Tag Archives: yanagisawa

A Tale of Two Toge

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Toge (峠) is the Japanese for mountain pass, and considering Japan is three quarters mountains there are quite a few. The mountains offer a respite from the crowds of the plains and the coast, a place to be stopped in the middle of road by a troup of monkeys, rather than a man with a loud-speaker yelling at you. The noise of unknown critters in the undergrowth offer a hint of fear, rather than the well-known critters of the pachinko parlour, offering  a cacophony of electronic pinball noise and wafts of cigarette smoke whenever you pass by.

Sadly, a lot of Toge have been closed due to landslides of late, the roads still un-repaired from Typhoon Number 19, and others have remained out of reach for me due to my COVID-era policy of avoiding trains as much as possible. However, I have relaxed my train policy a little (allowing myself to take the empty early morning train out), and with some press-ups and sit-ups my flimsy arms are now able to hoist my bike over some of those “road closed” barriers.

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Yanagisawa

Recently I had been wanting to revisit Yanagisawa Toge, to climb it from the Yamanashi side, more than a 1000 metres of constant climbing over 18km, and a long gorgeous 50km descent to Okutama – that is what I was looking forward to. I took an early train out, knowing that the first half of the climb would be hot; this part is steep, up a heat-sink of a narrow concrete road completely absent of shade. In mid-August it becomes a funnel of intense heat, and my heart-rate was stuck worryingly high, no matter how slow I pedaled. I felt like some mobile solar panel, or the centre of some celestial magnifying glass… and I was ready to be sick and pass out by the time I reached the Udon restaurant at the half-way point.

But now at almost a thousand metres elevation the heat had become almost bearable, further helped by some cloud cover and a couple of bottles of tea from the proprietor.

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Somewhere after Imagawa

There were more bridges and tunnels than I remembered – this side of Yanagisawa was never much to shout about (unless you were descending across one of those bridges in a cross-wind, in which case it was a scream…), but the last majestic turn to the final approach to the top of the pass is now cut off by some monstrous tunnel, and the old road was being ravaged by trucks and diggers. The acrid smell of recent tarmac hung heavy in the air.

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Backroads, Okutama

In the old days I used to be in awe of Yanagisawa, an old rough road deep in mountains that took you to the mile-high border between Tokyo and Yamanashi prefectures. There was something about this road, a single thin red line across a map of untamed whitespace and contour lines; there was always an adventure waiting here. It should have been allowed to age gracefully. However, little by little, year by year, tunnels had been bored through Yanagisawa’s beautiful lines, and the mountain sides given a modern, grey facelift with yet more concrete supports.

There were still some surprises, still pools of the old magic in places, but it wasn’t the same. In the end it was Imagawa Toge that saved the day, a modest climb easily overlooked on the rollercoaster descent to Lake Okutamako.

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More backroads, Okutama

Quiet, steep and snaking upwards through the forest; a family of deer ran by me startled by my heavy breathing (not the first, and not the last), ending at an ancient mountain shrine on the other side, after a switchback-riddled descent. I rested on the worn wooden floorboards of the shrine for a while, looking back up at Imagawa Toge, then filled up my water bottles from the spring nearby, and set off for home. It had been a good day, after all.

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Strava:
https://www.strava.com/activities/3881590707

Two steps forward, One (painful) step back

A machine

A machine and a machine

Spring is the time to be cycling in Japan – the few weeks on either side of Golden Week are glorious, the sharp morning chill of Spring turning into generous warmth in the afternoon; and the mountains are green, greener than anything you’ve seen, the trees and the flowers pulsating with their new found colour and vibrancy. And I missed it all.

Road with a view

Road with a view

The note I had made to myself on my last ride: “Today I was, quite simply, amazing.” Yes indeed, I was back on form at long last! So pleased that I thought I would give my bike a decent clean … and it was then I noticed the crack in my titanium frame. The Horror. The Absolute Horror.

It would be two months before I’d got a replacement frame delivered and built up again, with business trips, Easter, and then Golden Week thrown in my way to thwart me. I cursed every fine weekend with blue skies and perfect temperatures, and rejoiced in weekends of rain.

Reunited

Reunited

The new bike built up, and a few more weeks of getting back some fitness and getting the fit right on the new frame. It wasn’t easy. Ride one: odd noises from the bottom bracket and two and half hours back at the bike shop to track that down… fixed! Next was lower back pain (a first for me in 15 years of cycling) – three rides to track that down, alter my fit and build up my core… fixed ! It was hard, but I was back on the passes I loved: Yamabushi, Nokogiri, Ireyama, Kazahari, Imagawa, Arima (what a beauty – Arima Toge!), Sadamine… and even Yanagisawa, over 1500m of constant climbing. I even did my 100km Urban River Loop in record time, a 29.4km/h average speed through city and bike paths, back home by 8:15am in the morning – much better than me at my peak even. Wow, was I was rocking or what ?!

Rocking'

Rockin’

Out and about

Out and about

My last climb, my nemesis Kazahari Rindo, the toge what put my lower back into spasms a few weeks earlier, the long super steep climbs, exposed to the heat of the sun, and very very little respite from the gradient until it’s 1150m top… I enjoyed it. I actually enjoyed it. The long weekend rides and the midweek early morning pre-work training sessions had paid off: it felt good to be strong again!

Perfection

Perfection

Well, that’s how I felt last Sunday, at 9:20AM.

At 9:45 I was lying dazed on a mountain road.

A truck coming from the other direction had suddenly pulled sharply across my path, looking to get into a parking place on the left, the idiot driver unaware of me coming down the road. I braked but it was just too close, almost meaningless; I swerved hard to the right in an effort to avoid going right into it … now I was lying in the road, confused, and not able to get to my feet.

It seems I had crossed the centre line and collided into the side of the car waiting behind it, leaving a large dent, and then flung back out onto the road. Probably a good thing – the aluminum panels of the car took the brunt of the impact, before the road got to me.

Man down

Man down

A long ambulance ride, police, road rash, bruising, cuts, twisted ankle, banged up shoulder and an assortment of other minor injuries… but thank goodness no broken bones. I was lucky. A few days on crutches, a fair bit of pain, a lot of hassle and a week later I feel I’m on the mend. Really lucky. The truck driver will be prosecuted – dangerous driving – but it seems he has minimal insurance, enough to cover my medical bills, but nothing for the bike, or the time off work, or compensation. I might need to lawyer up for that. More hassles.

And I need to be patient, wait to get mended and … start it all over again.

But not for long...

Me, soon

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.

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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