Tips for touring cycling in Japan

The very first touring trip I did in Japan was in 2007, and I've done many more since then. Over the years I've gathered a whole bunch of data as well as personal experiences that I thought would be useful to put into a blogpost. Hopefully someone will find this useful. I tried to categorize things a bit, so here goes.

The language

First, to get the obvious thing out of the way, I speak Japanese and can read enough of it to be useful for a cycling trip. I think this is a huge help for me, but I have no evidence of the contrary because I don't know anyone who's cycling in Japan without knowing the language. Japanese people are extremely helpful and friendly and will do anything they can to help you find a camp site or point you in the right direction. I can't even count the number of times random people have come up to me and given me food or drinks. They're great people. That said, I don't doubt that being able to speak Japanese will reduce the barrier to conversation and make it easier for people to connect with you. Quite frequently people ask me where I came from and where I'm going, how much kilometers I'm doing in a day, etc. I can imagine such a conversation is more difficult to start if it's in English, since a lot of Japanese people are still shy about their level of English. I'd recommend learning at least a few words and phrases for basic conversation. Words like 'camp site', where', 'left', 'right' are hugely useful. Still though, in this day and age, if you have offline maps and a bunch of placemarks on your phone then you can easily get away with not knowing any Japanese. I'd still recommend learning at least a bit of it though. Trips are more fun if you can talk to the locals.

Trip planning

First tip about trip planning: don't :) . That is, don't plan your every day schedule way in advance. I usually plan the starting point and destination and roughly the route/area I want to go through, but I don't make detailed plans until one or two days before the actual cycle. That gives me the freedom to change course or even go somewhere completely different, or linger in a place that I like a bit longer. Touring is absolutely more fun this way.

Japan allows this kind of trip style because 1) hotels and camp sites are readily available wherever you are and rarely full, and 2) there's always the option of sending your bicycle via Kuroneko delivery service to the airport (or anywhere) if you end up running out of time. Kuronekos are everywhere, and while your bike is in transit you can catch the Shinkansen back. One thing I will definitely advise against is to bag your bike and carry it with you in trains. I'm not even sure if the Shinkansen allows it, and besides, a touring bike is heavy, and so is your luggage. Cycle as much as you can, all the way to the airport if possible. Bagging the bike never takes me more than 2 hours even in the worst case scenario so if you arrive at the airport a little early that's plenty of time.

Airports and flights

Take a direct flight! Direct flights mean less people handling your bicycle, and that's absolutely worth the extra cost of a direct flight. You don't want your bike to be broken on arrival. I took Turkish airlines to Japan once, with a stopover in Istanbul, and my bicycle frame got bent on the flight in and the flight out. Never again.

If you're using a soft case, on the last day of cycling, try to carry around some spare bits of cardboard to pad your bike's sensitive bits with. Always carry a roll of duct tape with you. I've actually hardly ever had to use it, but feel comforted just having it with me. Be sure to get the airport people to put a fragile tag on your bike, and preferably a 'this side up' tag as well. I also duct-tape a giant arrow on each side of my bag to make sure it's obvious which side is the top.

Day to day cycling - what to expect

Japan does not have a lot of dedicated cycling paths, and in areas where there dedicated paths, they're not always right for touring. Japanese cycling paths are made for mamachari bikes. They're often narrow, bumpy, and cross a lot of roads with a little bump on entry and exit. Definitely not ideal for touring. I'm not saying you shouldn't go on these, because sometimes you'll end up on a beautiful stretch of coastal cycling road, devoid of cars and with a beautiful view that you couldn't get from the road. But when it doesn't work out it's perfectly ok to head back onto the main road and make some speed. I've never seen a cycling path in a mountainous area so chances are that even on a touring bike you'll be able to make better progress on the main road than on a cycling road. It's a tradeoff though, just give it a try. Also, most useful things, such as conbinis (convenience stores), vending machines and restaurants tend to be on the main road, not the cycling path.

That leads to probably the most important tip I can give you: always stay on the road! You're allowed to cycle on sidewalks in Japan, and occasionally, in the countryside, there'll be a beautiful wide sidewalk with no one on it. But don't go there! Because you'll regret it. The sidewalk will get narrower and narrower until your wide touring bike won't fit any more and you'll have to carry it over some barriers to get back onto the main road. Sidewalks are also always bumpier and have drops whenever a road intersects with it. Lastly, it's just more dangerous, because inevitably there'll be a point where you'll be rejoining the main road, and you need to make very sure that drivers see you when you're going from sidewalk to main road.

The safest and most comfortable position for a touring cyclist is on the road. Close to the left-most bit, but not too close. On very narrow roads I tend to be well to the right of the white line to make sure that cars don't attempt to pass me when I think it's too dangerous for them to pass me. On wider roads I try to stick to the left of the white line if possible, leaving myself some space to maneuver around obstacles. There's always grates, little bumps or other things that suddenly pop up that you'll have to evade. If you leave yourself enough space to do that then that's no problem.

Quite frequently a road's asphalt is worn down by the countless trucks passing over it, and will have a little valley where each truck's tires hit the asphalt, pushing it to the side and creating a narrow ridge right where bicycles usually feel at home. It's flat-out dangerous to cycle on this ridge. Stay to the right of the it and just drive in the valley, even if that means taking a wider line. Cars and trucks will have to navigate around you and it will be harder for them to overtake, but in my opinion it's their fault that the road ended up like that anyway, so that kinda balances out.

Day to day cycling - some numbers

Distance: I rarely do less than 60 kilometers per day, even on hilly days. The days that I do less than 60 km is because I am setting up for the next day, or because there's an interesting thing I want to see on the way. If you don't have any other plans or things blocking you, plan to do at least 60 a day. The most I've done was 160 km in one day but that was a fluke: just a very long coastal road with the wind in the right direction and not much interesting to see along the way. I wouldn't recommend doing more than 100 kilometers a day. Probably around 80 km is my personal sweet spot. It largely depends on how hilly the terrain is as well. If you're climbing all day then 60 kilometers is already quite an accomplishment.

Speaking of climbing: inclines! Most major coastal roads in Japan don't have inclines over 6%, and 6% is definitely doable by even an unfit person in the lowest gear of his/her touring bike. But there's a lot of qualifiers in that statement: most, major and coastal. You'll definitely encounter inclines of around 10% if you go into the mountains or on smaller roads, or even some coastal roads in more rural areas of Japan. There's something even worse though, something that you're very likely to encounter on a touring trip: the slopes that lead up to a hotel or youth hostel. Those are the absolute worst, and can easily get up to 15-20%. If you can avoid it, don't ever push your bike up a hill! You'll be using different muscles, which may feel like it's less of an effort, but only for a very short while. After that you'll end up being even more exhausted. Just select the lowest gear you have and start cycling, even if it's only at walking pace. If you feel like you can do more, just slowly work your way up the gears as you're climbing. But more often than not you'll find yourself being overly optimistic about what gear you can do. Just take it easy.

For that matter, try not to stand on the pedals. I know it looks cool and it's a great way of powering over a small hill, but hills are seldom small in Japan, and when you're touring you need that energy for the rest of the distance. Just keep a steady rhythm and a sustainable pace.

Tunnels

I hate tunnels so much. They're the absolutely worst place to cycle, yet they're completely unavoidable in Japan. Even if you're sticking to the coast, some coastal areas are just so mountainous that the only way to get from A to B is a single road with at least one long tunnel on it. Expect tunnels of at least 500 meters, but tunnels of up to 2-3 kilometers long are also not uncommon. They tend to be quite narrow: cars coming up behind you will have difficulty passing you if there's oncoming traffic. It'll also be cold and very noisy, so you won't be feeling comfortable in there. Dirt and debris tends to get left behind in tunnels so the side of the road tends to be more difficult to cycle on.

Before entering, always turn on your lights, preferably in super-annoying blink mode. You can't afford to have a car not see you. The front light is important too because some idiots like to overtake in tunnels, and the last thing you want is an oncoming car hitting you full frontal. Most tunnels in Japan are somewhat lit, but a lot of drivers still don't turn their lights on in tunnels, so it's up to you to make them aware that you're there. Take a fairly wide line, staying away from the debris on the side, and actively block drivers from overtaking you if you think there's not enough space to overtake. Sometimes when I know a long tunnel is coming up I stop just before the tunnel to put on my wind-blocking coat, which makes tunnels a lot more comfortable.

Don't worry about inclines. Tunnels are almost often at the top of a climb, or only have a very slight incline. If you do end up in a tunnel with a bit of a climb, don't worry about cars too much, just take it easy going up the hill. It's very easy to feel stressed out about exhausting yourself in a tunnel, but it's worse to actually exhaust yourself and have to stop to catch your breath. Slow and steady.

Lastly, the best way to deal with tunnels is to not take them. Quite often there's a side road that will go around the mountain or hill that the tunnel is crossing. These old roads are often closed down or converted to bicycle-use only. They might be a bit more of a climb, but they're always worth it compared to the stress you get from cycling in tunnels. Alternatively, when you're doing pre-cycling-day research, try to find a route that avoids the tunnels altogether. Even if it's up to 10 kilometers detour I'd say it's still likely to be worth it. Think about it: a lovely path that follows a river slowly upwards over 10 kilometers, with vending machines and beautiful nature along the way, or being cold and miserable in a tunnel for several kilometers? I know which one I prefer. Lastly, do watch out for mountain roads with crazy steep inclines.

Places to stay

Business hotels. Business hotels are awesome. They offer private rooms for affordable prices. They're always clean and predictably always the same no matter where you go. If something says business hotel then you know exactly what you're going to get. I know it's not as glamorous as staying in a traditional ryokan or camping out in the wild, but it's just so damn convenient. During all my trips the places I stayed at the most were business hotels. Use the booking.com app using the free wifi you get from 7-11 or Family mart to book a business hotel nearby. If you book on the day you arrive you sometimes get discounted rates too.

The booking.com app is not the cheapest though, since the cheaper business hotels tend to not do booking.com. It's usually enough to just cycle to a town's train station, where there will inevitably be all the business hotels. If you're in a big town or city there'll be loads and one of them will have a free room. If you're in a small town there might only be one, but that will also have a free room since small towns seldom get a lot of visitors. Unless it's golden week. Fuck golden week. Do not go to Japan during golden week, or pre-book your stays during golden week, preferably to be far away from any tourist spot. It just gets crazy busy.

I should talk about ryokans (Japanese inns). They're... quirky. You never know what you get if you stay at a ryokan. The major plus for me is that, whenever I'm traveling in Japan and really can't find anything else, there's somehow always a ryokan nearby. The best way to find one is to ask the locals when you're at your destination. They tend to be old, family-run, sometimes with onsen. The rooms are tatami and everything creaks and there's usually no other guests around. Or perhaps that's just my experience. It's quite fun, but also... challenging, somehow. Still, would recommend.

Hostels: use Japan Youth Hostel. They're great. Run by Japanese people, always in useful locations in interesting buildings, and you meet a lot of local people there with interesting stories to tell. Don't go to any other international/youth hostel. They tend to be run by foreigners and attract the cheapest kind of tourist.

A trip wouldn't be fun if it was just business hotels and hostels, though. Sometimes you'll want to go camping! There's a lot of camping sites in Japan. In earlier trips I used to ask around for 'a place to set up my tent for one night', avoiding the words 'camp site', because camp site in Japanese implies making a camp fire, doing a barbecue and generally being loud and annoying, which no local wants. But if they see that you're a traveler who will be out of their way again the next morning you might get some interesting recommendations. I've camped (with permission) in front of a hotel, at a temple and at a private camp site on an island which was not officially open yet because it was "still too cold". All fantastic experiences.

If you're pre-planning your endpoint for the day then I recommend checking Google Maps for camp sites in the area and marking them on offline maps, then you don't have to ask the locals. Or at the very least you'll know that there's options. During my last trip I marked all camping sites on the entire route I was thinking of taking, from beginning to end, so I knew I always had options. I was betrayed once by a camp site that did indeed exist and was available, but it was crazy expensive, so I had to go somewhere else. That's way worse than a camp site that's closed, cause you can always camp out at a closed camp site if you're quiet and don't cause trouble.

..which leads to the last option: camping out at places other than official camp sites. It's a great way of saving money, but really, I wouldn't do it. Your average 'sanctioned' camp site will cost about 1000-1500 yen, and a shitty business hotel (which is way more comfortable than any camping) will set you back around 5000 yen. Not crazy prices. But if you do find yourself in the middle of nowhere with no hotels, hostels or camp sites nearby, there's always options. Rivers are your best bet. They snake through the landscape and often leave free areas around them that are great for setting up a tent. Under a bridge might seem like a good idea, but I'd recommend against that. The one time I tried that it was just damn noisy and I was worried that someone would show up and chase me away. Beaches are also a good option, but it's tricky to find a remote one that also has a safe (eg. not-sea-level) area that you can put your tent on. In any case, a little prep work means you can avoid all this hassle.

Seriously though, there are loads of cheap hotels in Japan, even in the middle of nowhere, and they almost always have availability. I take my tent with me because I enjoy the flexibility and I enjoy camping every once in a while, but if you're not into that you'll have no trouble at all just sticking to hotels, youth hostels and ryokans.

Weight / Loadout

Short answer: don't worry about carrying too much, and be sure to put a fair bit of it in your front panniers, so that your bike will feel nice and stable.

You'll inevitably be carrying too much things with you. Tools you don't need, too many spare tires, too many clothes, that one camera or lens you think you might use once but end up never using, and so on. Rather than forcing yourself to to go ultra-lightweight, just pack what you need, or whatever fits comfortably inside your panniers. In my case I've got:

  • One front pannier for tent and sleeping bag - full.
  • One front pannier for only clothes - full.
  • One rear pannier with sleeping mat and bike stuff (spare tires, pump, rain wear, duct tape etc.) - maybe 80% full.
  • One rear pannier with day stuff: wind coat, food, bike lock, sometimes a DSLR for easy access - maybe 70% full.
  • A backpack with electronics and documents and things, bound down on top of the rear rack.
  • The soft travel bag that the disassembled bike goes into is quite huge and goes under the saddle. I used to have a smaller bike bag and a bigger sleeping mat, but they swapped places.

Weight really does not matter as much as you think. You're going to be on a heavy bike regardless of how many kilograms you manage to shave off, and you will be suffering when you go uphill, but that's what gears are for. And muscles. Your muscles will adjust within a few days and then start getting stronger at your own pace, so all you really need as a minimum is a bit of muscle that will keep you comfortable in the lowest gear at the steepest incline. Losing maybe 10% of your luggage weight is not really going to help you a lot with that. It might make you a little bit slower, but then you've already committed to being on the bike all day. Doing an extra 30 minutes or doing 5 kilometers less per day is perfectly doable.

Even if you've decided to not carry a tent, sleeping bag and/or sleeping mat with you, I'd still recommend taking four panniers with you. The reason for this is that the balance of the bike will just be so much better with a bit of weight in front. If you've got two ultra-heavy rear panniers and a backpack on top of that you'll end up with a dangerously light front wheel, which will trip you up at some point, most likely when you're putting in some leg muscle at the start of a steep incline, but also at higher speeds after a nice downhill. My bike feels a million times better with two panniers at the front pushing the front tire to the road.

Weather

The weather.. is fantastic! Usually. That said, do not cycle on rain days. Seriously. If you can avoid it in any way, don't cycle on rain days. It's just not fun, at least not for me. I ride a bicycle to have fun, enjoy and see beautiful scenery and sights along the way. The rain ruins all of that. Better to wait a day and see things when they're dry. That said, I have been foolish enough to cycle during the rain from time to time. From the last trip, 3 out of 30 days were rain cycle days, and 2 of those 3 were avoidable. (The unavoidable day was cycling to the airport, for which I still preferred rain cycling to bagging the bike and taking a train).

If the rain is only a little then you can probably get away with cycling. It's very unpredictable though. I was frequently checking the weather report at convenience stores during my last trip, and even when the rain radar showed that the rain was over there were still some scattered showers, some strong enough to seriously soak me. But light rain dries very quickly thanks to the wind, so if you're in a fairly built-up area you can risk cycling in light rain and stop at a convience store or restaurant or cafe when it gets heavier.

Rain coats don't help in heavy rain. If you're cycling on a touring bike you will sweat, and if you're wearing a raincoat you'll sweat more and faster. Wear it or don't wear it, you'll be uncomfortable either way. Seriously, just don't cycle. Spend a day walking around town, catch up with blogging or go see a famous temple or shrine. You can even take a train to another town and sightsee there.

Your bike won't like rain either. My panniers are fairly waterproof but still the bottom bit gets a little soaked. And everything gets dirty. Mud gets everywhere when it's raining, all over the panniers, in the chain, in my shoes. It's a good idea to clean the chain and re-grease it after a day of rain cycling.


Yup, I think that's all I can think of right now. Most importantly:

  • Always stay on the road. Don't take the sidewalk. Don't go out of the way for cars. They need to go out of the way for you.
  • Never cycle in the rain. Because wet.
  • Don't plan ahead. At least not too much. Randomness is part of the challenge :)

Have fun!

IMG_0245PS


Update 2016/06/12: fixed some wording, added Weight / Loadout section.

 

Posted in Cycling , Japan | Tagged , , ,

A hot day in Hiroshima

I made it to Hiroshima! But not without problems...

Let's start at the beginning. I woke up at around 6AM, packed up my tent and went on my way. I had a very good rest last night, and it was the first time that I could sleep comfortably in my tent. Last night I really felt at peace at the shrine, and I sat outside for a long time just staring at the scenery while finishing some leftover snacks. I had a good time thinking about a lot of things, and I felt fresh and ready this morning. For the first 2 hours I alternated between watching the scenery and watching the tiny caterpillar which was crawling up and down on my left-front bag. I imagined what it would be like to be a caterpillar on a bicycle, and I cycled on and on and on. 

I don't know about you guys, but I'm getting desensitized from the continuous beautiful landscapes, so today is just this one photo. I'll share some other stuff instead.

"Sports drink"

The other side said "USA daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!". Weird drinks from random vending machines are part of the fun of cycling in Japan.

My lunch

I went to a restaurant called Coco's, which is a family restaurant chain fairly common in these areas. I was very sceptical at first, because I went to another family restaurant called 'Joyfull' yesterday, which was absolutely shit, but Coco's is bloody awesome. The hamburger tasted more like steak than like hamburger. Excellent.

My dashboard

When I took this photo the caterpillar left already. Note how I managed to fiddle my iPod on there. I got tired of it after half an hour and dismounted it again. There's a whole bunch of scratches on the back of the iPod but iDon'tCare.

I'd gotten an early start today because of camping, and I managed to do about 60 km's before lunch. After exiting the restaurant I turned back onto the road and got ready to take my time and enjoy the remaining 25 km's to Hiroshima. The weather was great, the scenery was nice, and I was ready to slow-cycle the entire afternoon away while looking around random places on the way.

It was after entering a long tunnel that I noticed the first sign of trouble. The tunnel was very dark, and I took the pedestrian path instead of the main road. There were a lot of bumps on the way that I could not really anticipate for because of the darkness. In the middle of the tunnel I hit a big bump, and I felt the inside of my rear wheel hit the tire. That's a very bad sign, meaning there's not enough air in the tires. I don't normally hit a lot of bumps along the way, so I hoped sincerely that it was just because of the stupid tunnel and not because of lack of air, but my fears were justified. When I exited the tunnel I noticed my tire was nearly flat.

My first puncture! What to do? Well, I happened to exit the tunnel into a small city, so my first instinct was to find a bicycle shop and get it fixed professionally. I've honestly never fixed a flat tire myself, and although I have the tools, I don't have the confidence and would probably waste a lot of time fixing something that a professional can fix in half the time. I asked at the place where I flatted out, which happened to be a taxi company, if there was any bicycle shop nearby. Alas yes, but they were closed because of the golden week, which is a national holiday week in Japan. They told me I would not find any bicycle shop in business for at least the next two days.

Thinking how much time it would cost me to fix it myself, I decided to see how long it would take to deflate the tire while cycling on it. I got out my tiny foot pump and pumped as hard as I could, and then cycled on like a speeding (well, sweating) bullet towards Hiroshima, which was at this point only 20km away. If I could olnly reach the youth hostel then I could take my time getting my bicycle fixed later.

My stamina outlasted my tire, which was flat again in less than half an hour, still 15km's away from the city. I had no choice but to stop my bicycle at the side of the road and fix it myself. I prepared for the worst and got out my bag of tricks, which contained this little gimmick:

Yes, this magic spray is supposed to fix punctures. Well, it's surely a lot better than getting out the inner tire and replacing it with the spare, so I tried this first. The usage seemed fairly simple:

Right. Put it on the nozzle and push. Even I can do that. I should've spent a little bit more time reading the instructions, because I pushed way too long and the stuff squirted out of the nozzle like shaving cream. Oops. Oh well, better too much than too few, I guess. I proceeded to pump the tire as hard as I could with the crappy foot pump and proceeded on my way.

It works! The magic spray thing works! I still cycled like a speedrabbit all the way to Hiroshima, but the tire didn't go flat any more. After I reached Hiroshima I started searching for my hostel, and I happened to run into a bicycle shop that was not closed on the way. Lucky! I asked the pro to take a look at my tire, and he found no leak. I told him how I fixed it, and he told me it should be ok. Worst case scenario is that the tire starts leaking again after a week or so, in which case I can use the spray again or just replace the tire. I'll ride with it for now as I've decided to take a break here for a couple of days. If the tire is flat again before I leave then I'll replace it. Oh, and my chain is nice and oily again! It's been squeeking like a thousand birds for the past 300km's but now it's ninja-style quiet again. Like a stalker.

The pro does his thing

Soon after the healing I arrived at the youth hostel, which was yet again at the top of a hill with an impossibly steep road leading towards it. I think they do it on purpose. It certainly killed me. Then I had to carry four side bags, two backpacks and a sleeping mat down a long corridor, up two long stairs and down another corridor before reaching my room. Guh. Oh well, the hostel is three times as cheap as the average business hotel so it's absolutely worth it.

I made it! I'm in Hiroshima. I set out again on my now luggage-less bicycle at around sunset to explore the city. Turns out the youth hostel is very very far from the center, and it took me about 20 minutes to get to the famous peace lane (is that the name in English? I don't know). There's a festival called 'flower festival' in the city today, and tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow. They could have called it 'hana matsuri' in Japanese, but for some reason it's called flower festival in English. Meh.

First impressions of Hiroshima and the festival: people don't get out of the way for me, policemen are annoying, and the stupid festival completely destroys the peace because there's a lot of young loud drunken annoying Japanese guys walking around acting like idiots. I wanted to see the famous genbaku dome and the peace park, but that's exactly the area where the festival was being held. At first I thought it was only me, because all the Japanese seemed to enjoy themselves, but my two youth hostel bunkmates share my opinion: they came to see the genbaku dome, and they don't care about the stupid festival.

The festival wasn't all bad though: right in the middle of the festival street there was a concert going on, and I immediately recognized the song being played as one of the ending themes of an anime called Full Metal Alchemist. Whenever I hear a song in public that I know is anime theme song, I smile, and I feel happy to be in Japan, where the anime culture is so nicely mixed with regular society.

The festival streets were blocked off for the people to walk, and being a good citizen I stepped off my bicycle and walked all the way to the next crossing and the end of the festival. I was about 20 meters away from the exit when I got on my bicycle and started to cycle again, very slowly, towards the exit. There were no people in my way at all at this point. Then suddenly a policeman with a f*cking megaphone runs up to me and starts shouting "GET OFF YOUR BICYCLE!". WTF?! I politely explained the guy in Japanese that I was leaving the area and that there was nobody I could possibly hit. The response: "GET OFF YOUR BICYCLE!". I politely thanked the policeman for the advice, got off my bicycle, walked 15 meters, then got on my bicycle again and cycled onwards. I also called the guy an asshole after he couldn't hear me anymore. hahaha

I finally reached the genbaku dome and hung around there to take some photos. There were a lot of people gathered around there and a Japanese pop group was singing. Something about 'Yamato world peace' or something that really didn't matter to anyone around as they were only there to enjoy themselves at the festival. Lacking the interest to stay there and listen to more of that crap I went somewhere else and found a nice ramen place to eat, then went back to the youth hostel.

Super-saiyan note: remember when Goku does the weight training and then takes the weights off? I felt like that after leaving my luggage at the youth hostel :D It felt awesome to ride without luggage! I can actually start from a standing stop in a high gear and have some form of acceleration (and no squeaking thanks to the oil)! It felt great. Well, it felt great until I had to climb the damn hill that leads up the youth hostel again. Feeling overconfident without my luggage I started too fast and was completely out of breath at the halfway point. Whoops.

I've yet to find the magic of Hiroshima. Perhaps my timing is a bit bad with the flower festival and all that, but I'm hoping to go around a bit tomorrow and discover the nice places, not the populated places. Well, after I do my laundry, that is. I've got a whole new bag of smelly clothes ready to get washed again..

Good night!

Posted in Photography , Spirit of Japan , Uncategorized | Tagged , , ,

Cycling

The 200MB video finally finished uploading. Here it is, made a couple of days ago near Shizuoka. The camera was handheld and the road was bumpy, so sorry about the shaking.

Posted in Spirit of Japan | Tagged ,

Yesterday's hillclimb

Many tiny fish!
Beautiful landscape
My first glimpse of mount Fuji!
CAN YOU SEE IT NOW?
Posted in Photography , Spirit of Japan | Tagged , , ,

As one journey ends..

..another begins(?)

I just came across this page (in Dutch), about a Dutch guy who cycled from the Netherlands all the way to Tokyo, and then to Kyushu, which is where I'm going. He went all the way through Russia in seemingly incredible circumstances, and the photos on his website are amazing. This person left Japan on October 24 2005, exactly 5 days before I arrived in Japan. That's a beautiful coincidence.

Reading his travel report motivates me a lot. I've been worrying about rain and climbing up to 1km on the way to Fuji, but if you travel through Russia for months on end those things are a common occurrence. If I stay in safe little Japan I don't have to worry about road quality, finding food or possible encounters with thieves or other criminals.

If I leave now I think I can be in Kyushu two months later. That's my rough guess though, I haven't actually measured anything. I think it's quite possible that I can reach there considerably sooner. After reading this interesting travel report I am now also considering the possibility of going back to Holland by bicycle. If I can make it in time before temperature's drop, that is.

I've been giving this trip a lot of purpose in my mind, putting pressure on myself to decide if I want to stay in Japan for the rest of my life or not. I give myself two months to decide. If I find an answer, I follow up on it by either taking a plane back to Holland or by cycling back to Tokyo and finding a job. Or, if I can't decide after 2 months, continue cycling. Maybe that's not the right way. Maybe it's better to continue the trip even after I decide what to do with my life. Even if I decide to stay in Japan, 1 or 2 years of break time won't really matter. It's time to start thinking on the long term.

These are just some thoughts swirling through my head just before the start of my trip. It's somehow refreshing to see that what will be the greatest adventure of my life is just a very small part of someone else's journey. Now I want more :D

Trip preparations are good: luggage problem solved, thanks to my Japanese buddy who allowed me to park my suitcase and boxes in his room while I go around doing crazy stuff. My room is almost empty, and it'll take me about half a day to clean up the remainder. Bicycle bags are packed and ready to go. The weather is still fluctuating, being just about perfect at 15-20C two days ago, now cloudy again at 9C and too cold for my taste. The constantly changing weather is making me angry but I have no-one to be angry at. Looks like the rain will continue next week as well, but I'm tired of waiting. I want to leave next Wednesday, and the only thing that can stop me is heavy rain.

Posted in Spirit of Japan , Thoughts | Tagged , ,

Super Awesome Cycling Pants

Last week after going to the Dutch embassy in Tokyo to renew my passport I decided to stop by a nice cycling store. I was looking for a long-sleeve shirt, but found that I look ridiculous in a professional cycling shirt as my belly sticks out.. I did buy cycling pants, and the reason that they are awesome is because they repel rain, keep me warm and prevent me from sweating too much. I didn't think it would make a big difference, but it really helped. Too bad I had to cycle in the rain to find out about the rain-repellingness..

I documented some cycling routes today, which I figured I'd share here. They're probably only useful for someone who lives in Atsugi, is interested in cycling and can read English. I think that's only me.

Click here to go to the Google Maps page.

(If you're wondering, today I did Mountain Long)

Posted in Cycling , Daily Life | Tagged , ,

Smooth

Today in the afternoon temperates reached 17C. Sitting in a park with the sun on my face I realized that this is my perfect temperature. It's just perfect. And it's not just the weather. Things are going very smoothly lately, and I can really feel the trip becoming a reality. I wonder if the good things will last though. Cross my fingers..

Here's the front brakes of my bicycle, old on the right, new on the left. I replaced them last week. Unfortunately the bike shop I went to only had one pair left, so I'll have to replace the rear brakes later. The rear brakes, by the way, are even more worn out than the front brakes..

But the thing that I'm most happy about is the suspension. Ever since I got the bicycle I had problems with the suspension whenever the front baggage rack was mounted. A quick visit to a different bicycle shop opened my eyes. The owner took one quick glance at the front wheel and immediately saw what I had not noticed for two years.

That thingie in the red circle is supposed to be in the place where the green arrow is pointing. It might make a bit more sense looking at it from the side. Here's a pic after I fixed it.

After moving the circle thingie the silvery brake  thingie no longer hits the baggage carrier horizontal bar thingie! And I fixed it all by myself :D

Here's some more photos of the rather poor state my bicycle is in.

Rusty front suspension
Front tire o_0
More front tire o_0
Not-very-waterproof saddle...
For when I'm feeling quenchy
Bunch of tools and things that I'll bring with me
  • Way too many tie wraps
  • Head-mounted light that makes me look like a baka
  • Some stretchy rope thingies
  • Spare pieces that came off my bicycle before
  • Cheap-ass 100 yen puncture repair kits
  • A can of pressured magic puncture fixing gas
  • Very unmanly pocket knife
  • Heavy heavy spanner

A lot of the bike's parts are not in very good condition, but the parts that matter are excellent. Chain, gears, brakes. Very nice! The ride is extremely smooth. Stable and silent. One year ago, whenever I rode into the mountains, I would suffer and not enjoy it. I still suffer, but now I enjoy it. Perhaps it's because of the work I put into the bicycle, or perhaps (dare I say it) my practice is actually paying off?

Every day it's getting warmer now. Every day I'm getting a bit more fit. (Except for those days on which I am lazy and order pizza). Every day I'm getting a bit closer to something exciting. I'm enjoying myself.

Posted in Cycling , Spirit of Japan | Tagged , , ,

The hidden village of Hinata

I cycled towards the mountains today, looking for new paths. The last time I did this the first random road I took turned out to be a dead end, with a very steep incline. This time luck was with me. I took many random roads, and they never turned out to be a dead end. Instead, I found some very nice scenery in places where I never went before. I expected the road to stop at every turn, but somehow there's quite an extensive road network in the mountain areas.

Tired now, so just photos.

Mystery mountain road

For this mini-panorama, I didn't use my S90's panorama mode, instead I just took 3 photos. Program mode used different exposures for each photo. Hugin handles this just fine.

Looking down
Buddha's footprint
Giant trees on a giant path
This tree fascinated me somehow
Posted in Japan , Photography | Tagged , , ,

Oh dear

Trip preparation... perhaps not so good. I found a blog called fatcyclist.com, which is a great read. While laughing at his stories I realized that he's in way better shape than I am...

Throwing reality out of the window for a minute, I've been thinking (fantasizing) a lot about the start of my trip. What would be the best way to get the hell out of here? Go by the places I like the most and reflect, while smoking a pipe and drinking whisky? Perhaps not. Seriously though, there's only one good way to go west from Kanagawa, and I'm not taking it. Sane people will take the road south and hug the shoreline all the way to Nagoya, with perhaps a small exception to skip Izu. I've decided on a different path though. Behold.

That's right. I intend to cycle to the Fuji five lakes area by going north from Atsugi, taking the route towards the lake that I often go to. This time though, the climb towards the lake is only one fourth of the total climb, and this time I'll be carrying a bunch of luggage as well. Did I mention that the road is not a simple incline, but actually goes up, then down again, then up again... ? The first part might actually be the most difficult part of the trip.

Oh well. At least it'll be good exercise.

Posted in Cycling , Daily Life , Spirit of Japan | Tagged , ,

Calling my own bluff

It's cloudy and rainy today. I'm writing this on my netbook while sitting in a cafe at the center of Atsugi. I haven't used my netbook much since I bought it in the beginning of January. Starting April, this will be my only means of communciation, so I'd better start getting used to it. The things on my mind right now are not related to the trip at all. It still seems unreal. Right now I'm thinking that the screen is so small, and how sleepy I'm getting from the cafe's air-conditioning. I'm not in a traveling mood at all.

Thanks to a national holiday it's a rare four-day weekend this week. Two days have passed, all rain. The forecast says there'll be more rain on Saturday and Sunday. I'm thinking how much I enjoy my time in my warm room at these days, and then I realize that soon I will no longer have that luxury. So I went shopping today. I bought a lens pouch that's slightly more waterproof, and a (rain)waterproof laptop case. Rain will perhaps be my worst enemy. Rain, and weight.

Besides my own heavy body I've also committed to carrying some decidely un-lightweight things with me on my trip, like a DSLR and a couple of lenses and a netbook. I'm also bringing relatively lightweight stuff like my iPod classic and a Canon S90 compact camera, but it does all add up, especially if you consider the myriad of wires and adapters that I'll have to bring for this stuff. Even though I already made up my mind to bring all of these things, I even considered bringing my half-broken Ixy/Ixus and underwater case so I could take pictures in the rain. I've instead decided to get a cheap rain cover for my S90 instead. At least that'll be foldable so it'll take in less space on the way.

Since we're on the tech topic now anyway, remember that I bought a Solio Classic a while back? I bought it with the intention of charging my netbook with it, but that seems to have been a bit too optimistic. I did find a 12V DC - 19V DC adapter on ebay, which can charge my netbook from a car's cigarette lighter plug, but the Solio doesn't seem to be strong enough to power the adapter. Alas, that's too bad, but it was never meant to work this way anyway, so I'm not too sad about it. I can still use it to charge my iPod and my mobile phone. Not on days like these though: on gray days the Solio stays dead.

That's about it for my tech prep. In terms of camping I'm not very well prepared at all. I have a tent, but I haven't used it for almost two years. It might be rotting and mouldy by now. Sleeping bag is fine, but I'm not sure yet about my sleeping mat. It's very, very thin. I didn't consider this to be a problem on previous trips cause they only lasted 1-2 weeks. I don't know how long I'll be sleeping on the mat this time, so maybe I"ll bring a slightly thicker one, or an inflatable one.

My bicycle is in good shape. I recently had the gears fixed, cause it's always been nearly impossible to get the front gear to change up again after changing down. Right now the gears are in even better condition than they came in when I bought the bicycle, three years ago. There are still some minor things that need fixing though: the front suspension's never worked with the luggage rack mounted, and nor I nor any bike shop has been able to fix this. I may have to apply some brute force to get this to work. Another issue are spare parts: I need a spare inner tire and spare brake blocks. In fact, I'll see if I can arrange that today.

I'm trying to be prepared for anything, this time more than ever. During the trip I won't be able to say "Ok, I'll just go back to Atsugi, stay in my room for a couple of weeks, then go cycling again". There's no going back. Anything I don't bring with me, I don't own. That's why I don't want to compromise on taking a netbook or my DSLR. They're part of my life, and I can't do without them.

I'm fairly serious about my material preparation. On the other hand, I'm trying to leave the route and the schedule as vague as possible. I have a clear idea of where I want to end up, and which points I want to visit on the way, but as for which road that will take me there, or how fast I could do this, I don't really care about. I've got a rough outline of where I want to go, and it's mostly places I'd like to avoid. I don't want to be in big cities like Nagoya or Osaka. That would probably force me to find a hostel, and increase my expenses. I also want to avoid routes that are too mountainous, but that seems impossible in some cases. I want to go to the Fuji five lakes, so I'll have to climb at least 1 kilometer. Much later in the trip I want to visit both the north coast of Japan (west of Kyoto) and Hiroshima. I'll have to cycle through the mountains to connect those two points.

It still seems unreal. I feel like I'm playing a game with myself, first claiming I can do all of these impossible things, then seeing if there's an inner voice inside of me that says "I can't do that!". Bluffing, then calling my own bluff. I don't really know if I can do all of these things. I'm just saying I can, and then we'll find out later how it goes. The game hasn't started yet though. I have until April to place my bets :)

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