Got up at 5:40am and was accompanied by Humphrey, my biggest supporter who thinks I must be the best rider on the planet as he knows no others, (see photo) to do my usual weather check while he conducted his morning business. Unseasonably warm so no need for warm clothing. When I met Jerome at the Komazawa-dori-Kanpachi junction just before 7am I assumed he had reached the same conclusion as he was dressed in full PE kit (shorts, short-sleeved jersey and matching team gloves). In hindsight it could have been sub-zero and he would not have felt anything thanks to a vast imbalance in his alcohol-sleep ratio. James joined us a few minutes later and off we went. Note that in the interests of saving 10 minutes on a 6 hour ride James now prefers not to come to the traditional Ebisu meeting point but rather go direct to David L’s house.
We set off to the Kawasaki side of Tamagawaharabashi to meet Herr Professor MOB, Ludwig and Fumiki-san who was making excuses about being hungover, but on any ride it is expected that at least some members will be/should be hungover. Very little sympathy for the following reasons: 1. he is very fit, 2. he is only 26 yrs old and 3. he is basically a lung on a stick and loves mountains. This impressive train which included 2 JCRC champions set off along the Onekan. As this was the first decent weekend in a while lots of cyclists were out and as we know from experience, members of Japanese teams decked out in full matching kit have a problem being overtaken by gaijin so felt they had restore some pride and blast past many of us. Some dude in shorts but pretty red booties (why on a day like this?) flashed past me and probably felt better about his masculinity as a result.
From Onekan to Tank Road to Lake Tsukui, past the drug baron’s villa with the cool Land-Rover outside and the obligatory pointless detour (trademarked by MOB) which in this case was to the Tsukui road northern extension which requires climbing equipment or a small bulldozer to clear debris from landslides). Eventually the group split at the turning off to Miyagase. The Professor of International Cyclology, Ludwig and Fumiki-san (lung-on-a-stick who climbed Fuji in 75mins last year) kept going towards Yamanaka and then on to Kofu. It is assumed they got there but nothing has been heard of them since we took a group photo and parted at 9:30am on that beautiful Saturday morning. As tradition has it and PE rules stipulate (need to refer to rule book to confirm), riders must stop at Miyagase-ko to refuel before the assault on Yabitsu Toge. Future riders of this route should be aware however, that leaving central Tokyo (Ebisu) at 6:30am gets you there too early for the steak on a stick or noodles. Power bars and, in Jerome’s case, hard-boiled eggs are no comparison to the steak on a stick. We waited and it was worth it.
Just before turning on to the Yabitsu road, emboldened by steak on a stick and eggs, Jerome announced he was going to ‚have a go‘ up Yabitsu. Perhaps hearing that recently Ludwig had become the first PE member to break 50 minutes spurred him on. When we turned the corner to be greeted by a very strong headwind our Gallic hero may have reconsidered the challenge, but any doubts he had were kept to himself and off he went. Things got worse when the wind was funneled through the tunnel and almost brought mere mortals to a standstill. Before arriving there had been some concern that there could still be ice at the top. Although the weather on Yabitsu deteriorated, it was still warm enough to melt the ice and snow, causing torrents of water to flow down the road. Added to this were the roadworks (residents of Japan know only too well that in March there is a rush to spend the public works budget before the end of the fiscal year) which turned parts of the road into mud creating a scene similar to the old photos of the Tour de France when men were men and rode single gears and roads were unpaved. After dodging old men directing non-existent traffic at work sites and mud and snow, our Gallic hero in his fetching string vest reached the top in 58 minutes achieving his first Togebaka listing – similar to being mentioned in dispatches. His support team swerved to avoid a large frog and were 4 minutes behind.
Terrifying descent in windy conditions as I couldn’t stop thinking about Gert Steegmans who was lifted off the ground by a whirlwind while descending at 75kmh in the recent Paris-Nice Prologue. He’ll be out for a while….. At the bottom of the descent our Gallic hero’s fine senses picked up the smell of fresh donuts and screeched to a halt. When getting cold on a descent one thinks of things like hot baths, beer and donuts. Piping hot and delicious. Had we had a supply of PE stickers we would have used several on the donut shed. All riders to Yabitsu are recommended (required?) to buy donuts at the bottom. Emboldened by 2 donuts, our Gallic hero uttered the fateful phrase: „Let me show you the back roads to Odawara“. We turned right at the conbini and were already thinking of the first beer on a 1:30 or 2pm train. That beer was to come rather later. Have you ever been to Shibusawa High School? Nor had we until then. And then the pretty road through the orchards that was reminiscent of something from the Spring Classics in Flanders. Since the Tomei Expressway has a junction at Odawara and the Tomei was right in front of us, all we had to do basically follow it. We went over it and then under it along a road that turned into a single track and ended under the girders of the Tomei itself. Our Gallic hero’s suggestion of „just climbing down to the road below“ were declined. I would not go down a 100m 60 degree concrete and mud slope with hiking boots on yet alone with bike cleats and a bike on my shoulder. After retracing our path and riding up a short 21 degree slope we found our way down to the village below and on to a road that eventually took us the long way to Odawara, but not before stopping an effete man with a strange hairclip to ask directions. Rather stunned that he had just been approached and conversed with 3 velo-gaijin he immediately whipped out his phone, presumably to share this, the highlight of his day, with his friend or mother. Raided the bakery, hopped on the Shinkansen and opened the beer.
Post script: rather than carry the bikes through Shinagawa station James and I reassembled them on the platform with a view to pushing them through the station. Schoolboy error? A uniformed man with a baton came running over to say we cannot do that. Sensible James walked off doing the gaijin thing but your author decided to ask why it was not allowed. Despite admitting I understood why a bike needs to be in a bag on the train (narrow space etc) I challenged the man several times to explain why I could not push the bike through the station and was told each time: „it is not allowed in the station!“. I suppose that’s all the manual said and it was not for him to ask why way back when he was in Japan Railways School.