Tag Archives: Okutama

Autumn: Going, Going… Gone!

img_2932

Autumn on the Greenline

Work, chores, injury and a six year old have so far conspired against me to get in a ride this winter. With travel about to be added to that sorry list of excuses I have no option but to do what any grumbling old codger does – look back at the good times.

img_2906

Emerging from the Shadows

But just how many good times were there in 2018 I wondered? It was already approaching Autumn before I realised that I hadn’t yet had an overnight getaway with my bike this year. No romantic cherry blossom ride, no golden week exploration, footloose and fancy free. Not even a hot and sweaty summer weekend together. The moments we made were snatched and hurried, and barely – dare I say it – mechanical in our collusion. We’d enjoyed no illicit fun together since Nagano the previous year, and 2018 was almost at an end – it was time for an Autumn Leaves Weekend.

img_2896

Climbing Sadamine

Attempt #1. Mid-October, the Venus Line, Nagano. Comically splashed from head to toe by a speeding car, it is not an auspicious start. From muddy farm lanes to a misty and lonely mountain road, cold and raining hard… something large and hairy drops from a roadside tree and disappears quickly into the undergrowth… I am only thankful that the drizzle and fog prevents me seeing more. The hotel is friendly and the onsen never felt so good, but I cut it short next morning due to weather.

20181012_200444

Nothing to see here…

Attempt #2. Two weeks later, same route… on paper at least. A cold and a fever mean I didn’t even make it off the couch.

So no leaves. And now it was mid-November. No chances left for any more nights away, so maybe I could find some colour on an “Autumn Leaves” day ride?

img_2682

Doushi Michi

The first was Tomin no Mori from the south – the first time in a few years – and then Imagawa. The climb up Tomin provided some reasonable colours but it didn’t matter – just climbing this road was glorious! Blue sky, minimal traffic, and – unusually for a weekend – none of those bloody motorbikes. Imagawa from the south was, as always, much harder and steeper than I anticipate – not much in the way of Autumn colours but the climb itself is a classic. 3 out of 5 for the leaves, but 5 out of 5 for the the sweet potato on the way back to Oume. Good – but could do better.

img_2681

A glimpse of Fuji-san (Doushi Michi)

The next ride I hadn’t done for a few years: the Doushi michi. Never willing to battle it out with the weekend holiday traffic, I took a Friday off work – these weekday rides are, of course, already a winner. Some nice Autumn views heading out (but maybe a little late?), and Mount Fuji was … stunning. Quiet backroads mesmerised me on the return and I thought I was the only soul out there – I remembdered what it is I love about cycling. 2 out of 5 for leaves. But 5 out of 5 for Fuji-san.

img_2706

More than a glimpse of Fuji-san

I was on a roll! So I did something a little left of field for me: replaced the mountains for hills… Boso Hanto. After a surprisingly enjoyable ride last year and now that it was late November I thought this would be The One – the hidden dells and valleys of the Boso peninsula combined with glorious colours! Oh but what a disappointment. It was my fault – far too early for the leaves around here, and a bad choice of return route taking me through Yorokeikoku, along with half the car and coach population of Kanto. A horrible slog back to the north of the peninsula, speeding vehicles passing far too close, angry words and the one and only road that could salvage things and take me away from this was – closed. 1 out of 5 for leaves. 5 out of 5 for surviving.

img_2687

Fuji-san local

 

So it was with low expectations when I set off on my last ride of November, another illicit Friday, taking the long train to Ogawamachi. My heart was not in it, feeling the cold and already tired with the first turn of the pedals. I almost gave up, ready to east to head to the Arakawa and a flat ride home rather than the mountains of Chichibu – but I am so glad I didn’t. Sadamine and the Greenline – I had forgotten just how much I love the ascent of Sadamine from the east! No holiday traffic, just the birds, the river and the rustling of leaves in the wind… or just plain silence. And at last – golden light doused me under a glorious canopy of yellow, orange and red! It was just what I had been looking for, it made it all worthwhile. 5 out of 5 for the ride. 5 out of 5 for the leaves!

img_2744

Boso Hanto, south coast

And 5 out of 5 for multiple creative uses of a mini-tripod!

img_2958

Shrine near Hanno

Strava:

https://www.strava.com/activities/1901483545
https://www.strava.com/activities/1957576173
https://www.strava.com/activities/1967756940
https://www.strava.com/activities/1980371447
https://www.strava.com/activities/1993432150

Advertisements

Matsuhime

Mar 20 05 Matsuhime Ascent 3

The road to Matsuhime

Mar 20 09 Okutama 2

Rough Ride

We hadn’t planned it, hadn’t dared even to imagine it, so it was a surprise to us both as we thought the same thought at the same time, turned our bikes away from the promise of a hilly verdant green route beyond the small post town of Saruhashi, and instead pointed them northwards towards Matsuhime Toge. It had been a very pleasant ride so far, sunshine warming our backs, early cherry blossoms illuminating the road side, Spring all around us, but now, as we turned to face 1300 vertical metres of mountain ahead, dark clouds gathered ominously in the peaks above and a chill north wind rushed down the slopes at us. Getting out here we may have convinced ourselves that winter was truly over – ha! – but this mountain doesn’t allow you to entertain such fantasies.

Mar 20 01 Route 30

Spring in the air

They’d completed construction of the new tunnel since I’d been here last, many years of pork barrel spending in this quiet car-free area to punch a sacrilegious hole through the mountainside… but we veered off left, up what was now the “old” road, over a barrier, through the now unlit tunnels and onto the start of the mountain road proper, looking down on the dam and valley below.

Mar 20 04 Matsuhime Ascent 2

Road Closed for a reason

Those lush colours of the morning were now usurped by the naked limbs of leafless trees, yellowed flora and the occasional tired dull green of a lonely pine. We ascended on the narrow switchbacks, negotiating rocks and ducking under fallen branches suspended across the road… “thou shalt not pass” they groaned, swaying in the wind. We were the only ones there, the birdsong of the lowlands had long ceased and even the crows had deserted us. The lack of foliage gave us a clear view of what lay ahead: miles of steep road snaking up and up and up to the pass above. It was increasingly magnificent looking down, seeing the narrow fracture of the road where it had started in the valley – and it was horrifying to look up and clearly see how far we still had to go. But the silence, the embrace of the peaks around us, and of course, the promise of a long downhill made it worthwhile.

Mar 20 07 Matsuhime Hailstorm

Our icy reward

But it was cold at the top of the pass, icy cold in fact, and barely had we pulled ourselves over the gate, when Matsuhime orchestrated her surprise – a hail storm, quickly escalating from a few harmless white flecks on the asphalt to a full-blown onslaught of large icy stones, stinging our exposed flesh as we ran for cover.
“Do we descend right now?” we asked aloud, maybe to each other, more possibly to the mountain, “or risk this turning in a full snow storm..?”. We were alone, a brief rustle in the undergrowth had confirmed that – the only other creature up here had the right idea and decided to get the hell out of it. So we did the same, a low, gingerly descent over hail-coated roads, turning to freezing rain as we lost elevation far too slowly. Around rocks and timber, on a seemingly endless teeth-chattering, bastard-freezing, soaking-wet cold ride to the lower slopes and the nearest soba shop.

We warmed our insides with some ramen, wrapped our numb fingers around cups of hot green tea and, bit by bit, let the grimace turn into a huge grin, a smile creeping wider and wider across our faces. Matsuhime – she knows how to hurt you alright, but by the Gods, she knows how to pleasure you as well.

Mar 20 06 Matsuhime Ascent Lee

Pained and Pleasured I

Mar 20 08 Okutama 1

Pained and Pleasured II

Ride data:

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1093313588

 

 

The Monster’s Pants

Nov 1 05 Arima

I may have been saved by the Monster’s Pants.

Recently my cycling prowess has been somewhat magically restored and I do believe it’s  down to these Pants. Are they perhaps the latest Rapha bib-shorts ? No. Is it maybe  a pseudonym for a special performance enhancing cocktail of steroids and amphetamines ? Hmmm… wrong. Could it be a specially crafted training regime, or the nom d’guerre of some extraordinary secret coach ? Nope, none of these – it’s a simple Japanese nursery rhyme that my 3 year old son insists I sing before his evening bath. And I just can’t get the thing out of my head.

“The Monster’s Pants are brilliant pants, they’re super strong, they’re super strong…”

Nov 7 10 Nokogiri

A loop from my home out to the reaches of Chichibu and a ferociously steep back route up to Nihongi Pass, sustained slopes of 14 to 19%, another couple of climbs and the long ride back, naturally, into a headwind… over 200 kilometres and 2300 metres of climbing under a stunning blue sky and witness to a fabulous urban sunset from the banks of the Arakawa river. I had’t done a ride like this since my last Tokyo-Itoigawa race way back in 2012. I must be getting my endurance back !

“These pants are made of tiger fur, they’re really warm, they’re really warm…”

Nov 7 25 Kazahari

Nokogiri, the craggy rock-strewn often-closed mountain road linking Okutama to Akiruno via a barely used pass just a touch below a thousand metres elevation. A steady 9% grade with potholes, landslides and even a few small streams running down the middle of the broken asphalt to negotiate. A favourite. The last three times I’ve gone all out on this, around 45 minutes on the first attempt I timed myself, and just under 41 minutes on the last attempt in summer. My goal was sub-40, my result… 37 min 48 sec ! Was I on a roll or what ?

“Wear them five years, they’ll never tear…”
“Wear them ten years, they’ll never wear…”

Nov 7 35 Kazahari

Nov 13 15 Shomaru

That would have been enough and I could have honorably peddled to the station and got a train home. But what the heck, I was in the vicinity of the beautiful albeit dreaded Kazahari Toge. Grueling at the best of times, this was always the first mountain pass on the agenda – and it would often be the last as well. The long steep unforgiving slopes are renowned among climbing aficionados and you need fresh legs to approach this beast. Stop once, and you’ll rarely be able to clip back in again to continue.

Ah, so what. After my record-breaking success on Nokogiri let’s try out these legs a bit more, eh. It was… exquisitely painful, oh yes, by the Gods that hurt. But I did it!

“You, Me, You, Me, and Everybody…”
“Let’s grab the Monster’s Pants and put them on…”
“Let’s grab the Monster’s Pants and put them on…!”

The Monster’s Pants. They rock.

Nov 21 05 Arakawa

The Imperial (2014)

early mornings

There hasn’t been a ride this year where I haven’t fallen short of some goal, be it distance, elevation, destination… whatever. Something has interceded to thwart my plan for almost every ride: bad weather, bad scheduling, dubious fitness and even more dubious willpower. I had finished my Noto trip much fitter than when I started, but was disgruntled that I hadn’t spent just one more night out in the wilds in my tent, rather than a warm dry hotel. So it looks like I’d failed another goal as well: toughness.

IMG_2970vI needed a plan, something to put me back into gear so to speak, some way to demonstrate I was not as washed up as I thought ! And I came up with this: The Imperial. Not exactly empire building, nothing to do with the the five star Tokyo hotel… nor the local Tandori for that matter. I had defined “The Imperial” from a simple unit of measure: whereas all my stats for climbing and distance were measured in metres and kilometers, this would be a simple goal in good old fashioned units: “imperial” miles.

As goals go, it was very modest: a hundred miles of distance with a mile of vertical climbing.

My first try was an overnight trip to Shizuoka to regain some two wheeled dignity – it resulted in two closed passes, an unsightly detour via Route 1 and several minor valleys filled with quarries and heavy industry. Plus a cracked seatpost and a broken cassette. I limped down the Doshi michi, hoping nothing else would fail before Fujino station and my train ride home.

IMG_2847

Barely two years ago I was knocking out century rides every other weekend, whereas this year I hadn’t managed a single one.  It was beginning to feel like this would be my annus horribilis for road biking.

IMG_2951

But when I thought about it, I realised that I did manage some great rides, re-visiting some of my favourite “toge”: Tomin No Mori, the Imagawa south approach (always much harder than I remember), the classic Shiraishi followed by Sadomine descent. I had ridden through eerie silent dawn mists on the Arakawa, and past crystal clear views of Fuji-san on deserted mountain roads.

15932913246_cf6147b14a_kAll wonderful rides, and I also rediscovered my temple route, an old favourite of mine taking in Yamabushi, Shomaru, and the ancient Nenogongenji shrine –  I got to appreciate the joy in riding for riding’s sake alone, trying not to worry about The Imperial.

And then, one cold early winter’s day, after completing the temple loop, there seemed a little more left in my legs than usual. Why not ride home, I thought, instead of taking the train. From the mountains to the foothills, through lightly trafficked suburbs and then the river paths of Iruma-gawa and and Arakawa.  As I got closer to home the numbers on my Garmin looked vaguely familiar, like they were trying to remind me of something. I got to my front door and took one more glance before switching the thing off:  one mile of climbing and one hundred miles of riding…

When everything's right with the world

When everything’s right with the world…

Ride details:
http://connect.garmin.com/activity/646085785

On Any Other Friday

Heading to Yanagisawa

Heading to Yanagisawa

My personal space, the thickness of a cotton shirt and a suit jacket, compressed by a mass of humanity on a commuter rapid; my air recycled from a hundred pairs of lungs in my crammed carriage, not the mile or two of empty roads and wooded slopes surrounding me now.

IMG_6459

On any other Friday, early morning mists would not clear to reveal mountain peaks and the green beginnings of Spring in the company lobby, nor the scatter of bluebells by my desk. And the dank indolent city canal threading it’s way through the office district would be no match for the the foaming violent river I rode past now, waters icy cold with the winter melt.

On any other Friday, I might walk a few flights of stairs for a view across the Yamanote line; there would not be two prodigious mountain passes to climb, and no reward of the expansive Kofu basin laid out before me, almost a mile below. I would not be stopped dead in my tracks by a deer searching for berries in the corridor, and the rustle of papers in my drawer would hardly likely throw up a snake, slithering quickly out the way. And no “Beware of the Bears” signs to alert me to aggressive animals… but make no mistake, these you must watch out for every single day of the week.

Beware Bears

Beware Bears

Things would be comfortable on any other Friday; controlled interior temperature, clean bathrooms free of flying spiders, and a chair that doesn’t corner at 50kph and hit 70kph on downhills. No remnants of snow in the shade, no single digit temperatures while Tokyo reached T-shirt & shorts conditions. And my arms wouldn’t ache and my legs wouldn’t scream and my heart wouldn’t thump a hole through my chest.

Any other Friday. You can keep it.

Friday Deity

Friday Deity

Route:  http://connect.garmin.com/activity/293438479

Once Upon a Time in The West

Norkogiriyama

Norkogiriyama

It had been a cold icy winter this year. Names of passes remained unspoken for months, and the longer they remained unsaid, the more powerful those words became. No longer simple names of roads, they became prayers, a summons to the Gods of these western mountains. And they were lonely too; it had been far too long without the homage of their two-wheeled acolytes. But they heard the chants of their names, and knew it was time to bargain with the Gods of the seasons. Out with that indolent lazy God of Winter and in with the Goddess of Spring. Bit of a looker, Ms Spring, which is always a bonus.

A long way up

A long way up

 

Lurking Ice...

Lurking Ice…

So the snows melted, and the ice slunk off to the shadows, stubbornly waiting for the less wary; whilst landslides uncleared since Autumn stumbled onto the broken asphalt. Tsuru ! Yabitsu ! Magino ! Nokogiriyama !  My prayers had been answered at last.

 

They really listen...

They really listen…

Something Serious: The Okutama Big Loop

A Pass with a View

I was waiting at the lights when she pulled up, young, slim and beautiful. We were waiting for them to change but it was still red. She shifted position on the saddle, slightly cocked her leg and – after a short pause – let out a massive fart.  And then she turned to look at me, defiance in her stare.  “Beat that” she seemed to say, baiting me.

Finger Defroster

On any other day, I’d be more than a match for a blow-off challenge, confident I would trump her trump – but not today. Today was the start of my “Long Slow Distance” training, the objective being to keep your heart rate deliberately low – in the “fat burning” zone – to build endurance and, hopefully, lose a bit of Christmas excess. As such, i wasn’t relying on the power bars and gels I usually consume in some quantity, and for once I wasn’t suffering from the unpleasant side-effects of these concentrated carbohydrate snacks. Until next time, baby.

Heavy Metal

It had been less than 48 hours since I’d stepped off the plane at Narita, and this was my first proper bike ride (my first real exercise!) in three weeks. But bollocks to the jet lag – it felt glorious to be back on my bike in the Japanese mountains ! The sun was bright, like a hundred watt bulb blinding me in this curiously clear sky, but it was cold, and the lower reaches of the valley up to Tomin No Mori was too deep for the light to penetrate. My water bottle quickly froze and I climbed with a slow thirst. But the road had been gritted and cleared, and the rare patches of ice remaining were easy to avoid. Isn’t it incredible that you can still summit 1200m passes in the middle of Winter !  But long climbs mean long descents and painful, painful frozen fingers.

Okutama-ko Dam

At the regular Soba stop, I was warned that he next climb on my list, Tsuru Toge was fully iced up. This time last year I’d ignored similar advice… and did a bit of ice-skating, putting out of action for three weeks. So I headed East back towards Tokyo instead, taking a new “long route” up through Saitama, getting lost a fair bit, and discovering a rather nice quiet route to the river, and home.

And I was lucky – the wind was behind me.

A Roadside Shrine in the Shadows


Ride Memo
: 190km with 1700m climbing. The return route from Okutama is a little complicated – Garmin GPS data is here.