Never replicate a successful experiment

Statue of flying squirrel with fall leaves in the background

I had a slow start this morning. I’d have been content to just sit at home quietly all day, except for the knowledge it will be raining the next two days. We have plans for next weekend, so if I wanted to get out on the bike, it would have to be today.

Nana had made onigiri, so I was duty-bound to ride. I set out shortly after 9 a.m. to see if I could reproduce my recent triumph on Otarumi Touge. I actually had no idea if I would make it in one go, and so my only goal was to get to the top, as usual. Nonetheless, I set an easy pace to conserve my energy for the final push to the top.

I didn’t stop long at the small park by the Tamagawa, but as I was leaving, the park worker who was sweeping up leaves called out to me, “Where you going?” “Takao-san,” I replied. “OK, take care!” I was amused by his choice of words, which are typically said to someone who is sick. But my native guides assure me the phrase indeed means “Take care” and not “Get well soon.”

With my late start, it was nearly 11 when I reached the bridge over the Tamagawa that leads to the branching of the Asakawa. I stopped for a couple of much-needed onigiri. When I continued on up the Asakawa, it was often against the wind. At some point along here, I lost sight of Fujisan, which had been visible earlier as I’d been working my way up the Tamagawa.

My next stop was just before 12, at another branching of the Asakawa, this time with the Minami Asakawa in Hachioji. I ate the remaining onigiri and checked in with Nana before proceeding.

Not long after that, I ran into a festival along the riverbank. I dismounted and pressed on through the crowd as quickly as I could with my bike beside me — which wasn’t very quickly at all. I made a mental note to see if there was a parallel street which would allow me to avoid the festival on my return.

Avoiding the magnets

As soon as I’d made my way through the festival throng, I was on the city streets of Takao, working my way along past long lines of cars. With the gorgeous weather and the prospect of rain tomorrow, everyone had turned out today to see the fall colors on Tokyo’s favorite mountain.

Soon enough I was past the holiday traffic. I stopped at the freeway interchange to turn on my taillights, knowing that the mountain switchbacks would be in shadow. And then I set out up the climb, feeling good and trying not to push the pace too early in the game.

Familiar as I am with the climb, I was surprised again and again at how long it was taking me to reach certain landmarks. Again and again as I rounded a curve, I thought I’d reach Lover’s Lane — which marks the start of the real climbing — only to find it was still further on. Realizing this was just a function of impatience, I counseled calm for myself and slowed my pace further before continuing.

And again, past Lover’s Lane (my name for the stretch of love hotels halfway from Takao to the top of the pass), I kept looking for my magnet spot around each curve. Not yet! When it came I recognized it ahead of time — and kept pressing onwards. Following that is the second magnet, the place I usually stop if I’ve cleared the first magnet. I was tiring by this time, but I kept up my resolve, knowing that I had succeeded before and could again.

And then, with the next landmark in sight — the bus stop, a scant 300m from the goal — my lungs blew up. I’d been doing OK up to that point, but I was suddenly gasping for breath, gulping down air without having a chance to exhale between gasps. I might have been able to push on through it, but there was a small bend from which I could see traffic in each direction, and I stopped to catch my breath.

My breathing was soon under control again, and I mounted up and continued on my way. I was heartened by the fact my thighs still felt great. I had no more trouble reaching the top — and was very thankful when I had.

Bicycle leaning against wooden fence overlooking road, with sign marking Otarumi Touge over the road
And I’m not going any higher!

After the obligatory snap and a short breather while I appreciated my surroundings, I mounted up for the ride back. Soon I was speeding back down the mountain, touching 50km/h where I’d moments before been struggling at 6km/h. During the descent the wind whistling through my helmet often makes me think a car is right behind me. Today, more than halfway down the mountain, I was passed by another cyclist, in much better aerodynamic form.

That’s a crowd

It was so crowded when I returned to Takaosan Guchi that I just pressed through the crowd to get a selfie before continuing on. (I should have left the bike parked by the road, instead of pushing it through the crowd.) I paused soon after at a convenience store to refuel and then I was on my way again, back through town towards the Asakawa. A couple of groups leaving the festival area reminded me just in time to divert around it, and that went smoothly. Then I was flying down the Asakawa once again, en route to the Tamagawa and home.

I had a very pleasant surprise before reaching the Tamagawa. There’s a section of the Asakawa where I usually see an egret or two, and it was no exception on my way upriver today. But on my return the egrets were flocking, and I watched in amazement as at least 30 circled over the river, returning to the trees on the opposite bank only to lift off again to soar in circles over the river once more.

Egrets in flight in blue skies with puffy white clouds over trees and river
Cycling the Asakawa leads to more egrets

I’d foolishly told Nana in the morning that I’d be home about 3, and yet it was 2:30 when I reached the Tamagawa once more and stopped for a break. I had just a mouthful of water left and no food. I decided to have a look for a convenience store when I got back to the usual park that is the final resting point before heading back into city traffic — the same park where the worker had asked me in the morning whither I was bound. I let Nana know I would be home after 4, most likely, and then set out once again downstream on the Tamagawa.

I was tired and sore at this point. At times the wind was against me and I felt I was crawling. At other times I stretched out and picked up the pace. I’d had a bit of saddle soreness during the ride, and tried shifting about on the saddle and adjusting my posture to ease the pressure. (Spoiler: it’s more to do with the posture than anything, so the secret is to maintain the correct posture in a variety of riding conditions.)

I reached the park without seeing any convenience stores, although I’d passed several vending machines where I could have stopped for water. After passing through Komae and turning on to Rte 3 towards Setagaya, I stopped at a convenience store at last. I hastily wolfed down a sandwich and filled up my water bottle. I checked the time: about 3:40. I messaged Nana I would be home about 4:30, checked that my lights were on, and set off for the final leg in traffic.

GPS record of cycle route
Never replicate a successful experiment

There’s not much to report about the ride home. The usual mix of rude drivers, parked vehicles and city buses. With traffic holding me back a bit more than expected, I was still more than 2km from home when 4:30 ticked by. I decided to keep pressing onwards rather than stop to let Nana know I was still on the way. I reached Central Park and raced downhill towards the goal. A red light, and then the final stretch … and a taxi driver made a U-turn in front of me and came to a stop in the middle of the lane to take on a fare. At 40km/h, I checked over my shoulder that I had enough clearance over the white Mercedes following me as I merged into the fast lane, got safely around the taxi, and then I was home. I messaged Nana at 4:37 that I’d arrived, and then took my time parking the bike and picking up the newspaper on my way up to the flat.

In sum, I really enjoyed the ride. I’m not bothered by the fact I didn’t make it to the top in one go again. I’m sure there will be other occasions — it wasn’t just a fluke. Meanwhile today, I didn’t run over any snakes again, or toddlers toddling about the path while mum’s attention is elsewhere, nor obaasan looking in one direction while they steer their shopping bikes in another, nor ojiisan just being ojiisan in the middle of the path — but not through lack of opportunity!

With a moving time of 5:56:37, the average moving speed was 19.1km/h. According to Strava that’s near my lower limit for this route, and yet I posted a string of 2nd and 3rd personal records all along the route, both on the way up the mountain and the way back.

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