Last Sunday was quite a fateful day, for many, as it would turn out. And not only because we sighted an UFO in front of a shop after descending from Wada Toge…
James, MOB and I met at Tamagawahara bridge for a late start at 8:00am to help MOB overcome his jet lag. As we were chatting, a group of Positivo Catteni riders passed, so we hurried to catch them and show them who the A team – excuse me, the B team (according to our new rules) – was. I had them in no time, James soon after, and MOB eventually after he had recovered from his jet lag. I don’t know how Catteni recovered from this fateful shock – we never saw them again.
From Kunitachi we were sure we were invincible and slowed down to a leisurely pace to make sure the social side of our ride wouldn’t get a short thrift. Once off the Tamagawa and on the way up to Itsukaichi, I pulled up the pace – I just find it hard to take hills or mountains slowly.
We took our first pit stop at the convenience store (see PE rules for definition in case this is not yet clear to everyone) just beyond Itsukaichi. Steve from TCC was doing the same thing, and after some chatting which James found hard to end, we invited him to join us for a slightly more demanding ride than he had had in mind for himself. This had the added advantage of having a guide to the entry to Daigo Rindo – though it was really not hard to find.
Daigo Rindo was a first for the three of us. Hard to understand why we had not „discovered“ it before. I only learnt about it recently from Tom’s blog. It is a very nice rindo following a low river valley. No traffic except for the occasional hunter car. There is a stretch where the road is unpaved, but quite manageable to cross with normal racing tyres.
Unable to go slowly as usual, James and I put quite some distance between MOB and us, Steve being closer to us than MOB. As we waited somewhere for MOB, he arrived showing us proudly the below photo of a forlorn toilet in the middle of the forest, which we had missed noticing, but which served as a decent excuse for falling behind.
The rindo becomes increasingly steep, and James and I raced up the last few kilometers to the top, keen to get in some exercise.
The descent was very nice, and soon we found ourselves on the rindo approaching Wada Toge from the north. No hints of snow or ice, and all the autumn leaves gone. James and I went for our second training race. I didn’t have to wait long for him at Wada Toge, but this time Steve and MOB took quite a bit longer than the first time. The witch and her husband gave us some distraction as we were waiting.
We descended Wada and stopped at a store where we saw this UFO. Actually, many of them. So many that Steve couldn’t finish them all by himself and we had to all help. How much we were longing for a convenience store!
We continued climbing through the golf courses and then up to Kobo Tunnel. Down the other side, we waived goodbye to MOB who was clearly not yet back in form and decided to head for Itsukaichi, and after fixing a flat tyre by replacing it with another leaking tyre, for Hachioji.
The three of us attacked Kazahari Toge. I had promised Steve we would ride together on such a long climb, but found myself unable to keep my promise, longing for a heart rate of at least 155. The faster pace afforded me with a nice view on top.
The descent to Okutamako was incredibly cold. It was barely above zero and the 600m descent felt incredibly long. James claims he clocked 79.9km/h somewhere, but I find this hard to believe since no stretch is steep and long enough to reach such a speed without pedalling, on a standard crank (which he does not have).
More likely that this guy was speeding at that speed when he hit the railings of a bridge.
This was the sight that presented itself to us as we were only a kilometre away from the end of the road. The driver was sitting on the bridge a few meters away from the car, wiping off blood from his head. He was surrounded by lots of friends who had parked their cars not far from the site. Being a trained paramedic, I examined him briefly, and he seemed quite OK. An ambulance had already been called. Later we saw him walking around, examining his wrecked car while smoking a cigarette. It seemed no other vehicle was involved, and he must have lost control over his car on one of these crazy racing excursions up Kazahari.
They’ve banned motorcycles from the road (and indeed it was a lot more peaceful than before). Now it is time to ban cars too!
After the first police car arrived, we left the accident. It was 3:30pm, and the natural choice would have been to cycle to Okutama, maybe Ome, and return home by train from either place.
However, I thought I knew a faster route home. Only the other day, two women in a hamlet approaching Kosuge had confirmed the newly built tunnel below Matsuhime was open. Earlier signs near the entrance of the road had said the construction works would finish in November. So rather than climbing up all the way to Matsuhime Toge at 1,250m, we could just cycle to the tunnel entrance – just about 150m higher than Okutamako – sail through it and then descend to Otsuki, from where we could catch a fast train back. I convinced Steve this was the easiest way for him to get home. James was up for anything.
When we got to the entrance of the tunnel road, however, the road was still closed. We still went onto it, but after the first small tunnel, the road simply ended, with no signs of any construction to connect it to the longer tunnel (which we know exists because it can be seen from the other side).
It was 16:20 by now – making it impossible to get to any train station in day-light. Steve opted for Okutama – more or less all the way downhill, but also with many flat stretches and at least 30km to go. He was prepared with lights for the last bit in the dark.
I opted to climb up Matsuhime Toge with James. A rare chance to do Matsuhime in winter, and knowing we would not arrive at Otsuki much later than Steve at Okutama.
The ascent was very quiet. It was zero degrees and the air was very crisp, affording great views of the surrounding mountains in the sunset. We both still had sufficient energy for the climb, but were nonetheless nervous to make it up, knowing that any minute would count against the impending arrival of darkness.
It was 17:05 when we reached the top. The view was stunning – much nicer than usual when humidity or even clouds obscure the view. Even Mount Fuji was peaking out nicely behind a mountain range.
We put on everything we had and took the plunge of 950 vertical metres down to Sarubashi. The initial part was again freezing cold. I soon caught up with a noisy sports car making its way down. All my tailgating with flashing lights was to no avail – he would not let me pass. Beyond the tunnels where the road loses its steepness, I could no longer follow and waited for James instead.
Now already deep into the valley, it was getting really dark. I was equipped with a small flash light for the front – strong enough to be seen, but not strong enough to see anything. James didn’t even have a front light. The stretches between hamlets became guess work. Fortunately, having descended the road a couple of times, I knew quite well what to expect – even remembered where the bigger bumps were in the road. James appeared to be less confident and didn’t want to stay close to my rear light for too long, so I had to wait for him every now and then.
Eventually we made it to Sarubashi where we took a rest at the convenience store (since Otsuki has only a shop on the way to the station, no convenience store). When we got back onto our bikes, we were both shivering like mad – even the pedalling in the lower parts had not warmed us up that much and downing lots of cold drinks did not help to warm us from the inside.
We felt much better after the short climb to Otsuki, and were lucky to be able to jump onto a well warmed train quickly.
170km with almost 3,000m of climbing – not bad for a cold winter day. Fate had served James and me well. I just feel sorry for everyone else we encountered that day.