Work was, at long last, finished for the year, and as this was my last chance for a ride in 2012, I wanted to make it count. A pre-dawn departure in the pitch black, an hour riding with lights, and a brief but glorious blanket of deep orange, illuminating the houses, parks and fields around me, before being invaded by tranches of deep dark cloud as I caught first sight of the mountains.
I was getting used to these very early mornings; as a new father of barely six months, the ultra long all-day rides were now inevitably becoming a thing of the past. Nowadays I had to fit a a hundred kilometers and a mile of climbing into a single morning, rush back for a shower and lunch, and then go out with the family. It was a punishing regime.
And today it was icy cold – the coldest day so far, and the temperature remained below zero for most of the day. There had been no rain or snow for a week, but fat fingers of ice splayed the road where a drain had overflowed or where a roadside waterfall had run off onto the tarmac. Deadly, but avoidable. After the climb up to Kobu Tunnel I took the undulating mountain road to Otsuki, enjoying the lack of traffic, careful to keep my pace steady – this was no weather to be stood around waiting to get one’s breath back. I willed the aroma of wood burning stoves from the passing cottages trick me into feeling it was warmer than it really was.
Suzugane Pass was deserted, as always, and as the road turned into a narrow track and the trees closed in around me I instinctively started singing, in case of any errant wildlife waiting around the next bend. As I descended the final stretch out of the trees and past the first farmhouse, there were still no boars or bears, but there was a beagle – catching sight of me, he visibly wavered in his intentions but gave up the idea of chasing me once he heard my singing, and dived into the nearby bushes in understandable fright.
The owner at the soba shop where I’d stopped for lunch had warned me of the weather forecast: snow from late afternoon. I climbed passed the Maglev train testing complex, a task that always seems to take forever, and once through the tunnel upped my speed and heart rate, to beat the approaching turn of weather… this was no place to get stuck.
When I arrived at Sagamiko station, ready to board my train home, I actually felt good. Usually at this point, lack of sleep and my declining fitness would put me borderline close to a coma. Yet today, not only did I feel I could do it again, my GPS records showed I had ridden further and climbed higher than any day since early summer. The reflection in the train window still showed the dark shadows under my eyes, betraying six months of accumulated sleep deprivation, so what was new ?
There was a smile in that reflection. I didn’t have to go to work tomorrow…nor the day after that… in fact, thanks to the Japanese new year holiday season I didn’t have to go to work for the next nine days. I sat down and for once didn’t fall asleep – I was already mapping out my next ride.