16 March 2017

Some Memories of Mitsuaki (Micky) Inagaki

The empty road
At around 630AM local time on March 15, 2017, Micky was struck and killed by a truck while riding on the South Island of New Zealand, where he was participating in the “Tiki 1200” event together with friends from around the globe. Another rider he was at the time was seriously injured. 

(To Japanese, he is “Inagaki-san”, but to foreigners he insisted on “Micky” since it is friendlier, easier to remember and pronounce than either “Inagaki” or “Mitsuaki”. As a Japanese-speaking foreigner, I would always call him “Inagaki-san” in Japanese and when with Japanese, but will stick to “Micky” in English.)

In recent years, Micky served as the President (or Chair - the Japanese term “kaicho” would usually translate to “Chair”) of Audax Japan, a responsibility he took very seriously. But that understates his role. He was really the “Permanent Ambassador to the World” for Audax Japan. He was always striving to improve Audax in Japan, to boost the capabilities of Japanese riders, to encourage them to participate in events abroad and foreign riders to come to events in Japan. He was a “sensei” (teacher) to us all, dispensing wisdom wherever he went. He had and made friends everywhere with a big welcoming grin across his face, and was for many a key link between Japan and the world. He did this without ever really mastering English (or, for ACP matters, French), but somehow always managing to achieve understanding, to get his meaning through and understand others. He was a shining example of “private diplomacy” and of someone who made a difference in the world while following his passion. It is difficult to imagine a life more full or better lived.

My first memory of Inagaki-san is from one early season Shizuoka brevet when I was trying to secure enough mileage to get a spot for 2011 Paris-Brest-Paris from Japan. I had only ridden my first Audax event in 2009, and it was my first time riding in Shizuoka — I thought it would be warmer there than in Kanto for a winter brevet (it was), and in any event in those days the Tokyo area brevets always seemed to be fully booked by the time I thought about entry. 

As we were standing around at the start at a parking lot outside of Fukuroi, Inagaki-san was talking a lot, and saying interesting things. A group of six or seven riders had gathered, but Micky carried the conversation, as if the others were there to hear his observations. I did not know anything about him, but he struck me as really different from the typical brevet rider I had come across in Japan. My first impressions were that he was outgoing, opinionated, vocal, upbeat, very knowledgeable and clever. I saw him regularly after that at events inside Japan and out.

Who was he and where did he come from, I wondered? The core members of Audax Japan have known him longer than I and know much more, but I learned that he attended Kyoto University’s faculty of medicine. When he was young (a student?) he enjoyed serving as crew on a racing sailboat, he once told me--they won an ocean race around the peninsula that is southern Wakayama Prefecture. He had a map of the San Juan/Gulf Islands in his house. And he early on developed a love for photography. 

He did not like medicine, so instead of becoming a doctor, he became a business consultant. (I note that despite his career decision, he would often volunteer helpful medical advice to suffering randonneurs). I do not know the details of how he started or developed his consulting business, but somehow he had lots of good ideas that corporate Japan needed … Company management needed someone creative, outside the system, to offer suggestions and help them create new businesses. He did well enough at it so he could, at an early age, design and have built his house in Tateshina, Nagano not far from Lake Shirakaba. (His wife Tomomi told me that they met somewhere in that process, as she worked for a company involved in the design and construction). He did well enough so that he could live a good life with Tomomi at their house, he could enjoy being a ski instructor in the winter nearby, and he could pursue his many passions, including cycling, photography and, of course, traveling the world while cycling and photographing.

Micky was also a bit mischievous and playful, and always had that big grin on his face, even when he was suffering on a ride. In 2012, on a 300km Brevet return from Hirosaki (Aomori) to Tendo (Yamagata) during the spectacular Saitama Audax Golden Week “Tohoku 1700”, as he caught up with me on a long climb in cold rain, he gave me a surprise “push” forward grabbing my lower back (or jersey pocket) with his hand. I was not expecting this surprise “attack”, and I almost lost my balance! I veered off, and he ended up going in the other direction. I stayed upright, but he went down onto the pavement of the deserted highway. He hopped right back up and onto his bicycle none the worse for wear, and I could quickly forgive him since he had obviously meant to help, not harm. I guess he was reminded that when a smaller object pushes off a bigger one, the smaller one usually ends up going flying!

That year, 2012, Micky taught me how successfully to complete long, 1200km events: 

Plan ahead!

Micky almost always studied the route carefully in advance, he read trip reports of prior years’ rides on the same course. He had a ride plan, and knew every water stop, restroom, potential sleeping location, restaurant and food source on each route. He pushed other Japanese riders to do the same, especially when riding major events outside of Japan. He did not like seeing Japanese riders who had no difficulty with 1000 or 1200 km events in Japan show up, jet lagged and with an inadequate plan, at events overseas, as they would almost inevitably get in trouble, not manage it well, and DNF.  But planning alone is not enough. As they say, “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” Of course, he was flexible enough so that he could manage even when his plan went awry. (He told me about this happening during Super Brevet Scandinavia in August 2013, when he got several flat tires, missed a crucial ferry, and was racing against the clock, sleep deprived and exhausted, for much of a 1200km event.)

In 2012, we rode the Cascade 1200 and the Rocky Mountain 1200, both getting the “Can Am” medal (as did many others, mostly from the Seattle International Randonneurs and BC Randonneurs, the two host clubs).

On the Cascade 1200, I remember him collapsed at an afternoon control just before we did the climb up Loup Loup Pass together, starting the most magical part of that event — Loup Loup at sunset with a purple, pink sky, then Twist, then riding through the old west theme town of Winthrop, player piano going in the saloon on the main street in the evening (!!!), and a starry cool evening ride with the sound of a river alongside the deserted highway to the control at Camp Mazama, where riders gathered around a big common table and enjoyed hot comfort food (mac cheese!) before getting a few hours of sleep.  Micky somehow got to and left Mazama before me — and we separately suffered the cold rain/almost sleet and fierce headwind of Washington Pass and Rainy Pass, but we met again in the afternoon, at a McDonald’s full of very tired riders, before the final stage back to the finish. We formed a group of 7 or 8 riders, and rode in a “lanterne rouge” team, talking and enjoying the late afternoon … and early evening through Seattle’s Northeastern exurbs — with Micky, Bob Koen, Tim Lucas, Will Danicek, Jun Sato and Matthew O’Neill (who, like Micky, was killed on a randonée by a driver yielding a massive lethal weapon of a vehicle). We all reached the goal in 88 hours and 55 minutes.

The next month, before Rocky Mountain 1200, Micky told me that the key was to get to Jasper (a bit over 400kms) around 9PM (after a start at 10PM the previous evening), and get some sleep then head out in the wee hours (230AM?). That was the only way to get to the next control and make it over the passes of the Icefields Parkway in time to arrive at Lake Louise before that control closed. If you could get to the top of the last big pass on track, you would be fine — cruising to Lake Louise, and you could almost “roll it home” the last 500 kms. In an event that saw almost half of the riders abandon during the first day’s miserable cold rain, I was determined, above all else, to get to Jasper. I did, and I was okay.

In 2013, we both rode London-Edinburgh-London. Both coming and going, I could enjoy a fairly long stretch riding with Micky at night on this 1420+km monster — a day longer than the typical 1200km grand randonée. I remember a long, dark, damp and so somewhat boring stretch on the return between Barton-on-Humber and Market Resin where Micky was getting tired. He declared that the way to stay awake and alert was to sing and shout out. He proceeded to do so for at least the next hour, beating back his fatigue, not a care in his mind. Eventually I faded back from the cacophony, too fatigued to maintain the group’s speed and a bit relieved to be back in the quiet night, the yelling/singing fading into the distance. 
Micky was always helping other riders. I remember an end-of-season, early October monster 600km brevet in 2012 that Jerome and I entered, sponsored by Kanagawa Audax. It was a small group at the start, and an even smaller group at the finish! The ride went out over Yanagisawa Pass (elev 1475), then around Kofu, over Fujimi (elev 975) and down to Chino, then over Daimon Pass at Lake Shirakaba (elev 1500), down to a 7-11 turn around point, then back up over Daimon Pass, all the way around the west side of Mt. Fuji, then back up over the NW shoulder of Fuji on Route 71 (elev 1130), and back to Tokyo via Tsuru Pass (Elev 875) and a bunch of local hills.  Not an SR600 but close, with only 40 hours!  As we climbed Daimon Pass, cold rain started, and by the time I descended to reach the turnaround 7-11 I was thinking of packing it in -- just a bit further to a hotel in Ueda, then an easy train ride home in the morning. But there, set up across the parking lot from the 7-11, was Micky, with hot water for tea or soup and places to sit, a tent to keep off the rain. I don't think it was official support. He just saw the bad weather, realized we would be in trouble, threw a bunch of stuff in the back of his car and headed down the mountain to set up an aid station. After that, how could I even though of abandoning the ride? I headed up the hill, and completed the event with Jerome, the second day weather mostly pleasant.

After these experiences, seeing Micky at major (and minor) events was, for me as for countless others, a matter of course, something we almost took for granted — Hokkaido 1200 last year, of course he was there! I was no different than hundreds of other randonneurs in Japan and around the world who knew and recognized him. After he became AJ President, I was delighted to help him from time-to-time with some materials in English — he really wanted to add some English content page to the Audax Japan website to encourage foreign participation in Japanese events — or a quick repair or loaner of a bicycle wheel with a dynamo hub—my specialty. And I remained curious about the man. How had he figured it out to live a life so different than so many others in Japan, so independent and with such an endless spirit of challenge and curiosity.

So when I wanted to plan a ski trip with my sons when they were in Japan for the holidays at the end of last year, I called Micky to ask about the ski areas near him. He said we could stay overnight at his place -- there were six ski areas within short driving distance, including the one where he was an instructor. He would figure out one where we could rent equipment (including three pairs of boots for our large size feet), and ask the head ski instructor if we could get a special price. His one caveat was that he was working a major transaction involving the replacement of his mother’s house in Osaka. She is now in her 90s and needs a single floor residence designed to be easy for an elderly person to navigate. This would be her house for the remainder of her life, and would be his and Tomomi’s after they grew to an age where it was no longer practical or fun to live in the woods, 45 minutes’ drive down a mountain from the nearest supermarket — a place they obviously loved but that was just not practical once they would reach an age when driving would be difficult or doctors should be nearer.

Of course, Micky said he has the relevant licenses (architect? real estate transaction? both and more?) and was doing the design for the new house himself. And if he could reach a deal with the contractor so that the demolition would start in December, then his mom would be living with Tomomi and him in Tateshina, and he could not take guests.

When we spoke a few weeks later, he said that he had not been able to reach an agreement with the contractor, so the project was on hold until the new year. So I planned an overnight visit just after Christmas. In the end, there was not enough snow for the ski areas to open that week, so instead of skiing, my sons and I visited Ueda, the home of the feudal Sanada family, featured in 2016’s NHK historical special (Taiga-Drama), to see Ueda Castle and other sights, then stopped at an onsen, and headed up the hill to visit the Inagaki house. On the return, we visited Suwa and saw some of its shrines, famous for a festival where young men ride massive logs down a hillside and try to avoid being crushed while doing so.

I am really glad that I got to do this trip. Micky was his usual, affable, talkative self, and explained the many interesting features he had designed into their house that made it a comfortable place to live in the woods — features not really obvious to the untrained eye. I could see many of his photographs, some of which had won amateur photography prizes, and series of photos he had taken during earlier travels. He was hard at work designing his mom’s Osaka replacement house, and again explained some of the thinking that was going into the design. Of course, there were MANY Audax medals and awards on display—Micky collected them all. 

He was talking about a mid-winter trip to Paris for Audax business at a meeting of the ACP governing body. He did not really need to go, but thought he should, just in case he could contribute. And he was planning the New Zealand trip, a return for him. I was thinking about joining … almost booked my plane ticket and got flight info from him … but frankly it looked like too hard an early season ride for me. And I wanted to visit close riding friends in Europe I had not seen in 3 years, who now live in Mallorca (cycling heaven) and could not manage both trips.

Tomomi — with help from Micky for a wok full of fried rice — cooked us a wonderful Chinese dinner (each course delicious and distinct flavors, too many to count), and explained the raw materials that came from their garden or the nearby woods. And the next morning, for breakfast, we enjoyed a variety of Tomomi’s wonderful homemade breads. (One of the “next” projects for the house was to be an outside brick oven for baking even more of those delicious breads.) It snowed overnight, so I got to put on the tire chains (bought a decade ago, finally used) so that we could get back to the main roads and down the hill to Suwa without slipping off the road.

I had always wondered whether Micky and Tomomi would enjoy living so far from the city, high up on a hillside. Now I understood. It was a very happy household. And I am delighted that I got a chance to introduce my two sons to Micky, as they are making decisions that will affect how they live their adult lives.

I can only imagine the grief that Tomomi is suffering. I read Kaz Tachikawa’s note that she had gone to New Zealand with Micky as a volunteer to support the event. She was working with a group of mostly locals around the clock over the four days, preparing food, manning the controls, dealing with the logistics. This accident, this death, affects all of us so much, it really is hard to take.

Eric Larsen's photo of Micky at the beginning of the 2016 Hokkaido 1200.
Always a smile and a challenge ahead!
Yesterday, I rode with my friends down, and up the climb at Sa Calobra, one of the “iconic” climbs of cycling — not as tough, but just as spectacular as the Tourmalet, L’Alpe d’Huez, Mont Ventoux, the Stelvio and a few others. We are still in the early weeks of the season here and were late getting started, so we had the road almost to ourselves on the climb back up the hill. Not a single tourist bus the entire day on a hillside that is sometimes clogged with them. The weather was perfect. As I looked across the valley, I could see a ribbon of empty road, switchbacks lit up by sun shining through a gap in some passing clouds. There really ought to be a rider there, I thought. I wanted to see Micky bobbing back and forth as he climbed. I know I will want to see him come along up the road on all my future rides.

That is all for now. It has only been 30 hours since I heard the awful news. I cannot make sense of it, or process the consequences for Tomomi, for Micky’s mother, for his friends in Japan and abroad, for Japan Audax. This will take time.

17 February 2017

2020 Tokyo Olympics Road Race Course -- Tama Hills!

Folks, the course has been leaked though not yet officially announced!

Many of us who ride in western Tokyo will recognize one of our home hills -- the gradual climb past Tama Hills and Sakuragaoka CC. What fun!  I guess I will be training on this one a bit more between now and 2020 than I might otherwise have.

Thanks to PE Europe member David J. for pointing us to this.

28 January 2017

Wada in Winter ... and the Women of Jimba Kaido!

The Renovo poses at Wada Toge in the usual place
Today was a balmy late-January day. I had to get some work out of the way before heading out, and did not leave home until after 11AM. Still, I was determined to get in a decent ride as I cannot ride next weekend, and I've got the Yakushima hill climb coming up next month.

130 kms and 1700 meters of elevation gain (if you believe RidewithGPS and Strava).
I hopped on the Renovo, my most "fun to ride" bike for longer distances. The ride qualities of the wood frame, the DI2 shifting, hydraulic disk brakes, and tubeless Schwalbe 1 tires on wide rimmed Velocity Aileron rims ... makes it one sweet ride.

I headed for Hachioij, then onto Jimba Kaido toward the hills. I realized that it has been a LONG time since I have gone the main road up Wada. Too much traffic, and shorter (if steeper) than the Daigo Rindo alternative (which is plenty steep, and actually climbs 35-40 meters higher, to boot). Today, I thought there would not be much traffic, mid-winter, and I was a bit worried about debris and perhaps ice on the rindo, so I decided to go straight up Jimba Kaido. On the approach, I was not disappointed. The weather was spectacular and there was almost no traffic.
On Jimba Kaido!
As I turned left and headed the last stretch toward the base of the steep climb, a touring rider darted out of a pulloff. He was fully loaded and young. I figured he must be a college student (final exams just ended, and only students, homeless people, crazy foreigners and a few Audax riders do that kind of thing in winter.  I asked him where he was headed. "Kobe".  Impressive.  "Nairiku route?"  "Yes!" Just like Jerome, but he looked as if he were planning to spend at least a week on the ride.  I got a photo later as I took a rest at the bus stop before the climb.
College student heading for Kobe via the inland route

I realized as I headed toward the stretch to the base of the climb that I had not seen the Women of Jimba Kaido in a long time. Were they still there? Still unclothed? Did they miss me? Or had someone else taken them away. I was delighted to see that the Women were still outside, unclothed and beautiful. But there clearly had been activity.  I think a major change in the troupe--fewer massive reclining bodies and more diversity. Still plenty of headless bodies though!
Some of the Women of Jimba Kaido
One on the far side of the group was a bit demure, facing away from me.

For the first time ever, I could hear the sculptor at work, even see him through an open window along the road.

Anyway, I did the climb slowly, and needed to get off the bike twice because of traffic -- once when a cyclist coming down tried to go around me on my left/his right, and I needed to put a foot down and walk a few meters to somewhere with enough room to remount and lock in, cursing him for not passing on the left. Then there was the classic traffic jam -- Honda Odyssey going up and similar car trying to come down. They were facing off each other and the Honda was starting to back down, but there was not room for me to ride by, so I dismounted and walked around both cars. Next time I will take the rindo.
Some snow near the top, but not much!
Near the top

Mikan, Palm Trees, and Tea Bushes!
At the top it was warm enough to chat with an American named Jim who said he was in Japan in the 1990s and came back recently, is riding with Half Fast, and came up the Ura Wada climb. Eventually his riding partner Andre (riding a GS Astuto carbon frame bike) appeared.

I headed down to the west since my sweat was starting to get cold from chatting at 700 meters elevation. The west side was great, a beautiful valley as usual, no traffic, only a bit of slush and ice near the top--but always a clear path through on dry pavement.

I had forgotten that getting from the west side of Wada to Fujino does include one short climb. Then I was on Route 20. Instead of continuing over Otarumi, I headed SE and took the high forest road on the North side of Lake Tsukui.
Tsukui field -- I have photos all seasons. But this does not look quite like I remember previous winters.

On the north side of Tsukui. Just beautiful today.

Shadows getting long as I leave Tsukui behind
I took the Tank Road and Onekansen Doro. Uneventful, but at least I still felt okay, not pushing too hard. At Yanokuchi I decided I would take the Kawasaki side and stop by C Speed. A group of 7-8 sharply dressed Japanese road cyclists was heading out from the Yanokuchi Lawson as I passed. I ended up in the middle of their group. It was a "Rapha" ride. Anyway, it was nice to ride with a group for a change, stop by C Speed to see Hiroshi, and then head home, finally in the dark, but not an issue for the Renovo with its SD-8 dynamo hub and front/rear lighting!

January has been a good start to the cycling year, especially in comparison with the past two years!

21 January 2017

Japan Handmade Bicycle Show - - The ride home and Farmer's Market - Part 4

After leaving the bicycle show, it was lunchtime as I rode home down Aoyama Dori in sun and a warm (if windy) winter day.
In front of United Nations University, there was a big farmer's market. It seems to be a regular event both Saturday and Sunday.
It could have been straight out of Portland, Oregon. There were some people selling antiques anc crafts, but it was at least 80% food. Lots of food carts I had a "half and half" with two types of curry, quite spicy and not Japanese at all. Tasty, and there were plenty of other things that looked good.

I wandered and got some vegetables, leaf lettuce, and small jar of goat cheese/mushroom paté, tea from Shizuoka, etc. Some things were expensive, but others were no more, even less, than at the supermarket.
This was all I could carry -- no rucksack. Lots more looked good!
And there were lots of things you could not find at the supermarket, definitely - different types of apples, colored cauliflower, beets, yuzu jelly, and delicious raspberry jam. The jam REALLY tasted like fresh raspberries -- the berries are grown and jam made in Hokuto-shi in Yamanashi -- I had a nice conversation with the lady about the difficulty of growing and handling raspberries in Japan, using knowledge I got from Jerome on a bike ride long ago.

The goat cheese is from a goat herd near Otsuki, toward Sarubashi (here). She was surprised that I knew the place.

So was the lady who sold me the black tea from Shizuoka (north Tenryugawa).

So was the couple who selling an Australian variety of apples from Nagano.  I said "Nakano?" She was surprised I knew it was the apple capital of Nagano -- since Aomori and some other apples are better known in Tokyo. (I remembered a couple we talked with at Nozawa Onsen at the public footbath who said they came every year to buy apples at Nakano, down the valley.)  I told her I had been there on my bicycle.  She said "ahh, Shiga Kogen".  Of course!

Just a few examples. All thanks to riding my bicycle around this country.

Despite hearing this morning on the news about Donald Trump's dystopian view of the world as expressed in his inaugural address, the world does not look grim. In fact, it looks like a pretty nice place.

Japan Handmade Bicycle Show - The Parking Lot - Part 3

As Jan Heine's blog post from last year's show noted, this year as well there were quite a few interesting bikes in the parking lot at the Japan handmade bicycle show. Not just my Renovo!
This proud owner told me he hand-sewed the leather trim on his basket.
And he pointed out the bike in the next photo to me.

Venus -- apparently a very rare bike today, probably from the 1960s, for Keirin racing use.

Rear brake for Keirin racing! Pull the lever - kind of like stopping a sled.

A pair of Amanda road bikes. Maybe his and hers ...?

A pair of Bromptons -- maybe his and hers?

One of several Bike Fridays I saw - Made in Oregon.

Vogue/Orient Industries. A builder in Kamakura?
Very bright, safety colors. Alfine internal hub. Distinctive.

Ravanello - made in Japan.

More Cherubim firehouse red!

Francesco Moser frame -- do not see many of these classics in Japan.

Japan Handmade Bike Show - Something Different - Part 2

Of course, a custom, hand-made bike show would not be complete without some different, non-standard designs!

Not sure how many of these they will sell ... but amusing,
and gets rid of the captain/stoker discrimination.
1. Miraicle.  This is a mini velo from Gifu, Mino city.  They are a division of Takai Corporation. The frame is a carbon monocoque mini velo with an internal hub (Alfine) and disk brakes.  Very high tech and not too heavy (10.8 kgs).  Itoh-san, the exhibitor, said he rides brevets with AR Chubu. He said he knows Higuchi-san from our Fleche team. A nice guy and an interesting mini velo for Japan and urban living ... though not for my body size/type!

2. Sano Magic - Wood Bicycle. I was happy to get a chance to see/touch these and chat with Mr. Sano, since I hear of him regularly since I got the Renovo.

His bikes are a very different concept than Renovo.  Solid wood (but surprisingly light -- I think a light type of wood). And not just the frame is wood (and no metal inserts like Renovo -- he is a purist). The saddle and seatpost, and the bars and fork, and even the wheel rims are wood.  He even has some wheels with wooden four-spoke designs. He says his design is more durable than other wood bikes, and still comfortable. He said there is one customer who rides his Sano 1000 kms a month. (I told him that I have ridden my Renovo on 200, 400 and 600 km brevets.) But I suspect most of Sano wood bikes are on display somewhere. At 2 million yen and up, a bit out of my price range ... and I have my doubts about whether any of them are being ridden as hard as I ride my bikes.

JPY2 million (around $17K at current exchange rates) gets you a complete bike
including wood rimmed wheels.  Mahogany anyone?
Still costs less than a sportscar, and you can hang it on your wall as art.

3. Sunrise Cycles!!

Speaking of art, these are contemporary art.  Weird, out of some sci-fi movie about a metal future. I loved it. The builder, based on Shinjuku-ku, did a huge amount of work on this bike. Even the mud guards have custom metal work involved.  Going wild with laser cut sheet steel.

They don't sell this bridge over at the framebuilder supply shop.

He brought out a beer can to show me how the 3 bottle cages were designed to work.
Not for your standard water bottle!

Fender from a Sci Fi movie - Aliens?

The most complex head tube I have ever seen.

No, this is not a suspension design. Just a very complicated, artistic connection

Again, very complex, and cool.
Panier attachment ...

More complexity here.

4. More Mini Velos

5. Paul Brakes

These Paul brakes looked really solid.
6. New Dynamo Lighting

A Dutch dynamo light (with SV-8 hub -- not shown).
The frame is titanium, painted for the classic look. And carbon bars?!?

Makino randonneur with classic front light

A Dobbat's bike. With the newest Busch and Mueller light and a Shimano centerlock disk brake dynamo hub.
Looks like a thin tire, all weather road bike. 

7. History on Display. They had a road and a single speed/track "Everest" from pre-WWII Japan.

After the show, it was out to the bicyele parking lot for the ride home.