More failure

Montage: bicycle on path overlooking road sign for Otarumi Passs and view from Otarumi Pass

On Saturday, with overcast skies and a high just shy of 30C in the forecast, I set out once again for Mt. Takao. I got moving about 45 minutes earlier than on my previous effort, and that made a big difference throughout the day. I was able to take my time working up the Tamagawa and the Asakawa, to preserve my energy for the climb.

Another important difference was that Nana had got up early, knowing I was riding, and prepared four of her world-famous onigiri. I reached the turn-off to Asakawa about 10 a.m. and stopped to eat a couple. And then it was 11 by the time I reached Asakawa Riverside Lawn Square, the last rest before Takaosan, where I stopped to eat the remaining two onigiri.

This is where the failure starts

I’d been riding with a tube in the rear tire since the ill-fated visit to Tōgaku-in, the azalea temple, but on the weekend previous to this ride I’d removed the tube and got the tire sealed again as tubeless. I’d pumped it up again before setting out, but when I hit the road (possibly 40 minutes later) I soon had to stop and top it up again. I hoped that the sealant would work into whatever was leaking during the day’s ride, but now, 40km into the ride, I had to inflate it once again.

OK, I thought to myself, I’m going to stop once again before climbing up to the pass. If it needs air again at that point, I’d better give up and put a tube back in it.

At Takaosan Guchi the tire still felt firm, and I continued on my merry way up the mountain. I didn’t feel overly strong and was still conserving my energy — early on I came across a jogger and we were neck-and-neck for longer than I care to admit. And then just as the climb was about to begin, I realized I needed to stop and pump up the rear again. As I was filling the tire, the jogger passed me.

A lot of climbing ensued

With the tire up to pressure, I continued on, and I wasn’t shy about moving to lower gears. Slow and steady, the tortoise and not the hare, and all that rot. A number of cars and trucks passed me by and for the most part gave me room. A few cyclists as well, and those with breath to spare exchanged greetings with me.

All through the first kilometer or so, I’d been feeling it was easy going and I was sure to get to the top in one go, this time! And I would caution myself not to count chickens before the same had hatched, and so on, as I still had quite a bit to go. When my pace is between 6 and 9km/h, my imagination is outpacing my progress by a good deal, and I need to just focus on the next few meters ahead of me: is there debris, or speed strips? How is the traffic? But yes, I’ll get past that magnet spot! I’m going strong! Well, steady at least …

A good, long rest

I reached the magnet spot — where I usually am compelled to stop and catch my breath — determined to keep on powering past regardless of the agony in my lungs and thighs. And it wasn’t too bad at the beginning of the magnet, where the shoulder is broad and inviting. But by the time I reached the end of that stretch, my speed had slowed noticeably, and the road narrowed over a short bridge, and there was a large truck hanging just behind me, the driver patient enough to wait for me but not to drop back and give me room. In fact I was terrified to glance over my shoulder to check on the truck’s position, fearing I’d swerve or even tumble.

I just cleared the bridge when another truck driver, descending in the opposite direction, stopped and flashed his lights. The truck behind me passed with plenty of room to spare, followed by a car or two that had been waiting behind. And I struggled on to the next bit of shoulder and pulled over and nearly tumbled from the bike.

I remained there a good long time, catching my breath, letting my heart’s hammering slow and feeling the weariness draining from my thighs. I spent a good five minutes there recovering, greeting a couple of cyclists as they passed — one making good progress and another struggling along just a bit better than I had been going.

Portion of bicycle wheel with bike pump attached, toe of cycling shoe, with leaves and berries
Once again for good measure

And as I was stopped and resting, I checked the rear pressure again. Not optimal. I topped it up before continuing on my way.

As rested as I could be at this point, with more than 50km under my belt including more than 4km of climbing, I continued on my way. The gradient for the final 500m is considerably less than the 11% seen at the magnet (the grey line in the illustration), and with five minutes’ rest under my belt, I had no difficulty pressing on to the top.

Route guide showing distance and elevation of climb
Grade at the magnet

Descent into chaos

I had another breather at the top while I enjoyed the view. But I was descending from this point, so I didn’t have to have a complete rest. I checked the tire and once again pumped it up. It was a cause for worry at this point — if it lost pressure on the descent, the tire might roll off on a corner and chuck me onto the pavement at speed, possibly in front of a following vehicle!

I gave the tire a squeeze and decided I’d be OK for the descent. After all, it would pass quickly …

I waited for a break in the weekend traffic and set off on the descent. Within moments I was catching up with the traffic ahead. I braked, partly out of concern for the rear tire and partly to remain safely behind the vehicles I was in danger of overtaking. Meanwhile there was no one behind me, so I had the full width of the lane to play with on the twisting downhill.

Strava gave me a PR for the first half of the descent from the mountain pass, but I have serious doubts about this. I was on the brakes the entire time, while in the past I’ve ridden right back down to Takaosan Guchi without so much as touching the brakes. The Garmin put my maximum speed at 50km/h during the descent, which I do find reasonable.

As the road flattened out and traffic thickened somewhat into Takaosan, I knew I had to stop and take care of the rear. I could feel it not only shimmying under the turning forces, but starting to thrum against the pavement, indicating it was near the giving point. I stopped in an unused parking spot just off the road, unseated one tire bead and mopped up the sealant with the tissues in my cockpit bag. I pushed the valve out of the rim and stowed it in my bag, and the put in the spare tube I always carry. Re-seated the tire and pumped it up again.

I’ve had some practice with this fix. Garmie says it only took me three minutes. From that point on, I didn’t have any more tire trouble.

Rest and fuel

I got back to Takaosan Guchi almost exactly an hour after I’d left it. After the congratulatory photo (above), I continued on to the rest spot at a convenience store and bought some snacks to fuel up with (as well as some water to refill my depleted bottles).

As I sat at the picnic table under an umbrella, a couple of younger riders put their bikes in the stand next to mine. I saw them looking at Kuroko and pointing out some of the components to each other: “Cool!”, “Yeah!” I waited to see if they would acknowledge me, in which case I’d speak to them about my cool bike, but they never did. Chalk that one up to either Japanese reserve or young adult shyness.

Fairly well recharged, I mounted up and continued on my way home. The gradient up the Asakawa is only a percent or two, but the return is always considerably easier. I made very good time on the way downriver, despite the occasional headwind, and with no worries about the soundness of my rear tire. I was able to enjoy the sight of children splashing in the river, then further on smiled and waited patiently while a family walking on the path reined in their errant toddler so I could pass safely.

Homeward

I rejoined the Tamagawa at 2:35, three and a half hours after I’d left it. I stopped at a bench in the shade and rested a few minutes, sipping water. I’d sorted out the tire issue, and the climbs were behind me. What remained was a fight against fatigue, saddle soreness and numbness in my hands. With luck, I could continue on for 15km stretches between rests. If I needed more frequent breaks, there was no harm in that apart from a later finish. And I was still well on schedule to beat the sunset.

I crossed the bridge and continued downstream on the Tamagawa, fighting the occasional headwind, shaking the feeling back into my hands from time to time, and continued the 13km to the park in Komae without stop (apart from a traffic light or two).

After resting in the park in Komae, relaxing and in no hurry, I checked the time. It was nearly 3:30, so I messaged Nana I’d be home about 4:30. And then set out in traffic, knowing my legs were toast and I still had a couple of hills to negotiate before reaching home.

As expected, I had almost no power on the modest hills on Setagaya Avenue, but I had enough to get over the top of each one while traffic worked its way around me. I played cat and mouse with another couple of cyclists and more than one scooter rider. A driver in a Mercedes seemed incensed that he should be asked to share the road with little unwashed me, but (thanks to traffic and lights) I soon left him behind.

GPS record of cycling route
More failure

I got home without further incident, a few minutes before the deadline I’d given Nana. It was a good ride, not setting any records but reaching the goal, and getting back without unwarranted drama. Based on a moving time of 5 hours 43 minutes, the average moving speed was 20.0km/h, which I consider good even absent a mountain climb in the middle. The difference between that and the total elapsed time certainly reflects the lack of urgency I felt at each rest stop.

To bless or not to bless?

I’d feel a lot worse about that pun except that Specialized unabashedly markets their tubeless technology under the moniker 2bliss.

Anyway, this is far from the first issue I’ve had directly as a result of tubeless tires. Should I persevere in pursuit of the no-puncture grail, or give it up as a bad job now and revert to tubes in tires? It’s all a learning process for me, and at this point I can still see progress: the right tire and rim combo, good prep with the tape (which may be the culprit in this case), and the right sealant. Long story short, I’ve got patience for about one more go in me at this point.

And to my friends who point out that the masochism in pursuit of some ill-defined velominati goal is itself the goal, my only response is: nolo contendere.

Late Off the Line

Statue of flying squirrel against backdrop of green leaves

It was after 9 a.m. before I finally got on the bike this morning, and right away I was facing lines of traffic, backed up by road repairs and other construction work. I passed kilometer upon kilometer of vehicles idling at a standstill before I finally reached the cycling course at Tamagawa.

Nana had once again failed to whip up a batch of her world-famous onigiri, so I stopped at a convenience store along the way to get something to eat. Mindful of my bad experience last weekend, I avoided the onigiri and got a hotdog and a combo sandwich.

The wind was with me riding up the Tamagawa, and I stopped at a park to eat the hotdog before continuing. As soon as I was on the Asagawa, though, I was fighting into the wind. I encountered an easy detour, just a bit of traffic, and then a pleasant surprise: the sign welcoming riders to the Asagawa “Take It Easy” Road is usually a warning of very bad pavement to follow. But today — much to my delight — I found that the succeeding 500m or so was freshly paved, all the way to the rail crossing.

From that point on I was struggling. It’s not difficult on paper — gradients range from 0% to 2%. But I was definitely feeling the bonk. Even after stopping to rest and eat the combo sandwich, I just didn’t have the energy to push forward. It was not quite as bad as when I’d included this segment as part of a century ride, but it was palpable.

Too little, too late

By the time I reached the cable car entrance at Takaosan Guchi, I’d already decided: It was almost 12:30, I was starving, and my thighs had already had it. The last time I’d ridden up Takaosan to Otarumi Touge was in October, and I’d left home at 7:15. This morning’s 9:06 departure just wasn’t going to cut it, given a desire to be home in time to shower up for a 6 p.m. dinner date. I decided to be satisfied with a photo or two at Takaosan Guchi and then a more leisurely ride home.

I returned to the nearby Family Mart, where another rider struck up a conversation.

Fit Japanese rider
Hot, isn’t it?
Guy Jean
I’ll say! And it will be hotter tomorrow!
FJR
That’s what I’ve heard …
Guy Jean
Did you go up to the pass [Otarumi Touge]?
FJR
I went over the pass and down into Kanagawa Prefecture, and then I came back over the pass.
Guy Jean
Wow!

He was, at a guess, not any younger than your humble narrator.

Slight return

The return down the Asagawa was quite a bit smoother. That almost non-existent 0-2% gradient was now working in my favor, and so was the wind — for the most part. I posted a couple of 5km runs here at 26km/h, a big improvement over the 20km/h at most I was making on the way upstream.

I stopped for a rest in the shade and a last snack just before rejoining the Tamagawa. I took off my shoes and adjusted my socks to give the dogs a rest.

After crossing the Tamagawa and back on my home turf, the wind was very mixed. At this point the big question was how long I could go without resting my hands and my backside. I was pleased to find my thighs were feeling much better than on the way up to Takaosan Guchi — was it just because I was headed downhill now (however slightly), or had the break for lunch recharged me?

I was dealing with a bit of finger numbness along the way, but not as bad as it had recently been. I just had to move my hands about a bit on the bars from time to time, and occasionally lift one and give it a shake. Ditto the saddle soreness. A few times I had to squirm around a bit, and then all was good again.

I took a last break at a small park where I leave the Tamagawa for city traffic. I drank some water and took my time resting, and then messaged Nana that I would be home by 4. I was checking Garmie to see if I was going to get in 100km for the day, and it was looking close. I was willing to do an extra lap around Central Park if need be.

On the long stretch of Setagaya Ave. taking me back into the city, I’ll sometimes find a car that stands out from the pack, and I use that to gauge my progress. Given the traffic, it’s not too challenging to keep up. Once it was a Ferrari roadster that reeked of unburned gasoline. This time it was a young woman driving a grey 718 Cayman GTS with a beginner’s sticker on the flank. We played cat-and-mouse in the traffic most of the way back. She only lost me when she got ahead of a bus that then pulled in front of me and stopped for the traffic light, half a kilometer before I turned off the avenue.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Late Off the Line

A riding time of 4h56m gave me an average riding speed of 20.8km/h. The total elapsed time was a bit more than that as I took my time resting on the way back once I’d decided not to test the mountain. Last October, when I rode to the top with only a single rest on the way up, I came in at 6h17m ride time on a route that’s 22km longer for 19.8km/h.

Bar graph of distance by month, with 600km in May highlighted
600

Coming in at 100km (no extra lap needed) put me over 600km for the month, the longest monthly distance I’ve done since last October (which was just before I converted Kuroko to electronic shifting). There are a couple of more days this month but I’m not likely to be riding. Monday will be 30C and windy, and rain is in the forecast for Tuesday.

Tama-Iruma-Arakawa

Barrier on cycle path with signs giving details of construction work

After yesterday’s gully-washing rain, it dawned cloudy this morning, with mixed weather forecasts. When Nana woke up, though, she said there was no chance of rain.

I was determined to ride the three rivers, which I’d originally done with José for my kanreki. It’s also the ride I’d set out to do during Golden Week, but came up short on juju on that occasion after getting a late start.

I didn’t get going much earlier this morning, after dawdling in front of my laptop for several hours. But once on the road I felt better than I had on that previous occasion, if not quite as strong as I had on my last visit to Kawagoe.

bicycle leaning on hedge with fountain in background
First rest

Nana had not made onigiri, so I stopped in Futako and bought two mentaiko and one grilled salmon. But when I stopped about 10:30 in Persimmon Park for my first food break of the day, they were terrible. Just awful. Even now, writing about them, I want to retch. Nana has spoiled me with her world-famous onigiri. I forced myself to finish one mentaiko and the salmon so I would have energy for the ride.

I’d had the first glimmer of sunshine about 10 a.m., and the sky continued to brighten as I rode up the Tamagawa. The pavement was mostly dry, but there were some puddles. I followed the example of another rider in a park near Shibasaki and rode up into the grass to avoid the puddles on the cycling course.

As I approached Hamura, I stopped at another convenience store near the cycling course to stock up for lunch — but avoided getting any more onigiri. I rolled into Hamura about 11:40 and quickly delved into my saddlebag for my lunch.

Irumagawa

I’d traveled 54km by this point, but Garmie said I had another 81km to go. I really should have set out an hour earlier! I wolfed down my lunch of sausage rolls, cheese and yogurt drink, and saddled up again at 11:45 to continue on my way.

My legs were OK at this point, but not really strong for climbing. One of the toughest climbs of the day (which is not setting the bar very high) came just a few kilometers after the Hamura break and I was content to just keep shifting to successively lower gears and keep spinning. It got me up the hill.

A few kilometers later, the course turns northwest and runs through a sparsely populated area. The pavement here is really awful. I was glad to see the first part of the street had been redone since I last visited, but nothing had been done with the worst stretch, which continues for a couple of kilometers. Fortunately no one was following me at this point, and I could ride in the center of the lane, where the pavement is least broken.

The bad pavement is followed by a bit of climbing, and then some very rapid descending. I typically hit about 50km/h without even trying on this stretch, and today was no exception. But despite the speed limit of 40, a number of drivers tried to crowd me off the road as they passed.

After a few more kilometers of exurb riding, I arrived at the bridge over the Irumagawa. I stopped at a convenience store here and ate an apple pastry before continuing.

The Irumagawa cycling course winds through numerous family oriented parks, and I have to be more alert than ever for children suddenly stepping into the path, or grandparents wandering into my way while having eyes only for their little darlings. There are also a number of road crossings which are marked for the cyclist to stop, rather than the motor vehicles.

Detour ahead

When José and I rode this route in November, we encountered a substantial detour around Kakusen, which continued until Shimooyashiki, where we crossed the Irumagawa on a single-lane bridge. I was hoping that the construction would be completed, but it was not to be. I had to leave the cycling course at the same spot. Unfortunately today my optimism continued to get me into trouble, and I tried to rejoin the path before I should have.

The path was fine, but just as I got to a bridge that I wanted to traverse, there was a barrier. I actually came up from behind that sign on the left, above. My goal was just a few meters ahead, and the pavement was unobstructed, so I lifted Kuroko over the barrier and continued.

Before I went on my way, though, I noted the sign said that the project was to be finished April 28, Reiwa 4. It’s May 22, so … ?

The second barrier came just a few kilometers later, and was only 250m before the course I needed to take to a single-lane bridge over the Irumagawa. I could easily see that many had come before me and simply gone around the barrier, and so I did, too.

When we came this way in November, José and I had gone down into the road before this point, and we came back to the path just as it turned towards the single-lane bridge, so we avoided this.

Ka-chunk!

Bicycle leaning against barrier on cycle path
Ka-chunk!

The only real issue of note on today’s ride came between the two barriers above, as I was traversing a well-trafficked bridge. The pedestrian / cycle walk on this particular bridge is a good 40cm or so above the roadway, and the transitions are rather abrupt. My mind was wandering as I came to the first one and *ka-chunk!* the front wheel suddenly dropped 40cm. The tire and wheel readily took the impact, but the handlebars rotated downwards in the stem with an audible squeak.

I’ve been riding with the handlebars tilted upwards for a couple of months now, and liking it. In particular, it’s taken the pressure off the sore spot in my nether regions that has been the cause of issues in the past. And now, suddenly, the bars weren’t just back to horizontal — they were drooping!

I stopped at the end of the bridge and wielded the multitool and got the bars tipped upwards once again.

Rice paddies and mountains
Rice paddies and mountains

Not long after clearing the last cycling path obstruction, I was rounding the northeast corner of the ride, past Kawagoe and heading downstream on the Arakawa proper. I’d been fighting headwinds up the Tamagawa and occasionally as I crossed the Irumagawa, and I was dreading this section of the Arakawa, where I always have a headwind. But today, much to my surprise, Fujin was smiling. The wind had died completely, leaving me to string up a run of PRs heading downstream on the Arakawa despite my advanced state of fatigue.

I passed a few clots of day cyclists out enjoying the good weather, plus one rider I was surprised to be passing: an old guy like me, but fit, in full regalia on a classic steel framed bike with full Campagnolo groupset.

My hands and backside were both a challenge at this point, turning sore or numb by degrees, and I was taking breaks more frequently than usual to cater to them.

I noticed someone near one of the rice paddies, spinning round like a shot-putter to launch his free-flight glider into the air. Not the same bloke I’d seen last week, and still several kilometers upstream from that spot.

Bicycle leaning on sign for Arakawa cycling course
My ol’ pal Arakawa

I arrived at the UFO gate and dismounted, eager to rest my hands and to eat the last custard cream pastry to fuel my remaining kilometers. Garmie was showing 21km remaining in my ride, with a finish somewhere between 4:30 and 5, so I messaged Nana that I would be home about 5, according to Garmie.

The few remaining kilometers along the river went by smoothly. When I arrived at the turn-off into traffic, I was out of water, so stopped to get some from a vending machine. I got sweat in my eyes and spent a minute wiping the salt off my forehead and temples with my glove before continuing.

The ride home through traffic was uneventful. I could spin along just fine, but my thighs were challenged by the few remaining bumps along the way. I was glad to be stopped by a traffic light midway up the longish climb out of the river valley, as it gave me a chance to recover.

At some point along the ride home, I was overtaken by the white-haired gent on the classic steel bike I’d passed on the river. He was much better in tune to the timing of the lights than I was, and left me sitting at a red at the foot of a bridge over a railroad. A few other cyclists who were unable to keep up with me on the flats passed me when the road turned upwards. I didn’t mind. I checked the navi and ascertained I’d be just over 135km for the day, and I was happy with that. I swept down the final hill from Nakano Sakaue on Yamate Dori and turned towards home. I let Nana know at 4:35 that I was back, well ahead of the 5 p.m. that I’d told her the Garmie had forecast.

GPS record of cycling route
Tama-Iruma-Arakawa

In the end I made pretty good time. My moving time was 6h21m44s, for an average of 21.3km/h. When I did the route in November with José, the moving time was 6h17m24s, for 21.5km/h. I was feeling a bit more energetic at the time, and no doubt also trying to make a good showing for José.

By contrast, my total elapsed time today was 8h10m50s, compared to 8h16m49s previously. Taking into account the difference in rolling time, that means an improvement of 10m19s in faff time (or pfaffenminuten in the original German). I’m sure some of this was a matter of having done the route before and hence knowing where to go, and the rest was the result of traveling alone and not having any reason to dawdle during the breaks.

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.

Golden Week Wrap

Bicycle leaning against railing overlooking river weir

I set out yesterday morning with the intention of completing the Three Rivers ride, which I’d last done just before my birthday in November. But I was facing a couple of big challenges. First, I’d set out nearly and hour and a half later than I had in November. And then, as soon as I was on the Tamagawa (the first of the three rivers), it became apparent I didn’t have the juju. I could ride along on the flat at a good pace, but even the 3m switchbacks up and down the levee were taking it out of me — it would take me another half a kilometer to get back up to speed.

May flowers
May flowers

I had the option of riding just the Tamagawa and then turning around when I reached Hamura. This is the same ride I did three weeks ago when I had a sudden blowout in the rear tire, which I finally resolved by swapping out the wheels for my spare set.

Anyway, I kept pedaling, and after making some progress I got a respite from the headwind I’d been fighting. I decided to see what time I reached Hamura and make a decision on that basis. I reached the Persimmon Park about 10:30 and sat down to enjoy a couple of Nana’s world-famous onigiri. I had 15km left to get to Hamura, so it wasn’t unreasonable to hope to reach there about 11:15-11:30.

Or it wouldn’t have been, but I took my time over the onigiri and had a nice little rest. And when I set out again, I was faced not only with a few switchbacks but also increasing finger numbness. I’d already eaten two of the three onigiri that Nana had packed for me, so I stopped at a convenience store a few kilometers before Hamura and bought a hot dog, a creme-filled taiyaki, an iced latté and a Snickers bar. The brief stop gave me a chance to get some feeling back in my fingers.

We (don’t) got the power

With all the dawdling, I reached Hamura at 11:50. I’d told Nana when I set out that I’d be home about 5, but I was now looking at 6 if I continued around the Three Rivers, with a 12km slog home along Yamate Dori during rush hour. It didn’t take me long to decide against continuing, but before sitting down to enjoy my lunch I thought I’d go just a couple of kilometers further to pay a visit at Aso Shrine, dedicated to bicycle safety.

The shrine was established in 601 by Empress Suiko, and built in 933 by Taira no Masakado. The first torii on the southern entrance is the upstream limit of the Tamagawa cycling course, and the shrine has become a pilgrimage for cyclists to buy the amulets for safety.

After paying my respects, I returned to Hamura to rest and enjoy my lunch. There was a fellow on the next bench with binoculars watching the swallows flitting over the river, while overhead several large US military cargo planes practiced maneuvers. I finished lunch about 12:30, messaged Nana that I was on my way home, and set off downstream and into the wind.

The going wasn’t bad, but I was still plagued by finger numbness. I stopped after just 10km for a brief rest, then again at Persimmon Park just 5km further on. My next stop was at a bike shop near the river bank another handful of kilometers further, where I picked up a couple of spare innertubes.

Fumble-fingers

While I was locking up Kuroko at a bike stand in front of the shop, I paused Garmie and slipped it into my jersey pocket so I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone taking it. And as I did so, Garmie chirped a cheerful beep. What … ? He’d interpreted being put in my pocket as an invitation to end and save the ride, so when I stowed my purchases and set out again, I had to start a new ride. It was no big deal as I ended up recording all the kilometers ridden, but it meant Strava wouldn’t credit me with a Grand Fondo — 100km in a single ride.

I was still fighting the headwind on the way downriver, and taking frequent breaks to rest and restore the feeling in my fingers. I finally left the river course at a small park full of screaming children, where I ate the last of the onigiri. I checked the time — 2:35 — and messaged Nana that I should be home by 4.

The last 15km were out of the wind but in traffic. Someone forgot to tell all the drivers that it wasn’t yet rush hour. There are a couple of hills to surmount that I’d been dreading, but I was pleased to discover when it was time that I had my juju — perhaps thanks to Nana’s onigiri. I rolled down the final hill by central park and did a lap around the building to bring the ride up to 30km before dismounting. I messaged Nana that I was home at 3:33.

Putting the numbers together, the ride was 105.55km. The total elapsed time was 7 hours. (The figures from the Garmie tot up to 6 hours 50 minutes 51 seconds, which tells me I was in the bike shop for just over 8 minutes.) The moving time totals 5 hours 8 minutes 20 seconds, for an average of just over 20.5km/h.

I soaked in the bath to ease the aching in my thighs, and then over dinner was treated to a fantastic fireworks display out on the Workshop in the Sky.

Fireworks

Twice in a row?

Azaleas surrounding Japanese temple building

Following a tempest of rain Friday night, Saturday dawned bright and clear. It looked like a great day for a ride (and my only chance this weekend), so I quickly prepped Kuroko, fresh off not one but two days of maintenance, and set out.

I wasn’t up for a lengthy jaunt, but I did want to try something new. Every year at this season a friend posts photos from Tōgaku-in, the azalea temple in Kawasaki. It’s not even 5km from Futako Tamagawa, where I join the Tamagawa cycling course when I ride, so I had plotted the route for the Garmie.

I’m still getting used to having the handlebars raised on Kuroko, and it took me a few kilometers to get over the feeling I was riding too high and didn’t have control. Once I adjusted, I was riding with confidence again. Soon I was rolling across Futagobashi and then I briefly stopped to select the course for Tōgaku-in on the Garmie.

A sadist’s idea of a cycling course

It’s pretty straightforward from Futako to Tōgaku-in, but the roads are narrow and heavily trafficked, with intersections every couple of hundred meters. The course passes by two train stations, a railroad crossing and the ward office.

The temple was worth the fight in traffic. I was probably about a week late to see the best of the azaleas, but it was still a very nice addition to the day’s ride. After spending a few minutes to enjoy the sights, I mounted up again and set off back to the river.

Into the wind

The moment I got to the river I was riding into the wind. It was quite a stiff breeze. I didn’t fight it too hard, but just slowed my pace a bit. I was still making better progress than most of the riders I encountered.

The cycling course was rather crowded. It seemed that every Tokyoite who hadn’t gone to Hawaii for Golden Week was out strolling on the course, with one or two toddlers zig-zagging across the path of oncoming cyclists.

I was getting hungry, so when I stopped at the usual rest spot about 11km from the end, I ate half my lunch before continuing on my way.

Pigeon perched on bicycle handlebar under tree
Unexpected lunchtime visitor

In addition to the wind, I knew I’d encounter some puddles following the previous night’s rain. I was not disappointed in this, but they were smaller than I expected. I’d been seeing flooded baseball fields and driving ranges for more than 10km, so I was expecting the worst.

I pressed on into the wind, dodging toddlers and other cyclists, until I arrived at Haneda. I’d been noticing some odd vibration the last few kilometers, so after finishing my lunch I checked the rear wheel for trueness. It was nice and straight. I shrugged my shoulders and mounted up for the ride home, after letting Nana know I was on the way.

Don’t overlook the obvious

It was easier going on the way back upriver, with the wind behind me for the most part. The vibration continued, and after a few kilometers it started getting more noticeable. I realized it went away when I wasn’t pedaling — was something wrong with the drivetrain?

Finally, with the vibration getting rapidly worse with each passing meter, it dawned on me: the rear tire was running low. In fact it was nearly flat. I quickly stopped at the side of the path and pumped the tire up again. I gave it a couple of turns, making sure there were no punctures and I couldn’t hear any air leaking, and then mounted up again. But I hadn’t gone more that 50m when the tire was flat again.

I was less than 1km from my first lunch spot (where the pigeon was perched on my handlebar), where I could sit in the shade as I worked on the tire. So rather than risk damaging the rim on a flat tire, I walked the bike until I’d reached the spot.

I removed the wheel, thinking I’d have to put in the innertube (I’m glad I remembered to pack it after having removed it from the other wheel!). But before going through that bother, I tried once again to pump up the tire as it was. And it seemed to be holding this time. I did the latex dance, swirling the sealant around inside the tire so that it would coat everything. I bounced the wheel repeatedly on the ground and checked the bead to make sure it was seated everywhere.

In all I spent about 5 minutes making sure the tire was holding pressure. And it was. At last I replaced the wheel in the bike, glad that I didn’t have any trouble with the hub falling apart as it had on the previous occasion. I mounted up and was off again, riding with the wind, and no odd vibrations. Each time I went over a curb or hit a seam in the pavement, I felt a reassuring jolt that let me know the tire was holding pressure.

Bicycle leaning against azaleas
Kuroko among the azaleas

I reached the little park at the top of the climb out of the Tamagawa valley, the last rest stop on the way home. I gave the rear tire a pinch and decided to add a bit more air. Then I noted the time — with the walk of nearly 1km and the time spent sorting out the tire, it was later than I’d expected. I messaged Nana that I would be home about 3:15 and set off. I had no further issues aside from the usual traffic, and rolled up to a stop at our tower just before 3.

GPS record of cycling route
Twice in a row?

With the time spent walking and fixing the flat, the average speed suffered. Based on the moving time of 3 hours 58 minutes, the average moving speed was a bit better at 18.4km/h.

The Garmie behaved throughout the ride, not dropping any segments. The regularly updated weather information confirmed what I was experiencing with the wind. And the legend it shows me when I’m on a road without a name (very common in Japan) always amuses me.

Finally, yesterday’s ride netted me Garmin’s Golden Week Badge for 2022. And I’ve just given Kuroko’s tire a pinch this morning (Sunday), and it’s holding up well.

Koi nobori "rising carp" with 2022 legend
Golden Week Badge

Ill-Starred Century

Cyclist in mask, helmet and sunglasses in front of statue of Tamagawa Brothers

I spent most of the day yesterday helping José install floor covering in his new flat, followed by far too much delicious pizza and fries for dinner. I got a lot of sleep last night, but my thighs were still tender this morning. It took 20km or more just to work out the cramps and stiffness.

With the thighs back in action (if not entirely fresh), the ride up to Hamura was routine. I wanted to get in 100km without making too much effort, and to be home before the forecast rain in the evening. Nana hadn’t prepared rice to make onigiri, so I was left to my own devices (i.e., convenience stores) for lunch and snacks.

With those caveats in mind, the progression up to Hamura went without a hitch. There’s a rough bit of pavement in a dip just 2km from the end, and I went over that with an unexpected *crack!* which may or may not have had something to do with events yet to come.

Following my convenience store lunch at Hamura, I messaged Nana I was on the way home. But I got no more than half-dozen kilometers before there was a loud *pop!* followed by a bit of fish-tailing. I brought Kuroko to a halt and assessed the damage: there was a flat, and it didn’t look like the sealant was going to fix things.

I got Kuroko off the cycle path to assess the damage. There was a large tear in the tread, leaving a flap of tread separated from the tire casing. I pulled at what I thought was a some foreign matter, only to discover it was a shred torn from the casing.

It was pretty clear the from the extent of the damage that the sealant couldn’t be expected to patch the leak. But I gave it a try anyway, pumping air into the tire while swirling the sealant around the affected area. No dice.

OK, this is why I carry tire irons and an innertube (in addition to spare sealant and tubeless plugs). I quickly had the wheel off the bike (good thing I made sure I could get the wheel off after the Di2 upgrade) and removed the tire. After making sure there was nothing still sticking into the tread (glass, wire, etc.), I mopped up the remaining sealant and set about inserting an innertube.

The innertube went in easily enough (although with all the sealant leaking everywhere, there was a lot of dirt and gravel trying to get in along with the innertube), and I was soon inflating the tire. There were a few satsifying *pops!* as the tire seated back on the rim.

This mechanical is just getting started

At that point I should have just been able to put the wheel back in the frame, with a bit of wrestling to make sure the chain was taking the proper route around the cogs and the rear disc was nestled in the caliper. Instead, the wheel went in far too easily, and kept going right past the mark!

What the … ? That’s never happened before. I pulled the wheel out and had a look, and then another look: The end cap was missing from the drive side, and as a result the entire spindle was pushing out the non-drive side.

I quickly found the drive side end cap where it had fallen on the ground and pressed it back in place. That’s all it should take, really. But I spent the next 20 minutes or so wrestling to get the wheel back into the frame, with the chain around the cogs, the disc in between the pads in the caliper, and both end caps in place between the rear dropouts. I’ve never had an end cap pop off before and now it just wouldn’t stay in place.

Finally, after lots of swearing and many repeated tries, it all came together again. But what a hassle! If you look at the last couple of photos in the gallery above, you might spot more than a few greasy handprints on the rear tire and the bike frame itself. I was carrying tissues, but no alcohol wipes, and the tissues did little to clean up my greasy hands.

At last, with the wheel back in the bike, I took a few deep breaths and mounted up again.

Bicycle against park wooden railing with deocrative waterfall in background
Final stretch

The innertube held despite the large gash in the tread. (The casing was still largely intact.) I was still going a bit gingerly, as I was concerned there was some damage to the hub and I worried the innertube might not hold. Plus my thighs were really setting up a howl of protest to the abuse they’d been taking for two days in a row. When I got going fast on smooth pavement, I could feel a bump … bump … bump, which I assumed was the flap of torn tread and nothing else.

I’d planned on returning via Futako Tamagawa, the same course as I’d set out on in the morning, but a consultation with the Garmin showed I could take the shortcut home from Komae and still get in my 100km goal. On the plus side, I’d shave off about 5km from the total and get home that much sooner, before the tire gave up or the hub came apart. On the minus side, I’d be in heavier traffic, so any issues might expose me to a greater risk.

It wasn’t really a choice. I stopped briefly at a park in Komae, had a Snickers bar, and messaged Nana that I’d be home within the hour.

I happy to report there were no further issues on the way home. I didn’t press it on the final downhill as I was still worried about the tire coming apart. Nevertheless I reached 40km/h without trying.

GPS record of cycle ride
Ill-starred century

The flat took me less than 20 minutes to fix, but with the hub issue the total repair added 40 minutes to the total ride time. I did beat the rain — apart from a few sprinkles in the morning with the sun shining and a couple more as I neared home. I wasn’t expecting to make good time overall, and the total elapsed time of nearly 7 hours for the ride is something of an anti-record. But a moving time of 5 hours 3 minutes netted a respectable 20.6km/h. I’ve done better on this route, but I’ve also done considerably worse.

I got home a good 17 minutes before the time I’d given Nana to expect me, and took my time parking Kuroko and gathering up the various bits and bobs before getting the elevator up to the flat. Once home, I spent a good amount of time washing all the dirty grease off my hands before attempting anything else, and then relaxed in the bath for half an hour. When I emerged, Nana took one look at me and asked if I was OK. I assured her I was fine, just dead. Very, very dead.

Serendipity?

Selfie of biker and sign marking Arakawa cycling course

My goals today were to get in some kilometers and to try out a couple of routes between home and José’s new flat. A welcome boon was an unexpected and accidental benefit from yesterday’s maintenance.

I’d been casting about the past couple of days for a route. As recently as yesterday evening, Nana asked where I was planning to go, and I replied, “I haven’t decided yet.”

This morning the answer was clear: Tokyo Disney Resort. I got off to a later start than I’d planned, in part because Nana was sleeping in (I don’t like to leave before she’s awake) and in part because I was just taking my time getting ready. As soon as I mounted up, something felt off. When I’d added the accessory mount to the stem yesterday, the handlebars were loosened enough to droop down. And I pulled them back up to level when I tightened up the new bolts holding the accessory mount.

But Kuroko was in the workstand when I made the adjustment, in a decidedly nose-down attitude. So when I adjusted the handlebars and tightened the bolts, the bars in fact were pointing significantly upwards.

I figured when I got to Arakawa I’d sort out the alignment using the multitool.

As I rode along Yamate Dori in the thick of traffic, though, I noticed something: with the higher handlebars, I was not putting any pressure at all on the spot where I typically suffer the most from saddle soreness — the spot where I suffered enough injury to scratch from the great Lejog ride.

I’ve continued to suffer saddle sores in this same spot since that ride, despite changes in shorts and more than one saddle. If riding with higher handlebars could solve the issue, then damn the torpedoes, I’m sold!

The potential downsides to riding with higher handlebars are increased aerodynamic resistance and a loss of power from the gluteus maximi, which only come into play when the rider’s back is bent at a 45-degree angle or more. Well, I’m not very concerned with aerodynamics to start with — I just don’t ride fast enough to make a big difference, apart from when I’m bedeviled by headwinds. And as for the power, I surprisingly felt as if I had more. My upper thighs seemed to be providing more of the thrust, particularly on the short climbs that today’s course included. Perhaps with the more upright position, I was putting more of my weight into the downstroke. Or maybe I was just using less power fighting my belly with my thighs.

With the very appreciated lack of butt soreness, when I arrived at Arakawa I resolved to let the experiment continue as I rode downstream. I was assisted in this by the lack of headwind — or indeed any noticeable wind at all. I also noticed my hands rode more easily on the handlebars. With the bars titled up, my wrists were straight and I was less prone to numbness. The numbness didn’t totally disappear, but by the time I reached my first rest point after 14km of downrider riding, I’d been able to handle the numbness by just taking a few seconds to rest one hand and then the other.

I was also making very good time, considering the lack of tailwind. Where I’d typically downshifted previously on the slight rises on the path, I was able to power through, appreciating the slight burn in my thighs.

I made good time down the river, covering the 25-plus kilometers in slightly more than an hour (including the one break plus several stops along the way for photos). My best 5km time was 11:08, or an average of 26.9km/h.

Tokyo Disney Resort

As has become my custom, I did a short loop after reaching Shinsuna, at the mouth of Tokyo Bay, to bring the total kilometers to 40. I had just a short break, taking photos and sharing them with various groups, before setting off again. I’d had a very strong headwind in the last 2-3km down the river, and I was riding into this again once I’d crossed the Arakawa and continued downriver to the Kasai Seaside Park. I didn’t notice much difference from my upright position, but I did have to fight a tendency to turtle in my neck in response to the wind. It was causing a headache.

I was keeping an eye on the clock, because when Fearless Leader Joe and I rode the Arakawa, we’d decided not to go to Disneyland because FLJ had a long ride home ahead of him. Today I noted the time I arrived at Shinsuna, at the mouth of the bay, and then again after I’d crossed the Arakawa, ridden to Tokyo Disney Resort and returned to the bridge over the Arakawa: 45 minutes. Before crossing back, however, I stopped at a convenience store to pick up a couple of cheeseburgers and other energy sources, and then sat in a sunny park to top up.

Virgin territory

It was just about 12 when I left the park and headed back into the city. This was still all well-covered ground, and I didn’t need the Garmin for directions. I wasn’t sure what my usual time was for getting home from this park, but I was hoping to reach Shinjuku before 1:30. I stopped briefly at Nihonbashi and then Budokan, and finally reached Nishi Shinjuku just about 1:10.

I didn’t ride straight home but paused at the edge of Central Park just long enough to select the navigation to José’s new flat in Ginza. And then I was off. The route took me through some heavily trafficked areas that looked quite scary on Google Street View, but which mostly proved to be easily handled — apart from one particular uphill intersection at Kita Sando with a rare Ferrari parked in my lane and a scooter in the next lane who refused to yield.

It took me just 38 minutes to arrive at José’s new flat, which he was inside cleaning. But my surprise didn’t work as planned. I phoned him up and asked him to look out the balcony, only to discover his room doesn’t face the main road. Rather than interrupt his cleaning, I entered the course back home — a somewhat different route — and set off.

Here’s where it all goes pear-shaped

A seam in the toe of my socks had been nagging me for several dozen kilometers, and despite my mental reminders to take care of it at the next stop, I kept forgetting. Just after setting off on my final leg home, I finally remembered, and pulled over to take care of this.

The Garmin was giving me clear guidance on the route home, but suddenly started displaying warnings. The display was bordered in red and there was a message that the battery was running low and the system would soon stop working. I was mystified as I’d made sure the unit was charged up before I’d left home. At a subsequent stop I flipped through the screens and saw that the Di2 battery was running low. I decided the warning concerned the Di2 battery, as the Garmin continued to operate and provide navigation clues without going into battery saving mode.

Round 2!

Bicycle leaning against ballustrade in front of Chidorgafuchi moat, with paddle boats
Chidorigafuchi again

The final route home took me once again past Budokan, but diverged after that from my usual route home. The new goal was to avoid Shinjuku station and the traffic and bad intersections around there. The route (which I’d redone several times via Google Maps and Street View) turned out to be a success. Without a large increase in distance, I managed to avoid some of the worst of the traffic.

I thought I’d be nearing 100km on this trip, so as I pulled up at the intersection nearest home I checked the Garmin: just 82km. Well, I must have miscalculated. If I’d been within 5km off 100, I’d have done a few laps around the block or around Central Park to make it up. As it was, I might as well bring it home and call it a day.

It’s a day

GPS record of cycle ride
Serendipity

I parked Kuroko in the garage, gathered up the requisite items, and got on the elevator. As soon as I was in the flat and checking the result on Strava and Garmin, I saw a big problem: the segment from José’s flat in Ginza to home was not recorded!

I was concerned when I saw this, because earlier this week the Garmin had simply shut down during a morning commute, after recording just over 2km of a 13km ride. Today was my first try at loading navigation routes on the fly, without interrupting the current ride record, and after a few minutes’ reflection I decided this was not the same thing: it was user error. When loading a new navigation route, ride recording is paused. The first time I realized this and resumed the recording; the second time I did not.

Hence I ended up not having the final 11km of riding on the record.

Of the portion that was recorded, my riding time was 3:48:56, for an average pace of 21.6km/h. This is certainly nothing to sneeze at.

Mechanicals

Bicycle leaning against ballustrade over moat, with handlebar angle highlighted
The rise and fall

I was going to record the change in handlebar angle as an unintentional mechanical, but given the benefit to my toochis, I’ve decided this does not qualify — I’m going to keep things as they are for the moment. To be clear, saddle soreness is not completely eliminated. But there’s an ache now over a larger area, whereas previously there was pain and injury concentrated in a much smaller area which today found no small amount of relief.

The failure to record the final 11km of riding today falls under user error — assuming I’m correct about the cause!

That leaves the only true mechanical being my sunglasses. Before the ride I noticed the ratcheting hinge which holds the sunglasses over the prescription lenses was loose. As I tried again and again to fix the sunglass attachment to the frames, it became apparent the hinge was failing. I mended things for this ride with a rubber band (apparent in the photos), but this warrants a visit to the optical shop.

Kawagoe on my mind

Photo montage of cyclist selfie and Kawagoe's Toki no Kane bell tower

I got a late start this morning because I visited the doctor first and then took my time getting ready. When I checked Kuroko’s tire pressure before starting, the front was holding air as well as the back (which hasn’t been the case for several months). So that was a good sign.

I didn’t feel strong setting out this morning, and the Garmin apparently agreed with me because it took its own sweet time to locate the satellites and start tracking.

Cyclist with stuffed toy fish hanging from saddle
Something fishy going on here

Nevertheless, I persisted. It wasn’t long before I was overtaken by a cyclist with something dangling from his saddle. Where other riders might have a bell or omamori, this guy was sporting a stuffed toy fish!

Feeling the heat

It was soon apparent I’d overdressed. The temperature when I set out was about 12C, with a forecast high of an unseasonable 21C. For the first time this year, I was wearing shorts and fingerless gloves, but I was also wearing a heat tech undershirt under a long-sleeved jersey. Within a few kilometers of setting out, I was feeling the heat! I resolved to remove the undershirt as soon as I got to Arakawa.

In fact the weather was perfect for riding, so long as you don’t include pollen under the “weather” category …

Missed opportunities

Along my brief jaunt up Yamate Dori to the Arakawa cycling path, I witnessed / was subjected to a number of occasions in which drivers missed out on perfect opportunities not to be a dick. One that stands out in my mind was when some construction had reduced the number of lanes from three to one. It was only a brief constriction, and yet a postal worker felt compelled to pass me in his mini truck with just 5m to go before the road opened up again — and just 30m before a red light! He gave me ample room to spare when he passed, but I just had to wonder what he thought he was gaining from that.

This is the same section of road where Fearless Leader Joe, aboard Dionysus, put out his had to signal he was coming over to avoid a parked car, only to touch the fender of a passing car whose driver declined to spare a second to give some room.

The Arakawa cycling course was dry (for a change) and windy. Going upstream from Todabashi to Kawagoe typically involves a few changes in wind direction, but they are rarely unabashedly favourable. At times I felt I was hardly making progress. But whenever I checked my speed, I was doing more than 20km/h. My first 5km split without a rest break was well under 13 minutes, despite the wind.

At my first rest stop, in addition to the usual little leaguers, I saw a handful of people preparing to fly their control-line stunt aircraft. Unfortunately they were too far away for a good picture, and I didn’t want to wait around to watch the actual flying. Several kilometers further on, I encountered a lone middle-aged man preparing to launch his radio-controlled sailplane.

Suddenly … sheep!

Farther on again, out of Tokyo and into Saitama, I was surprised by the sight of several sheep grazing on the slopes of the levy I was riding atop. They were all chained to concrete-filled tires. I’ve been by this spot on a number of occasions and this is the first time I’ve seen sheep.

Kawagoe

I reached Koedo in Kawagoe before 1 p.m., but I was still behind schedule. I’ve been here often enough now that I’m not surprised at the crowds despite the pandemic. I try my best to get my photos while staying out of everyone’s way, and then move on. I picked up some pork buns from a convenience store on the way back to the river, and sat in a park to eat them.

Long way home

I didn’t dawdle over lunch, and was soon on my way back downriver. Every beep of the Garmin just served to remind me of how much longer I had to go, as I struggled against the wind. Each time I checked, though, I was making surprisingly good time. Even if I’d taken a brief break, I still had a 5km split under 15 minutes — implying I was averaging more than 20km/h.

At this stage I was getting saddle sore and my fingers were getting numb. My thighs were tired but not overly so, so I shifted around in my seat and tried various hand positions to keep going. In my head I was drawing various vector maps to explain to Fearless Leader Joe and Sanborn that a crosswind would slow my progress in either direction — a legacy of several misspent years at university studying aeronautical engineering.

But despite my whingeing and my aches and pains, the kilometers were flying by underneath Kuroko’s tires. I stopped after a climb to surmount the levy and watched a paraglider soaring over the river and golf greens. Further on, I passed the field where the sheep had been grazing and they were gone. Before too long, I was descending from the levy towards the plain by the river, and the wind was no longer against me. The kilometers ticked away, and I lifted my hands one by one and rested them against the small of my back to get some feeling in my fingers again.

Back into traffic

I reached the Arakawa course sign — the point where I leave the cycling course and head back into traffic — at 2:47 p.m. I had roughly 13.5km to go through traffic to get home. I messaged Nana (who was relaxing at the sauna by this point) that I would be home by 4, “or thereabouts.” (Some subtleties of the English language are wasted on her. If I say I’ll be home by 4, she’ll be calling the police if I’m not there by 4:01.) I was low on water and I had a headache — whether from the jouncing or the sun or something else, I had no idea.

Back in traffic, I was playing mind games with my fatigue and my stats. “I’m doing 16 minute 5km splits — I’ll be home sooner than I think!” The traffic lights were unimpressed with my reasoning. There’s a long, slow drag out of the Arakawa river valley about 2km after leaving the river, and I shifted to a lower gear than usual to make my way up. Further on — more traffic, more lights — I stayed on the road as it rose over train tracks rather than move to the sidewalk and mix it up with pedestrians in the lanes clearly marked for bicycles.

In addition to the 5km splits, the Garmin was showing me a turn coming up: just 7km to go. I couldn’t quite remember which turn I’d plotted on the course from Yamate Dori back to our tower mansion, but regardless, that was an indication of just 7km+ to go. I spared my thighs as I knew this was a wavy bit of road, and the last uphill to Nakano Sakaue, just before turning off to our tower mansion, was a bit of a challenge.

In the end, I got the green light at the bottom of the downhill just before the climb to Nakano Sakaue, and so had lots of momentum to get up the hill. I hardly minded when I hit a red with perhaps another 2-3m of climbing to go.

GPS record of cycle ride
Kawagoe on my mind

I got home well before 4 p.m. and saved my ride. After parking Kuroko in the Workshop in the Sky (she desperately needs a bath) I checked my stats and received a huge surprise: I’d not only made fairly good time for the day, but I had a number of personal bests on the segments where I really felt I was struggling — particularly upriver on the Arakawa.

It just reinforces something I’ve been learning in the years since GPS has given me objective records to review: our perception of speed is often far removed from our actual progress.

The next thing I did after arriving home was to enjoy a cold brew in a nice hot bath, which is where Nana found me when she returned home from the sauna — and informed me I’d left the door unlocked.

Why are we riding when it’s cold?

Bicycle leaning against Kawazuzakura tree in bloom

I’d thought about having a longer ride last weekend, but schedules changed and I ended up with a deadline. José was available to ride, under the same conditions, and we decided as we’d done Yokohama in 6 hours previously then that would be the plan.

It was still just 4C when we met in Futako, and the first words out of José’s mouth were, “Why are we riding when it’s cold?” In fact the sun was out and I’d already started warming up from the exertion, so before continuing on I took off my outer jacket and stuffed it in the saddlebag.

Sakura

Kawazuzakura blossoms against blue sky
Kawazuzakura

Just 3km south of Futako on the Tamagawa course there’s a rest area with a line of sakura trees. Half the trees are kawazuzakura, a special, early blossoming variety named after their town of origin: Kawazu at the southern tip of Izu peninsula.

Ripping his legs off

As we rode it soon became apparent the José was not on his usual form. I had to strain to look over my shoulder at times to see him hundreds of meters back. I knew he could catch me anytime he wanted, so I didn’t worry as long as I could see him every few kilometers. I stopped and waited once at a detour to make sure he found the correct route.

At the next rest stop, José told me he’d been to the gym the previous two days in a row, and had in addition run 5km. So his thighs were not completely fresh.

Meanwhile I was feeling OK, but not at my best. We joked about the one serious — brief but steep — climb waiting for us in Yokohama, and I began wondering if I would make it.

Over the river and through the traffic

We crossed over the Tamagawa on the Rokugo Bridge and descended into the steady traffic and uneven pavement of Rte. 15. As has become our habit on the Yokohama ride, we soon stopped at a park for the first of the delicious asari onigiri prepared fresh by Nana that morning. We didn’t dawdle but soon mounted up again and continued on the long, straight road into Yokohama.

Not sending their best

Yokohama Bay Bridge
Yokohama Bay Bridge

We stopped once more at a convenience store just before the climb to Minato no Miero Oka Koen, our destination, and I waited patiently while José finished a protein drink. Then we pedaled off again, waited for the light and finally began our climb.

I immediately dropped to Kuroko’s best climbing gear, and José powered past me just seconds later. I have a long habit of making it just past the steepest part of the climb and then running out of steam immediately afterwards, but I’ve made it in a single go on my last two attempts. Alas, it was not to be — as I reached the steepest section I just ran out of reserves. I watched in bemusement, though, as José struggled slowly on ahead of me: usually by this time he’d be well out of sight at the top. To my amazement, he remained in view the entire time I paused to catch my breath and let the ache in my thighs subside. (In fact my break was so short it barely registered on the Garmin.)

I mounted up again and got off to a wobbly uphill start, but soon I reached the top. It proved to be my third best effort on this particular climb. José was out of sight by this time, but I caught up to him just as he was parking his bicycle by the observation deck. We stopped long enough to finish off the onigiri, plus the supplements that José had procured at the convenience store.

Into the wind

On the way back, we were beset by a headwind, and now we both had aching thighs. In addition, my more tender regions were starting to swell up at the point of contact with the saddle. I shifted my position frequently, trying to ease the pressure, as we once again braved the traffic. I made it through a light just as it was changing, while José — a good couple of dozen meters behind — was mindful of the police car waiting at the light as he decided to wait out the red.

We didn’t break any records on the way home, although I put in my second-best effort for the entire Rte. 15 stretch from Yokohama back to the Tamagawa — much to my surprise. Over the bridge into Tokyo, we stopped again at another convenience store (at my urging) and had a nice, long break with Snickers bars and sweetened café au lait. We rested long enough that we started to feel chilled again as we stood in the shade of the convenience store parking lot.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Why are we riding when it’s cold?

The wind continued to dog us as we returned up the Tamagawa. At times I felt we were barely making progress, while my dissatisfaction with the saddle only increased. José and I parted ways at Futako and I climbed out of the river valley in my lowest gear. In the small park where I always rest after the climb, I noted it was already 1 p.m. We’d been making good time in the morning, but now — between the extended breaks and the upwind struggle — I knew I was going to fall behind my previous 6-hour mark for the ride.

I messaged Nana I would be home by about 2. There was no reply — she’d already departed for the sauna. I did what I could for the ride home through traffic, against the wind and with failing thighs, and arrived at 1:54, sore and worn out. As quickly as I could manage it with my remaining strength, I unloaded the GPS, empty water bottles and discarded onigiri wrappers from Kuroko, ascended to our flat in the sky, and slid into a hot, relaxing bath.

Leisurely

In the end, I’d finished with a riding time of 4 hours 29 minutes, for an average moving speed of 19.6km/h. This was a bit more leisurely than the pace of 4 hours 9 minutes (21.1km/h) I’d done on the same route in October (when I cleared the climb to Minato no Mieru in a single go). Likewise my total elapsed time was 6 hours 36 minutes, with lots of generous rests, compared to a more blistering 5 hours 51 minutes on the previous occasion.