Got it in one!

Bicycle leaning against railing with road and sign for Otarumi Pass in background

I’ve climbed to Otarumi pass, near Mount Takao, more than half a dozen times since first attempting it more than three years ago. It’s not a difficult climb as these things go: depending on where you start counting, it’s a 4% average over 4km — or 3.6% over somewhat more than 5km. But I’m old and overweight, and I’ve had to stop each time on the way up, usually when it reaches a 10% gradient or so, even though it’s less than 1km from the top at that point.

I’ve written on more than one occasion in the past about the psychological magnet I’d created by stopping at the same point on each ascent. It was based on physical factors as much as psychological: just at the maximum grade, a safe resting point with a narrow, shoulder-less route ahead. And if I made it past that one, there was a similar spot a few hundred meters ahead with another shoulder-less climb in prospect.

Demagnetizing

This morning I set out with one goal in mind: to get to the top of Otarumi Touge. On each attempt, I hope I’ll make it without stopping, but today I had to be realistic: I haven’t been training or dieting, or even laying off the alcohol. I’ve just returned from a three-day holiday in Nara where I just ate and drank (oh, and hiked about a bit to see the sights). So I just determined to make it to the top, and along the way I did what I could to conserve my energy. This included missing running over a snake by a good centimeter, on the very same stretch of bike path where I did run over a snake a year ago.

When the climbing began in earnest at the highway interchange after Takaosan Guchi, I shift down and pedaled, and then shifted down again. I was soon on the small chainring and working my way down the gears. I started amusing myself by thinking I could make it to the top in one go and yet not beat my personal record, if stopping midway before continuing actually made for a shorter elapsed time.

It took longer than I expected to clear the last commercial zone of restaurants and love motels on the way up to the pass, and yet when I cleared them I did so almost without noticing. I can’t say I was feeling great, but I wasn’t feeling bad, either. I just kept going.

The next landmark on the way is the aforementioned magnet. The grade reaches 10% at this point and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling it. I looked ahead to the second magnet: a similar spot a couple of hundred meters along, after a bridge and before a similarly narrow spot on the climb. I knew I could clear it. With an effort of will, I was past the second magnet and into the switchback with no safe stopping point.

The bus stop

The next landmark was the bus stop. At the magnet it’s still another 700m before the top, but from the bus stop it’s only 300m. There was still a psychological barrier: lots of nice, safe places to stop before and after the bus stop where I didn’t have to worry about a truck driver swiping me off the road. But I also knew from experience that from the bus stop I just had to round that last corner and just … keep … pedaling! My breath was whistling through my nose and mouth at the point, but my thighs were good. If I could just … keep on pedaling … a few dozen more meters …

Made it!

And I was there, gliding under the sign marking Otarumi Touge, actually still just a bit uphill at this point, and then a few dozen meters downhill into Kanagawa Prefecture to the stopping point. I’d seen Fujisan in the morning and along the route, and was hoping to see her from the pass. Alas, it was not to be — perhaps because the café with the westward view had closed last year.

After taking a few congratulatory snaps, it was a quick descent back to Takaosan Guchi. I had every confidence in my bike at this point, but some recently added bump strips caused me to brake in the early curves. Nevertheless I reached a high of 52km/h on the descent and set a personal record.

Back in Takaosan, I took a couple of photos before speeding along to the convenience store for a quick feed before continuing on the way home.

From there it was just a matter of surviving until I got home. It helped that the route was slightly downhill — heading downriver, and at times at least, with the wind. My hands were aching more than my thighs at this point (my thighs ached more when I was at rest than when moving), and I was lucky to press on through a 15km stretch back down the Arakawa without a break until I reached the Tamagawa.

I wasn’t checking my pace as I continued down the Tamagawa. Following my success on the climb, I didn’t mind what sort of progress I was making so long as I was getting closer to home. I took my last break at the usual park where I leave Tamagawa, and ate the last of Nana’s world-famous onigiri. It was 2:30 when I was ready to ride again, so I messaged Nana I’d be home by 4 and turned on my taillights.

Traffic was as usual on the ride home through the city. I was fearing the two brief hills along the way, but I had no trouble getting over them. It wasn’t yet rush hour, so I had no difficulty with traffic backing up around Sasazuka. And with that, I was home by 3:30.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Got it in one

With a moving time of 5 hours 31 minutes 39 seconds, my average moving speed was 20.6km/h — a better pace than I was expecting as I’d taken it pretty easy most of the way to and from Takao. I’d set a number of personal records on the ride, mostly on overlapping segments for the climb up to Otarumi Touge. But I also got a PR on the descent, averaging 43.3km/h for more than 3km and topping out at 52. I stayed off the brakes through the descent except for a couple of curves where newly added speed strips made things a bit dicey. I also had a PR for an 18km segment back down the Asakawa and over the bridge at Tamagawa, all the way down to Koremasa.

The two PR segments above chart my climb up Otarumi Touge. The first starts at Takaosan Guchi. The second covers the same territory, just starting a bit later at the Highway 468 interchange, which is the last stoplight before the climb really begins.

The speed vs elevation chart from Garmin has the stop at the 468 interchange highlighted, and shows I didn’t stop from that point until I reached the pass at Otarumi Touge, 22 minutes 30 seconds later.

Beer with a head in a glass with Yebisu legend next to can of Bodoni craft beer
Congratulatory beverage

That’s me happy

It’s taken me three years and a few attempts to beat this climb, and I’m very pleased to have done it. I can’t really say what I did differently this time around apart from eating earlier in the ride, taking it easy, and particularly downshifting earlier once the climbing began. I know I’ll be back, and if I get more successes on this climb then I’ll have to start looking for the next challenge. In fact, I have a route in mind from home to Otsuki which takes this climb as a starting point and adds on a couple of even longer ones.

Kuroko behaved flawlessly for the entire ride. I still haven’t fixed the squeaky rear brake, but I’ve learned to compensate for it so I’m not screeching to a halt each time — except when I had to skid to stop to avoid killing a little girl who decided to dash across the street just as I was passing.

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