Jerome and I enjoyed a beautiful day and, as planned, made it to Karuizawa (183 km or more distance and 2748 meters of total elevation gain) in time to hop the train home for dinner.
As usual, we started out fast and averaged just under 30 kph to Oume. After a quick stop (too early for Aurore) we continued on to the Holy Fountain and then over Yamabushi.
Through Chichibu City, some prefer to swing SW on Rte 140, heading out to town as if their goal was Mitsumine Shrine … before cutting over to Rte 299 via Rte 37 … or going way high and way West via Rte 201. Others prefer turning right and just slogging along Rte 299 through its congestion and following as it dips way down to cross the river and climbs the other bank, typical sprawl until clearing Ogano, when it becomes a very nice road. Today Jerome and I tried a middle path — going straight, which took us to a big suspension bridge (which had a nice view back to Chichibu) and into the the Chichibu City „Muse“ park.
The park is on top of a ridge that provided an extra little climb, very pleasant road, and we ordered a quick plate of curry and rested some at the „stained glass“ cafeteria before heading on our way, a fast descent down the back side of the ridge and then joining Rte 299 having skipped the worst of it.
What had been a very fast trip to Chichibu and the park slowed to a long slog, as we both started to show our fatigue. I showed it more. Jerome usually pulled way ahead, then waited for me. The stops and rests grew closer together.
|Jerome waited for me, resting, at Shigasaka Pass tunnel entrance.|
|I rested on the way up, taking a photo looking back along Rte 299 — where we had been.|
|The mountains of the Gunma border — impressive as always.|
I thought Jerome was just being kind, waiting at regular intervals and being a good sport about it, except I realized he actually needed the rest when I caught up to him waiting at the side of the road at a nice stop at Uenomura (gifts, crafts, very nice new building with river and bamboo down the hill in back and a much better place to rest that the typical convenience store, if without much of the food — I think called the Uenomura „fureai-kan“ or something similar).
He motioned me to the side of the road and told me we needed to stop at the rest area. I was looking unhealthily pale and covered in sweat much of the day — my muscles okay but my body generally and circulatory system tested by the fatigue. Here in Uenomura (just at the beginning of the climb to Jukkoku Toge and before the turn off from 299 in Gunma onto Rte 45, toward Shimo Nita („the city that Konnyaku built“) as we rested and recovered yet again, we pondered the time — somehow the hours had passed by on Rte 299 west of Chichibu City, our fast start squandered. We still had over 50 km left to Karuizawa, and some big hills, first Shio-no-zawa Pass (not Shiozawa Pass — the next road East), then the long climb from Shimo Nita (Elev. 260 meters) to Wabi (和美) Pass (Elev 970 meters) and into Karuizawa, with some very steep short bits (13-14% or more). We decided we would see how we were doing at Shimo Nita and make a decision then.
An unnecessary conversation as it turns out. We climbed from the Uenomura rest area (Elev. approx 590) over maybe 5 kilometers up to 740 meters elev, then found the mouth of the tunnel that bypasses Shio-no-zawa pass. Inside the tunnel, we continued a gradual climb for about 20 seconds, … then the road pointed downward at what seemed like a decent 2-3-4% grade. We went very fast the next 3 km inside the tunnel, and the descent on a wide, well designed road, just beyond it, at probably our fastest speed with least work all day. At Shimo Nita we turned for Karuizawa without hesitation.
|More mountains of Gunma|
The climb to Karuizawa was painful because of some very steep parts, reasonably heavy traffic for a true country back road, and one section where you go under the expressway … soaring what seemed like very far above us, cars zooming by on two bridges that appear from a tunnel on one side of the valley, and disappear into another tunnel. At one point I needed to rest, and the most comfortable (least uncomfortable) place was the slightly inclined plane of the retaining wall next to the road.
But we made it to the top in one piece, then a victory ride down the hill and into Karuizawa … cut short by a huge traffic jam about 3-4 kilometers south of the station … everyone in Japan (well, every one who drives a late model German car or Japanese copy) was heading back from golf or out for a meal in central Karuizawa, or trying to get to the one underpass where they can go from the South to the North side of the shinkansen tracks. We slipped through the traffic watching for car doors, but it was surreal — cars just sitting, red tail lights as far as the eye could see. I hope they enjoyed the weekend!
70 minutes back to Tokyo station, by shinkansen. Another successful P.E. tour, in the books.