Return to Otarumi Touge

Two cyclists pose in front of the entrance to the Takaosan cable car and lift

With the upcoming Tour de Tohoku having so much climbing, I thought it was important today to have some practice. Otarumi Touge (pass), near Takaosan, is perfect for this. There’s a gradual rise of almost 200m over the more than 40km from Tokyo to Takaosan Guchi, and then a 6% rise over the last few kilometers to the top. What I wasn’t counting on was leaving my legs home in bed today.

Two bicycles in a park
Father-son activity

The day started off well enough, but once we crossed the Tama River and began following the Asa River westward, I started lagging. The Halfakid commented on it several times.

Halfakid:
Where’s your energy today?
Guy Jean:
In the past.

I’m not sure why I was lagging so much today, but the heat was definitely playing a role.

Cars on a road leading to the mountain pass
Miles to go — upwards

We stopped at our usual convenience store, with its bicycle stands and picnic tables in the shade, and ate Nana’s world-famous onigiri. Also some fried chicken, cheese, etc. A group of cyclists, all wearing the same gear, came rolling in from the direction of the pass. The Halfakid and I joked about whether I had the energy to continue. I said, “OK, let’s get going. Or, you could go and I could wait here for you, eating ice cream.”

Once we set out, the Halfakid asked if I would make it up to the pass without stopping to rest. “That’s a very, very good question,” I told him. In fact that was the goal — I’ve come close but not made it in the past, while the Halfakid always rides “Straight — to the top!” But I’m sorry to report that after I’d only gone about half way, I just needed to stop and rest. After that, it was go for 100-200m, and then stop to rest. This was the pattern I’d followed during the longer climbs on the recent ride in England. After each rest when I set out I felt refreshed, as if I could continue onwards from there. But then inevitably, before 200m or so had passed, I found myself needing to stop for a rest again. I started looking for turn-offs that would be in the shade, particularly if I could see a long stretch ahead where there was no good place to get off the road onto a shoulder.

Cyclist in front of road sign for Otarumi Pass
Otarumi Pass

All good things must come to an end, and eventually even listless climbing in blazing sunshine and heat will bring one to the top of the pass. I looked in vain for a seat in the shade, and eventually sat in the gravel with my back against a woodpile as I drank cold water from the vending machine — but at least I was in the shade! “Wake me at 5 a.m. so I can get to work on time,” I joked with the Halfakid.

But the truth is that it’s generally downhill from that point all the way back to home. Once I’d rested enough to continue we plunged back down the mountain to the convenience store in Takaosan, after stopping for a photo at Takasosan Guchi.

Two cyclists pose in front of the entrance to the Takaosan cable car and lift
Takaosan Guchi

The Halfakid was a bit confused, because he’d stayed with me throughout the descent, whereas previously I’d left him in my dust. “Is there a problem with your bike?” I told him that — unlike the previous time — I’d been riding the brakes the entire way down. I just didn’t feel as brave this time around all the blind curves on the descent.

I had a pork bun at the convenience store and we shared a bottle of ocha. From there we continued home. And suddenly, I felt as if I had my legs! I’m not sure how much of this was the fact we were trending downhill (although at this point imperceptibly — at any given moment the path appeared to be level) and how much was due to the well-known phenomenon that the horse is always faster on the way back to the barn than on the way out. Meanwhile, at those points where the path was straight and familiar, the Halfakid was rocketing ahead, to wait for me at the next turning point.

From the convenience store in Takaosan, we went straight to the bridge taking us back across the Tama River. Back into Tokyo, as I think of it, although truth to be told today’s entire ride was within the boundaries of Tokyo. (The place we stopped at Otarumi Touge is just a step over the border into Kanagawa Prefecture.) Our usual rest spot is within view of the bridge from there. After a rest of several minutes and many milliliters of water, we continued down along the Tama River towards home.

Bicycle leaning against a wooden railing overlooing a reflecting pond
Almost home

Whether it was Nana’s onigiri, consumed en route, or the retreat of the temperature from the day’s high, or a combination of these things, I really had my legs back at this point. We made good time beating our way back downstream along the cycle path before heading into city traffic. We took one final break at a small park just where our route diverges from the Tama River, and I messaged Nana with an update of when she could expect me to be home.

From here I let the Halfakid take the lead as he knows the way, and we dodged in and out of traffic. There are a couple of significant climbs in traffic along the way, and I set personal bests on them (according to the Garmin). I left the Halfakid at his apartment and continued to push myself for the remaining 8km to home. Was I rewarded? Indeed: a new personal best for 40km of 1:37:24 (largely downhill, of course).

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