Photos by Gordon Davis

Bikers Raise ¥17.1m for Kids in Care

The 2024 11th annual KIWL 500km four-day bicycle ride took place from May 30 to June 2, starting in Shizuoka and ending in Nagano City, via Toyokawa, Ena, and Lake Suwa. Forty-five cyclists from 10 nations took part, determined to complete the course and optimize what could be raised for Mirai no Mori NPO to continue their wonderful work with marginalized children forced to live in institutional care.

The riders woke up to beautiful weather on Day 1, when they gathered for their departure photo at Sumpu Castle in Shizuoka. Split into seven groups, they proceeded west towards Toyokawa, their first day’s destination, hitting the coast at Hamamatsu along the way. It was along this route that we had our first of five accidents, someone riding straight through a bend and into some welcoming bushes, which raised a few giggles. Fortunately, he was unharmed! It is fair to say that the small town of Toyokawa did not know what hit them, when after riding 138 kilometers, a huge group of starving cyclists devoured tons of meat at the local yakiniku joint—except of course, our vegetarian riders!

Seen as the riders peered nervously out of the hotel curtains, the skies at the beginning of Day 2 were heavy and leaden. A mere 130 kilometers to Ena in Gifu awaited the riders as they climbed gently into Japan’s interior. The skies cleared but two more spills put a dampener on the day—fortunately, both riders were able to avoid serious injury. There was a sense of nervousness among the riders at dinner that night as Day 3 beckoned, the hardest day of the entire ride. 

This time, as the curtains parted, riders were greeted with the prospect of a rain-free day. But there were more than 130 kilometers of cycling, and more relevantly, over 2,000 meters of elevation! The early part of Day 3 included one massive climb out of the town of Magome, famous for its preservation of parts of the historic Nakasendo trail. The villagers were offering riders free water refills as they took pity on their plight, but they eventually hit the top and enjoyed the glorious descent into another historic town on the Nakasendo. The riders then had to adopt “race face” to grind up an incredibly long section to Narai Juku village, again rewarded for their efforts by cruising through a beautifully preserved postal town. If that was not enough, there was one final climb to get to Lake Suwa which just about emptied the tank of all the riders but as the sun was setting, the last groups pulled into the lakeside hotel for a much deserved soak in the onsen.

It was dry on Day 4 as the groups departed Lake Suwa, but as they descended the day’s first hill to move towards Matsumoto, the heavens opened. Another crash occurred, and it was decided in the interest of safety to call the riders in and proceed to Nagano by train. Ironically, the skies cleared again but by then, the riders had made it safely to Nagano. KIWL never regrets putting rider safety first.

The arrival ceremony was one the riders and support crew would never forget. They were greeted by young adults who have benefitted so much from the development programs Mirai no Mori provide. We heard six inspirational and moving speeches. Each young person overcame immense childhood challenges, but can now—thanks to Mirai no Mori—look forward to a bright future and a better trajectory in adult life. Whatever sense of personal achievement the riders were feeling in doing the KIWL 500 was put into perspective when hearing their stories. However, at the celebratory post-ride dinner (and nijikai), it was fair to say the riders truly let their hair down! 

So, the 11th annual KIWL 500 has been completed and ¥163.5m has been raised since KIWL first pedaled in support of March 11 survivors in 2013. KIWL salutes all the amazing corporate sponsors who helped achieve the ¥16.7m raised this year, as well as the individual donors who sponsored riders. The six-person volunteer support crew were as invaluable as ever—massive thanks go to them, as well as all the volunteers at Mirai no Mori who contributed so much to make the event another huge success. Last but not least, to all the riders who put so much effort into not only being physically ready for the challenge, but also truly adopting the KIWL philosophy of getting fit AND giving back. None more so than multi-KIWL 500 veteran, Ai Abbey, who despite going through breast cancer treatment, got on her bike, rode up a huge hill and completed 25 kilometers with the peloton. Truly inspiring.

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