When temperatures are already in the early thirties by 8am and humidity is 90% plus, you need something that can wake you up – decisively – at 1:30 am, provide half-an-hour or so of warm up – rocking, pacing, jumping – and then, after passing the baby baton to the missus, let you out the door so you can hit the road at the relatively cool and not entirely normal hour of 3am.
Luckily the roads are lit well – this is Tokyo after all – for the entire 45 kilometres to the start of the mountains, and there is always a 24 hour convini marking the end of urbanization and the start of wilderness, providing replenishment while you watch the last of the evening’s blue mist dissipate, revealing a snapshot of a star-lit sky before it turns from black to velvet to deep blue. It does take a couple of coffees to clear your head after three hours of sleep, and when the headache retreats, and the nausea subsides, senses are heightened: a wild boar foraging in the roadside undergrowth, the troop of monkeys playing up in the trees.
You ride along deserted county roads, no cars, no people out just yet. The deep valley hillsides keep you protected from the sun for at least a couple of hours after sun-rise. The approach to Yamabushi Toge, the fields of rice a luminous green, the tips of the ridge line far above on fire with the early rays of the sun. Absolute silence, and then a commotion of noises – birds, insects, the rapids of the river you are following. And silence again. The sun sears you briefly, cresting the top of the exposed Shomaru Toge, but then you are back under the trees, descending, and reaching Route 299 it is still early enough to be in the shade; and the steep climb to Nenogengonji Shrine is mercifully bracketed by tunnels of trees all the way.
A transient aroma might transport you miles and years away from this place – yesterday, as the mist cleared in the foothills of Tomin no Mori, I was transported – momentarily – thirty five years back in time on a school trip to the English seaside town of Rye, surveying a miniature model of the town in an old musty museum. And then I was back again, on an uphill stretch through boughs of trees and the trickle of small waterfalls on my left.
That’s what these pre-dawn rides are about – in between the staggering bouts of sheer tiredness, the digestive turmoils to the body, and the eventual victory of the sun and it’s scorching rays, there are moments of early morning pleasure to savour. Something new and wonderful to pull out of these well travelled routes.
Or maybe it’s just the sleep deprivation.