Tamagawa Course Round Trip

Just a little more to go: Haneda Peace Shrine

I often ride the Tamagawa Cycling Course, either for itself or as a launching point for another destination. For example, the Otarumi Touge, Okutama and Yokohama routes all use the Tamagawa course as a launching point.

When I’m riding the course for itself, though, I usually start at Futako Tamagawa and then choose either to ride upstream to Hamura (about 36km one-way) or downstream to Haneda (just under 20km). I’ve only ridden the entire course (round trip) on a couple of occasions, and the most recent was several years ago. Yet when the Halfakid mentioned after Otarumi Touge last weekend that he was eager to try some longer rides, I immediately hit on this.

Auspicious start: Fujisan sunrise
Auspicious start: Fujisan sunrise

Two problems immediately presented themselves: first, the ride is about 145km, so I usually undertake it during the summer when the days are much longer. And second, the forecast called for strong winds all day.

That's a lot of wind!
That’s a lot of wind!

I resolved to set out as early in the morning as possible, to make the most use of the available sunshine. I also decided to cut back on the number of rest stops and their duration: last week for Otarumi Touge we were only riding 60% of the time, with the rest taken up by rest stops. As for the wind … I just crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

9 a.m.: Ice in the fountain
9 a.m.: Ice in the fountain

As it happened, I got rolling about 7:30, or about half an hour after I’d planned. I met up with the Halfakid and we were soon flying downhill to Futako and turning upstream. When we stopped for our first rest just before 9 a.m., there was still ice in the fountain!

True to my resolution, we did not stop for long. We decided our next stop would be at Kaki Koen (the park with the persimmon vending machine), more than 15km upstream. At this point we were riding into a moderate headwind but still making good progress, averaging better than 20km/h. After a few kilometers the Halfakid decided he’d had enough of staring at my backside and took off on his own. At a few points during the following kilometers, he got so far ahead I lost sight of him.

Fujisan, our constant companion
Fujisan, our constant companion

All along the way we were treated to a clear view of Fujisan off to our left, courtesy of the strong winds we were battling. We’d resolved after Kaki Koen to continue on to the end of the cycling course at Hamura, another 15km, but now the wind really picked up force. We were struggling (at least I was) to maintain momentum into the teeth of a gale. It didn’t help that this portion of the course includes some of the worst paving, so we were gritting out teeth, rattling along and pushing against the headwind.

Mechanical

Rides with the Halfakid have become notable for the presence of mechanicals. (I’m sure I never had these problems while riding solo.) Today as I was pressing upstream against the wind, jouncing along the uneven pavement and doing my best to avoid pedestrians, it became evident that my bell was broken. Again. I’d already replaced it once, after I’d pulled back the hammer a little too enthusiastically. Then last week on our way to Takaosan, the hammer had got twisted around so that it no longer struck the bell. The Halfakid quickly twisted it back into position on that occasion and all was apparently well. Today, I got one good chime out of it and then it gave up the ghost. It’s a pity as it’s a gorgeous bell (the Halfakid had been contemplating getting one for himself) and the chime, when it works, sounds as clear and lovely as Snow White singing into a well.

Hamura intake weir
Hamura intake weir

Good things come to those who persevere, and after nearly an hour of pressing on from Kaki Koen we rolled into our first checkpoint at Hamura. We sat down in the sun to a meal of Nana’s famous onigiri: mentaiko and shake. I had two and the Halfakid had four all to himself. We took pictures and messaged friends and then set out again about 11:30, heading downstream to Haneda.

We had joked as we set out that with our new-found tailwind we’d get to Haneda within two hours. It was certainly much easier going, and faster. It had taken us an hour of hard pushing to reach Hamura from Kaki Koen, a distance of less than 16km, but the return was only 40 minutes (notwithstanding a short detour to avoid a marathon race in progress).

After Kaki Koen we were eager to keep up the momentum. The wind became a bit choppy, at times coming from the side instead of directly from the rear, but we continued to make strong progress. I noted at one point that we were sustaining 36-38km speeds, but then we hit a construction detour and after that some side winds. Still, our 5km time for that stretch was a record (for me) 9 minutes 50 seconds, or an average of 30.5km/h. (Later, after getting home, I saw a string of personal bests on Strava for this portion of the ride.)

Four hours later: no ice!
Four hours later: no ice!

We continued downstream, stopping only to rest our hands and our bottoms, and to refill our water bottles. A few kilometers before reaching Haneda we stopped at a convenience store to buy a second lunch. Not long after that we steamed into our second checkpoint of the day and laid down our bikes to take a photo as the wind blew the bell cord to and fro.

Just a little more to go: Haneda Peace Shrine
Just a little more to go: Haneda Peace Shrine

After finishing our second lunch, we knew it was time to face the music: once more into the wind as we headed back upstream to Futako. I’d already done 110km at this point and the distance and wind were taking their toll. At times I was making scarcely more headway than I had done the previous week while climbing up to a mountain pass. But I’m very familiar with this course, and I mentally tallied each waypoint as we passed it and continued to push myself towards home.

My relief was palpable as we reached Futagobashi and crossed back to the Tokyo side. One question remained: how much would we be fighting the wind on our climb out of the Tamagawa river valley? We dodged a bit of traffic and soon were heading up the brief climb. The Halfakid rocketed ahead, making the best use of his youth and his new, lightweight bicycle, and he was waiting placidly for me at the top of the hill when I came panting up a couple of minutes later. (I probably posted my slowest climb of this hill since getting Kuroko.)

I checked the time: a few minutes before 4 p.m. I know well the route home from here, and wind or no, exhausted as I felt, I was confident of my homeward pace. The Halfakid and I shared our visions of hot baths and cold beer, and I messaged Nana that I would be home before 5. We turned our lights on — the sky was still bright but the shadows were lengthening — and we set off. There’s another, shorter climb following this and I was pleased to find that I was equal to the task of surmounting it. Our biggest problem now was making sure our eagerness to get home didn’t translate into recklessness in traffic.

I left the Halfakid at a convenience store near his apartment and continued on alone. Only 8km to go! The Garmin, faithful record keeper to this point, immediately threw in the sponge as we were well past the 8-hour expected battery life. No mind: I had my phone tracking via Strava.

I was well and truly shagged by this point. I could make it up hills, but without much power in reserve. I was fine on the flats. After passing the No. 7 Ring Road I decided on an alternate route which traded a couple of modest climbs for a flatter course with lots more pedestrian traffic. I emerged into the home stretch, 3km to go, with lots of sunlight remaining. A left turn, a sweeping downhill with lots of speed, and a final traffic light before the goal. I messaged Nana that I’d arrived, well before the 5 p.m. I’d told her.

Strava's optimistic recording
Strava’s optimistic recording

Strava always gives me a few extra kilometers compared to Garmin. On the other hand, it counts the riding time differently as well. If the Garmin had had more juice it probably would have put my riding time at about 6 hours 22 minutes while Strava made it 7 hours. Strava also credits me with double the altitude gain, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t reach a maximum speed of 77.8km/h. (The Garmin gave me a more realistic max of 48km/h for today’s effort, compared with 62 on a mountain downhill during the Tour de Tohoku.)

One final stat, courtesy of the Garmin: I set a 40km record during today’s downwind run of 1:27:58, for an average of better than 27km/h. My previous 40km record was another downwind run, on the Arakawa river en route to Disneyland in December.

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