Three Rivers, Three Prefectures

GPS route of cycle ride

This is a ride I’ve been meaning to do for a while: up the Tamagawa, across the top of Tokyo (which actually puts me in Saitama), and then back down the Arakawa. As I learned when I set out to map it, this course runs along another river in Saitama, the Irumagawa.

When I told Nana I’d planned to do 125km, she was sceptical. I said I’ve ridden that distance and further any number of times in the past, and she pointed out I haven’t done more than 100km in quite some time. That set me to looking through my records, and the last time I did was in January, when I rode the entire length of the Tamagawa course in both directions for a total of 143.5km.

Looking at that ride and a couple of others of nearly 100km, I figured I could do this new route in 8 or 9 hours. So, with an 8 a.m. start, I should be home by 4 or 5 p.m., allowing some time for faffing on a new route.

Tamagawa

Bicycle leaning against wooden fence
Kuroko takes a break to let her tires cool

I reached the Tamagawa before 9 a.m. after a 15km jaunt through city traffic. The weather was cool and the skies overcast, despite the forecast for a sunny day with a high of 30C. I decided not to complain about the shortfall in the temperature department, and after a brief rest continued on up the river.

It was smooth sailing the whole way. If there was any wind, it was at my back, and there was little competition in terms of wandering pedestrians on the course. I stopped for my first of Nana’s world-famous onigiri at Persimmon Park, and then reached Hamura less than an hour later, well before 11. I took a break here and ate two more onigiri in the shade.

Bicycle leaning against fence with river weir in background
Kuroko pining for the waters

Selfie of cyclist in helmet in front of statue of Tamagawa Brothers
Me ‘n’ my Tamagawa Bros

In fact on my way up the Tamagawa on this occasion I’d remained in Tokyo the entire time, just waving at Kanagawa Prefecture across the river. But when I do this route again I intend to go via Futako (meeting up with the Halfakid there), and the way upstream from there crosses briefly into Kanagawa before returning to Tokyo.

Irumagawa

I left the cycling course at Hamura and turned east, into traffic. There was a bit of climbing here, on roads that had looked completely level on Street View, but nothing I couldn’t handle. After a fast descent, I turned off the roads onto a path I’d found on Google Maps, and this turned out to be a mistake. It had sections of broken gravel, the kind mountain bikers look for rather than smooth path, and there were some stairs. Judging from the looks I got from a few people, I’d overlooked a sign forbidding cyclists on this path (or at least requesting riders to dismount). But most people were friendly.

Maybe I should have taken a clue from the fact this path wasn’t on Street View. But there are whole neighborhoods in this area that aren’t covered, so …

Next came more traffic, narrow streets absolutely clogged with vehicles. There was a long queue up a short rise with a traffic light at the top, and after cooling my heels through a couple of cycles of the signal, I mounted up the sidewalk and jumped to the front of the line. After that the Garmin faithfully guided me to the next cycling course, the Sayama-Kawagoe Cycling Road, which runs alongside the Irumagawa. This turned out to be smooth and well-maintained (the course, although the same might be said of the river), if a bit narrower than the Tamagawa and Arakawa courses (ditto). I was glad to be out of the traffic and not picking my way between cabbage-sized rocks, but I did have to bide my time for pedestrians and other cyclists on occasion.

Kawagoe

The cycling road brought me into the city of Kawagoe, although not right up to the doorstep of my goal, which was Koedo (the old town). I did some more faffing about here through back streets and more waiting in traffic on narrow streets. On one particularly long stretch of narrow, two-lane road, the cars would follow behind me looking for their opportunity to pass, only to end up just in front of me, following the car I’d previously been following.

Selfie of biker in helmet, mask and sunglasses in front of bell tower
Chimes of the times

Eventually I reached Old Town, only to find it packed with tourists. What pandemic? At least everyone was masked. I followed a line of traffic down the main road and pulled off the side for a picture with the iconic Toki-no-kane bell tower.

After working my way through the remainder of the tourist-lined road, I made quick progress to a convenience store for a bottle of water and some sweets, and then onwards to the Kawagoe Sports Park. Sitting on moss in the shade of a tree, I ate the last of the onigiri and most of the treats I’d bought. It was after 1 p.m. when I got up to continue the ride.

Arakawa

I’m well familiar with this path now after a couple of previous visits to Kawagoe, and I was glad to be back on the course after a lot of riding in traffic. The fly in my ointment was a headwind, which only seemed to get stronger as I made my way downstream. The skies were much sunnier than in the morning and the temperature near the promised 30C, and I was getting a headache from squinting in the sun and wind despite my shades.

What could I do with these conditions? Take more frequent breaks, drink lots of water, and then shift to a lower gear and keep going. The wind eased up for the last couple of kilometers and I finally reached my favorite signpost at Todabashi.

Bicycle leaning against sign marking Arakawa river
It’s back into traffic from here

Back home

I found some shade under the Todabashi and took stock of my situation. It was 2:40 and I had a bit more than 13km to go, all in heavy traffic. The Garmin was predicting I’d be home in 40 minutes or so, but I was exhausted from battling the sun and wind. I messaged Nana that I’d be home about 4, but warned I might be a bit later as I was tired and taking it easy. And then I mounted up and headed into the traffic.

I felt better almost immediately as I was no longer fighting a headwind. I’d worried I didn’t have enough energy for the coming climb, a long, gentle rise, but I had no trouble with it once I got started. (I was passed by a younger, fitter couple on their bikes, but fair play.) As I progressed my confidence returned. I was still tired and I had a headache, but I knew I’d be getting home. I took my time on the few remaining hills on Yamate Dori, waited out each traffic light, and drank the last of my water. I was glad I had very little trouble from the traffic.

And at last! After mounting up the last rise to Nakano Sakaue, I coasted gratefully back down the other side and turned towards home. I saved the ride on the Garmin and messaged Nana at 3:33 that I was home.

GPS route of cycle ride
Three Rivers, Three Prefectures

Success

Despite the headwind on the Arakawa (and I’ve been out there in worse) and the faffing about on the new sections in Saitama, the ride was a success. I’d come in at 7 hours 35 minutes elapsed time, beating my estimate, and there were zero mechanicals. My new rear wheel performed flawlessly in its debut, and the angry bees sound of the ratchet is a welcome metal touch. The little knobbies on the tires make a whirring sound on smooth pavement, but they were a welcome addition when I was working my way over the moon crater near Iruma.

Detail of rear bicycle hub
Metal

I’ve already revised my GPS route, including Futako and avoiding the rocky path at Iruma and some of the back streets in Kawagoe. I’m looking forward to riding this one again.

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