Monthly Archives: March 2013

March Diary

From the last signs of a winter with record-breaking snowfall, to unusual warmth that has brought early cherry blossoms in Tokyo, March has been a meteorologically mixed month in Japan. Fukushima prefecture, further north and more mountainous, is still cool. Snow remains on the peaks around Koriyama, but the roads are now ice-free, and safe for cycling.

No cycling up this road with thin road tyres.

Training ride on 3rd March. Cycling up this snowy hill with thin road tyres? No thanks!

We’ve spent the month getting ready for our planned trips in April and May. We’ve been receiving and testing out equipment, and building up our daily cycling distances. As ever, we’ve been reading cycle touring journals and articles from around the web, the cream of which we’ve collated into the reading list below.

This month saw the second anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. The subsequent tsunami caused damage throughout the Tohoku region, including to the nuclear power station in our home prefecture of Fukushima. Two years on, and many people are still suffering. Cyclists are contributing to charitable efforts through sponsored rides. We supported the Tokyo Brits (link) ride with a donation, and we signed up to participate in two local rides as part of Cycle Aid Japan (link). You can find out more at our post about charity cycling in Tohoku here.

The biggest news of the month is that our bikes have arrived! Well, kind of – they’ve been delivered the bike shop. Mr Sato emailed us near the start of the month to let us know, and to ask for our dynamo hubs so he could build them into our wheels. Though our bikes will be ready a little earlier, various scheduling conflicts mean we’ve pencilled in April 6th as the day we collect them. We’re very excited! In Japan uncovered bicycles are forbidden on trains, but bagged bicycles are daijobu. Kan Cycling’s guide (link) to Bike Bags in Japan has been very useful. The imminent arrival of our bikes got us thinking about the best way to prepare them before our planned trips, and that got us thinking about the Cycle Touring Question of the Week that we’re working on now. When it’s ready, you can read about it here (link). Other gear arrived too: Laura’s panniers and lights, our pump, our sleeping bags. As the snow thawed, we took advantage of a midweek public holiday to try erecting our tent. This time next week, we’ll have virtually everything we need for our spring tours.

This month we signed up for a course of cycle touring newsletters via Bicycle Touring Pro (link). The advice that his newsletters contains is great for newcomers to cycle touring, and offers useful reminders for old hands too. We also signed up for the cycle journal network Crazy Guy On a Bike (profile). We often spend a spare hour browsing through other people’s touring journals for inspiration and ideas, and we’re looking forward to contributing to the community too. We’ll be journaling our springtime overnight (info) there, and our Honshu Coast to Coast ride too. Lastly, the improved weather means we’ve been building up our cycling distances in advance of those two trips. Our dawn rides along the Abukuma river have brought us close to the smells and sounds of springtime, and to the sight of creatures getting ready for more active days ahead. Just like us.

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Reading list

Our top cycle touring story this month is Tom Bruce’s journey through the Karakalpakstan desert. He carried 23 litres of water through temperatures of 43 degrees Celsius, so hot that his tyres exploded. It’s a great read.

We really like Sidetracked Magazine, a carefully curated online collection of inspiring stories of adventure, travel, exploration and expedition. Among the tales of Arctic surveys and solo Atlantic boat crossings, there are some fascinating cycle touring stories too. We enjoyed Michael Kroese’s decription of his journey on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, and we shuddered and winced as Eleanor Moseman recounted a painful and perilous afternoon in Tajikstan.

For a beautiful portrait of a journey across Scotland by bicycle and ferry, look no further than this wonderful diary entry by Cycling Scot. Not only does he describe the trip elegantly in words and pictures, but also he offers advice for anybody wishing to make a similar journey themselves.

Del and Kayla are preparing for tour of the contiguous US states. All forty-eight of them. Their blog covers their preparations, and this post covers their first training expedition. It was especially pertinent for us, as we are also about to set out for the first time with our new gear. We liked their upbeat tone, despite bad weather and disturbed sleep, and their nice photos.

Lastly, we were really impressed with Ian Street’s post about ideas for cycling activities to help the city of Leeds celebrate hosting the Grand Depart of the 2014 Tour de France. The visit of Tour is a real opportunity to raise the profile of all kinds of cycling in the UK, through ideas like those Ian has suggested.

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Overnight trip: Adatara Forest Park – the plan

We’ve been aching to get out out and enjoy some springtime touring. Soon we can. Our new bikes will be ready to collect on April 6th, and so to try them out we’re planning a short trip for the following weekend. The aim of the trip is for us to test our new equipment, and to get accustomed to how it all works. It’s also a warm-up in advance of our coast-to-coast tour during Golden Week, as well as a great way to blow out the cobwebs after the long, dark Fukushima winter. And if we’re lucky, we might even see some cherry blossoms.

Adatara Forest Park [website] lies at the base of Mount Adatara, a volcano that looms over the Nakadori plain. It’s a mixed-use area, with pitches for tents alongside luxurious cottages and spacious trailer houses. Not that the luxury matters to us, of course, as we’ll be camping. Almost all of our camping equipment is newly purchased, and – apart from a brief try out of our tent – it’s entirely untested. This overnight trip will be our test. We’ll see how everything works, and tweak where needed.

Our route is relatively simple. On Saturday we’ll head west out of the city, and then take country roads roughly due north, ending the day with a little climbing up to the campsite. On Sunday we’ll go downhill and east until we come to the Abukuma river, which we then follow south back towards home. In total we’ll cover a very managable 75km over two days. It’s deliberately not a taxing distance, so that we have plenty of time to stop and make adjustments to our set-up if we need to.

So that’s the plan. Wave goodbye to the winter blues, and say hello to the springtime with a relaxed local overnight jaunt, where we’ll try out our new bikes and gear. We’ll post a full tour report when we’re home, and let you know how we get on.

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Cycling for Charity in Tohoku

It happens every time. A small intake of breath, a concerned expression, a sympathetic tilt of the head. “Fukushima? You live in Fukushima?” I nod, and there’s a moment of shared silence before the conversation continues. That silent moment is filled with memories of the earthquake, the tsunami, and the subsequent nuclear power station failure. In the last two years, many people have given time, money and support to help those affected by the disaster. Cyclists are doing their bit too.

There are two upcoming events which aim to raise money for 3/11 relief through cycling.

Tokyo Brits are a self-labeled group of middle-aged men in Lycra who are riding to raise money for the Save Minamisoma Project. On the 19th of April, they plan to

put down their beers, hold in their stomachs, clad themselves in Lycra and cycle approximately 300km from Tokyo to Minamisoma in three days, aiming to raise at least Y1,000,000 (USD$11,000) to support the Save Minamisoma Project.

Leaving Nihombashi in east Tokyo early on April 19th, our intrepid heroes trek 150km to the the coastal town of Hitachi in Ibaraki on day one. On the second and third day, they travel north through Fukushima, and finish their journey in Minamisoma. All of the cyclists involved are proudly amateurs, and so the ride will be a real challenge of both body and mind. You can find out more about their trip in this interview with the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan, and make a donation via the link on their website. We’ve pledged to lend our support in any way we can.

Cycle Aid Japan 2013 is a series of mass participation rides in the Tohoku region across two weekends at the start of June. There are twelve different day routes on offer, with middle length courses between 45km and 75km, and long courses from 80km to 105km.

Cycle Aid 2013 routes

Cycle Aid 2013 routes

The routes cover three prefectures, Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima. We have signed up for back-to-back rides, the 45km course around Lake Inawashiro on June the 8th, and the 80km course from Inawashiro to Fukushima city on the 9th. More than 2,000 people are expected to participate, and all money raised will support those affected by the disaster. Find out more at their website.

Two years after the disaster more than 300,000 people are still homeless. These events, and others like them, raise money to help those who need it most. If you can offer support in any way, please do.

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Testing our tent

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We took advantage of a midweek public holiday to try out erecting our tent in a local park. The Robens Goshawk is a tunnel designed tent, and we found it relatively easy to put up. We like the optional porch section that you can see in the pictures. Our city bikes are acting as makeshift porch supports, but on the road we’ll be improvising with whatever is around. Full review of the tent to follow after our coast-to-coast ride in April / May.

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Cycle Touring Question of the Week #2: Touring with Electronic Devices

CTQ2-Question

What electronic devices do you tour with? Any tips on packing, charging or maintenance?

Why are we asking this question? Off the bike, gadgets play a big part in our day-to-day lives. We carry our smartphones everywhere, and use our laptops, eReaders or tablet almost every day. We’re curious about other people’s technology habits when cycle touring. We’re also interested in how to care for and charge devices on the road. We cast our research net widely. We asked cycle tourists via Twitter and delved into touring journals. This a cross-section of our Twitter responses.

CTQ2-Twitter

Everybody here tours with a camera, and at least two other devices: eReader; mp3 player; GPS; computer (either laptop or tablet). Cellphones and smartphones, which combine several functions, also featured often. The touring journals we explored yielded a wider range of results, but with broadly similar findings.

Cyclists Locale (link to journal) Electronic equipment
Adam and Beth Asia and Europe netbook, iPhone, Kindle, 4/3 camera
Peter Newberry Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand video camera, tripod with fluid head, microphone, audio recorder, headphones, GoPro, Macbook Air, digital camera, smartphone, external hard disc
Andy Yap Northern Europe cellphone, GPS, camera, iPod
Brent Irvine Istanbul to Lisbon camera, card reader, radio walkman
Julian McCarthy UK to Gibralltar camera, laptop, Kindle
Ken and Tricia Copenhagen to Milan cellphone, camera, laptop, eReader

Every cycle tour is different, and every cycle tourist has different technology preferences. Cyclists take many kinds of electronic devices on tour. We think they fall into five different categories based on how they are used.

Recording – that sunset as you rode through the Pyrenees, that truck driver who shared his coffee, that nail sticking right into your wheel, that frosted dewdrop outside your tent – images capture the flavour of your time on the road. Taking photos and writing journal entries lets us share the amazing memories we’ve made. Updates from the road are entertaining for friends, and a great way to document your trip.
devices: camera, smartphone, dSLR, laptop, card-reader, extra hard drive

Communication – access to the internet means access to news, maps, weather and local information like details of campsites. Email or telephone means contact with other people. With public wi-fi and the right device, opportunities to connect are everywhere. Whether arranging a place to meet your Warm Showers host, or wishing your mother a happy birthday from the other side of the world, it’s good to have the option of getting in touch.
devices: iPod, smartphone, Kindle, tablet, netbook, laptop

Multifunctional – The choice between packing one device that does several things, or several devices that do one thing is an easy one, provided that the multi-functional device does all its jobs well. My smartphone is a camera, music player, web browser, and video edit suite, as well as a phrasebook and GPS. An eReader loaded with guidebooks is a great planning tool, as well as a relaxation aid. The versatility of a laptop might persuade you that its weight is worth carrying.
devices: smartphone, Kindle, tablet, netbook, laptop

Specialised – Sometimes you need a specific tool for a specific job. Peter Newberry chose to take high quality video equipment on his filmmaking trip around SE Asia. Heavy gear can lead to compromises in how you tour – Peter didn’t carry a tent, and stayed at guest houses with power sources. At the lighter end of things, a dedicated GPS device is a popular choice for travellers moving between several countries, where a using smartphone’s GPS function is prohibitively expensive.
devices: GPS, audio-recorder, microphone, video camera, lighting

Leisure – after a hard day on the road, it’s important to refresh your mind, as well as resting your body. An iPod or Kindle offers hours of entertainment for very little packing weight. Devices that help pass the time are good for evenings and rest days, and are especially useful when you are unexpectedly stuck somewhere waiting for a visa or a transport connection.
devices: mp3 player , Kindle, smartphone, radio, speakers, laptops

So what should I take with me? That’s for you to decide. If you think a particular device is worth packing, then it probably is worth it – for you. Choosing equipment is always a compromise between utility, portability and cost. As useful as the gear mentioned above may seem, none of it is essential. If you want to, you can ride around the world three times without any of it. In the same way that bicycle touring isn’t a contest about who can ride furthest or for longest, nor should it be a contest about who carries the least. On a short tour, it can be a nice change to do without your gadgets and gizmos for a while. On an extended tour, it’s nice to have an occasional taste of home comforts that are rare on the road.

If you’re able to carry it, and you want to, you can take almost any gadget with you. Is that a good idea? You decide.

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We haven’t dealt with the second and third parts of the question we asked, about charging on the road, and about packing and caring for electronic devices on a tour. We’ll cover that in a later #ctqotw. If you’re itching to find out more about charging on the road, we recommend visiting this page by Dave from Tired of IT, and this article by our friends at Cycle Traveller Magazine. If you’re interested in packing devices for a tour, check out the second part of this article on laptops by Andrew and Friedel over at Travelling Two. Thanks to everybody who helped out with this Cycle Touring Question of the Week. Thanks especially to @cycletraveller @davecollett @cyclingeurope @rollingtales @cyclinghobo @DavefromTWJ @TwoWheelTravel @alexscycle and @pikesonbikes, to the journal writers above, and to Dave from Tired of IT, Andrew and Friedel at Travelling Two and Tim Travis of Down the Road Keep an eye on the hashtag #ctqotw for more cycle touring questions and answers.

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