Hot! Hot! Hot! Yokohama!

Yokohama Bay Bridge as seen from Minato-no-Mieru-Oka Koen

Every year it’s the same damn thing

The forecast high yesterday was 35C, so I knew I couldn’t go on a full-fledged ride. Ten years ago I could ride in 35C weather and everything was fine so long as I didn’t push myself too hard, and I made sure I drank enough water. But starting two years ago, on a hot, sunny day, I experienced very sudden and very severe bonk. On that first occasion, it was all I could do to roll downhill and tumble off the bike into the shade of a friendly tree. After resting more than 10 minutes and drinking a lot of water, I ate a couple of onigiri and then I could continue. It was only after the ride that it occurred to me this wasn’t the bonk — it was my body refusing to push on in the heat.

I experienced the same thing again last year at similar temperatures and again on a sunny day. The same sudden loss of power, and a slow, partial recovery after a break in the shade with lots of cold water and something to eat.

Each time I told myself I’d learned a lesson: Don’t ride when the temperature is higher than, oh, perhaps 32C. And each summer I tell myself, “It will be OK this time. I’ll set out early and I’ll get home before the heat really comes on.” And then I set myself a schedule which makes that impossible.

And yesterday was another case in point: I figured if I left by 8 a.m. and only went as far as Haneda, I could be home before noon. And then for some reason I figured if I could ride to Haneda, I could ride to Yokohama. It’s not all that much farther to go, the view from Minato-no-Mieru-Oka Koen is great, and I hadn’t been there in a while. The Halfakid agreed to join me and so the schedule was set.

It’s already near the limit

When I set out from home yesterday morning at 8:10, my phone told me it was already 31C. Hmm … that’s about my limit, right? Maybe I should change plans and just go to Haneda. But I put the Yokohama route on the GPS (I don’t really need the navigation — I know this route) and set off to meet up with the Halfakid. He was waiting for me, all ready to go except for pumping up his tires a bit. My tires also were in need of air, even though I’d filled them just an hour before starting the ride. (See the Weeping Sidewalls.) So we were getting even more exercise than we’d bargained for as we pumped our tires up. At least we were standing in the shade!

Cruising down the Tamagawa

Soon we were cruising down the Tamagawa cycling course with a tailwind to help us along. The sun was very strong and I was thinking I should have worn my UV mask (which I’ve been going without this year, for no particularly good reason). The temperature was rising steadily, but we didn’t feel bad so long as we were moving. The path was crowded and the Halfakid fell slightly behind at times as we wove in and out between other cyclists and joggers. We continued on until we came to our usual rest spot in the shade.

Asphalt canyon

Once again I considered whether I should change our plans and only go as far as Haneda. I was starting to feel fatigue from the heat, but nothing extreme yet. We mounted up and continued along, making good time, and were soon crossing the bridge over the Tamagawa into Kawasaki. From here we continue on Route 15 nearly all the way to our goal, about 16km on. It’s a straight shot, but it’s all in traffic and it’s a veritable asphalt canyon. There’s no hiding from the sun and the temperature soars. We found ourselves stopping scores of meters back from the traffic lights if we could rest in the shade while we waited.

At a small park about 5km after the bridge we stopped for an onigiri and some water as we sat in the shade. I felt recharged. Then it was back into the asphalt canyon. The road is straight and flat, and so the heat was our only real opponent (and the occasional driver who ignored our hand signals as we maneuvered around parked cars and other obstacles). We rolled through Yokohama and passed the entrance to Chinatown before stopping at a convenience store to supplement our onigiri lunch.

While the Halfakid shopped for cold water and coffee, I leaned against a railing in the shade. I knew the heat was getting me — it was 34C at this point. I’d have preferred sitting down but there wasn’t really any place for that. I just had to wait, and when the Halfakid emerged with some cold bottled water I accepted it gratefully. I drank perhaps 300ml or more despite knowing we’d soon be climbing our way up to our goal in the park.

I’ll beat that climb someday

The final 300m to Minato-no-Mieru-Oka Koen is a rise of 29m, just shy of a 10% average. The steepest bit is 13%. It’s not the world’s longest climb, but it is on a twisty road with fast traffic, so I can’t zigzag my way up. And it comes at the end of a 40km ride just to get to the start. Anyway, long story short, I have yet to reach the top in a single go. (No such worries for the Halfakid, who just rockets past me before waiting at the top.) I usually get about halfway up before giving up just after the steepest bit. This time, with the heat sapping my power, I gave up a good 15m before my usual spot. And from there it was all I could do to push Kuroko the rest of the way up the hill. I really just wanted to stop where I was and have a rest, on the narrow sidewalk with no shade.

Yokohama Bay Bridge as seen from Minato-no-Mieru-Oka Koen
Yokohama Bay Bridge

View from the top

The reason we stop at this particular park (apart from things like restrooms, a water fountain and park benches) is the view over Yokohama Bay that the brief climb affords us. We were lucky in that I quickly found an available bench (there aren’t many), and we sat in the shade and quickly finished the remaining onigiri.

Ship in Yokohama Bay seen through trees

The difference between theory and practice

As we ate and rested, we joked about how quickly we could get back home. After all, it’s just about 40km and we were averaging better than 20km/h despite my stroll up the final climb. In reality, we’d taken three-and-a-half hours to reach the park even though we’d been riding just about two hours by this point. The difference reflected both the long breaks we’d been taking and the stop-and-go traffic we’d had along Route 15 and through Yokohama. I’d told Nana before leaving home that I’d be back around 3, and I realized that this was now unlikely.

Smoother sailing, at least at first

We set off home, flying down the hill from the park, and found our way back out of Yokohama much smoother going than coming in. We were hitting far fewer red lights. But we were soon back on the asphalt canyon of Route 15. My speed was still a hair over 20km/h, but I was wondering how long I could keep that up. We agreed we’d stop for rest and refreshments when we crossed the bridge back in Tokyo, but I was starting to feel I wouldn’t make it. The only thing that kept me going was the lack of shady parks along the route. (I suspected I could quickly find more than a few just a block or two off the main road, but I was playing a mind game with myself to keep going.) I felt quite weak but I was still keeping pretty good speed so long as the road was flat and straight and I wasn’t fighting a headwind.

We came at last to the bridge without incident. We usually ride up the pedestrian ramp to the bridge — it’s very gentle — but there was another cyclist coming down it as we approached, and I didn’t trust myself not to wobble into him in my current state. So we dismounted and pushed our bikes up the ramp. I knew I was taking my time up the ramp but I didn’t realize how slowly I was going until another cyclist passed by me while pushing his bike up at a much faster pace.

Ice cream!

The bridge is nice and flat, and we dawdled across it. At the far (Tokyo) end, there’s a spiral ramp down to street level which lands us nearly at the door of the convenience store. I sat down on the asphalt pavement in the shade by the bicycle stand and worked at an ice cream sandwich and a lot of cold, cold water. I had a good long rest here, and updated Nana on our status.

Back on the Tamagawa cycling course, my mantra was to just keep moving and not to worry about my average speed. (OK, I did keep stealing glances at the GPS and fretting that I’d fallen below 20km/h, but I didn’t try to get the speed back up.) A scant 4km after the convenience store, we arrived back at the site of our first rest stop of the day, and I pulled in for a brief stop. More water and a few precious minutes in the shade. The Halfakid and I discussed whether it would be easier to go on the road, in traffic, than on the bike path. The bike path would give us a couple of switchbacks to climb — the one at Marukobashi is rather substantial. The road is fast and smooth, by contrast, but there’s a tunnel a few hundred meters long just before coming into Futako. There are probably ways around the tunnel, but I wasn’t feeling adventurous. We continued on the path.

And when we came to a shaded rest area another 4km further on, I stopped again. I had enough water left to get me to Futako, and we discussed whether to buy more water before the climb at Futako or after. The Halfakid said he was fine for water, so I decided to stop at a convenience store or vending machine at the foot of the climb. I’d need to carry the water up the climb, but I’d have it right when I needed it at the top. We set off again for the final 4km drag to Futako, and again I just concentrated on keeping moving rather than looking at my speed. I’d switched down to my smaller chainring at this point, usually only used for climbing, and I just stayed on it. I could get up to just over 20km/h (given a tailwind) without having to move to the larger chainring, so I stayed with it.

The dreaded climb

Of course we eventually reached Futagobashi and crossed the Tamagawa for the final time into Futako. At the foot of the climb I told the Halfakid to go ahead while I stopped at a vending machine. I drank some of the water on the spot and then poured the rest into my water bottle. And with that I was off up the climb (much gentler than the one in Yokohama at a 4% average). I just dropped to my lowest gear as soon as possible and took my time up the hill.

GPS details of ride from Tokyo to Yokohama
Hot! Hot! Hot! Yokohama!

While we rested at the top of the hill, I checked the time and made some mental calculations. The Halfakid was still fine — he’d charged right on up the hill. I was feeling somewhat better. The temperature had probably started to fall, and even though I was in the city now there was more shade. I messaged Nana that I would probably be home between 4 and 4:15, and we set out on the last leg. It’s only 5km (in traffic) to the Halfakid’s flat, and we soon reached it. After a fist bump he carried his bike in through the door and I sat down on the step for a couple more minutes of rest before continuing.

The final 8km home went well (apart from a few idiot drivers, as usual). I modified my course slightly at the end, swapping a straight, fast-moving and heavily trafficked road with a bit of climbing for a back road with some pedestrian traffic and numerous cross streets. This route takes me right by the train station, but I was resting in shade while waiting for the traffic light. At last I reached Chuo Koen and the final downhill to home. I usually crank up the speed here to see how fast I can get it (depending on traffic), but this time I was content just to coast down the hill. I got enough speed even so (32km/h) that I hardly had to pedal to reach the goal. I stopped the clock at 4:08 p.m., within the time that I’d told Nana.

You could even say it glows

After having a shower, I noticed in the mirror that my nose was bright red. I’d used SPF70 sun cream, but I really ought to be wearing the UV mask (or just not biking) in this sort of weather. Nana was calling me “Rudolph.”

While my symptoms during the ride fall well short of heat exhaustion, I still think that I shouldn’t ride under these conditions. I’ll need to either stick to my resolution to leave early and return early, or simply not ride when the forecast is saying it’s a bad idea.

Apart from the weeping sidewalls of my lightweight tires, mechanicals were minor. The disc brakes squealed very faintly on a couple of occasions. I’ve ordered resin brake pads to replace the metallic ones I’m using, and that should take care of it. I also had a return of the problem with the front shift lever, but I know now how to deal with that on the fly. It’s an annoyance, and one I’m considering a couple of alternatives to fix.

Pushin’ it to Yokohama

Yokohama Bay Bridge

It was several degrees cooler this weekend than last, but I still chose a non-challenging route: Yokohama. Mostly I wanted a change of scenery. The way to Yokohama is mostly flat, but a long stretch of it is in traffic (in fact we’re only on the bike path for a handful of kilometers), and worse than the traffic and bad pavement of Rte. 15 is stopping for every third traffic light and waiting. (I’m sure that gives us time to rest our hands and thighs, though.)

Rider inflating back tire of bicycle
Filling up

At our first stop, the Halfakid wanted to add some more air to his rear tire. This is the one that blew out on our last venture down this same path.

Onigiri wrapped in foil
Onigiri time!

On my last ride to Yokohama I discovered a small park about 15km before the goal that’s a perfect place to stop and enjoy one of Nana’s world-famous onigiri — so long as some ojisan isn’t spraying insecticide all over the park when we arrive.

Map route of Yatozaka showing elevation
Yatozaka elevation

We had much less traffic through Yokohama this time, but Yatozaka doesn’t change: it’s still a 24m climb at 8.7% average and a long mid-section at 15%. As usual, the Halfakid charged straight up it, while I soldiered through the 15% section and then stopped in the 9%-10% section, just as the going was about to ease up. Unlike every previous occasion, though, this time I continued on after a brief rest. Yes, I rode all the way to the top! And a PR on Strava confirms this was my best performance on this particular hill.

The forecast for today (after several changes) was for sunny weather, and that finally proved true as we arrived in Yokohama. At Minato no Mieru Oka Koen, we found a seat in the shade to finish off our onigiri and guzzle some water.

The ride home was uneventful apart from the maracas in my bottom bracket. I must do something about that within the next week — before the delivery company picks up Kuroko for the next Tour de Tohoku. When we got back across the Tama River into Tokyo we stopped at a convenience store for Pokari and energy food. And then the Halfakid took off towards Nikotama, leaving me in the dust. And what dust: as we rode upstream along the Tama, we were swarmed by gnats and coated with airborne sand blown up from the baseball diamonds along the river.

Bicycle in a park
At the top of the climb in Nikotama

We didn’t rest long at the top of the climb out of the Tama River valley — we were making good time and eager to get home to beer and bath (or shower, in my case). I made a brief farewell to the Halfakid at his apartment and continued on home, still making good time. I arrived home just 6 hours 39 minutes after having left, or 4 hours 6 minutes riding. I think that may be a record for me to get to Yokohama and back, and according to Strava I set several personal bests along the way, although I really didn’t think I’d been striving.

Shinjuku-Yokohama ride route and details

Shut up, legs

Yokohama Bay Bridge

I set off with some trepidation for Yokohama this morning. I’d just done the Tokyo Landmarks ride yesterday, and I usually don’t ride two days in a row. But as I’ve got a big ride coming up with more than a couple of days in a row of riding, I thought it best to get some training in.

The moment I set out this morning, I started hearing from my thighs.

Way-way-wait! We did this yesterday!
Then after 20km:
*sigh* I guess we’re doing this. All right, just don’t expect any help in the climbs.

In fact the start of today’s ride was inauspicious in other regards as well. Within the first 20km, I was:

  • Lectured to by a police officer
  • Cut off by a driver overtaking me in an intersection, who definitely needed to beat me to the next light another 50m on
  • Ambushed by a kid who crossed the path and then suddenly reversed, stepped right in front of me and stopped

The cop thing happened like this: I was approaching an intersection where I wanted to turn right (Americans, think: turn left) and the light changed. So I used the crosswalk to cross right to the opposite side and wait for the light to change.

As soon as I’d done that, the baton-waving and whistle-blowing cop crossed over the crosswalk after me and said good morning in a polite tone. I pulled my mask off, hoping that revealing myself as a gaijin would put off whatever she was on about, but she was unfazed. I didn’t totally play the gaijin card by pretending not to understand Japanese; instead I returned her greeting.

Gesturing with her baton, she told me that the proper way for cyclists to turn right at a multi-lane intersection is to first proceed across the intersection to the opposite corner, and then wait for the light to change to proceed to the right.

Yes, that’s the law (and yes, I know this as a result of having passed my driver’s license). But seriously? To call me out because I took the first crosswalk instead of making the “two-point right turn”? I didn’t get uppity with her: I just agreed and thanked her, and when she told me to be careful I thanked her again. I still made the crossing when the light changed (and thus saved myself one cycle of the light, which had been my goal when making my move).

And I made sure to stop and wait at the next two lights, even though they were only for crosswalks (not cross streets) because I was still in her view (and I figure she could radio ahead to her colleagues and say, “Stop that asshole gaijin on the bike!”).

Following that, the driver cutting me off at an intersection happened in full view of a police box, so I guess that says everything I need to know about my karma …

Kuroko resting in the shade
Kuroko resting in the shade

After 20-some kilometers I stopped to rest, and from that point onwards my legs were mostly OK. I still felt (as noted above) that I would not be up for any big climbing. I was also sure any personal bests today would be the result of a combination of green lights and tailwinds.

As usual, after leaving the cycle path on the Dai-ichi Keihin towards Yokohama, it’s all just straight and flat and bad pavement and lots of traffic. I would ride this way more often but for the fact it’s a 10km stretch of this (and back again) with nothing to break the monotony except for the occasional pothole or rude driver cutting it too close.

Chukagai: Chinatown
Chukagai: Chinatown

As soon as I got to the Minato Mirai section of Yokohama, the traffic turned impossible. Buses up against the curb, preventing passing. Cars stopped in the middle of intersections and blocking progress. Idiots trying to change lanes without looking in hopes of leapfrogging the car ahead. (Wait: does that describe me?) Usually when we bike this we flash by the entrance of Chinatown too quickly to give it a second thought, but today I had time to take a photo at my leisure while I waited for the intersection to clear.

When I finally cleared this section and made it to Minato-no-Mieru Oka Koen, the park overlooking the harbor which is my goal for this ride, I messaged the Halfakid. “Yokohama is packed. It’s the kind of day that your grandmother would convince your grandfather we have to drive to Chinatown.”

Oh, and that climb up to Minato-no-Mieru Oka Koen from sea level? Forget it. I made it half way (which is what I usually do). The Halfakid can do it, but he wasn’t with me today.

Yokohama Bay Bridge
Yokohama Bay Bridge

View from Minato-no-Mieru Oka Koen
View from Minato-no-Mieru Oka Koen

Sunken flower garden and Osaragi Jiro Memorial Museum
Sunken flower garden and Osaragi Jiro Memorial Museum

The park was packed. Usually I can get a seat on the observation deck in the shade, but today that was impossible. I explored a shaded walkway I hadn’t noticed before and came across a quiet park with benches in the shade, and sat down there to fill up on Nana’s world-famous onigiri (and a Snickers bar left over from yesterday’s ride).

Windmill near the Image of Maternal Love sculpture
Windmill near the Image of Maternal Love sculpture

A couple of people asked if they could share the bench, and I readily agreed. One older woman struck up a conversation with me, but she was one of those types who doesn’t really listen to the answers I supply to her questions. I relaxed, took my time eating the onigiri, and didn’t set out again until the sun had moved (earth had turned) so that the bench was no longer in the shade.

On the way home I was feeling capable but not strong. The traffic wasn’t quite as bad. I just kept moving, trying to beat the lights but not trying too hard to game them. I was very surprised to find after I got home that Strava had assigned me a PR for the entire stretch from Minato Mirai back to Tamagawa (and hence back into Tokyo).

Once back on the cycling path, I took advantage of the tailwind. The GPS was spazzing out with the directions, so I switched it to displaying my stats, and concentrated on increasing my average speed. By this point I’d already racked up more than 65km, so any gains required quite a long stretch at speeds exceeding the average, and were quickly undone by time spent in pedestrian traffic or climbing. Still, I managed to get it up a notch or two. (And after a few more kilometers, the GPS finally figured out which direction I was heading. No idea … )

Back to the Futako
Back to the Futako

When I leave the path, there’s a bit of a climb up out of the Tama River valley into the city. I wasn’t sure how my thighs were going to respond to this challenge. When the time came I just kept shifting down until I felt I could maintain the pace, and then I kept pedaling. I’m lucky that it’s not a very long climb. I had in mind as I was doing it, though, that on Day 10 of Lejog when we hit a 5% grade with full panniers, I’ll look back at this brief climb with nostalgia.

At the tiny park at the top of the hill, I drank most of my remaining water and messaged Nana that I would be home in an hour or so. There was nothing to do but mount up and make the best of it. In fact on the way home, I felt better — stronger — than I’d felt most of the day. I managed to notch up a couple of tenths on the average speed, and got home in less than 45 minutes (which is my usual time for that stretch when I’m commuting). I’d done the whole thing in 6 hours 36 minutes, which is not bad considering it was a Day 2 ride, and the amount of time I’d spent relaxing in the park and eating Nana’s onigiri. And that’s 172km in four days after nearly four weeks of nothing.

Tokyo - Yokohama
Tokyo – Yokohama

Yokohama in the sun

View from the top: Yokohama Bay Bridge

The Halfakid was ready to go this morning, and Nana had fixed up a mess o’ onigiri, so I didn’t have much choice about riding. Plus the weather was very clear — cold in the morning but warming up as we went. I was hoping to see some cherry blossoms today, particularly along the Tama river, but it’s a week early for that.

A mess o' onigiri
A mess o’ onigiri

For a change I decided to return to Yokohama, which we last visited in early December. On that occasion Tomo joined us, and it was cold and rainy. When we reached the lookout point at Minatonomieruoka Park, we were all freezing and eager to get back on our bikes to generate some heat.

Today, although it started out slightly colder than it had been in December, the sun was shining in blue skies and we were soon working up a sweat.

Blue skies over the Tama river
Blue skies over the Tama river

We were familiar with the route this time, and we knew it was simply a matter of fighting through the traffic (and traffic lights) on a long, flat stretch until the destination. There, just before Minatonomieruoka Park, the road rises suddenly and steeply, and we were muttering various colorful nicknames for the hill as we approached. As it turned out, the Halfakid rode right up to the top, while I made it about halfway, and dismounted and walked up from exactly the same point I had back in December.

View from the top: Yokohama Bay Bridge
View from the top: Yokohama Bay Bridge

The payoff for the climb, though, is the great view from the top overlooking Yokohama Bay. We sat under the pavilion there and ate the onigiri so thoughtfully prepared by Nana this morning. We didn’t dawdle, though, as we planned a slight addition to the course this time around: once back over the Tama river in Tokyo, we turned downriver to Haneda and the peace shrine.

Blossoms -- of a sort -- at Haneda
Blossoms — of a sort — at Haneda

(It was after I’d taken the photo and posted it on Instagram that the Halfakid pointed out these are fake blossoms. Someone has wound a plastic garland around the tree.)

Haneda Peace Shrine on a sunny day
Haneda Peace Shrine on a sunny day

There we ate the last of the onigiri and discussed our resting points on the way home. I messaged Nana that I would be about another two hours.

Not long after we left Haneda, we encountered a bit of crosswind. I was already feeling the kilometers traveled in my thighs, and the Halfakid took this opportunity to rocket past and leave me in the dust. As I soldiered onwards I watched his yellow windbreaker receding in the distance. Soon he was out of sight, and I was busy contending with pedestrians and other cyclists on the path. I didn’t see him again until we reached the agreed-upon rest stop.

From this point it’s mostly flat until we reach Futako, where we leave the path and climb in traffic up out of the river valley. I wasn’t sure about the climb with my tired thighs, but when we got to it I was able to keep the bike moving upwards, albeit slowly. Once again, the Halfakid rocketed past me, although I noticed that he too was slowing as he reached the top of the hill.

Yokohama in under 7
Yokohama in under 7

I dropped the Halfakid at his home and continued to grind my way homewards. In the end I made it home in just under seven hours since I’d set out. This was an improvement of a few minutes over the total elapsed time in December, when we hadn’t included the Haneda jaunt.

all flat but too many traffic light
all flat but too many traffic light

After getting home and soaking in the tub, I reviewed the ride in Strava. The segment above caught my eye as the name perfectly describes the conditions there where Daiichi Keihin turns into Minato Mirai. (And before you comment on my speed through that segment, understand it’s one of the few where I’m in the top 1,000. So I must be timing the lights pretty well, if nothing else.)