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

Kawagoe on my mind

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.

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