I set out hopefully early Sunday morning with a saddlebag full of onigiri freshly made by Nana and a date with the Halfakid to ride up the Tamagawa to the end of the cycle course — notwithstanding the forecast for a high of 36C.
The first hitch of the day came when I pulled up outside the Halfakid’s apartment and messaged him I was ready. “Let me call a rain check on today I’m super hung over,” was his reply.
OK, so … soldiering onwards without Wimpy McWimperson, I decided this would be a good chance to put Kuroko through her paces, and perhaps set a new 40km record (my current personal best 40km having been set last year on the same course with Ol’ Paint). My enthusiasm was curbed only by the heat and knowing that I’d be better off pacing myself than pushing. As soon as I hit the river trail I settled into a sustainable pace. I was pleased to see (and feel) that my typical 25km/h pace — pushing my limit on Ol’ Paint — was an easy, loping cruise on Kuroko. Better still, when I stopped for a break it was to eat a rice ball and take on water, and not because I needed to get feeling back into numb fingers. In other words, my new bike was working out to expectation.
At a small shrine in the shadow of the Keio Oval cycle track, I had a break and filled my water bottles. I wasn’t in a hurry, and easily spent more than 10 minutes where I’d typically only take three. Some retired gents were gassing among themselves on a nearby bench, and I was just about to mount up when one of them addressed me.
- Old Guy:
- Hot, ain’t it?
- Guy Jean:
- Sure is hot!
- How far you going today?
- Up to Fussa.
- In this heat? Far, ain’t it?
- I’m good for it. I’m drinking a lot of water and taking it easy.
- Second Old Guy (pointing to Kuroko):
- Is that one o’ them there electric bikes?
- GJ (pointing to thighs):
- No, the engine is here!
I’d also been curious how the lower-pressure, larger tires would feel over some particularly nasty speed bumps on the Tamagawa course. I was pleased with the results: the teeth-rattling, helmet-loosening bumps (meant to draw riders’ attention to pedestrian crossings) were reduced to mere bothersome inconveniences (unfortunately not entirely soaked up in marshmallow-like pillowing). It’s a testament to this wheel-and-tire combination that it offers this level of comfort while at the same time delivering superior rolling resistance.
The dreaded bonk
Things continued in this fashion, with me posting 12-13 minute 5km splits one after the other, until I was just 5km short of the goal. Suddenly my “engine” failed. Just turning the crank around, and around again, felt like climbing a literal wall. I knew there was a downhill section leading into a park ahead and so I pressed on to that, coasted down into the shade of a tree, and nearly fell off the bike. It was all I could do to drag myself up against the trunk of the tree, fetch a couple of rice balls out of the saddlebag, and gulp down some water. This happened to me before, not long ago, when I was making a circle of the Tokyo landmarks and on a similarly hot day. Had I jinxed myself bragging to the retired gents?
After a couple of rice balls and half a liter of water, and rest of 10 minutes or so, I felt a bit better. I put my shoes back on, mounted up, and decided to see if I was still good for the goal. The next bit was a flat, gravel path through the remainder of the park where I’d stopped, and I rode it at a pace I’ve never dared in the past. Kuroko really is something at handling uneven pavement and gravel! After that there are a few ups and downs, and some uneven pavement, but it’s mostly flat until the end. I steamed into Hamura with a 5km split of just over 15 minutes, meaning only slightly off a 20km/h pace.
And now I knew that I needed rest. I parked Kuroko in the shade and found a shaded bench for myself. Ate all of the remaining rice balls except for one. Drained my water bottles, filled them, and drained them again. Catnapped. In all, I spent an hour recuperating in Hamura, where I usually spend 20 minutes.
But at the end of the hour, I knew it was time to get on my way home. I felt good right off the bat, but not at my peak. I started picturing how long I could go before needing a break, and then revising that estimate as each kilometer rolled by. I was making good time, but my endurance was shattered. I still needed frequent stops just to drink water and recover, even if the water was ambient temperature and not cold. But I was sure of one thing: I was going to stop at the cycle-friendly café and have a damn soft cream!
And that turned out to be what the doctor ordered. From the café it’s about 6km to little shrine where I’d had the conversation with the retired gents. When I returned, possibly five or six hours later, the fellows had all smoked up and gone home, and in their place was a university track and field team fresh from some practice miles on the river. The young men were washing themselves up in the public water fountain, making groups plans for the evening — very noisily — and wishing each other well.
From that point it’s 24-25km to home, and I was feeling almost like new. I’m sure the combined energy of the onigiri and the soft cream was seeping into my bloodstream. I didn’t have a lot of extra oomph to put into the climbs, but I was averaging my usual pace and I was, indeed, making the climbs and not dismounting to push the bike up them.
My last rest stop is at the top of a 4% grade that lasts half a kilometer. The water from the fountain was tepid rather than cold, but I filled one bottle. I messaged Nana that I would be about an hour, and with an audible “ヨシッ!” I was on my way. By this time it was late afternoon and I figured I no longer needed the face mask to protect me from the sun, but I also could feel in my thighs that I didn’t have the oomph on tap that I might want. With that in mind, I was very pleasantly surprised to find myself rolling into the home bike park in just 40 minutes — not a record time from that last pit stop but damn near. Pity that the battery on the Garmin had crapped out just before I had left the cycling course for that 4% climb up to the final rest stop!
Possibly not related to the day’s effort, but I am an old man. As I was putting Kuroko into her stable for the night, I twisted my knee. It wasn’t really bad or painful, but I could feel it was just a bit out of place and I took some care in hobbling from the parking space to the elevator. And then, once back home and showered up, I somehow managed to cross my big toe under its neighbor as I was drying off and getting on the scale. (I’d lost more than 1kg on the day, but that was mostly sweating it out.) I know some people can cross their toes at will, but I’ve never been able to do this, and it was a painful and somewhat frightening 30 seconds or so until the big toe realized it was sitting in the wrong seat at the big dinner table and got itself sorted out without any further help from me.
More directly connected to the day’s ride, I had some lasting finger numbness — ring finger, both hands. Overall, as noted above, Kuroko is much better about the finger numbness, and I don’t have to stop every 15-20 minutes just to work the feeling back into my hands. But I think that the time I spent with my hands on the “tops” in order to take the stress off my neck — where my wrists are bent and elbows turned out — is the cause of this. When I’m riding on the brake hoods I do get some soreness after a time in the palms of my hands, but no numbness in the fingers.
So how about that Vuelta, eh?
It’s now two days since I completed the ride (105km with a total elapsed time of 9 1/2 hours — the usual is under 7 hours). There’s some technical issue that’s preventing me watching video of La Vuelta a España via the website I’m paying monthly for … It took me some time to figure out I can get the minute-by-minute from the official site as well as from Cycling News. Let’s hope that my delay in realizing this is more due to the fact I’m really, totally busy this month than to the birth generation I belong to.