Too early for blossoms

Bicycle in front of road and sign for Otarumi Pass

… too late for my thighs

I set out to do this ride a week ago, then bailed when a late start put me behind the clock. Two days later, I rode again but didn’t even think about Otarumi Touge.

Today’s the day!

I woke at 6 and, after some dawdling and assuring Nana she didn’t have to rush to finish the onigiri, set out about 9:20. The temperature at the time was somewhere around 2-4C, but there was no wind and I was warm from the moment I started riding. Soon I was on the Tamagawa and headed upstream.

Bicycle in park in front of decorative waterfall
First break of the day

At first along the river, the wind was with me. Nevertheless I wasn’t feeling strong. I messaged Fearless Leader Joe at the first stop that the weather was beautiful but my legs were nowhere to be found. I stopped just before turning off the Tamagawa and had the first of Nana’s world famous onigiri — mentaiko!

Fujisan all day

Cycle path, bridge and Fujisan
Straight … to the top!

On the good foot, Fujisan hove into view as soon as I left the Tamagawa and turned up the Asakawa. Less fortuitously, I was now battling against the wind. It wasn’t overpowering, but it was slowing me down and sapping my energy. For the most part I was down a gear or two from my usual pace, but at times I was as low as it goes (unless I’m climbing) — the same gear I use to start from a red light. Mindful of the climb I had ahead of me, I kept the gears where I could spin without using up all my energy.

I stopped at the usual rest area about 5km shy of Takaosan Station and ate the remainder of the mentaiko onigiri. Thus sated, I continued on. The wind was still an issue, but it wasn’t long before I was leaving the cycling course for the urban Takao experience. There, mercifully out of the wind, I rode right past the convenience store that’s a usual stop on this route and started the ascent.

Wimp

Any idle fantasies I had about today being the day I would make this climb in one go were quickly dispelled. I downshifted early to preserve my energy for the climb to come, but after just a couple of kilometers I pulled off the side of the road for a short rest. At that point the seal was broken — I continued upward, but the motivation to punish myself to reach the goal was gone. I stopped several times along the way, including one last stop when I knew the goal was just around the corner ahead. I was shameless.

View from the top

Bicycle in front of road and sign for Otarumi Pass
View from the top

Despite all my shilly-shallying, I was never really tempted to throw in the towel. I made the top in a time not much different from my usual — and in fact set a PR because I’d skipped over the convenience store. At the top I breathed deeply until my heart stopped racing, and I took in the view that was on offer.

Fujisan from Otarumi Touge
Fujisan from Otarumi Touge

Selfie of biker in sunglasses and bandana with Fujisan in background
A man outstanding in his view of Fujisan

Slow return

The descent was rapid enough to bring tears to my eyes, and I hit 50km/h at one point. (A driver insisted on passing me at another point when I was going 40 in a 30km/h zone, just so we could sit together at the next light.) I pulled off the road at Takaosan Guchi for the traditional photo.

Selfie in mask, sunglasses and banadana in front of Takaosan Guchi ropeway entrance
Takaosan Guchi

After that the going was slower as the wind picked up along the Asakawa. It came and went, and I adjusted my speed accordingly. I stopped about 6km after leaving Takao for a snack of convenience store apple pie, and then another 10km on, when I reached the Tamagawa again, my last Snickers bar. I checked the time and my distance remaining and let Nana know I would be home about 5 p.m.

And will this wind be so mighty as to lay low the mountains of the earth?

And the strong winds continued. I already had 85km under my belt at this point (as well as three onigiri, two Snickers bars and an apple pie), so again it was a matter of shifting down to keep spinning, not trying to force my way against the wind and use up my energy all at once. Whenever the wind let up for a moment, my speed picked up correspondingly. I had a tad less than 15km to go downstream on the Tamagawa, into the wind the entire way, before leaving the cycling course and heading back into city traffic. As I fought the wind, I tended to turtle my head into my shoulders to reduce the drag, but that was leading to very stiff shoulders and neck. So with a will I put my head up high and shifted down again and soldiered onwards.

The final 15

At last I left the river course and headed into city traffic. Usually I hate the traffic, but today it meant blessed relief from the headwind. On my last rest stop of the day I checked the time and let Nana know I would be home just about 5 p.m. I drank the last of my water and headed into it.

The ride from this point was unremarkable. The usual tussles with traffic, including a driver who tried to squeeze me against the curb at the back of a line of traffic. The usual broken pavement and construction work. I had my lights on for safety (it was mostly still bright at this time, but the shadows were lengthening), and at one traffic light I took off my shades and stowed them in the cockpit bag. After a railroad crossing about 6km from home, I encountered a high school baseball team on their way home on bikes, riding three and four abreast. A policeman passing in the opposite direction waved to them to move over to the side of the road, and I took that chance to pass the lot of them. At the next light, as I was waiting, they all crossed ahead of me, against the light, but thankfully headed in a different direction.

At this point I was looking at my overall average speed for the day — total elapsed time including breaks. It was hovering right around 15km/h, but dipping below that whenever I stopped to drink water and message Nana about my progress. Now that I was out of the wind, I was moving at more than 20km/h while riding, but I was also spending significant time at lights. Surely I couldn’t pull that time up — from a dip to 14.8km/h after my last rest break — while in traffic and obeying the lights, could I?

I simply kept pressing on, and didn’t run any of the lights on the way. And to my disbelief, I got the needle to move back to 15, and to hold there. With enough kilometers on the clock it would take quite a pause to make a difference, and now I was watching a different clock: Could I get home by the promised 5 p.m.? It looked like I was in the clear, but not by much. With aching thighs, but triumphant, I rolled into the plaza and stopped the clock at 4:49 p.m., with an all-in average speed of 15.1km/h.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Too early for blossoms

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