|A Thousand Kilometers Across Japan|
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The Japan Journal
The Japan Journal
Looking down through the canopy of the steaming Peruvian Jungle, you see a man cutting a path through the dense underbrush. The stubble on his face is thick and his face beads with sweat. Coming to a clearing, he dips the brim of his hat to shield his eyes from the noonday sun. The waterfall in the distance looks familiar. He pulls out an old crumpled map, and checks the landmarks. He smiles. This is the place. He nods and heads for the cave he knows lies behind those falls. Hopefully he got here before his rival Eduardo...
Pull back... back... until you see the boarders of the screen, and feel the Dolby sound vibrating your skin.
Turn around, and look at the theater. It's about half full and the front row is empty, except for one person. He's a bit pudgy, with short brown hair, oversized aviator frames for glasses, and eating enough calories from his heavily buttered tub of popcorn to feed a third world country.
Look at his eyes. Those light eyes nobody can ever seem to agree on a color for. Look close enough, and you'll see the movie reflected in them.
I'm taking a well deserved break. After working for a year and half at Berlitz with NO vacations, and also doing Fuzzy Knights and KODT roleplaying articles on top of that... I need it.
Why am I doing this?
For one thing, I couldn't live with myself if I didn't. Life is too short. Also, I've talked so much sass about doing cool stuff in the past that I HAVE to back it up once in a while. Put up or shut up and all that. And after you watch adventures in movie theaters and belly up to the table to play them long enough, you get the urge to have one for real... even if you can't find any Nazis or Ninjas to fight... (but hey... I am in Japan, soooo....)
Much like captains name their ships, I have always named my bikes. On my first trip (to Halifax), I dubbed my crappy Canadian Tire 125 dollar bicycle The Mule (because it acted like one) and the tradition stuck. I went through three generations of the Mule (Mule Mark II and Mark III).
Today I ride a Recumbent. It's a Thunderbolt Lightning, the cheapest recumbent I could afford that fit my needs. It was the perfect bike for touring in, so I dubbed it Viaticus Rex (King of a Journey or King of the Road according to my friend Mel's translation). It got me across Canada in comfort and style. No way I'm going back to regular bikes for long trips... ever. My butt would go on strike. Besides, chicks dig the funky bike.
Viaticus Rex has recently gone through an upgrade. The seat clamps have been reenforced, the gears changed from 18 to 27 speed. New chain, brakes, etc...
A word of advice to would-be bike adventurers: Get some Slime for your tires. Slime is a green goop you put in your tires, and automatically seals any regular punctures. By the time I had a sidewall blowout in Michigan I had at least five punctures in the tire!
I'm taking the same equipment I took across Canada. My sleeping bag I bought on sale, but keeps me more than warm enough, and is good for -5 degree weather. I learned on my first trip to Halifax that the ground is essentially a heat vacuum. You need to keep yourself from actually touching the ground at all costs. So I have a Thermarest, essentially a very thin air mattress, and practically self inflating.
The tent I use is the smallest I could find. Just enough room to lie down in, really... I call it the Coffin. Somewhere in the middle of Michigan I lost my tent poles for it, and they were specially made. I thought I was screwed. However, a camping shop in Sault St. Marie jury-rigged some fiber glass poles to fit the bill and they worked fine. I still have them.
My knapsack has been with me on every trip I've been on. Mountain Equipment Co-op, 10 years old, made to last. I sew patches on the back for each trip, so I can't wait to add the Japanese and Korean flags to it. It's been modified to clamp onto the back of my recumbent. The sleeping bag and tent go underneath and are held on by bungee cords connected directly to the seat frame.
On the front of the bike will be a handlebar bag where I'll put all the heaviest stuff (food, water, etc). The light stuff (clothes, Fuzzies, etc...) goes on the back.
The most expensive piece of equipment I have is my computer. A Sony Vaio U-101, about the size of a paperback novel but a fully powered laptop (none of that Widows CE crap). It has an extended battery that should last about 8-12 hours without internet access and 6-8 hours with. I also have a backup battery good for 2-3 hours. I hook onto the internet using an Air-H card, which will work all over Japan (except some places in the mountains). However, I don't know about Korea. It probably won't work there, but I can always look for a cyber-cafe in that case.
Now, I barely speak any Japanese (just the Canadian essentials: "Excuse me" and "Sorry" and a few others), so a phrase book is essential. Also a bilingual map. A speedometer to keep track of speed and distance. That's about it.
I don't exactly do much preparing for my trips. For the most part I figure out what route I'll take and slap together whatever gear I can find, that's about it. However, it's long been my habit of ALWAYS being prepared. And so, I have "The Bag". I actually forgot about it when I started writing this, since it's part of my basic outfit. I always carry this with me, even to work.
The Bag is a small side satchel weighing about 3 or 4 pounds which contains the following:
Roleplaying has taught me well (I hope)
Originally I wanted to go from the top of Japan to the bottom, but time constraints got in the way... also, I figure if I go from Tokyo to Kyushu I'll have time to hit Korea as well. Besides Honshu, I'll also be bicycling across Shikoku and Kyushu islands. Then take a ferry to Pusan, Korea, and then bike up to Kyongju. Then it's back home, by ferry. I'll be missing such glamorous cities as Osaka, Nagoya and Kyoto, but that's okay. Biking across Canada, I found out that you learn about a country through its small towns, not it's big cities.
Update: For a variety of reasons, most notably the fact that I'm NOT Lance Armstrong, I won't be going to Korea after all... some things you can only learn by doing.
Final Update: Well, I did not make it anywhere near my target, but as you will read in the journal, I do not concider this a failure. Here you can see the general route I planned to take, and the route I ended up taking instead.
As for accommodations, I'm going to play it by ear. If I see a good place to camp, I'll camp. If I'm in the middle of urban sprawl, I'll find a hostel... I might have to pull one or two all nighters in a coffee shop as well during the trip (which has happened before).
And that, essentially, is that. What happens next, I have no idea... and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Expect me when you see me.