Day 1: Tokyo — Gotemba
Date: Sunday, 17 May 2015, 9am Depart.
Major Climbs: Yabitsu Pass (774m)
On the morning of Day 1 our twelve man crew slowly gathered on the street in front of the hotel in Shinjuku. The weather was warm and the skies were blue. The temperature that morning was perfect for riding, but we knew it would only get hotter as the day draws on. You could feel the excitement within our group without having to say a word. Months of planning had gone into organising this trip and we were now ready for whatever the next six days of adventure threw at us.
It was around 9am when we set off. The city streets of Tokyo were still relatively quiet so it made for a pleasant start. Ten minutes into our ride we approached the famous Shibuya Crossing aka The Scramble. We grew in excitement when Henry mentioned we were approaching one of the world’s busiest intersections. It was Sunday morning and most people still weren’t out and about but the crossing was still busy. Riding up to the crossing two abreast, we suddenly split to find our own way through all the pedestrians. It was a surreal moment and one which brought a smile to our faces. It set the tone for what would be an amazing six days of riding we would experience. Continuing on after the Shibuya Crossing it was a stop start affair. Narrow roads, traffic lights and cars all made it very slow going.
We had only ridden 15km before we got our first puncture. It was surprisingly only one of two punctures amongst the whole group throughout the trip. The two locations of the punctures could not have been more different. We’ll tell you more about where the second puncture happened later on Day 4. This first puncture however was perfectly timed by Ben to deflate right outside the Komazawa Olympic Park Stadium. As we pulled up beneath the shade of an overpass pedestrian bridge, across the street were a bunch of people with scores of bikes all standing up on entrance steps to the Olympic Park. As Ben fixed his flat tyre the rest of us were way too intrigued by what was going on across the street to give him a hand. Sorry Ben, as much as we would love watching you change a tyre this was too good to not check out. As we rolled up to take a closer look it was a collectors meet with loads of vintage BMX bikes in mint condition. Walking up the steps where the bikes were parked we discovered a huge open plaza. The locals were out and about using this central plaza for their daily sports and exercise. It was flanked on one side by the stadium and on the other a gymnasium. At the far end opposite the entrance steps was an imposing control tower made from levels of white concrete platforms. Past the tower was a large park, which we unfortunately did not have time to check out. We could have easily spent half the day exploring this complex built for the Tokyo 1964 Summer Olympics.
After our brief stop we pushed on towards Tokyo's outskirts. It ended up taking us 3 hours to ride the first 40km out of the city. What made the situation tougher was the day was really hotting up with temperatures pushing into the 30s. It was already midday by this time and we were already feeling a bit exhausted from the heat with a long way to go until we would reach our final destination for the day. We stopped between the city outskirts and the mountain foothills at a 7-11 convenience store to refuel and top up our water bottles. Leaving the 7-11 we had to tackle a steep road that went straight up. At the top we approached the first of a few mountain tunnels we would ride through in quick succession. The tunnels were a short but welcomed reprieve from the searing sun and heat. Passing through these quiet tunnels was a novelty which would ware off after experiencing some busy ones later on in the trip.
Emerging from one a tunnel, a lake amidst the mountains suddenly appeared. It was Lake Miyagase, a reservoir and a source of water to Tokyo and Yokohama. It was a spectacular site and we decided to take a quick break and ride down to the gigantic dam wall. From the dam wall a cable cart descended from the top, where a museum stood on the wall's edge, all the way to the valley floor. Looking out from the dam into the horizon we could see the outskirts of the city where we had just ridden from. In the other direction was the lake and the mountains where we were heading to. We rode alongside Lake Miyagase towards our first major mountain climb, the Yabitsu pass, which starts at the lake and climbs until hitting the top of the pass 18km later. The gradient was very manageable on the lower sections and the group powered up the gentle inclines in a long single line. We weaved through the roads which had now become very narrow, just wide enough for 2 small cars to pass. The road zig zagged along the side of the mountain. The further up the climb we went, the more the mountain’s forest engulfed us cooling us down in the process. It was an insanely fun road and mountain to climb. After covering the lower sections of the climb as a group, the gradient kicked and we started to split. Regrouping at the top, we began our long technical descent down the other side towards the town of Hadano.
By the time we reached Hadano it was approaching 3pm and we were hungry and eager to eat lunch. Our first attempts to eat at a Ramen restaurant failed, with the places having just closed after finishing their lunch trade. We rolled next to the dry riverbed in search for another restaurant, when we spotted two cyclists standing outside a hut. We were in luck, it was a local Ramen joint. We spent the next hour chowing down on some great food, at the bewilderment of shop attendants and a group of schoolboys also eating at the restaurant. By the time we got on our way it was 4pm and the sun was starting to set.
At this point we had ridden over only one of the two mountains we had initially planned to climb on Day 1. We were now following small farm roads and up over short steep hills and knew that time was against us. We had little option other else than following the main road to our final destination of Gotemba if we were to make it before sundown. We abandoned our initial plans to take the more scenic route over second mountain and instead the last hour was spent with our heads down riding a steady uphill drag along a busy single lane highway with cars and trucks. It was not the most pleasant way to finish the day but we were tired and just wanted to arrive before sunset. We were completely exhausted by the time we reached our hotel in Gotemba.
It had been a long day in the saddle. That evening we walked across the road to a sushi train restaurant. We shared a lot of laughs and ate a lot of sushi that night, which would not be complete before stopping by the Lawson convenience store to sample some of the weird and wonderful ice-creams on offer. We were happy and ready for the next day of riding around Mt Fuji.