07 June 2009

Exploring Gunma

Having passed on the Fuji Hill Climb race fearing rainy weather, I woke up at 5:30am this morning to find an almost perfect blue sky. Having left the house at 6:30am, I found the Tamagawa as busy as during mid-day, baseball practice in full swing whereever I went. Still some clouds hanging in the mountains, and quite a bit of humidity which got me to sweat easily going against modest head-wind.

I decided to try a new route to Ome. Not Jerome's hill, but a similar climb close by, up Umegaya Toge (altitude 310m) which I wish to be known henceforward as "Ludwig's hill".

I made the holy fountain at the bottom of Yamabushi Toge my first pit stop, and didn't eat anything until reaching Chichibu-shi. From the city, I ventured towards Gunma, this time neither via 299 nor 140 and Hacchou Toge, but along routes 37 and 71 leading up to Tsuchisaka Toge Tunnel. The first third of the climb turned out to be quite steep, alla Wada but with more sun. The heat and humidity got my pulse up into the 160s even as I was trying not to go particularly fast.

Down into the Kanna valley (route 462, which I have taken on previous occasions both towards the west taking me to Honjo and to the east all the way up famous Juishi Toge and into Nagano-ken), the next and final climb followed, up to Shiozawa Toge. Starting at an altitude of 300m, the road passes the picturesque Shiozawa Dam and one anticipates a similarly nice climb along the river up to altitude 1,073m.

Indeed the landscape is beautiful. But the climb becomes incredibly steep. Wada is no comparison - rather the steepest parts of Wada are the flattest parts of Shiozawa. There are parts where mere pushing no longer works - one needs to pull with one leg while pushing with the other. Trying to go as slow as possible, the steepness and heat let my pulse shoot up to almost 170. At some point I decided to take another really steep slope on foot to keep my pulse under control. The very first time I was walking up a hill with my bike! (Mitake-san will likely be the second time.)

Shiozawa Toge offers great views towards Chichibu.

It is one of those passes that MOB hates so much - it isn't actually at the top of the road, and there are another 100m or so to climb before one can descent on the north side towards Tomioka/Takasaki. The descent offers great views of Odokeyama and the Takasaki plain further afar.

The first part of the descent is on a fully build out racing track. At some point and without any warning, the racing track becomes a narrow but paved forest road. Once again unbelievable how our taxes are being spent! Instead of heading to Tomioka, I went down the Ayukawa valley.

As I was passing through Fujioka, heavy, gusty head winds started to appear and tortured me right until Takasaki, at times slowing me down to a crawl. I finally reached the station after 7.5 hours cycling, 180km and something slightly over 2,000m of climbing. Actually not that extraordinary, but the humid heat made it exhausting at times. And from now on it can only get worse...

From Takasaki I was home in a mere 1.5 hours - thanks to the shinkansen connection to Omiya and a kaisoku from there to Shinjuku.


TOM said...

Very entertaining report Ludwig. The bike + rinko formula fits you very well loving as you do to explore this new frontiers!

BTW...Umegaya...isn't precisely the Jerome Hill because of the striking resemblance to his belly? Your belly (probably looking more like a plank) surely would not entitle you to name any hill after yourself...haha!

mob said...

I think in fact Umegaya is Jerome's hill, isn't it? I have mapped the Togebaka Jerome Hill on Maymyride:


So, coming from Itsukaichi along Akigawa Kaido and taking a left turn at Sakamoto crossing on to road #251 is the Jerome Hill road whereas continuing on Akigawa Kaido (#31) in direction Ome is not.

There is also a climb involved but it is not as nice as Umegaya: more traffic in particular.

Otherwise, as the head of the Positivo Espresso subcommitee of naming or roads and climbs in honor of our members I have to concur with what Tom has said. As the shape of your belly has unfortunately not reached the height of our average member, there is no way that a hill or climb can be named after you. Please work on your belly first.

However to name a flat stretch of road along a river would be possible. Please take your pick.

David L. said...

Yes, Michael. Umegaya Pass is the top of "Jerome Hill" ... as identified last month here:


Looks like some beautiful country NW of Chichibu-shi, Ludwig!

Manfred von Holstein said...

Tom, MOB, David, I obviously got things completely wrong. Not only did I not realise that place names are chosen by what they look (which makes a lot of sense), I erroneously though Jerome's Hill was Futatsuzaka Toge when it is in fact Umegaya Toge, as David had pointed out before.

When I read your replies out to my wife, she was absolutely against me working on my belly, and in fact came up with the same suggestion of choosing a flat road to be named after me. I'll give it a think. It is hard to come up with flat roads/paths that I actually like.

David L. said...

Ludwig, Tom -- you might want to take a look at the June edition of Cycle Sports if you get a chance, featuring 信州の峠。絶対行きたい!Over the Peak ベスト 20。

20 passes in Nagano Prefecture -- photos look great.

Manfred von Holstein said...

David, thanks. MOB already pointed me to the magazine and I have bought a copy. Indeed very nice collection of passes to conquer. Includes Utsukushigahara which Tom will race soon and Juuishi Toge which I crossed some weeks ago.

It was the first time I have bought the magazine. I'm struck by the amount of advertising - there are just an incredible amount of shops and bicycle manufacturers out there these days.