Last week I arranged secretly a Positivo club ride with the TCC. I didn’t know that all of this would end up in another chapter of the „元気じゃない物語“, the modern sequel to a famous book from the Japanese Heian past.
All of this required quite some work behind the scenes, including a reconnaissance trip two days before the actual ride to check out the road conditions on one of the long climbs to conquer. Quite cumbersome, the next time I lease some drones.
David, Jerome and me met at Tamagawahara bridge at 8 and we planned to meet the TCC group, including Tom, assembling at Itsukiachi, on the top of Wada Toge. This would spare us the embarrassment to let everybody wait on the top for us.
We got a very interesting combination of „dressed to cycle in spring“ together: I was packed in long bib shorts, three layers of jerseys plus additional windbreaker in the saddle bag plus overshoes. This was in view of my information gathering two days before. Jerome on the contrary wore short bibshorts, short sleeve jersey and below his famous and beloved fugu fishing net. David was somewhere in between.From the first minute on, we felt this immense pressure to arrive on top of Wada before the TCC and we zoomed along the Tamagawa at breakneck speeds. We were way ahead of schedule at the entrance to Wada and went up slowly as we had to preserve our strength for a) some of the longer climbs to come and b) to show off when riding with TCC. Definitely we were in competition mood.
The gates of Wada were open and the road all clear, this was different to the last time I went there earlier this month. So when we arrived at the top of Wada I immediately called Tom and wanted to tell him that we are already waiting for hours, but I couldn’t reach him. We waited for some time but nobody arrived so it would have gotten boring if not for some entertainment provided by the mountain witch (山姥) running the tea shop at Wada toge.
One middle-age couple in a car, obviously new to the area, was parking in the tea-house paid parking lot where you have to pay rates which you would normally expect at Roppongi Hills and similar locations. The car was already parked when she dashed out of her Lebkuchen house and advised the driver in he usually crow-like, persistent voice that he should move more to the back. That was not really necessary, but as she was the witch and he only the tourist, he obliged and moved the car back by app. 12 centimeters when she started to panic and shout „Stop, Stop, not that much!“. What a great welcome.
Would anybody support me if a write a petition to the Monbusho to nominate her as living national treasure [category: witches, magicians, demons, cursed and supernatural]?
Now as TCC was not showing up, we were even more afraid, that we would be overtaken on the slopes of the golf course hill leading to Kobu Tunnel. This is really frustrating because as per Japan Cycling Road Racing Climbing Association / Committee of Definitions and Abbreviations / Subcommittee of Hill Climb Locations Definitions, the climb through the golf hills is NOT recognised as an official climb but only as „a leisurely ride through the hills of what is left of bubble era Japan“.
That’s why we decided to move on. As usually David, who is the fastest downhiller I know, led the way through Fujino, the descent was really fast and beautiful this time with new fear to meet spots of ice on the road and a fantastic view on Mount Fuji.
From the bottom of my heart I can say that I really hate Uenohara and I hate the climb in the golf hills in particular. One is riding up and finally when a rhythm is found and some elevation gained, one is going down again. On the left and the right people are playing golf instead of earning a living or doing something meaningful with their life, for example: cycling. Sorry, I couldn’t come up with a better example but I think the readers of this blog will understand this example most easily.
Finally we reached the entry to the Kobu tunnel. Jerome, who will attend a marathon within short time, had sticked to his training concept, which can most easily described as: No training. Doesn’t have impact anyway. So he was quite exhausted when he reached the tunnel and throw his bike against the steel barrier on the side of the rode. One can clearly seen the bended steel bars in the photo below, while there is no damage to his bike visible at all. This clearly proofs the superior material properties of carbon fiber compared to steel. As there is also clearly damage visible to the body of Jerome, one can further assume that he is not as strong as carbon fiber or steel.
Still no TCC group in sight. So we thought that it would be OK to get overtaken on the approach to Kazahari Toge and started another wonderful descent with David in the front. Again he won the „reverse polka dot“ jersey as fastest descender and I had trouble to stay on his wheel.
Well and then the long climb to Kazahari or Tomin no Mori started. I was still feeling good and moved away from David and Jerome already at the start of the climb. As usual I got overtaken by a few lightweight, young Japanese riders but I was going steady thanks to the change to a compact crank on my bike. So I passed Sengenzaka without feeling the urge to jump into the hot water there and looking out from the pool on the road watching other cyclists struggling.
I like the climb very much, but there is one part, after the deserted toll booth with is long and straight and seems to take forever. Long and straight roads are demotivating me. I like small and bended roads where one cannot have any idea where they are leading and how much longer they will wind up.
All in all I was pretty exhausted when I arrived at Tomin no Mori. It was also quite warm and I finally decided to get rid of my undershirt. I also shed some extra weight at the toilet there which I assume had some negative impact on my performance going up. I hope they can re-use the place by now. To show how fast I was, I ran to the shop and ordered a bowl of Soba which I wanted to have finished and placed in front of me when David and Jerome arrive. But first it the shopkeeper, who always reminds me of the village smith in Asterix took forever to prepare it and then much to my surprise Tom showed up. He told me that he was on he heels of the TCC group which has passed Tomin no Mori and then he rode away again.
David and Jerome arrived some time later. They had taken a break at Katsunuma. Jerome was in even worth shape than at Kobu Tunnel which is always a good sign that he will became much, much better later during the ride.
Finally on the top of Kazahari (without snow, so yet another misinformation from me) we met the TCC group , but again we decided to speed ahead after a short break and started the most wonderful descent on the back of Kazahari. Normally, when climbing up on one side and going down then on the other, I only have one thought and that is „How lucky that I went up the other side“, as the road I am going down always seems so much steeper than the one I went up (good example: Nennogon in Chichibu). But this is not the case for the road now leading down from Kazahari to Okutama. For years I thought that the climb from Okutama would be much steeper and longer than from Itsukaichi. Not true. And now, after all the construction the roads are in fabulous shape and one can go down really, really fast.
The roads at Kazahari are frequently used by bike and car racing types and the sound of ambulance cars coming to the rescue is not infrequent. By providing an even better playground for racing at Kazahari I am sure that in the years to come even more racers will flock there, enjoy an accident and a longer stay at a hospital or graveyard. Which is probably part of a brilliant strategy to keep the rest of streets in Tokyo safe.
At the Okutama lake I finally met up with the TCC group and continued to ride with them. There were some guys I have met early (Alan, Naomi, David) and some I didn’t (Steve, Phil and some others) and just by chance our complete failed Tsukuba Endurance Team was presented. We continued at a surprising leisurely pace towards Ome and I was drafting first behind Tom and then behind Phil. Drafting behind Phil is much better, because drafting behind Tom is like trying to hide behind a baseball. I will use this example to illustrate my class at the ICU the difference between „riding effectively“ and „riding efficiently“.
We made one more stop at a convenience store close to Okutama station (the Western most conbini of Tokyo as it proudly announces his superior service quality, but it was still better than the one we dropped in at the TCC run in January). Here two memorable things happened:
First David A went through a door in the convenience store on which was written in very big and clear Japanese letters „THIS IS NOT A TOILET“. And then he stayed behind that door forever. I am not sure what he did there and I hope that he did the right thing in the right place.
Then without noticing, a lonely group of two Bosozoku (暴走族) riders had parked their scooter next to the store, but there not seemed to be of the dangerous type. However, when they started the engine again, almost immediately the sound system (I guess that 90% of the horsepower is used to provide electricity for the sound system) was engaged and the sound of the most dangerous music on earth wailed through the former peaceful valley: ENKA ALARM!
We barely survived this heinous attack but still today thinking back to the day I hear
ringing endlessly in my ears. Especially after Alan and Naomi told me that they went to Izu-Oshima, an island famous for this flower.
So we made a wise decision to leave and continue to do the last climb of the day which I described to all TCC riders who were unsure about it as „a piece of cake“. In fact it is again another climb of 400 meters up and while Tom, his Vlaams teammate and David A rode ahead as nothing has happened earlier in the days of climbing, Steve and me battled it out in a constant fight up the slopes at approximately 8.2 km/hr. He completely misunderstood me when my answer to his question „How much is it still?“ was „About 280 meters“ which of course is the official style of answering sanctioned by the Japan Cycling Road Racing Climbing Association / Committe of Definitions and Abbreviations / Subcommittee of Hill Climb Quick Shout Definitions and ALWAYS means „280 meters up in elevation“ and NEVER „280 meters forward“.
As Steve thought that the top of the hill was near he gave everything for the next three kilometers or so, probably thinking that this was natural distance-guessing tolerance. We arrived on top almost at the same time, where I could barely stammer „see, piece of cake“ before being subdued by the forces of gravity and falling to the ground.
One after another also the other riders arrived and I have to say that I was particular impressed by Andy who seems to have made the full ride on his heavy steel frame MTB/hybrid type bike complete with back tray, fenders and all other kind of stuff that we normally don’t consider worthwhile to mount on our bikes. Well, as Lance Armstrong said „It’s not about the bike„, but by no means I would like to imply that Andy is perhaps using EPO. Steve also has a nice KLEIN bike which has a particular good paintjob and is changing colors depending on the angle looking at it.
We then took the much better road down on the other side and immediately Alan had a flat tire. This is the second time I ride out with Alan and he experiences a flat. So I was talking with Tom about the problems of international marriage and even before I could finish the account of all the troubles with my wife (a very short list indeed), Alan hat changed the tire and we could ride on. Incredible. Or impossible. So I still assume to this very day that either he had a spare wheel hidden in the jersey behind his back or that he simply exchanged front and rear tire and just pretended that everything was fine.
The road was getting much wider and better now and as the hard part was over, Phil, Tom, Vlaams and me started to go really, really fast and overtake each other. That was fun.
The rest was eventless, we split at Itsukaichi station, some of the guys went home by train, some by car and I had still to climb up to Tomin no Mori where I have parked my rental car. Sorry the part before Tomin no Mori was made up, I admit that.
All in all a very enjoyable ride, 171 kilometers and 2.800 meters of climbing. It would be nice to repeat this from time to time with the TCC guys.
Later David wrote me that Jerome and him moved along the road further to Ome and then home along the Tamagawa. As suspected, Jerome pulled him all the way home. Which is what he usually does after fooling everybody for 90% of the ride that he is in bad shape.