Otarumi Touge close!

Selfie of two bikers in helmets and masks in front of Takaosan Guchi

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.

Two bicycles leaning against wall by cycling course
Waiting for one more

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.

Two bicycles leaning against shrubbery in front of empty fountain
Obligatory park fountain photo

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.

Magnetic repulsion

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!”

Mountain pass road with sign
Otarumi Touge

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.

Mountain scene with overcast sky
View from the top

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.

Selfie of two bikers in helmets and masks in front of Takaosan Guchi
Takaosan Guchi

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.

Fatigue

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.

GPS route of bicycle ride
Otarumi Touge close

Otarumi Touge in the heat

Selfie with two sweaty cyclists at Takaosan Guchi cable car entrance

I hoped yesterday to get in a longer ride, and at the same time to make another assault on Otarumi Touge, the 392m mountain pass near Tokyo’s famous Mt Takao. I’d told the Halfakid I’d be leaving home at 8 a.m., and actually departed at 8:20 — not a bad start for me.

First mechanical: the Garmin

I had an issue with the Garmin right away: after I started it up and selected the course, it showed it was “Acquiring Satellites” and it stayed there. I waited a couple of minutes and then set out anyway, figuring it would catch up soon enough. In fact it took more than 7km — when I’d nearly reached the Halfakid’s flat — before it declared it was ready.

Scheduled maintenance

The Halfakid was just coming out of his flat when I rolled up. Before we set out, though, he wanted to install the new bike bell I’d recently got him. That took just a few minutes — the fastener was in an awkward position and we just had the multitool that I carry on every ride. That done, we spent a few more minutes pumping up his tires front and back. I’ve got an old floor pump sitting on my balcony that I’ve been meaning to give to him, but there hasn’t really been a good chance to bring it as it’s awkward to carry. So we used the portable pump that I carry on Kuroko.

More Garmin trouble

We set out together and I soon noticed that although the Garmin was tracking our location, it wasn’t recording the ride. I pushed the start button once again and it began recording. But then it reported we’d taken 40 minutes to do our first 5km. As we were maintaining a consistent pace above 20km/h at this point, it should have recorded less than 15 minutes. I have no idea what went wrong, but after that it settled down and recorded the rest of the ride with its usual accurracy.

(Just now as I’m writing this, the next day, I’m trying to restart the Garmin and it’s hanging on reboot. After many, many tries and forced restarts, I was finally able to get it to start up by turning off my phone, which is connected to the Garmin via Bluetooth.)

Going tubeless

Bicycle leaning against wooden railing over looking dry park pond
Kuroko sporting her new tires

This was my first ride since converting Kuroko to tubeless tires, and I was eager to see how they would perform. In just the first couple of kilometers I noticed a rythmic ticking noise coming from the front tire. Of course I immediately worried something was wrong and stopped to have a look. In fact it was just a couple of tiny pebbles that had been picked up by the excess latex that I’d left on the tread. I brushed them off and kept going, and within another couple of kilometers most of that latex had worn off as I’d expected.

The tires roll very smoothly, and they’re noticeably a bit narrower than the ones they replaced. I’d love to report that Kuroko felt a lot lighter and faster as a result. But the truth is I’ve been riding Dionysus for the past few weeks, so most of my reaction was to the difference in riding position, handling, etc., between the two bikes. I’m sure the lighter, narrower tires helped, particularly when we got to the climbing. Overall, the tires performed flawlessly and there have been no issues with them.

Crowded and hot

It was a hot and cloudy day with little wind. There wasn’t any bright sunshine, so we were a bit surprised when we came to our usual resting spot how crowded it was. A gaggle of seniors was playing croquet in the open gravel lot, with only a few in masks, and the tennis courts were packed.

We crossed the Tamagawa and headed upstream along the Asakawa. Immediately I saw another rider in a Tour de Tohoko jersey. I wondered if I would catch him and have a brief chat. “Oh yeah, I’ve done that, too!” But he was soon putting the distance on us as I felt my energy ebbing. I was hungry, and I’ve learned from experience that by the time I feel hungry while biking, I’m already fading fast. I wasn’t doing as badly as I did in early May when the Halfakid and I included this route as a leg in our first century ride, keeping the speed near 20km/h. When we reached our next rest stop I had one of Nana’s world-famous onigiri for energy, while the Halfakid had two, and then we continued onwards to Takaosan.

Greetings from France

At Takaosan, our usual picnic table spot by the FamilyMart was completely taken over by a baseball team (with no masks in sight). We chose instead to go to the nearby 7-11. We still didn’t get a place to sit, but it was a lot less crowded. I finished up the onigiri here and got an ice cream bar as well to help cool down. While we were resting, another cyclist approached us. “Where are you from?” he asked. “Tokyo,” the Halfakid replied, while I said, “United States.” We asked him where he was from and he said France. He didn’t have a lot to say after that, just mentioned there was more traffic than he expected. “We usually come on Sundays.” He was with two other bikers, both Japanese. I asked if he was going up the climb and he said no, they’d just come out this far and were going back.

We got our helmets and gloves back on and exchanged a “Good luck!” with our French friend, and started up the climb.

Litany of excuses follows

Even with a belly full of onigiri and ice cream, I knew I didn’t have my usual energy. The Halfakid, following patiently behind me, could see it, too. He kept up a string of encouragement and jokes as we started up the climb. I was dropping down the gears faster than usual, keeping my cadence up. In addition to the feeling of low energy, I had a headache. It may have been lack of sleep the night before (less than five hours’ worth), the fact I didn’t put on my sunglasses until after we’d stopped in Takaosan, my delay in stopping to eat when I was feeling hungry, or maybe a combination of these things. But I was determined to keep going.

I continued dropping gears. I went down to my lowest combo far earlier than I had on the previous attempt on this climb (and I did get into the lowest gear this time). The Halfakid meanwhile was contemplating in all seriousness whether he could make the top without down-shifting at all. On our previous assault he’d remained sur la plaque (on the larger chainring) about three-quarters of the way up, albeit unintentionally. I was still spinning, trying to keep my usual cadence of about 90rpm, which translates into roughly 9km/h in this gear, when the Halfakid said “See ya!” and rocketed past me.

The climb continued. Despite my listlessness, I was making progress. I tried not to stare at the Garmin, and at each switchback I’d say to myself that was another half a kilometer done, and encouraged myself that I could continue yet one more half a kilometer.

How to create a magnet

I knew I was nearing about the three-quarter point of the climb, still spinning and yet quite fatigued. I crossed over Annai River (which happens several times on the way up to the pass) and there it was! The point where I always give up and take a rest. It’s not just chance: on a switchback mountain road it’s only safe to stop in select spots. Good visibility in both directions, and a nice bit of shoulder so I’m out of traffic. In this case there’s a guardrail over the river, and immediately after that a broad shoulder (and a nice concrete wall to lean against). I noted the location — Nishi Kanba Bridge — and the distance. I’ve been stopping in this exact spot every time I’ve climbed this route, and in doing so I’ve made it into a psychological magnet. I see that and immediately my legs say, “Yay! It’s time to rest!”

So my goal for the next time up this mountain (which may not be until fall now with summer’s heat upon us) will be to get past this point. If I’ve broken that psychological barrier, will I be able to continue on to the top?

I’ve done this climb often enough that I recognize a number of features. After having a rest and setting off again from Nishi Kanba Bridge, I knew I was closing in on the goal. I passed the bus stop and again noted the distance, and I kept going. (I did make one or two more stops after Nishi Kanba, but the bus stop is not a good place for it.) An older Japanese man with long white hair flowing from under his helmet passed me speeding downhill, standing on his pedals, and shouted out a cheerful “Konnichi ha!” I smiled and waved and kept spinning.

Goal!

Somewhat cloudy view from Otarumi Touge
Somewhat cloudy view from Otarumi Touge

At last I reached the final turn, the one that I know from experience hides the peak just around its shoulder. Sometimes I stop right here for a photo, but this time I noted the distance and then continued on, rolling down the final couple of dozen meters to the spot we always choose to rest and drink water and enjoy the view. The Halfakid of course was waiting for me there, resting at a park bench. “Look at what gear I finished in,” he said, and I checked his bike and shook my head. He’d ridden up to the top in 50/19, or about 1.75m forward for each rotation of his cranks. Meanwhile I’d struggled up in 30/34, or about 0.58m for each rotation.

Adding it up

Or subtracting. The “magnet” bridge where I alway stop is just 640m from the top (distance — it’s another 20m or so of elevation). The bus stop is just 300m from the goal. It remains to be seen whether this knowledge is enough to inspire me to make it in one go on my next attempt.

Rapid descent

After we’d rested and drained our water bottles, we mounted up for the descent. I was fighting an irrational fear on the way down that my new tires would somehow roll off the rims during hard cornering, but I soon put that behind me as I caught up to the Halfakid. I didn’t try to pass him but was content to follow 5-10m behind. There was a car behind me as well, but apparently I was keeping up enough speed that the driver didn’t feel the need to pass me (and wasn’t crowding me, I’m happy to say). Mr Garmin reports that I hit a top speed of 49km/h, which seems about right. Strava, amusingly, from the same data put me at 60.5. Strava also gave me a PR on the descent, of which I’m sceptical as I was on the brakes a good part of this time, while on occasion in the past I’ve stayed off the brakes and let the speed build up as it will.

Additional refreshment

Selfie with two sweaty cyclists at Takaosan Guchi cable car entrance
Takaosan Guchi

We stopped at Takaosan Guchi for our usual trophy photo and then continued on to the FamilyMart. The baseball team had moved on and so we grabbed a picnic table. A quick survey of the convenience store resulted in a shock, though: no Snickers bars! We got some very juicy and tender fried chicken and some chocolate covered almonds and relaxed as we topped up our water bottles.

Continuing back down the Asakawa, I was feeling every bump through my spine up into the base of my skull. The tires are supple and do a good job of soaking up bumps, but the headache had left me very sensitive. I was still making good time, tooling along downriver at 30km/h, but each jounce made me wince.

As we approached the confluence with the Tamagawa we came into a headwind. I slowed my pace a bit and again the Halfakid zoomed ahead. I let him go and soldiered on at a cadence that felt comfortable to me. I was looking forward to crossing the river (“back into Tokyo,” as I think of it, although this entire route is within Tokyo — aside from the few dozen meters we go past the top of Otarumi) and having another rest, even if the seniors were still playing croquet. The wind let up for a bit and the Halfakid was waiting for me just before the bridge, and we rose up over the Tamagawa and found our resting spot with a nice bench. I messaged Nana that I was about 30km from home, but I didn’t give her an ETA just yet.

We followed the Tamagawa about 12km downstream before having a last rest and turning east into Tokyo traffic. I knew we had a bit of a rise coming up. It’s only a 2% grade for just over 1km, but when I’m tired it’s a challenge in its own right. At this point I’d ridden just about 100km, and I’d been up and down a mountain and … I somehow found the energy to get up that grade. We had our usual ins and outs with traffic, and then I was saying farewell to the Halfakid and messaging Nana that I would be home within about 50 minutes. (I always pad out this estimate so she won’t worry if I fall behind a bit.)

And that should be the end of the story

It’s not.

After leaving the Halfakid at his flat, I continued on for the remaining 8km to home. I soon came to the train crossing at Higashi Matsubara: a narrow road, with an abrupt climb up to the crossing and for a few dozen meters beyond. I shifted to the small chainring and made my way up without incident. But then, over the top and with the slightest of dips leading into the next flat, I shifted back to the large chainring –and the chain came off.

I was very lucky that the chain came off over the larger chainring, leaving it looping about the right crankarm, and not into the spokes as it had done during Lejog. I dismounted and had the chain back on the chainring in a matter of seconds (after unwinding it from the rear derailleur where it had twisted itself). Fortunately, I keep alcohol wipes in my bag and I cleaned my hands with one before continuing on my way.

I continued home without incident, but I noticed that every so often the rear was skipping. It seemed like the chain was trying to shift into a higher gear. I fiddled with the shifter paddles a bit each time and continued on my way. This is usually a sign of having the cable tension too tight, and if I’d been any farther from home (less than 5km at this point) I might have stopped and tried to fiddle with it. As it was I resolved to just put up with it until I was home.

And I got there without further incident. I didn’t try to set any records on the final downhill because of the traffic. And then when I reached the tower, the Garmin was showing just shy of 105km, so I looped once around the block to bring it up over the 105 mark.

GPS route of cycle ride from Shinjuku to Otarumi Touge
Otarumi Touge Hot!

This afternoon I stepped out into the Workshop in the Sky to have a good look at Kuroko and sort out why the chain had derailled, and why it was acting up after that. The first thing I noticed was the derailleur looked like it had bent. I wasn’t really sure how much it was bent, or if I could bend it back (it’s best to replace it if it really is bent), but I gave it a try. After a couple of firm shoves I was happy with the result.

Bent jocket wheel cageJockey wheel cage straight
Jockey wheel assembly before and after a couple of swift shoves

That done, I cleaned the chain prior to giving it a good inspection. I was a bit shocked by how black the degreaser came out after the cleaning — the chain hadn’t looked bad to me previously. I put the rear wheel back in and set about adjusting the derailleur. And in the process, I discovered the real culprit.

Bicycle chain with bent link encirled
The real culprit

One link of the chain was bent during the derailment. If I was on the road and miles from home, I’d whip out my multitool and shorten the chain a couple of links. As it is, I’ll be commuting on Dionysus tomorrow, and it’s going to rain the rest of the week. The replacement chain is scheduled to arrive on Tuesday. Once I’ve installed that and adjusted the front and rear derailleurs, I’ll be able to see if the rear mech is fine as is or also needs to be replaced. (It’s not all that expensive, but I’m hoping it’s not so fragile that I need to replace it after a simple derailment.)

Return to Otarumi Touge

Two cyclists pose in front of the entrance to the Takaosan cable car and lift

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.

Two bicycles in a park
Father-son activity

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.

Halfakid:
Where’s your energy today?
Guy Jean:
In the past.

I’m not sure why I was lagging so much today, but the heat was definitely playing a role.

Cars on a road leading to the mountain pass
Miles to go — upwards

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.

Cyclist in front of road sign for Otarumi Pass
Otarumi Pass

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.

Two cyclists pose in front of the entrance to the Takaosan cable car and lift
Takaosan 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.

Bicycle leaning against a wooden railing overlooing a reflecting pond
Almost 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).

Otarumi Touge Loop

Cyclists pass Otarumi Touge

I’ve been wanting to test out Kuroko’s new lower gearing as achieved by a replacement crankset, and so today the Halfakid and I planned to revisit Otarumi Touge, a mountain pass near Mt Takao. Unfortunately when it came time to set out, the Halfakid informed me he’d spent too much time in the sun at a barbecue yesterday, and so I set out solo.

Since replacing the crankset I’ve been meaning to adjust the front derailleur. I’d gotten it to the point where it would shift just fine, but it would make some noise on the larger chainring because it was rubbing the chain. So before setting out this morning I (once again) tightened up the derailleur cable, and then I spent some quality time with the barrel adjuster fine-tuning the cable tension. I revisited this a couple of times during today’s ride, including while I was riding, and I’m finally satisfied with it.

When the Halfakid and I last visited Otarumi Touge, we got to the top of the mountain pass, rested for a bit, and then did a U-turn and headed home. But the map I’d copied for this route went on from the top of the pass and made a loop through Kanagawa Prefecture before returning to the Tama River (and hence home). So my goal for today was to do the loop instead of the U-turn. It meant an additional 10km (the reason we hadn’t done the loop previously was we’d ridden in January, and daylight is at a premium), but it turns out that was not the only surprise in store for me.

Otarumi Touge loop as recorded by Garmin
Otarumi Touge loop as recorded by Garmin

Right from the start I was feeling strong, and I quickly made my way up the Tama River. Just before reaching the point where I need to cross the river and start working towards Mt Takao, I stopped in a park near the cycling course to enjoy one of Nana’s world-famous asari onigiri.

Yaezakura at the rest stop
Yaezakura at the rest stop

Asakawa Comfortable Road
Asakawa Comfortable Road

Crossing over the Tamagawa, I followed a branch known as Asakawa and soon I found myself spinning along the Asakawa Comfortable Road (although I prefer to think of it as the Lollygagging Turtle Way). I wasn’t sure what kind of progress I was making along here, but when I returned home and checked Strava I found I was posting personal records all along the way.

Not long after stopping for the photo, unfortunately, I ran through a thick cloud of gnats. As they pinged against my helmet and sunglasses it sounded like a handful of gravel thrown against a tin sheet, and I spent the next few minutes fishing gnats out of my ears (despite the bandana which covers them) and wiping them from my eyes (again, despite the sunglasses). A little further on, I turned down a switchback to a gravel path and nearly lost it on the turn. In the end I regained my balance and traction just as I managed to get my foot out of the cleat. And then a few dozen meters later on, I realized that I didn’t need to take the gravel path after all.

After a bit of pedestrian traffic and requisite kids running across my path without checking for traffic, I came into the second leg of the Asakawa route to find the river lined with yaezakura, and a full-fledged koinobori festival in progress.

Yaezakura lining the cycle path
Yaezakura lining the cycle path

Koinobori celebrate the birth of sons
Koinobori celebrate the birth of sons

Before long I found myself at Takaosanguchi, the entrance to Mt Takao, and stopped for some fine dining chez 7-11 (although mostly featuring Nana’s remaining onigiri). A group of five riders joined me here for a brief rest, and I shared with them the remainder of the 2-liter bottle of water I’d purchased. Although I set out first, they soon passed me by as I stopped right after the lunch rest at the cable car entrance for Mt Takao (and they continued to pull away — I didn’t see them again).

Mt Takao cable car entrance
Mt Takao cable car entrance

Up, up, up!
Up, up, up!

From that point on the climbing begins in earnest. It’s not very steep (despite the appearance in the profile above), but it is relentless. It just keeps going up for about 4.5km at an average grade of 6%. When we first made it up the mountain in January, we weren’t sure about the remaining distance and I stopped to rest a couple of times — the last time within 50m of the top.

This time around I was doing a lot of math in my head from the GPS measurements, and for some reason I bobbled things. I did make use of the new, lowest gear, and was going along pretty well in that. When I reached what I’d calculated as perhaps the halfway point (recognizing that it was further along than the first stop I’d made in January), I stopped for a rest. This turned out to be a mistake: in the first case, because once I mounted up again my thighs (until then doing OK) were like jelly. And in the second case, because I turned out to be less than 400m from the top. Crawling along with wobbly thighs, I soon recognized my error and pushed on to the top.

Cyclists pass Otarumi Touge
Cyclists pass Otarumi Touge

I took a brief rest here and then continued onward (and downhill!) into Kanagawa Prefecture. There were some gorgeous views overlooking the Sagami River valley, but as they were all flashing past at 50km/h, I didn’t stop for photos.

And then I entered terra incognita, at least as far as places I’d ridden before. I was kind of expecting a nice, fast descent and then a flat ride back to Tamagawa (as when we’d taken a U-turn at the top), but in fact there was still a whole lot of “up-down, up-down” to go. I passed some beautiful scenery along the way, including the Sagami Dam, but I had to stop once again to rest on a rather steepish uphill, even though I could see the top from the point where I needed to take a break.

Lake Sagami at Sagami Dam
Lake Sagami at Sagami Dam

At this point, I was playing a mental game with myself which turned out to be a mistake. I was telling myself it was a very short ride back to the Tama River, and so I didn’t stop to rest along the way (apart from traffic lights and the time I stopped mid-climb). In fact, it was 35km to get back to the Tama River and pick up my usual course. By the time I got there, I was exhausted, hungry and sore. I stopped in the park with the yaezakura and had a candy bar and a nice, 20-minute rest. I contacted Nana to let her know I had another 30km to go, and so not to expect me for another two hours or more. Although I’d been averaging more than 22km/h up to this point (with some rapid descents making up for my slow-poke climbing style), once I got back on the Tama River I was fighting a headwind. And I was just …

The next 5km were just murder. My butt and hands hurt, I’d been nursing a cramp in my right thigh, I was fighting a headwind, and out of nowhere the crank started making a clicking noise. I was seriously considering finding someplace to leave Kuroko for the night and taking the train home. But when I reached the next rest point, a little shrine with a major restroom in the shadow of Keiokaku Velodrome, and had a break and refilled my water bottle, I felt reinvigorated. Maybe the candy bar I’d eaten earlier was kicking in.

At any rate, I soldiered on. I thought I was taking it easy now, but I discovered when I arrived home that I’d still set a couple more personal bests. The crank continued making noise like a pair of maracas, and I was worried about the damage I was doing. Whenever I had the chance I would coast instead of pedaling.

Final rest spot
Final rest spot

From the final scheduled rest spot, I continued on. Even my butt felt better at this point. I wonder what was in that candy bar after all! At this point I was feeling tired but not bad overall — although I continued to be worried about the knocking noise coming from the crank. I used various tricks to make sure the noise wasn’t coming from the gears, chain, shoes, rack, etc. But meanwhile I continued looking forward to the end of my ride, a nice, hot bath, and a delicious cold beer!

Made it, in the end, 8 hours 7 minutes after I’d set out. That was a better time than our previous effort: although it was 10km less and rather less climbing (in fact, today involved an additional 500m or 70%), we’d taken 8 hours 15 minutes on that occasion (probably because we spent a lot of time at the summit).

Looking back from today’s ride post-bath and beer, I’m pleased overall. The new gearing will be a big help when it comes to Lejog (although I haven’t yet tried any climbs with laden panniers!). Today I climbed nearly as much as during last year’s Tour de Tohoku (which came in 25km shorter), where I’d spent a lot of time pushing Kuroko uphill. There’s obviously a new issue to sort out with the crankset (probably in the bottom bracket), but I’ve finally got the derailleur adjusted properly. The only real downsides to today’s ride were the Halfakid not making it and the obvious bonk I’d experienced when I determined to keep going until I got back to Tamagawa, rather than stop, rest and have a snack where I was.

Otarumi Touge

Otarumi Touge road marker

Otarumi Touge (Pass) is a popular cyclists’ destination near Mt. Takao at the border of Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture. Naturally, because it’s a mountain pass, getting there involves a bit of climbing. The Halfakid and I had attempted the route last November, but we lost an hour to a mechanical and I was on a tight deadline (dinner with friends that evening), so we turned back after reaching the foot of Mt. Takao.

This time, with the Kid on a new bike and me with no deadline (and fully charged lights), I was more confident of our ability to finish — particularly if the Halfakid didn’t flat along the route!

I set out at 7:30 to take full advantage of the daylight, and met the Kid at his place at 8. From there’s it’s a bit of a run in traffic down to the Tama River, but it’s largely downhill. It wasn’t long before we were cruising up the Tama cycling path. We passed a group of three in matching jerseys for a Setagaya cycling club, and before we knew it we were acting as their pacesetters — at least until the Halfakid took a wrong turning and I slowed my pace to wait for him to catch up again.

Brief rest before crossing
Brief rest before crossing

Just before crossing over the Tama River to continue our ride towards Mt. Takao, we stopped at a quiet park and had one of Nana’s famous onigiri.

Once over the bridge, we joined up the Asa River cycling course and were on the lookout for the wrong turning we’d made on our first outing in November. I nearly went the wrong way once again, but the Halfakid reeled me in and we were soon on our way.

As we’d only come this way once before, we were still learning the ins and outs of the Asa River course. Is it better to take that cycling path although it’s gravel, or stay on this narrow road against the traffic with broken pavement? Should we cross this bridge in the road or on the sidewalk? There were a couple of times I had to apologize to the Kid for sudden maneuvers made without hand signals.

The final stretch of cycling path into Takao is bumpy, broken and full of pedestrians out for a weekend stroll in the beautiful weather. We chanced across a local fire department staging a bonfire surmounted by a daruma — that place was lit! Not long after that we were climbing up from the path and back into traffic. But it’s not far from the end of the path into Takao proper.

Nana's famous onigiri
Nana’s famous onigiri

Once in Takao, we stopped at a convenience store we’d found in November that has picnic benches and parking for bicycles. We bought hot coffee and bottled water, and enjoyed some of Nana’s famous onigiri before our assault on the mountain. This time for the first time, she’d made onigiri with umeboshi, which is a favorite of the Kid.

Onwards! I had my Garmin plotting the course (which was basically: follow the road), but it doesn’t show how much further to go. From this point we were climbing for 6km up to the pass. The overall grade is not steep — a 5% average — but it just keeps going up, up and up! Strava lists the climb as a Category 3, with two segments: 7.62km at 3%, or just the last 3.61km at 5%. I was sure I could do it — it’s much more gradual than the run-up to the pass between Nara and Osaka — but perhaps not all at one gulp. I made it about halfway up before taking my first break and another half kilometer or more before the next break. After each stop, though, I mounted the bike and continued pedaling.

Upwards! The road didn’t exactly switch back, but it wended its way next to a small stream upwards to the pass, first in the chilly shadow of the mountain, then in the bright warm sunshine. We watched enviously as cyclists descended in the opposite direction, or occasionally passed us on the way up towards the pass. I should point out here that the Halfakid was going strong. Despite his much higher gearing, he could have stormed past me to the top at any point without having to stop for a break.

I took my final brief break at a narrow shoulder that would turn out to be within 50m of the goal. If only I’d continued around that last corner I’d have seen it was the end! But no matter — we made it. As we flashed under the sign marking the pass, I asked the Halfakid if it said what I thought. He replied that he wasn’t familiar with the kanji, but it said “mountain up-down.” (峠) “That will be touge: pass,” I replied, making a climbing and then descending motion with my hand.

Otarumi Touge: Tokyo side
Otarumi Touge: Tokyo side

Otarumi Touge: Kanagawa side
Otarumi Touge: Kanagawa side

Naturally, we rested at the top. There was a ramen restaurant with soft cream, but neither of us was hungry enough for a full meal at that point. We had water and more hot coffee, and I had a Snickers bar. We wandered around a bit and took photos.

View from Otarumi Touge, towards Kanagawa
View from Otarumi Touge, towards Kanagawa

We couldn’t dawdle too long, though. We knew that we’d only come half way, and needed to get back home again. We mounted up. Somehow, the trip from the pass back to Takao went much faster, and the only break I took was when I’d left the Halfakid so far behind that I couldn’t see him anymore. (This turned out to be the last time that this was true on this particular ride.) When we got back to Takaosanguchi, we stopped for a quick photo at the entrance to the cable car up the mountain.

Cable car entrance at Takaosan Guchi
Cable car entrance at Takaosanguchi

We stopped at the same convenience store again and stocked up on food, and then worked our way through the traffic back to the Asa River cycling course.

Naturally, on the way home, we were a bit more knackered. And yet when we came to straight, smooth cycling path, the Halfakid rocketed past me and on ahead. Now that he has his new bike, he has reserves beyond what I’m able to match. I didn’t try to hold him back: it’s good if he can stretch his thighs and calves knowing that I’ll catch up with him when he stops for a break at a turning point.

Last stop in a park
Last stop in a park

We crossed the Tama River in the homeward direction and stopped to eat all the goodies we’d bought at the convenience store in Takao. Then we rejoined the Tama cycling path: flat and straight as an arrow back towards home. It wasn’t too long before we came to the park we’d first stopped at in the morning, on our way to the Tama River.

From there we were retracing our path of the morning, except what was downhill then was uphill for us. Again, I think the Halfakid was holding a lot in reserve, but I was doing my best with my worn-out thighs. My only hope of staying ahead was via trickery, which I apparently employed via lack of hand signals as I sped through a right turn intersection on a yellow and left the Halfakid waiting for another cycle of the lights.

All good things must come to an end, including 100km-plus rides featuring a mountain pass at the midway point. I left the Halfakid at his apartment and messaged Nana I was on my way home. I was racing the Garmin’s battery, which was over the 8-hour mark at this point, while at the same time nursing my exhausted thighs. I alternated between coasting along, taking things easy, and thinking, “Hey, I got this!” and pushing the pedals to the metal.

Otarumi Touge round trip
Otarumi Touge round trip

(I’m not sure why the mountain profile isn’t symmetrical — we came back the same way we went up!)

We’ll definitely come back here. There’s a loop course which, instead of turning around at the pass, continues on into Kanagawa Prefecture and turns south before looping back towards the same bridge which takes us over the Tama River. It adds about 20km to the overall route, so we’ll save it for a bright, hot day a bit later in the year when the sun is hanging in the sky a couple of more hours.

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