The Temptress of Tomin No Mori

The icy realm beyond

Just as the mythical Sirens of ancient Greece would use their enchanted songs and music to lure sailors to their death into the rocks, so the mountains of Okutama called to me this morning. “What’s a bit of ice” they seemed to sing, “it’s all but gone…”.

I was skirting the far side of Lake Okutama-ko having spent most of the morning riding out from Tokyo. The sky was a perfect blue, the air crisp, and the sun was almost warm; already I could feel a hint of spring. I’d left early morning heading west, the sun low in the sky behind, casting an orange framed silhouette of me peddaling, a mesmerizing shadow puppet, forever just out of reach, legs moving up and down like a piston, a kink in the gears clicking like a metronome.

But I could ill afford to lose concentration on the road in front of me. Even in Tokyo small piles of dozen snow lay uncleared by the kerb, and crooked fingers of ice clawed their way surreptitiously into the road. Out here, like Tokyo, the snow had mostly disappeared, but in some ways this made it all the more dangerous. It was too easy to be complacent, to forget that two weeks of bitter temperatures – it was -9 last night – had left small pockets of ice; some of them ovals of hard white marble, polished to a silky luster by the hostile wind. But some were black, the only visible warning a dull reflection like a puddle on the road, and barely this could be seen away from the sun. They were few, but they could be deadly – it only takes one, after all.

On the way home

And it was taxing work, scanning the road like a vigilant sentry, braking anxiously before every shady stretch, offering a little prayer before every tunnel entrance. Going up, at this speed, I think I could manage it, but would I have the same discipline coming down ?

Passing my regular soba shop, the last outpost before the valley starts to rise, I turned left on to the iron bridge to reconnoiter the approach up to Tomin no Mori. It was quiet, nothing but the wind (which was gaining in strength). Usually at this time on a Saturday there would be motorcycles racing up and down this stretch of road, their riders smoking cigarettes and drinking cans of coffee in the lay-by further up. Today there was no one, and I realised I hadn’t seen a single other cyclist. A small reflection of light betrayed a glossy patch on the road a few yards ahead.

No, I said aloud, today it just ain’t going to happen.

No ice next week, please

Odysseus had saved his crew by putting wax in their ears so they couldn’t be seduced by the beauty of the sirens’ song. So I turned my back on the road to Tomin, fighting thoughts of other climbs, and set off back down the valley. Heading east, I kept my eyes on the cobalt blue of the lake to my right, putting distance, little by little, between me and the mountains behind. I had seen sense. Today, at least, I would not be beguiled by their lethal beauty.

Ride memo: 180km cycling with 1100m climbing. Route data is here

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