Nowhere in particular to get to… and all summer to get there.
May 19: We’d saved a couple fingers of bourbon for this, our final evening in Chignik Lake. Measured out in a pair of our favorite glasses, the mellow amber-brown glow of the whisky suited a similar mellowness that had settled over us as we looked around a clean, tidy home that only a few days before had been an explosion of camping gear, bikes, technical clothing, camera gear, panniers and check lists. Our bicycles and camping gear had already been flown to Anchorage where they were waiting for us at Lake Clark Air. Scheduled to fly out of Chignik Lake the following day, ahead of us was a five-day scramble in the big city of Anchorage in which to reconnect with friends, make last-minute adjustments to our bikes and have them boxed for air travel, and to pick up necessities ranging from fly-fishing leaders to all-purpose hiking/biking/street/camp shoes as well as a couple of dozen additional odds and ends. Oh, and to get one of the three store-bought haircuts we treat ourselves to each year.
And then on Saturday, May 26, we’ll board Alaska Air bound for San Francisco where we’ll switch to Japan Airlines into Chitose, Hokkaido. If all goes according to plan, we’ll spend the next 85 days exploring Hokkaido, Japan by bike.
Why Hokkaido? I suppose it comes down to the fact that both of us have wanted to do a bicycle trek ever since we were kids but never did. Lacking experience in this sort of thing, it made sense to go for it in a country known for being safe and for having a bicycle friendly culture. Factor in campgrounds that typically range in price from free to $5 or $6 dollars, a cool, comfortable summer climate, beautifully diverse landscapes featuring smoking volcanoes, snow-capped mountains, bird-rich marshes and forests, fields of flowers, six national parks, seaside villages and the distinct possibility that we just might get into some decent trout and char fishing. Japan’s northernmost island seemed to us to be the best possible place to make this leap into a new way of travel.
Hokkaido’s cuisine surely ranks among the world’s finest. Regional seafood specialties include scallops, oysters, several species of crab, shrimp, salmon, squid and succulent, softball-sized sea urchins. As Japan’s agricultural capital, Hokkaido is also known for its fresh fruits and vegetables as well as local beef and pork, and people rave about the rich ice-cream. There may even be opportunities to sample wild game. Soba – those tasty buckwheat noodles that are especially delicious served cold – is made from local grain, and it seems that virtually every city, town and village has its own unique twist on ramen. Visions of donburi – bowls of rice piled high with a variety of colorful, fresh seafood – have been dancing in our heads for months. If that’s not enough, micro-brews have caught on, there’s a nascent wine industry and even a couple of world-class single malt distilleries. Every yen we don’t spend on campground fees is another yen we’ll be able to spend eating our way around the island.
So stay tuned. We intend to publish throughout the summer – food experiences that inspire, new birds, exotic species of trout of char, encounters with wildlife and the challenges and successes we’re bound to encounter pedaling our way along sea coasts and through mountain villages. But the thing we’re most looking forward to is meeting new people and immersing ourselves in a new culture. I’ve been practicing my Japanese, to be sure. But if experience is any guide, connections trump vocabulary. We can’t wait to share our loves of fly-fishing, photography, birds, food, camping and hiking with friends we haven’t yet met, half-a-world away, who find similar joy and fascination in such things. Hopefully our journeys will bring us into conversations with soba masters, commercial fishermen, trout chasers, farmers, ranchers, biologists and people who call Hokkaido home and love living there.
Wherever the coming summer finds you, we wish for you days filled with pleasant adventures, good food and deepened connections old and new.