It was several degrees cooler this weekend than last, but I still chose a non-challenging route: Yokohama. Mostly I wanted a change of scenery. The way to Yokohama is mostly flat, but a long stretch of it is in traffic (in fact we’re only on the bike path for a handful of kilometers), and worse than the traffic and bad pavement of Rte. 15 is stopping for every third traffic light and waiting. (I’m sure that gives us time to rest our hands and thighs, though.)
On my last ride to Yokohama I discovered a small park about 15km before the goal that’s a perfect place to stop and enjoy one of Nana’s world-famous onigiri — so long as some ojisan isn’t spraying insecticide all over the park when we arrive.
We had much less traffic through Yokohama this time, but Yatozaka doesn’t change: it’s still a 24m climb at 8.7% average and a long mid-section at 15%. As usual, the Halfakid charged straight up it, while I soldiered through the 15% section and then stopped in the 9%-10% section, just as the going was about to ease up. Unlike every previous occasion, though, this time I continued on after a brief rest. Yes, I rode all the way to the top! And a PR on Strava confirms this was my best performance on this particular hill.
The forecast for today (after several changes) was for sunny weather, and that finally proved true as we arrived in Yokohama. At Minato no Mieru Oka Koen, we found a seat in the shade to finish off our onigiri and guzzle some water.
The ride home was uneventful apart from the maracas in my bottom bracket. I must do something about that within the next week — before the delivery company picks up Kuroko for the next Tour de Tohoku. When we got back across the Tama River into Tokyo we stopped at a convenience store for Pokari and energy food. And then the Halfakid took off towards Nikotama, leaving me in the dust. And what dust: as we rode upstream along the Tama, we were swarmed by gnats and coated with airborne sand blown up from the baseball diamonds along the river.
We didn’t rest long at the top of the climb out of the Tama River valley — we were making good time and eager to get home to beer and bath (or shower, in my case). I made a brief farewell to the Halfakid at his apartment and continued on home, still making good time. I arrived home just 6 hours 39 minutes after having left, or 4 hours 6 minutes riding. I think that may be a record for me to get to Yokohama and back, and according to Strava I set several personal bests along the way, although I really didn’t think I’d been striving.
You can handle that. It looks vertical on a map, but for 20m I bet that horrible one in Devon was worse – the one that I said as we were freewheeling down, “thank goodness we’re not going up this one”, to which you replied “Wait!”, and then we went up it on the other side.
Did we really only have that conversation once?
I do wonder if that’s the part he’s talking about, although that’s only 9% for a rise of 90m. There were definitely some shorter climbs that were steeper …
That’s the course for this year’s Tour de Tohoku, coming up in just two weeks. There’s a fair amount of climbing there, but not more than I did on any given day of Lejog. But what’s this little blip near the beginning of the ride?
Just to the right of that vertical line: It’s not even 20m of climbing but … it’s vertical?
I turned to Map My Ride to get a clearer view of the elevation at that point.
The climb is only 80m horizontally, but just a hair shy of 16.5m vertically. That’s a 20% grade — actually 20.6%.
It’ll be all right … ?
I remembered getting into some climbing around there last year, just after leaving the first rest stop at Onagawa Station, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle (that came later). Should be fine, right? But a closer look at the route showed I was wrong: we’d taken a different route away from Onagawa Station.
I turned next to Google Maps to get some idea of what’s going on. When I zoomed down to Street View, it just showed some turns, on some older-looking pavement. I scratched my head, and then zoomed out a few notches.
The road used to go around that hill, right by the water side. Now, apparently, it goes over the hill.
The good news is we’re taking that hill from left to right (heading southeast), after a nice flat stretch to build up speed. Because from the other direction, it’s even steeper.
As the full course elevation shows, there’s a lot more climbing to do than this measly 20m — we top 60m just another 900m further on (average 6.7%), and the biggest climb is just before the midpoint at a 90m rise over nearly a 2km run (average 4.7%). But these are considerably less steep.
I haven’t calculated all the climb percentages — if I do that, I may not want to join the ride! But it looks like overall the course matches my experience from last year: the longest, highest climb is going to be far from the most challenging one.
Good thing I’ve lost so much weight in preparation.
With the upcoming Tour de Tohoku having so much climbing, I thought it was important today to have some practice. Otarumi Touge (pass), near Takaosan, is perfect for this. There’s a gradual rise of almost 200m over the more than 40km from Tokyo to Takaosan Guchi, and then a 6% rise over the last few kilometers to the top. What I wasn’t counting on was leaving my legs home in bed today.
The day started off well enough, but once we crossed the Tama River and began following the Asa River westward, I started lagging. The Halfakid commented on it several times.
Where’s your energy today?
In the past.
I’m not sure why I was lagging so much today, but the heat was definitely playing a role.
We stopped at our usual convenience store, with its bicycle stands and picnic tables in the shade, and ate Nana’s world-famous onigiri. Also some fried chicken, cheese, etc. A group of cyclists, all wearing the same gear, came rolling in from the direction of the pass. The Halfakid and I joked about whether I had the energy to continue. I said, “OK, let’s get going. Or, you could go and I could wait here for you, eating ice cream.”
Once we set out, the Halfakid asked if I would make it up to the pass without stopping to rest. “That’s a very, very good question,” I told him. In fact that was the goal — I’ve come close but not made it in the past, while the Halfakid always rides “Straight — to the top!” But I’m sorry to report that after I’d only gone about half way, I just needed to stop and rest. After that, it was go for 100-200m, and then stop to rest. This was the pattern I’d followed during the longer climbs on the recent ride in England. After each rest when I set out I felt refreshed, as if I could continue onwards from there. But then inevitably, before 200m or so had passed, I found myself needing to stop for a rest again. I started looking for turn-offs that would be in the shade, particularly if I could see a long stretch ahead where there was no good place to get off the road onto a shoulder.
All good things must come to an end, and eventually even listless climbing in blazing sunshine and heat will bring one to the top of the pass. I looked in vain for a seat in the shade, and eventually sat in the gravel with my back against a woodpile as I drank cold water from the vending machine — but at least I was in the shade! “Wake me at 5 a.m. so I can get to work on time,” I joked with the Halfakid.
But the truth is that it’s generally downhill from that point all the way back to home. Once I’d rested enough to continue we plunged back down the mountain to the convenience store in Takaosan, after stopping for a photo at Takasosan Guchi.
The Halfakid was a bit confused, because he’d stayed with me throughout the descent, whereas previously I’d left him in my dust. “Is there a problem with your bike?” I told him that — unlike the previous time — I’d been riding the brakes the entire way down. I just didn’t feel as brave this time around all the blind curves on the descent.
I had a pork bun at the convenience store and we shared a bottle of ocha. From there we continued home. And suddenly, I felt as if I had my legs! I’m not sure how much of this was the fact we were trending downhill (although at this point imperceptibly — at any given moment the path appeared to be level) and how much was due to the well-known phenomenon that the horse is always faster on the way back to the barn than on the way out. Meanwhile, at those points where the path was straight and familiar, the Halfakid was rocketing ahead, to wait for me at the next turning point.
From the convenience store in Takaosan, we went straight to the bridge taking us back across the Tama River. Back into Tokyo, as I think of it, although truth to be told today’s entire ride was within the boundaries of Tokyo. (The place we stopped at Otarumi Touge is just a step over the border into Kanagawa Prefecture.) Our usual rest spot is within view of the bridge from there. After a rest of several minutes and many milliliters of water, we continued down along the Tama River towards home.
Whether it was Nana’s onigiri, consumed en route, or the retreat of the temperature from the day’s high, or a combination of these things, I really had my legs back at this point. We made good time beating our way back downstream along the cycle path before heading into city traffic. We took one final break at a small park just where our route diverges from the Tama River, and I messaged Nana with an update of when she could expect me to be home.
From here I let the Halfakid take the lead as he knows the way, and we dodged in and out of traffic. There are a couple of significant climbs in traffic along the way, and I set personal bests on them (according to the Garmin). I left the Halfakid at his apartment and continued to push myself for the remaining 8km to home. Was I rewarded? Indeed: a new personal best for 40km of 1:37:24 (largely downhill, of course).
We chose to ride to Haneda today, a short ride, because of the brutal heat and the fact I hadn’t verified everything was working OK with Kuroko. By the time I’d reached the Halfakid’s apartment, I knew that I had to tighten up some of the spokes in the rear wheel following the spoke replacement job. But aside from that and the rear derailleur needing some adjustment, Kuroko seems to be in good shape. I’ve got a replacement bottom bracket on order, but if it ain’t broke then I ain’t gonna fix it.
The Halfakid encountered a bit more pressing of a mechanical with a flat on the rear. I had a pump and he had a spare innertube and some tire levers, so it didn’t take us long to get back on the road.
The flat gave us a good excuse to have a rest in the shade and drink some water. Despite the fact we’d loaded our water bottles with ice, just 45 minutes after leaving home the water was already warm. After sorting out the flat we stopped after another 5km to refill our bottles before continuing on the final stretch to Haneda. We were riding into the wind and we could both feel it fighting us. For a while the Halfakid let me slipstream him, and it made quite a difference.
At Haneda we sat in the shade to eat onigiri and drink cold water from a vending machine. According to my phone it was 35C, making it hotter than my last ride two weeks ago. This was precisely the reason we wanted to take it easy!
The ride home was hot and sweaty, but with the wind. The difference in speed was as much as 6-7km/h over the ride down into the wind. My rear derailleur was making more noise, but I judged it would get me home without trouble. We came to the climb out of the Tama River valley, 20m up at a bit more than 4%, and even the Halfakid said he was dying. But he was up the hill long before I was and waited for me in the little park at the top. From there the ride home in traffic was uneventful.
The peak temperature was not as high as my last ride, but the average was higher. The vertical drops in temperature indicate when we were sitting in the shade: to fix the flat tire and to have the onigiri.
Finally, Mr Gouty Toe was aching moderately all day. Not being gouty, but just reminding me that certain lifestyle choices have consequences.
I knew the forecast was for a hot day, 35C, but I set out anyway with no trepidation. I’ve ridden in this weather before, and probably as high as 36-37C. I just have to remember not to push it too hard, and to keep drinking lots of water.
I was actually making a good pace, watching my speed and my 5km splits, for the first 40km or so. I’d stopped about kilometer 37 for a couple of onigiri and a long rest, with fresh water. And then I realized the goal was not to kill myself in pursuit of heat stroke, but to actually finish and survive. I switched the GPS to navigation mode, where I would just see the route and not the stats, and immediately dropped the pace.
The next take-it-easy realization was that I did not need to cover the remaining 15km to Hamura in one go. I often do this segment without stopping, but this time it made sense to have a brief rest in the shade about mid-way and have some water before continuing. I was very glad I did, because by the time I rolled into Hamura it was all I could do to keep the bike upright.
After enjoying the view of all that clean, cool water at Hamura, I sat down in the shade to eat the remaining onigiri and have a good rest. I was so worn down by the heat that this point it was all I could do to sit upright. I removed my bandana, mask, shades, gloves and shoes and made a proper rest of it. With the last of the onigiri inside me, as well as a liter of water, I laid down on the park bench for about half an hour. When I got up, I felt a bit better — but I wasn’t sure I was up to the task of getting home.
The first few kilometers of the return went by well enough. But by the time I reached the little park where I’d had my first onigiri break, I was looking for ice cream. I wasn’t just thinking about cooling down — I needed more calories than I’d gotten from Nana’s world-famous onigiri. I checked the GPS and there was a convenience store just a couple of blocks away. That seemed perfect: I could get the ice cream and return to this park to enjoy it.
I was soon on a fairly major road headed back towards the city, but there was no sign of the convenience store I’d seen on the GPS map. I continued on — there should be one before long on a major street like this, right? I’d gone a couple of kilometers or more when I saw a Lawson on the other side of the street. Just as I was thinking of turning around, I spotted a FamilyMart just ahead.
With a couple of ice creams in my bag, I checked the map for a park. There was one just on the other side of the convenience store, so I made for that. When I arrived, though, there was almost no shade. I sat down in the grass underneath a fairly scrawny tree and tried to keep my neck out of the sun as I wolfed down the ice cream. I tried the water in my bottle but it was too warm — almost hot! Fortunately I spotted a water fountain and refilled my bottle, drank it down and filled it up once again. I didn’t see any point in filling up the second bottle, because it would be too warm to drink by the time I got to it.
Once again I checked the map, this time to see how far I’d strayed from the bike path. It was already more than a couple of kilometers. On the other hand, if I stayed on the road I’d have less than 30km to get home. This was a major reduction in distance. Given how bad I was feeling at this point — headache, sunburn and weak as a kitten — I decided that the short route home would be best. I got on the bike and started watching the signs for home, counting down the kilometers.
After a few kilometers, I stopped and took my bearings. And now I saw that if I continued along the same route, I’d end up on the highway. Yes, that might get me home quickly … Instead I located another route just a few hundred meters off to the side, and made for that. Once again I started counting down the kilometers to home. I was stopping every 5km or so to take my bearings, and to message Nana that I was on my way. I was really taking it easy now and I wanted her to know that although I was running behind schedule, everything was fine.
At last, when I stopped at another convenience store for some bottled water (nice and cold), the map showed I was less than 10km from home, and it was a straight shot. Soon I recognized the neighborhood of our favorite sushi restaurant, and then a shrine we visited last New Year’s Day (or was that two years ago?). I knew just where I was and had a fairly good mental picture now of how far I had to go. I kept pedaling.
Suddenly, with just a kilometer to go, I got a sharp cramp in a hamstring of my left leg. The pain was intense! I wasn’t sure I could pedal it out, but I gritted my teeth and turned the cranks. I’m happy to report that within a couple of hundred meters I’d worked out the cramp.
And then I was nearly home! Just before the final turning, as I was working around a parked car, an old guy on a scooter with a cigarette dangling from his lips shouted at me to watch where I was going. I shouted back that he had plenty of time to see me. And then when I saw he was sitting at the next red light, I dodged down a side street and rolled up next to our tower. I saved the ride on the Garmin and then messaged Nana that I was home, at last.
How hot was it? The phone never reported above 34C, and that’s what the weather news reported yesterday evening as well. But this heat profile from the Garmin tells a different story:
(The Garmin website notes that the temperature is influenced by direct sunlight on the device, among other things. So, while the air temperature probably never exceeded 34C, the temperature in my helmet — and my saddle if I dismounted for more than a few seconds — might have been quite a bit higher at times.)
The day dawned cloudy and dismal. The forecast chance of rain was low but not non-existent. I decided to give it a go, regardless. I’d already decided on a shorter ride and one that kept me within Tokyo in case there was any further mechanical trouble.
I’d gone a bit softer on the tires today as they’re designed for it, and until now I’ve been riding them at maximum pressure. From the moment I started I thought I had another flat in the rear. But I stopped and checked, and it was nice and firm. OK, so that’s how it feels when it’s run soft: a bit squirrelly, as if it’s running flat. I decided to continue on, giving the lower pressure a try to see if I adapted to it.
The next thing I noticed was some vibration in the front when I was breaking. I determined that the wheel was in securely, but then found the fork had a bit of play. When I got to my first stop at Meiji Jingu, I tightened it up. It was fine after that.
Meanwhile, the rear derailleur, which had given me so much trouble recently, was fine. All shifts were immediate and sure, there was no extra noise from the drivetrain, and there was no double-shifting required. I was very pleased with the result.
Meanwhile it had begun to sprinkle a bit. Nana had checked in, warning me that the forecast had changed to rain. It wasn’t bad and so I decided to continue. In fact it just sprinkled for a few minutes and then let up again. I don’t even think the pavement got wet. But with the sky so dismal and grey, I didn’t stop as often for photos as I usually do.
As I pressed on, I was still getting used to the tires feeling a bit spongy. Combined with the new, padded and more flexible saddle, occasionally the bike would start to pogo a bit, very gently, a bit like a car with soft springs and no shocks. At times I had to wonder if the rear wheel had gone out of round, but it was fine. I think for the next ride I’ll add back some of the pressure, try to find a happy medium.
Like the tires, my thighs felt a bit spongy. I don’t know how to account for this. Since abandoning in Carlisle, I’ve followed a strict training regimen for four weeks consisting of lots of beer and potato chips, and not a speck of exercise. Surely my legs should be fully recovered by now!
I’ve followed a strict training regimen for four weeks
Anyway, it was not my goal to set any personal records today, and I’m happy to state I fully achieved that. I just wanted to get back on the bike, and discover if my recent repairs had worked and if there were any remaining gremlins.
I stopped to rest and eat at Big Sight, and after that my thighs felt better. I knew I was still a bit off my usual pace, and didn’t know whether to blame that on the softer tires or something else.
Luck is more capricious bitch than Lady, in my experience.
In terms of mechanicals encountered en route today, Luck was neither a perfect lady nor a chrome-plated bitch. More of a lady who whispers a catty remark about the hostess in your ear, rather than saying it loud for all to hear and ruining the party. In addition to the loose fork, which was quickly remedied, I had the drivetrain lock up midway up one of the steeper climbs. I got the bike off the road and gave the pedal a few kicks, and it started turning again. I have no idea. A while later on I noticed the rear thru axle had loosened. It’s possible the chain had locked between the derailleur and sprocket when the wheel was loose. I’m not sure. I tightened the thru axle and didn’t experience any repeat of the lock-up.
Finally on the way up the Arakawa towards Skytree in the second half of the ride, the crankset bearings started making some noise again. So I’ll need to tighten those up once again.
Apart from the one lock-up, I didn’t have any trouble with the climbs today. I usually don’t on this route. I took it nice and easy up Kudanzaka past Budokan and took a brief rest at Chidorigafuchi. I knew there were just a couple of more up-and-downs until I was home, and so I messaged Nana that I would be about 40 minutes more. After a few sips of water, I mounted up again for the final leg of the ride.
No additional gremlins poked their heads out on the remainder of the ride. I arrived home without incident and parked the bike. In the shower and with the prospect of a cold beer waiting, I took stock of the saddle sore situation. I have some mild aching under the “sit bones,” but nothing like the swelling I’ve been experiencing recently. Furthermore, the ache was evenly distributed from right to left, while previously the swelling was concentrated on the left side. With just 60km today it’s too early to make conclusions about a 14-hour, 150km slog, but so far it seems the new saddle is working out better.
After I’d uploaded my results, I realized I should have made a couple of extra laps around our condo building to bring the total up to 60km.
It was my intention to blog each day’s ride from the road, while it was still fresh in my mind, so long as conditions permitted. As it happened, though, I would be lying in bed after dinner with my phone in hand and my eyelids drooping. Fearless Leader Joe would prod me to put the phone away, and I would plug it in to charge and go to sleep. (This was significant as it turned out the phone would not charge unless it had been shut off — see a list of things that didn’t quite work as expected in Hors de Combat.)
Day 1: Sunday, June 16
We had an early start from northwest London down to Paddington Station to catch the train to Penzance. At this point FLJ was riding an interim bike (albeit one he’s previously ridden for London to Paris and Berlin to Amsterdam), and we had a plan for his brother to meet us en route once the new bike had arrived. So we sent out with a less-than-full load, leaving behind all our camping gear and indeed anything else we wouldn’t need for the first two or three days’ riding, as that could come in the car along with the new bike. It was a quick and flat 10km to Paddington, largely in traffic, although we did manage to get briefly off-course when we were quite near the destination.
We made it to Paddington Station with time to spare. We asked a station worker about carrying the bikes on the train — FLJ had reserved our spot beforehand — and got a very helpful explanation including a quick jaunt up alongside one of the earlier trains as it waited in the station. We bought a couple of sandwiches to have lunch aboard the train, but the worker serving FLJ was less helpful. When he asked if she could cut the sandwiches in half, she replied, “We’re not a kitchen.”
There’s room for four bikes on each train, two each in two different carriages. It’s first-come first-served when it comes to carriage choice, although the bikes must be booked beforehand so there’s no real fight to be one of the four (or two of the four, in our case). We initially found we were seated far from where the bikes were stored, and were a bit concerned about their safety. But when we asked a helpful railway worker, she cheerfully pointed out there were many available seats and we were free to take our pick as long as the seats were not previously booked. We moved into the same carriage where the bikes were stored.
Once settled in, our only concern was the time to Penzance. This was indeed a British train, and we were soon behind schedule. As the day wore on, we fell further and further behind. Our worry was that we had booked a taxi from Penzance to Land’s End for half an hour after the scheduled arrival of the train, and so that created a deadline of sorts for us. But as I repeatedly reminded FLJ during the train ride, the Penzance taxi company was certainly used to trains arriving late.
In the end, the train staff arranged to skip several intermediate stops, and we made up something like 15 minutes (of a 40-minute delay) in this way. FLJ called ahead to the taxi company to let them know the train was running behind so there was no problem when we eventually pulled into Penzance.
After an uneventful taxi ride (FLJ in the front chatting up the driver and me in the back with the bikes), we arrived at Land’s End. We’d heard that there was a charge to have photos at the famous sign post, and this turned out to be partly true: If we wanted to have our names spelled out on the sign post and have prints mailed to us, there was a charge. But it was free to stand slightly off to the side and have someone else snap us using our phones.
The wind was stiff and frigid in Land’s End, and so we were eager to be on our way. Once clear of the point, we turned onto a somewhat bumpy horse trail and we were out of most of the wind. We followed the trail for only a couple of kilometers before joining up with the road. From there it was a matter of retracing the taxi ride back to Penzance, largely on the A30, and from there onwards!
From Penance, we turned inland and headed for the northern coast of the peninsula before turning east, a route that kept us away from the A30. The course soon took us into minor farm roads and in a couple of cases horse trails. There was a notable climb over a very stony horse trail just a few kilometers before the end, but we just slowed our pace and continued on. We pulled into Three Burrows, where we’d booked a room at the Chiverton Arms, before 7 p.m. with plenty of light to spare but also with the beginning sprinkles of a threatening rain. We quickly showered up and headed for dinner. As it was Sunday, it was a roast dinner consisting of just what we needed: calories and more calories, washed down by a local ale! As might be expected, we slept like dead men despite the ride having been a brief 60km.
Day 2: Monday, June 17
The day dawned with fair weather, and we breakfasted on sandwiches provided the previous evening by the Chiverton staff. We departed Three Burrows about 7:30 on the A30, and were soon being chased by enormous lorries up and down the solar panel-clad hills. We turned off the main highway after not too many kilometers (FLJ may have a different opinion as it was his backside the lorries were breathing down). But we weren’t on the country roads too long before our first mechanical: following a wrong turning, I clipped a barrier with my pannier and tore it from the bicycle rack. A quick inspection showed the pannier’s mounting clip was broken, so we secured it to the rack with a bungee cord (having packed several in anticipation). Not much farther on, I flatted on the rear. We pulled off the road at the entrance to a farmhouse (where lived what proved to be a friendly woman and a friendlier dog) and I set to work replacing the tube.
It didn’t take long to sort out the flat, but in that time we were passed by a rider heading in the opposite direction at speed. FLJ called out to him and he reversed course and came back to spend a pleasant 10 minutes chatting with us. He was on his 10th (and last) day of Jogle: John O’Groats to Land’s End. He did look rather more athletic than either of us, although a similar age, and said he’d been riding 150-160km per day. (We learned, too, that we had to specify “kilometers” whenever we discussed numbers which the locals, who tend to default to miles.) His advice for us was not to be afraid to get off and push when conditions warranted it, and his complaint was that some of the trails were of such poor condition that he’d have preferred to ride in traffic, regardless of how heavy.
When we heard that, we were reminded of the stony horse trail of the day before. But we’d no sooner set out when we encountered even worse: a horse trail that was so overgrown and muddy that it beggared the definition of “trail.” We spent some time debating whether our friend had come the same way as he hadn’t specifically mentioned this obstacle and we came to it so soon after leaving him, all the while pushing, riding and otherwise coaxing our steeds through the nettles and the sludge.
We were back on the road after a couple of kilometers, but it was the start of a whole lot of “up-down.” We’d done only a fraction of our climbing for the day when we stopped for lunch at the Snail’s Pace Café at Wenford Bridge on the River Camel. We had a delicious al fresco lunch in the company of a rather amusing couple out for a jaunt with their dogs.
We didn’t dawdle long, though, as we were still facing quite a lot of climbing for the day, as well as threatening weather. Immediately after we left the Camel Trail behind, we began a Category 4 climb, including a 3km stretch at an average of 4%. (And as I always say, if the average is X%, then that implies … ) FLJ was breezing ahead on most of the climbs, and I was struggling along to the top, sounding like a Boeing 737 MAX fighting for altitude — but making it, even if I had to stop to rest partway up at times. The threatened rain came and that, combined with the narrow roads clogged with mud from farm vehicles, ensured we were soon spattered from head to toe.
We were on a swift downhill still about 35km from our planned goal for the day when the pavement suddenly transitioned from smooth to broken, partly hidden by the puddles and mud. I splashed through at speed on my fat tires but soon realized I needed to bring the pace down. Meanwhile, behind me, FLJ had hit bottom with his skinnies and flatted, and was calling out to me for several kilometers before I heard him.
We pulled to a stop at another farm gate, rather muddier than the first, and set about fixing the flat. FLJ had not brought tools, a tire pump or patch kit, and had never changed a flat before. He had bought a spare before we left London, though, and he was eager to learn to fix the flat himself. So under my tutelage (and occasional lent hand) he set to work. It probably wasn’t more than 20 minutes before we were ready to continue on our way.
Within 10km or so of our latest flat, we rolled downhill into Hatherleigh. Our scheduled stop for the night was another 20km farther on, but faced with the 4% grade up out of Hatherleigh and further burgeoning rains, and given it was about 8:30 p.m., we decided to call it a day. We’d already climbed 1,680m in one day — a vertical mile and change. FLJ walked into a grocery co-op as I watched the bikes (a pattern that was to be repeated countless times throughout the ride), where a local told him there was lodging just a few meters up the road.
The George, established c. 1450 (but with somewhat updated plumbing), turned out to be the nicest hotel we stayed this trip, with an extremely friendly and helpful Danish maître d’hôtel. He quickly agreed to allow us to park our bicycles in an unused portion of the restaurant, and brought a clothes rack into our room to help us dry our wet cycling gear over the radiator. Following a delicious dinner we retired to our room and got in a very good night’s sleep.
Day 3: Tuesday, June 18
In the morning, FLJ’s tire had gone flat again. We’d obviously missed something during our roadside repair the previous evening. Joe spent some time searching the tire for any foreign object and came up empty, and then spent even more time struggling to get the tire back on the wheel with the patched tube from the previous day (as he’d only brought one spare). After watching him fight for more time than should be needed to fix 10 flats, I took over the job and had the tire on in a matter of moments.
FLJ pumped up the tire and went to fetch his gear. But while he was gone I quickly spotted the issue: the tire hadn’t seated properly on the rim and was bulging out significantly in one spot. We let the air out and reseated the tire, then filled it up again. This time, with a little extra care, the tire seated properly. And so we had a clue why we’d had another flat within 10km of the first: a pinch flat from an improperly seated tire bead. We had no more trouble from this tire over the next two days (after which we replaced the bike).
We were eager to be on the road and try to make up the lost 20km of the previous day, but by the time the flat was fixed it was after 8 a.m. — the hotel restaurant was open and we helped ourselves to breakfast before the le depart. Then we were on the road and climbing that 4% grade out of Hatherleigh and on towards Lapford (which had been our goal the night before). It was all up and down over this portion — mostly up — although not always as steep as the first bit, and it took us two hours to cover the first 22km of the day.
We didn’t stay long in Lapford — just long enough to eat a couple of Snickers bars and gulp some water. We were still climbing at this point, although more gradually now, and then the rain started coming down in earnest. If we’d thought we’d been wet and muddy on Monday, we were soon shown just how mistaken we were. There was nothing for it but to soldier onwards: as FLJ noted, you can only be soaked through once. After another couple of hours of riding we descended into Tiverton and looked about for a place to have lunch. A local saw us peering in the windows of a café that was being refurbished and directed us onward a few hundred meters, where we found the Half Moon, a pub that was out of the rain, if nothing else. (We did have to park the bikes out front in the rain, locked to each other, but a little water wasn’t going to hurt them.) Before long we were warming up over fish & chips and hot tea, which was filling and hot if nothing else. We didn’t spend a lot of time over the food, though, before we got back out into the wet.
The good news was we were past the lion’s share of the climbing, at least for the first portion of the trip, as we entered the midlands. We soon found ourselves on a canal tow-path, admirably flat and free of auto traffic. Tow paths were to be a feature of the next few days of riding, and we soon learned the trade-offs: while they were flat and free of traffic, they were often poorly paved (or not paved at all) and we encountered a number of people walking dogs that were not on leash. I’m happy to report we didn’t have any issues with dogs chasing us. The only worry was that we would run them over as they failed to get out of the way. Most owners called their dogs to themselves and held them off the path when they heard us coming, and we learned to call out to them to give them lots of notice.
With our late morning start and the fighting through the rain, it was late afternoon when we pulled into Taunton for a coffee and snack at a Starbucks to warm up and give ourselves energy for the last kick. We were back on the canal path after this and soon ran into trouble: construction that completely blocked the route. For lack of a marked detour, we worked our way around the construction barrier to continue onwards — we’d already encountered a number of locations where a road closed to traffic still allowed cycles to pass. Unfortunately in this case we were soon slogging into deep mud and clay as we attempted to traverse a genuine construction area. We were lucky in the end when a worker spotted us on the security cameras and came to chase us off the lot. We explained our predicament to him and he was suddenly friendly, guiding us on towards Bridgwater where we could rejoin the canal.
We left the lot scraping mud and clay from our feet and tires (I couldn’t get my cleats to clip in for all the clay) and followed the directions. Before long, indeed, we found ourselves back at the canal. Unfortunately at this point we made our second great mistake of the day (not counting the fish & chips lunch, that is), and unwittingly turned the wrong direction on the canal. We then worked our way all the way back to the construction area, but this time from the other side. We didn’t fully realize the extent of our error until we’d made our way back into city traffic and FLJ spotted a shop we’d previously passed. It took me a few minutes to realize he was correct, and at that point — in the dark and rain — we decided to stop for the night in Bridgwater. We soon located a hotel where the staff batted not a single eyebrow at our mud-spattered condition and agreed to lock up our bikes in a storage room. We headed out in the desultory rain for dinner at a nearby Domino’s Pizza. Back at the hotel, we spent some time washing the mud and clay from our clothing in the hotel shower before collapsing into bed.
Fearless Leader Joe, Sanborn and I took on this same mountain pass in Novemberand lived to tell the tale with a few differences. First, we’d started from Kyoto and gone to Nara before joining Rte. 308 heading west, while Jonny started in Osaka and headed east. That means Jonny had a steeper walk/push up, but then a more navigable descent towards Nara. (The descent from Kuragari pass towards Osaka is too steep, too narrow and has too many switchbacks to work up any speed.)
Oh. And Jonny was riding a cheap city bike, a chari in the local patois, while we had a variety of mounts ranging from light-years beyond a chari all the way up to FLJ’s carbon-framed Jamis Renegade. (Of course, I was on Kuroko, but this was before I’d swapped out the crankset for better climbing ability. Not that it would have made much difference … )
Another difference is that Jonny was armed with the knowledge that Rte. 308 over Mt. Ikoma is Japan’s steepest national road. Had the three Gaijin-teers known this, we might have chosen a different route for our ride.
Always up for a challenge I said “screw it” and went for it.
Watch below as Jonny pours water over the chari’s rear brake on the descent from Kuragari pass:
We didn’t have quite the same issues, although we had a steeper descent towards Osaka. On the other hand, FLJ had so much trouble with his rear wheel skidding on the descent that he was forced to walk, and Sanborn wore halfway through his (non-disk) brake pads.
The Halfakid was out all night with his karate sensei, so I headed off solo this morning. My own energy was at an ebb and I knew it would be hot today, so I chose the Arakawa – Disney route: flat and not too long.
From the start, I knew Kuroko wasn’t happy. There was a bit of squealing coming from the rear brake, and the rear derailleur was playing up. I was even hearing some noise from the crankset, and was worried about a return of the bottom bracket issue that I thought I’d fixed. But I soon found there was no crankset noise when I was on the larger chainring, so I knew it must be something else.
Once on the cycle path of the Arakawa, I got fed up with the brake noise. I pulled off the path in the shade of a bridge and leaned Kuroko up against a pier. I was in the process of adjusting the rear disc caliper when I realized the rear wheel was loose. That explained everything! When I tightened it up and gave it a spin, the brake wasn’t squealing. I figured that would sort out the derailleur issue as well, and that proved to be correct.
This is the second time this has happened, and when I stopped later to lunch on Nana’s world-famous onigiri I searched for a solution. This Reddit thread came up. It sounds reasonable and I’ll give it try.
Meanwhile, the heat was getting to be a bit much. I found myself stopping more than usual when a shaded spot appeared — usually under a bridge.
After each break I felt refreshed (although the water in my bottles was already warm), and soon I found myself nearing Kawaguchi (the mouth of the river). In the last 5km towards Kawaguchi the wind turned around was coming from the front, so I lowered my gear and kept at it.
I thought at this point about skipping the Disney visit and turning for home, but I realized I wanted a place in the shade to eat the onigiri, and those were all on the Disney side. So I doubled back, crossed the river and made my way through the park, onto another path and across a final bridge to reach the Disney entrance.
When I got back to the park with some fresh water and Pokari, the picnic benches in the shade were taken. So instead I found a shaded spot that was strewn with fern needles and sat down there to eat onigiri (and a Snicker’s bar). I saw some sort of park officer on a bike and wondered if he would tell me to move, but he left me alone.
On the return trip I could feel the sun beating down. I’m pretty sure I’ll have a sunburn to show off at the office tomorrow despite my efforts to cover up and my use of sunscreen.
The police presence really picked up in Otemachi and around the Imperial Palace. Hmm … there must be something important going on. I made sure to obey the traffic laws to avoid a recurrence of the scolding I got last weekend.
There’s still a lot of construction going on around Budokan, but I was able to find a park bench in the shade near Chidorigafuchi to finish off the last onigiri and drain the remaining water from my bottles. I messaged Nana that I would be home soon and set off for the final stretch.
I was surprised to find on my arrival home that the GPS reported I’d clocked up several personal bests along the route. I hadn’t been pushing too hard, and I’d been taking lots of breaks. I also recall that on my last blast down the Arakawa I’d had the help of a strong tailwind. But I guess the GPS doesn’t lie …
The GPS also reported that the temperature varied between 27 and 38! I think the official high today was 31, not the 39 registered in Hokkaido, so I think the unit was picking up the reflection of the sun off the pavement.