Late Off the Line

Statue of flying squirrel against backdrop of green leaves

It was after 9 a.m. before I finally got on the bike this morning, and right away I was facing lines of traffic, backed up by road repairs and other construction work. I passed kilometer upon kilometer of vehicles idling at a standstill before I finally reached the cycling course at Tamagawa.

Nana had once again failed to whip up a batch of her world-famous onigiri, so I stopped at a convenience store along the way to get something to eat. Mindful of my bad experience last weekend, I avoided the onigiri and got a hotdog and a combo sandwich.

The wind was with me riding up the Tamagawa, and I stopped at a park to eat the hotdog before continuing. As soon as I was on the Asagawa, though, I was fighting into the wind. I encountered an easy detour, just a bit of traffic, and then a pleasant surprise: the sign welcoming riders to the Asagawa “Take It Easy” Road is usually a warning of very bad pavement to follow. But today — much to my delight — I found that the succeeding 500m or so was freshly paved, all the way to the rail crossing.

From that point on I was struggling. It’s not difficult on paper — gradients range from 0% to 2%. But I was definitely feeling the bonk. Even after stopping to rest and eat the combo sandwich, I just didn’t have the energy to push forward. It was not quite as bad as when I’d included this segment as part of a century ride, but it was palpable.

Too little, too late

By the time I reached the cable car entrance at Takaosan Guchi, I’d already decided: It was almost 12:30, I was starving, and my thighs had already had it. The last time I’d ridden up Takaosan to Otarumi Touge was in October, and I’d left home at 7:15. This morning’s 9:06 departure just wasn’t going to cut it, given a desire to be home in time to shower up for a 6 p.m. dinner date. I decided to be satisfied with a photo or two at Takaosan Guchi and then a more leisurely ride home.

I returned to the nearby Family Mart, where another rider struck up a conversation.

Fit Japanese rider
Hot, isn’t it?
Guy Jean
I’ll say! And it will be hotter tomorrow!
That’s what I’ve heard …
Guy Jean
Did you go up to the pass [Otarumi Touge]?
I went over the pass and down into Kanagawa Prefecture, and then I came back over the pass.
Guy Jean

He was, at a guess, not any younger than your humble narrator.

Slight return

The return down the Asagawa was quite a bit smoother. That almost non-existent 0-2% gradient was now working in my favor, and so was the wind — for the most part. I posted a couple of 5km runs here at 26km/h, a big improvement over the 20km/h at most I was making on the way upstream.

I stopped for a rest in the shade and a last snack just before rejoining the Tamagawa. I took off my shoes and adjusted my socks to give the dogs a rest.

After crossing the Tamagawa and back on my home turf, the wind was very mixed. At this point the big question was how long I could go without resting my hands and my backside. I was pleased to find my thighs were feeling much better than on the way up to Takaosan Guchi — was it just because I was headed downhill now (however slightly), or had the break for lunch recharged me?

I was dealing with a bit of finger numbness along the way, but not as bad as it had recently been. I just had to move my hands about a bit on the bars from time to time, and occasionally lift one and give it a shake. Ditto the saddle soreness. A few times I had to squirm around a bit, and then all was good again.

I took a last break at a small park where I leave the Tamagawa for city traffic. I drank some water and took my time resting, and then messaged Nana that I would be home by 4. I was checking Garmie to see if I was going to get in 100km for the day, and it was looking close. I was willing to do an extra lap around Central Park if need be.

On the long stretch of Setagaya Ave. taking me back into the city, I’ll sometimes find a car that stands out from the pack, and I use that to gauge my progress. Given the traffic, it’s not too challenging to keep up. Once it was a Ferrari roadster that reeked of unburned gasoline. This time it was a young woman driving a grey 718 Cayman GTS with a beginner’s sticker on the flank. We played cat-and-mouse in the traffic most of the way back. She only lost me when she got ahead of a bus that then pulled in front of me and stopped for the traffic light, half a kilometer before I turned off the avenue.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Late Off the Line

A riding time of 4h56m gave me an average riding speed of 20.8km/h. The total elapsed time was a bit more than that as I took my time resting on the way back once I’d decided not to test the mountain. Last October, when I rode to the top with only a single rest on the way up, I came in at 6h17m ride time on a route that’s 22km longer for 19.8km/h.

Bar graph of distance by month, with 600km in May highlighted

Coming in at 100km (no extra lap needed) put me over 600km for the month, the longest monthly distance I’ve done since last October (which was just before I converted Kuroko to electronic shifting). There are a couple of more days this month but I’m not likely to be riding. Monday will be 30C and windy, and rain is in the forecast for Tuesday.

Refused at the gate

Optimistic start

Cyclist's red jersey and black shorts
All-new kit

I finally got on the bike on Day 3 of a three-day weekend. On Saturday I was suffering from a tummy ailment, and yesterday we had lots of “guerilla weather,” including a number of tornadoes.

This morning the skies were blue, with fluffy white clouds. While Nana whipped up a batch of her world-famous onigiri, I got dressed in my new kit, repping Wales big-time.

It was just 15C when I set out, and I worried I might actually be cold in the summer jersey. It was a bit cool in the shade, but when I was moving I generated enough heat. And in the sun, no problem.

Road shenanigans

The ride down to the river went nearly without incident. I was next to a city bus at a stoplight and decided to get out ahead of him. When the light changed I popped a wheelie for a brief moment before getting my steed back under control and putting my effort into moving forward.

<!–– Begin CycleGeekTechnicalExplanation ––>

It’s not as though I’m Fabio Wibmer — I’d just put the bike in too low a gear when pulling up to the light. I usually start from the large chainring, with the second-largest cog. In this position, the front derailleur should be trimmed, which takes a light press on the shifting paddle. But I’d pressed too hard in my haste, and shifted to the small chainring on the front. The result was all sorts of leverage compared to what I was expecting.

<!–– End CycleGeekTechnicalExplanation ––>

The only other thing of note was a driver who absolutely had to get past me before slamming on the brakes and turning left, cutting me off. In other words, a typical day’s riding.

A beautiful day — with some wind

Small shrine nestled in trees
Short shrine stop

As soon as I got to the river, I was battling a cross-wind. Someone was using the park bench where I usually have my first break, so I continued on until I reached the small shrine near Keio Oval, the keirin racetrack. There I had a short break and ate some fruit jello.

Back on the cycle course, I was making good time up the Tamagawa despite the wind. As expected on a holiday with good weather, there were a lot of joggers, strollers and amateur cyclists to negotiate. (Not that I’m a pro … but I know how to stay out of other people’s way when I ride.)

Upwind on the Asagawa

I knew I’d be in trouble when I branched off the Tamagawa for the Asagawa — I was turning into the wind. It was actually fine for the first 5km or so, and the wind was clearing the air, providing a fine view of Fujisan at the end of the winding river.

Fujisan over the Asakawa

Blurry digitally zoomed image of Fujsan behind apartment buildings
High quality zoom Fuji

But for the next 10km or so, I was truly heading directly upwind. I had enough power that my speed stayed just below 20km/h, but it should have been 25 or better. I continued on, not knowing if I’d be able to climb Otarumi Touge or just reach Takaosan, but knowing I was enjoying the ride and wasn’t ready to pack it in yet.

Takaosan Guchi

After a couple of onigiri stops, I reached Takaosan. There were not as many cyclists as I’d expected. (There was a young amateur on the sidewalk beside me who eventually made better time by cruising through stoplights, etc.) I was thinking how to proceed. There was a small derailleur problem on the rear, where it would try to jump up a gear for one specific cog, and I thought about stopping at the usual convenience store. The bike stands there would let me easily run through the gears as I adjusted the cable tension.

But I took stock of my situation, including the aching in my thighs from the battle upwind, and the remaining onigiri and Snickers bar in my bag (meaning I didn’t have to stop for supplies). I looked at the sky, and saw a threat of a rerun of yesterday’s guerilla rain. And so I decided to visit Takaosan Guchi, get a photo or two, and start on my way home. In the end I’d still get 100km, my overriding goal for the day.

Selfie of cyclist in shades and mask in front of cable car entrance for Takaosan
Rain starting at Takaosan Guchi

Photo montage of statue of flying squirrel and waterfall in shrine
Flying squirrel and shrine

Right on schedule, the rain started as I arrived at Takaosan Guchi, wending my way on foot through surprising crowds (considering we’re under an emergency declaration). I took a moment for a selfie and then to photograph a nearby shrine, then made my way back to the road to return home.

Ride with the wind

On my way home I was riding not only downstream (and hence slightly downhill), but also with the wind. I was flying, regularly going above 30km/h with hardly any effort, and posted a few 5km times at 11 minutes or better. I left behind the few sprinkles of rain I’d encountered at Takaosan and the sun emerged again from the clouds. Aside from an encounter or two with pedestrians and other cyclists, it seemed that hardly any time passed before I was back at the Tamagawa and pulling into a park for the final onigiri. I checked the time and messaged Nana that I would be home about 3:30.

Living for the city

With 15km to go, I was back in city traffic. Usually it’s a struggle at this point, both to scale the few remaining climbs (such as they are) on the way home and to keep up my average pace in the face of traffic. Today, despite thick traffic, I watched in disbelief as my average pace actually improved from the high 15s to more than 16km/h. I can only imagine that the holiday-timed lights were with me, and I was able to work my way beside a lot of the thickest of the traffic. Also, I made pretty good time up those climbs despite the aching of my thighs.

I messaged Nana that I was home and descended to the cycle parking. In addition to the shifting problem mentioned, there was some noise on the way home that I haven’t yet identified. But I was too tired to deal with bringing Kuroko up the elevator just then. I parked her in the basement. The moment I dismounted, my thighs and one calf cramped. I walked the cramps off, got into the elevator, and then started the bath as soon as I got in the door.

I’m exhausted, totally done in, but I love it.

GPS record of cycle ride
Refused at the gate