against signpost in the countryside
That’s fine, but we’re going the other way


Cyclist standing in front of sign at Scottish border
Welcome to Scotland

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Lejog pictures and places: Day 7

Cyclist passing a road sign at Shap Fell Summit

Saturday, June 22

Saturday — our planned day of rest — saw us on the road once more, making up lost time. We said goodbye to the canals here as we headed into the Lake District, but we did so in grand style. First we crossed the Lune Aqueduct, a canal on a bridge over a river, and then I found myself lending assistance to a canal boat whose motor had stopped.

River Lune

Cyclist standing next to canal on a bridge over a river
Canal on a bridge over a river

Carnforth

Man in cycling windbreaker and helmet pulling canal boat by a rope
My life as a canal mule

(Approximate location)

Just jumping ahead one moment: compare my windbreaker in that photo with the result after I’d returned to Tokyo and Nana had had a go with the washing.

Clean windbreaker hanging from hook on wall
The windbreaker after washing

Garnett Bridge

We reached Kendal, our goal for the previous evening, about 5 p.m. I was for stopping but FLJ was eager to take advantage of the remaining sunlight to get a leg up on the following day’s riding. We had quite a climb ahead of us — a Category 2 according to Strava. We passed through the lovely village of Garnett Bridge, but that was only the beginning of our climbing. We finally reached Shap Fell summit at 8:24 p.m. (Fearless Leader Joe far ahead and waiting patiently for me to come puffing up behind) and then flew down the next 10km to reach our lodging in Shap on the dot of 9 p.m.

Waterfall
Waterfall, Garnett Bridge

Cyclist standing on stone bridge
Bridge over the waterfall

Kendal

Hilly English countryside with sheep
This vista brought to you by your thighs

Shap Fell Summit

Road winding down through hills
View from the top — of a Cat. 2 climb


Cyclist passing a road sign at Shap Fell Summit
Shap Fell Summit

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Lejog pictures and places: Day 6

Cyclist with a Police Community Support Officer

Friday, June 21

In the morning, with Kuroko behaving better than she had all trip thanks to Ben’s ministrations, we ate our breakfast standing in an Asda parking lot and then (after some faffing about) found our way back to the canals.

Stoke-on-Trent

Wrought iron signpost in a grass field
Canal marker

(Approximate location)

Barton Upon Irwell

With daily shortfalls of our riding goals and the time lost to the broken spokes, we knew we’d have to forfeit our rest day to get back on schedule. With that in mind we were pleased that the day progressed well, despite the coolness of the Manchester locals, and the only incident was another flat. (I’m happy to report it was our last flat of the trip.) As we were finishing up the repair, a community support officer dropped by to see if we needed help, and happily agreed to pose for a photo.

Cyclist in yellow windbreaker fixing a flat tire
Here we go again …

Cyclist with a Police Community Support Officer
Friendly Police Community Support Officer lends a hand

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Lejog pictures and places: Day 5

Cyclist posing with custom blue bicycle

Thursday, June 20

On the morning of Day 5 we started by fitting our panniers. I had new panniers (brought from London by FLJ’s brother) to replace the one I’d broken on the first day, and Fearless Leader Joe had a new bike to fit his panniers to.

Staunton

Bicycle with bright yellow panniers against brick wall
New panniers!

Cyclist posing with custom blue bicycle
Proud owner of a custom bike

As we set out, my chain was making squeaking noises. I knew the rear derailleur was somewhat misaligned, and all the mud and rain had apparently washed away most of the chain lube. We stopped at a garage and they kindly let us use some oil. It helped a bit. We set out again with FLJ getting used to his new bicycle with its much more upright and relaxed riding position.

Worcester

Swans in the Severn River, with All Saints Worcester in the background
Swans and All Saints

The Guildhall Worcester
The Guildhall Worcester

At Worcester our route took us through the town center. We got turned around once or twice and were impatient to be moving, but the views were amazing.

Kidderminster

Cyclist squeezing wide handlebars through gate
Squeezing through the barrier

Then at Kidderminster, FLJ had quite a time fitting his wide handlebars through this gate (meant to keep motorscooters off the canal path). We’d been working through various styles of gates the whole time, but this one was the most difficult. (I was able to pass through without any problem.)

Wombourne: Look up!

The GPS guided us under this bridge and then seemed to call for us to continue along the road on top of the bridge. We looked around for a way up. Eventually we found we’d passed by a poorly maintained and unmarked path up to the South Staffordshire Railway Walk, a converted rail right-of-way.

Stafford

Later in the day as we cycled along the canal, my rear derailleur started misbehaving. It wouldn’t shift off the four lowest cogs. We took a break and I used my water bottle to clear the mud out of the derailleur and I fiddled with the adjustment screws. I got the thing working again but I’d made a bad mistake: I’d backed out the lower limit screw. In the evening as we neared Stafford, I shifted the derailleur off the lowest cog and the chain went into the wheel, breaking two spokes and mangling a few others.

Mechanic working on bike in dark parking lot
Ben to the rescue

While I got the broken spokes out of the way so Kuroko could limp into the next town, Fearless Leader Joe worked his phone and found a mobile bicycle mechanic. We secured a room at a Travelodge in Stafford, and Ben showed up in his repair truck to replace the broken spokes, straighten the wheel, clean and lube the chain and adjust the rear derailleur! He’s our hero!

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Lejog pictures and places: Day 4

Cyclist with bicycles on bridge over canal, with boats in background

Wednesday, June 19

Day 4 saw us at a rather slow start as we spent time sponging clay off the bikes from the previous day’s failed detour. But the skies, although grey, did not threaten rain, and we were on the road with sandwiches in our pockets earlier than we had left Hatherleigh the day before.

Yatton

Two cups of coffee and a muddy bicycle helmet
Cup o’ mud

We rolled into Yatton at 11 a.m., which was too early for the cafés to open for lunch, so we enjoyed some coffee at the station. (As it turns out, we should have eaten something as well, because the sandwiches we’d brought from the hotel in the morning did not see us through the lunch that we missed.)

Avonmouth

Cyclist walking across a bridge of palettes
The palette bridge

Cyclist walking across a bridge of palettes
Crossing a makeshift bridge

After leaving Yatton we encountered a local on his bike who gleefully led us towards Portishead and directed us towards our goal: the Avonmouth Bridge. We cycled along a repurposed rail line towards the bridge only to enounter a construction area. Mindful of our experience at Bridgwater, we asked a construction worker for directions. He guided us towards this makeshift bridge — “But you didn’t hear it from me” — and from there we found our way onto the bridge proper after only 20 minutes or so of going off on a wild goose chase in the wrong (but it was right?) direction.

Ingst Hill

North of the Avon, we dodged cows, only back-tracked a little bit, and found ourselves again in rain and mud. But at least we had cell signal to handle those important business calls.

Cyclist on a muddy road
Only a small portion of the mud encountered en route

Ham, Berkeley

Later in the afternoon the skies cleared enough for us to delight in discovering a mailbox! and a phone booth converted into a share library! Shortly after that we rolled into Berkeley. The café we spotted was closed, so we stood on the pavement and enjoyed some convenience store munchies to make up for our missed lunch before continuing.

Cyclists posing in front of mailbox, phone booth converted into library
Mailbox and phone booth library


Splatt Bridge, Frampton on Severn

We’d arranged a slight detour to meet up with Fearless Leader Joe’s brother, who was driving out from London with the beautiful new bike that FLJ had ordered for this tour (and then dithered so long about the paint color that the frame builder had to move heaven and earth to get the thing to us before we’d actually finished the ride). But on our way to the meet-up point we had one more break at a lovely crossing over the canal, where FLJ got involved in a seemingly endless conversation with a couple of locals.

Cyclist with bicycles on bridge over canal, with boats in background
Chillin’ at Splatt

Staunton

We finally rolled into Staunton just a few minutes ahead of the cloudburst to find that the hotel was full. The staff helpfully assisted us in finding a B&B, but on our way there the heavens once again loosed their barrage upon us. The rain was over as quickly as it started, but we arrived dripping and muddy from head to toe. FLJ’s brother let us know he would arrive soon, and so we retired as we were to the Swan for a very delicious dinner as the sun re-ermerged and started to dry out our gear.

Three men, two in cyclists gear, at a restaurant table
Dinner at the Swan

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