Cyclists pass Otarumi Touge

Otarumi Touge Loop

I’ve been wanting to test out Kuroko’s new lower gearing as achieved by a replacement crankset, and so today the Halfakid and I planned to revisit Otarumi Touge, a mountain pass near Mt Takao. Unfortunately when it came time to set out, the Halfakid informed me he’d spent too much time in the sun at a barbecue yesterday, and so I set out solo.

Since replacing the crankset I’ve been meaning to adjust the front derailleur. I’d gotten it to the point where it would shift just fine, but it would make some noise on the larger chainring because it was rubbing the chain. So before setting out this morning I (once again) tightened up the derailleur cable, and then I spent some quality time with the barrel adjuster fine-tuning the cable tension. I revisited this a couple of times during today’s ride, including while I was riding, and I’m finally satisfied with it.

When the Halfakid and I last visited Otarumi Touge, we got to the top of the mountain pass, rested for a bit, and then did a U-turn and headed home. But the map I’d copied for this route went on from the top of the pass and made a loop through Kanagawa Prefecture before returning to the Tama River (and hence home). So my goal for today was to do the loop instead of the U-turn. It meant an additional 10km (the reason we hadn’t done the loop previously was we’d ridden in January, and daylight is at a premium), but it turns out that was not the only surprise in store for me.

Otarumi Touge loop as recorded by Garmin
Otarumi Touge loop as recorded by Garmin

Right from the start I was feeling strong, and I quickly made my way up the Tama River. Just before reaching the point where I need to cross the river and start working towards Mt Takao, I stopped in a park near the cycling course to enjoy one of Nana’s world-famous asari onigiri.

Yaezakura at the rest stop
Yaezakura at the rest stop

Asakawa Comfortable Road
Asakawa Comfortable Road

Crossing over the Tamagawa, I followed a branch known as Asakawa and soon I found myself spinning along the Asakawa Comfortable Road (although I prefer to think of it as the Lollygagging Turtle Way). I wasn’t sure what kind of progress I was making along here, but when I returned home and checked Strava I found I was posting personal records all along the way.

Not long after stopping for the photo, unfortunately, I ran through a thick cloud of gnats. As they pinged against my helmet and sunglasses it sounded like a handful of gravel thrown against a tin sheet, and I spent the next few minutes fishing gnats out of my ears (despite the bandana which covers them) and wiping them from my eyes (again, despite the sunglasses). A little further on, I turned down a switchback to a gravel path and nearly lost it on the turn. In the end I regained my balance and traction just as I managed to get my foot out of the cleat. And then a few dozen meters later on, I realized that I didn’t need to take the gravel path after all.

After a bit of pedestrian traffic and requisite kids running across my path without checking for traffic, I came into the second leg of the Asakawa route to find the river lined with yaezakura, and a full-fledged koinobori festival in progress.

Yaezakura lining the cycle path
Yaezakura lining the cycle path

Koinobori celebrate the birth of sons
Koinobori celebrate the birth of sons

Before long I found myself at Takaosanguchi, the entrance to Mt Takao, and stopped for some fine dining chez 7-11 (although mostly featuring Nana’s remaining onigiri). A group of five riders joined me here for a brief rest, and I shared with them the remainder of the 2-liter bottle of water I’d purchased. Although I set out first, they soon passed me by as I stopped right after the lunch rest at the cable car entrance for Mt Takao (and they continued to pull away — I didn’t see them again).

Mt Takao cable car entrance
Mt Takao cable car entrance

Up, up, up!
Up, up, up!

From that point on the climbing begins in earnest. It’s not very steep (despite the appearance in the profile above), but it is relentless. It just keeps going up for about 4.5km at an average grade of 6%. When we first made it up the mountain in January, we weren’t sure about the remaining distance and I stopped to rest a couple of times — the last time within 50m of the top.

This time around I was doing a lot of math in my head from the GPS measurements, and for some reason I bobbled things. I did make use of the new, lowest gear, and was going along pretty well in that. When I reached what I’d calculated as perhaps the halfway point (recognizing that it was further along than the first stop I’d made in January), I stopped for a rest. This turned out to be a mistake: in the first case, because once I mounted up again my thighs (until then doing OK) were like jelly. And in the second case, because I turned out to be less than 400m from the top. Crawling along with wobbly thighs, I soon recognized my error and pushed on to the top.

Cyclists pass Otarumi Touge
Cyclists pass Otarumi Touge

I took a brief rest here and then continued onward (and downhill!) into Kanagawa Prefecture. There were some gorgeous views overlooking the Sagami River valley, but as they were all flashing past at 50km/h, I didn’t stop for photos.

And then I entered terra incognita, at least as far as places I’d ridden before. I was kind of expecting a nice, fast descent and then a flat ride back to Tamagawa (as when we’d taken a U-turn at the top), but in fact there was still a whole lot of “up-down, up-down” to go. I passed some beautiful scenery along the way, including the Sagami Dam, but I had to stop once again to rest on a rather steepish uphill, even though I could see the top from the point where I needed to take a break.

Lake Sagami at Sagami Dam
Lake Sagami at Sagami Dam

At this point, I was playing a mental game with myself which turned out to be a mistake. I was telling myself it was a very short ride back to the Tama River, and so I didn’t stop to rest along the way (apart from traffic lights and the time I stopped mid-climb). In fact, it was 35km to get back to the Tama River and pick up my usual course. By the time I got there, I was exhausted, hungry and sore. I stopped in the park with the yaezakura and had a candy bar and a nice, 20-minute rest. I contacted Nana to let her know I had another 30km to go, and so not to expect me for another two hours or more. Although I’d been averaging more than 22km/h up to this point (with some rapid descents making up for my slow-poke climbing style), once I got back on the Tama River I was fighting a headwind. And I was just …

The next 5km were just murder. My butt and hands hurt, I’d been nursing a cramp in my right thigh, I was fighting a headwind, and out of nowhere the crank started making a clicking noise. I was seriously considering finding someplace to leave Kuroko for the night and taking the train home. But when I reached the next rest point, a little shrine with a major restroom in the shadow of Keiokaku Velodrome, and had a break and refilled my water bottle, I felt reinvigorated. Maybe the candy bar I’d eaten earlier was kicking in.

At any rate, I soldiered on. I thought I was taking it easy now, but I discovered when I arrived home that I’d still set a couple more personal bests. The crank continued making noise like a pair of maracas, and I was worried about the damage I was doing. Whenever I had the chance I would coast instead of pedaling.

Final rest spot
Final rest spot

From the final scheduled rest spot, I continued on. Even my butt felt better at this point. I wonder what was in that candy bar after all! At this point I was feeling tired but not bad overall — although I continued to be worried about the knocking noise coming from the crank. I used various tricks to make sure the noise wasn’t coming from the gears, chain, shoes, rack, etc. But meanwhile I continued looking forward to the end of my ride, a nice, hot bath, and a delicious cold beer!

Made it, in the end, 8 hours 7 minutes after I’d set out. That was a better time than our previous effort: although it was 10km less and rather less climbing (in fact, today involved an additional 500m or 70%), we’d taken 8 hours 15 minutes on that occasion (probably because we spent a lot of time at the summit).

Looking back from today’s ride post-bath and beer, I’m pleased overall. The new gearing will be a big help when it comes to Lejog (although I haven’t yet tried any climbs with laden panniers!). Today I climbed nearly as much as during last year’s Tour de Tohoku (which came in 25km shorter), where I’d spent a lot of time pushing Kuroko uphill. There’s obviously a new issue to sort out with the crankset (probably in the bottom bracket), but I’ve finally got the derailleur adjusted properly. The only real downsides to today’s ride were the Halfakid not making it and the obvious bonk I’d experienced when I determined to keep going until I got back to Tamagawa, rather than stop, rest and have a snack where I was.


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