Monthly Archives: May 2013

May Diary

The highlight of our month was a Coast to Coast tour across Honshu. We booked a little time off work, and spent a week travelling through Fukushima, Miyagi, Yamagata and Niigata prefectures. Our route took us over some tough hills, and through some pretty hairy tunnels. The fields of rural Japan were finally waking up to springtime, and the last of the cherry blossoms were slowly fading away. We had the chance to try out all of our gear, with our rainwear getting an especially thorough test in the wet conditions at the end of the week. Despite the bad weather, we had a wonderful time. If you’d like to read more about it, you can see out CGOAB diary here, and a set of photos we put onto Flickr here.

We left the bikes against this pile of wood at the harbour, and climbed up to look at the sea

We left the bikes against this pile of wood at the harbour, and climbed up to look at the sea


We’ve also been on several day rides. The botanical gardens at Sukagawa are only a short hop away down the river, so we invited some other English teachers from our area to join us for a group excursion and picnic. It was a beautiful day, as you can see from the photos at our gallery page here. We also went out for a couple of afternoon rides, including a fully loaded training ride to Miharu Dam, and a quick dash along the Konan highway. It feels very satisfying to say that we have been out on our bikes every weekend this month.

When we’ve not been riding our bikes, we’ve been busy planning our summer tour to Hokkaido. Japan’s northernmost main island has a cooler climate than the rest of the country, and is a very popular cycle touring destination during the humid summer months. We’re planning to meet up with our friends Clare and Andy, who live just outside Sapporo. They are also keen cycle tourists, so we’re looking forward to riding with them for a few days. There’s a little more information about our plans so far at this page, including a few interesting links to do with cycle touring in Hokkaido. We’ll add an updated plan as we make more choices nearer the time.

Warm Showers is a hospitality exchange network for cycle tourists all over the world. We signed up as hosts in February, and this month we had our first hospitality request. We’re really excited about hosting Amaya and Eric from World Biking as they travel through Japan. Eric and Amaya are on a quest to cycle in every country on the planet, and we’re glad to be able to support the Japan leg of their epic mission.

Tom Bruce’s amazing journey through the harsh Karakalpakstan desert featured in our March reading list. This month he released his book, Every Inch of the Way: My Bike Ride Around the World, and we couldn’t wait to get our hands on it. Our review is available here.

June is another busy month for us. As well as hosting Amaya and Eric, we’re participating in the charity cycling event Cycle Aid Japan 2013, so we’re riding around Lake Inawashiro on June 8th, and then from Inawashiro town to Fukushima city on June 9th. We’re cycling out to meet some friends for a spot of lakeside camping on June 1st and 2nd, and on June 15th and 16th we’re going on a road trip to Akita. In June we’ll also be putting together a more detailed plan for our trip to Hokkaido, and picking up any extra gear we need for our summer trip.

Reading List

This month’s reading list includes an amazing touring story. We also develop the discussion of some topics we’ve covered in previous posts, and look at a new one.

Our pick of the month is a tour journal across Lake Baikal in Siberia. Andy and Waltraud cycled on the frozen surface of the lake for more than 1000km, in temperatures that reached 40 degrees below freezing. Their site includes videos and kit lists. Jaw-dropping stuff.

Further to the article by Shane Cycles about touring with folding bikes in our April reading list, we recommend looking at Tom Allen’s assessment of touring on the Tern Link P24h folding bike.

We talked about cycling with technology in a Cycle Touring Question of the Week recently. There’s a comprehensive breakdown of dynamo hubs, solar panels, power supplies and batteries over at Cycling About. If a fuller exploration of cycle tourists’ charging options exists, we’ve yet to find it.

The Adventure Cycling Association wrote an interesting piece for cycle tourists on how to be a good guest.

Finally, we recommend checking out Japan By Bicycle, an excellent touring journal. As well as a blog, the site includes a video documentary and a free 300 page ebook. It’s easy to get lost in all the detail they’ve included.

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Every Inch of the Way: My Bike Ride Around the World by Tom Bruce – Review

We featured some of Tom Bruce’s writing in our reading list back in March, so when we heard his book was ready, we leapt at the chance to get hold of it.

Every Inch of the Way is Tom’s account of his 2011 bike ride around the world. As the title suggests, he made a pledge to travel the entire journey under his own pedal power. His trek starts in England and bears south-east through Europe, eventually following the Danube. From Turkey, he rides into Central Asia by way of the former Soviet republics, and across China. His trip concludes with a traverse of the southern states of the USA. The book is divided into four sections that reflect his journey – Europe; Turkey, the Caucasus and Central Asia; China; America – and each includes great photographs taken along the way. The book also features a brief introduction, and several appendices.

In his introduction, Tom explains he is just a normal person who spent nine months cycling around the world, and that this is his story. The style of the book reflects this. He uses straightforward and unpretentious language to express himself, which makes the book very easy to read. The narrative is fast-paced, rattling from one adventure to the next, which holds the reader’s attention. Tom claims to be just an ordinary guy who cycled round the world, but I’m not so sure; he did some quite extraordinary things on his journey. I especially enjoyed reading about Tom’s crossing of the Karakalpakstan desert, where temperatures passed forty degrees Celsius, so he had to carry twenty-three litres of water at once. I thought his high-speed dash across Kazahkstan, forced upon him by ludicrous visa restrictions, was also remarkable, as was the night he spent out drinking with his police escort in China. I was struck by Tom’s lack of fear when facing dangerous situations. Camping in drainage tunnels and dried-out riverbeds didn’t faze him at all. Riding along the motorway as a shortcut until the police throw you off it is, in Tom’s eyes, normal behaviour. On encountering a bear, he ran back to his tent and fetched his torch to get a better look at it. Tom’s boldness sets him aside from the ordinary person he professes to be. This combination of an easy style, a fast-paced narrative, and a series of extraordinary events make the book difficult to put down. I sped through it in a couple of evenings.

Such a fast-paced telling of the story offers few opportunities for reflection. Rarely does the narrative pause from the immediacy of describing the ride to offer a perspective on how Tom feels now about what was happening then. This focus on the immediate gives the book a very definite ‘blog’ feel. The story is very entertaining from moment to moment, but as a whole the book feels a little unbalanced. The brief introduction explains who Tom is, and why he is making his journey, but there isn’t really a satisfying conclusion to say how he felt ride after the ride. Has it changed him in any way? Everything just ends suddenly in Florida. More space in the Appendices is dedicated to funny things that American people said than to Tom’s thoughts on finishing his amazing journey. I can’t help but think that something trivial has been included at the expense of something important that’s missing. A more thorough conclusion would help the reader to appreciate the effect that the journey had on Tom, and to understand his story more fully.

Tom Bruce tells the story of remarkable journey in his book Every Inch of the Way. It is fast-paced, easy to read, and very difficult to put down. He shares his experience of travelling through a wide variety of countries and cultures, whilst always coming across as a normal and likeable guy. Recommended.

Every Inch of the Way is available on Amazon Kindle, or as a paperback. For more details, see Tom’s website here.

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Honshu Coast to Coast – Gallery (part 2)

Here are some more pictures from our Honshu coast to coast trip that we made at the start of the month. You can read our quick report here, and our Crazy Guy on a Bike journal for the trip here. These pictures cover the second half of our trip. If you haven’t already, you should check out part one as well.

The shadowy outline of Mt Zao in the early morning

The shadowy outline of Mt Zao in the early morning

Dave on the Yamabiko Suspension Bridge

Dave on the Yamabiko Suspension Bridge

Resting by an oilseed field in the foothills of Mt Zao

Resting by an oilseed field in the foothills of Mt Zao

The Nametsu Otaki falls

The Nametsu Otaki falls

The flowers of the mizubasho bloom only during late April and early May: we'd come at exactly the right time for them.

The flowers of the mizubasho bloom only during late April and early May: we’d come at exactly the right time for them.

The three-tiered pagoda at Takahata dates back to the Muromachi era.

The three-tiered pagoda at Takahata dates back to the Muromachi era.

The manager of the ryokan gave us a gift. Doburoku is homebrew style sake, with a soupy texture and a sweet taste.

The manager of the ryokan gave us a gift. Doburoku is homebrew style sake, with a soupy texture and a sweet taste.

Leaving our stealth camping location

Leaving our stealth camping location

We left the bikes against this pile of wood at the harbour, and climbed up to look at the sea

We left the bikes against this pile of wood at the harbour, and climbed up to look at the sea

The Sea of Japan, our final destination

The Sea of Japan, our final destination

Celebrating reaching the Sea of Japan

Celebrating reaching the Sea of Japan

Bikes are permitted on most Japanese trains, but they must be packed into a bag

Bikes are permitted on most Japanese trains, but they must be packed into a bag

Part two of two. You can see part one here.

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Honshu Coast to Coast – Gallery (part 1)

Here are some pictures from our Honshu coast to coast trip that we made at the start of the month. You can read our quick report here, and our Crazy Guy on a Bike journal for the trip here. These pictures cover the first half of our trip. Check out part two as well.

Pulling on a rain jacket just outside Koriyama.

Pulling on a rain jacket just outside Koriyama.

In Japan, decorative manhole covers are everywhere

In Japan, decorative manhole covers are everywhere

A tunnel next to the Abukuma river

A tunnel next to the Abukuma river

Lunch between two bridges at Marumori

Lunch between two bridges at Marumori

Our spot at the campsite looked over the rocky creek below

Our spot at the campsite looked over the rocky creek below

The curve of the tunnels makes it difficult to judge how far you've travelled, and how much further you have to go

The curve of the tunnels makes it difficult to judge how far you’ve travelled, and how much further you have to go

The path up to Shiroishi Castle was lit by sixty or so of these lanterns

The path up to Shiroishi Castle was lit by sixty or so of these lanterns

Shiroishi Castle

Shiroishi Castle

A mountain stream between Shiroishi and Yonezawa

A mountain stream between Shiroishi and Yonezawa

We saw this sign on Tuesday afternoon, and visted most of what it pointed to over the next 24 hours.

We saw this sign on Tuesday afternoon, and visted most of what it pointed to over the next 24 hours.

The cooking shelter at the Bungalow Village

The cooking shelter at the Bungalow Village

The Minamizao Alpine Bungalow Village, where we were the only guests

The Minamizao Alpine Bungalow Village, where we were the only guests

Move to part two.

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Honshu Coast to Coast – Tour Report

We took our new bikes on their maiden tour during Golden Week. Our route took us to the Pacific Ocean near Watari, and then across Honshu to the Sea of Japan at Murakami. Conditions were mixed, flat and hilly, warm and cold, wet and dry. We rode 375km in seven days. From difficulties we faced, we learned a lot, and there were some amazing highlights. This is a summary of our trip. We wrote up a day-by-day journal for Crazy Guy On a Bike, so if you want more detail, please click here.

Leaving directly after work on Saturday, we rode into the night to get from Koriyama to our friend’s house in Date. Riding in the dark wasn’t much fun, but it meant we could start our next day in relatively unfamiliar territory. From Date we headed north-east towards the Pacfic, following the stunning Abukuma river, and camping by a rocky creek near Marumori. We rode to the Pacific the next day. Watari district suffered severe damage as a result of the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami, and though reconstruction work has started, there was still a tangible sadness in the air. We turned west, and climbed up towards the castle town of Shiroishi. Climbing continued on Tuesday, as we followed route 113 into the hills of southern Miyagi, and through several harrowing tunnels, towards the vast dam at Shichikashuku.

Day 02 Two Shot

The second half of our trip began with some sightseeing. We visited most of the signed tourist attractions that we passed on Wednesday morning: a stunning suspension bridge; dramatic waterfalls; a marsh full of pale calla lillies; an ancient triple pagoda. We faced headwinds and rain in the afternoon, and were exhausted when we arrived at our campsite, only to discover that it had been abandoned long ago. We took refuge that night at an onsen-ryokan in Iide town, soothing our muscles in hot mineral baths. The rain didn’t let up at all the next day, as we left Yamagata and entered Niigata. We camped in a carefully chosen and well-hidden spot close to a parking area, only to meet two friendly guys with a similar plan, except that they didn’t bother trying to disguise that they were camping. We were shattered, and soaked, so we didn’t accept their offer of a drinking party that night. In the morning they brought us coffee as we packed away out tent. Our final day was an easy downhill cruise to the Sea of Japan at Murakami. We were almost too tired to celebrate, but we had finished our coast to coast journey.

Celebrating reaching the Sea of Japan

Celebrating reaching the Sea of Japan

We learned a lot on this trip. We’d tested most of our equipment before setting off, but it was illuminating to see how well it functioned in the bad weather we faced at the end of the week. Based on how we slept, for example, it’s clear that Laura needs a thermal sleeping bag liner to keep her cosy on colder nights. Our concerns about stealth camping have considerably diminished since we spent the night at the same parking area as the two friendly men. In spite of the difficult conditions we faced – bad weather, tough climbs, terrifying tunnels – our mental fortitude held true. At our lowest points, we supported each other. The highlights were accentuated as we shared them. The most important thing we took on the trip was each other.

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Abukuma River Ride – Gallery

On Sunday, we invited other English teachers in our city to join us for a relaxed ride along the river.

This kind of city bike is really popular in Japan. It's called a mama-chari, a granny bike.

This kind of city bike is really popular in Japan. It’s called a mama-chari, a granny bike.

JamesJussi

Best t-shirt of the day prize goes to Kristin

Best t-shirt of the day prize goes to Kristin

GroupPond

The breakaway now has a lead of 1"27 on the main peleton

The breakaway now has a lead of 1″27 on the main peleton

Fixing a snakebite puncture.

Fixing a snakebite puncture.

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Ride in the sun, eat in the shade. Life is good.

Ride in the sun, eat in the shade. Life is good.

Tori

These caves were carved into the rock next to the cycle path.

These caves were carved into the rock next to the cycle path.

Our destination: a botanical garden famous for its peonies.

Our destination: a botanical garden famous for its peonies.

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