13 April 2009

David Almighty?

Well, maybe not. And my climbing is certainly no faster than in the past. ... but I did at least feel almighty cycling on spectacular roads on Saturday that were entirely closed off to traffic (until late April, I might add).

If you've ever seen 'Bruce Almighty' with Jim Carrey and Jennifer Aniston, you may remember that, when God (Morgan Freeman) bestows Bruce (Jim Carrey) with his powers for a week, one of Bruce's first acts is to clear a path through the cars for his commute, a kind of "part the waters" adaptation, very Old Testament. So I needed to ask myself, how had I managed to make all the cars disappear? (Bruce also makes his dog pee in the toilet in their apartment, and miraculously expands Jennifer's chest size, ... before he starts trying to listen to other people's prayers and the movie takes some predictable turns and goes downhill.)

Of course, for me it was just the delightful Japanese desire to stick to schedules and plans even when reality suggests an alternative approach. Here it was the most glorious day of the year imaginable, and roads were closed for "winter." After riding to the Chuo Line and hopping the train to Otsuki, I rode Rte 20 up to the SE entrance of Sasago Tunnel, then turned onto the old road for the climb up to Sasago Pass and the old tunnel (elev. 1095 meters). About half way up a road with suspiciously few (no?) cars, I found this.

At the top, based upon posts by Tom S. in past years, I was prepared for an eerie, haunted tunnel, deserted except for ghosts of samurai past. ... Instead, I found a remodelled tunnel with a smooth surface, completely dry, and with a few hikers at either end. Still unlighted, and so would be very, very dark at dusk.

After descending the other side toward Kofu/Koshu and Rte 20, I found the climb up the Hikawa (Day River?) toward Kami-Hikawa Dam and Kami-Hikawa Pass. Again, I eventually arrived at a gate that blocked the road. This is what I faced at the parking lot near the top (approx elevation 1600 meters -- Ludwig/Tom territory!!!):

Pretty much everywhere on the lower slopes were sakura in full blossom, obscuring the view of the trucks coming out of the NW end of Sasago Tunnel at Kai-Yamato.

My bicycle looked very content, resting under the blossoms at a view point on the long climb:

The climb from the South to Kami-Hikawa is long and at times steep, but the grade is variable -- nothing Wada-like, at least not for very long. But it was getting hot without much shade for some stretches, and my right ankle was in some pain (minor sprain last weekend -- unnoticed from normal activity but very much noticed during/after these climbs!). I felt I might be experiencing a kind of alerted, distorted perception.

But I did make it up, above the earthen dam and reservoir, and down the other side, which is steeper -- a road stapled to the side of a mountain as you descend from 1600 meters to 865 meters where you join Rte. 411. The descent also was behind closed gates, with NO TRAFFIC.

Just above the junction with Rte 411 (which goes UP to Yanagisawa Pass, and DOWN to Enzan), I stopped for udon and an opportunity to wash hands and face.

I thought for a few seconds about turning right and heading up to Yanagisawa ... but realized I would be riding home to Oume in the dark, and that my legs did not have much left anyway, and so descended toward Enzan. At around 550 meters elevation I found a turn off (barely marked) for a road along the edge of the hills toward Katsunuma and Kai-Yamato. I took that very nice road, past fruit orchards and flowering trees, until it turned into the official "Fruit Line." I made it to Rte 20, then backtracked to Katsunuma Grape [Capital] Station (Katsunuma Budou-kyou Eki?) and took the train to Tachikawa, riding from there home.

On Sunday, Jerome and I started at 7AM, rode via Oume (Aurore) and Okutama-ko, over Matsuhime and back to Sarubashi. After stopping for lunch at the traditional restaurant, next to the old bridge, we hopped on the train to Hachioji and rode home from there - back by 5:10PM. Jerome had fresh legs, I did not, but it was good to make it up Matsuhime on another glorious day.

Jerome wore his new NFCC kit, complete with jersey, bib shorts and wind vest. In Kosuge, he found himself riding down a street lined with sakura -- one of many we passed.

We met a couple, Takahashi-sans, who said they live in Okutama, and so they can cycle these areas only a few minutes after leaving home. We passed them on the climb up to Okutama-ko. They passed us when I had tire trouble. Then we passed them as they must have stopped at the lake. Then they passed us as we filled our water bottles near these Sakura. ... and we chatted a bit. They headed up the hill first. Then Jerome. Then me. I did pass Mrs. Takahashi at about the 1050 meter mark, as she had gone too fast on the lower slopes and run out of gas temporarily. She did make it up, and here is a picture of the happy couple at the summit.

A great day of cycling for all!


TOM said...

Wasn't the weather just fantastic last Saturday! I was riding too and felt like I could ride on for ever. Without any planning, I ended up riding the Saitama Green Line and the Koshu Fruit(s) Line all in one day riding through some insanely long tunnels in between.

So glad you enjoyed Kami-hikawa 上日川峠! I have not yet done this pass from the Koshukaido side but will one of these days! I've done this really nice pass always after cresting Yanagisawa-toge first.

Looking forward to a full-member Positivo Espresso ride (seems like a rarity these days!) soon.

Manfred von Holstein said...

David, wow, that's once again a lot of riding on a weekend!

You are lucky you sent up Hikawa on Saturday. I tried it on Sunday and was turned back just below the damn by police. There was a fire towards the peak of one of the surrounding mountains (visible only from the plain towards Kofu, not the Hikawa valley) and jieitai helicopters were ferrying water from the reservoir to the fire. So far so interesting, but police decided to just cut off the entire mountain range outside any residential areas. Just in case. And no pleading helped. So I had to ascent the same roughly 900m I had just climbed. Annoying, especially when stupid bureaucracy is the reason.

I had started the day from home, feeling bad that I had cheated a week earlier by starting Otoge from Otsuki rather than riding all the way from home as MOB and you had done to tackle Matsuhime. Managed to beat my own best time on Otarumi by 40 seconds to now 13:00. Route 20 to Otsuki was relatively empty, though after Otsuki things got busier. I rode through the route 20 Sasago tunnel rather than going up the old road, intending to save my energy for climbing Yanagisawa after Hikawa.

But that was not to be. I played with the idea of taking the fruit road to Enzan, but it seemed rather short so decided instead to try out route 20 up to Kofu and see what would expect me should I really do the Itoigawa fast run. Well, initially a nice fast road with little traffic, but increasing traffic with some aggressive drivers towards Kofu and a rough surface not to my liking.

The trains back were so crowded I had to reserve a Green seat, but at Yen 750 extra that actually felt like a bargain.

David L. said...


Congratulations on your fast climb over Otarumi. Sorry you had to experience the worst stretch of Rte 20 near Kofu.

On Saturday the helicopter was already lifting water from behind Kamihikawa Dam, and the fire (smoke at least) was also visible only from the Fruit Line area on the hillside near Katsunuma. But fortunately the police were not yet in evidence. I saw reports in the Sunday paper of a forest/mountain fire ... in Miyagi/Sendai, on the other side of Japan.

There was a lady standing on the side of the road (up on a siderail) outside the last establishment (pension? minshuku? caretaker's cabin?) I passed just below the gate on the Southern approach to Kamihikawa Touge. She was staring up at the sky watching the helicopter head off with one of its loads of water, and I had to ring my trusty bell so that I would not startle her when I silently passed by within a meter, going uphill at slow pace, the only human being within probably a kilometer. She greeted me and asked a bunch of questions, starting with "had I seen any fire on the way up the road?" before telling me how much climbing remained (less than 200 meters vertical), and that I should ignore the closed gate and press on.
Best, David

Tom: You have my admiration for riding 280 km in one day through the mountains ... you are definitely ready for Itoigawa, even if I do not believe your altimeter reading. On the other hand, you managed to ride a long way on Rte 140, which has some unpleasant stretches, and longer still on Rte 20, and you are stark raving crazy to go through the (prohibited) Karisaka tunnel!!!

See Tom's ride report at:


... not to mention his report of the prior weekend, when he did Yanagisawa, Kami-Hikawa, Sasago and other passes, in the counterclockwise order -- map included.

mob said...

An excellent post by David, complemented with good photos. This is the best one I have ever read on the Positivo Espresso Blog. Honestly.

This season we are all coming into good shape and are looking much stronger than the years before. I thought about that, when I rode out today: In 1999, my standard loop in Hamamatsu was a 60 km long ride, more or less dead flat with one killer hill (I guess a 30 meter climb). In 2001 my hardest ride would have been up to Okutamako and back by train. In 2004 I managed to fail on the ascent to Otarumi (yes, the Takao one) and until 2007 I never made it up to the top of Kazahari or Hakone without taking a break.

Today David is doing three or four of these previous killer climbs within a weekend, followed by Jerome. The Sunday ride outs with James are fast. Ludwig has overtaken anyway many of us in climbing speed and distance and Tom basically does an Itoigawa ride a day, except for the climbing which would correspondent more to 3 Itoigawa requirements.

After the Transalp latest, we should all be at a level where we should try to ride out together on a normal weekend ride.

I will blog about my Monday ride later but I also went up to Shiroyama Dam today, and there are two roads which take you to the entrance of the powerhouse. So it is possible to include this climb into our Sunday routine, if we like.

I was also most impressed by Tom's latest adventure. Tom, you are right we went up the same road 140 from Chichibu city. After the "michi no eki" we took the fork to the right (not in direction Chichibu lake but Otaki Dam) and continued to Irinamizawa (?), where we then took road 210 further up. (take a look at http://maps.google.co.jp/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=ja&geocode=&q=%E7%A7%A9%E7%88%B6%E5%B8%82&sll=34.348255,135.954437&sspn=0.141444,0.306244&g=%E5%A4%A7%E6%BB%9D%E3%83%80%E3%83%A0&ie=UTF8&ll=35.94188,138.904953&spn=0.069351,0.153122&z=13)

I still believe that Karizaka tunnel is prohibited for cycles, but maybe there is only a toll booth on the Yamanashi side of the tunnel, so you were not told to stop?

Anyway, the tunnel is of course too comfortable to be really taking into consideration. The purist takes the road over Mikuni Toge (three countries: Saitama, Yamanashi and Gunma) which seems to be feasible as I read on another blog. It seems that some crazy guys do Mikuni and Odarumi in one day.


We should be ready for this in 2011.

Manfred von Holstein said...

Now here is an idea... Though actually Mikkuni Toge is quite a bit lower than the tunnel (which is at an impressive 2,100m!), so should really be a piece of cake for Tom! Leaves plenty of room to go for Odarumi within the 4,700m climbing budget that Tom spent on his trip.

Tom, very impressive. Actually I'm most impressed about you riding back route 20 all the way from Enzan. Even if I had enough power left, I'm not sure I could take it mentally, along all the traffic and in what must have been a decent headwind. I love the trains that take me back into town. And my bike bag that makes it so easy.

TOM said...

David: as I was eating my spaghetti at the 7/11 near Sasago, I saw a couple fire engine trucks pass by; the firefighters looked relaxed so I guess they had the small fire under control.

Michael: Karisaka is indeed prohibited for cyclists. The tollgates are only on the Yamanashi side though whereas the Saitama tunnel entrance is completely unmanned and looking just like another ordinary tunnel. I'm sure I would have been stopped at the tollgate had I made my way up from Yamanashi. I'm a bit proud now to have ridden Japan's longest & forbidden tunnel!

Ludwig: Karisaka-toge is like you wrote some 2,100m above sea level. The tunnel goes right through it though at height 1,100m or so. In terms of climbing, not so spectacular as Kamihikawa or Yanagisawa. Riding back home along R20 Koshukaido is nothing to brag about; it was the easiest way and I could have gone for Sasago-toge, Suzugane-toge, Hinazuru-toge, Tsukuiko and Onekan to avoid this ugly road (the Otarumi part is OK of course). I know about the many advantages of the rinko bag formula of course...I just hate to sit or stand all sweated in a train. With this Karisaka tunnel route (which I doubt I will ever do again), I feel I have reached the limit of "loopable routes" and if I want to go any further I should like you take my rinko along...

Manfred von Holstein said...

I was mislead by the mapmyride altitude profile, but now realise that mapmyride does not recognize tunnels! So the total altitude reading is far too big because it includes the top of the mountain above tunnels! I will have to subtract hundreds of meters from my previous altitude achievements...

TOM said...

Correct Ludwig. Obviously satellites cannot penetrate inside tunnels. Garmin Edge 201, the GPS I'm using, also is not very accurate when it comes to max speed and elevation gain...quite useless for those parameters, I find.

Rick@mmf said...

Manfred; I was trolling through my RSS feeds this morning and happened onto your comments regarding tunnels and Mapmyride. I spoke with the guy who developed the altitude profiles about this issue and as he explained it to me, as a result of the GPS acquiring data from the satellites, there's no way to tell where a tunnel is and is not. As such, what we would need in order to correct this issue is a database of tunnels from which we could then extrapolate the data and correct the problem. Unfortunately, finding such a database and ensuring its accuracy is a bit of a task in and of itself. I obviously can't make any promises, but it is something we'll look into and know that we are aware of it!