The weather forecast was very changeable leading into the weekend, but it looked like the temperature would not rise above 32C, which has been pretty much my limit these past few years. When I checked the evening before, the forecast for Saturday was overcast but with little chance of rain, so I contacted José and asked if he was up for a ride. He replied that he’d already made plans to visit the gym.
On Saturday morning, the forecast was for rain in the afternoon — or not, depending on who you wanted to believe. I discarded my plan to ride to Kawagoe (a destination I’d selected with José in mind anyway) and set out for Haneda with some onigiri from Nana in my bag. I’d last visited Haneda in April, before the heat turned on, and had trouble with the tire sealant on that occasion.
I’d debated whether I needed to wear sleeves or indeed sunblock, but within 15 minutes of setting out, the sun was shining through the overcast skies. It continued to shine brightly enough to cast shadows for about 80% of the time I was riding.
The going was smooth as soon as I cleared the traffic and joined the Tamagawa cycling course, but I wasn’t feeling any power. My thighs felt like limp linguine after even the modest 5-6m climbs up the levee. I soldiered on though and reached Haneda at 10 a.m. after having set out a bit after 8, so I was making good time despite my low energy levels.
I had a good 25-minute break at Haneda and ate two onigiri after wrapping them in special nori paper I’d received as a gift from the sushi master. It wasn’t yet 10:30 when I mounted up for the ride home.
The ride back was more of the same: I felt weak but I was making good time by the clock. I had a bit of numbness in my hands and while my bottom was resting heavily on the saddle, I wasn’t experiencing any of the soreness which has been an issue in the past. When I got to Futako I climbed out of the valley more slowly than usual, but I was never in doubt of making it to the top.
At 11:25 I messaged Nana that I’d reached Nikotama and was eating the last onigiri. It was hot now — 32C — and I was running low on water. I didn’t want to dawdle, so at 11:35 I messaged Nana I would be home by 1.
There’s little more to relate about the ride home. I was slower on the modest rises than usual. There was some construction and a few sprinkles of rain. I didn’t have as much trouble with the drivers as I’d had near Marukobashi. I rolled into the plaza at 12:26 and messaged Nana I was home.
Ride time was 3:00:17 for an average moving speed of 21.0km/h.
After yesterday’s learning experience, I was confident that Kuroko was up for a nice, long ride. The only question was whether I wanted to challenge Otarumi Touge once more, or do the length of the Tamagawa cycling course, which I haven’t done since January. Considering the relative amounts of climbing involved and my recent training regime, I opted for the latter.
Looking at my time from January (total elapsed time of 9 hours 38 minutes), I planned to set out at 7 this morning. As it happened, it was 7:20 before I hit the road, and that was all down to me. Nana had the onigiri ready and was constantly prompting me if she should call building security to open up the freight elevator for me so I could bring Kuroko down from the Workshop in the Sky to street level.
I’d chosen 7 a.m. based on my time in January and a goal of returning home by 4:30, so I could be showered and ready for our 5:30 dinner reservation. As I’d started out with a 20-minute deficit, I was constantly looking to improve my time. Mostly, this meant limiting my break times. January’s time included two-and-a-half hours of non-riding time (including time spent at red lights in traffic), so I knew I could easily improve on that.
Ahead of the game
I reached Persimmon Park by 9:10 a.m., which meant I was already ahead of the game. I had about 16km to go into Hamura, the turnaround point, so with luck I’d be there by 10 (which would amount to something of a record for me). I had a few sips of water before setting off again. After negotiating my way through a troupe of young ‘uns on a weekend outing, I was back in force on the path, the wind with me, making good time but conserving my energy for the long haul. I started feeling hungry along the way, but I knew I was just a handful of kilometers from Hamura. I pressed on, and eventually rolled into the goal on the dot of 10.
I rationed my time at Hamura, getting a couple of onigiri in and resting my hands, feet and backside. But I was loathe to spend too much time resting and wasting the gain I’d made against the clock. So as soon as I had the onigiri inside, I mounted up again for the return ride.
First one-third in the bag
I’d racked up the usual 53km on the way to Hamura, but I knew this was just one-third of the day’s planned total. On the way back downriver, I could feel those 50-plus kilometers in my hands and my butt. I knew that I could cut the day short by turning home once I got to Futako, but I also knew it was too early to be making alternative plans. The bike was behaving well, I was kicking out a steady pace, and the wind was … not exactly fighting me. It was a crosswind, not strong, that was sometimes with me and sometime slightly against.
Soon after I left Hamura it began sprinkling. The sky had been cloudy up to this point, and while rain was not in the forecast, it wasn’t a total surprise, either. I kept pedaling. The pavement was not getting wet, and ditto my tires. My sunglasses were getting spotted with the rain, and that was about the extent of it. I thought about taking the shades off, but the sky overall was still rather bright. The rain — never heavy — ceased after 15-30 minutes.
In fact I was making very good time downstream. I’m sure the wind was with me overall. I racked up a couple of 5km splits at less than 11 min each — 10km at less than 22 minutes. I’d been providing Fearless Leader Joe and Sanborn with regular updates on my position, as well as photos, without any response. But when I reported this stat, the reply from Sanborn was quick: pix or it didn’t happen.
(Split 14 included a second stop at Persimmon Park.)
In any case, I responded to Sanborn with the most appropriate pictures available to me at the moment: my current location, and one of me devouring another of Nana’s delicious (and world famous) onigiri. After averaging north of 27km/h for 10km, I deserved it!
Eye on the clock
When I’m riding a route I know, I usually put the GPS on the map, just to keep myself from checking my stats every two minutes (and possibly missing some developing situation on the path ahead of me). At this point, though, I put it on the stats so I could keep an eye on the time. I knew I was doing well overall, but I wasn’t sure of the total ride time — particularly as I was starting to fatigue. I figured that I needed to reach Futako by 1 p.m. at the latest, which would put me at Haneda by 2:30. Given that it usually takes about two hours to get home from Haneda, that would put me home in time for dinner.
Onward, and reserving my energy. I had more than 90km on the clock after crossing the Tama Suido bridge the second time, and was now facing both a headwind and increasing traffic — pedestrians and slower riders both.
I came back to Futako at just under 5 hours into the ride, or about 12:15. Well ahead of schedule. I pressed on for another 3-4km until I came to a familiar resting spot, where I pulled over for a final onigiri. From this point I had about 14km to go until Haneda, my second turnaround point of the day, and I figured I could make it in one go. More importantly, I could make it with the water remaining in my bottles.
Nothing really to report on the remainder of the run to Haneda. The wind turned against me, so I hunkered down and kept pedaling. With the sun now out and it being after lunchtime, there were more cyclists, dog-walkers and bric-à-brac competing for the path. My thighs were telling me they were OK for the flats, but not to expect anything on the climbs.
I reached Haneda at 1:15, well ahead of the deadline. The nameplate was missing from the famous torii. I have no idea why. I sat in the shade and finished off the remaining water while an oji-san noisily dismembered plywood boxes just a few steps from where I sat.
Snickers to the rescue
I was ahead of schedule, but I was also tired and hungry. I knew that there was a convenience store just 5km away on the route home, and I soon stopped there for a bottle of water, a Snickers and a café au lait. I ate the Snickers standing in the parking lot and washed it down with the au lait, and the sugar of the two was just what the doctor ordered. After emptying the water from the PET bottle into my water bottles, I hit the trail again well refreshed. The wind was at my back once again, and I made jig time back upriver to Futako.
When it came to the climb out of the Tamagawa valley, I just dropped down the gears until I was comfortable and took my time on the way up. I pulled in for a rest at my usual park at the top of the climb and noted I still had another two gears to call on if the need arose.
It was 2:30 p.m. — my deadline for leaving Haneda, and I was already back in Futako. I messaged Nana that I’d be home in an hour, possibly a bit more (allowing for the fatigue I was suffering), and swallowed a bit more water. I turned on the rear light (clouds were moving in) before mounting up for home.
NBD, and a bit of a cheat
The ride home was no big deal. I fell in behind another cyclist after a traffic light and stuck with him until we came to a small climb, where he left me for dead. Once again, I just used a comfortable gear and didn’t push myself. The traffic (which had been missing in the morning on my way to the river) was out in force, and I took care negotiating my way. To get home ahead of time, I reminded myself, I had to get home.
With my stats on the GPS screen, one thing I was keeping my eye on (in addition to the current time) was the total elapsed time. When I’d done this ride in January with the Halfakid (and his then-fling), I’d come in at 9:38 total elapsed time. I was now looking at bringing it in under 8 hours. Could I do it? The answer relied more on traffic than on my legs. I had to remind myself on a few occasions to pay more attention to the road conditions and less to the clock.
In the end, I came swooping down the descent by Central Park with scant seconds to spare. As I waited at the red light at the bottom (still a couple of hundred meters from home), I watched the seconds tick down to 8 hours total ride time. And … I simply ended the ride at that point. Satisfied, I relaxed until the light changed and spun my way into the tower courtyard before dismounting and parking Kuroko in the basement.
Sleight-of-hand notwithstanding, a few comparisons are in order. In January I completed the same route in 9:37:50 total elapsed time and 7:08:01 ride time, for an average of 20.1km/h. Today the figures were 7:59:42 total elapsed time and 6:18:07 ride time, for an average of 22.6km/h. I hadn’t just cut down on the rest times, I’d taken 50 minutes out of the ride time! I feel totally justified now in complaining loudly that I have no energy and people should be rushing to set pillows out for me to sit on, rather than vice-versa.
Fearless Leader Joe asked if this has been my longest ride this year, and — apart from the January go on the same route — the answer is yes. It doesn’t seem like it should be the case, but doing the Futako course in both directions is longer than the three rivers course.
The Halfakid and I did a century (162km for me) back in May 2020 in 7:57:22 ride time. That remains, to date, my longest ride. FLJ and I had a 148km day during our Lejog outing, but — with laden bikes, and day-after-day riding fatigue — we didn’t make anything like the time I recorded today.
We’re just one-third of the way through October, and I already have 320km under my wing for the month. Next weekend the Halfakid may be able to join me for a ride (Otarumi Touge, depending on his condition). The following week I’m off work (with two road trips on the subsequent two weekends), so let’s see how the month comes out.
When I racked up more than half of my 400km ride total in September via commuting, I related a few stories of things I’d seen. I rode my first commute of October today, and garnered a couple of more tales on my way home this evening.
But they’re thirsty!
There’s a brief rise just about at the midway point of the commute. It’s a good, wide section of road, with wide sidewalks on both sides. Where I’m climbing up the rise on the way home, there’s a railing at the edge of the sidewalk, and just inside that a low row of bushes. As I puffed my way upwards this evening in the trail of a delivery truck, I noticed a white stream arcing from a townhouse to my left, over the sidewalk and into the bushes. There was a woman standing on her balcony one story above the pavement, holding a garden hose, and watering the bushes — by jetting the stream of water right over the sidewalk.
She had pretty good aim, too!
In certain South American countries, this means we’re married
With less than 3km to go, I stopped to wait for a light at a crossing. I watched the changing of the lights carefully as I balanced at the corner with one foot on the curb, and launched across the intersection just as the light turned green.
But I wasn’t the first off the line! From behind me, a woman on a DoCoMo bike (electric rental cycle) was already on the move, zipping past on my right, nearly clipping my handlebars, before she cut right across my line to mount the sidewalk.
Ahead in the street, a bus waited at a stop. The woman was going to the sidewalk to get ahead of the bus. Meanwhile, I put the pedal down and powered my way around the right side of the bus as it continued to wait at the stop with lights flashing. As I came back to the bicycle lane on the left, there was the woman, trying to come off the sidewalk and back into the lane. Fortunately she recognized my right of way and let me go ahead.
But that wasn’t the last I saw of her. She overtook me again as I waited at the next red light, speeding on through the intersection without a care. Once again I overtook her when the light changed, this time without any drama. The next time I hit a red light — at a pedestrian crossing this time — I was expecting her, and there she was, once again sailing through the red. This time I followed her a few dozen meters as I waited for cars to pass us both, before once again overtaking her. For the final time, as it happens.
A touch of the ol’ breeze
It was cloudy and ominous when I left the office this evening, and the wind was up. Despite the color of the sky, I wasn’t really worried about rain. As for the wind, I ducked my head and did my best.
“You’re late!” Nana declared when I arrived home. I looked at the clock: just an hour after quitting time. I often am later even when I take the train.
“What do you mean, late?”
“It’s dark out! And I haven’t brought in the laundry yet because I know you’ll want a shower.”
This weekend is shaping up to be perfect for bicycle … maintenance.
After realizing that Dionysus was already rusting following the total repaint, and part of the reason was rubbing against the concrete block where I was parking her at work, I decided to get a bike stand and put it in my office. (It’s against company policy, but my office is low traffic so it should be fine.)
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.
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 onigiri — mentaiko!
Fujisan all day
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 mentaikoonigiri. 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
We arrived at Shinsuna, where the Arakawa empties into Tokyo Bay, at 11 a.m. We were making very good time.
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).
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.
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?”
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.
All good things must come to an end, even nine-hour layovers in Beijing. Boarding for London next.