Tag Archives: Arakawa

Panic !

Early Morning Urban Views

I woke up with a sudden start this morning, a residual image from the nightmare still etched vividly infront of me in the dark pre-dawn gloom of the bedroom: a hairy, spindly legged, pot bellied figure, wrapped outrageously in tight white lycra, riding an wholly undeserved expensive titanium bike, puffing away at the tail of a group of strong young riders. The red sweaty face turned towards me briefly before I was shocked wide awake.  Holy crap – it was me !

Between a spa trip and the miserable weather I hadn’t managed time for a ride last weekend, and this fact was starting to get to me. I’d been feeling listless, unfit and – oddly – feeling vaguely guilty for no good reason, like being eyed by security walking through the “nothing to declare” gate at customs, or talking in unnecessary detail to your wife about an innocent night out with friends.  “It’s only you” I whispered to my bike last night, reassuring her, “It’s always been you”.

So, in the dark bitterly cold morning, I fumbled around the spare room, pulling on layers of clothing – not white, mind you – pumping up the tires and getting my bag ready for work. “Cycle commuting day” I decided, and realising I had to make real amends for my inattention, “…I’ll take the Long Route”. This is my 55km roundabout way to work, a 25km stretch of sweet and pleasant river path, sandwiched by hard and sour crusts of city traffic either side.

But today, even that filling was hard and unpaletable:  sheets of ice covered the asphalt entirely in front of me. It took only a couple attempts carrying my bike up the riverbank and through patches of snow to know I’d be very very late for work, this way. Beaten, I turned around and cycled back home, weaving carefully though icy patches and the heavy rush hour traffic, the exhaust fumes of buses and trucks at least pushing some warmth into my lungs.

Showered, changed, and joining the other tortured corporate souls on the Chuo line into Tokyo, I was stuck in the train at a standstill for fifteen minutes. Probably a “jumper” I reasoned, waiting to be cleared up from the tracks. And stuck in limbo yet again later, waiting for the Yamanote line to start moving. I joined the Kehin-Tohoku line, like every other zombie with no other option, elbow to groin, packed like bruised sardines. And I arrived in work exactly four hours after getting out of bed.

I could never tell her of course, but some days,  well,  it just ain’t worth it.

Life and Death in Chichibu

North climb of Sadamine Toge

The fox lay dead in the undergrowth, neatly arranged and parallel to the road. It’s eyes and mouth were closed, and someone had carefully arranged an embroidered cloth over it’s body from midway of it’s tail to it’s neck like a shroud, pristine white. This is Chichibu – animal spirits live in these hills and hundreds of shrines celebrating them are scattered deep in the forests. This was no simple roadkill to be left festering on the centre line. This fox demanded dignity in it’s death.

Dawn on the Arakawa

I had originally planned a short early ride up the Arakawa river, still feeling the residue of the heavy cold and fever I’d suffered as a consequence of last week’s 190km madness. It was dark when I left, my favorite time, when the first hour is spent anticipating what kind of sunrise will follow. Braziers burned red on the edge of the baseball diamonds spread along the river’s wide floodplain – obsessed parents, arriving far too early to set up for their sons’ baseball games later. Too distant to feel the heat; but just the smell of the burning wood and the sound of the crackle of the embers still warmed me a little. The sun came up – not bad, a little cloudy, but the pale orange and yellows were enough to convince me it would be a waste of a perfectly decent day to turn back now. The temperature was below freezing and the charcoal grey clouds on the horizon turned Fuji-san into an artful black and white sketching. I knew already that in days like this in the mountains, the Gods come out to check their domain. And, I knew, there were few better places for it than in Chichibu. So the decision was made.

The Chichibu Hills

A glorious crisp winter’s morning, chilling but clear of snow and ice – there had been no precipitation for well over a week and the only visible clue to the cold was the frost on the fields and the roof of their owner’s farmhouses. I rode deeper into the hills and climbed Sadamine Toge, deliberately taking it very easy – today would be another “long slow distance” ride, keeping my hear rate low. A Keiren rider leisurely overtook me, and we exchanged greetings: “Ohayo !”. He was tucked low into his handlebars, pushing a heavy gear at an excruciating slow and measured cadence. I tailed him for a while around the curves of the road before letting him go on.  Later on, a family of “saru”, Japanese monkeys, descended the steep slope on my right, trotted one by one across the road and down into the thicket on the left, a few lingering to forage by the roadside. Drawn back lips and a mouthful of fangs greeted my attempt to take a closer look at the nearest one. He shoved his ripe red arse in my field of view and loped off.

Hairy and Angry

On the second climb, Yamabushi Toge, an ambulance blazed past me, siren sounding, and soon after that I arrived at the accident scene – a motorcycle smashed beyond recognition, in pieces across both sides of the carriageway;  the front of the car imploded, and both airbags deployed like failed parachutes over the dashboard. The scene turned my stomach (they always do) but the young man – a boy, really – was being attended to by medics, about five metres further on. He must have been flung there, I guessed, and I saw his eyes were open and moving – he was alive, thank God. I rolled my bike along the footpath, averting my eyes out of a kind of respect for the victim, and a bunch of rubberneckers had already gathered around the crash zone, feasting on the carnage, chatting and – unbelievable – even laughing a little. Show some fucking solemnity you ghouls.

The Holy Fountain Shrine

Five minutes later a car overtook me – he had lost patience waiting for the accident to be cleared – and shaved by within twelve inches of my shoulder, at speed, on a wide and empty road. When I am King, I growled, one in every hundred airbags will be replaced at random with explosives. When I am King.

Descending a timber mile of saw mills, the aroma of freshly cut timber hauled me out of my temporary distress, and I pulled in to the Shrine of the Holy Fountain. It’s been too long, I thought, and flicked a coin through the slates of it’s weathered wooden door and yanked the rope back and forth, jangling the bell above to summon the spirits. Take care of that guy, I asked, and keep me safe on these mountain roads.

And I prayed for the fox as well. But I’m sure he was already watching me by now.

Mountain Restaurant, Deepest Chichibu