Uber Guy

Water gate with otherworldly appearance

I was granted a three-day weekend by my office, but in the midst of a six-day stretch of rain. (But it’s not yet officially rainy season so … ?) The gods condescended to allow for a Sunday that — while not actually actively sunny — was bereft of genuine precipitation. In short, an ideal day for riding.

Nana and I had spent the last weekend exploring the delights of scenic Chichibu (via car). Naturally, during our visit, we’d picked up a variety of omiyage, including several jars of delicious miso with a rather short expiration: the end of this month. So it fell to me to bike-kyubin the jar of miso to one of our friends, who doesn’t get out much these days owing to age and health.

How to fool the Garmie

I’d spent some time last night with Google Maps and Street View to work out the best route to our friend’s house, and from there to Kannana (No. 7 ring road) and hence to Arakawa for a visit to my usual haunt: Kawagoe. I had no trouble navigating to the friend’s house, and quickly handed over the bundle of miso. (He was clearly lonely and would have liked me to stay and talk, and I’m embarrassed to say I refused and said I must be on my way.)

GPS record of ride and intended route
Faffing about as Garmie gets its knickers in a twist (red lines are programmed route)

From there, though, Garmie soon got its knickers in a twist. The neighborhood has many narrow lanes, closely spaced. Garmie was lagging a bit, and so by the time it was telling me to turn, I’d already passed the spot. The first time was fine — I could reckon the way I needed to go. The second time was a palace of mirrors. Garmie kept telling me to turn this way and that, and to backtrack, and I could see it wasn’t keeping up with my current location. I finally proceeded by dead reckoning. I knew I needed to get across the tracks, past the station, and thence back to Kannana. Once I decided to follow my nose, I was soon back on track, and shortly thereafter, Garmie caught up with me.

Koko wa doko?

Once I got back to Kannana, it was simply a matter of following the road until I got to Arakawa. The spot where I met my friend to hand over the miso was northwest of my usual route, so I figured I’d end up upstream of my usual starting point. It took me a few kilometers along the Arakawa cycling course to realize I was in fact several kilometers downstream from that point. I’d crossed my usual route several kilometers previous without noticing.

GPS record of cycling route, with numbers added to show progression
Figure 8

I hadn’t counted on the fact that Kannana crossed my usual route from home to Arakawa, and didn’t notice it while plotting the route. It usually takes me about 13km to get from home to the river — with the cross and the time spent riding upriver back to my usual starting point, I’d already done 25km. On the plus side, it meant I was on track to record 100km for the day.

Heading upstream, I felt unusually powerful. My thighs felt good, and a couple of swipes on Garmie confirmed I was making good time. (I admit: the wind may have been involved.) I didn’t suffer as much from finger numbness as I had on the previous ride, although this may well have been the result of more frequent breaks.

Water gate with otherworldly appearance
UFO gate

It didn’t take long to reach the UFO water gate. On the freshly mown lawn in middle right, above, some old-timers were practicing vertical 8’s, wing-overs and loops with their control-line model airplanes. I enjoyed a convenience store hotdog as I watched, and then headed upstream again. I still felt strong (or maybe the wind was just with me).

I arrived in Kawagoe in good time, less than an hour and a half from the Arakawa landmark sign. I stopped in a park to enjoy another hotdog before continuing. It was a good idea: when I reached Koedo it was jam-packed with pedestrians and vehicular traffic, and it took some time for me to navigate the length of the street and stop for the usual photo. In the process I dodged no fewer than three attempts at vehicular homicide on my life.

It was another fight to get back out of the center of action (one of the homicide attempts came at this point). I stopped at a convenience store for more noshes and then repaired to the local park for a feedbag.

Selfie of biker in helmet, sunglasses and mask in front of bell tower
Toki no Kane

Into the wind

After such a powerful ride upstream, I was concerned my return would be hampered by the wind. I received confirmation of this the moment I mounted up again atop the Arakawa levee. But it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. I tucked my head into the wind and pressed on. At a narrow wicket intended to keep the scooters off the path, I encountered a couple of bikers: one, a big, strong, wide-shouldered biker on a carbon-fiber frame with cleated shoes; and his buddy, in jeans on a cheap mass-market steel frame. Once we’d cleared the wicket and the construction following that, the biker sped past me while his friend lagged behind. A few kilometers later I found the proper cyclist waiting by the side of the road for his non-biker buddy to catch up.

The wind continued against me, but not strongly enough to cause a serious obstruction to progress. I’d wondered if I’d given Nana an optimistic estimate for my return, but after 10km or more it became clear I’d been pessimistic.

At a stoplight a pair of Japanese riders pulled up behind me, chatting loudly. When the light changed they soon passed me without so much as a nod in my direction. I kept pedaling. I stopped again at the UFO gate to give my hands a rest and check on my progress: I was ahead of the estimate I’d given Nana. On the field in front of me, the control line stunters had called it quits and a solitary free-flight enthusiast was chucking his glider into the air and recording the results in a large leather-bound volume.

Ahead of schedule

I arrived back at the sign for the Arakawa cycling course well ahead of the schedule I’d given Nana. I checked my water bottles: not as much as I’d like, but enough to get me home without stopping for a refill. My thighs were in a similar condition. So I messaged Nana I’d be home about 3:30 and set out.

Not long after entering city traffic, there’s a long, slow slog uphill out of the Arakawa valley. It’s less than 1km long, and never tops 4 percent, and Fearless Leader Joe will recall it. I kept Kuroko in her large chainring for the climb, but it took all I had.

The remainder of the ride home was the same: I wasn’t dead, but my thighs had already had enough. It was time to trade pushing for spinning. In front of Itabashi ward office, I noticed a Japanese schoolboy in his school training jacket and pants. He passed me on his cheap bike, smartphone in hand, while I was dawdling between two adjacent traffic lights. We played cat and mouse for several kilometers as he ran red lights, always looking at his smartphone, while I waited my turn. I lost track of him somewhere around Nakai.

That’s a century!

GPS record of bicycle ride
Uber Guy

With the unintentional figure 8 I’d made early in the ride, I calculated that I was on course for 100km or more on the ride. As I got closer to home (and the water level in my bottle grew inexorably lower), this goal drew tighter and tighter. I resolved that I would do laps around Central Park until I met the goal (said laps being flat), but in the end they weren’t required.

The wind had certainly helped on my way upriver: according to Strava I set no fewer than 22 PRs. Interestingly, one of those was on the first segment back downriver after leaving Kawagoe. I got a couple of second places as I left the river and joined traffic (before the long, slow drag uphill), so I feel pleased with the ride overall. I was also happy with the lack of mechanicals.

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