Maebashi Hill Climb – 2014 (前橋ヒルクライム)

Mt. Akagi Hill Climb bike race 2014

Up up and away!

Up up and away!

Up Up and Away!

Up Up and Away!

This year’s bicycle race as expected was a very well run and organized event.  Without a doubt it’s the biggest novice race of the year for Gunma Japan.  Anyone can enter as long as you register on time which is where the challenge lies.  About 5 months prior to the race they open up the on-line entry at 8 pm and within a couple hours it is sold out.  I believe they allow just over 3000 participants to enter.    However, I didn’t have any trouble getting registered on line and was done within 10 minutes of starting.  The biggest hick-up for most foreigners would be the obstacle of reading Japanese.

Can you see me?

Can you see me?

"This microchip strapped to my leg is weighing me down man"!

“This microchip strapped to my leg is weighing me down man”!

The night before the race I spent a couple hours cleaning the bike thoroughly, removing the cassettes, degreasing them and the chain and replacing the brake shoes with the ones for carbon wheels.  Sounds easy enough but to do it right takes a little time.  After that I took the bike to my friend Ka Chan’s house who is a master at adjusting the gears so that they change perfectly.  He also has an air pressure gun that helped get out some extra dirt from those tough places.  The bike was brand new and fast again!

Race Day

Da Boyz cycling club

I woke up before my alarm which was set to go off at 3:30 a.m.  My friend Masashi said he’d be at my house at 4 but he showed up 15 minutes early.   At that time of the night outside is still sleeping and blackness lies everywhere.   We loaded my bike into his SUV and headed to Maebashi where we have  a secret parking spot courteous of a friend’s friend.  For others I’m sure finding parking would be a challenge.  We saw some cyclists heading to the event by bicycle at 4 a.m.  and I was happy that wasn’t me.  Close to Maebashi we witnessed a vehicle accent where a truck in front of us flipped over onto its side.  Fortunately no one was hurt and we avoided the traffic jam that followed.

Once we arrived at the parking lot our friends showed up in separate vehicles shortly after.  We all unloaded our bicycles and got dressed for the race.  It was very cold in the morning with a strong wind adding to the chills.  I did my pre race tradition of going to the bathroom 3 times at the nearby toilet stall which my friends joke was put there just for me.  I joke back saying “why spend thousands on a lighter bicycle when you can drop a kilo or two in body weight”.   I had to go again just prior to the race but I’m not the only one – the toilets provided for the race have line-ups going around the block.  While this will make some angry at me, instead of standing in that line I went into the women’s room instead.  When you have to go you have to go.

The Race

2014 is the 4th year for this Hill Climb bike race to take place.  This is my third consecutive race here.  The Maebashi Hill Climb bike race is open to anyone.  It’s a 20 KM ride from Maebashi  to the top of Mt. Akagi.  It’s 20.8 KM of straight climbing with a total elevation gain of 1,313 meters.  The average grade is 7%.  The toughest grade is around 9.5%.  The first half of the climb is the easiest as you work your way from the city to the base of the mountain and then it gets quite steep in parts.

Since there are over 3000 participants the race is divided into groups.  Everyone has a Velcro microchip strap you attach to one of your ankles which reads the start and finish line to accurately record your person time and then later the results are shown to see where you stand with the fastest person or how you fared with your results from previous races.

My number this year is 322 and my group was the second to charge up the mountain.  The first group was composed mostly of pros and the fastest of the fast.  They left at 7.  My group  left next  at 7:05.

This year there was a very strong head wind so right from the beginning I found a team that were drafting off each other and I slipped in behind.  I think this helped me out a lot.  I just stared at the back wheel of some young guns and concentrated on an even rhythm and my breathing.  We did well to pass a lot of riders but the worry is to still have gas in the tank for the tough section.  I was careful to keep my heart rate to a comfortable level and make sure my legs didn’t burn up but at the same time pushed myself as hard as I could for the race.

Last year I started in a later group because my time the year before was 1:15 but this year they put me in the fast group because last year’s time was up in the top 2% at 1:09:36.   So this year when climbing I was thinking I wasn’t very strong because I wasn’t passing many people.  But later I realized it was because I was just in a group full of similar riders.  I am happy to have been put in this group where other strong riders forced me to compete at a higher level.

Mentally, the race went by a lot faster this year.  I think working on not letting other riders get away from me helped keep my mind occupied.  I was quite surprised when I realized there was only 1 KM to go.  When I went around the last hairpin corner and saw the 600 meter straight to the finish I went all out like everyone else and was neck to neck with another cyclist who immediately became my obsession to beat and on every last ounce of energy I could muster I beat him by a small wheels length to finish up this year’s Maebashi Hill Climb.

Almost there!

Almost there!

Unfortunately just like last year, once you finish there is nowhere to warm down and my leg muscles pretty much went into shock and started squeezing and burning up on me.  I tried to ride around in small circles and keep the legs spinning but it didn’t help and for a good hour after the race my legs were in pain and I couldn’t sit down.    I waited for my friends to make it to the top and then we all headed to the parking lot near Onuma Lake to get our bags that were sent up prior to the race.  There, we all enjoyed a coffee and cake courteous of a coupon that came with registration.  I had to enjoy my coffee standing though and that was worth a few good jokes and teases from my friends.

"Maybe I should call a Taxi"?

“Maybe I should call a Taxi”?

My time this year was 1:08:45 which was almost a minute faster than last year.  It put me  14th out of 1000 40 year olds, and 45th out of 3000 cyclists.  That’s in the top 2% again so I’m quite pleased with my results.  My weekly riding partner and good friend Yukiya Watanabe who turned 60 this year managed to get 3rd place over all for his age group.  We were all thrilled for him.  He got to stand up on the stage and receive a handful of prizes and a kiss from the good looking women.  I think he liked the kisses more than the prizes.

After the race was over and my legs started to feel a little better, I rode my bike home via the other side of the mountain.  It was only about 35 KM and mostly downhill.  I rode home so I could get back quickly and shower up and head to my afternoon gig.  I had a showtime at a theme park which I performed until 4 pm.   After that, I got home, showered again and then went to a BBQ with my family to hook up with our cycling group “Da Boyz” that rode the race.   We ate and drank without a care of calorie intake and celebrated the day.

 

My legs got cramps. Here I'm stretching them.

My legs got cramps. Here I’m stretching them.

It was a perfect day!

See you next year.

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Making an Album is Sadly a Fond Memory

There is something ironically sad about looking back on fond memories.  They were so wonderful that you want to relive them.  But you can’t.  So you file them into a happy place and visit them from time to time.

I would love to jump on a plane bound for Australia again and say hello to the guys that made my 5th CD “THESE DAYS” a reality.  I’d like to walk down the same beaches that helped inspire lyrical ideas, or swap trivial stories with the locals, stare out the window of the downtown trams at the passer-by’s and of course, step back into the studio with the blokes who helped create the album.  Fond memories are usually moments you would love to experience again.

I could sing any lyrics and you wouldn't know!

I could sing any lyrics and you wouldn’t know!

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons making a CD is something I absolutely love.  It’s not just about the song.  It’s about the whole journey.  It’s about the hard work, the goal of making this dream a reality, the great friends that share the same interests, the challenges, the small details, the life long memories, and ultimately the final product.  Then you have it. All wrapped up and stored onto a compact disk in the palm on my hands.

That’s what’s left.

For me, “These Days”, isn’t just an album of tunes.  It’s a chapter in my life.  A challenge set out and completed.  It’s an idea that started with a chord on a guitar, a melody in my head, or a lyric stolen from a street sign. It’s a search for a cheap airplane ticket, it’s hotel rooms, a new city, new friends and a common goal.

Shibuya, Tokyo.  Promo pic.

Shibuya, Tokyo. Promo pic.

I see a million small tasks that I must do for my dream to finally become reality.   I see the inspiration of family and friends and above all, I see myself doing something that gives me a sense of self-accomplishment.   When it’s finally done, there is an immense satisfaction I hold but at the same time a yearning begins to do it all over again.  An addiction to the whole process.  A desire to be better.  The drugs have kicked in and I’ve started new memories.  I’ll be recording the newest CD in Nashville come August 2013.

Live at the Bunkakaikan

Live at the Bunkakaikan

How to write radio friendly songs.

Putting the final touches on an original song.

I wrote an article several years back (that I just added to this blog site) called “7 Steps to writing a song you’re proud of” and I was surprised at the amount of readers who found it.   In that article I talked mostly of “my” process on how to get a song from inside you out into one that you are happy of.

In this blog, I want to explain some common ideals that are present when trying to write songs to be commercially viable.   Please note that these views, while fairly standard, are just my opinion and they are not written in stone.  Many have bent these rules slightly and if you’re not interested in writing “radio friendly” songs, then this isn’t for you.

OK.  Let’s start.

To be clear, I have a love, hate relationship with radio.  Most of the really big stations are monopolized by major corporations and with payola’s and money running the show, it’s almost impossible for independent musicians to get heard.  However, thanks to the internet there are now many more opportunities for your music to get out there.  So, you have many chances to find fans.  But in order to do so, you should understand a few things.

1).  Most people are in a hurry.  And in today’s world, we get things given to us immediately.  So when writing a song, you should get to the Chorus as soon as possible.

2).  Intro’s should never be very long.  Again, people want the meat and not the salad.  I usually have a 4 bar intro and for the most part I recommend not going any longer than that.  Sometimes it’s even cool to start a song immediately with vocals.

3).  As I mentioned, get to the Chorus soon.  Sometimes doing 2 verses before the first Chorus is fine but make sure you don’t leave your fans waiting too long.  Unless the Chorus is to die for then they might be willing to forgive you.

4) Usually after the 2nd Chorus a common theme is to go into a bridge (a third and unique melody that goes slightly in a different direction musically and lyrically). It’s often refreshing for a listener to hear a bridge when it’s done right.  A great bridge often leads back into a final Chorus effortlessly.  Often the last chord in a bridge will be the 5th chord of the root (if the song is in D then the last chord in the bridge might be an A or A7 so when the Chorus hits, the listener is unconsciously relieved with the root chord D returning and therefore more punch when the Chorus comes back).

5).  I could write a lot on chords and chord changes but that’s a whole different blog.  Let me say that for the most part, 3 chord songs have made artists millions of dollars but there is something special about adding more color (chords).  You can often replace a major chord with its relative minor (for example turning G into Em etc).  Only you and your friends who are listening will know what works best for you song.  But don’t be afraid to try alternative chords underneath your melody. It might even make you find a better melody.  Experiment.

6).  The Golden Rule of radio?  Keep your songs short.  3 to 3 1/2 minutes is usually enough to get your song across.  Yes, Stairway to Heaven, American Pie, and Hotel California are classics and they’re long.  But how many others do you know of?   The listener and the radio equally don’t have time for songs like that.  If your song is over 4 minutes I bet it’s too long for both parties.

7). Here is just one example of what a song could look like:

a)  verse 1

b)  Chorus

c)  verse 2

d)  Chorus 2

e)  Bridge

f)  short solo over chorus or verse chord progression

g)  Last Chorus X 2

e)  ending

Sometimes you can have 2 verses before the first Chorus as I mentioned earlier.

8).  Lyrics.  This is tough.  Why are 95% of all the songs out there written about love?  Because that’s the emotion most songs bring.  You can bet, everything you’re going to write about has been written about.  The idea is to find a different way to say what has already been said.  Find a catch saying that captivates people and work a song around that.  Whether you hate country music or not, it is usually full of amazing lyrics.  Have a listen to the way the songs are penned.  Sometimes taking a common phrase and twisting it is popular  (For example, instead of “Better luck next time”, you could say “Better luck next guy”).          ….You get the idea.

So again, let me clarify that I’m just sharing my opinion.  Some of you might not agree with what I have to say here.  That’s fine.  At the end of the day, songwriting is a craft like guitar playing which requires a lot of work, a lot of hours, and a lot of heart.  You might have heard industry professionals say that until you’ve reached over 10,000 hours of practice in your craft, you’re not ready.  Granted some are just born good.  Most of us though, work at it.  Enjoy it though because it’s such a wonderful thing to do.

If you want, click on this link and download 20 of my songs for free(3 of these songs are in consideration for major motion pictures, another won best song of the month on ABC radio, and many have received radio play).  If you don’t mind me saying so – my latest release “THESE DAYS” has received a lot of praise from fans and critics alike.  Yes, I’m still trying to write a song that some 20 year old famous singer will buy but until then I’ll enjoy the process because I love it so.

I hope you write a song that you are really proud of.  Better yet, one that makes it on the radio.

~Kelly

Melbourne Australia. Songwriting.

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.


Bicycle racing in Japan.

It’s sunny but cold outside today.  I’m getting antsy to get back out there and ride a heap of kilometers this year.  The last couple months have mostly been in the gym riding the trainers and doing upper body workouts.

My favourite past time nex to writing songs.

I’ve spent the last few weeks surfing the internet for cycling gear and the Garmin 500 GPS computer As I had expected, what I wanted was going to cost some money.  Fortunately the Japanese yen is strong and because I took my time browsing cycling sites on line I have got some great deals.  When buying these items at a store in Japan it can almost double in price.  That is probably because most Japanese customers can’t understand English and are unable to find what they are looking for outside of Japan. At any rate, it’s great to get paid in yen at the moment.

My first race this year is on April 22nd.  It’s a 13 KM hill climb up Mt. Shirane in Kustasu village.   Kusatsu is a famous hot spring area and has been for over a 1000 years.  Shirane is a volcano.  At the top is the worlds largest sulfuric lake.  It’s a beautiful turquoise blue but it smells like rotten eggs. 

This is my first time to enter this race.  Apparently there are over 3000 cyclists.  The fastest time is usually around 30 minutes and the slowest around 1 hour.  Anyone who doesn’t do it in 2 hours is disqualified.

Ride like the wind.

I hope to do it in about 45 minutes which would put me somewhere in the middle of the pack.  I have ridden this hill many times (when it’s warm).

zig zag is a good thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Several years ago when my brother came to Japan, we shared a few beers one evening.  He said, “that sounds interesting.  I could climb that no problem because I used to ride all the time when I was going to university“.  My friend and I said “Let’s do it tomorrow morning and then go for a hot spring“.   We all agreed and that’s what happened.  Long story short, my brother Kevin made it to the top but not without going into oxygen debt and taking a few breaks.  Not knocking my bro.  He’s the best.  I’m merely saying that it’s not as easy as it might seem.  So, I’ll just keep training and hope I have a time I’m proud of.

Can’t wait for spring!!

2011. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

2011 ended up being a busy but fun year for the most part.  Any year you can look back on and recall that you and everyone you care for were all relatively healthy is a good one.

My father had a fight with cancer at the end of 2010 and was very, very ill but he bounced back to enjoy 2011 for the most part. Jersey signed by all the Canucks.

Though a lot happens in a year, our biggest news was the birth of our beautiful baby girl on July 13th at 7:06 am.  Her name is Victoria Linda Pettit and she’s now the centre of our small bubble.

Victoria Linda Pettit July 13, 2011

It was fun watching Harumi’s journey through pregnancy and thrilling to watch her give birth to our first child together.  I’ll never forget that exact moment of watching Victoria enter our world. I felt useless as Harumi battled the delivery bravely.

We traveled a lot in 2011.  I went to Canada on my own for Xmas as I was concerned for my dads health.  He was weak when I was there but he was slowly recovering.  I managed to spend a night at Ward’s and a couple days with Chris but for the most part I just relaxed with my dad.  My mom was in Phoenix and I was disappointed I didn’t get to see her but if I had known what lay ahead, I would have been fine.

The horrific incident caused by the March 11th earthquake found my family and I packing and heading to Scottsdale Arizona for a month. Nothing left. We stayed in my moms condo down there trying to pretend we were on holidays but really, stressed about our future with one eye on CNN news and the other looking to the future unknown.  We came back to Japan as I had to return to work and decided to stay here as things were looking better.  Later in early December 2011, I went up to Iwate prefecture to Ootsuchi city to do a volunteer concert for the people.  The Canadian Embassy had contacted me to help and it wasn’t hard to make up my mind.  Photos really don’t express the heavy emotions one gets while being there.  I was moved beyond words.

In mid November, my mom who I hadn’t see for a good year and a half decided she needed to see her new grandchild and booked a flight to hang with us for 2 weeks.  We had an incredible time drinking wine every night, indulging in too many truffles, eating out for lunch, and always laughing.  She was a great sport for putting up with our small, embarrassing apartment.  Despite the lack of fluency in English, Harumi managed to share her feelings and get her point across quite well.  The two of them together were devilish and great company and I was so happy to see them get along so well.   Victoria loves her grandma and we all hope it isn’t too long before they reconnect. Family is everything.

I had knee surgery in mid January 2011 to try and repair my left meniscus.  It was a 3.5 hour job and a month in a cast followed by rehabilitation.  I bought a new bicycle in April though and by May I was on it riding almost every day.  The knee still isn’t perfect and now the other knee is giving my troubles, but it wasn’t bad enough to stop me from riding over 7000 km and entering a couple races.  I lost a few pounds and I feel rejuvenated. Group rides are always enjoyable.

2012 promises to be full of a lot of the same if all goes according to plan (which it usually doesn’t).

We will raise Victoria here for the year.  I will attempt to ride twice as far as last year and enter twice as many races.  We will travel.  Maybe all of us will go to Brazil, or I’ll just send my family there and I’ll go to Canada.  Maybe I’ll record my new CD in Nashville USA.  I’m praying some of my songs that are in negotiation for movies will finally get accepted.  I’m hoping financially we can save a little more m/oney (although after buying a new car and TV I’m not sure about that).


But again, if in 2012 everyone remains healthy and happy, then life is perfect.Image