Ride to Okutama-ko and back

26 October 2008

View map

I haven’t ridden a century since I moved to Japan but with a bit of spare time on my hands before baby number two is due, I decided I was going to get back into decent enough shape that I could pull one off. I’ve been using mornings and weekends to get back into riding longer distances, and slowly building up toward the goal of 160 km by riding further and further up the Tama river every weekend.

Five minutes looking at Google maps yesterday morning at 6 am convinced me that Lake Okutama was exactly the necessary 80 km away, so without a minute to lose I got dressed, headed out the door and rode north up the Tama river.  Here’s the activity report.

The ride along the river is gorgeous, one of the few places in Tokyo you can ride uninterrupted through a green belt that runs from the ocean at Haneda airport all the way into the mountains in the northwest corner of Tokyo. The bike path ends at the south Hamura dam, but by then it’s pretty inaka, so you can continue by road from there without much worry about traffic. At the north Hamura dam, I crossed over to the west side of the river, to pick up Route 411 through the towns of Oume, Sawai, and Mitake before leaving the city completely and starting the climb up into the mountains.

The trip on from Mitake is a long, slow ascent along a narrow, winding road through small towns and villages while criss-crossing the river. Particularly this time of year with the leaves changing colour, the trip is visually spectactular, with the mountainsides lit up bright orange and red. Okutama is the last major town before the final hill-climb up to the lake. At its westernmost edge is the world-famous Tokyo Conbini Shuten—the final convenience store of Tokyo. Complete with latitude and longitude figures on its sign out front, it is a site of pilgrimage for cyclists headed up to the lake and the border of Tokyo and Yamanashi prefectures. Too bad it’s a Daily Yamazaki and not a Famima, but either way it’s got Pocari Sweat!

From the town of Okutama to the lake is a 13 km hill climb up through tunnel after tunnel to the dam at the edge of the lake. My the one route change I’ll make the next time I do this is to go around the tunnels instead of through them. I can’t possibly imagine why someone felt the need to put (very expensive) tunnels in on this road given that almost every single one can be bypassed on the road. I can only assume that this has something to do with the government trying to buy the powerful rural vote with thousands of unnecessary, environment-destroying construction projects per year.

The good news is that once you hit the top, the views are spectacular, the roads are flat, and you’re back in jidohanbaiki-land where Pocari Sweat and Aquarius are available in abundance! I’d accidentally left my cycle computer off for a 3km stretch out of Okutama, so I cycled 3 km down the road to make up for it and be able to claim a recorded 160 km. I ran into a German cyclist named Ludwig who’d also ridden in from Tokyo; he had a drool-worthy Canyan carbon-fibre bike, and interestingly, it turns out he’s part of the Positivo Espresso cycling group whose blog I’d been reading for a couple months.

Ludvig continued on up towards Yamanashi-ken with the plan of packing up his bike and taking the train back when he got as far as he wanted to go. Good plan, and something I’ll give a try next time. I turned my bike around for the long trip back home. The best part of that trip was the 30 minute descent back down out of the hills at car speed, before hitting Mitake, and heading back out to the flat cycle path along the Tamagawa.

All in all, a pretty awesome day of cycling and a trip I’d definitely do again. While the trip included a nice hill-climb, it wasn’t severe, and didn’t last more than 15 km. I’ve included the GPS map—there are a couple errors where I’d accidentally switched it off for 3 km near Okutama, and for about 5 km near Hamura on the way back.