Otarumi Touge

Otarumi Touge road marker

Otarumi Touge (Pass) is a popular cyclists’ destination near Mt. Takao at the border of Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture. Naturally, because it’s a mountain pass, getting there involves a bit of climbing. The Halfakid and I had attempted the route last November, but we lost an hour to a mechanical and I was on a tight deadline (dinner with friends that evening), so we turned back after reaching the foot of Mt. Takao.

This time, with the Kid on a new bike and me with no deadline (and fully charged lights), I was more confident of our ability to finish — particularly if the Halfakid didn’t flat along the route!

I set out at 7:30 to take full advantage of the daylight, and met the Kid at his place at 8. From there’s it’s a bit of a run in traffic down to the Tama River, but it’s largely downhill. It wasn’t long before we were cruising up the Tama cycling path. We passed a group of three in matching jerseys for a Setagaya cycling club, and before we knew it we were acting as their pacesetters — at least until the Halfakid took a wrong turning and I slowed my pace to wait for him to catch up again.

Brief rest before crossing
Brief rest before crossing

Just before crossing over the Tama River to continue our ride towards Mt. Takao, we stopped at a quiet park and had one of Nana’s famous onigiri.

Once over the bridge, we joined up the Asa River cycling course and were on the lookout for the wrong turning we’d made on our first outing in November. I nearly went the wrong way once again, but the Halfakid reeled me in and we were soon on our way.

As we’d only come this way once before, we were still learning the ins and outs of the Asa River course. Is it better to take that cycling path although it’s gravel, or stay on this narrow road against the traffic with broken pavement? Should we cross this bridge in the road or on the sidewalk? There were a couple of times I had to apologize to the Kid for sudden maneuvers made without hand signals.

The final stretch of cycling path into Takao is bumpy, broken and full of pedestrians out for a weekend stroll in the beautiful weather. We chanced across a local fire department staging a bonfire surmounted by a daruma — that place was lit! Not long after that we were climbing up from the path and back into traffic. But it’s not far from the end of the path into Takao proper.

Nana's famous onigiri
Nana’s famous onigiri

Once in Takao, we stopped at a convenience store we’d found in November that has picnic benches and parking for bicycles. We bought hot coffee and bottled water, and enjoyed some of Nana’s famous onigiri before our assault on the mountain. This time for the first time, she’d made onigiri with umeboshi, which is a favorite of the Kid.

Onwards! I had my Garmin plotting the course (which was basically: follow the road), but it doesn’t show how much further to go. From this point we were climbing for 6km up to the pass. The overall grade is not steep — a 5% average — but it just keeps going up, up and up! Strava lists the climb as a Category 3, with two segments: 7.62km at 3%, or just the last 3.61km at 5%. I was sure I could do it — it’s much more gradual than the run-up to the pass between Nara and Osaka — but perhaps not all at one gulp. I made it about halfway up before taking my first break and another half kilometer or more before the next break. After each stop, though, I mounted the bike and continued pedaling.

Upwards! The road didn’t exactly switch back, but it wended its way next to a small stream upwards to the pass, first in the chilly shadow of the mountain, then in the bright warm sunshine. We watched enviously as cyclists descended in the opposite direction, or occasionally passed us on the way up towards the pass. I should point out here that the Halfakid was going strong. Despite his much higher gearing, he could have stormed past me to the top at any point without having to stop for a break.

I took my final brief break at a narrow shoulder that would turn out to be within 50m of the goal. If only I’d continued around that last corner I’d have seen it was the end! But no matter — we made it. As we flashed under the sign marking the pass, I asked the Halfakid if it said what I thought. He replied that he wasn’t familiar with the kanji, but it said “mountain up-down.” (峠) “That will be touge: pass,” I replied, making a climbing and then descending motion with my hand.

Otarumi Touge: Tokyo side
Otarumi Touge: Tokyo side

Otarumi Touge: Kanagawa side
Otarumi Touge: Kanagawa side

Naturally, we rested at the top. There was a ramen restaurant with soft cream, but neither of us was hungry enough for a full meal at that point. We had water and more hot coffee, and I had a Snickers bar. We wandered around a bit and took photos.

View from Otarumi Touge, towards Kanagawa
View from Otarumi Touge, towards Kanagawa

We couldn’t dawdle too long, though. We knew that we’d only come half way, and needed to get back home again. We mounted up. Somehow, the trip from the pass back to Takao went much faster, and the only break I took was when I’d left the Halfakid so far behind that I couldn’t see him anymore. (This turned out to be the last time that this was true on this particular ride.) When we got back to Takaosanguchi, we stopped for a quick photo at the entrance to the cable car up the mountain.

Cable car entrance at Takaosan Guchi
Cable car entrance at Takaosanguchi

We stopped at the same convenience store again and stocked up on food, and then worked our way through the traffic back to the Asa River cycling course.

Naturally, on the way home, we were a bit more knackered. And yet when we came to straight, smooth cycling path, the Halfakid rocketed past me and on ahead. Now that he has his new bike, he has reserves beyond what I’m able to match. I didn’t try to hold him back: it’s good if he can stretch his thighs and calves knowing that I’ll catch up with him when he stops for a break at a turning point.

Last stop in a park
Last stop in a park

We crossed the Tama River in the homeward direction and stopped to eat all the goodies we’d bought at the convenience store in Takao. Then we rejoined the Tama cycling path: flat and straight as an arrow back towards home. It wasn’t too long before we came to the park we’d first stopped at in the morning, on our way to the Tama River.

From there we were retracing our path of the morning, except what was downhill then was uphill for us. Again, I think the Halfakid was holding a lot in reserve, but I was doing my best with my worn-out thighs. My only hope of staying ahead was via trickery, which I apparently employed via lack of hand signals as I sped through a right turn intersection on a yellow and left the Halfakid waiting for another cycle of the lights.

All good things must come to an end, including 100km-plus rides featuring a mountain pass at the midway point. I left the Halfakid at his apartment and messaged Nana I was on my way home. I was racing the Garmin’s battery, which was over the 8-hour mark at this point, while at the same time nursing my exhausted thighs. I alternated between coasting along, taking things easy, and thinking, “Hey, I got this!” and pushing the pedals to the metal.

Otarumi Touge round trip
Otarumi Touge round trip

(I’m not sure why the mountain profile isn’t symmetrical — we came back the same way we went up!)

We’ll definitely come back here. There’s a loop course which, instead of turning around at the pass, continues on into Kanagawa Prefecture and turns south before looping back towards the same bridge which takes us over the Tama River. It adds about 20km to the overall route, so we’ll save it for a bright, hot day a bit later in the year when the sun is hanging in the sky a couple of more hours.

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