Kawagoe on my mind

Photo montage of cyclist selfie and Kawagoe's Toki no Kane bell tower

I got a late start this morning because I visited the doctor first and then took my time getting ready. When I checked Kuroko’s tire pressure before starting, the front was holding air as well as the back (which hasn’t been the case for several months). So that was a good sign.

I didn’t feel strong setting out this morning, and the Garmin apparently agreed with me because it took its own sweet time to locate the satellites and start tracking.

Cyclist with stuffed toy fish hanging from saddle
Something fishy going on here

Nevertheless, I persisted. It wasn’t long before I was overtaken by a cyclist with something dangling from his saddle. Where other riders might have a bell or omamori, this guy was sporting a stuffed toy fish!

Feeling the heat

It was soon apparent I’d overdressed. The temperature when I set out was about 12C, with a forecast high of an unseasonable 21C. For the first time this year, I was wearing shorts and fingerless gloves, but I was also wearing a heat tech undershirt under a long-sleeved jersey. Within a few kilometers of setting out, I was feeling the heat! I resolved to remove the undershirt as soon as I got to Arakawa.

In fact the weather was perfect for riding, so long as you don’t include pollen under the “weather” category …

Missed opportunities

Along my brief jaunt up Yamate Dori to the Arakawa cycling path, I witnessed / was subjected to a number of occasions in which drivers missed out on perfect opportunities not to be a dick. One that stands out in my mind was when some construction had reduced the number of lanes from three to one. It was only a brief constriction, and yet a postal worker felt compelled to pass me in his mini truck with just 5m to go before the road opened up again — and just 30m before a red light! He gave me ample room to spare when he passed, but I just had to wonder what he thought he was gaining from that.

This is the same section of road where Fearless Leader Joe, aboard Dionysus, put out his had to signal he was coming over to avoid a parked car, only to touch the fender of a passing car whose driver declined to spare a second to give some room.

The Arakawa cycling course was dry (for a change) and windy. Going upstream from Todabashi to Kawagoe typically involves a few changes in wind direction, but they are rarely unabashedly favourable. At times I felt I was hardly making progress. But whenever I checked my speed, I was doing more than 20km/h. My first 5km split without a rest break was well under 13 minutes, despite the wind.

At my first rest stop, in addition to the usual little leaguers, I saw a handful of people preparing to fly their control-line stunt aircraft. Unfortunately they were too far away for a good picture, and I didn’t want to wait around to watch the actual flying. Several kilometers further on, I encountered a lone middle-aged man preparing to launch his radio-controlled sailplane.

Suddenly … sheep!

Farther on again, out of Tokyo and into Saitama, I was surprised by the sight of several sheep grazing on the slopes of the levy I was riding atop. They were all chained to concrete-filled tires. I’ve been by this spot on a number of occasions and this is the first time I’ve seen sheep.


I reached Koedo in Kawagoe before 1 p.m., but I was still behind schedule. I’ve been here often enough now that I’m not surprised at the crowds despite the pandemic. I try my best to get my photos while staying out of everyone’s way, and then move on. I picked up some pork buns from a convenience store on the way back to the river, and sat in a park to eat them.

Long way home

I didn’t dawdle over lunch, and was soon on my way back downriver. Every beep of the Garmin just served to remind me of how much longer I had to go, as I struggled against the wind. Each time I checked, though, I was making surprisingly good time. Even if I’d taken a brief break, I still had a 5km split under 15 minutes — implying I was averaging more than 20km/h.

At this stage I was getting saddle sore and my fingers were getting numb. My thighs were tired but not overly so, so I shifted around in my seat and tried various hand positions to keep going. In my head I was drawing various vector maps to explain to Fearless Leader Joe and Sanborn that a crosswind would slow my progress in either direction — a legacy of several misspent years at university studying aeronautical engineering.

But despite my whingeing and my aches and pains, the kilometers were flying by underneath Kuroko’s tires. I stopped after a climb to surmount the levy and watched a paraglider soaring over the river and golf greens. Further on, I passed the field where the sheep had been grazing and they were gone. Before too long, I was descending from the levy towards the plain by the river, and the wind was no longer against me. The kilometers ticked away, and I lifted my hands one by one and rested them against the small of my back to get some feeling in my fingers again.

Back into traffic

I reached the Arakawa course sign — the point where I leave the cycling course and head back into traffic — at 2:47 p.m. I had roughly 13.5km to go through traffic to get home. I messaged Nana (who was relaxing at the sauna by this point) that I would be home by 4, “or thereabouts.” (Some subtleties of the English language are wasted on her. If I say I’ll be home by 4, she’ll be calling the police if I’m not there by 4:01.) I was low on water and I had a headache — whether from the jouncing or the sun or something else, I had no idea.

Back in traffic, I was playing mind games with my fatigue and my stats. “I’m doing 16 minute 5km splits — I’ll be home sooner than I think!” The traffic lights were unimpressed with my reasoning. There’s a long, slow drag out of the Arakawa river valley about 2km after leaving the river, and I shifted to a lower gear than usual to make my way up. Further on — more traffic, more lights — I stayed on the road as it rose over train tracks rather than move to the sidewalk and mix it up with pedestrians in the lanes clearly marked for bicycles.

In addition to the 5km splits, the Garmin was showing me a turn coming up: just 7km to go. I couldn’t quite remember which turn I’d plotted on the course from Yamate Dori back to our tower mansion, but regardless, that was an indication of just 7km+ to go. I spared my thighs as I knew this was a wavy bit of road, and the last uphill to Nakano Sakaue, just before turning off to our tower mansion, was a bit of a challenge.

In the end, I got the green light at the bottom of the downhill just before the climb to Nakano Sakaue, and so had lots of momentum to get up the hill. I hardly minded when I hit a red with perhaps another 2-3m of climbing to go.

GPS record of cycle ride
Kawagoe on my mind

I got home well before 4 p.m. and saved my ride. After parking Kuroko in the Workshop in the Sky (she desperately needs a bath) I checked my stats and received a huge surprise: I’d not only made fairly good time for the day, but I had a number of personal bests on the segments where I really felt I was struggling — particularly upriver on the Arakawa.

It just reinforces something I’ve been learning in the years since GPS has given me objective records to review: our perception of speed is often far removed from our actual progress.

The next thing I did after arriving home was to enjoy a cold brew in a nice hot bath, which is where Nana found me when she returned home from the sauna — and informed me I’d left the door unlocked.

Why are we riding when it’s cold?

Bicycle leaning against Kawazuzakura tree in bloom

I’d thought about having a longer ride last weekend, but schedules changed and I ended up with a deadline. José was available to ride, under the same conditions, and we decided as we’d done Yokohama in 6 hours previously then that would be the plan.

It was still just 4C when we met in Futako, and the first words out of José’s mouth were, “Why are we riding when it’s cold?” In fact the sun was out and I’d already started warming up from the exertion, so before continuing on I took off my outer jacket and stuffed it in the saddlebag.


Kawazuzakura blossoms against blue sky

Just 3km south of Futako on the Tamagawa course there’s a rest area with a line of sakura trees. Half the trees are kawazuzakura, a special, early blossoming variety named after their town of origin: Kawazu at the southern tip of Izu peninsula.

Ripping his legs off

As we rode it soon became apparent the José was not on his usual form. I had to strain to look over my shoulder at times to see him hundreds of meters back. I knew he could catch me anytime he wanted, so I didn’t worry as long as I could see him every few kilometers. I stopped and waited once at a detour to make sure he found the correct route.

At the next rest stop, José told me he’d been to the gym the previous two days in a row, and had in addition run 5km. So his thighs were not completely fresh.

Meanwhile I was feeling OK, but not at my best. We joked about the one serious — brief but steep — climb waiting for us in Yokohama, and I began wondering if I would make it.

Over the river and through the traffic

We crossed over the Tamagawa on the Rokugo Bridge and descended into the steady traffic and uneven pavement of Rte. 15. As has become our habit on the Yokohama ride, we soon stopped at a park for the first of the delicious asari onigiri prepared fresh by Nana that morning. We didn’t dawdle but soon mounted up again and continued on the long, straight road into Yokohama.

Not sending their best

Yokohama Bay Bridge
Yokohama Bay Bridge

We stopped once more at a convenience store just before the climb to Minato no Miero Oka Koen, our destination, and I waited patiently while José finished a protein drink. Then we pedaled off again, waited for the light and finally began our climb.

I immediately dropped to Kuroko’s best climbing gear, and José powered past me just seconds later. I have a long habit of making it just past the steepest part of the climb and then running out of steam immediately afterwards, but I’ve made it in a single go on my last two attempts. Alas, it was not to be — as I reached the steepest section I just ran out of reserves. I watched in bemusement, though, as José struggled slowly on ahead of me: usually by this time he’d be well out of sight at the top. To my amazement, he remained in view the entire time I paused to catch my breath and let the ache in my thighs subside. (In fact my break was so short it barely registered on the Garmin.)

I mounted up again and got off to a wobbly uphill start, but soon I reached the top. It proved to be my third best effort on this particular climb. José was out of sight by this time, but I caught up to him just as he was parking his bicycle by the observation deck. We stopped long enough to finish off the onigiri, plus the supplements that José had procured at the convenience store.

Into the wind

On the way back, we were beset by a headwind, and now we both had aching thighs. In addition, my more tender regions were starting to swell up at the point of contact with the saddle. I shifted my position frequently, trying to ease the pressure, as we once again braved the traffic. I made it through a light just as it was changing, while José — a good couple of dozen meters behind — was mindful of the police car waiting at the light as he decided to wait out the red.

We didn’t break any records on the way home, although I put in my second-best effort for the entire Rte. 15 stretch from Yokohama back to the Tamagawa — much to my surprise. Over the bridge into Tokyo, we stopped again at another convenience store (at my urging) and had a nice, long break with Snickers bars and sweetened café au lait. We rested long enough that we started to feel chilled again as we stood in the shade of the convenience store parking lot.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Why are we riding when it’s cold?

The wind continued to dog us as we returned up the Tamagawa. At times I felt we were barely making progress, while my dissatisfaction with the saddle only increased. José and I parted ways at Futako and I climbed out of the river valley in my lowest gear. In the small park where I always rest after the climb, I noted it was already 1 p.m. We’d been making good time in the morning, but now — between the extended breaks and the upwind struggle — I knew I was going to fall behind my previous 6-hour mark for the ride.

I messaged Nana I would be home by about 2. There was no reply — she’d already departed for the sauna. I did what I could for the ride home through traffic, against the wind and with failing thighs, and arrived at 1:54, sore and worn out. As quickly as I could manage it with my remaining strength, I unloaded the GPS, empty water bottles and discarded onigiri wrappers from Kuroko, ascended to our flat in the sky, and slid into a hot, relaxing bath.


In the end, I’d finished with a riding time of 4 hours 29 minutes, for an average moving speed of 19.6km/h. This was a bit more leisurely than the pace of 4 hours 9 minutes (21.1km/h) I’d done on the same route in October (when I cleared the climb to Minato no Mieru in a single go). Likewise my total elapsed time was 6 hours 36 minutes, with lots of generous rests, compared to a more blistering 5 hours 51 minutes on the previous occasion.

Tobishima Kaido

Photo montagoe of cycling

Tobishima Kaido is one of three routes on the Setouchi Triangle, together with Shimanami Kaido and Sazanami Kaido. It starts with a ferry ride from Imabari to Munakata, and then another ferry to Okamura, before the riding begins.

Notes and resources

  • Tobishima Kaido Cycling Course
  • Omishima Blue Line schedule
    Imabari -> Munakata -> Okamura
  • On the approach to Toshimao Bridge from Toyoshima, it looks best to cross to the sidewalk on the right side of the road at the point the blue line stops on the left. Take that across the bridge and through the following tunnel. The blue lines pick up again a couple of hundred meters after the tunnel exit, and it’s fine to cross back to the left at this point.
  • Tobishima Kaido on RideWithGPS