Selfie of a cyclist wearing a white helmet, dark sunglasses and a black mask, next to a statue of a flying squirrel. The statue is on a stone plinth. There are green, leafy trees in the background.

No Gas in the Tank

Hot on the heels of four straight days of commuting by bike, I set out this morning for Takaosan with the goal of putting 100km on the clock. Takaosan is the launching point of the climb to Otarumi pass, and it was definitely a case of “We’ll see when we get there” as to whether I would attempt the pass today.

I’d told Nana I would depart at 8 a.m., and she got up at 6:30 with hardly any prompting and set to work scrambling up a batch of her world-famous onigiri. After that it was up to me to get things ready for the ride, and not just sit in front of the screen scrolling endlessly. I kissed Nana goodbye at 8 and was on the road at 8:11.

Bicycle leaning against a wooden railing, with a park in the background, including green leafy bushes and trees, and decorative rocks in a pond.
Faithful steed

By the time I reached Tamagawa an hour later, I knew my thighs weren’t fresh. I could ride, but I couldn’t put down the power. And when I got on the cycling course on the river, I realized I’d be fighting a headwind.

Head down, spin the pedals. Don’t overthink it.

By 10 a.m. I’d crossed the Tamagawa and stopped for the first sampling of the onigiri. I’d hardly got my helmet off when a group of perhaps a dozen middle-aged white guys on top-level bikes flashed past, all English from the sound of their conversation. I took my time enjoying the onigiri and preparing for the next stretch.

The path immediately following that rest spot has some notoriously bad ripples from tree roots, and it’s only got worse since my last trip up the Asakawa. I slowed to a walking pace and stood up on the pedals to traverse the roots before continuing on my way.

I was too late coming this way to view either the cherry or the dogwood blossoms, but the egrets filled in the gaps.

Grassy scene with a river on a diagonal line through the middle. A white egret stands in the river at the left edge of the photo, with another at the right edge.
… I’ve had a few

I was struggling upstream on the Asakawa from a combination of the wind, the climb (however gradual) and the lack of power in my thighs. José would find my performance familiar from the time we included this as one leg of a century and I was totally bonked. At least this time I remained in the larger chainring for the whole distance.

In the foreground, people in hats and brightly colored clothes wearing green vests are playing croquette on a green lawn. There are green trees in the center of the photo, and in the background some blue-tinted mountains under a cloudy sky.
Rest stop with a view

At 11 I reached a resting spot and stopped for the remainder of the onigiri. I had 7km to go to Takaosan Guchi, and I knew that the gradient — imperceptible until now — would tick up noticeably.

As soon as I left the bike course for streets, the traffic was thick and immobile. I wondered if everyone was heading towards the same destination as me, or if it was the nearby highway interchange. I was just glad that for the most part drivers were leaving enough space from the curb for me to pass by.

I reached Takaosan Guchi at 11:53. There was time for me to continue on to Otarumi pass, but there was no question of my doing that. I returned to my favorite convenience store only to find that the umbrellas had been taken from the outdoor picnic tables. With an audible sigh, I bought some Pokari and water and a couple of things for lunch, and packed the lot in Kuroko’s bag for the return to Asakawa and some shade in which to stoke the furnace.

The return downstream was the exact opposite of the upstream crawl: I was flying! If I run the numbers from Garmie (excluding breaks but including traffic lights), I averaged about 17km/h upstream and nearly 23km/h downstream. The difference doesn’t sound like that much, but I was really struggling on the way up and just cruising on the return. I did the last 5km before rejoining the Tamagawa in 11:49, for an average of 25.4km/h.

Are we having fun yet?

I rested briefly at the confluence with the Tamagawa — the spot where the group of English riders had passed while I was eating the first batch of onigiri. My hands and butt were aching, but I was otherwise OK. I had about 30km to go, 15 on the Tamagawa course and 15 in traffic. I took my time resting.

Back on the Tamagawa, the wind (which undoubtedly had been with me on my way back down the Asakawa) was across the path, and definitely a factor. I was shifting hand and butt positions frequently to stave off the numbness and soreness. At times I would shift in the wrong direction because my numb fingers couldn’t distinguish between the paddles. If I’d stopped for a rest it would have helped immeasurably, but I was driven to continue on.

A bicycle rests against green shrubs next to a decorative waterfall in a Japanese stone garden.
Bike and falls

At 2:12 I reached the park that marks the transition from bike path to city riding. The woman siting on the sole park bench was obviously enjoying the solitude, so I rested while standing in the shade of a nearby tree. I messaged Nana I would be home by 3:30, confident I’d be home much closer to 3 p.m., and mounted up for the final 15km push.

Traffic was heavy but not overwhelming. There are two climbs of note to take me out of the Tamagawa valley, and I made it up both, although with more of a struggle than is usual. There was one heart-stopping moment where a driver was turning left at a spot I wasn’t aware was open for left-hand turns and was trying to slip through beside traffic. No blood, no foul.

Apart from the climbs I felt I was making good time on the way home I was surprised to find when I finally pulled up in the tower courtyard that it was 3:24. I stopped the Garmin, messaged Nana that was I home, and racked the bike.

GPS record of bicycle ride
No Gas in the Tank

After the big fight upstream and against the wind, and more fighting of the crosswind on the Tamagawa, I was very pleased to see I’d recorded a moving time of 5:04:10, for 20.2km/h. I was expecting considerably slower.

I was not surprised to find my thighs weren’t up to the job of climbing Otarumi pass after four straight days of commutes. But it puts me on warning for an upcoming ride where I’ll be going 100km-plus each day for five days.

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