Sunday, June 28, 2009

Day 4: Ultra marathon and a new riding companion

June 28, 2009: After organizing our gear and getting the bikes ready, Sho and I started the day with an 8am picnic breakfast by the road, while watching runners in the Saroma Ko Ultra Marathon pass by. It was cloudy and cool, perfect for long distance running, and we wondered how our new friend, Sato-san, was doing, now 3 hours into the event. We said goodbye to Ishiwata-san (see pic), the friendly proprietor who had rented us the room. He sent us off with a hug and a gift of a volunteer's jacket from the ultra race.
We biked alongside the runners for about 2 hours, shouting encouragement ("ganbare!") as we passed. We even got a few cheers ourselves from onlookers.
Sho and I met Eiko and Saya in a small, comfortable town called Tokoro. After a little searching, we found an excellent sushi restaurant that put us all in a good mood. My legs were full of sushi energy during the afternoon's ride, as we followed a cycling path and enjoyed gorgeous views. I took a picture of Sho in front of a roadside patch of flowers that we both thought his Nona (my mom) would love. The route was almost completely deserted until we came across Saito-san, another adventure cyclist we had met 2 days earlier. 61 years old and retired, but full of infectious vigor, Saito-san started biking on June 9 from Yamagata in central Japan. He is riding solo around the entire coast of Japan, planning to finish by mid-October. We rode together for the rest of the day, and checked into the same hotel (Yasuragi B&B) in Abashiri.
Eiko and Saya met us there, and Eiko took Sho to a game room (Sho: "It was awesome!") while I stayed behind and took a bath with Saya in the B&B. We shared dinner with Saito-san, discussing the possibilities for enlightenment and despair from spending months on a bike.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

First three days: wind, rain and a thief.

June 25 - 27, 2009: What a great trip so far! Sho and I started riding from Cape Soya on Thursday, June 25 and are now by Lake Saroma Ko on the northern coast of Hokkaido. We spent the first night in our tent in the yard of a wonderful couple, Mr. and Mrs. Minoshima, on their farm near Hamatonbetsu (see pic).
We also met a thief! As we came out of a convenience store, we set down our bag of food by our bikes, and a large, black, sneaky crow pounced on the bag, snatching a 6-pack of rolls and bounding into the air with his loot before we could stop him. He flew to the roof of a house across the street and ate the rolls mockingly in plain sight, but out of reach. I took a picture of the thief, who must have marked us as easy targets the minute we rolled up.
The weather has been fantastic, sunny and low 70's F much of the time, except for an impressive thunder storm that soaked us in the afternoon of the 2nd day. See pic of a dripping Sho. We stayed in a minshuku (Japanese inn) in the town of Omu that night as the storm raged outside, and I spent the evening drying off our things.
Much of the ride has been along a picturesque ocean front. We look left to see the glistening expanse of water punctuated from time to time by eagles, cranes and sea gulls prowling for food. We look right to see an expanse of farms populated by hawks, horses and lounging cows. Sho often calls out an exaggerated, "moo!" that usually draws bovine stares of disdain and boredom.
The wind has been impressive, especially on the first day, sometimes slamming directly in our faces so that we struggled to maintain much more than a pitiful crawl. At other times, it buffeted us from the side, threatening to knock us off the road. I knew the wind would be an issue early on after seeing rows and rows of towering wind turbines along the coast.
During one of our breaks at a rest stop, Sho met a boy his age, and they immediately bonded over their Pokemon Battorio coins, haggling for 15 minutes over which to exchange (see pic).
We slept last night in a comfortable shack by Lake Saroma Ko, sharing a room with Sato-san, an ultra marathoner who is running a 100km (62 mile) race as I write. Apparently, the Lake Saroma Ko ultra marathon is quite prestigious, boasting 4,000 participants. The race which started at 5am, goes along the route we will ride today, and we plan to watch some of it before hitting the road at 8am, cheering on our new friend. Sato-san is from Niigata, a town we plan to visit in mid-July, and he invited us to stay in his home when we pass through. One of the best parts of this trip so far has been meeting friendly and interesting people like him.
My wife Eiko and 2-year old daughter Saya have been tracking us in a rental car this first week. They have been sleeping in hotels and meeting us for meals along the way, which gives us something nice to look forward to. Eiko has been particularly helpful with navigation and finding a room for us the night of the storm. They return to the U.S. next week, a parting that neither Sho nor I are looking forward to. :-(
For the technofiles out there, I am writing this blog using a 1-lb, Intel Atom processor-based Willcom D4 mobile Internet device. It's a computer in my pocket that makes it easy to blog from the road.
Thanks to the many people who have sent us good wishes. We're doing well and having a blast!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Last day before the ride starts!

Eiko, Sho (age 8), Saya (age 2) and I are in Sapporo, Japan. Today is our final day of preparation before Sho and I start to ride from Cape Souya. Eiko and Saya will follow along in a rental car for the first week. Yesterday, I assembled the bikes and organized the equipment to pack into the panniers. We also made time for a little sight seeing. I've attached a few pics.

It was rainy and cool when we arrived 2 days ago, but has since cleared up and become sunny and pleasant, if not a bit on the warm side. Perfect biking weather!
We'll pack bags, load up the rental car and pick up a pre-paid cell phone before heading out around noon today for the 3.5-hour drive from Sapporo to Cape Souya. Everyone's in high spirits and looking forward to getting under way.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Pics from Tokyo

We've had a good visit in Tokyo, spending time with our family here and preparing for the bike ride. This picture is of Sho helping to clean his grandmom's grave, which we visited with Sho's granddad.

With help from my colleagues in Intel's Tokyo office, I set up a Willcom D4 mobile Internet device to use to post blogs on the ride across Japan. I also made sure my ATM card works, double checked my GPS device usage, and met with the producer from the Japanese national broadcaster NHK. They will send a camera crew to meet us on Shiretoko Peninsula to do the first round of filming for their profile of us in Papa Saurus TV show.

We leave today for Sapporo, and start to ride on Thursday!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Made it to Tokyo!

Sho and I arrived in Tokyo last night, along with my wife Eiko and 2 year-old daughter Saya. The bikes made it in ok too. We're doing some prep for the ride in Tokyo, then flying to Sapporo on Monday, June 22. We start the ride exactly 1 week from today! I've attached a picture of Sho catching up on rest during the flight.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

World Environment Day event at UNIS

Sho and I spoke this morning at a World Environment Day celebration at the United Nations International School (UNIS). The event was sponsored by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and featured art work created by first and second graders at the school, including Sho.

Dr. Kenneth Wrye, Director at UNIS, gave opening remarks, followed by Juanita Castano, head of UNEP's NY office. Ms. Castano thanked us for our efforts to raise awareness about the need to address climate change and our fund raiser for the UN's Billion Tree Campaign. The aim is to plant 7 billion trees around the world this year, one for every person on the planet. I told the students that I hoped Sho will inspire other kids around the world to come up with their own crazy ideas to help the planet and celebrate life! Here's a link to a video of the event: