Kawagoe windy and wet

Fork in river with flood gate railing in foreground

I just rode to Kawagoe a couple of weeks ago, but when the weather turned unexpectedly sunny today, I couldn’t resist going again.

I’m getting quite familiar with the ride out Yamate Dori and Nakasendo to Arakawa. The signpost at the top of the levee is a regular landmark for me.

Bicycle in front of sign for Arakawa cycling course
Entrance to the Arakawa

Selfie of cyclist in helmet, sunglasses and UV mask in front of Arakawa cycling course sign
Vampire mode

The course was flooded in places from yesterday’s rain. I started the ride at the mid-level all-weather landing (the red course) to avoid the water, but it was quite broken up. Even with my fat tires, some of the seams and gaps were a bit jarring.

Steps down a levee leading to red all-weather course, above flooded cycling course
Broken pavement and flooding

By the time I ran out of red all-weather pavement and descended to the regular course, I was past most of the deep puddles. Even so, I took a moment to message Nana to apologize in advance for the wet, muddy laundry I’d be handing her when I got home.

The clear skies and stiff breeze following yesterday’s rain left some grand vistas for today’s ride.

Fork in river with flood gate railing in foreground
Fork in the Arakawa

Fujisan in partly cloudy skies, with farmland and factories in the foreground
Fujisan in the distance

The closer I got to Kawagoe, the stronger the headwind became. I’d dropped to my smaller chainring, into my climbing gears even though the going was flat. The headwind was strong enough it was pulling my mask down from my nose. Despite this, I felt stronger than I did two weeks ago and I continued pressing forward. I was also more confident of the route this time, having experienced it once already.

Selfie of cyclist in helmet, sunglasses and UV mask in front of Kawagoe's Toki-no-Kane bell tower
Chimes of the times

Pressing onwards against the wind, I made good time into Kawagoe. I didn’t walk around Koedo (except to get this photo), but just cycled up and down the length of it before heading for a convenience store and then a park for lunch. (Because we’d been expecting rain, Nana didn’t make any onigiri.) In the park I lucked out and got a picnic table all to myself. I felt the sun beating on my cheeks as I lowered my mask to eat a couple of tortillas. I watched a child playing with a kite as I ate. Other children sat nearby with their families on plastic tarps on the tree-shaded grass.

I washed down my lunch with some convenience store espresso, gathered up my rubbish and set off for home.

Wind at my back

On the way downriver, the wind was (mostly) at my back. I was amused to notch up a 12-minute 5km segment — implying an average of 25km/h — despite having stopped for traffic a couple of times and a photo once. The next 5km segment might have been 10 minutes (30km/h), but I had to wait more than a minute at a traffic light. I didn’t mind: I was making good time and having fun, and it was more pleasant to ride with a tailwind on the way home than to fight into a stiff breeze as I had on the way up.

I stopped where the course passed over a flood gate and ate a Snickers bar. Energy for the upcoming fight through traffic.

Bicycle leaning against sign for Arakawa cycling course
Not the same photo: The path is a bit drier and Kuroko is a bit muddier

Fighting my way back to you

When I left the river course behind I headed back into traffic and also back into the wind. I’d given Nana an estimate of an hour to an hour and a half for my return, because I didn’t know how much wind I’d be facing. At times it was quite stiff! I had to be careful I wasn’t blown into the path of the fast-moving traffic just centimeters from my right elbow. (Shout out to the taxi driver and the driver of the red Volvo who didn’t make use of the entire open extra lane when passing me!)

The wind wasn’t constant: it was coming and going, and blowing in gusts. At times I was struggling to get to the top of the next climb, and at other times I was keeping up a very good pace. At traffic lights I had to sit up and stretch my shoulders, relaxing the muscles that were hunched against the headwind while I was riding.

I had no idea what kind of time I was making in the 13km from the river back to home. I’d hoped to improve on my time from two weeks ago (feeling quite a bit stronger overall), but with the wind in this final leg I thought I might be falling behind.

At the crossing for Shin Mejiro I checked the GPS: I had another 6km to go. Even fighting with the wind in the few remaining uphill sections, I’d be home soon. At the next light I caught up with a younger, more fit rider on an orange classic steel racing bike who’d passed me earlier. I kept up with him on the next rise as we both fought against the wind. And then we were at Nakano Sakue! From there it was downhill before turning off Yamate Dori onto a flat kilometer to the goal. As we descended, the other rider was content just to coast. I thought about passing him but finally just shrugged. I’d be home soon enough. I made my turn — at the wrong place. No worries, as I was already in my neighborhood. I ignored the GPS beeping and just followed the familiar streets. I checked the time as I stopped the GPS: a good 15 minutes earlier than the lower bound of the estimate I’d given Nana, and an improvement of 20 minutes over my previous ride on the same route.

GPS record of cycle route
Kawagoe windy and wet

Kawagoe on a beautiful day

Kurazukuri style warehouse with famous Kurazukuri and Toki-no-Kane bell tower in background

I visited Kawagoe more than five years ago with Nana and her family. We went by train that time, and it took so long to get there I didn’t realize how close it was until I accompanied Fearless Leader Joe when he borrowed Dionysus for a stay in Saitama. I was very surprised to find after heading a few kilometers upstream on the Arakawa that we were passing into Kawagoe!

But, as they say, there’s Kawagoe and then there’s Kawagoe … We didn’t see any of Koedo (the Old Town) on that ride. And when FLJ subsequently had business dealings in Kawagoe, he didn’t even realize Koedo existed! But it all got me to thinking. In the intervening months I plotted a course that would take me from home to Futako Tamagawa, up the Tamagawa to Hamura, and then overland to Kawagoe (and of course passing through Koedo!) before returning down the Arakawa to home: a total of 125km.

Bicycle in front of cycling course sign for Arakawa
Kuroko at the Toda Bridge

Today I did something a bit less ambitious: from home, up the Arakawa to Kawagoe and back would be just 85km, and largely flat. I set off just before 9 a.m. after dealing with an unexpected mechanical, and was soon making good progress on Yamate Dori and Nakasendo Way towards the Arakawa.

Upon reaching the river I turned upstream, into uncharted territory for me. (When we delivered Dionysus in November, we’d crossed the Toda Bridge and continued on the opposite riverbank.) I’d plotted everything out on Google Maps and Street View (where available), but it wasn’t always clear what was a rideable path and what wasn’t.

Night and day

It was such a pleasure to be back on Kuroko after yesterday’s jaunt on Dionysus. The drop bars, the high-volume tires to soak up the bumps — a pillowy promenade after a rocky road.

Worn and rutted path uphill between fields of grass
That’s a path, according to Google

And after less than an hour’s riding along the river, following the Garmin and the other cyclists, I came to a section where the path was blocked off. I descended from the levee to the parallel street, as I’d seen a couple of other bikers do, and from there I kept looking for an opportunity to get back to the cycling course at the top of the levee. I was a bit premature — I ended up cycling a few hundred meters of gravel before giving up and returning to the street level!

And the route was complicated by road construction and detours. Thank goodness Japanese baton-waving construction workers don’t get bashful in the presence of foreigners and struggle to speak English. The fellow I encountered just called out, “Keep going that way until you get to the white sign, then turn right!” The directions were perfect.

In the end I joined up with paved cycle path atop the levee less than 1km before I was due to turn off and set across farmland towards Kawagoe proper. Unfortunately, Google Maps in this territory doesn’t have cycling directions, and the walking directions led me to a decidedly non-cycle friendly route down from the path. I made a mental note to look for an alternative on the way home.

Kawagoe

Once off the path, it was just a few kilometers through farmland before joining up with a main route into the city. Before I knew it, I was turning into Koedo and the Kurazukuri no Machinami — the warehouse district.

Photo montage of old style Japanese kurazukuri warehouses
Kurazukuri no Machinami

Photo montage of old style Japanese kurazukuri warehouses
Kurazukuri no Machinami

Among the old-style warehouses there’s another sight not to be missed: the 19th Century Toki-no-Kane (“Bell of Time”) bell tower.

Photo montage of famous Kawagoe bell tower Toki-no-Kane
Toki-no-Kane

Lunch!

By the time I’d finished photographing Koedo, it was nearly noon. There are many restaurants and take-out counters in Koedo offering a variety of tantalizing Japanese dishes, but I was fully stocked with Nana’s world-famous onigiri. I quickly back-tracked to a sakura-adorned park near the Arakawa and gobbled down four at one go — surely a record for me!

The route home along the Arakawa was an easy one, particularly now that I knew which parts of the cycle path existed only in Google’s imagination. The road along the levee was quite narrow in bits, but I was soon back up on paved cycle course heaven! Unfortunately that only continued for a few hundred meters before it was back down into the streets and construction and detours, but this time I knew where I was going and when I would be back on the cycle course.

On the return I was fighting the wind a bit — either it was calm on my way upstream or I was unwittingly benefiting from a tailwind — but it didn’t hold me back much. It took just an hour and 17 minutes from the time I left the park to return to my favorite signpost marking the point where I leave the Arakawa cycling path for the welcoming arms of Tokyo city traffic.

Selfie of cyclist in helmet, sunglasses and UV mask in front of sign for Arakawa cycling course
Masked against the sun

I’d applied my regular sunblock on my face before leaving the house in the morning, but not the extra super stuff. I was expecting weather more or less like yesterday’s overcast skies, but it turned out to be quite a bit more sunny. Fortunately I was wearing my UV mask and pulled that up over my nose when the sun got strong (even when I wasn’t in the presence of others). Whenever I felt it was getting uncomfortable and wanted to pull it off, I reminded myself it’s not all that hot yet, and I need to get in the habit of wearing the mask even if it’s 30C.

Racing traffic towards home

I know the route from the river back home well, and I don’t let myself get excited about the traffic whizzing past my elbow. It’s a major artery the whole way, but there’s a good margin left for cyclists for the most part. I only had a couple of times going around a parked car, with my hand out to indicate I was coming over, where a driver didn’t feel he needed to give me room. It was on this same route back in November that Fearless Leader Joe put his hand out to indicate he was coming around a parked car only to touch the bumper of a car coming up fast behind him!

GPS record of bike ride
Kawagoe on a beautiful day

In the end I got home at 2:30, just five and a half hours after setting out, after telling Nana I’d be home about 5! I made good progress today, aided by the largely flat course.

Mechanical

Ah, what would a Guy Jean post be with a mechanical? Since my return from Shimanami Kaido, the front tire has been losing air slowly. I’d fill it up and leave it a day or two, and find it nearly flat.

This morning I figured I’d fill it up and it would be OK for the day’s ride. I was in for quite a surprise — I’d no sooner filled the tire than it began audibly leaking and visibly going soft. The reason was soon apparent as latex sealant sprouted around the valve.

Detail of bicycle tire with latex sealant leaking from valve
That’ll be a leaky valve right there

I’d had the same issue with the rear tire just a couple of weeks before, and had quickly fixed it by replacing the valve with a high-quality unit from Schwalbe. In that case, the leak had been from the valve core itself, while this time it was clearly from the base, where the valve emerges from the rim.

I quickly thought: I could futz around with the valve as it is and try to get the base to seal up again. Or I could simply replace it — I had another Schwalbe on hand. I immediately decided for the replacement.

Detail of bicycle wheel with tire lever pulling tire away from valve area
Peeling the tire back

Bicycle tire valves, old and new
Old ‘n’ busted — you know the routine

The new valve held the pressure immediately. After inflating the tire again (with a number of satisfactory popping noises as the tire seated on the rim), I could still hear a bit of hissing, but not from the valve area. I swirled the tire around to get the sealant to the leaking area, and the sound soon stopped.

Tire pump with gauge showing inflated pressure; bicycle wheel in background
That’ll hold?

Unfortunately I proved to be a bit optimistic in my evaluation of the fix: I stopped a couple of times during the day’s ride to top up the pressure in the front. I’m happy to say though that we didn’t reach the extreme of having the tire roll off the rim and burp out all the sealant, as happened on the Arakawa back in November (albeit with a different set of tires).

The forecast is for rain tomorrow, and I’ve got Kuroko up in the Workshop in the Sky. I’ll get this leak sorted or know the reason why.