Sunday, May 17, 2009

Going to Takao, Part 3

Initially, I'd wanted to go to Mt. Fuji at least 2 months ago. As Golden Week approached. I started surfing the net for route maps or cycling suggestions, and one map that turned up was for getting to Mt. Takao from Tokyo, with the starting point about 3 miles from my apartment. During Golden Week, I decided to try getting to Takao without using the map, and that brought me to the Tamagawa Weir at the end of the bike route heading northeast along the Tamagawa. At 50 miles round trip, it also highlighted the fact that I wasn't ready for the 160 mile-round trip for Fuji. But, since Takao is 65 miles or so, it seemed doable. On the other hand, when I did plan on heading out to Takao, it rained for the 3 days at the end of Golden Week.

So, a week later I decided to try Takao again, this time using the map, in order to get in a longer ride during one of my off-days (Thursday). The thing to note is that the areas around Tokyo don't have a lot of really long, paved bike paths. There are stretches around the bigger rivers, but often they only go a few miles from one bridge to the next. Meaning that you have to know when to cross a bridge to pick up the trail on the other side. Then there are the tributaries that branch into the river you're on, and if you're not careful, you'll follow a tributary upstream, drifting away from the one river that you do want. This is a major problem along the Asagawa, which heads towards Takao, and one that the online route map doesn't illustrate very well.

(Hotel New Grand)

The starting point is Chofu, about 3 miles north of Noborito. Follow the Tamagawa on the east side until you go past Kyodo no Mori. The map indicates that you should cross the bridge just past the Kewpie Mayonnaise plant, and just before the Y's Road bike shop (this is a good place to buy Power Bars if you need them). Stay along the west side of the Tamagawa heading north until you hit the Asagawa, and then turn inland. After a couple of miles, the path (which is part of a small local park and has signs saying "No bikes") dead ends in front of the Keiou line monorail terminal. Jog left and pick up the main street heading west. You'll pass the Takahata Fudoson-Kongoji Temple (impossible to miss). Stop across the street to get some manju. Continue west and when you come to a major cross street, turn right, cross the bridge and pick up the Asagawa again.

(A small event space up towards Hachioji.)

From here, you're going to be jumping across bridges every few miles. I pretty much stayed to the right of the river. But, at some point, you'll be forced to the left side, and there will be a tributary merger that will divert you along the wrong river. At the next small bridge, cross over and head to the right to return to the Asagawa. Right around here you'll cross over road number 16 two times. After that is road 32. A few blocks later, you'll get to 20 and another tributary merger. Follow the tributary left. This will put you on or near 20 heading south west. You'll go by Hachioji City from the south and you'll run right in front of the Chuu-ou line Takao train station. Less than a mile after that is the ropeway running up to the top of Takao. You can take road 186 up to the top of the hill and visit the monkey zoo if you like.

(Looking out at Takao station, on the Chuu-ou line.)

The map actually shows a route leading farther southwest along 20, which will take you up into some good-sized hills to Sagamiko, a man-made lake dammed on one side. But, at that point, 20 is mostly just a busy road with little shoulder space and so may not be all that fun to ride up.

The art of getting lost gracefully:

Just simply following someone else's directions, or the suggestions from a guidebook, may be fine some of the time, but a lot of the fun of sightseeing is to discover places by "accident". After all, those places aren't secrets or anything, it's just that if you weren't expecting to see a tribute to the Shinsengumi in the middle of Hino City, and suddenly there it is in front of your face, or to find a pony petting park on the side of the river opposite to what the route map indicates, it's just that much more fun. So, my preference is to use a map as a guideline for the general direction to go, but to then allow myself to make a wrong turn along the way. The next challenge after that is how to get back to "the known universe", which can either be backtracking, or heading roughly in the right direction until you pick the trail up again. Either way, getting lost is not always a bad thing, if you have the free time for it.

Besides, the sky is clear and it's around 70 degrees, although there's a stiff wind from the south and some threatening clouds form later in the day. So, I'm just past road 32 and I pick up Shiroyama-gawa (White Mountain River, which is just another drainage ditch), and I notice that I'm not heading closer to the hills. There are lots of little parks and nice stretches of the creek, and the houses are looking more rural, but nothing too exciting. I reach a construction site where the road snakes up into a hill and I'm thinking that this might be the right direction. There are two road guards nearby, so I ask them the rough direction for Takao. They look at me dumbfounded and shake their heads, saying that I'm not even close. Then they spend the next 5 minutes debating over the easiest path for me to follow to get to Takao. They act even more surprised when I say that I just came from Noborito, so if I can't get to Takao I'll just turn around and head back (they can't imagine anyone riding from Noborito by bike). By this time, I've been on the road for over 2 hours, and I'll be happy if I can make it a leisurely 4-5 hour ride. But, they really want to help, and they spend another couple of minutes making sure I understand their directions. As I head off, they yell "ki-otsukutte!" ("be careful!").

Their directions are good and within 10 minutes I pick up road 20, and the sign for Takao train station. Shortly after that, I'm at the station itself. This is good enough for me, and I turn around and take 20 south a few blocks. Without warning, I pick up another river, and the sign says "Minami Asagawa" (South Asa River). I follow it a ways and suddenly I'm back at the bridge where I first got lost. Right after that is a sign I'd seen before for a small coffee roaster. Hoping to get an iced coffee or something to cool down with, I go into the shop. The place is tiny (the storefront is maybe 10'x10') and all they sell are roasted beans and coffee pots. I start talking with the owner, and end up spending an hour discussing roasting methods, bean flavors, cycling (he likes riding his mountain bike to Fuchu and back), skiing, and the differences between Japan and the U.S. In the end, I get a small bag of ground coffee (570 yen for 100 grams = $24/pound), a carafe and a filter holder. (When I get back home I learn that we already have a larger carafe and filter holder. Sigh. But the coffee still tastes good either way, and the expensive price is in keeping with the high price of living in Tokyo.)

It's an easy ride back, but I'm running out of water. I hit the Kawasaki Throughway (a 4 lane road crossing Minami Asagawa), and veer to the right to look for a convenience store. I find one after a couple of blocks, and buy some canned coffee in order to obtain one of the ANA uniform girl figures, and a big 2 liter bottle of water. I get back on the trail along the right side of the river and it dead ends 2 blocks later. I backtrack, cross the bridge and right in front of my face is the sign for the Tamagawa. Turns out that I'd been paralleling the Asagawa about 1/2 mile away and that mine was an easier route than what the guide map showed. Also, I'm now just south of the Kewpie mayonnaise plant, which puts me 35 minutes from the apartment. Instead of getting a 2 liter bottle of water, I could have gone without buying anything at all. But at least now I have my ANA figure, so it's all good.

It was a very relaxed 6-hour excursion, and probably didn't break the 50 mile mark. I'll try doing it again with a more detailed printout of the map, and see if I can go the additional few miles up into the hills to get to Sagamiko lake. At a minimum, I should be able to get some ways up road 186 on Takao. I'll also take care to use lots of sunscreen. I'd lathered myself up at the beginning of this ride and my right arm still got mildly sunburned.

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