Enoshima and Back

Selfie of two cyclists in helmets in front of Ryugu style train station at Katase-Enoshima

After weeks of planning and then days and days of anxiously watching the weather forecast, the Enoshima weekend came off without a hitch.

Enoshima is a popular vacation destination not far from Tokyo. The most straightforward route is heavily trafficked, so I was pleased to find a route which followed some cycling courses along rivers, at the cost of a few dozen kilometers. This turned out to be a good choice, with very low traffic and very pleasant views along the way.

Cycling course along river with buildings in background
Tsurumigawa view

It was all virgin territory to me, but José used to live around here and had run a marathon along a portion of the route, and so he was calling out various locations as we arrived.

Around 1 p.m. we crossed from Tsurumigawa to Sakai river. En route we stopped for lunch at a convenience store (supplementing the mass of onigiri supplied by Nana), and climbed the only real summit of the day, in a fair bit of traffic. But we were soon on our way down the Sakai river, albeit dealing with construction at various locations. At one long stretch of countryside with nothing of note in view, I ordered José to switch bikes with me so he could experience the Di2 shifting and hydraulic brakes.

His overriding reaction was how much heavier Kuroko was than his own bike. I can’t fault him for that: my immediate reaction to switching bikes was how much lighter his bike was than Kuroko! Part of this was that he was carrying his gear in his backpack, while I had more than adequately packed for the trip in a pannier attached to Kuroko’s rack. But another part of this was that Kuroko is at least 2kg heavier than his bike, and a good half of that is in the wheels.

A heavy beast

And there are reasons for that. I’m in a position (at this late stage of life) where I could easily buy a very lightweight racer. But I bought Kuroko specifically to allow me to carry a lot of gear comfortably over long distances — Lejog was the specific goal at the time of purchase. So Kuroko has a steel frame with lots of mounting points for luggage racks. And she has generous clearance for wide, comfortable tires. She came with 48mm tires, but I’m currently riding her with 42mm.

Apart from the weight differences, for the short distance we rode after switching bikes (less than 1km), José said he did appreciate Kuroko’s smooth shifting and braking. But he noted he wouldn’t be spending the money to upgrade to Di2 anytime soon.

Enoshima sunset

The shadows were already lengthening along the river before we reached Fujisawa. We had to leave the river for a couple of kilometers to get around the city hall and a large city park, but then it was back to the river course for the final few kilometers into Enoshima. There was still plenty of light when we arrived, but by the time we’d fought through the pedestrian crowds to check into the hotel and then changed clothes and walked down to the bridge leading to the island, the sun was setting.

Believe it or not, it took us a moment to realize that Fujisan was visible. Unfortunately I only had my phone with me for photos, as the view was remarkable. And from Enoshima most of Fujisan is visible (unlike from my flat, where the bottom half is obstructed by a mountain range just to the west of Tokyo). As the sun set we hurried on to the onsen, where we could still see Fujisan in the twilight through the bath windows.

We stopped at a convenience store on the way back to the hotel for snacks and libations. But when dinner arrived in our hotel room, we were floored — it was a lot of food! We were too full by the end to even think about the snacks, and by 9 p.m. we were both asleep in the glow of our respective screens. I managed to turn the light off before conking out completely.

Alternate route

I was awake at 5 a.m. on Sunday, quietly arranging my gear, watching the eastern sky lighten and finding the remote for the TV to check the weather forecast. We’d watched for more than a week as the forecast changed from solid rain, to clear, and then back again to rain in the afternoon. José had agreed to the ride on condition that if it was raining we return the way we came — on the cycling courses along the river.

My plan was instead to ride a few kilometers along the coast to Kamakura, and see the Grand Buddha there before heading back in mostly urban traffic to Yokohama, and hence homeward. As the TV confirmed the most recent forecast of rain in the latter half of the afternoon, the die was cast. As the clock ticked towards 7 a.m., I turned the room light on low and started making a bit more noise until José awoke, after which he quickly agreed to the plan.

It was more cloudy and a bit cooler as we set out Sunday morning along the shore of Sagami Bay. The wind was brisk but not slowing us down greatly, and the view was fantastic.

After just a few kilometers we turned inland and soon passed a sign for the Grand Buddha. José and I were here when he was in Boy Scouts, although he doesn’t remember that occasion at all, and I have been more recently with Nana. Unsure of the weather as yet, we paid the entrance fee, snapped the selfie and soon hurried on our way.

Following narrow roads around the back of the Kotoku-in temple (where the Grand Buddha is enshrined), we turned onto a paved road up to the Kamegayatsuzaka Kiridoshi Pass, where the 43m vault at gradients ranging from 14% to 20% proved too much for us both, and we got off and pushed. After descending back into quasi-urban traffic, and playing cat-and-mouse with a couple of metro buses, we puffed our way up a rise of similar height, but only single-digit gradients. I was glad for the brief respite of a traffic light a dozen or so (vertical) meters from the peak.

Yokohama in the wind

From there it was mostly flat (actually a very gradual descent), but still largely exurb rubbish riding to Yokohama. We arrived just about 10 a.m. and turned towards our favorite scenic view: Minato no Mieru Oka Koen (Harbour View Park). The climb up to the park is a more modest 29m rise with gradients peaking at about 13%. I’ve made it twice in the past without stopping, although my most recent effort was hampered by a badly spaced rear sprocket.

Alas, on this occasion I couldn’t blame it on the sprockets, which performed flawlessly. But the combination of being on the second day of the ride (rather than a fresh start) and the weight of the gear in the pannier was just too much for me. I stopped short of the spot where I typically give up, and dismounted. As I was pushing Kuroko upwards, I was passed by a middle-aged man on a folding bike, who shouted laughing encouragement as he powered on by. I pushed a dozen meters or so before mounting up again and arriving at the top puffing like the little engine that couldn’t.

After a brief rest at the top, and a chat with the gent on the folding bike about the distance and hilliness from Enoshima (Me: There’s a lot of up/down. Him: It’s not very hilly, is it?) we descended back into Yokohama and stopped at the nearest convenience store for an early lunch.

The wind, which had been bedeviling us for kilometers along the approach into Yokohama, was giving us the full blast here. We ate our goods standing in front of the convenience store, one hand on our bikes (which were leaning against trees) to stop them blowing over.

Drag back to Tokyo

From Yokohama back to Tokyo on Rte 15, it’s just a long, flat, straight drag in traffic with lots of lights. With the absence of scenery, certain place names get attention and stick in our minds, like 子安通り (Koyasu Dori: Cheap children avenue). The timing of the lights probably has a greater effect on progress than anything else along this 15km slog, but José and I both posted personal records on this occasion, which probably indicates the wind was with us for this portion of the ride. I remember remarking to José after a beep from the Garmie that we’d just done 5km in less than 15 minutes, which is kind of remarkable in traffic (much less so on a cycling route without traffic lights).

Back on home turf

Tired as we were, and sore as we were from the pounding of the broken pavement of Rte 15, we reached the Rokugo Bridge over the Tama River sooner than expected, about 11:30. After another brief rest outside a convenience store there, José and I parted ways. It’s a very straight go along Rte 15 to home for him, while I have a handful of kilometers to go northish along the Tama River before turning east again towards Shinjuku.

Along the river course, I was fighting the wind once again. After a brief stop at Gas Bashi (a landmark on our ride out the previous day), the wind was with me for a glorious 2km or so. But when I crossed the Maruko Bashi back into Kanagawa, it was into the teeth of the gale. I struggled along at scarcely more than a walking pace. Fortunately when I rejoined the cycling path and headed upstream again, it wasn’t quite so drastic. My biggest concern was a pack of schoolboys riding three to four abreast.

After working my way past a clot of loud, large Westerners on Futagobashi and then rubbing my pannier against a utility pole as I edged past a BMW (but without tearing the bag off the bike, as I had done on the very first day of Lejog), I was soon at the familiar little park at the top of the climb out of the Tamagawa valley. I marked the time at 12:30, and messaged Nana that I would be home by 2. The urban traffic was nothing out of the ordinary, and I finally eased my weary bones home at the dot of 1:30.

On Saturday, with our late start, the riding time was 4:29:05 for a moving average of 19.0km/h. The total ride time of less than six hours was more than an hour short of what I’d been predicting. On Sunday I recorded a moving time of 3:47:34 for a moving average of 19.4km/h, with an elapsed time of less than 5 hours 20 minutes. José, with his shortcut home, was preparing his bath while I was having a breather at the park in Futako.

In all it was a very enjoyable ride. We didn’t visit the shrines on Enoshima because of our late arrival, and José said there are three, and they are sisters, and they get jealous if we don’t visit all three. So that will be a future visit with a proper camera and lots of time. Of the two routes we used, the first day’s route along the river corridors was definitely more enjoyable. We both agreed we’d do this ride again at the drop of a hat. But perhaps the next time we’ll visit Kamakura in the morning and then reverse course to take the river corridors back home (which would bring it to about a metric century).

Finally, it would be well within reasonable limits to do Enoshima as a day ride: just over a century on the river corridors and considerably less via the Yokohama route (and perhaps even less via the most direct route possible). But that would leave no time for enjoying the sights at the destination. Still, I have to consider this the next time I set out to do a century, as it will still be quite a bit more fresh than the usual Tamagawa route.