Oita Charity Bike Ride: Kitsuki to Aka

©Scott Kawaguchi

So having limited myself to two casual day cycles in about 24 years, I thought Japan would be the best place to tackle a 2-day, 190km round-route, bike race with friends – the 18th Oita Chairty Bike Ride event.

Day One: The Beginning of the Beginning

So despite the event not beginning until Saturday morning, my preparation began Friday night as I finished work, grabbed my gear and made my way towards Oita city to spend the night at a friends, and thus closer to the start point on Saturday morning, and so would begin the first on two nights spent on uncomfortable futons on tatami floors!

We're cycling HOW far? ©Rachael Booth
We’re cycling HOW far? ©Rachael Booth

Departing Saturday morning meant waking up at the regular school time, and taking a 45 minute doodling from South Oita, round Beppu and up to Kitsuki, our starting point.

Thankfully my hired road bike had been delivered to a fellow JETs house, and I even had the good fortune of a drinks holder! A god send since I hadn’t thought to bring a rucksack for carrying anything!

Having managed to scavenged a cycle helmet that had the style of a Mod riding a moped, I was fortunately lent a proper bike helmet with ventilation!

Despite its good looks, this helmet was really hot! ©Scott Kawaguchi
Despite its good looks, this helmet was really hot! ©Scott Kawaguchi

Once we set off, I had music in my ear, my friends at my front and rear and a feeling like nothing could stop me!

With the first kilometre, we hit road works on a small country lane, that forced us off the road and to carry our bikes through a field. Back on track, it wasn’t long until the groups spread out, we popped out from under a bridge, and had no idea where to go. After a few moments, we took a lucky gambled and found ourselves passing checkpoint one.

Not the most confident cyclist ©Scott Kawaguchi
Not the most confident cyclist ©Scott Kawaguchi

The first part of the journey followed a river as it meandered through the hills, and everything looked jolly. About 10 km in we hit the hill, and struggled up a continuous incline for a good 15 minutes, before hitting the delightful peak, and free-wheeling down, body dropped for maximum streamlining, and stopping at the first konbini an hour or so in.

The first of many konbini stops ©Rachael Booth
The first of many konbini stops ©Rachael Booth

Here we were informed that the biggest hill was now behind us, though there was the suppressed undercurrent of thought that it would be waiting there at the end of the 190km tomorrow…

Day 1 Pack ©Scott Kawaguchi
Day 1 Pack ©Scott Kawaguchi

Here we formed a fairly fixed front running group of about 12, though this would eventually drop down nearer to 9 as we approached the end.

In terms of description, I’m afraid this becomes a lot more vague and less interesting as we moved out from country roads onto the main route 10 highway, but being as we were passing through Kyushu, rest assured that there were mountains galore in the distance, and being Japan, a ton of konbinis to rest our weary bodies, and stock up with drinks!

At some point the penned directions disagreed with the planned directions, and around lunch time we found ourselves having passed through Usa, but a bit unsure of where we were suppose to head. Breaking for lunch at a roadside cafe, we eventually spoke to the volunteer team, and found we had taken a wrong branch of route 10, and would need to head back in towards Nakatsu city.

Being the hometown of long suffering friend Rachael, we even managed a photo opportunity outside of her school.

©Rachael Booth
©Rachael Booth

Riding through Nakatsu was a killer, hitting traffic lights every few blocks, and giving rise to a high risk of collision as our bikers sped up and slowed down, desperate not to get too separated from the group.

The straight, flat roads were perhaps the most difficult part of the journey. By now my hands were more than suffering from pins and needles, as were my toes, and the road seemed unending.

At least when there were hills you could pedal at a variety of speeds and difficulties, and get the free ride from coasting down the hill, but on the flat, as the peddling became harder, you knew the only thing that meant was that you were getting more tired.

Eventually we hit the infamous Cosmos shop we’d been hunting for, and pulled off the main highway, and began cycling on smaller, quieter streets – it felt like the beginning of the end.

It wasn’t. We probably ended up cycling for another hour and a half, or more, but psychologically it helped! Especially bumping into another group and knowing we were back on track!

From here the landscape began to thin out again, smalls hills reappeared and it felt like we were getting close.

The End is Nigh

Stopping at a konbini, rumour spread that this was the last konbini and that there was only 5km left to go!

Stocked up with booze, we headed out for the final 5km, cycling alongside a meandering river, and determined to be the first group there!

What nobody had cared to mention was that the second trickiest hill was still to come, and with only a couple of km left, we hit it. It was excruciating, our leading pack began to thin out, and I felt like this would never end.

With only a km left, the incline gave way to a decline, and we rode the final part with style, and arriving first to the camp site.

Being first in meant we had no idea where to go and milled about in the carpark, before spotting the cabins we’d stay in, and parking up the bikes. To kill time we spotted a river and headed out for a cool wade whilst waiting for the others.

Naturally, being Japan, the site had an onsen, and so eventually others turned up and we made our way to the onsen to loosen those tight muscles. Well, loosened until we found the pulsating, or more accurately, the electrocuting chairs, that zap and tenses your muscles into spasms.

Coming out of the onsen, and with some time on our hands, the boys headed into the curry restaurant for a beer, that turned into a quick, cheeky curry.

Dinner Disaster

By 1930 we had word no fire had been started in the camp, thus there was no food, so we stayed back for some more beers. Come 2000 some more of the team showed up announcing that that would be no dinner, and so they came for curry too! In the end about 16 of us we in the curry house and playing drinking games.

Returning to the camp, we discovered the kitchen area, only to be met with an icy reception. As it turns out, there was no cooking team, and it had been expected that everyone would come and help cook – oops! Some miscommunication there!

Settling into cabin J, the party cabin, we finished the night with a few drinks, before throwing in the towel at around 0000.

Day Two: The Long Way Home

With insufficient curtains, I was awake early, and out helping prepare breakfast before 7am (I’d learnt from the previous day’s lesson). Breakfast was an ensemble of scrambled egg, cheese, bread and leftover kebabs (which were delicious!).

With great efficiency, the group managed to all leave by about 9am! Hanging back with the Bungo Boys to clean the cabin, meant I ended up the group with the regular and fittest cyclists, and was apprehensive about getting left behind!

And they’re off!

After tackling the second most difficult hill, we reached the konbini and bumped into a group who had set of before us.  Keen on the sound of their slower pace, I sacrificed my break to cycle alongside the river with them. After a few more kilometers, we hit the hill that marked our leaving of Aka, and promptly overtook this slow-paced group – there’s nothing more painful than doing inclines at a ridiculously slow pace, and soon found myself in a speedy three-way with KJ and Bernie, with whom I would end up spending most of my ride with. We pushed on a mighty place, slowing occasionally when one of us would fall outside of sight from the lights.

Two hours in, we took a hearty rest at a konbini, catching up with our Japanese sisters Megu and Mai, and spotting two of the best cyclists overtaking us. Struggling with a hangover, KJ encouraged us to take a longer break, but within 20 minutes we were on our way, frozen sports drinks melting under the heat of the sun.

Usa Shrine

Passing through Nakatsu, I sighed as we passed the delicious restaurants I knew there, and soon we were approaching Usa and the continuing dreaded flats.

At one set of lights we agreed we’d stop for lunch at Usa shrine, which then turned out to be a lot further away than we imagined! We had a delightful lunch of toriten chicken, and megan getting messages through from Rachael, who was just passing through Usa.

We made the call to wait for her, and she was soon within our mitts, and we decided to explore Usa shrine, turning our lunch stop into an over hour long affair.

©Bernadette Arthur

The grounds of Usa shrine far outshone the hyped shrine, especially since it had hideous white marquees erected in front of the shrine, but it was nice to walk under the trees, and looked at the various stone pieces and ponds. Maybe I’ll return again since we didn’t have time to explore the entire grounds.

©Bernadette Arthur
©Bernadette Arthur

Back on the road, we were two thirds the way there, but well aware that the hardest hill lay ahead of us.

The riding was pretty easy for the next 10 or so km, with our 4some taking a good spread out formation.

Suddenly we’d lost two of our group, and cycled back to find them stopped outside of a konbini with some of the guys we hadn’t seen since the morning!

The Beginning of the End

They were prepping for the big hill, and made a funny sight. Taylor had chosen to ride topless, and was busy applying sun cream, despite this, he had already again a rucksack shaped tan line. Sean had scuffed and bleeding knees, and Becca had an almighty red graze on her shoulder, cut up knees and legs, and a bleeding hip.

As it had transpired, a woman on a moped had turned without signalling, Martyn had braked, Becca, who was now on her third bike of the day pulled one brake, only on this bike it happened to corresponding to the front brake, and cartwheeled over the bike, causing Sean to brake head and come off too!

I’m glad I hadn’t been in that pack!

Departing from the konbini, we left Bernie behind in tangle of head phones. Next thing I knew I was passing Rachael as the incline began, and had my sights set on KJ in the distance.

Being an unconfident cyclist at best, I tackled the hills in a seated position, lowing my gears from the maximum 3-8 configuration, and by the apex was cycling around 2-2. This hill was exhausting, going on for about 15 minutes, cars passing within inches and I swayed slowly up the hill.

Then one turn around the corner, and the down hill began. I pushed my bike higher up the gears, but to my dismay, my bike would no longer get back up into 3rd gear, and I was capped at 2-8, but with KJ getting closer by the second thanks to my patented streamline position.

Thinking he was miles ahead, he pulled over to slow down as I passed him, and his face dropped as he had to get back up to speed.

The Final Countdown

Whilst I had hoped we only had 2-3 more miles to go, it would eventually turn out to be nearer to 6 miles, but we stuck together through the familiar winding mountain roads. A quick check on the sat-nav informed us we were only one left turn and 3 km away! Spurred on, we raced to back to the station, arriving in unison like true Bungo brothers, and becoming some of the first to make it back!

Between stretching and resting we cheered the other back, until we were all in!

Heading back with Savvy, we discussed how her saturday night hadn’t been so much fun since she had been the head cook :/

But by the time we were in Mie, we were on good enough times that she came and had curry with all the Bungo Boys to see out our weekend.


By J.Molkenthin

James Molkenthin is an enthusiastic and energetic British Designer, with a background in Graphics, Website and Product Design.