Leaves and ghosts: HFC Nichitsu autumn ride 2013

joewein

Maximum Pace
Oct 25, 2011
2,424
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Setagaya, Tokyo
joewein.net
#1
On Saturday, Nov 2, 2013 I headed to the Nichitsu ghost town in the Chichibu area in Saitama and was joined there by an adventurous bunch of Half-Fast cyclists (HFC) for a memorable ride in beautiful nature and a visit to an eery, deserted place. It was my third visit to the area.

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The first time I heard about the Nichitsu ghost town in Chichibu and the beautiful mountains and valleys around it was in the spring of 2012, when Pete (@Yamabushi) organised a ride there. A couple of month later, in late October of the same year the "TCC North chapter" headed back there on an autumn leaves viewing ride, coming back with tales of beautiful leaves but a chilly ride through a cold dark tunnel and an even chillier descent on the other side. As my friend Jose (@Jayves) likes to say, there's no bad weather, only the wrong clothes. So the two of us headed there suitably prepared on the first November weekend that year and had a great day.

I wanted to go back for the leaves this year. When I mentioned that at one of the monthly HFC get-togethers at the Pink Cow in Roppongi, somebody suggested I should lead a Half-Fast ride there. I liked the idea and went back there with Jose in late September to refresh my memory of the route and the area. Based on RWGPS ride data from that ride, I then picked 10:10 as the starting time at Seibuchichibu station in Chichubu, which was a little after a scheduled express train arrival and should give me enough time to cycle out there from Tokyo if I started at a ridiculously early time of day.

GPS log of the ride:

I set my alarm for 03:50 but woke up at 3:40, after some 3 1/2 hours of sleep and then had breakfast (oat meal, bananas, yoghurt, coffee). I was out of the door at 04:36, almost on time and followed the Tamagawa to Oume, where I arrived a little before 07:00 to have some cocoa at the conbini in front of the station (no, the following picture does not show the conbini, just some old house in Oume).

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Ten minutes later I headed on towards Yamabushi toge. A couple of km before the Arima toge turnoff someone called me from behind. I turned around and recognized Tom (TOM) on his brand new Cherubim steel bike. He was on his way to Arima and we had a chance to briefly chat as we rode along, me huffing considerably as I tried to keep up :) Nice bike, Tom!

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I continued up the valley, enjoying beautiful scenery already.

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A little while later I passed what was to be the first crash site of the day: somebody in a sports car had taken a corner on the Yamabushi descent a little too fast and lost control. The driver was OK.

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The descent from Yamabushi toge to Chichibu is fun, 13 km almost entirely downhill. I made it to the shopping centre at the Rt140 / Rt299 crossroads at 09:30, exactly on time. As none of the coffee shops there seemed to be open yet, I headed over to the station and found quite a few riders had assembled already. I picked up some coffee and apple pastries at the Mr. Donut shop near the station, sipping coffee and chatting with new and old friends as we were waiting for more arrivals.

(end of part 1)
 

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joewein

Maximum Pace
Oct 25, 2011
2,424
862
133
Setagaya, Tokyo
joewein.net
#2
From Chichibu to the tunnel below the village

I had the pleasure to meet several TCC members in person, such as @JackTheCommuter, @jackonaboardman and Tony (@Caryakine) and meet again several familiar faces from HFC.

Jason had texted me that he had missed his train and would be quite late. Dean rode to Chichibu from home. As always he brought a pannier bag that reminds me of Doraemon's pocket, holding a vast treasure of cycling necessities for whenever anyone gets into trouble, e.g. spare tubes, spare clothes. Finally, as we were almost about to push off Warren (@macrophotofly) arrived, having ridden some 100 km from Tokyo in just over 4 hours, versus my 86 km in a more leisurely 5 hours.

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We headed out to the west on Rt140 and soon turned off onto smaller backroads, where we stayed as much as possible. Further away from Chichibu we returned to 140 but by then traffic was lighter. My plan had been to pick up lunch at a Michi no Eki or a bento shop in a village not far from a big hydroelectric dam, as there basically weren't going to be any restaurants or conbinis after that. However, once back on 140 the group spread out, with faster riders zooming ahead and me and other slower riders following at an ever increasing distance behind. In the end we didn't have a lunch break there and the Michi no Eki shop had mostly omiyage type of food besides the sit-down meals. Dean picked up a couple of cookies in case anybody bonked.

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The tunnels south of the lake were deserted as always. We only passed one car all the way from the climb near the dam to the west end of the lake. After the lake we headed west on Rt210 towards the most scenic part of the ride.

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Here we saw more people, some armed with tripods and big lenses for autumn leaves shots. We skipped the tunnels to take a more scenic dirt road next to the wild river to get the best views.

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A food stall selling grilled fish offered an excuse for a break, so we sat down for a while, enjoying food and views.

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Heading on towards the bottom tunnel we had one puncture. @JackTheCommuter swapped the tube of the rear tyre, only to discover the tyre itself had a cut from a sharp rock. He fixed it with a piece of plastic wrapper from a bag of dried fruits. Then he discovered the valve of the spare tube was leaking, so Doraemon, uhm I mean Dean had to reach in his bag and pull out another tube. At this point Jason finally managed to catch up with our one hour head start.

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We also found out that Fumi got lost. We couldn't contact her because her iPhone had run out of battery, but she managed to ride to a station without any problem. We rode on towards the tunnel.

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We were finally getting close to the ghost town.

(end of part 2)
 

GSAstuto

Maximum Pace
Oct 11, 2009
945
242
103
tokyo
www.roadfixie.com
#3
Nice pics! I feel proud (and a little anxious) to see so many of my bikes and wheels together on these rides, by the way! At least 2 Haute Route bikes (one a finisher), a Ti and several sets of wheels. (sniff).
 

joewein

Maximum Pace
Oct 25, 2011
2,424
862
133
Setagaya, Tokyo
joewein.net
#4
At Nichitsu ghost town

Occasionally we'd see a truck or a car on the road, but otherwise it was very quiet. Soon the first deserted buildings came into sight.

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Over on the other side of the river were the hospital and the other deserted buildings of the main complex.

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There may or may not have been a no entry sign (my Japanese is not very good). Let's just say that some of the following pictures may have been on an SD card dropped into my lap by a little birdy ;)

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The dentist's chair:
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In the surgery: operating table with instruments:
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Bandages:
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Hydrochloric acid and other chemicals:
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The bedroom:
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(end of part 3)
 

joewein

Maximum Pace
Oct 25, 2011
2,424
862
133
Setagaya, Tokyo
joewein.net
#5
From Nichitsu ghost town to Chichibu

We were not yet half way through the loop and it was getting late, so we headed further up the valley. It was sunny and fairly mild, much warmer than the year before.

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I reached the tunnel by myself. Everybody else in our group had already passed it and was waiting at the car park on the other side. As I made my way through the tunnel, fog started drifting towards me. I realized the opposite side of the mountains was covered in clouds instead of sunlight. Temperatures where much lower.

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There were many bright red Japanese maple trees, a classic autumn image.

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We dressed up as warm as we could. I wore my winter jacket and winter gloves and lent my wind breaker to a friend who had lost his. Fortunately the road was in better condition than a month earlier, with a lot less sharp edged gravel on the road, so we didn't suffer any more punctures. Once we got to Rt299 it was a long and fast descent with sweeping curves.

Unfortunately one of us went off the road and into a concrete lined ditch. He ended up bruised but luckily his helmet, gloves and multiple layers against the cold prevented worse injuries. The bike was OK.

We made it back to Chichibu without further incidents. The last half an hour or so we were riding in the darkness, but the route was easy to follow as we basically stayed on Rt299 all the way, until we hit the Rt299 / Rt140 crossroads in the centre of town. Another 700 m and we were back at the Seibuchichibu station (which incidentally is not the same as Chichibu station, there are two train stations in town!). From here we caught an express train back to Ikebukuro, with 7 of us sitting together, cracking jokes and reliving memories of a great autumn day.

Summary

Despite some minor problems it was a great ride. The weather started cloudy in the morning but improved during mid day. Only when I got off the train in Ikebukuro to cycle home to Setagaya did I notice the wet roads.

I think I did better on the ride than I had anticipated after very little riding in the second half of October. I felt pretty sore on the way home and all day today, but according to the HR monitor I spent far more time at higher heart rates that I normally avoid on long rides, as I was trying to keep up with others.

To me the best part of the ride was not the ghost town or the great views of autumn forests in the mountains but the camaraderie amongst us riding together.

If you missed the ride, watch this space for HFC Nichitsu autumn ride 2014 :)
 

joewein

Maximum Pace
Oct 25, 2011
2,424
862
133
Setagaya, Tokyo
joewein.net
#6
Hi Tim, I also couldn't help noticing the various @GSAstuto bikes, including the 2012 Haute Route finisher on this ride :) They are getting very popular.

I hope you can join a somewhat slow ride with me some time when you're not training for an epic event like Haute Route or your upcoming ride in China.
 
Likes: GSAstuto

GSAstuto

Maximum Pace
Oct 11, 2009
945
242
103
tokyo
www.roadfixie.com
#7
Thanks, Joe! Actually the next 'epic' event is the 100+km HC TT in Taiwan with Naomi and Alan. This is the mother of all mother's HC TT in Asia. After that - 'the bike' is retired and I'm back to fixed gear for the winter, if not longer!
 
Dec 21, 2013
459
154
73
57
France - moving to Shizuoka
#15