Wednesday, November 28, 2007


We arrived in Joetsu in the afternoon and quickly found a grocery store to buy something to cook for dinner. We decided on tofu stir-fry.  Due to a lack of imagination and energy in the evenings after long days of riding, Stir-fry was quickly becoming our steady.
We continued on towards the coast hoping to find a place to camp on the beach and as we did so, a funny thing happened. What at first appeared to be a non-desrcript, even unattractive town began to take on a certain level of quaint charm. All the buildings were cracked and weathered from the salt air. We passed empty lots of concrete rubble, the remnants of buildings that had long since succumbed to the abuse offered by decades of seasonal typhoons. The few crumbling structures that remained had become the canvas of young surfers armed with spray-cans.
We pulled into one of these lots to take in our first glimpse of the Sea of Japan. After riding through mountains for so many days it felt satisfying to finally be at the ocean. We sat there for a little while gazing out at the sun set. A friend of ours believes that people are drawn to the ocean through some sort of primordial nostalgia- A deeply rooted sense of longing to return to the place from which we came eons ago, but to which we can never go back- an evolutionary Eden of sorts. I like that idea, but I could only sit there pondering life's mysteries for so long; stir-fry was beginning to invade my thought space.
A few hundred yards down the road we found a beautiful sandy beach to call our home for the night. We cooked a hearty dinner and hit the sack.
In the morning, our beach-haven campsite was a little gloomy. Heavy rain made us reluctant to get out of the tent but we managed to do so around 7:30. We rode a wet, sloppy mile to a convenient store for coffee and we stalled there a bit for the weather to let up. When it didn't, we figured we should probably get moving anyway. We soon discovered that we had a nice bike path heading in our direction so we were happy to get off the road and away from the trucks who aren't always kean on sharing the road with cyclists. We biked at leisurely pace chatting and thoroughly enjoyed every curve and tunnel along the way. When we stopped for lunch in Itiogawa the weather had cleared and we realized we had put quite a few miles under us.
In the afternoon we were less lucky. We rode along Route 8 which followed a gorgeous stretch of coastline but the view was diminished due to the heavy, high-speed traffic that we were forced to contend with. When a tractor-trailer whizzes by at sixty miles an hour it can create disastrous effects for a cyclist. The amount of wind a truck generates is frightening and it can whip you around like a paper doll, pushing and pulling your bicyle in unexpected directions. The gear packed on our bikes act as sails magnifying the effect. The trick here is to relax, to avoid the impulse to tense up and resist what is happening. Keeping your arms loose, elbows and knees bent you have to just go with it and let the wind do with you what it will. Because as suddenly as that wall of air comes crashing into your world- its gone. In that brief moment any attempt to compensate by steering or leaning your weight one way or the other will be grossly overestimated.
Tonight we are camped on a patch of well manicured lawn in the municipal park of a fishing town called Uozu. The coast around here is quite rocky and not very good for pitching a tent so we make do with what we got. We rode 107 kilometers today and we're pretty tired and eager to get comfortable. It is a great feeling when we finally pry our swollen feet from our sneakers. 
As we cook dinner on a noisy camp stove, barefoot and shirtless, sweaty clothes hanging up to dry, we are truly a site for passing locals to behold. There's a good chance the authorities will kick us out of here tonight but at this point in the day we're too exhausted to be discreet. We Americans are an obnoxious lot.  

Monday, November 5, 2007


Nagano was big for us. It was our first actual city since we left Tokyo and it marked the successful completion of the first major leg of our trip. It let us know that we could put some miles down in a reasonable amount of time without killing ourselves. It was fun riding into the city. We felt like cowboys in the old west. We cleaned ourselves up and went to check out the nightlife.

For whatever reason, we found ourselves in a pirate bar. The bar was shaped like a pirate ship and there was a pirate behind the bar serving drinks. Spitting image of Captain Jack Sparrow. . . if he was Japanese. Really weird.
Rather than playing the usual bar music, this bar went with the score from Pirates of the Caribbean. It just played over and over. Must have been set on repeat. I'm still undecided as to weather I think this would be an annoying place to work or the best job ever. I'm fairly certain my nephew Andrew would think the latter. Hes three. The kid sleeps with a sword and a leather tri-pointed hat. My sister is hoping its just a phase but I'm not so sure. Once a pirate always a pirate in my mind.
The Next day we got on our bicycles without any of our gear weighing us down and went to check out the city. I felt awkward and unsteady at first, like I had forgotten how to ride a bike without an additional 5o lbs piled on it. We headed for the Zenkoji Temple, one of the oldest in Japan and the first to allow women. We spent a few hours wandering around the gardens there, Gettin' our calm on. It was quite nice.

Friday morning we planned to leave Nagano for Joetsu a town on the coast north of Nagano but we decided to take a side trip east to check out the Jigokudani Monkey Park where the famous Japanese snow macaques live.
The ride out there was a lot longer than we had expected but it was gorgeous. It followed a beautiful green river valley up through a ski resort town. As we got close, the road turned into crazy steep switchbacks and the forest grew dense and dark. Finally the road leveled off and I started riding fast. I came tearing around a bend to find a huge macaque walking across the road on all fours. It was a big monkey. We're not talking about some little spider monkey. I thought this guy was a yetti. The squeal of my brakes startled him but then he just stared me down for a moment before resuming his walk at the exact same pace. It was like he was making a point of letting me know that I wasn't worth hustling for. Pompous monkey.

The park itself was great. There were a lot of monkeys in there all engaged in different activities. Snacking on stuff, grooming each other, little ones playing, other ones trying to make more monkeys, and some just relaxing with a soak in the hot springs. They didn't seem to mind our presence and it was great just to hang out and watch them for a while.

From there we were headed to Joetsu when my tire blew out. Not the tube but the sidewall of the actual tire- not fixable on the road. We decided to grab a train back into Nagano to hit up a bike shop.

That minor hiccup aside, it was well worth the trip out to Jigokudani and Nagano itself was a great place. So after taking in some city comforts for a couple days, an internet cafe that serves free milkshakes for instance, we hit the road and headed for the ocean.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


The morning after the pass we were loathe to discover that the rain was still coming down.
After a warm breakfast to motivate us we got back on the bikes and headed out for another wet one. We started out with a long downhill. Usually cyclists look forward to downhills but they are far less appealing on cold, wet mornings when the additional wind just adds insult to injury. But, to keep things in perspective, the people in passing cars were in suits going to work. Suckers.
For a short while it looked like the rain might turn to snow but as we descended in altitude the temperature rose and the rain abated. We ended up having a great ride down narrow winding streets lined with traditional japanese houses all the way to Komoro.
We arrived in Komoro in the early afternoon and rode around town looking for a grocery store and internet access. We ended up using the internet at what appeared to be a private office of some sort. It was a bizarre situation. We stopped in to ask the whereabouts of an internet cafe but, exemplefying the cultural emphasis on politeness, they insisted we use their computer. They were very interested in us and our journey. They all stopped working and served us tea and cookies and took a whole bunch of pictures of us. They also gave us a mapofthe town with the slogan, Komoro: A Poetic Sentemental Town. We thanked them for all their help and headed towards an onsen that we hoped to bathe at and camp near.
It took a while to find it as it was located in a sketchy spot outside of town under a bridge. It was dark by now and there were no lights on in the place. It was overgrown and unmaintained which isstrange for Japan. It seemed creepy. We almost moved on but we were tired, ready to camp. We knocked on the door not sure if this was the onsen or Boo Radley`s house. No one came to the door but for some reason, I think because we were just curious, we kept knocking. Eventually a very nice, normal woman came to the door. She didn`t have a hump back or anything. She just hadn`t heard us knocking.
We took an onsen and she gave us permission to camp on her property right by the river. It was great. She had a couple little kids with whom we practiced our limited reppertoir of Japanese expressions.
In the morning we woke up to citrus drinks sitting outside our tent. As we packed up the womans husband came outside with hot cans of coffee for us. Then a cute old Grandmother with a limp, which seemed to make her even cuter, came out with fruit for us. She gave us presents that she had made herself: nearest I could tell they were spherical cat toys with bells inside of them. But it was the gesture that was important. I accepted it and examined it like it was a diamond and thanked her profusely. As we rode up and out of the river valley they stood there waving to goodbye. What nice people.
The sun was out for the first time and days and we headed towards Nagano feeling great.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Shinshu Pass

Woke up to the sound of rain hammering our tent and grudgingly pealed ourselves out of our sleeping bags. Its difficult to break camp in the rain, trying to keep wet gear from contaminating dry stuff. Big pain in the ass. We pedaled down to a nearby gas station in rain jackets to review our maps in a dry place- and to sip some hot coffee of course. We had a very general route plan for the next few days: head towards Nagano, which is a good distance through the Japan Alps. Telling people we were heading to Nagano by bicycle invariably elicited laughter and a shake of the head. Silly Americans. Little did they know our actual destination was not Nagano but Okinawa, over a thousand miles away.
For this day we had no set goal. We weren`t super eager to ride in the rain so we figured we would just ride until we didn`t feel like riding anymore. So we cast off our rain gear and resigned ourselves to being wet. Once we got going our moods lifted and the rain stopped bothering us. It even began to feel good in a peculiar one thousand needles stabbing you in the face kind of way.
As we stopped now and again to check the map we became encouraged. We were moving much faster than we thought we would given that it was entirely uphill. Around lunchtime the rain was still coming down and we stopped to eat under the thatched canopy of a roadside produce stand. An old man there gave us each a a fruit that I`d never had before. It was part tomato part orange- pretty tasty. We thanked him and rode on. We passed some of the most beautiful scenery we had yet seen. All Misty mountains and huge river gorges with granite crags on either side, wooden bridges getting us across. We were feeling invincible riding through this landscape at 40 mph and soaked to the bone with sweat and rain.
The incline we had been steadily moving up all day was leading to Shinshu Pass, an intimidating high point along our route, the presence of which had been a nagging weight in the back of my mind. We hadn`t even expected to be dealing with the pass today. But around 3pm we realized we had covered a lot of ground and there was a chance we could make it over the pass before nightfall. Feeling emboldened and energized by our progress, we decided to go for it. But the hills we encountered were like none we had yet seen. They seemed to be nearly vertical. In my lowest gear I was having trouble pedaling and i had to stop frequently to regain the energy to continue. We were starting to lose day light and I had no idea how much farther it was to the top. I started to wonder if this was such a good idea. The idea of turning back and finding a place to camp at a lower altitude was becoming more and more desirable. Perhaps stupidly, we pushed on. My head was pounding and my legs were on fire. Seeing the crest of the pass was like a mirage. It took nearly everything we had to give but we made it. Feeling weightless, we rolled down the other side without pedaling, letting the lactic acid take over our legs. I felt less triumphant than cold, wet and exhausted. The hard part was over but I had hit a wall. Its a strange feeling when your body starts to utterly shut down. We were both light-headed and weak and had to stop to eat a granola bar. We continued on desperately hoping for a dry bed and a warm meal which we were lucky enough to find. We ate dinner and drank some coffee but no amount of food or drink was going to make us feel good. We felt like shit and needed sleep. We rented a Japanese style room with a straw tatami mat and crashed hard on the floor knowing that Shinshu Pass was behind us.


The day after climbing Mt. Fuji we woke up feeling surprisingly fresh. We loaded up our bikes and rode a blissfull 35 miles to Kofu achieving our first day`s goal. It began with a steady and challenging uphill around lakes, up gorges and then through a tunnell which was a bit scarryWith tractor trailors whizzing by. But once on the other side it was a steep ten-mile downhill all the way into Kofu. We cruized down it at around 30 mph. It only took us about two hours.
Once in Kofu we came upon a beautiful temple perched on a hillside with a massive staircase leading up to it from the street. We climbed up to check it out. The grounds were very well kept with a network of pathways leading all over the hillside and up into the forest where I found some small caves that from the inscents left on the ground, looked like they were used for meditating. But not a soul was there. We decided it was the perfect place to camp so we set up on little spot just off the temple grounds. It was great.
After cooking dinner we went looking for an Onsen we had heard about, a public bathhouse fed by a hotspring. We were disapointed to find it closed and headed back to camp resigned to go another day without a shower. But when we passed a building with the sound of splashing water and people laughing we got curious. We went inside and found it was a hotel that happened to have an onse. We told the Woman who ran it that we were from New York and that we were biking across Japan. She insisted on paying for our Onsen. We were dirty and tired from riding, and climbing Fuji, and from camping the last two days. We were inexperienced as far as public bathing goes but soaking in a hot onsen was truely wonderful. Something we could get used to.
We went to bed clean and relaxed.

Finally, Some Updates

Well we haven`t posted much since our original postings and the reasons for that are many. One is that bicycle touring is pretty demanding and doesn`t leave all that much time for lollygagging on the internet. Another reason is that while Japan is a very techno-savy country, much of our time is spent in the countryside between cities and there is not much internet access out in those parts. And I will admit that when we were in Kyoto last week I couldn`t figure out how to change the language on the computer to English. But since we have a few days off of riding here in the city of Osaka I will try to put down some of the notes I`ve taken over the last three weeks.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Karate Chopstix

i am not going to apologize for mass emails, its hard enough for me to write emails as is, so this is the easiest way for me to say hello and return some messages from a long time back. everything is going well!! i am sitting in nagano, japan having a day off from biking. i am about a week into a two month bike tour. this is the first time i have traveled this way and its absolutely blissfull!!! traveling by bike is simple and rewarding, allowing time to think and feel healthy. you also can eat tons and sleep very well after a long day of biking. mike and i started in tokyo and headed to mount fuji, climbed the massive volcanoe and then got on our bikes and headed north west for nagano. the japan alps are spectacular, rural japan is everything you expect and more, the japanese are polite, helpful and peaceful. we have covered over 140 miles in about 4 days of riding, not bad for two amatuers. we will head south from here along the coast and eventually reaching the southern most point of the the main island. there we will hitch a ride on a ferry to okinawa to visit our friend kevin. overall things are running smoothly, no major disasters yet, enjoying every day!!! hope you are all well. someday i may be better about returning emails/messages, but probably not :) thanks for the emails and myspace/facebook messages. look forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

First Week In Japan

Its been a crazy first week in Japan.
We were welcomed with open arms by Maggie, Scott and Lucas who Showed us around Tokyo. We had our first conveyor belt sushi experience. Sushi travels by your table on a conveyor belt and you just grab whatever you want. Its Fabulous. Then Scott took us to the top floor of a building to see the Tokyo City View. I knew Tokyo was big but it blew my mind. Buildings as far as you could see in every direction.
We spent our days there checking out the different neighborhoods and stocking up on supplies for our trip.

On Friday morning we loaded up our bikes, said goodbye to the Hansons and rode to Shinjuku train station (we figured it best not to try to ride out of Tokyo on the highways). I thought riding bikes through Tokyo was going to be hectic but it really wasn`t that bad. Once at the station we found a corner and started breaking down our bikes. You have to take them apart and put them in special bags in order to take them on the train- kind of a hassle. We had some language barrier issues but with the help of a phrasebook managed to buy tickets to Mt. Fuji.
We said goodbye Tokyo and one short, scenic train ride later we were in a mountain town at the base of Fuji. We threw our bikes back together and rode a few miles to the Fuji Trailhead where we camped for the night.
By 3:30 am we were up and hiking. We could not see much for the first hour or two but when the sun came up we found ourselves in a mystical forest. It was all lush and mossy - I wouldn`t have been surprised to pass a hobbit on the trail. Every few miles there were Buddhist shrines with various offerings left by climbers before us. It was all very cool.
We soon rose above treeline where the temperature dropped and the wind picked up.
It was bitter cold. But tough guys that we are, we fought through it and made it up to the summit. The crater at the top was gigantic, maybe a mile across and we could`nt see the bottom. It was wild.
The altitude was starting to mess with our heads a bit so we hurried down to a hardy feast of mac and cheese and some much needed sleep.
Fuji: Check!