Too early for blossoms

Bicycle in front of road and sign for Otarumi Pass

… too late for my thighs

I set out to do this ride a week ago, then bailed when a late start put me behind the clock. Two days later, I rode again but didn’t even think about Otarumi Touge.

Today’s the day!

I woke at 6 and, after some dawdling and assuring Nana she didn’t have to rush to finish the onigiri, set out about 9:20. The temperature at the time was somewhere around 2-4C, but there was no wind and I was warm from the moment I started riding. Soon I was on the Tamagawa and headed upstream.

Bicycle in park in front of decorative waterfall
First break of the day

At first along the river, the wind was with me. Nevertheless I wasn’t feeling strong. I messaged Fearless Leader Joe at the first stop that the weather was beautiful but my legs were nowhere to be found. I stopped just before turning off the Tamagawa and had the first of Nana’s world famous onigirimentaiko!

Fujisan all day

Cycle path, bridge and Fujisan
Straight … to the top!

On the good foot, Fujisan hove into view as soon as I left the Tamagawa and turned up the Asakawa. Less fortuitously, I was now battling against the wind. It wasn’t overpowering, but it was slowing me down and sapping my energy. For the most part I was down a gear or two from my usual pace, but at times I was as low as it goes (unless I’m climbing) — the same gear I use to start from a red light. Mindful of the climb I had ahead of me, I kept the gears where I could spin without using up all my energy.

I stopped at the usual rest area about 5km shy of Takaosan Station and ate the remainder of the mentaiko onigiri. Thus sated, I continued on. The wind was still an issue, but it wasn’t long before I was leaving the cycling course for the urban Takao experience. There, mercifully out of the wind, I rode right past the convenience store that’s a usual stop on this route and started the ascent.

Wimp

Any idle fantasies I had about today being the day I would make this climb in one go were quickly dispelled. I downshifted early to preserve my energy for the climb to come, but after just a couple of kilometers I pulled off the side of the road for a short rest. At that point the seal was broken — I continued upward, but the motivation to punish myself to reach the goal was gone. I stopped several times along the way, including one last stop when I knew the goal was just around the corner ahead. I was shameless.

View from the top

Bicycle in front of road and sign for Otarumi Pass
View from the top

Despite all my shilly-shallying, I was never really tempted to throw in the towel. I made the top in a time not much different from my usual — and in fact set a PR because I’d skipped over the convenience store. At the top I breathed deeply until my heart stopped racing, and I took in the view that was on offer.

Fujisan from Otarumi Touge
Fujisan from Otarumi Touge

Selfie of biker in sunglasses and bandana with Fujisan in background
A man outstanding in his view of Fujisan

Slow return

The descent was rapid enough to bring tears to my eyes, and I hit 50km/h at one point. (A driver insisted on passing me at another point when I was going 40 in a 30km/h zone, just so we could sit together at the next light.) I pulled off the road at Takaosan Guchi for the traditional photo.

Selfie in mask, sunglasses and banadana in front of Takaosan Guchi ropeway entrance
Takaosan Guchi

After that the going was slower as the wind picked up along the Asakawa. It came and went, and I adjusted my speed accordingly. I stopped about 6km after leaving Takao for a snack of convenience store apple pie, and then another 10km on, when I reached the Tamagawa again, my last Snickers bar. I checked the time and my distance remaining and let Nana know I would be home about 5 p.m.

And will this wind be so mighty as to lay low the mountains of the earth?

And the strong winds continued. I already had 85km under my belt at this point (as well as three onigiri, two Snickers bars and an apple pie), so again it was a matter of shifting down to keep spinning, not trying to force my way against the wind and use up my energy all at once. Whenever the wind let up for a moment, my speed picked up correspondingly. I had a tad less than 15km to go downstream on the Tamagawa, into the wind the entire way, before leaving the cycling course and heading back into city traffic. As I fought the wind, I tended to turtle my head into my shoulders to reduce the drag, but that was leading to very stiff shoulders and neck. So with a will I put my head up high and shifted down again and soldiered onwards.

The final 15

At last I left the river course and headed into city traffic. Usually I hate the traffic, but today it meant blessed relief from the headwind. On my last rest stop of the day I checked the time and let Nana know I would be home just about 5 p.m. I drank the last of my water and headed into it.

The ride from this point was unremarkable. The usual tussles with traffic, including a driver who tried to squeeze me against the curb at the back of a line of traffic. The usual broken pavement and construction work. I had my lights on for safety (it was mostly still bright at this time, but the shadows were lengthening), and at one traffic light I took off my shades and stowed them in the cockpit bag. After a railroad crossing about 6km from home, I encountered a high school baseball team on their way home on bikes, riding three and four abreast. A policeman passing in the opposite direction waved to them to move over to the side of the road, and I took that chance to pass the lot of them. At the next light, as I was waiting, they all crossed ahead of me, against the light, but thankfully headed in a different direction.

At this point I was looking at my overall average speed for the day — total elapsed time including breaks. It was hovering right around 15km/h, but dipping below that whenever I stopped to drink water and message Nana about my progress. Now that I was out of the wind, I was moving at more than 20km/h while riding, but I was also spending significant time at lights. Surely I couldn’t pull that time up — from a dip to 14.8km/h after my last rest break — while in traffic and obeying the lights, could I?

I simply kept pressing on, and didn’t run any of the lights on the way. And to my disbelief, I got the needle to move back to 15, and to hold there. With enough kilometers on the clock it would take quite a pause to make a difference, and now I was watching a different clock: Could I get home by the promised 5 p.m.? It looked like I was in the clear, but not by much. With aching thighs, but triumphant, I rolled into the plaza and stopped the clock at 4:49 p.m., with an all-in average speed of 15.1km/h.

GPS record of bicycle ride
Too early for blossoms

Still some cleaning up to do

Bicycle bag under vinyl cover and sundry bicycle parts blocking balcony window

Since the clean-up following my return from England, the bicycle bag has been sitting in front of the bedroom window under a tarp. We don’t use that window to get to the balcony, so that’s not a problem. But it does get in the way when I’m working on a bicycle in the stand. And meanwhile it’s just become too convenient a place to toss odds ‘n’ ends rather than properly put them away.

A pair of luggage straps in their packaging
Basic luggage straps

I’ve been meaning for ages to get some straps so I can stand the bag up on end and secure it to the air-conditioner stand. I have to make sure it’s really secure, not just against earthquakes but typhoons too. Today while I was in Shinjuku for some unrelated shopping I had the chance to pick up some cheap straps. (I could probably have had something delivered from Amazon at one-quarter the cost, but I also like to support my local neighborhood superstore … )

I wasn’t sure how long a strap I needed. I knew that even folded up, the bag was more than 40cm tall. I also knew it would be easier to shorten a strap than to make it longer, so I got a couple that were 200cm long. This turned out to be more than enough.

With the materials in hand, it was the work of a couple of minutes to stand up the bag on end, make sure the tarp was secure, and strap the whole thing snugly to the a/c stand.

Montage showing bike bag in a tarp strapped upright to an a/c stand, and miscellaneous bicycle maintenance bits
Bag out of the way

With that done, I moved the remaining bicycle parts and cleaning supplies into a couple of piles for later sorting. Even without the final clean-up, though, I’ve freed up quite a bit of space for bike maintenance.

Balcony with bike bag, wheels and workstand
Free at last!

Good thing it wasn’t windy

Three cycles leaning against flowerbed at Tokyo Disney Resort

‘Cuz that woulda sucked

The Halfakid and his Tomo showed up on our doorstop this morning, and we rode out together to Tokyo Disneyland. I’d done a good job of planning this ride because the Halfakid had to leave home and hour and a half before I did, and meanwhile the temperature had risen from 0 degrees to a balmy 4C. (I’ve cleverly made similar plans for next weekend.)

Two cyclists in front of sign for the Arakawa river
At the Arakawa

It’s just a straight go through city traffic to the Arakawa river. We had a short break at a convenience store and then set off down the river, with a strong tailwind to push us along. We made good time with the help of the wind, averaging 27-29km/h on the 5km splits despite the road furniture and clueless pedestrians.


Screenshot of Messenger conversation
Conversation at 30km/h

We arrived at Shinsuna, where the Arakawa empties into Tokyo Bay, at 11 a.m. We were making very good time.

Bicycle in front of signs and river
At the bay

Bicycles leaning against fence in front of river and bridge
View of the bay from Shinsuna

Disneyland

After a few minutes taking pictures, we backtracked to the Kiyosunao Bridge and crossed the Arakawa. We were soon speeding downwind again until we reached the edge of the bay, where we turned east and headed towards Disneyland. On the way we passed through Kasairinkai Park, and we were shocked to see how many people were crowding in, particularly around the Starbucks.

The wind added to the challenge of climbing the walkways to reach the edge of Tokyo Disney Resort. We stopped for a couple of snaps and then decided to move on as a larger group of cyclists arrived (including one who we’d seen behaving recklessly on the Arakawa).

Three cycles leaning against flowerbed at Tokyo Disney Resort
The Three Mouseketeers

Lamppost marking Nihonbashi
Nihonbashi

From there we backtracked a few kilometers, fighting into the wind, to our usual lunch spot. We feasted on Nana’s world-famous onigiri as well as convenience store fried chicken and cakes. We spent the better part of an hour over lunch (including the time taken to reach the convenience store and get to the lunch spot in the park), and so it was nearing 1 p.m. when we set out again for home.

We continued battling the wind and dodging traffic as we proceeded westward into Tokyo. En route to the palace we made a very brief stop at Nihonbashi for a quick snap before proceeding.

Traffic near the palace was moving fast and thick, as usual on a Sunday. We bided our time patiently at three traffic lights in a row before turning to loop around the Chidorigafuchi moat and pay a short visit to Budokan.

Bicycle in front of green moat water
Kuroko at Chidorigafuchi

Tayasumon Gate
Tayasumon Gate, the entrance to Budokan

From Budokan, it’s only 7km home. My thighs were aching even though the ride is not particularly challenging. The Halfakid and Tomo had a further 27km to go after leaving me at home, and they were anxious to get going. We left Budokan behind us and went through some up-down around Hanzomon before emerging on a flat run to Yotsuya and Shinjuku. It was all city traffic by this point, and we had to temper our desire to fly home with a dose of traffic awareness. At last we passed in front of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings (where I received an automated warning for rushing a crosswalk against the light) and descended past Central Park to home. I messaged Nana that I was home, less than five-and-a-half hours after leaving, and she responded with a welcoming, “Already?”

GPS record of bicycle ride
Good thing it wasn’t windy

In transit, with bike

I flagged the first taxi I saw, and then the driver and I spent the next five minutes struggling to get the bike in. The bag was too wide for the trunk, so in the end we got it in the rear seat on a slant, with one window open.

On my return I’ll have to try and get one of those taxis that looks like a London cab.

At Shinjuku Bus Terminal I discovered my bus was leaving from 3F (instead of 4F as expected). It was a direct to Haneda International Terminal, without stopping at the domestic terminals. There were two of us aboard.

At Haneda I wasted 10 minutes struggling with the check-in kiosk. At first I had the wrong airline, and then it wasn’t reading my passport. When I finally entered all the info, it simply said it couldn’t check me in.

I sighed and got in line.

Once I got to the counter, everything went smoothly. The clerk measured the bike bag and said it was just within the limit. I was able to check my duffel bag as well, after removing the batteries, and there was no charge.

I followed a worker with my bike bag to the oversize luggage security check. There the workers cooperated to lift the rubber curtain on the X-ray machine to get the bag inside. It went through with about 1cm to spare.

If they put me on a 737, I’m bailing…

Welcome to Beijing

International transfer is still a question of finding some rather hidden signs. Parts of the process have been automated, and a very nice man helped me when the machine didn’t like my boarding pass.

After that it was still the line snaking behind a stairwell that I remember from three years ago. And then at security, a shock: they confiscated one of my batteries because the capacity was not shown. After I basically asked ‘Really?’ for the third time, I was led to a polite person who simply repeated the policy to me in English.

Bye-bye, battery. It wasn’t a cheap one, either. But I think I’ll be OK without it.

The signs before security did not say a thing about removing batteries from your bag, with the result that most bags had to be scanned repeatedly.

Air China airplane at gate with control tower and rising sun in background
Welcome to Beijing

All good things must come to an end, even nine-hour layovers in Beijing. Boarding for London next.

Oh, boy. Another A330. No elbow room.

Confirmation bias

It never fails: whenever there are kids (about kindergarten through upper elementary) walking or playing along my bike route, whether it’s a cycling course or a public street, they’ll look and see me coming, wait, and then … suddenly dash across my path the moment I’m within lethal range.

This is probably an example of confirmation bias. I’m sure there are times I encounter children on my rides where they don’t behave like this.

In fact, it’s clearly confirmation bias, because I can note at least two frequently occurring situations which don’t match this pattern; to wit:

  • There are times children dash across directly in front of me without having first waited until I get within range; and
  • There are numerous adults who start across the street or path in front of me, turn and see me coming, and … continue to step right in front of me.

Morning and evening commute
Morning and evening commute

Meanwhile, I didn’t go seeking out hill climbs during today’s commute. But on the plus side, there were no mechanicals, either. (The front derailleur still needs to be adjusted, but it’s working fine.)