Sunday offered near perfect temperatures for riding. As planned, Jerome and I headed out a little after 6:30AM and met Tom at Koremasa-bashi. Tom, having done another monster ride on Saturday, over 250 km and some big passes, still managed to pull us at about 35 kph along the first stretch. With Tom („the Cylon“) in front, Jerome second, and me in the back, I could still see reasonably well, but had an almost perfect wind block.
Just before Tamagawahara-bashi we passed a group of 25 or more cyclists in team kit assembling for a morning ride. We later passed a group of about 12 Catteni Positivo riders in a line on the Tamagawa path. They have new uniforms, looked younger and fitter than last year’s Catteni group and were moving at a good pace … but were still easy to pass with Tom pulling at 35 kph. The Catteni leader looked like a real racer/climber type. We also passed a group of Ovest riders from Fuchu, heading at warm-up pace to a rendezvous at the end of the path … with another huge group of riders, waiting around, mostly in Ovest kit. Tom uses the Ovest shop and swears by it, and we have seen some very fast Ovest riders flying before — putting in top-five times on the Tokyo-Itoigawa ride, at least.
We rode out via Itsukaichi (where we passed another large team in „Hotstaff“ jerseys — I could not have passed them but for a lucky traffic light at a minor intersection where they stopped and I continued), and then Umegaya Pass (aka „Jerome Hill“) and up Yoshino Kaido, parting ways with Tom at the 7-11 at Kori, where Yoshino-Kaido ends and we turn left onto Rte 411 (Ome Kaido) to climb up to Okutama-ko. We took as second quick rest at the end of Okutama-ko in front of the recommended cafeteria (still too early for a meal).
These teams — yesterday Catteni, Ovest and Hotstaff, plus the first group we saw, are a big change from the days when the only group of more than 10 cyclists one would ever see was Nalshima. And while these groups may not be riding as far as we do, they seem to be more serious than in the past. This is only a good thing, as far as I am concerned. Drivers will watch out for road cyclists. And it is almost never these cyclists who do the stupid tricks on the Tamagawa path that risk injury to us.
On the Tamagawa there were flowering sakura (cherry trees). On Jerome hill there were a wide range of flowering trees, including one in a spectacular purple. At Okutama-ko (540m elev), there were more sakura and ume (plum trees), and we could see them on many wild hillsides later in the day. We headed up Rte 139 toward Kosuge, cut over to the base of Tsuru Pass and then to the base of Matsuhime.
The 500m elevation main climb up Matsuhime (from 750m to 1250m elev) was not bad, and at least made me feel that I am starting to get back in shape as a result of the past month’s rides. Then again, I had put on the compact (50/34) crankset, so it was only expected that I was able to spin up the hills better than in previous weeks. There was only one other cyclist at the top — far away from the morning crowds.
We descended quickly from Matsuhime (1250m elev) to the South, stopping at the park at Fukashiro Dam (650m elev). We filled our water bottles at a (temporary) stream close to the top of Matsuhime. A few people had stopped at the Fukashiro dam rest area. These were the last humans we saw for the next several hours.
And this is where our science fiction movie started. We crossed under/over the gate and through the tunnel for the long climb up the road to O-Toge (Big Pass -around 1550 meters elevation). After what seemed like a few hundred meters, there was a loud „bang“, a „hiss“ and it was as if we were transported in time or space. I thought I saw a blue flash. Jerome’s sidewall tire had clipped one of many rocks on the road surface, pinching his tube. He was able to patch the tube quickly and we were back on our way.
The road surface was terrible, as last year, but there were only two spots (above 1100 meters) where there was so much debris as to require a dismount.
Complete solitude greeted us on this climb and the following descent — two hours at least, from 650m to 1550m and down to around 1000 meters, not a single person. What had happened?
Had we gone forward in time, with one of those devices the Terminators use to come back and kill John Connor … to a day (say, the year 2075) when there are no more Japanese people left, except for old people in nursing homes?
Or was this „I am Legend.“ Had all the people been wiped out by a terrible (unintentional) genetically engineered plague, leaving behind only zombies who would come to get us if we could not make it to safety by dark?
We got our answer soon. There were some kind of animal droppings at various places along the climb. Then we saw it — a monkey came down noisily from the brush above and onto the road ahead. It detected us and took off running down the road away from us, rounded the corner and plunged into the wooded slope below. This must be Planet of the Apes.
We picked up the pace, in case a group of armed gorillas should be sent out to look for us. This is a beautiful climb, spectacular vistas, varying grade, and the road gets better once you pass 1250m elevation. The descent on the South side, with no traffic (closed road still above 1000 meters), and not too cold to enjoy it, was spectacular, memorable — to anyone asking the question, THIS is why we ride.
As we did last week, we hopped the train from Otsuki and were home for dinner.