Thursday, November 5, 2009

CMWC Tokyo Part 5 - Final

With the qualifying rounds over with it was time for the side events to take center stage. The qualifying rounds for the backward circles contest had already been going since earlier in the afternoon. Once the race was over the organizers asked everyone to help them move the barriers out of the road so they could open it back up to traffic and from there everyone headed back to the main ground. Once the barriers were cleared and everyone showed up and the backward circle prelims were finished they called everyone to a nice large open portion of the race course and using a cherry picker took a series of group photos. Insanity rained and there was soon a small piggyback jousting match followed by a shower of beer, Chu-hi and Redbull. The crowd dispersed again and the track stand competition began.

The track stand competition entailed being normally on the bike standing still with no feet on the ground for 2 minutes, then you had to take 1 hand off, then both hands then 1 foot then no feet. Each different level was held for 2 minutes. Due to the vast number of entrants into the contest they had to do 2 different groups. In the first group everyone I was near was going crazy over a guy who was track standing on his geared/freewheeled bike. He made it for a while but eventually lost out, still, skill to hold it on a freewheel for as long as he did. The contest lasted into the night and once it was done it was time of the final round of backward circles. I wasn’t too terribly interested in them so I wondered around a bit.

I ended up running into Jerome again and both decided to get some food from a vendor and chill on the ground. I didn’t realize how hungry I was until I demolished the half pizza I ordered, soon enough the smell of Indian bread got me to order some more food. I sat with Jerome and a photographer friend of his from New York during the entire backward circles finals and listening to their stories about bizarre and odd photo sessions. I had to part with them when I noticed that the team foot down was beginning. I headed off to the crowd gathered while putting the bracelet for the event on.

There was general confusion and Eli was trying to help get everything organized. The wristbands we were all given for kibasen (team foot down) had a letter on it. They were looking for everyone with letters A, B and C for the first round. I looked at mine and noticed it said A, tough being in the guinea pig group but whatever. I found 2 other teammates and we started taunting the other teams. More calls for teams A through C went out as everyone official urged the crowd to check their wrist bands and come forward as the 3 teams were painfully small. We ended up getting a fourth member and from there we had to figure out who would be designated the king. Each team had a king and it was marked on the wristband, we, unfortunately were without a ruler and decided it by rock paper scissors which made Eli giddy as he explained that’s pretty much how everything in Japan is decided. We picked our kind, I wasn’t it and C and B teams were evened out and had their king. They decided to start even though each team was short a few people and handed out funky headgear to help us all differentiate the different teams.

Foot down is normally played like thus: you get a group of people together and they all ride around in a circle. The last person on the bike, without having any part of their body hit the ground wins. You think, ok that’s easy and will take forever…there’s a few more rules. Think of foot down as bike demolition derby. The idea is to knock the other riders down using any means available without using your hands and feet, they have to remain on the bike. So you can use the rest of your body or the bike it’s self to knock anyone else down. Kibasen is the same basic idea but team based. This time the goal is last team standing and what determines that is the king. If you go down and you’re not the king our still out, but as long as the king remains the team does. So if your king goes down everyone else has to bow out as well, if you go down on your own you bow out.

They played 3 teams at a time until all teams had gone, from their they groups 3 winners against each other until there was one winner. It was fun for my first time doing any sort of foot down, I did my best to protect the king and stay upright but in the end my teams king went down and we lost our round. My tactic was more diversion for the king as opposed to taking people out, I tried to steer people away from him and it seemed to work until we got separated…oh well. I ended up watching much of the rest of the contest with a group of Chicago riders and they all began discussing how to port it to America and maybe start up a league…sounds fun.

After a while it began to get pretty late, it had been dark for a while and the events were dragging on. There was an after party where they were going to be listing the people who qualified. I wasn’t going to go because the party was on the other side of town, I didn’t feel like having to bike all the way back to the hostel and I had to get up super early the next day to check out and get everything set. I also didn’t think I qualified so I wasn’t worried about not knowing that information right away. I did on the other hand decide to leave with a large group of Chicago riders to Shinjuku where their hostel was. My thinking was I would leave my bike in Shinjuku so I wouldn’t have to spend as much money the next day coming back from Kijana’s.

I would have to leave the hostel as early as possible, grab all of my stuff, check out, train it to Kijana’s, drop my stuff off, head back to Tokyo, bike to the race grounds and enjoy the rest of the day with the race starting at 11. With me looking at least 3 hours of transit time to and from Kijana’s I would have to leave very early in the morning to get back to Tokyo with enough time for me to bike from Shinjuku to the race ground, on the other side of town, by the start. So I rode with the Chicago group and had a great time doing so. I was able to enjoy the weather, the road conditions and the sights as we rode all the way across the heart of the city. Nico seemed to be leading the pack and demonstrated his ungodly ability for direction in a foreign city, something that apparently helped him win 2nd and first all around male at Boston a month earlier. Only one time did we have to backtrack, which only put us off by a few blocks, better then I had managed a few times getting lost.

Soon we were in Shinjuku and at their hostel. Augie gave me some directions to Shinjuku station and I took off to park my bike. The ride was short and easy yet filled with more merging traffic madness. I got turned around slightly near the station but quickly found it and locked my bike up. I noted the entrance I was at and headed inside to hop on a train to the hostel. The trip to the hostel was short and sweet and the walk from the station to the hostel its self made me wish I still had my bike, even though it was only 4 blocks. I went directly to my bunk, organized the best I could and passed out.

The first time I woke up it was still night out, I decide to continue sleeping as it was around 4 am. I woke up again at 6am on the dot and started to crank. I packed up the rest of the stuff I had, including the present I had picked up the night previously. Double checked the bunk and locker for anything left behind locked up and headed down stairs only to find the reception desk was closed and there was no noticeable way to check out. I had no choice at this point as I wasn’t sure what time they officially opened and left, now having to come back to the hostel before 11 and check out. I was not happy. I trudged to the station and waited endlessly for the first train. Almost 2 hours later I got off in Kijana’s town, and briskly walked to his house.

I quickly organized my pack for the day and the slight possibility of racing, took a brief shower and gave Kijana the info on how to get to the race grounds and took off, racing against the clock. I rode the train back to the hostel and checked in, pissed that all I had to do was leave them my key; not sign anything, nothing. I could have left the key on a nail on the plywood barrier they set up to block of the reception area after hours. I headed back to the train station and spent even more money to go back to Shinjuku to get my bike, cursing myself for not parking at the hostel instead…foresight is 20/20 they do say.

I found my bike after exiting yet another random exit at Shinjuku and walking around a ¼ of the station. Time to hustle to Odaiba back across town. This time I had a map and remembered part of the trip the night before with the Chicago crew. I took off, flying, pounding and blowing as many red lights as I could safely do. I overtook a group of Tokyoite fixed riders and found out they didn’t speak English, they were on their way to Odaiba and I was headed the correct way…my broken Japanese can come in handy in some instance. I didn’t have too much time for sight seeing but remember being in awe when I rolled past the grounds for the Diet building and thinking I should stop for a photo, but pushed that time wasting gesture out of my head. Soon after the Diet building I reached an intersection I thought we had hit the night before and headed the way I thought was correct. Soon enough though it didn’t look familiar and I stopped at a police box and with my Japanese skills and my map I worked with a police officer to help me figure out the general direction to at least get to Ginza.

I took off again after the cop wished me luck, climbed a significant incline and sped down the back side off it; passing traffic that was trying to get to some sort of freeway on-ramp…I love roads in Tokyo!!! I was once again on the correct course and recognized the area. Right before I came into Ginza I overcame the group of Tokyoites again and greeted them once more, much to their surprise as I had blown by them the first time. I pounded through Ginza, running into a Japanese racer and followed him. Before we entered the bridges that connect Odaiba another race enthusiast showed up. I greeted him too and he asked me if I went to Kyoto-loco. When I told him no he gave me a sticker for the event and I responded by handing hi8m 8th inch stickers and info. We took off again and I was on the heels of the racer. I followed him as he diverted from the route I took the day before and we continued to roll I got worried that we had passed the grounds as all the signs were pointing us towards Haneda airport which was south of the race course. Many times I nervously debated pulling away from him and trying to find my own route until at last, what seemed like forever, we turned left and a block later came to the race grounds…this guy has a great route.

I showed up at 11:30, the race hadn’t started promptly, which is to be expected but it had been going for 15 minutes already. I strolled over to the official tent and scanned the qualifier board on the off chance I was on it. At first scan I didn’t find my name, which I wasn’t surprised about. Then I decided to scan it again more closely to see if I was on there and if anyone I knew was as well. Then I spotted it, I had made the list. I was dumbfounded and a little nervous. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to go out and race hard for 2 and a half hours doing crazy package deliveries with some of the best messengers in the world. I had no illusions about doing well, but I was curious to see how well I would do non-the less. Based upon the open time slot for the qualifier and the listing in the book for a large block of time for the race, I assumed I could just start when I was ready. I needed some guidance so I headed off to find Kevin and get some.

I figured it would be best to talk with him, get some advice, rest my weary legs for a minute and get some more fluids in me before racing. I soon found Kevin, who was busy photographing the racers and when I told him I qualified his reaction left me stunned. He said along the lines of that being unfortunate, not that I actually qualified but for the fact the race had already started and I wouldn’t be able to race. At that moment it came back to me that I knew the race had a set start time with a Le Mons start…I had showed up too late to actually race. I said oh well, I wasn’t sure I really felt like racing anyways and began to wander around the course with Drew. He suggested I try and see if they would let me start late and after a second round of suggesting this as we wandered the main lot I decided to. I headed over to the main tent and told them I had qualified but had showed up to late and missed the start and wanted to see if I could start late. The woman I talked to looked surprised and went to find a superior, who came back a little while later to tell me no. I said ok thanks and left, not fighting it. I probably should have fought it, saying I would take the time penalty, just to get in their an do it, race my ass off and see how well I could do, I had come all this way for this moment. Instead, I walked off, defeated and somewhat apathetic. The morning had been hectic and troublesome and was now compounded with the response of NO.

I told myself, I didn’t really want to race and wandered around the grounds, watching the race and eating and drinking water. I once again took up residence one the corner in front of the convenience store, much as everyone else did. Soon though I started to walk back and forth along the race course. as I came to the stair exit from the secondary parking lot one of the women from Chicago came off of the race course and threw in the towel. She was bleeding and visibly upset, I wasn’t sure at the time what had happened, but I found out later she dropped her chain as she started to sprint and crashed hard. From what I figure she decided that she had messed herself up enough to force her to quit. This scene made me start to think about what I was doing in Tokyo at CMWC, the fact that I had qualified for the finals and had been unable to compete due to messing around with trains and youth hostels. I started to think about how my taking that spot and ultimately not filling it had kept a hard working messenger who might not have gotten to Tokyo on the generosity of their friends and family, but who has scrapped together every damn penny they could to come and race from being in the finals. It made me feel like shit and I ended up wandering around, waiting for the finals to be over and the sprints to start so I could compete in the final event I was in and be done with it.

I was beat down at this point and wandered aimlessly, trying to look for Kijana, wandering through the crowd at random times. I even tried to call his cell phone but was not able to connect through it. The race went on, some exciting moments had taken place but ultimately I was done, I didn’t have it in me anymore and more than anything I longed to be home with my family.

After the final was over there was a bit of confusion as to what was going on. They called everyone who was entered into the skid contest to the main grounds and then they filled out onto the street. I took up a spot in the middle of the course and started snapping photos of the skids. First they gave everyone a few test runs, which caused two lanes of the street to be filled with an endless supply to people coasting elegantly (mostly) down the street as they tried to maintain balance and their rear wheel remaining locked. Then the qualifying started and all lanes opened up to speed up the process as 1 person per lane could go at a time. The officials marked with masking tape where each skid ended and by some arbitrary distance they narrowed down the final competitors. Unfortunately, from what I could tell, which was rather confusing, Drew who retains some form of internet infamy for a video of him crashing into an oblivious pedestrian during a skid comp in Milwaukee did not appear to make the final cut. I joked that he did well and I finally got to see him skid to his best with out fear of inattentive children.

When the skids were done the confusion only deepened and seemed to compound the lack of clear communication I had run into the entire time. I had heard no announcement on how the sprints would work and when/where they would start. Then I noticed a mass of people heading to the north end of the street with their bikes and decide to follow suit. I found that the sprints were about to begin and were seeding them 6 people at a time. I stripped my gear off and got in line. After a while of waiting I was next and forced a surprised Japanese guy to help hold me still. He didn’t do a good job and the bike leaned to the left while I leaned to the right to maintain a semblance of balance. My take off was rough and I pushed hard to make up lost ground. I over came a few people that had jumped before me but ended up getting in 3rd at the finish line. I hopped off, got back into the crowd and walked back to get my gear.

I loaded back up and decided to head back to Akihabara to try and do more gift shopping, which I had failed to mostly do the entire trip due to time constraints. I had also not found Kijana and decided to give up hope and took off. The trip back into Ginza was somewhat melancholy and I only took a few more photos on my way. I was exhausted and ready to be back in Milwaukee. I stopped in Ginza when I noticed they had closed the street down again for pedestrians. I took the opportunity and decided to film the street, but that ended abruptly as a pedestrian decided to begin walking sideways as I went to ride around him and I ran into him. I hit him hard enough, even though I was going under 10mph to knock him over and knock me off of the bike. He fell, the bike fell and I landed safely with camera still in my hand. I noticed his glasses had fallen off and I feared I broke them, I asked him if he was ok and apologized profusely. I could entirely make out what he said in response after he said he was ok but I think he said something in regards to paying more attention to what I was doing…I apologized some more and left, internally laughing and shaking my head at the event.

I realized I needed to exchange the rest of my money and rode around Ginza to find a bank to do it at only to discover they were all still closed for this week of vacation that was going on. I headed to Akihabara, knowing that there was a shady currency exchange place near the train station I could use, even though they would rape me with the fee’s or exchange rate. I followed the train lines back into the neighborhood and quickly found the exchange place. I went in, was confirmed of it’s shadiness but had to deal because it was my last chance. I got my cash at a lower rate and hit the streets, locking my bike up, to do some last minute souvenir shopping. Once that was done I broke my bike down, wrapped it back up in the bed sheet and headed off for an eventful ride back to Kijana’s.

An hour and a half or so later I arrived, sore arms and general tiredness. I walked the bake to his house and found him not their. Oh well, he would show up eventually. I unpacked, hoped in the shower, ate the rest of my cereal and began to pack up for the trip home the next day. After an hour back at his house Kijana returned as well. He had gone down to the race ground and had stayed until the sprints were done. He had then headed to Akihabara to meet some friends, so at some point we probably would have run into each other. I told him how my day went and that I was happy to be going home and couldn’t wait until I actually got back into Chicago. After figuring out the best train route to take to get to the airport I turned in and woke up early in the morning. Kijana walked me to the station and I took off for a 3 hour trip to Narita. Then things fell slightly apart when I went to check in my luggage. The personnel there told me I needed to pay $380 to send my bike bake. I argued with them for over half an hour and they finally relented to let me get away with only paying the $50 I was told at O’Hare. The last hurdle was overcome and I headed to the plane. Unlike the trip there I was able to get a little sleep on the plane and it only dragged on a little. At O’Hare I ran into one of the Chicago messengers who told me they harassed him about shipping his bike too. He hadn’t been charged at all to go to Japan and they tried to hit him up for over $700 coming back home…sounds like a scam their running personally. Why is it that airlines charge up the ass for a bike in a box when they allow ski’s surfboards, golf clubs, etc for free? Both items are generally the same dimensions…what gives. I have talked with a number of other cyclists about this problem and there is a shared general consensus about this disparity towards traveling with a bike.

I made it home, to my relief and began to readjust. It seemed odd to not have a can of beer in my water bottle cage or to have to worry about pot holes and being buzzed by cars. The trip was educational, eye opening, fun and sobering at the same time. I regretted missing the finals, but that caused me to become more determined. There are things I wished I would have done better and events I should have really participated in, but all I can do know if remember what I messed up on this time for the next time. I need to make up for that FUBAR in the finals and plan to do so in 2010 with a number of larger messenger races. I’ll have to wait until at least 2011 to do CMWC again, which I want to do. Chicago didn’t win the bid, Warsaw did and I’m working on trying to get there with my wife to hang out with the worlds best messengers again and party in a foreign town. Hopefully Chicago will bid and win 2012, I heard they through one hell of a party last year for NACCC’s.

Until then and other major races I want to extend my deep thanks to everyone who helped get me to Tokyo, either through support emotionally or monetarily I am deeply indebted to all of you. In 2011 I might be asking for your help again to storm Poland, but we will see what that brings and what 2010 yields. There are some things in the works and plans for 5 major messenger events are taking shape for me to participate in. So stay posted for those and all the monthly races as well.

Thanks once again to everyone.

PS: Tina from Chicago, who took 1st female and all around at Boston this year, took 3rd at Tokyo…so fucking rock to her for that. Nico who took 2nd and first male at Boston took 16th at Tokyo so fucking rock to him. The Chicago crew was very cool and I hope I made some new friend with them and I can’t wait to race in their town. Also, the winner for the race was Hanazumi Juri, to upset raining champ Sino who took 2nd on a messed up leg. I think if he would have been at the top of his game he would have won.

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