16 January 2010

Exploring the frontier of snowland

It was only 1 degree when I left my house today at 6:30am, just before sunrise. The air was very crisp, and the views of Fuji stunning.

When the views are so great, and people out and about on a cold winter morning relatively few, it is actually fun cycling on the Tamasai.

If only the wind wasn't blowing so strongly exactly against me!

I found it hard to push myself beyond a heart rate of 150, and not only because of the demotivating head wind. The cold air is taking its toll.

Ome Kaido was almost free of traffic, from the junction with Yoshino Kaido somewhat less so - dumb (dump) trucks were as busy as always. (I have stopped using Yoshino Kaido because of the trucks - Ome Kaido is much more pleasant and truck-free until that junction.) And road works every now and then, all along Ome Kaido. They never stop.

By the way, have others also noticed that these days traffic lights have become in almost complete disuse at road works - there are always two people managing the traffic, no matter how tiny the road.

From Okutama onwards, there was almost no traffic at all, and not a single motorbikes - what a difference to the other three seasons.

Okutamako looked pretty and peaceful. The surrounding mountains were snow covered on their northern slopes, free of snow on their south. The road was free of snow and ice thanks to all the sun it was getting, except for some icy patches on the side which the sun was unable to reach.

I was hoping that Imagawa Toge which connects Tabayama and Kosuge would be passable and headed towards it. Route 411 to Tabayama was passable, but as I got closer to Tabayama, some short icy parts appeared, now in the middle of the road.

The fields around Tabayama and parts of the village were covered by snow. The first steep ascent out of the village towards Imagawa Toge was covered in part with snow and ice, but I managed to cycle around the worst parts. Another kilometer later, the road started being completely covered by salted snow and ice. I was able to ride on it, but the bike quickly collected lots of snow and it was clear I could not continue like this another 250m upward.

This was the time when I wished I was riding a cyclocross. Well, one day!

I turned around and headed back to the Okutama Lake. It was clear climbing up to Kazahari would be equally impossible. But I wanted to see at least what the new traffic restrictions for motorbikes looked like. Would there be someone making sure motorbikes would not enter? Would there be a camera? Would it say that bicycles are not allowed either? I cycled the 3.5km from the entrance of the road to the point from which motorbikes are banned.

Nobody patrolling the road. One camera, but unclear whether this was good enough to actually catch number plates etc. - probably not, and just a camera that had been in place even earlier. A sign that shows that motorbikes are banned - but nothing about bicycles! We should be fine riding up - and what a pleasure this will be when all the motorbikes are gone!

I turned around and headed towards Kosuge, hoping that I could perhaps cross Tsuru Toge or the new Matsuhime tunnel. But Tsuru Toge is at 870m, even higher than the 750m at which I had turned around earlier. And the tunnel must be at least at 750m, and on the Otsuki side, there would be a long descent on a road that was most certainly not always blessed with sun.

Half way to Kosuge, I started hitting ice patches covering the full road whereever the sun was not able to reach to road. I chatted with two ladies working in front of their house after one of these patches, and after confirming the road would not get better, decided to turn around once more. No escaping from Okutama valley!

I returned as I had come, only to find that by now the wind had turned - and was once again blowing quite heavily against me! Cycling down towards Ome sometimes felt like cycling up another hill, so strong was the wind.

To build some variation in the ride, I decided to cross Umegaya Toge (aka Jerome's Hill) which at 310m was entirely free of snow or ice.

The Tamasai was now much more crowded than in the morning, and there were lots of road racers who quite obviously had only gone out in the afternoon. I stuck to one of them, a tall foreigner riding what looked like a converted cyclocross, for a while. He was rather fast, and my back was once again in high pain, so I eventually gave up pursuing him and took a rest for my back.

I was home well before sunset (for a change!) and cleaned my bike, which was solidly covered by a thick crust of salt (so where my shoe covers - they were basically completely white!). I had a hard time getting the stuff off - it was literally baked to the bike and in no comparison to normal road dirt or mud.

210km with 1,400m of climbing


the ups and downs of a belgian amateur cyclist in tokyo said...

210km with climbing! Shit, you beat me again MvH. Impressive pictures I must say.

Manfred von Holstein said...

But not in speed! Only 26 km/h excluding breaks.

How was the wind out on Miura Hanto?

the ups and downs of a belgian amateur cyclist in tokyo said...

I loved it...I mean bonking with the wind is my speciality. I'm not a feather like you! Just kidding.