Tour de Kusatsu 2012

The Tour de Kusatsu is a very misleading name.  You really don’t tour anywhere.  In fact, there is a heck of a lot of standing around in zero degrees Celsius weather waiting for the race to start.

That’s not to say that it isn’t a great race.  I really like it for a race that kicks off the season.  It’s very well organized with volunteers, police, radio, TV, sponsors, samples, pro riders and more!

However, this year in particular was a little disappointing.  The course is suppose to be 13 km’s straight up to the top of Shinane (an active volcano ) but the weather turned for the worse the day before and the top of Shinane was snowing and the fog was as thick as clam chowder soup.  So instead of canceling the event, they shortened the distance to 6 kms.  You can bet out of the 3000 participants a lot were disappointed. Many had driving from Tokyo or farther and booked rooms to sleep in the night before.   I myself thought about turning around and heading back to Numata (60 km south) but though since I’d already paid the 5000 yen fee I might as well ride it.

"I thought it was spring"?

“I thought it was spring”?

My friends Yukiya, Masashi, his wife and I left Numata at 6 am.  We met at a 7-11 and headed up in two vehicles.  The weather was cloudy and threatening to rain and the forecast said it eventually would.  The question was if we could beat it and get the race over with before it came down.

On the drive up, Yukiya received a phone call from his son who is a pro rider for Takezawa cycle and was already up at the race with team and crew.  He told Yukiya that the race was canceled due to really bad weather at the top.  I couldn’t believe my luck because I entered another race back in August last year that also got canceled thanks to heavy rain.  Regardless, we decided to get there and check things out further and found out it wasn’t really canceled but “shortened” to only 6 kms.  I was told going any farther up the mountain would result in thick fog, blizzard like winds and snow on the road.  It was 0 C at the base and everyone looked very cold but as they say on Broadway, “the show must go on”.

After the race returning to the base.

After the race returning to the base.

We changed into our winter cycling wear and tried to warm up by climbing the first kilometer of the mountain several times but the decent was freezing fingers and toes.

Finally, when over the speakers they asked us all to congregate to the start line, they then showered us with speeches from everyone and their dog.  Anyone who brought rollers or attempted to do a warm up prior to the race quickly found themselves shaking for 20 – 30 minutes while waiting.   Finally, they wished us all luck and the elite athletes took to the hill first.

"I hope I'm still on the main road"!

“I hope I’m still on the main road”!

6 km’s hardly seems like a race at all really.  I’d been training for the 13 km ride for six weeks climbing up and down route 145 to Lockheart castle 3 times in a row, once a week as interval training to get ready for this.  I had improved immensely from the first feeble attempt at doing that a month and a half ago.  My last time up to Lockheart had been my best by a good 1:30 and got to the top at 18:05.  The climb to Lockheart is much steeper and more grueling that the Tour de Kusatsu so I was looking forward to seeing my time here but I will have to wait until next year to see the full 13 km race results.

Everyone seems to be sporting a beautiful bike these days and to stereo type a Japanese person if I may, they all buy the best wear and look the part of a pro rider.  I was intimidated to say the least and almost relieved that I wouldn’t be punishing myself for the full 13 km.  Add to that the fact that is was a race against the clock and it was hard to tell anyone’s time besides your own and I managed to feel relaxed before I charged up.  Everyone had a microchip device attached to their front fork that records the start and finish of your time accurately.

7 Steps to writing a song you’re proud of.

Playing iive at the Bunkakaikan in Japan.

There are 7 factors that I require when writing a  song that makes me happy and they are:

1) Emotions: The best place to find these are through the turmoils of your life.  The good, the bad and the ugly.  They are the driving force behind wanting to write something in the first place.

2) Catchy melody: Usually my songs start with some sort of chord progression on the guitar but not always. Then a vocal melody wrapped around the chords in an interesting and satisfying way. If you interviewed most famous songwriters, they’d tell you most of their best songs seemed to channel through them in an almost effortless fashion. If I look back on the songs I’ve written, I’d agree that my stronger songs were the ones that seemed to write themselves.

3) Strong lyrics: If you put strong lyrics with a very catchy melody then you’ve got something to be proud of for sure. Don’t ignore the importance of lyrics.  I’ve only recently realized that they are the “icing on the cake”.  A great melody gets you far but if you have lyrics that connect, they you’ve made a fan or two.  Write from the heart.  Write about something we all can relate to but do it in a way that you feel hasn’t been done before.  For example, write a love song without using the world “love”, or write a happy song with “minor chords”.  Whatever you do, make it ‘yours‘. 

4) Re-writing: This is where a lot of people fail miserably. They’re always too damn proud of their first take and are afraid to throw away something to make the song better because they really like one line.  Don’t be afraid to trash a line even if it was your best line.  If it doesn’t fit, save it for something else.

Changing Chords and melody can lift a song too. Sometimes for example, you can replace the root chord with a minor 6 and give it some mood.

5) Play it live: Play your song to your friends and ask for honest opinions. Don’t let the negative vibes get you down either. A lot of the time, you’re friends won’t know what they’re talking about- but a good song is pretty much universally liked and you’ll be able to weed out the good from the bad and generally get a sense of what is strong.

6) Write lots: You’ll get different opinions on this but for me, writing a lot of songs just makes me a better songwriter. It’s like learning to play the guitar. If you practice every day, you’re going to be much better than if you play it once a month.

7) Sleep on it: It’s weird but often I’ll wake up in the morning and play the new song again and it doesn’t have the same impact on me. That’s a sign that perhaps it just wasn’t the hit song I was planning on retiring on.

But I’m sure I’ve got one in me ready to surprise the world.  It’s just around the corner!  🙂

Good luck fellow songwriters.

In Melbourne Australia with the legendary Greg Arnold.


Giro de Hotaka bicycle race.

November 6th, 2011

It rained just once this week.  Yep, during race day of course.  Oh, and it rained hard.

I couldn’t sleep that night due to nerves and finally got out of bed at 4 a.m.  I arrived at my friends’ house at 5 and we drove to the race together talking strategy and pace. 

It was early, cold and wet and I was concerned about being able to ride the 120 km race (74.56 miles) in those conditions.  Because I work 7 days a week I haven’t had the time to ride over 100 KM all year.  Most of my rides are around 50 or 60 km (31 ~ 37 miles).  I knew I could do it but I wasn’t sure how sluggish I’d be. 

Giro de Hotaka. 7th Place.

This race was a little different from regular races and it doesn’t attract many pro riders.  In fact, out of the 128 riders there were only 2 at this event.  They were mostly using it for training I believe.  I think because we shared the roads with traffic and even had to stop at 1 or 2 traffic lights makes it less attractive.  However, when the awards were being handed out at the end, both pro riders agreed that it was one of the toughest courses they’ve ridden.  There is hardly a flat section to the race and if you’re not going down one side of a mountain, you are climbing the other. 

So, my plan was to start off with a comfortable pace and ride my own ride.  Let people pass me.  Don’t get competitive.  Save energy.  Finish!

The ride started with a 10 km (6.2 m) downhill and then 26 km (16.15 m) up and up and up.  There was an aid station at the top where I fueled up before going down the backside.  It was cold, wet and slippery with leafs and switch back corners but only one accident that I witnessed.  He went over a bank and into the river the poor guy!  I think only his pride was hurt though.

The last 20 km (12.4 m) was by far the toughest.  At the 100 km (62 m) mark the climb up Semene mountain pass to Katashina became really steep.  To my surprise those riders I let go ahead at the beginning were starting to appear in my sight.  Again, I just wanted to get up and over the hill but while doing so I passed a lot of riders.  I must confess when I finally reached the top and saw the tunnel I’d been praying for, I was bagged.  Then there was a nice 9 km downhill coast to get the legs back (somewhat) before having to do another grueling last 9 km climb to the finish.  How evil of them!

On the final 9 km I saw another 3 riders who I overtook.  The bike race brochure reads “120 km Giro De Hotaka”.  During the last stretch my bike computer was reading 118 as I climbed the tough grade.  I was thinking to myself,  “No, not another 2 km of this!  I don’t think I can do it.”   Then as I rounded the corner I saw the finish line in front of me at the 119 km mark.  That was a welcomed surprise (finishing 1 km earlier than I expected). 

I crossed over the line exhausted as they yelled out, “7th.   I said to them, “No, my race number is 98”.  And they said again, “No, you are in 7th place”.

Wow, that completely surprised me.  I figure I owe a big thanks to all my Dailymile friends for keeping me motivated and inspired.

Of course the 2 pro riders got first and second place respectfully and I should make it clear that they finished a good 30 minutes before I did!  Ha-ha

But heck, I’ll take lucky 7.

Click here for an earlier post I wrote about Giro de Hotaka.

Course and elevation.

Beautiful Fall bicyle race in Gunma Japan.

Costco – Soul Food

A little N. America in Asia

As a foreigner living in Japan there are so many things from back home that I miss.  The not so simple solution for me would be to return home but that’s a blog for another time.

I became a member of Costco a few weeks ago when they opened up a store not too far from where I live.  Back in Canada I think the reason most go to Costco is to save money.  Buy bulk.  Buy generic.  Save money.

Yes, most items at the Costco here are cheaper than elsewhere but that’s not the main reason I go.  You’re pretty much guaranteed to spend over $100 CDN every time you walk into the place (over $200 last time I left there).  In fact, I always end up buying stuff that I don’t really need, just because it seems like a great deal.  So at the end of the day, I spent more than I would have had I not gone.

No, the real reason I go to Costco is to buy familiar food.  Western food.  Stuff I grew up on as a kid.  You know, “Kraft Dinner”, Cranberry juice, Raisin Bran, Muffins, Lasagna, Ravioli, Cheddar Cheese and all things Western.   A lot of this stuff is really hard to find where I live so I’ve just become accustomed to eating Japanese.  And that’s the cheaper route, too.

My father was born and raised in Australia.  He came to Canada in 1967 at 26 years old.  He’s spent most of his life in Canada now.   But inside his house you could be in Australia when you look around at a lot of his belongings and treasures. Of course he loves Canada.  But if you ask him his identity, he’s a true blue Aussie.
My father the teacher turned writer.
Costco in a sense has the same appeal as my fathers belongings have for him.  It’s the connection that makes me feel a little closer to home.

Who’d have thought buying Cheddar cheese at Costco could temporarily feed more than a stomach?

September/2009 Hey everyone!

September/2009
Hey everyone!

blck-wht-Kell-w-CameraHow are you doing? It’s been a while since I sent a newsletter out and I am surprised how quickly the time has past by. For most of you its summer and I hope you’ve been able to enjoy it. I was very busy the last two months and I performed over 30 shows. Half of those shows where at my reliable Theme Park where I’ve been gigging for years but the other half were made up of a wide variety of venues. One of my favorite places to perform is in a town called Kusatsu. It’s a beautiful place with many natural hot springs and visited by many Japanese throughout the year. I did a video blog while staying in my hotel there if you want to check it out.

I also went to Tochigi prefecture and shared the stage with two other bands at a cool place called Nemu Nemu. My good friend Hibiki and I drove there from Gunma and it took about an hour but it turned out to be a fun night. I played an acoustic set and tried out some of my new songs I might release on my next CD and the response was good.

On August 23rd I did a show at a new venue called “JHK”. It used to be a place for weddings but the owner converted it into a really funky place to perform live. After the show the owner turned on the Barbeque and poured ice cold beer and we all sat around sharing stories.

September has been really busy. I’ve got a foot inside the door of a bunch of projects.  For starters my friend Mark Clay and I are working on a very cool song he sent me called, “Dunkirk Spirit” that has a Celtic vibe to it. He also helped finish off a song of mine called, “What Have I Done”, and recorded his take on it with just a couple of acoustic guitars. Mark is generous enough to offer it to you exclusive on my website for free. You can find it here. Down the road I will attempt to record my version of it, too.  I’m also trying to finish up a song and  enter it in an annual songwriting contest that takes place in Japan.  I must have that song complete and submitted by the end of September.  I best buckle down and get on with it!

October 16th, a friend of mine Simon Smith is coming to visit me in Japan. He will be here for 5 days and is flying all the way from England. Some of my loyal supporters might know him from our small community. I’ve got a few  small shows lined up that I’ll be dragging him to. One of them is a venue I’ve never gigged at before so we’ll both be checking it out for the first time. (Simon, I hope you’re ready for a culture shock)

Aside from my music career, I’ve been cycling and training often. I road over 2500 km during the summer.  It’s getting dark earlier lately so I’m not able to ride as far. But ice hockey has started again and so now I’m doing that 2 to 3 times a week, too. If you want to go on an 8 minute bike ride with me, click here (but I warn you, it’s not too thrilling unless you like that sort of thing).

OK, I’ll sign off now. Sorry for the long delay from the last update. Hope you’re all well. Feel free to email and fill me in with what you’re up to. I’ll be sure to get back to you.

Until next time, take care.
Kelly

May/09 Newsletter

May/2009
Hi!

Too cool for school - not.How is everything going? I hope spring is in full bloom and you’re able to get outside and enjoy some decent weather. It’s been fantastic weather here in Japan and it’s nice to put winter behind me for a while.

I want to give a big thank you to all of you who have joined my mailing list and my eteam. As you might know, I’ve posted a couple new songs on my site for free download. I’m really happy with how many came by to grab them and leave comments as well. The newest song “What Have I Done” as you know, is a really rough demo (recorded in my bedroom live). It needs a bridge, and the lyrics need to be moved around, axed, or altered. But the feedback on the song makes me think I might just re-record it when I’m making my new CD. Hopefully in the upcoming months I’ll post some other ideas I have so that I can get your honest feed back. I really want the songs on the next CD to be for you. Meaning – while I always write from the heart, I write often and sometimes it’s hard to know which songs will end up being the most universal. Your opinion really matters to me.

May was a great month for gigging and it was nice to play on a regular basis after a fairly quiet winter. Hands down, playing live is where I sell most of my CD’s. It goes to show there is nothing more captivating than a live performance. To me, a great CD and a great live performance are completely separate from each other. A great CD can have all the bells and whistles and be polished to perfection but doesn’t always show the true artist. I wish I had a chance to play live in front of most of you on a more regular basis. If I get enough support and a healthy budget I am planning on doing that after the release of my next CD.

I would really love to know more about your music interests. What do you like in a good CD? What do you like in an artist? How I could better myself? How can I better my interaction with you? If you have any questions or comments please email me or join my forum and share your thoughts. Again, I’m looking for ways to improve in all areas of music. After all, it’s not called the music business for nothing.

Don’t forget to join me on facebook or twitter or myspace.

I hope to see you around and thanks again for your support!

Kelly