Grinduro Japan: Soaked n’ Stoked

With Grinduro spreading its wings across three continents this year, landing on the western side of Japan at Madarao Kogen with Salsa Cycles this fall. A resort mostly known for its deep powder and tree skiing welcomed some early season visitors as over 300 cyclists descended upon the ski town. The resort’s main chalet served as the staging ground for the expo and meals for the event. With the threat of Typhoon Hagibis on the horizon, the largest Typhoon to hit this region of Japan since 1958, people were nervous about the viability of the event. The storm was forecasted to reach the resort and produce very heavy rains and strong winds midday Saturday, right during lunch between the two planned rides for the day. With safety and ride-ability in mind, the organizers decided to swap the afternoon ride to the morning and add a segment. This was the more dirt/singletrack focused portion of the day which I don’t think anyone was bummed about. At 19 miles the route still has over 3000 ft of elevation gain.

With light rain starting to sprinkle on Friday evening as some people arrived back from last-minute pre rides of the course, the expo center was lined with the event sponsors and some local Japanese vendors. The fabric tent was lined with people looking to get Tydeman Newman’s signature on a saddle. Salsa had a generous showing of their newly updated Cutthroats, including a custom hand-painted purple frame to raffle off.  Everyone was mulling about prepping bikes and equipment for the early bird start the following day.

When Saturday morning came, the light rain persisting from the previous evening, many of the riders congregated indoors to warm up and get stoked for the day. After some encouraging words from the organizers, the riders are sent out to the start line. Everyone picks up their already soggy bikes, but the light rain has taken an intermission for the time being. A blaring megaphone yell and the riders are off, but not in a huge hurry, which is the beauty of the isolated timing of the segments along the route. A winding yet mid-teens graded road greets the racers out the gate and gets the blood flowing quickly.

We descended about halfway down the mountain before we start our traverse of the eastern slopes. We pull off the road and get a tour through the incredible and moody Japanese cedar forests. The path has intermittent blocks paving over an old viaduct which gives respite from the soggy and slippery mud-soaked from an evening of rain. At the first downhill, the ground turns to clay and the bodies start piling up, everyone is slippin-n-sliding. At every turn, we all start to lose traction eliciting yips and yells all around. As I approach an old temple in the woods and set up my shot, a caped Benedict appears out of the woods in true wizard fashion.

As we end the traverse the trail turns palpably upward as we make our way toward the first snack stop and into the clouds that envelope the mountain. I stop for a quick snack, catch a mud-covered Petor fixing his chain tension, run into an old friend, Kevin, who I haven’t seen since I lived in long beach, and watch Benedict get swamped by adoring fans.  The climb continues and the visibility falls-off to about 50 feet. Finally, a reprieve from the long climb manifests in a steep and loose descent back down out of the clouds. I gas it down the hill trying to outrun the mountain bikers behind me on my borrowed cutthroat, I realize I probably should have let some pressure out. More yipping, yelling, and corners are roosted.

At the end of the dirt, we pop out into a small farming village and begin the long road climb back up the mountain. Someone points out a rider rattling up the road, both beads blown off, somehow rolling on the center of his tire, rim to rubber, not fucking stopping. At the end of the road climb, I see signs for the upcoming “death climb”, after a 1000ft of road climbing what could be so bad? Turns out a sustained 20%+ grade is that bad. Everyone is walking except a jockey-esque rider who prances up the grade with ease. At the top is a snack break before the start of the second timed segment on some proper single track. I run into one of my cohorts from the Salsa posse, Nick, who has been dropped the hammerhead main pack. We hop in line for the sloppy descent, I get a short way down the trail and turn back to snap a few shots in the dense fog and deep mud. As I get back on the trail, I go ass-over-teakettle and penguin dive through the mud. Mud in, blood out. The tree cover gives way and we begin a snaking track down the grassy ski slopes. Everyone is bracing their butts precariously over their rear tires trying to keep a semblance of control on the slippery grass.

At the bottom, you can almost see the end of the race through the clouds, but we once again go up the steep winding climb from the beginning of the ride. A small go-kart track greets us at the top of the climb for the beginning of the 3rd timed segment. We quickly return to the open grassy ski slopes. Then the end is truly in sight, but wait, it’s one more go up that steep road, whelp. One last thigh busting climb leads to a freshly cut waterslide through tall grass. Finally, on the other end, you see the purple gates through the fog, we made it!

I quickly run inside to attempt to dry my camera gear and collect myself. I’m muddy from head to toe, my ankle is bleeding, my cameras are wet despite hiding under makeshift waterproofing from grocery bags, and I am exhausted. Eric from Giro offers me and other riders swigs of whiskey as we roll in. I find fresh looking Tydeman who looks like he has been finished for so long that he is showered and dried with time to spare. I walk around and find a few stand out bikes to snap and possibly The Radavist’s biggest fan with a spectacular custom Hunter.

Petor of Dear Susan and his massive Pinion cruiser with a fat Lauf fork is another spectacular rig, which he rode from Tokyo after finding it too large to transport on the train.

I snag lunch and plop down next to a pudgy pug with its tongue hanging out of his mouth, it makes my day. The winners are announced and a funky olde timey band takes the stage for the afternoon. The weather outside worsens as the brunt of the Typhoon makes landfall. We are all glad to be out of the weather. The team here has worked very hard to pull off the event to make sure everyone made it off the course before the weather truly turned and kept the stoke high. Grinduro Japan has had a helluva a first go, but Im sure it will be back next year and it will be just as fun and then some.

A huge huge thanks to Salsa Cycles for taking such good care of me and letting me borrow a sweet new Cutthroat for the event!