Tag Archives: Tomin no Mori

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

Rekindled

The Green Line

Happy, despite appearances

I looked back on the weekend like a man who has just learnt to love again. The early morning ride out of the awakening city, cool shadows draped across my chosen route of quiet urban back-roads, the orchestra of birdsong building into a quiet crescendo the further I rode. This was no infatuation – been there, done that – nor some frantic physical pleasure obscured by misplaced feelings of affection. She was an old flame genuinely rekindled, and I knew this was the real thing.

Okutama views

Okutama views

It didn’t happen overnight. We’d started courting again a month or so ago, wooing each other slowly, adding numerous outings since. Fun, oh yes, but nothing serious I thought – and if truth be told it felt a little awkward, hard work even. I’d lost some flexibility since our last liaison, and positions that felt so natural six months ago felt forced and uncomfortable now. And to be fair, she’d also put on a little weight herself. That was the set of winter tyres I’d put on her of course.

 

A jet-lagged post-tendonitis ride along the Arakawa, perhaps not the most promising of beginnings; the next weekend we hit the mountains, where it had all began many years ago; Imagawa-toge from the north, and the wonderful descent from Tsuru-toge… I had the first inkling something good was going to come out of this. The climb up Tomin-no-Mori and – oh my goodness ! – our favourite hidden Nokogiriyama, so soon…it was happening all so quickly; there could be no change of heart now. But it was last weekend when everything all clicked profoundly back into place, a ride that volunteered everything, a turning point.

Nokogiriyama South

Nokogiriyama South

I’d overslept, which probably helped, allowing me a rare six plus hours sleep. And I woke up to a glorious day, deep blue skies and a luminous green, starting from the weeds outside my front door right up into to the mountainsides of Okumusashi and the hidden farmsteads perched high in the thickly wooded hills. It didn’t feel like the 27 degrees shown on the thermometer.

Heading out ...

Heading out …

On the way to Yamabushi Toge I met an old friend at the Holy Shrine where I stopped for water, and we headed up there together, taking the serpentine curves at a conversational pace.
“Still got the bug ?” he asked knowingly, and I thought back to the eight months I’d spent cycling from the UK to Japan. Oh God Yes I still had it, but the responsibilities and joys of an almost- two-year old boy at home meant that nowadays I could risk nothing more than these occasional illicit weekend affairs.

Jose continued on to Chichibu after the pass, while I turned off for the gentle climb to Shomaru Toge, stopping in the soba shop at the top to buy some drinks.
“Italia ? Italia ?” shouted a bald Japanese guy sat at the window table. He was waving at me and I told him I was British. He said he was Pantani and continued chattering on in fluent Italian, until I could extract myself and make my farewells.
“Ciao” I said
“Auf Weidersein” he said back.

Nokogiriyama North

Nokogiriyama North

Heavy boughs cradled the road in a leafy grip and we bumped over the potholed descent at a descent speed, halting occasionally to absorb the view. As soon as it was done the momentum carried us up the first five metres of the next climb to Kayabazaka on the Green Line. It would have been nice if we’d been carried me a few miles more, because this was my steepest prolonged climb for a while, and after the initial soothing image of farmhouses, flourishing gardens of springtime flowers and the deep green tea-fields in the shade of the steep valley slopes, it was a tough grind, albeit through shaded forest. The bike creaked and I groaned.
I caught sight of one road perched incredibly high up on the other side of the valley. Wow, I thought, don’t recall seeing that on my map: that was one road I certainly wouldn’t like to climb today. A beginner’s mistake of course – it was indeed the same road, another two miles further on…

Kayabazaka marked one of several forest junctions that terminated a sharp climb from the valley floor to the “Green Line” a narrow up-down road following the ridge of the mountain range from Chichibu to Hanno. Wonderfully shaded, with few vehicles, and a couple of rickety restaurants to stop for lunch over breathtaking views, it had been one of my favorite roads for a long time.

One more climb after the Green Line, and I let a red-faced hard-breathing cyclist who had been tailing me overtake. I wanted to relish the moment, the steady upwards gradient, an colonnade of trees, unending switchbacks and the music of the river below. I danced lightly on the pedals, and she rocked gently from side to side beneath me, her rear cassette purring with pleasure, forgiving my unpracticed moves and my still clumsy handling. My heart rate far higher than it should have been I’m sure, and we glided down the last descent, a huge smile of contentment fixed across my face.

Yes indeed. I was in love again.

I'll be back

I’ll be back

Route:
http://connect.garmin.com/activity/510663220

Ultra AM

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IMG_8274In Japan, babies are good for summer riding.

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.

 

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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.

20130811_081555You 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.

20130811_084916A 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.

IMG_8270That’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.

 

Garmin tracks:
http://connect.garmin.com/activity/356816281
http://connect.garmin.com/activity/360123093

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