A sakura branch extends from overhead to the middle of the picture. The pink blossoms are becoming sparse. The tops of several leafy green trees fill the bottom of the picture. The background is a dark, foreboding cloudy sky.

Kafun Kawagoe

I had plans to be on the road early this morning and rack up a number of kilometers before returning home, but when I woke at 5 a.m. I had a lot of back pain. I resolved to take it easy, and turned off the alarm clock to let Nana sleep in a bit more.

By 6:30 I was largely feeling better, so I woke Nana and said I’d be on the road by 9. She got up shortly thereafter and started making her world-famous onigiri. Meanwhile I dawdled. At 8 I slowly started getting my things together for the ride. I had a frantic moment where I couldn’t find my wallet, only to discover after a tense 5 minutes of searching that I’d already stuffed it inside my biking wallet with cash for the day.

Yesterday had been sunny and warm, but I had other commitments. This morning it was overcast and surprisingly chilly in my long-sleeved jersey and shorts. For the first 5km or so my thighs felt very tight and I had difficulty spinning the pedals. After that things were fine, but I never really had the power I expected for the few short climbs on the day’s ride.

Meanwhile, my eyes were running like faucets from the kafun — pollen, primarily cedar pollen. My nose was running, too. I had taken my medications: my eyes weren’t itchy, but the water wouldn’t stop flowing. And I wasn’t sneezy, but my nose never stopped running. This continued all through the ride. I got a bit of respite after lunch by using my eyedrops before continuing the ride.

By the time I reached the Arakawa my legs felt OK but not really strong. I turned upriver and made good progress in the crosswind. When the sky darkened and the wind blew hard, I was a bit chilly, but overall I was fine. The chilly feeling was not countered in any way by the sight of fallow rice fields stretching out below the cycling course.

About 8km from Kawagoe I reached the spot where José and I had previously encountered construction and walked our bikes around the barriers. The construction is ongoing, but instead of fighting with the barriers this time I worked out a different route by following my nose. My intuition proved correct and I was soon in the usual park, enjoying an onigiri before proceeding to Koedo.

Kawagoe’s Koedo village was crowded to bursting with visitors despite the iffy weather. I waited patiently (mostly) in traffic for buses and taxis to clear the pedestrians ranked along either side of the road. I got off the bike to walk to the famous Bell of Time, weaving between visitors in kimono.

With my picture in hand (or in phone), I made my way as quickly as I could out of town again, stopping at a convenience store to supplement my remaining onigiri. When I emerged from the store, a curious older gent and his wife were examining Kuroko. “Do you speak Japanese?” the grandfather asked. “Yes, I’m OK,” I replied. He wanted to know where I’d come from (Shinjuku was the answer he was looking for, not America). “Is that the tire pump?” he asked, pointing at the tire pump. He and his wife asked how far I’d be going (80-some kilometers), and what the longest I’d ridden was (162km at one go), as well as some of the places I’d ridden (they were astounded I’d circled Lake Biwa, which is actually a very popular ride here).

Selfie of cyclist in helmet, shades and a mask in front of a high wooden tower in a pagoda style. The sky in the background is overcast with white clouds.
Mysterious time traveler

I made my excuses and returned to the park for a lunch under the fading cherry blossoms. As I enjoyed more onigiri (and a Snickers) and café au lait, I watched a father and son pair practicing with freeline skates in the park road just in front of me. (The father is polished and easy-going; the adult son is trying more stylistic maneuvers but could use more practice.)


I messaged Nana I was on the way home and set out again on the detour around the construction. When I reached the area of the construction itself, I stopped at a traffic light behind a couple of young, fit riders on carbon fibre bikes. I decided to let them guide me back to the path. Once the light changed I had trouble keeping them in view, but the answer in the end was simple — just keep going and the road would eventually bring me back to the regular course, well beyond the construction point.

Back on the cycling course, a few rain drops splattered down. I was hoping against a downpour — I was already feeling chilly in the wind and getting wet would just make things worse. I’m glad to say it never got worse than those few drops. It didn’t really lighten up after that, but at least it wasn’t raining.

Cycling down the Arakawa, I was fighting a crosswind at best and struggling directly into the wind at the worst moments. The last 5km on the river were the worst, and I averaged only 18km/h despite not having any breaks. At last I reached the sign that marks my exit from the river. I messaged Nana and stopped under a bridge to eat the final onigiri.

And … sunshine!

After leaving the river for city traffic, I hadn’t gone even 1km before the sun came out and I warmed up quickly. If only the entire day’s riding had been like this! I wasn’t beating directly into the wind anymore (it was still blowing, from various directions, but with less vigor) and I suddenly had more energy — thanks to Nana’s onigiri I’m sure. It took me just about 50 minutes in traffic from the river to home, which is no better or worse than usual, although I was a bit lackluster on the few hills along the way.

GPS record of cycle ride
Kafun Kawagoe

My goal for the day had been to get to Kawagoe and back in less than 6 hours. In the end I just scraped in under the wire (including a loop around the tower at the end to bring the total up to 85km). With a moving time of 4:24:46, I’d averaged 19.3km/h. I’ve done better, but I’m satisfied. After parking the bike, I was soon relaxing in a hot bath with a cold beer. And as soon as I got out of the tub, I used eyedrops to wash away the accumulated pollen.

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