I met the VLAAMS boys first at the usual Koremasa RdV spot precisely at sunrise and we rode together until the Hino Bypass. The pace was a bit too fast for my fat tires but I managed to stay up front. The Hino Bypass is a nice alternative to the usual Akikawa approach and before I knew it I was at Takao. No break at the 7/11 today, instead I climbed today's first pass, Otarumi-toge at a leisurely pace.
My plan was to follow Rd. 76 all the way from the beginning but then I got the idea of trying first Gando-toge 厳道峠 , a mountain pass patronized by Hiroshi and Laurent which starts from Akiyama-onsen (on Rd. 35).
According to Hiroshi's blog, Gando-toge was cut through the mountains by poor honey farmers hailing from the Doshi valley who needed a short-cut to Hachioji to sell their merchandise. When they would return and as they were about to crest the last mountain, robbers would appear and deprive the poor farmers of their hard-earned money. This pass became to be known as 盗人峠 "Robbers Pass" and it was only some hundred years later that the name was changed to today's more civilized version.
Gando-toge was much longer than I had imagined and there was one fairly steep section and some splendid views as well. The road connects to Doshimichi and going down there were some superb areas for viewing Fujisan, today unfortunately mostly hidden in the clouds.
Once I hit Doshimichi, I turned left towards the Rd. 76 intersection; this is exactly the area where Doshimichi starts climbing up again after the long downhill from Yamabushi-toge. At the turn-off, I asked an old lady who was pounding rice cakes if I was on the right way to Lake Tanzawa. She frowned at me anxiously and warned me "too dangerous to be going out there all alone!" "Because of bears?, I asked to which she smilingly replied take care!..."Itterasshai !"
I passed by some nice trout fishing establisments and campings and was enjoying the scenery until I hit the first gate. A few hundred meters further behind the curve, the paved road changed into a gravel one. I was a bit nervous as a signboard with Inukoeji Pass 犬超路峠 was pointing in exactly the opposite way and instead I was climbing direction Himeji 姫次.
The name of this pass literally means "pass of the road to be crossed over by dogs" （犬超路峠）and dates back to the Sengoku Warring States when the Tiger of Kai （甲斐、present-day Yamanashi Pref.), Takeda Shingen himself oversaw the expansionary drive of the Takeda Clan beyond the Tanzawa Mountains into Odawara land, territory of the rival Hojo clan. Legend has it that whenever Takeda's ashigaru foot soldiers headed for Odawara, they had their army dogs lead them on this steep and perilous mountain road.
After a while the gravel road became increasingly bumpy; this was no longer gravel I was riding on but solid rocks stuck deep into the ground. The knobby cyclocross tires did a fine job though as I pushed ahead in 34-25 always in the saddle. I was completely by myself and it was very quiet. Nevertheless, it felt as if I was constantly being watched by some creature. I almost panicked when a bunch of rocks came tumbling down some 20 meters further uphill. I guess some scared animal higher up must have triggered a minor landslide.
I stopped only a couple times to take pictures of the mountain range in the North. Next time I go, I will take more to better illustrate the abominable road conditions. The last 2 or 3 kilometers before reaching the Inukoeji Tunnel were paved again...very wide and in near-perfect condition!
The tunnel inside was quite windy but not as dark as I had expected and also free from rocks and other debris; nevertheless I found the place rather spooky and was relieved to reach the other end safe. The first part of the downhill to Lake Tanzawa is exciting, very wide with no cars (2 more gates further down close the area to ordinary traffic)...perfect for honing one's cornering skills.
Down at Lake Tanzawa, I decided to proceed to Odawara as I felt I had done enough climbing already and didn't like the idea of riding too long along the murderous 246 and then having to face a Yabitsu crowded with other cyclists crawling up like ants.
I was tempted to visit Odawara Castle but decided to save this for a next time. On to Enoshima! I was surprised to see so many cyclists on Rd. 1 and 134 most of them riding in groups. When I overtook some of these groups, they would give chase forcing me to push all the way...no fair play to do this with a middle-aged man on 35c tires. At speeds above 35km/h, these tires make a most impressive VOOMVOOMVOOM sound discouraging most chasers to stay in my wheel for too long.
At Enoshima, I took a break to watch the surfer girls and eat a dorayaki... The return trip was along the slow Sakaigawa cycling road over Machida, Onekan, Koremasa....