Lately I did a lot of mileage by commuting between Yokohama and Tokyo. This should bring me into shape for the upcoming Cycle Messenger World Championship in Tokyo. Actually I like riding in the city as there is always something to see and to discover, as opposed to riding along the Tamagawa or some suburban roads (pachinko parlours on the left, car dealers on the right). But I started missing long climbs.
So Domenic and me agreed to meet early at Ome station and venture out into the highlands of Chichibu and Gunma yesterday. I left the house before 6 AM as the trains to Hachioji are getting very crowded after 7 and I was surprised how cold it was; it felt almost like a day in late October.
Domenic was on the same train when we arrived in Ome and I showed him around. That means, we shopped at Aurore bakery and at the approved 7-Eleven.
Domenic first followed my example to buy a still wa,rm royal milk bread but couldn’t followed my second example to eat it completely within three minutes.
And off we rode.
We followed the standard approach to Yamabushi Toge, stopping at the holy fountain to replenish our water bottles. The bridge next to the small shrine has been renovated and the waterpipe with the holy water has been diverted. Actually, one can not see where the water comes from, theoretically it could also be possible that it is just diverted from the trunk pipeline to Tokyo and not from a natural source at all. One day we have to climb up and check this.
Yamabushi Toge, which we mastered quickly was followed by a fast ride to Chichibu city on road 299, not pleasant but short. We continued then along road 140 in direction Mitsumine and took a short rest at the Laurent 7-Eleven, the last chance to eat something decent before serious climbing was forecasted.
Quickly we reached Takizawa dam and rode up the very impressive loop over the towering viaduct in front of the dam. It has been a while since I rode up there with Ludwig during the winter season, but this time in a very agreeable climate and under blue skies with some clouds as if painted it felt even better.
The road is then followed by a series of new tunnels, constructed 2003, 2002, 2003 and 2001. These tunnels provide easy access to a series of other tunnels which were constructed to provide shortcuts to the existing road which was basically perfect already. There are no villages, no signs of human activities except for road and slope maintenance works until the huge secret mining operations unfolds in front of the eyes of the unsuspecting rider.
Not too many Japanese know this, but from the shafts of this mine, wells are constructed into the belly of the Japanese underworld and since centuries Okonomiyaki sauce is pumped up by ardent workers. A dangerous undertaking indeed and many poor souls died in this effort for the sake of the nation; one can see their graves further up the road and once a year on September 16th, a priest comes and spread katsuobushi (bonito flakes) over their tombstones.
However lately with new trends in eating habits spreading rapidly through the country (Seven Elevens and Maid cafes in particular), the consumption of Okonomiyaki has been greatly decreased and many mines have closed down or reduced operations. This one is the only one still pumping the sticky brown liquid up and distributing it over the secret pipeline network to the downtowns of the two Kans (Kanto and Kansai, that is).
One can still see the old post office where envelopes were sealed and stamps were glued with the help of the sauce and the large wooden dormitories where the workers used to live only 20 or 30 years ago.
The dormitories also looked today like they were hold together by bonito flakes. I tried to convince Domenic that these were a good investment opportunity and probably cheap to acquire. One can convert them easily into luxury apartments and sell them off one by one.
Enough of business, we were there for the elevation meters and steadily we made our way up to Haccho Toge and tunnel at 1,255 meters.. On the top we were greeted by a splendid view of the mountains on the border between Saitama and Gunma.
We then continued to take to same road down to Shigasaka Toge (road 299) and secretly crossed the borderline to Gunma prefecture. Fond memories of my own border crossing 20 years ago lingered in my mind ….. „Goodbye, moon of Deutsche Demokratische Republik, goodbye…“
Once in Gunma, actually a first for me on the bike, we rode along the „whatever“ river on road 462 in direction Honjo. It is hard to imagine, but there are even less people living in Gunma than in Chichibu it seems. We stopped at a vending machine where we probably assured double the summer season income of the village compared to last year by buying three soft drinks.
And finally after many beautiful sights and still below the beautiful Gunma skies we arrived at Waseda Honjo Shinkansen station. While the roads, tunnels and bridges we have ridden so far were completely useless, leading from nowhere to nowhere, the reason why this Shinkansen station was constructed defies every sense of human logic. At least I assume that the huge parking place behind it and the signboards announcing the vague intentions of the urban development board to construct apartment houses there sometime in the not foreseeable future, where erected after the Shinkansen station was finished and not the reason for the construction itself.
A complete mystery that can only be explained by Japanese politics.
As we were wondering all the time by the huge number of construction works. It seems that the LDP cannot wait until the end of the fiscal year in April 2010 to spend the complete budget, but due to the forthcoming change in government has intensified road works by the factor 10 to make sure that all funds are used up before another party takes charge.
A very nice trip in September, with weather like in October and construction activities like in March.
I was home before seven thanks to the Shinkansen network leading me directly to Shin Yokohama. Domenic made it home in time to start his part time job as bar tender in the evening on time.