The Halfakid let me know that he and Halfakid no Tomo were planning a ride to Otarumi Touge today, and said they’d be in Nikotama at 8. I let Nana know and she and I got up before 6 to get ready: me to prepare for the ride and Nana to make onigiri.
I was within 10 minutes of leaving home when the Halfakid messaged to let me know the new meeting time would be 9 a.m. OK, that might get us into a post-sundown return but was still doable.
I arrived at Nikotama at the agreed time and immediately spotted Tomo. But she was alone. After we said good morning she told me she’d left her bike at the office (not far from our meeting point) yesterday, so she’d taken the train to pick it up. Meanwhile, the Halfakid was setting out from home by himself. While we were waiting, I pumped up Tomo’s tires as well as I could with the portable pump I always carry on Kuroko.
The Halfakid arrived before we both froze to death and we set out on our ride. With the start an hour later than we’d originally planned, I was eager to keep the pace up. We had some wind to fight but we were soon traveling at a good 21-23km/h under very dismal skies. We stopped at the usual park and then once more before crossing the Tamagawa for the Asakawa cycling course.
On the Asakawa we were more directly into the wind. I wanted to keep the pace above 20km/h, but I also didn’t want to use up all my energy before arriving at the climb.
The moment we set out on the Asakawa I realized I should have had at least one onigiri at the previous rest. I’d eaten breakfast before 6 a.m., and now, with our delayed start, it was approaching 11. There’s a spot we usually stop for a restroom and to have some water, and it’s mostly flat along the Asakawa until that point, so I kept on with that as my goal. As soon as we arrived I dismounted and ate not one but two of Nana’s world famous onigiri, while the Halfakid and his Tomo had one each.
We left the path for city traffic up to Takaosan Guchi. Our usual stopping point at a Family Mart was completely empty, and we sat down at the picnic table with hot drinks and some warm food from the convenience store. I had a cheeseburger and Tomo had a nikuman.
It was already 1 p.m. when we set out from the convenience store towards our goal. “It’s only 6km,” I reminded myself. “How tough can it be?” Mindful of previous efforts, I shifted down earlier than was strictly necessary, reserving my strength.
Three kilometers from the top we came to a short bit of road work. We had the red light so we waited patiently (although another rider took his chances and went ahead). When the light changed I waved through all the traffic that was waiting behind us before setting off again.
Soon after that I shifted to my lowest cog and continued to spin. At that point the Halfakid passed us both and sprinted along ahead. Tomo was still following behind me, soundlessly as always. I started calling out waypoints to her and the distance remaining.
I was still going along well and then I came to the magnet: the nice stopping point along the climb that has become a psychological barrier to me. Some road crew had highlighted it with a yellow stripe of safety tape, but it was still fully accessible. “I don’t have to stop here,” I told myself. “I am able to continue.” With an effort of will, I kept going.
I’m sad to say, though, that the magnetic attraction of that segment of the climb is more than strictly psychological. That’s also among the steepest parts of the road to the top. I hadn’t gone another 50m when another, similar area opened on the left: a wide shoulder after a guardrail with good visibility fore and aft. In other words, a perfect resting spot. And not a meter too soon! It was all I could do to drag myself far enough forward into the area to leave enough room for Tomo to pull in behind me.
“Are you OK?” she called in Japanese as I wheezed to bring my breathing under control. “Yeah, fine. Just need a breather.”
Shut up, legs
It didn’t take long before I was breathing more or less normally again, and we set out once more for the top. “Six hundred meters to go!” I called out. “Really?” came the reply. My legs were already suggesting we take another break. “Look at that nice bit of shoulder right over there! There’s a curb so you can rest without even getting out of the saddle!” I ignored them and kept pedaling. Soon we passed the bus stop. “Three hundred meters!” “Go for it!”
I kept on and my legs were not blowing up — much as they were trying to convince me of the fact. “It’s just around this corner!” I shouted to Tomo as my legs were pointing out that yes, this would be another good place to stop. And then we’d made it: we were at the top of the pass. After checking for traffic we crossed the road to take a few congratulatory snaps.
With the photos in the bag we freewheeled downhill to the resting spot with the ramen shop. I’ve promised myself I’ll have a full bowl of ramen there the first time I make the whole climb without stopping. Meanwhile, the vending machine was locked up, so no congratulatory Pokari this time. We took a few more snaps of the scenery and, mindful of the time and the desire to get home before nightfall, we set off on our return.
For the downhill I cautioned Tomo that I would be pulling out all the stops, and she didn’t have to feel she needed to keep up with me. The Halfakid obediently interpreted my remarks, and we set out. I was soon flying down the hill back towards Takaosan Guchi, braking only when I was catching up with the traffic ahead of me. I thought for a minute or two that a car was breathing down my neck, looking for an opportunity to pass, but I soon realized this was just the wind whistling through the cooling vents in my helmet.
When we got back to the construction area I had to stop again, and I looked back to see if Tomo and the Halfakid were with me. In less than a minute they were, several car lengths back. Once again, when the light changed I waved the waiting traffic ahead of us. But this time we just made it through after the last car before the light changed once again.
The crowds at Takaosan were smaller than I’ve ever seen them, but as the Halfakid noted, we’re in a pandemic lockdown. Under those circumstances, there were still far too many people waiting for the cable car ride up the mountain than was healthy. We didn’t linger long but took our snaps and continued on our way.
There’s not much to relate about the return trip. We were going downhill and the wind was with us for large stretches, so we were making good time. I noted via the GPS that we were keeping up a 24-25km/h pace, which is good. But on previous rides with the Halfakid, we’ve done 30 along this stretch. I decided that had been with a stronger tailwind, and put it out of my mind. We were still making good time, never mind the suicidal children crossing the path directly in front of me in response to my bike bell.
Our next stop was across the Tamagawa, “Back into Tokyo” as I think of it — although the entire ride is within Tokyo. We stopped not long after the bridge crossing and the Halfakid and I ate the last of the onigiri. It was after 2:30, and I estimated that we’d reach Nikotama about 4. That would put us on track to reach home by 5. Still, I worried about Tomo’s lack of lights.
As we neared Nikotama, the wind turned against us once again, combining with our fatigue to slow the pace. We were still ticking along at better than 20km/h, though, so I didn’t worry. And fighting the headwind (which wasn’t all that severe) helped to keep us warm. The coldest we’d been all day (apart from the times we took a break exposed to the wind) was racing downwind.
We reached Nikotama at 3:50 and stopped long enough to say our goodbyes and turn on our lights. I crossed Futagobashi’s narrow pedestrian walk without incident and was soon climbing the modest hill out of the Tamagawa valley. I just put it in the lowest gear and spun the pedals, and all was well. When I reached the top it was just 4 p.m. I sipped some water and messaged Nana that I would be home by 5:15 (once again padding out the estimate to create leeway in case I fell behind).
I was exhausted on the way home. It didn’t make a difference except on the few modest climbs, which I navigated in much lower gears than usual. I reminded myself to be mindful of traffic and not succumb to fatigue. Since I’ve changed the GPS to continue counting time even when I’m waiting at a light, I wasn’t thinking about the time of the next 5km split. Instead I was just watching the clock, trying to get home by 5 and so beat my estimate. I was well on the way to making this goal and so I relaxed and concentrated on riding and on traffic.
As I neared home I realized I’d be at 124km and some change — and not very much change at that. It would be nice to ring up a round 125km, but a single 400m lap of the tower wouldn’t bring me up to the goal. Tired as I was, I was tempted to give up on it. But as I neared home, I thought, “I’m going to do this.” So I looped around the tower and made a short run back to Yamate Dori before making a U-turn and finally bringing Kuroko home. I pulled up next to the tower, saved my ride on the GPS, pulled up my mask, and messaged Nana that I was home.