07 December 2015

Big December Ride ... Over Jukkoku Pass and into Nagano

We have had seesawing weather these past weeks in Japan, some days unseasonably wet, some days typical winter cold and wind, and even some days with lingering warmth of fall.  This weekend the forecast was for sun and high temperatures in the teens (C) (or in the 50s F).  I cannot ride next weekend because of work commitments, so this looked like it might be my last chance for the season to get into the higher mountains.
I planned an all-day ride for Sunday.  I wanted to get over Yanagisawa Pass, or Matsuhime Pass.  Both great climbs, high with views, and neither have I ridden yet this year!  Is there any year these past 7-8 that I have not made it to one or both of these?
I headed out solo Sunday morning just before 8AM, with a rinko bag, some extra clothes, and a dynamo light on the Ti Travel bike, knowing I would not be home (or to a train station for the trip home) before dusk -- around 430PM these days!  I had not committed to any route, but the plan forming as I rode up the Tamagawa was to stop in Oume at the Aurore bakery, then continue to Okutama-ko for an early lunch at the Yagyu-tei cafeteria (Mrs. Watanabe's place), then go for Yanagisawa Pass or, as a fall back, Matsuhime.  I wanted to revisit memories from the glory days of Positivo Espresso.
Everything went fine until I neared the Higashi-Oume Station area, and was met by a large number of police directing traffic away from main road.  I continued a little further and saw this scene.
Chatting with one of the policemen as I was directed to the side of the road by waves of his orange wand, he told me it was the Okutama Ekiden (relay).  The road was blocked off as far as Kori, but if I hurried via Yoshino Kaido, I had 45 minutes to get to Kori before the road would be blocked from Kori all the way up to Okutama.
I was not enthusiastic about skipping Aurore or riding against the clock to beat a road closure.  Nor did I want to loop over to Musashi Itsukaichi and climb a road I have been up repeatedly this year. So I decided to re-route via Chichibu.  One of the alternatives I had considered for today was to explore the area west of Chichibu, either to ride Route 299 over Shigasaka Pass then on to Saku, or to Karuizawa via the tunnel from Route 299 toward Shimonita, or maybe finally climb to Mitsumine Shrine SW of Chichibu City, a route on my list that I have never managed to do -- routes out of Chichibu City being too far for one-day round trip rides, and the train back via Ikebukuro being quite slow.
On Nariki Kaido, still some colored plants in December
In Naguri

Over a familiar pass.

Through Chichibu City -- on a bike path that actually says it is for exclusive use of bikes!
In the end, I decided to mirror a ride done in 2009 with Jerome, Tom and Nishibe-san, going all the way to Sakudaira via Route 299.
Route 299 west of Chichibu and Ogano - no traffic!
Where is everybody?  Even on bright sunny days in Golden Week this road is very quiet.

Route 299 on the climb to Shigasaka Pass

Route 299 in Gunma now -- still no traffic, and blue sky returns briefly.
The ride was spectacular, the roads quiet, and I ended up going 190 kms with around 2700 meters of climbing -- just what I was looking for!

And I stopped at the really nice roadside michi-no-eki Jerome and I had visited in 2010 (actually called a "kawa no eki" as it backs to a river in a really nice setting) for the best Japanese curry I have had in memory.  

The only problem was my schedule.  The late start and my leisurely pace meant that I was still climbing Jukkoku Pass (elev ~1315m) as the sun set.  I made it to the top at 445PM, in pitch dark.  The temperature dropped precipitously.  I put on my wind jacket, extra cap, and warmer gloves and started the descent.  Fortunately, at least the road was dry (on the climb there had been some small icy patches).  
National Highway (?) Route 299 approaching the Jukkoku climb

National (?) Highway 299 on the Jukkoku climb

At the top, in the cold and dark!
Within a kilometer, my hands were numb and could barely move within the gloves.  I stopped, and managed to put on my thinner gloves and use them as makeshift liners.  Still way too thin, and still numb hands.  I was thinking "what have I got myself into?"
I rode one-handed, trading off putting my other hand under my jersey/jacket.  It was a long, cold, dark descent.  But at least I knew the road on the Nagano side was relatively good, straight and wide compared with the tiny winding track up the Gunma side.  Finally, I was down around 850m elevation, the air temperature seemed above freezing, and I dismounted and rubbed together and breathed on my hands for 5 minutes or so until the full feeling had returned.
Then a gradual descent into Sakudaira on the new Route 2 bypass, a stop at a 7-11 for some chemical foot warmers for my shoes (better late than never), and a shinkansen ride home while enjoying some Karuizawa local beer.  

Mission accomplished!


CM said...

Regarding that Kawa no eki, is it on 299 to Sakuho and then 141 up to Saku ?

Do you know any other Michi no Eki out there?

David Litt said...

CM -- the Kawa no Eki is on National Route 299 on the Gunma (East) side of Jukkoku Toge, very close to where Gunma Route 45 heads off to the north through a long tunnel to Nanmoku (and down the valley to Shimonita). There were some other services further east on Route 299 in both Gunma and over Shigasaka Pass closer to Chichibu in far west Saitama. I saw almost no services at all west of the Kawa no Eki until quite a way down the west side of Jukkoku Toge in Nagano. Of course, there are lots of services and convenience stores once you get to Route 141 and head from Sakuho to Saku/Sakudaira ... but I was not looking for michi no eki then!

Manfred von Holstein said...

Well done on this one. I remember how cold that pass can be, even still in day light on an early winter day. And I think your description of services/stores is accurate. There is also a store in Ueno, but not very well stocked. Best to fuel up and fill up all pockets at the last 7-11 in Ogano.