With a cocktail of drugs in my system, I boarded my first train in five months and got off at Takao station to absolutely gorgeous weather. A week of work stress, bad sleep and painful tonsillitis meant I wasn’t on the best of form, and the medicine was causing some dodgy digestive issues – it was with some courage that I left the last convenience store behind me and headed into the hills. But it would, of course, be so worth it.
Due to The Situation, I’d been avoiding all public transport recently, and with no train to carry me there and back, I had got to discover the hidden, meandering Tokyo backroads to the foot of my favorite mountains. Just like the old days, I’ve been doing century rides almost every time I clip into the pedals; unlike the old days, I need to lie down for 48 hours afterwards to get over it.
After five exhausting months, I’ve just about visited every pass worth climbing within a 160km riding range of my house and taken every photo at every angle I can think of. It was time to compromise – take a deserted early morning train out to the mountains and then cycle back.
With my first visit to the train station after so long, it was oddly reassuring to see signs of normality – people passed out on the pavement and piss-heads hanging around the ticket barriers at 5:45AM. Don’t they realize we’re in the middle of a pandemic? At least lugging my bike bag up the escalators and swinging it dangerously around on the platform enforced some reasonable social distancing.
On the road, I was heading to the first, relatively minor pass – Odarumi Toge. The roads were still wet but the skies were brilliant blue and there was a cool breeze teasing me almost all of the way. This climb was actually much nicer than I remembered it, the traffic was light, and climbing up Love Hotel Hill brought back wistful memories of a time long ago. Ah, far far too long ago. I noticed the car parks were almost empty in these uncertain times.
The fast winding descent was fantastic, with the view over to Lake Sagaminko on my left, and I followed some of the backroads past the lake before riding through Uenohara and towards Tsuru Toge. It’s a long climb, albeit fairly gentle (until the last couple of miles kick in) but it is exposed – I was glad that the day had clouded up somewhat. It’s very rare that I climb Tsuru from the south and I realized I’ve been missing a trick – it is beautiful, and you really feel the mountains slowly drawing you in.
I took the Secret Turn to the Secret Valley, enjoying the novelty of approaching it from a different direction. For many years there used to be an old lady who lived here, apparently alone in an ancient farmhouse high above in the forest. She was always there, tending to the fields on the steep slopes below, come rain or shine, no matter what season or time of day it was. Until one day she wasn’t. These vertignous fields are unkempt and overgrown now, and the valley feels much lonelier for her absence.
I came across the chorus of “higurashi” cicadas on a couple of solitary mountain roads. Their melancholy song always sends shivers down my spine, and I stopped the bike under the shade of the forest more than once to listen to their cries, echoing off the mountain sides. For me a Japanese summer is not complete without hearing this symphony at least once.
Later on there were more shivers down my spine, albeit of a less enchanted kind, as my tyre skidded out sideways on the damp road when I tried to avoid a large snake sunbathing across my path. It was the official end of the rainy season in Kanto today, so now I’m expecting all manner of wild and dangerous creatures over the coming months, clogging up my roads.