Friday, October 30, 2009

CMWC Tokyo Part 4

7am Tuesday morning found me feeling the effects of little sleep and too much alcohol. I woke up in my bunk at the hostel and felt like absolute garbage. I got up, organized my bag, rechecked my map for the route I plotted the night before and took off to hit the race grounds. I hadn’t though to fill my water bottle at the hostel and about 2 miles into the ride I had to stop and get water and some food to settle my stomach. I found a convenience store, bought water and a pack of soba noodles (these packs did me well and provided me with a lot of energy…nice stuff). Outside of the store I filled the water bottle, and then slammed the rest of the 2 litter bottle before taking off again.

As I rode along I came across 3 messengers from Germany who were trying to find their way to the race ground as well, I decided to tag with them for a while until we came to an intersection and I didn’t agree with the route they chose. I struck off down a different road then they did and soon found myself in Ginza on the road I was looking for. I had been biking for less then half an hour at this point and still felt utterly miserable. I turned east on the road and headed for the Bay. The first bridge I found I got nervous and hopped on the sidewalk. As I went I noticed that I had nothing to fear from traffic, even though it was moving faster, there was plenty of room for crazy scooter riders to cut around the cars, which meant plenty of room for a lone cyclist. I pulled onto the road at the other end of the bridge and kept going. A few bridges and scooter buzzing later and I was deep in the artificial islands of Tokyo Bay where I ran into 3 cyclists from Chicago that were taking a break and making sure their route was straight. I stopped, added my 2 cents to the check and we all took off. We decided to follow the monorail/train line overhead and pinpoint one specific station at which point we knew to turn south. The stations were easiest to follow because they were clearly marked on the maps we had and in real life, unlike many of the roads…some of which have no names.

We rode a few minutes and found the station then took the right and were on target. Ten minutes of uneventful and smooth, flat roads and we hit the north end of the race zone. You could tell because the parking lot to our left was cordoned off with the ‘street ways’ and someone was inflating a large Redbull balloon. I know my spirits lifted knowing we had found it but I still felt physically ill. I kept telling myself I was probably going to throw up at some point during the race. We rode down the next intersection and pulled onto the sidewalk to enter the other portion of the course located in a parking lot to the south. Here were all of the vender stalls and the start point of the race plus rows and rows of bike parking. I hoped off of my bike and wandered around breezing by the stalls, not interested in their contents at the moment and tried to figure out how to waste the next couple of hours before the race actually started.

So here I was, at the race ground, ready to do what I came to do. Waiting it out in the sun as the race course was set in two parking lots and a stretch of road. I started to regret not replacing the sunscreen the safety officials at O’Hare had thrown out because it was a container larger than 3 ounces. I saw a few people rolling through the race course so I figured I would try it out too. I hoped on the bike and entered the course with out any trouble. Made my way to the second parking lot and was stopped by a guard. I complied with his wild hand gestures and broken English and rode back to the other parking lot, hoped off the bike and continued to wander around the grounds aimlessly with bike in tow. After I while I headed to a convenience store located on the south end of the road portion of the course, bought some more water and a small rice ball to help settle my stomach.

Returning to the grounds I sat down to eat rest and study the map of the course, trying to memorize the stop names and the routes it took to get between them. More and more people started to gather and soon announcements were being made over the loudspeaker in English. By 11 they announced the course was open for test rides and I joined everyone else it checking it out properly. Still feeling like garbage I listlessly rode the course 3 times, trying different pathways and to get a sense of the time it would take to cover it one time before I decided it was time to get back to settling my stomach, fearing I would hurl while racing. Again I wandered around to all of the vendor stalls, to do something other than nothing to waste time even though I still had no interest in what the vendors were selling. Then, to end all of the waiting the qualifying round started. A large line formed at the entrance to the course as everyone waited to get their start. About 10 minutes later I decided to hop in line and just get the race over with. I didn’t want to miss any of the side contests that were scheduled to go on during the qualifying rounds either.

I got in line, maybe about 30 people deep at this point and waited, studying the map and calming my nerves and nausea. The line moved quickly and in a few minutes I was at the start table getting my packet. The jotted down the start time and I was off.

I followed suit and stopped just after the table and pulled out all of my order tags, it would be best I figured to figure out the routing as best as possible before hand. I took into consideration the route I would be taking to pick up and drop off the packages. Each tag had its pick up and drop off location as well as the time limit for the stops. There was 1 5 minute stop and I routed that one about half way in the stack and used it as the midpoint marker. I got the first half pretty solidly planned out and semi organized the 2nd half. I had an hour and a half to deliver all 10 tags. The faster you got them done the better and if you burned any of them you were screwed. I felt mildly confident with the order and the route, I put the map in my right cargo pocket, where manifests usually reside, threw the tags in my bag and took off for the first location, the closest stop.

The first stop brought me to the Adidas tent. I dropped my bike in the designated spot and swung my bag around as I neared the tent. There were 2 lines, drop off and pick up. I pulled the tags out to make sure everything was correct and handed it in at the drop off. They told me I needed to write my name and race number on it. I stepped aside so as not to impede a racer who had his shit together and wrote my info down hastily with the pen I had stuck in my hat. I handed back the tag, they marked my time and handed me the package with the bottom 2 tags stuck to it. I thanked them and headed off to collect my bike while wrestling with my bag to get the shoe box they gave me inside of it. This was my biggest concern, trouble handling the actual packages but I managed to do it anyways, hoping they didn’t doc me points for ugly tags. I secured my bag into place, grabbed my bike and took off, headed for another pick up. I pulled out the manifest to check my route and to make sure I was situated properly.

Being on the course with the race underway did wonders to clear my ill feelings, my head was clear and the stomach was settled, it was time for me to ride my ass off. I swung onto the street which they had cordoned off in a tricky and tight weave of lanes made from metal barriers. The lanes were comprised of a few wicked switch backs to both make for the most challenge and the most distance. The next checkpoint I came across was after the first switch back and one I didn’t need so while slowing down, watching for anyone else taking the lane, I swung around the corner, sprinted down the short lane, slowed turned another corner and was headed my original direction again towards the next pick up check point I needed, which resided at the far north end of the street lanes. This checkpoint was one where we had to lock our bikes up. I hoped off and quickly locked mine to one of the metal barriers used to stop you from biking all the way to the tent. I walked to the tent as I pulled the tags out of my bag to double check their accuracy. I filled out the tag while in line, handed it in and threw the envelope into my bag.

My next stop was to drop off the first package I picked up, I ran to the bike unlocked it and took off, making sure not to run into anyone who was taking the final north facing switchback or anyone slowing down to hit the stop I was leaving. I slowed down for the next turn that led me into the other parking lot and hopped my front wheel over the small incline leading to the driveway. The only thing that I found in Japan that annoyed me when it comes to their streets and biking is that sidewalk/driveway ramps are not flush with the road its self. Instead they have a small curb, maybe an inch or so high, which really isn’t anything to worry about in terns of ramming your tire into at full speed but I still worry non-the-less. I pulled into the parking lot and took the outside path only to realize a few seconds too late that I should have taken the inside one. Now I had to go all the way around to the north-eastern most corner of the lot and then back and forth on a switch back to get to essentially the same point if I would have taken the inside pathway…mistake number one.

As I rounded by the stop before the switchback I wondered what anyone paying attention to me was thinking as I didn’t stop at the tent and began sprinting back up the lane. I pushed that out of my head and slowed down considerably at the switch back, noting the skid marks and wondering how many this corner would accrue by the end of the race tomorrow. Once around the corner I stood up and sprinted again, already feeling winded from the over and unneeded exertions. I rounded out back to where I was originally supposed to be and followed the pathway to my drop off. I dumped the bike and ran to the tent, undoing my bag to pull the package out. I dropped it off, at which point they signed the drop off time took off the middle layer of the tag and handed that back to me. I stuffed it into the plastic sleeve I was handed at the start of the race and got into the pick up line to get my package from this stop. Once I had that I placed it in the bag, strapped myself down and took off. I followed the course back out to the normal entrance and was once again out on the street portion of the course. I was now on the longest straightaway of the course and took off to try and make up for time lost. I pounded down the block or so stretch of open straight course and slowed down to make the next hairpin switch back. A crowd had started to gather at this turn, which was where the convenience store was located. I also noticed Jerome has parked himself momentarily at this turn as well to get action shots.

I made the turn, stood up and tried to gain my momentum again before the next switch back, slowed down and did it all over again. Came back down to the end of the lane, slowed down, made one more switchback, sprinted a short distance and turned left to find myself back into the main parking lot. I pulled out my map and studied it trying to make sure I went the correct path as I rounded the outside of the course. I hoped that my memory served me correct and the next stop I had in mind was the correct one. As I rode around I spotted Drew from Chicago and shouted out to him to see if the path I was thinking was the correct one, he affirmed my assumption and I took kept going, only slightly relieved. This would be a major deciding point in my mind if I missed this stop from choosing the wrong pathway. In order to deliver the package I would have to swing around again, using lanes they set up in the switchback series on the road to alleviate the need to go through the other parking lot to get back on course. I could do it, but it would take time out and throw a wrench in my routing plans. So as I made the upper corner and selected the pathway I thought would take me to the checkpoint I needed I was only partially relived when I saw I had chosen the correct path. Now the nagging feeling that I had the wrong stop in mind remained. This stop was also a lock point and I jumped off the bike, leaned it against the gate and forgot to lock it.

I pulled out the package, feeling immense relief when the drop off was correct and handed it in. I handed it in, got my time stamp and took off. I hadn’t routed the pick up from this location yet and took off only realizing that I never locked my bike and that they never stopped me about it once I was taking off from the stop. I sped off to the next pick up location which was located near the first stop I did. I swung around and came up the pathway to the start/finish. I remembered Eli yelling at someone wondering what they were doing as they swung around the top of the course instead of taking the cut through before the start/stop and remembered not to do the same thing. I swung around and was back on the start of the course headed to the next pick up.

The rest of the race was and still is mostly a blur. I started to phase out everything but the road in front of me and my mental map of the course. In my second loop I had to take the alternate way out of the northern parking lot which led you to a short staircase you had to climb and then empty out on the long straightaway. This was a fun little addition to the mess and made for some semi-dangerous situations as you tried to mount your bike as quickly as possible while people had already begun to sprint down the lane from the parking lots real exit. I ended up dropping my map on the straight away the second time through and had to rely on my mental map for the rest of the race. It actually seemed that I made better time going off of memory than off of the map. After I finished the race I noticed that a lot of people had taped the race course map to their stem…nice idea, I’ll have to keep that in mind for future map based races.

The other portion of the race I remember clearly is when I did the 5 minute stop. The pick up was located at the TKBMA checkpoint at the far northeast end of the north parking lot. You had to then deliver it to the Adidas checkpoint, which was the first one I hit. The TKBMA tent was located right before the switchback in that parking lot that I accidentally took the first time through when I didn’t have to. I hit the pick up with nothing else in my bag. I grabbed it and threw it in and took off. On my way around to exit the parking lot I considered stopping at the Guatemala CMWC checkpoint which was just before the pathway to the stair exit, but decided, wisely, against it. I knew I would be able to make it in 5 minutes to my stop; I had by this point gone around the course a few times and knew the exact route I needed to take. I cruised past the stop, hopped off the bike at the last instant before the stairs, shouldered it and ran 2 steps at a time. I jumped onto the saddle as soon as it hit the street and took off, tucking low and sprinting in the saddle.

I negotiated my way through the mess of hairpin switchbacks, sprinting out of each one only to slow down to a crawl at the next turn. The crowd at the corner had grown and gotten loud, which was awesome. I pulled into the starting parking lot and bypassed the left side stops and shot straight for the shortcut before the start/stop. I swung around and did a seated sprint to round out to the stop. I dumped the bike and ran to the drop off, unbuckling my bag and pulling out the package. By this point I had tangled up my strap in the quick release and it wouldn’t release all the way. When I first noticed it I figured I would cope and fix it after I got done racing. I handed the package in and felt a wave of relief and tension as they marked 5 minutes down on my tag. I had just made it. By this point I had stopped caring what condition the final tags where in and threw the new one in with the rest while pawing through the remaining few to find the next closest stop.

The last 3 or 4 stops went by quickly and I felt exhilarated as I pounded down the final stretch to the end point. I leaned my bike against the fence and ran to the check in point at which time some minor confusion ensued as first I went to the wrong portion of the table. I moved over to the first part were a woman was sitting and handed her my stuff, she motioned towards the staplers in front of us and the first woman I tried to turn my stuff into told me to staple my tags together. Apparently the second woman was just there to make sure people know how to use a stapler, because she didn’t received the tags. I tried to smooth them out as best as possible, stamped it once, thought for a second to double check they were all there, decided against it and put them in the sleeve. I then moved back to woman one while doing this and she took the sleeve and noted my time down in her log. Just over 1 hour complete, all tags delivered on time. I was relieved and tired. I had pushed myself pretty hard but felt satisfied with my results, even if I had made two mistakes; the first of which was taking the wrong route the first time through the 2nd parking lot and the second mistake was petty much that same route, but this time I didn’t take it when I should have. At that point I made a minor adjustment to my routing to try and make up for it the best I could. That stop luckily was a 30 minute one so there was no fear of burning that tag. I left the area, hopped on my bike and rode to the convenience store and the corner to join everyone else in cheering on the rest of the racers.

In a normal situation I would have purchased a beer along with my water and food, but now that the race was finished I reverted somewhat to feeling like garbage from partying the night before. When I arrived at the corner things were starting to heat up and the crowd would go wild every time someone skidded into the turn or wiped out. I mingled through out the race course, talking with a few people and meeting up with the messengers from Amsterdam and found out neither of them raced, they just weren’t feeling it. They also reminded me that they were staying in Japan for another month to do a bike tour around the country.

The rest of the day’s events will come in the next posting.

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