UNite to Combat Climate Change - Ride Japan

Why do such a thing?

We wanted to interrupt the hectic cycle of work and school to create a space to slow down, connect with one another and our surroundings in a more meaningful way, do something challenging & exciting, learn how much our bodies are capable of, and explore a country that fascinates and has meaning for both of us.  Charles's point of view: I ran the Jackson Marathon in Tennessee with my father when I was 13 years old, and it was a positive, life-altering experience.  I thought I'd give a similar gift to my son.  Sho's point of view: It's simple.  I love Japan, and I love biking with my dad.  We wanted to encourage people to drive less and bike more, and decided to use this ride to raise funds for a charity working to address the impact of climate change.  Life is short.  Do something wonderful.

Why Japan?

Sho’s mother/Charles’s wife is from Japan, and Charles lived in Tokyo for two years.  Sho and Charles both speak Japanese, although not perfectly. We thought this bike trip would be an exciting way to learn more about the people and history of the country.

Isn't it dangerous for a child to do so much exercise?

We don’t think so.  During the 67-day ride, we maintained a reasonable pace, took plenty of breaks, consumed lots of fluids, and ate healthy food.  Sho rode a trailercycle attached to his dad’s bike that did not require him to pedal constantly and allowed Charles to do most of the work.  Rather than a dangerous activity, we saw this as a challenging and exciting way to celebrate what our bodies are capable of.  A kid can do a whole lot more than many people think! 

Are You Crazy?

People reacted in a variety of ways to our plans.  Most seemed intrigued, but expressed serious doubts about how realistic it is to attempt such a feat. They were genuinely concerned about our safety, Sho’s well-being, and possibly my priorities.  Shouldn’t a 41 year-old man focus on making money instead of dreaming up adventures with his son?  Mark Twain counseled: “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the others you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”  While that’s nice advice for an adult, the real question was whether this would be too much for Sho.  I decided before leaving that, if it turned out to be too much, we would pack up earlier than planned and celebrate the attempt.  But it wasn't too much for him.  In fact, he had a blast!  We think that adults’ opinions about what is reasonable for a child to attempt have been shaped by a culture that is increasingly sedentary and mistrustful of the value of discomfort.  Before we left, I didn't know if Sho and I would be able to complete the entire distance as planned, but we thought it was worth sharing the attempt and creating an experience that neither of us will forget.  And we did!  

Where did you clean up/shower each day?

At sento (public baths) and onsen (hot springs) along the way.

What about all of Japan’s mountains?

We rode around them when we could, through them when it was safe, and over them when we had to.

Where did you sleep?

In a tent, with friends we made along the way, at Buddhist temples, and in Japanese inns.

Has anyone else done such a thing?

As far as we know, Sho is the youngest person (8 years old in summer 2009) to ride the entire length of mainland Japan on a bicycle.  This was also probably the first time a father and son did such a ride across Japan on connected bikes.  There are a number of people who have traveled the length of mainland Japan, such as Alan Booth, who walked from Cape Souya to Cape Sata in 1977, and wrote about it in the book, The Roads to Sata.  And, of course, there are many people who have circumnavigated the globe on a bicycle, starting with Thomas Stevens in the 1880’s, who wrote about it in, Around the World on a Bicycle. A number of these accounts have served as inspiration for our trip.

How long did your bike ride across Japan take?

67 days

What route did you take, and how long is it?

We rode from Cape Souya at the northern-most tip of Hokkaido to Cape Sata at the southern-most tip of Kyushu.  We cycled 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) and visited 9 World Heritage Sites.  We decided on a general itinerary in advance, but made changes as we went.  Rather than adhering to a set schedule, part of the allure of adventure bike touring is to let the trip unfold as you go, making space for surprises, impromptu lingering and unexpected encounters.  After many discussions and research, we decided to follow a route from north to south.  While the heat intensified the further south we went, we spent the first part of the journey in Hokkaido, one of the most beautiful places to bike in Japan.  The first World Heritage Site we visited was Shiretoko Peninsula, known for naturally occurring outdoor hot springs.

Had you ever done a ride like this before? What made you think you can make it?

We had never ridden so far before, but we trained many miles with Sho on a trailercycle.  Charles built up a good base over the previous five years, completing five Ironman triathlons and four marathons, including running the Boston Marathon in April 2009.  We did not treat this like a race or commit to a daily distance goal, took some rest days, and rode at a modest pace.  While it was a significant physical challenge, we were able to do it.  

What type of training did you do?

We trained all over Westchester County and New York City, riding our attached bikes up avenues choked with cars, across the Brooklyn Bridge to Prospect Park, on bike paths along the East and Hudson Rivers, and more.  We became comfortable with traffic and attuned to staying safe.  NYC is a stimulating place to train and was good practice for the crowded, narrow roads we encountered in much of Japan.  In NYC, most people we passed were wearing their urban stone face, but as Sho and I approached, our bikes tethered together, our legs peddling in rhythm, our smiles celebrating this moment of father-son bonding, the serious faces of passersby often cracked, and we got nice smiles or a sudden, “how cool is that!”  It’s a small pleasure that added to the fun of riding together. 

Why did you name your bikes, and what do the names mean?

Given their importance to the success of the ride across Japan, we decided to name our bikes.  Sho chose the name "Flaming Tiki" for his Burley Piccolo trailercycle.  You may know that "Tiki" was the name, in Maori mythology, of the first man created, and also is the name for large, humanoid carvings in Polynesian cultures.  Charles thought that this was an auspicious moniker worthy of our ambitious trek, but Sho swears that he only chose that name "because it sounds cool".  Fair enough.  That's probably the same reason the Maori chose it.  Charles's Trek 520 touring bike's name is "Shadowfax".  For those of you who did not grow up reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy over and over every few years (did I have nothing better to do??), Shadowfax is the name of Gandalf the wizard's fearless stallion that could understand human speech and run faster than any other horse in Middle-earth (yes, I know I'm a nerd).  Since my bike lugged 310+ pounds of humans and equipment across a mountainous country, I figured that a grandiose name couldn't hurt.  And at certain points in the ride, I believed that the bike truly understood human speech, and hopefully wasn't offended by profanity.

What is a World Heritage Site?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated 878 sites around the world as World Heritage Sites. The organization’s goal is to encourage the preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world. 

What World Heritage Sites did you visit in Japan?

Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido, Shirakami Sanchi, Historic villages of Shirakawa-go, Kyoto, Nara, Buddhist monuments in Horyu-ji, Sacred sites of the Kii mountain range, Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Itsukushima Shinto Shrine