Made it to Haneda! Bicycles, trailer, gear & clothing. On to Chitose!
Planning a bike trek around Hokkaido, Japan has been quite a challenge. People travel abroad. We’ve traveled abroad. People go on fishing sojourns. We’ve gone on fishing sojourns. People undertake photography safaris. We’ve undertaken photo safaris. People bike trek. We’ve… ridden our bikes. The challenge has been that people don’t typically do all these things in one, long, self-guided camping trip. Nor do they normally wait until they’re in their 50’s to attempt their first foray into something like this.
To prepare, we read books on bike trekking – from words of wisdom on ultra light traveling to advice from folks who tote along babies and dogs. We watched countless videos on how people pack and camp with their bikes. Along the way we feathered in fishing. And photography. And pack-rafting. And camp cooking. And backpacking. And bird watching. And then there was the fitness training schedule to help us get into shape for this adventure. With as many people in the world who have already pioneered all of these different adventures, no one seems to have attempted the catch-all combination of what we are hoping to embark on.
During the planning phase, we practice-packed several times. Each time, we realized another layer of equipment had to be fine-tuned. Without bringing a pack mule or a SAG wagon, we weren’t going to be able to carry along everything that we wanted to.
The pack raft was the first thing to go. Our rafts compact into fairly small bags, but they necessitate paddles and PFDs. The amount of space and additional weight all of that entails wasn’t going to work. A subsequent trial packing made it clear that our plan to backpack and camp in the back country of the Shiretoko Peninsula, a world heritage site, also required too much stuff – mainly the backpacks themselves. We still plan to explore a backpacking trip, but we’ll look into renting backpacks.
The next activity to get a hard look was fishing. Hokkaido is reported to have good populations of trout and char and even some salmon fishing as well as opportunities to ply ocean beaches and rocky shorelines for a variety of species. While we considered getting into at least some fishing to be a non-negotiable, we desperately had to figure out how to skinny down our equipment to one rod tube and one waist pouch. The compromise we settled was sharing gear instead of bringing two of everything. Additionally, we modified our lone fly rod to double as a spinning rod. (If it works, we’ll tell you all about it.) In the end, we packed a fly reel, a spinning reel, an 8-weight rod, a tenkara rod, a few small boxes of flies and lures and a small assortment of leaders and tippet material.
The next nonnegotiable was photography gear. Last summer, we limped through with substitute equipment and felt handicapped the entire summer. When we returned home and finally got our photos up on the computer screen for editing, they left us disappointed with the quality. So, our preparation for this summer involved numerous discussions and field tests regarding what gear would best capture the sights and experiences of our journey. What made the cut may seem like a lot to some, but we feel confident that we’ve streamlined our gear without sacrificing too much versatility.
The guiding question in all of this was, What kind of experiences do we most want to have? And the not-so-surprising lesson has been that if the trip is to be about going and doing rather than simply going and seeing, a certain amount of specialty gear is necessary. We know, for example, that we can enjoy first-rate food experiences while keeping our budget reasonably low by visiting markets and cooking for ourselves. But this strategy necessitates carrying with us cookware up to the task. Even birding pretty much requires that we take along a decent pair of compact binoculars and a field guide (which Jack went through with a box cutter and pared down to the bare essentials).
With our gear as fine-tuned as possible, we flew to Anchorage where Paramount bike shop took over the bike-packing – otherwise known as breaking down the bikes and packing them into big cardboard boxes. Meanwhile, we filled two much smaller cardboard moving boxes with the rest of our gear – boxes we’ll discard once we arrive in Hokkaido. And so, ready or not we’ve begun this summer’s adventure with three bicycle boxes and two moving boxes colorfully decorated with neon orange duck tape, packed to withstand the long journey down the West Coast and across the Pacific Ocean.
At the Anchorage airport, a helpful Alaska Airlines ticket agent was ready to assist us with the puzzle of moving our over-sized bike boxes through the maze of four planes, four airports, two languages and two countries. We were nervous about our baggage surviving the journey or getting lost along the way. As unconventional as it is to travel with ducked-taped cardboard boxes, we are happy we did. At our San Francisco stop, we looked out the plane window and saw our boxes being loaded into the plane. And thanks to the day-glow orange tape, we quickly spotted our luggage as it hit the conveyor belt in Tokyo. Hi-vis tape was a great idea! By the way Big Kudos go out to Terrie at the Alaska Airlines desk-for-troubled-travelers. She was able to figure out how to check our bags all the way to Hokkaido from Anchorage. Amazingly, the cost for all of our baggage was a very-reasonable $200! (Go Club 49!)
As the nerve-wracking airplane travel segment of our journey comes to a happy conclusion, we can now focus on the next leg of the adventure: putting our bikes back together, finding stove fuel and purchasing a few groceries. And then we will answer the question that has been in the backs of our minds (and the pits of our stomachs) ever since we conceived this trip: Will we be able to balance, steer and propel these vehicles??? Stay tuned!