It looks a long way out of Tokyo. Even when you live half way out already.
I carried my bike out the front door at six, trying not to bang it against the wall and awaken Y and H sleeping upstairs. I’d designed my route the day before; had it scrawled on a scrap of paper in case the GPS failed me. Both scrap and phone were stuffed in the pouch in the back of my top, along with cash for snacks and emergencies. Apart from that, just the water bottle, pump and basic repair kit in the saddle bag, plus banana. No need for a waterproof: the forecast was dry. It was to get hotter, but as I rolled onto the deserted street, there was a pleasant chill in the air.
The route was just a succession of road numbers: up route 12, left onto route 3 > 57, right onto 108 a wee bit, left onto 54, cross Sagami river, right up route 65, back on 108, retrace home.
The Sagami River, from what I could see, looked like the boundary of Greater Tokyo.
I changed the first section, took a quieter, hillier road that I’d ridden before, and hit route 3 a little further along than I would have done on the dull route 12. Here I turned left and pedalled, stopped, pedalled, stopped (damn these traffic lights) for ages. At some point I moved into Machida city: not that it made any difference. I was a globule filtering along an artery through the suburbs: garages, car showrooms, petrol stations, discount sports outlets, drive in restaurants, convenience stores with absurdly large parking lots. And sometimes, squeezed in between them, neatly cultivated vegetable plots, tumbledown wooden shacks, and the odd set of stone steps leading up to a bamboo sheltered temple.
Eventually, at the top of a rise in the road, I saw the hills. Steep, tree clad, a green that was somehow both pale and dark. Beneath the blue sky, wreathed in a diaphanous mist.
Lightened by one banana, I negotiated my way onto route 54 and descended into the Sagami valley. I was desperate to lose the traffic, especially the giant-wheeled trucks that squeezed me to the inside. Thankfully most of them turned north or south along the road that skirted the river, while I kept going west, up into the hills. The gradient sharpened. Thick forest either side: bamboos, pines, cedars. This was it. I’d made it out of Tokyo. It was tempting to go straight on, towards the hills I could see in front of me, but I stuck to the plan and took the right on route 65. At first it looked like the gentler option: a flattish road that would skirt the line of hills to the left.
I cycled through one of those country villages that are really just a collection of buildings notched against the road. Houses: mostly humble wooden structures, though a few elaborate, with lacquered roofs, curved like a sultan’s slippers. I passed a gaggle of nursery kids in yellow hats; junior high schoolers and pensioners on decrepit ‘aunty bikes’. Then the forest closed in and the gradient snapped at me. I called on a higher gear, swigged from my water bottle, and settled into the climb. When I looked up from the handlebars a conical peak was looming ahead. I passed a sign: some Japanese characters and ‘1450m’. Irrational thought: had I missed something on the map? Did Route 65 climb to an altitude worthy of a lower alpine Grand Tour stage? The idea lodged in my head and gained traction. I could always just go back the same way. Or take it on? How hard could 1450 metres be?
I was going towards a black hole. A real one, opening into the hillside, about 1450 metres after the sign that almost certainly meant ‘tunnel’. Okay, so I wouldn’t have to find out that the obvious answer to my hypothetical question is: pretty fucking hard.
Three hundred metres later I emerged into daylight again. The flat gave way to descent, gentle at first, then steeper. I zipped down, leaning into the curves, the most joyous part of cycling, at least until you come a cropper doing it, which I haven’t. Yet.
Soon, too soon, I was at the junction with route 508. I had planned to turn right here and begin the slog back into the city. But I’d made amazingly good time. It was still only half eight. Checking Google Maps for the twentieth time, I saw that if I carried on route 65 I would come to a lake. Then I could turn right along the lakeside and come back to 508 further down.
So another climb though forest, with only a few cars and me on the road. Then I topped out and saw the glassy surface of Lake Tsukui spread out in the valley below. Westward, more mountains bulked up the horizon.
‘Next time’, I told myself as I whooshed down to the junction with Route 413.
For today, it was back to the megalopolis.