June 8, 2008

I Survived Mountain Biking In Mount Rokko

On Saturday morning, bright and early at 7 AM, Mike met up with a group of Filipino guys that he had met through basketball for a mountain biking ride. Here is a tip for all of you. If a group of athletic Filipino guys ask you if you want to join their Saturday morning mountain biking group, they do not mean simply riding your mountain bike off Rokko Island and up some hills. Nope. These guys were serious about putting the "mountain" in mountain biking. (For some reason this was a fact that Mike did not quite grasp before setting out this fateful morning.)

When the others showed up with state-of-the art Trek bikes and the full body glove biking spandex, Mike knew he was in big trouble. In the end, it was an exhilarating and intense time, but Mike also feels lucky to have survived! These were without a doubt the steepest hills Mike had ever been up or down on a bike, and it was literally up in the mountains on single-track hiking trails that included rocks, roots, mud, high grass, water, log stairs, ridiculously steep up and downhills, narrow trails along the side of the mountain path, and switchbacks. It was fairly insane. At certain points, we carried our bikes (up stairs and across streams). In the interest of full disclosure, Mike went flying over his handlebars (only) twice but escaped with only minor cuts and scrapes. Considering the trails we went on, he was actually pretty proud of that! It is also a minor miracle that Mike's ratty hand-me-down bike survived. It definitely took some serious abuse.

The ride started by biking to the other side of Rokko Island, climbing up the path to cross the Rokko Island Bridge (the red bridge pictured at the right on this page), and then winding our way through the streets of Sumiyoshi, past little neighborhoods (one including a large sake brewery), through some tunnels, and then alongside the Sumiyoshigawa River up to the base of Mount Rokko. The river included some neat man-made waterfalls; the banks of this river itself are an extremely popular weekend hiking spot. This part of the ride took about 40 minutes and included some tough climbs. Apparently this "street part" was "the warm-up." Before heading into the woods, we saw this older Japanese guy practicing his golf swing on these steep steps:

The hiking trails that we biked are quite popular with Japanese hikers; we saw many taking cabs up to the point where we entered to start their hikes. We got off to an early start, so the trails wouldn't be too crowded though. The trails were beautiful, with shady pine forests, waterfalls and streams, peaceful little resting areas with log benches and cold fresh stream water, and (when we got up high) great views back down over Sumiyoshi and Rokko Island. It's amazing to have such great easily accessible nature spots so close-by. The paths were plenty rocky and steep, and slick and muddy from the recent rain. During our ride, we saw some Japanese hikers here and there, but one else crazy enough to take their bikes in here.

Here is a shot of Mike's far-more-skilled-than-he-was biking companions. (Sorry for the smudged picture, but it was taken using the camera phone, which was sweaty and caked with mud.) The guys were great. Both took turns riding behind Mike as sweeper, and offered many pointers. Total gear-heads; you know, the kind of guys with narrow little backpacks chock full of all of the hardware and tools necessary to repair any bike issue that may arise, bike pumps, high carb-snacks, and trail maps. The weather was beautiful and the company was great.
From our apartment balcony way up on Mount Rokko, there is a steepled shrine that we can make out way in the distance. We actually biked right past it! Standing back on Rokko Island and looking up that way, its hard to believe. Here is the shrine behind Mike, in this picture taken towards the end of our ride.

This was probably not a trail that was meant for first time mountain bikers. But it was a heck of a way to spend four and a half hours on a Saturday morning!

Back home on Rokko Island, Mike hobbled over to the Canadian Academy field to join in for the last few innings of the Saturday morning family baseball game, after which we all (ugh) biked on home. (Lauren is now loving riding on the back of Ilena's bike, like a true Japanese girl!)


Matthew J said...

Mike, your biking experience sounds incredible...While being a bit scary, you survived...and I bet it was a thrill!

Matthew J said...

What is Lauren sitting on in the picture? Is it the shelf that normally is used for bags?

jackaw said...

motik112088sushiHaving missed checking in for a few days, I felt like everything had passed me by. I continue to be impressed by what you do, who does it, and who joins you all. Amazing. It all may seem hum-drum ordinary to you, but to me it seems adventurous and interesting and really fun.

Japan will never be the same, but more importantly, *you* will never be the same.

Love to all.

Mike said...

Thanks Jack! It certainly doesn't seem hum-drum ordinary to us; we are having an amazing time...trying to take in as much as we can.

Mike said...

It was certainly a thrill. Bit more than I bargained for, but I can't wait to try it again.

And yes, Lauren is sitting on a little shelf. Everyone uses it as a seat for a second rider here.

tornadoes28 said...

Sounds like a great ride. I always like to here about mountain biking trails in Japan.

Mike said...

Thanks Tornadoes - Hopefully I'll be out there again with more...

Lisa said...

Wow...you didn't mention over the phone that you flew over the handlebars twice...wow..sounds exhilerating....i loved my mountain biking experience! See you soon!