Tag Archives: Sadamine

Autumn: Going, Going… Gone!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Boso Hanto, south coast

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

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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

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.

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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.

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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

Finger of God

Views from Sadamine

Views from Sadamine

In the light of a bare, bright lightbulb I slipped on the thick thermal top, zipping it up to the neck, to slow down my immediate shivering. Then came the cycling shorts, after I’d massaged some warming “deep heat” thoroughly into my numb legs; on with the knee warmers, and the thick winter tights over all this, while I taped my secret winter weapon – Japanese “kairo” heat-pads – over my toes, keeping them in place by a pair of regular socks, and then over these another pair of heavy duty waterproof Sealskinz as well.  Next, the heavy winter jacket, a veteran of five winters, a thick fleece balaclava, and a final bandana to cover any remaining exposed flesh.  A thermal hat and a pair of winter gloves finished off the ensemble while I popped a couple more heat-pads in each of the gloves and put on the wind jacket. I was finally ready to step outside, an hour before sunrise – the coldest part of the day.

Looking down from Yamabushi

Looking down from Yamabushi

When dawn came, it spawned a blaze of fire on the horizon, and the mountain peaks glowed like hot coals. But it was pure illusion: today would be the coldest day of the winter so far, a nighttime low of -8 degrees where I was going and a daytime high of 4, according to the forecast.  Any moisture – a spilt drink, puddles in the gutter, somebody’s flem… all frozen solid. Harsh. Soft porn braced the window display of the 7-11 where I stopped for a coffee and croissant at the 80km mark, promising a far nicer time indoors.

A wind-chapped chap

A wind-chapped chap

But the cold wasn’t the worst of it. A fierce north westerly wind buffeted the bike, like an ice cold celestial breath, violently expelling me into the path of overtaking trucks. On the winding mountain roads I could swear there was an invisible hand holding back the bike for a few seconds, flattening my speed in an instant, and then immediately flicking me forward again … I could feel the thumb and forefinger of a mischievous mountain god playing dangerous games with me.

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Noon, and a stop for lunch. When I remounted the bike the wind was even stronger, but it was steady, and blowing back towards the city: the gods had forgotten me and moved on. It was my turn to have some fun, and I teased out a ferocious tailwind, under a clear blue sky, all the way back to Tokyo.

Rolling up to my doorstep I surprised myself – thanks to the wind I had completed 190km, relatively effortlessly: and my longest ride since last Spring. It looks like I had wrapped those gods around my own little finger after all…

 

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