Winter Ride up Yabitsu Pass

Winter Ride up Yabitsu Pass

Where to go for my first ride after recovering from my accident? I had commuted around Tokyo to make sure it was fine to ride my bike again, but now I wanted to experience the Japanese mountains once more before returning to Seattle. And so I headed to one of my favorite routes: Yabitsu Pass.
My outing started like most rides in Tokyo: I rode to the station, Rinko’d my bike, and boarded a train. Even after dozens of “Rinkos”,  it remains very satisfying to reduce my bike to such a small and convenient package in such a short time. An hour after leaving central Tokyo, I arrived at Takao, the final station of the suburban line.
After reassembling my bike, the first thing was to buy supplies at a typical Japanese convenience store. These stores bear little resemblance to their North American counterparts. Here, they don’t sell gasoline, but fresh food and even flowers! It was easy to find what I needed for lunch: onegiri (rice with filling wrapped in nori seaweed), hot tea and an ice cream bar for dessert. For the road, I bought juice, dark chocolate and a package of cookies.
A beautiful shrine provided a good spot for the meal, and in the sun, it was warm enough to sit outside. While I was at the shrine, I prayed for safety on the road. It’s a common practice among Japanese cyclists, and after my recent experience, I figured it couldn’t hurt…
The road started climbing almost immediately, but the grades were not very steep – perfect for getting back into a rhythm after a long time off the bike. Snow was lining the road when I reached Lake Miyagase. I had been here with Hahn during our very first trip to Japan. Then it was crowded with tourists on a weekend during the cherry blossom season. Now it was deserted. Both times, it was beautiful.
A few kilometers further, I turned onto the narrow road to Yabitsu Pass. The mirrors that allow looking around corners came in handy not just to check for traffic – there was none – but also to see whether there was ice on the shaded parts of the road. I did meet a mountain biker and a motorcyclist, who gave me a big thumbs up as I began the climb in the late afternoon.
The road winds its way along a valley, so it’s not steep, but very narrow and twisty: great fun!
I had calculated that I should reach the pass before dark, so I could descend the other side before temperatures dropped. I was concerned that meltwater might freeze on the road. However, I had not counted on ice and snow on the road up to the pass. Not wanting to risk a fall, I walked my bike on the icy parts.
I was still about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the top. If the entire road over the pass was icy, I would hike late through the night… Turning around was an option, but I really wanted to ride across the mountains to the Pacific Ocean. I decided to push on until 4:30 p.m. and decide then whether to continue or to turn around.
Just when I was giving up hope to reach the pass, the road cleared. I remembered that higher up, the road was more exposed. I figured (hoped?) that I’d be able to ride most of the way. I pushed my “decision time” out to five o’clock. If I made it to the top by then, I’d be fine. If I had to turn around, I knew where the icy spots were and could negotiate them in the dark.
Fortunately, the road was ice-free for most of the way to the pass. I reached the top just before five.
The climb seemed less challenging than I remembered it. When I rode here with Hahn almost two years ago, I had engaged in an impromptu race with an older gentleman on a racing bike. His age handicap was balanced by my loaded panniers, so our speeds were well-matched, and the climb seemed much longer at full effort.
The other side of the mountains is exposed to the mid-day sun, so there was no snow on the road. I was relieved. The descent was less challenging, which was welcome, as the light was fading fast. I was happy to enjoy the winding road.
After a few tight turns, I rounded the cliff face and saw the edges of the Tokyo-Yokohama agglomeration below and the Pacific Ocean beyond. It was as beautiful as I remembered it from our first ride here.
My late timing had an unforeseen benefit: a most spectacular view of Mount Fuji (photo at the top of the post). When I rode here with Hahn, the sky had been overcast, and we didn’t even know that the mountain usually was visible. Tonight, the unexpected view, and having the mountain all to myself, made it all the more special.
The remainder of the descent was uneventful, and 30 minutes later, I was at the train station in Hadano. I warmed up with a hot chocolate at a café…
… before Rinko’ing my bike again and returning to Tokyo in time for dinner. It was great to be back on my bike, and I am grateful that the recovery from my accident has been so smooth and uneventful.
We wrote about our first trip to Japan, including our tour that also went over Yabitsu Pass, in Bicycle Quarterly 48.

Share this post

Comments (17)

  • Paul Glassen

    A lovely ride description, photos. And congratulations on your recovery.

    February 1, 2016 at 12:23 am
  • Joe Wein

    Yabitsu toge (pass) is also one of my favourite rides near Tokyo, though unlike you I have not yet attempted it in wintry conditions. I particularly go for it in summer when it’s not quite as hot as down in the Kanto plain and the sound of running water from the adjacent river along the mountain road between Lake Miyagase and the toge at least makes you feel less hot 🙂
    There is also a gated rindo (forest road) closed to traffic on the south side that’s a good alternative to the lower part of the main road if you climb from the south, plus another closed rindo that branches off east a few km from the north side of the toge. I would not use those in the winter though.
    By the way, the flowers sold at rural convenience stores are mostly for “ohaka-mairi”, i.e. visiting your family grave, cleaning it and leaving flowers.

    February 1, 2016 at 1:39 am
  • Gary Lindberg

    Congratulations on your first ride! Sounds like you have had a
    great recovery.

    February 1, 2016 at 4:28 am
  • Dave Cain

    Hooray! It’s wonderful to see you on your bike again. Congratulations on a smooth recovery.

    February 1, 2016 at 5:06 am
  • Bob C

    Glad you’re back on the bike! Jan Heine off the bike does, in its small way, unbalance the world. Now you’ve set that aright. Well done and here’s to accident-free riding!

    February 1, 2016 at 6:29 am
  • PedroMJ

    Very nice “warm up” for you after your convalencence. Happy to hear you heve recovered from your injuries. BTW, it would be great to have this route in GPX or similar (or even a map) so, if you have it, please share it. Thank you.

    February 1, 2016 at 9:51 am
  • Patrick Moore

    Happy to see you’ve recovered and are back on the bike.

    February 1, 2016 at 10:33 am
  • Ed Bernasky

    This blog post feels….like Spring and warm sun. Glad to hear you are back on the bike, Jan.

    February 1, 2016 at 2:32 pm
  • Frank

    … it’s good that feeling of a little unknown, a little ‘what if’, a little poking yourself into a space and seeing what happens, just your own self to get you into and out of trouble. Fortune to the brave sir Jan!

    February 1, 2016 at 7:33 pm
  • Matt

    What a wonderful ride to resume your cycling adventures with! Congratulations on a full and speedy recovery, although it probably did not seem so speedy to you.

    February 1, 2016 at 8:09 pm
  • marmotte27

    Congratulations on your recovery! Mqybe there’s a story here: how to get by as an injured cyclist?

    February 1, 2016 at 10:39 pm
  • Rich Pinder

    Reading these are always fun, but this one really makes me smile ! wooHOO…back on the road !
    Hope to cross paths at NAHBS later this month.

    February 2, 2016 at 6:48 am
  • Guy Washburn

    Great to see you on the road again! Such a beautiful place to recover…

    February 2, 2016 at 7:13 am
  • David Pearce

    Beautiful, and I’m glad you are healing well. Please continue to heal and think about the bicycle and integrated design.
    I have gotten interested in Frank Lloyd Wright again, after a pause of many years, as I contemplate whether I could be lucky enough to add a FLW inspired major addition to the back of my father’s “American Foursquare” house, built 1915, and seeing all your photos of Asian lands and architecture just reinforces my drive. I am trying to absorb as much of Wright’s philosophical and engineering thought as quickly as possible, like “I needed to have known this and incorporated this into my life yesterday!”
    I say, we are all designers. We are all creators. Or, if we’re not, we should be–we should be thinking like designers, whether you’re writing a novel or designing a home or designing a bicycle. The idea of reshaping our living environment so that we may live better, has been a revelation to me. My brain seems to have woken up, to be like a fast flowing river, a river of ideas. The environment around us is “plastic”–maybe that’s a poor word, but our environment is not set in stone, we can change it: we can rearrange the furniture, we can hang pictures or change picture groups, we can clean things and reveal their beauty under temporary grime & dust.
    I just wanted to bring up the point, which you have championed, of the bicycle as an integrated whole, and integrated with its intended landscape. And Wright championed the same integrated approach to our living and working spaces. We should think about our whole selves, and our whole living environments, from the the exterior landscape to the interior furniture, as a great integrated unit, which ultimately allows us to live and think and enjoy better. It has made all the difference in my life lately.

    February 4, 2016 at 10:46 am
  • alliwant

    Enjoyed the story, but what I enjoyed the most is the picture at the end of your bike disassembled Rinko style. The idea of a bike that can be rendered so compact really appeals to me. Hopefully, we can look forward to a fuller treatment of Rinko.

    February 5, 2016 at 10:58 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The latest issue of Bicycle Quarterly has a detailed feature on how to make a bike Rinko-compatible, with studio photos of the “Mule”.

      February 5, 2016 at 11:06 am
      • alliwant

        You just sold another subscription…

        February 5, 2016 at 12:14 pm

Comments are closed.

Are you on our list?

Every week, we bring you stories of great rides, new products, and fascinating tech. Sign up and enjoy the ride!

* indicates required