Nikaryo Shukugahara Intake Weir

Just too damn hot

I knew the forecast was for a hot day, 35C, but I set out anyway with no trepidation. I’ve ridden in this weather before, and probably as high as 36-37C. I just have to remember not to push it too hard, and to keep drinking lots of water.

Funajima Inari Daimyojin
Messengers of the gods at Funajima Inari Daimyojin

Shrine at the rest stop
Shrine at the rest stop

I was actually making a good pace, watching my speed and my 5km splits, for the first 40km or so. I’d stopped about kilometer 37 for a couple of onigiri and a long rest, with fresh water. And then I realized the goal was not to kill myself in pursuit of heat stroke, but to actually finish and survive. I switched the GPS to navigation mode, where I would just see the route and not the stats, and immediately dropped the pace.

The next take-it-easy realization was that I did not need to cover the remaining 15km to Hamura in one go. I often do this segment without stopping, but this time it made sense to have a brief rest in the shade about mid-way and have some water before continuing. I was very glad I did, because by the time I rolled into Hamura it was all I could do to keep the bike upright.

Bike path along river valley, with mountains in the distance
Not going to the mountains today

Hamura Intake Weir
Hamura Intake Weir — all that water!

Onigiri in foil wrap
Onigiri to beat the heat

Masked cyclist in front of statue of Tamagawa Brothers
Hangin’ with the Tamagawa Brothers

After enjoying the view of all that clean, cool water at Hamura, I sat down in the shade to eat the remaining onigiri and have a good rest. I was so worn down by the heat that this point it was all I could do to sit upright. I removed my bandana, mask, shades, gloves and shoes and made a proper rest of it. With the last of the onigiri inside me, as well as a liter of water, I laid down on the park bench for about half an hour. When I got up, I felt a bit better — but I wasn’t sure I was up to the task of getting home.

Alternate return

The first few kilometers of the return went by well enough. But by the time I reached the little park where I’d had my first onigiri break, I was looking for ice cream. I wasn’t just thinking about cooling down — I needed more calories than I’d gotten from Nana’s world-famous onigiri. I checked the GPS and there was a convenience store just a couple of blocks away. That seemed perfect: I could get the ice cream and return to this park to enjoy it.

I was soon on a fairly major road headed back towards the city, but there was no sign of the convenience store I’d seen on the GPS map. I continued on — there should be one before long on a major street like this, right? I’d gone a couple of kilometers or more when I saw a Lawson on the other side of the street. Just as I was thinking of turning around, I spotted a FamilyMart just ahead.

Ice cream bar
One of these and a cup of strawberry ice cream

With a couple of ice creams in my bag, I checked the map for a park. There was one just on the other side of the convenience store, so I made for that. When I arrived, though, there was almost no shade. I sat down in the grass underneath a fairly scrawny tree and tried to keep my neck out of the sun as I wolfed down the ice cream. I tried the water in my bottle but it was too warm — almost hot! Fortunately I spotted a water fountain and refilled my bottle, drank it down and filled it up once again. I didn’t see any point in filling up the second bottle, because it would be too warm to drink by the time I got to it.

Once again I checked the map, this time to see how far I’d strayed from the bike path. It was already more than a couple of kilometers. On the other hand, if I stayed on the road I’d have less than 30km to get home. This was a major reduction in distance. Given how bad I was feeling at this point — headache, sunburn and weak as a kitten — I decided that the short route home would be best. I got on the bike and started watching the signs for home, counting down the kilometers.

After a few kilometers, I stopped and took my bearings. And now I saw that if I continued along the same route, I’d end up on the highway. Yes, that might get me home quickly … Instead I located another route just a few hundred meters off to the side, and made for that. Once again I started counting down the kilometers to home. I was stopping every 5km or so to take my bearings, and to message Nana that I was on my way. I was really taking it easy now and I wanted her to know that although I was running behind schedule, everything was fine.

At last, when I stopped at another convenience store for some bottled water (nice and cold), the map showed I was less than 10km from home, and it was a straight shot. Soon I recognized the neighborhood of our favorite sushi restaurant, and then a shrine we visited last New Year’s Day (or was that two years ago?). I knew just where I was and had a fairly good mental picture now of how far I had to go. I kept pedaling.

Suddenly, with just a kilometer to go, I got a sharp cramp in a hamstring of my left leg. The pain was intense! I wasn’t sure I could pedal it out, but I gritted my teeth and turned the cranks. I’m happy to report that within a couple of hundred meters I’d worked out the cramp.

And then I was nearly home! Just before the final turning, as I was working around a parked car, an old guy on a scooter with a cigarette dangling from his lips shouted at me to watch where I was going. I shouted back that he had plenty of time to see me. And then when I saw he was sitting at the next red light, I dodged down a side street and rolled up next to our tower. I saved the ride on the Garmin and then messaged Nana that I was home, at last.

Garmin cycle route: Hamura via Futako
Hamura via Futako — with a detour on the way home

How hot was it? The phone never reported above 34C, and that’s what the weather news reported yesterday evening as well. But this heat profile from the Garmin tells a different story:

Heat profile from Garmin data
That heat, though!

(The Garmin website notes that the temperature is influenced by direct sunlight on the device, among other things. So, while the air temperature probably never exceeded 34C, the temperature in my helmet — and my saddle if I dismounted for more than a few seconds — might have been quite a bit higher at times.)

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