Tamagawa all the way

Selfie of cyclist in helmet and shades in front of torii and Japanese flag

I contacted the Halfakid last week to let him know I’d be biking on Saturday, and he responded that he and Kare no Tomo were planning on riding the length of the Tamagawa cycling course. We arranged to meet at Futako Tamagawa at 8 a.m.

Fujisan sunrise
It’s another Fujisan sunrise

The day dawned clear and cold, at -2C with some wind. I set out with a bag full of Nana’s world-famous onigiri just after 7 a.m. for the meet-up. I stopped briefly at the office to take care of something I’d forgotten on Friday. I messaged the Halfakid as I left the office, and saw a message from him that they were running about 10 minutes late. Perfect.

Bicycle leaning against wall next to cycling course
Nikotama waiting

I was glad that our meeting place was in bright sunshine. With my black jacket, tights and shoes, I spent a few minutes warming in the sun while I waited.

Cyclist inflating tires while another rider looks on
Air in the tires

The Halfakid showed up soon enough with Tomo in tow and asked to borrow my tire pump, and he topped up his tires as she looked on. We spent just a couple of minutes discussing which way to set out and then we were off, headed upstream and into the wind with me in the lead, followed closely by Tomo and the Halfakid bringing up the rear.

When we got to Tamasuido Bridge I was looking to see if we could proceed straight onto the bridge. But construction had narrowed the path to the point that two cycles would have difficulty passing each other, so instead we turned and went under the bridge, coming back to it from the opposite side. Soon we were across (after stopping in the middle to enjoy the view of Fujisan). Tomo missed a turn and I back-tracked to find them. The Halfakid (who is as familiar with the route as I am) had caught up to her and they were coming back to meet me. From there it was one traffic light and another turn and then we were having our first break at Nishigawara Park.

Everyone was happy with the pace, so we set out again with Persimmon Park as our next stopping point. With a continuing strong headwind, our pace held at a steady 20-21km/h. We passed through a group of runners practicing along the course, probably a high school track team. At Persimmon Park I broke out the onigiri, and Tomo (who had skipped breakfast), pronounced them delicious.

Statue of the Tamagawa Brothers in front of pines
Tamagawa Brothers mask failure

It remained a struggle in the final 15km upstream to Hamura, with occasional glimpses of Fujisan between the buildings, trees and mountains across the Tamagawa from us. We didn’t encounter too many other bikers or pedestrians — perhaps the cold and wind was keeping others from the path. I gave a hand signal to my followers to warn them of the tree roots pushing up through the paved path, and then we descended to the gravel pathway through the park that had been closed for more than a year following typhoon damage. Nice to have it open again, and the gravel is smoother than it’s ever been.

Hamura was sunny, but the wind was bitingly cold. We arrived on the dot of 11, which is early — not because we were making good time, but because we’d set out earlier than usual. We sat in the sun (I usually choose the shade here) for warmth and wolfed down the remaining onigiri. No one wanted to wait any longer in the cold, so we turned around and started back downstream.

At last, some help from the wind

As soon as we turned around, the wind started helping us. We’d been making 20-21km/h on the way upstream, and were now easily going 25-30. I was able to sit up to take pressure off my hands and let the wind push against my back. The cold remained, though, and as soon as we got back to Persimmon Park I got a hot café au lait from the vending machine there.

Bicycle leaning against shrub in front of dry fountain full of leaves
Cheery fountain

We returned to Nishigawara Park at 1 p.m. As we were resting I set out the next steps: cross over Tamasuido Bridge once again into Kanagawa, and from there it’s 7-8km to Futako. Another 3-4km after Futako is a resting place with benches and kawazuzakara (although it’s still too early for blossoms). When I returned from the restroom, though, Tomo said she’d had enough. We rode together back to Futako and there said our farewells for the day.

I continued alone downstream, and kept on past the kawazuzakura rest point. The wind became very changeable: it was with me at times, and other times I was riding into it for stretches of multiple kilometers. My power was flagging, to the point where when faced with the choice between waiting at a light or passing under it via a switchback, I decided to wait rather than climb up the opposite side of the switchback.

At Rokugodote, I left the path for a nearby convenience store, where I bought some much-needed food and a bottle of hot ocha. The last time I’d stopped here it had been on the way home from Yokohama with the Halfakid in 30C-plus weather, and I’d lain down in the parking lot behind the bicycle stands out of exhaustion. (Note to owners: place could really use a couple of benches.)

Thus refreshed, I continued on my way downstream to Haneda. I encountered more traffic here — cyclists and pedestrians — than I had all day, but still not as much as would be on a typically sunny weekend. I finally reached Haneda at 2:30 p.m. I usually stop here for a rest and lunch, but as I’d just topped up in Rokugodote, this time I just got my photo and started back upstream.

Selfie of cyclist in helmet and shades in front of torii and Japanese flag
Haneda Peace Shrine

The final grind

The wind remained mixed on the way back upstream. My goal was to get home about 5, before it got too dark, and I seemed to be ahead of that. I was comparing my pace, though, to the time I usually make when I just ride to Haneda and back. Obviously, I wasn’t making the same time now. I got to Futagobashi and joined the throngs of cyclists and pedestrians crossing the river in Futako. The narrow sidewalk was densely crowded and I nearly got into a jam. A hard application of the brakes and some quick footwork got me through.

I wondered if I would have the energy for the half-kilometer climb out of the Tamagawa valley. I did, but only after dropping to my lowest-of-the-low gears. I checked the time, drank some water, and messaged Nana that I would be home about 5 — feeling pretty confident that I would beat that estimate yet. I turned on the lights, stashed my sunglasses, and set off for the final 12km home.

It was getting fairly dark by the time I reached Kannana, with about 5km to go. I took a shortcut after that, through some denser pedestrian traffic but avoiding a bit of up-down on Inokashira Ave. With 3km to go I was struggling, but visions of a hot bath and a cold beer propelled me forward. The final sweeping downhill past Central Park sped me the last few hundred meters and I was home. I saved my ride on the Garmin, took off my gloves, helmet and glasses and put on my mask. Then I messaged Nana I was home: 4:48 p.m.

It was a great ride, and I was exhausted. The bike behaved beautifully. The new stem meant no neck and shoulder fatigue (which was good as I had a stiff neck all day from sleeping in a bad position), and the tubeless tires were perfect, with no sign of air leakage.

GPS record of cycle ride
Tamagawa all the way

Strava reminds me I last did this ride on 27 Jan. 2019, two years ago, together with the Halfakid. On that occasion I managed a slightly better pace, with six minutes less riding time despite somehow also clocking in an additional 3km. I’ve done the same route prior to that as well, but in the summer when the days are both longer and warmer.

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