Monthly Archives: February 2013

Questions and Answers, Plans and People

February is the coldest month in Tohoku, and this year has seen record-breaking snowfall in Fukushima prefecture. As a result, it’s been another indoor month for us. We’ve been asking and answering questions about touring, planning for our spring trip, and getting involved in the online cycle touring community. This month we’ve also read some interesting articles and journals, which we’ve included in the reading list below.

With your help, we’ve asked and answered two questions as part of our new Cycle Touring Question of the Week feature. We ask a question about bicycle touring, then spend a week or so gathering opinions from different people, before compiling our findings in a simple and straightforward way on this site. We received some great advice about wild camping in bear country, and shared some interesting opinions about touring with electronic gadgets. Thank you very much to everybody who contributed to exploring these questions. We aim to credit our friends and supporters in full, so look out for a link to your website, journal or Twitter feed in this section. If you have any cycle touring questions you’d like us to look into, please contact us here, or on Twitter.

Planning for our spring trip across is coming along nicely. We’re riding west across Tohoku, from Shinchi on the Pacific coast to Murakami on the Sea of Japan. The basics of our route are more or less in place, and we’ve checked our options for camping along the way too. Depending on the kind of time we make, we might pootle down to explore Sado Island as well. I feel like we’re at a really exciting stage; we know most of what we want to do, and now we just need to get on the road and trust our instinct to help us with the details. We’ve found some really useful maps, including the huge Max Mapple 1:100,000 for planning at home, and the handlebar-bag friendly Touring Mapple to take on the road. (More on maps for cycling in Japan here, via KANcycling.com)

British cyclists Peter Root and Mary Thompson were killed by a truck in Thailand this month (newspaper report here). The news came to us from the same online community that had introduced us to Pete and Mary, and despite our brief acquaintance – they responded to our question about wild camping in bear country – we were shocked and saddened to hear what had happened. Our thoughts are with their friends and families.

We finally got around to signing up for Warm Showers, the cycle touring hospitality exchange network. “I wonder how many other cycle touring hosts are in our area?” wondered Laura as we filled in our details. Not many, we found out. In fact, we’re the only listed hosts for 120km in any direction. We’re the sole hosts in Fukushima prefecture, and one of only four hosts in the whole of Tohoku. If you have plans for touring nearby, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help. We’d love to help!

Finally, we were very happy to feature in the Travelling Two newsletter this month. Andrew and Friedel are an inspiration to us, and their must-read book is packed with great advice for anybody who is thinking about getting into cycle touring. Thanks for supporting us!

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February Reading List:

Andy Stirling at the Guardian wrote an interesting piece about how we think about risk and different modes of transport.

On a related idea, Andrew and Friedel at Travelling Two wrote thoughtfully about a close call they’d survived in Iran, and how it affected the rest of their tour, and their touring philosophy.

We were really impressed with Helen Lloyd’s evaluation of the gear she’s used on her recent winter cycling trip in Sweden and Norway.

Journals

Wheel to Live is touring Japan, including a recent trip to Sado Island, where we’re heading in May. It’s exciting to see a report from a place we’re planning to visit.

Michael Fiebach’s journal of his Pass Safari in the Western Alps is an entertaining read, with exhaustive detail about the passes he’s climbed. An excellent document of an amazing trip.

We recommend Alison Stone’s journal of her trip around Italy and Montenegro. It’s a light-hearted report of what looked like a fun expedition.

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Cycle Touring Question of the Week #1: Wild Camping in Bear Country

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What precautions do you take when wild camping in bear country?

Why are we asking this question? We’re from England, a land of no bears, and we live in Japan, a land of many bears. Our local area, the Tohoku district, is home to the Asian black bear. Our summer tour is in Hokkaido, home to the Ussuri brown bear. We need to sharpen up on our bear safety because we will be touring more or less exclusively in bear territory during the next year or so. We’re cycling through Miyagi, Yamagata and Niigata prefectures in April and May, just around the time that our local bears start to get more active.

We needed some pointers, so I asked on Twitter. I received some interesting advice on what not to do from @velohobo, who explained that Tomas Aperlo deals with bears by…

“…building a fence of sorts out of branches around his tent and leaving the food next to him. As the bear approaches, Tomas hears the bruin breaking branches and jumps out of his tent and scares the beast away.”

(full article here)

Sounds crazy, right? But not quite as crazy as the approach that I found on Allan E. Stokell’s site (via a comment he made on Travelling Two).

“…even the smallest animal sounds like a bear when you are awoken at 4:30. Twice I’ve had nocturnal visitors to my site. Not knowing what else to do, I started barking like a dog. It seems to work.”

Building alarm fences? Scaring away a bear? Barking like a dog? Surely there’s a better solution. Luckily, I got a simple, straightforward tip from the ever-helpful Andrew and Friedel at Travelling Two.

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When managing any risk, it’s important to assess the likelihood of the risk happening. Andrew and Friedel are right to highlight how rarely cycle tourists meet bears. In the grand scheme of things, cycle tourists are much more likely to be injured by careless motorists than by wild animals. Even so, I’m still curious. What can I do to reduce the chance of a bear in my wild camp?

There’s plenty of bear advice available online, especially about the bears that are native to North America, so I dug around a little more. Several backpacking and camping forums suggest storing food in bear-proof containers. I’m not sure how practical they are for cycle touring – most I’ve seen are either bulky, or heavy, or both. The more I searched, the more two common themes emerged in what I was reading.

Keep your food away from where you sleep. This means not cooking in your tent. This means not eating in your tent. This means not storing your food in your tent. Not smelling of food will mean not attracting animals.

Make your food a difficult target. Make it hard to sniff out by wrapping it well. Make it difficult to get at by hanging it off the ground. If it’s easier for the bear to find food elsewhere, it won’t hang around.

There’s a great explanation of these principles on this Boy Scout Troop’s website. I particularly like the very clear illustration of how to set up camp in a triangle formation, with sleeping, cooking and food storage locations each at a separate apex. The site also offers a handy guide to hanging your food safely.

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Summary:

  • Bears sightings are rare, so relax.
  • Keep your food away from where you sleep.
  • Make your food a difficult target.
  • Consider the triangle formation.

And of course, if all else fails, you’re welcome to try barking like a dog.

Thanks to everybody who helped out with this Cycle Touring Question of the Week. Thanks especially to @cycletraveller @velohobo @travellingtwo @advcyclingassoc @twoonfourwheels and @cyclingtheglobe for your help on Twitter, and thanks to Boy Scouts of America, Troop 69, of Apple Creek, Ohio for the information on your website. Keep an eye on the hashtag #ctqotw for more cycle touring questions and answers.

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