Japan – Cycling Holiday Story by Lakeside Wheelers

I  am just back from an 18 day cycling  holiday to Japan,  and what a blast the holiday  turned out to be. The holiday was organised by Saddle Skedaddle, a cycling tour company based in Newcastle, England. (Check out www.skedaddle.co.uk “ they have some fantastic holidays). I was going to post a blog of the trip on the Wheelers’ website, but Japan is surprisingly short of internet cafes and it was impossible to find the time or place to get any notes posted. But what a trip it was! Japan is a place that I’d always wanted to visit and it didn’t disappoint.

First off, we were blessed with the best cycling tour guides I’ve ever met. An Australian by the name of Vincent Flanagan (I wonder where his ancestors came from) and a local man named Maso Tanaka. Vincent is a retired professional cyclist who still works with Trek cycling in Japan. He has lived in Kyoto, Japan for over twenty years, speaks fluent Japanese, and was great at helping us to understand the nuances and subtleties of Japanese culture. The cycling itself was an absolute treat. Some road cycling, some off road and a few singletrack outings kept us busy. There were a couple of serious climbing days too, with one particularly memorable ascent to the rim of the active volcano, Mount Aso.

We tried our hand at Japanese cooking, calligraphy and the inevitable karaoke bar. All of these were great fun, but the things I liked best were the Japanese food and, oddly enough, a chance to travel on the Shinkansen, the famous bullet train. I love Japanese food anyway, and it is so beautifully presented that it almost seems a shame to eat it. It’s not often that I photograph my dinner before I tuck in, but I felt compelled to do just that on several occasions. (The only previous time I photographed my food, it had been prepared by my present wife (The War Office) and I just thought it might be a good idea to have a photo for use at any subsequent inquest). I tried almost everything that was put in front of me, but I just couldn’t bring myself to eat raw horsemeat or a plateful of sea snails. Other than that, I gave it a go and it was fantastic.

Travelling on the bullet train was an experience in itself. (So is travelling by British Rail, but for different reasons). The train pulled into Kyoto at 30 seconds before the scheduled departure time, and took off precisely on the minute of departure. We rocketed towards Tokyo at over 300Kph, but without any sense of speed or drama. I read somewhere that the Shinkansen have operated in Japan since 1964 without a single accident “ an incredible statistic!

I haven’t even mentioned the scenery yet (beautiful and ever changing, especially on the southern volcanic island of Kyushu where we cycled for a week), the temples and Geishas of Kyoto, the politeness and grace of the Japanese people, the cleanliness, the complete absence of litter, the beautifully furnished accommodation, the fact that vandalism and street crime are unknown in Japan, the staggering experience that is a weekend in Tokyo (female Wheelers would kill for a shopping trip to Ginza), and, best of all, the Onsen.

The Onsen are traditional public baths (cleanliness is a national obsession in Japan) where you go to unwind after a busy day. You have a shower before entering, and than relax in naturally heated water from local hot springs. The water usually contains sulphur and other minerals and it was just blissful to climb off the bike after a hard 80km and luxuriate for an hour or so in a hot communal bath. Therapy just doesn’t come any better than that.

Downsides? Well, it takes about twelve hours to get there, and it was expensive. But think of it this way. You could go on this holiday or spend the money on smoking twenty cigarettes a day for a year. I know which I’d rather do.

Gorrick / Saddle Skedaddle Spring Series mountain biking event – Valentine Special

Once again Skedaddle mountain biking holidays are sponsoring the Gorrick Spring Series and giving away some fab prizes for the lucky category winners and random spot prizes too. The series kicked of on 14th February and here’s the news of all that occured…

-Well dear I thought for this Valentines Day we could pop over to the woods for a few hours and get a bit dirty¦. and so the first Gorrick Skedaddle Spring Series finally got underway at last and now with Tunnel Hill temporarily renamed The Tunnel of Love, riders were again in for a singletrack love fest as a perfectly crafted 5 mile circuit complete with a romantic interlude, plus plenty of the famous ‘Gorrick’ swoops and descents, balanced with a couple of killer stings in the tail lay in wait. Another perfect day out for well over 550 riders was in store that not even a quick smattering of snow could deter!

On the dot of 9am it was soon time to get the XC racing under way and pride of place to cutting up the trails went to the Youth riders followed by the juveniles, while the uber keen under 12’s & under 10’s waited patiently to get stuck into a shortened version of the big course. Matthew Lewis made short work of his two laps in the snow taking the first win of the day in the Youth class, whilst Gretel Warner romped away with the win in the Juvenile girls race.

Then it was a steady conveyor belt of perfectly timed races, as one category after another were unleashed. As one batch finished another was already underway painting the trails with brightly coloured garb that fleetingly looked as if spring had arrived early and certainly cheered up the drab winter colours! Just in case proceedings weren’t colourful enough and the sprinkling of unforecast snow not delivering the right amount of romance, the thoughtful Gorrick crew had kindly set out a plethora of red balloons and heart festooned ribbons and a canoe¦. All as a homage to Valentines Day, and so ˜Canoe “ darling Corner’ was born!

As each race unfolded it was soon clear that along with plenty of old faces there was a considerable showing of new faces along with a new tempo. After a winter of enduro races these riders were keen to quicken the pace and shorten the distance ready for the new season of XC racing. Many of the categories were taken to the line with everything to play for as competitors dug deep looking for their racing legs that for some had been well buried over the winter!

It wasn’t just the winners of each category that went home delighted with a days work, plenty of riders were buzzing with enthusiasm over the fantastically fun course as they laid siege to the catering van drinking them out of hot beverages and eating them out of bacon butties. A few other riders had more reasons than most to be happy with their day in the woods, especially Sport rider Adam Westhead who took home the Saddle Skedaddle Mountain Biking Holiday break and Howard Dale in the Fun race who won a 1:1 Skills session courtesy of Gorrick, Purple Bike Shed and InsideOut Fitness.

Round three will be with us on 7th March at Crowthorne and with Mothers Day just round the corner will we find homage to daffodils and bunnies? I know for certain we’ll find some amazing trails and a whole lot of XC fun!

Chief Skedaddle mountain biking guide Steve Woods will be at this event, ready to have a chat and share his thoughts on the merits of brown sauce as opposed to red on his sausage butties, so look out for the Skedaddle landy and he’ll be knocking around.

For more details of the Saddle Skedaddle Spring Series please visit: www.gorrick.com

Full results can be found at: www.timelaps.co.uk while you can relive the whole race through pictures at www.joolzedymond.com

Mountain bikers battle the elements (not elephants) and have a fun day out in Kielder

Congratulations to all the hardy  mountain bikers  who completed or attempted the  initial 2010 Kielder Marathon of 2010.

A  well wrapped up bunch braved the elements and enjoy the odd ray of sunshine along the way, with the winners coming away with Saddle Skedaddle Holiday vouchers, which can be used on any of our cycling holidays, road cycling holiday or mountain biking holidays or UK mountain bike or road weekends.

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The next Kielder event is the classic Border Raid (yep heads from England to Scotland) over some of the country’s most dramatic scenery and is scheduled in for 08 May 2010

For more information about the event contact the guys at Kielder Trail Reavers – click here or email Skedaddle‘s own Reaver Andy Scott at the office on andy@skedaddle.co.uk and don’t forget that if you don’t want to ride the event, but just fancy coming along for a chat with Skedaddle or to help out at the Border Raid, then an extra pair of hands goes are always appreciated.

For the full race Kielder Marathon race / event report click here

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