Sunday, November 25, 2018

We covered Maui

Maui was booked as a post bike trip to unwind.  We anticipated some rest and relaxation and actually planned some workouts to ensure we kept up our fitness. It turns out none of that was needed. We crushed Maui by swimming, snorkeling, hiking and surfing everyday. We were pleasantly surprised the whole time by the number of activities that we had to do and that kept us on the move. The best part was that we rented a campervan and were able to be anywhere we wanted to be so quickly on such an accessible island. I will break it down again by day:
Day 1 : Arrrival
Picked up the van and went right to Paia. Explored and grabbed some lunch to eat on the beach. Baldwin beach in town gave us our first taste of sand and salt water and instantly we were hooked. Slept at a questionable wayside park that introduced us to the homelessness and addiction problem on the island.
Day 2: West coast snorkeling and whale sighting 
On our way out of our campsite we could not believe it but we spotted a humpback offshore. We were even more shocked and in awe when it breached! Incredible! Hard  to beat but then we headed south and snorkled at Makena Point where we saw sea turtles, Ahihi Bay where we saw tons of fish and walked King's trail and then checked out Big Beach in Makena state park where we did a beach workout. 
Day 3: Surfing
We started the day by driving out to Honolua Bay to watch the good surfers take on some huge waves. We then headed into Lahaina to rent a surfboard for Chad and a SUP for Ashley. We spent the afternoon cruising around the waves at Launiupoka Beach Park. The best part was being out on the water and looking back at the west Maui mountains.
Day 4: Morning on the water and afternoon rains
We woke up early to get some more use out of the boards. Ashley actually SUP almost 2 miles up and down the coastline. We then returned the boards and grabbed some groceries to start the road to Hana
It was pouring! We made it through the  twists and turns to about 2 miles before Hana and camped at Wainapanapa State Park.
Day 5: Road to Hana
The skies cleared and we woke up at Wainapanapa to be treated to a black sand beach and volcanic rocks surrounded by lush greenery. Our highlight of the road to Hana for sure. We cruised along the rest of the day stopping at places outlined by our rental company and gaining lots of knowledge from the app we downloaded and the commentator whom we nicknamed "Cliff". Between the red sand beach,  cliff jumping at the venus pools and hiking the Pipiwai trail at Kipalulu it was a jam packed and great day.
Day 6: Haleakala 
After completing the road to Hana we stocked up and camped at Hosmer groove the night before allowing us to be ready to start the Halemau'u trail for the day. It is 11 miles hiking down into and out of a crater. Amazing! We loved it. We parked at one end and hitched to the other to allow a one-way trip.  We spent a second night at Hosmer to allow us to stay up at the summit of the volcano for sunset. 
Day 7: Back in the water
Snorkeling at Polo beach ended up being our snorkeling highlight as turtles were literally everywhere! We also saw tons of fish and a ray. We actually sat out at Big beach for the afternoon which was really the only time Chad got his book out and Ashley got a nap in. We grabbed dinner in Lahaina at Paia Fish house and shared big plates of fresh Mahi Mahi and Ono.
Day 8: Tour and back on the board 
We debated doing a tour and by a random turn of events (presentation style) we got a free snorkel tour. It was great to be out on the ocean looking back at Maui and also we toured the coastline of Lana'i. The snorkeling was sub-par but we did see a manta ray which was unexpected and amazing. We also saw a pod of spotted dolphins on the way back to the harbor, seeing dolphins in the wild is always a great experience. Once we were back on land we grabbed surfboards and headed back to the beach. The surf was dismal so we went back to the campsite to get ready for our last night. By chance we got a reservation at Mama's Fish House on the north shore. It offered a great back drop for our last night. 
Day 9: One last surf
Our flight left midday so we woke up early to head our surfing before we left. What a great idea! The surf at break point near Lahaina was perfect and we bought caught our best waves. The best way to end our trip in Maui.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Reflections on a Japanese Bike Trip

In 2015 we did our first bike tour around the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec. The purpose was to try bike touring and see if ultimately it might be something we wanted to try again internationally. We knew the answer was yes but needed to find the right time and the right location. Japan presented itself once we secured a longer leave from work. Most of the trip was covered in previous blog posts but there are some random thoughts that we wanted to cover. This post is mostly going to seem obscure but there are a few things we wanted to get down to help us remember them.

  • Convenience stores: Lawson, 7-11 and Family Mart were the convenience stores we encountered at every turn in Japan, like literally every turn. They are everywhere!!! On a bike tour they offer so many things; wi-fi, bathrooms, a place to sit and take a rest, snacks and coffee. At 7-11 we discovered our favourite lattes which were made from actual ground beans! At Family Mart the best seating was usually available where Lawson had the best coffee and stuffed peanut cream buns. Some days I swear I would never want to see another convenience store again but ultimately they helped us so much to get across the country. Another perk was that they had waste disposal, this might not seen like a big deal but when you are camping and there are basically no garbage cans anywhere in Japan it is incredibly helpful. 
  • Daily chimes: Apparently starting after the second world war daily chimes to indicate time of day became a mainstay in Japan. Much to our surprise they continue today. Usually at 6 a.m., noon and either 5 or 6 p.m. The chimes were played over loud speakers that also occasionally had announcements projected across the towns. Given that we do not know Japanese we typically would look around when there was an announcement to see if we needed to be worried, we were never quite sure what was being said but it never did seem concerning. 
  • Random music: Chad loved this! Music playing at storefronts, on main streets and even from garbage trucks. Most commonly an instrumental version of a familiar tune but always pleasant none the less.
  • Generosity and Kindness of the Japanese people: This point cannot be understated. The people in Japan are beyond generous and kind. It is so genuine that it is humbling. There were a few times that I was actually moved to tears by this extraordinary population. From serving your coffee to you on a tray at a convenience store to running to serve you at a grocery store counter to giving us fresh oranges for our journey, the daily acts of thoughtfulness were endless and the nature of the Japanese people will stay with us forever.
  • Response to Foreigners and Foreigners Bike Travelling: This point ties into the point above. Almost everyone we met were so gracious and welcoming. They almost all thanked us for coming to Japan and were incredibly touched when we told them how much we loved it. A stronger reaction was elicited when it was noted that we were biking across Japan. 
  • Cleanliness: Japan is clean, full-stop. It is spotless. We only got one flat tire in almost 7 weeks of travelling which had to be assisted by the fact that there was no debris anywhere! 
  • Personal Properties: The Japanese people are clearly a proud people and this extends to the care they place on their own properties. We could not help but be amazed at the care and attention each house or apartment unit exhibited. From carefully arranged potted plants on a balcony to perfectly manicured landscaping in every yard. It really added to the experience of biking through the outskirts and side streets.
  • Camping: We planned to camp across Japan but this proved to be a little more challenging while on a bike trip. The general consensus is that you can camp anywhere in Japan including parks and road side stops. We tried to avoid that at all costs only because we got the impression that given the kindness of the Japanese people we just were not sure if people truly were okay with the practice or if they were too kind to say otherwise. Unfortunately though campsites were a little more remote and proved a challenge to reach after a full day of cycling. This meant that overall we camped about 60% of the time and used various lodging from hostels to guesthouses to warm showers the rest of the time.
  • Food: There are no words to articulate how amazing the food was. We tried everything! Given that we were in grocery stores daily we always tried to grab something that we didn't know and give it a go. Another daily occurrence was Chad throwing back mochi, a rice dough ball typically filled with red beans. He cannot wait to try to make them at home!
  • Vending machines: Everywhere!! Literally, around every corner and in the most random places. They sold drinks only but actually had hot and cold offerings. We will never forget the first time we grabbed a canned coffee from one in Nikko and when it dropped down we realized it was hot!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Kenji, Ramen and Disney

When we arrived in Hiroshima we had some sights we wanted to see but we knew we had to spend some time getting our bikes packed up and shipped beforehand.  The whole process went so smooth thanks primarily to the manager of our hostel, Kenji. Honestly he embodied the Japanese hospitality and thoughtfulness that we had experienced throughout our trip. He helped us with everything from printing labels to tape and even double checking our measurements and restrictions.  During the rest of our stay we spent a lot of time chatting with him, overall he really made a difference in our stay in Hiroshima. 
While in Hiroshima we continued our "food tour" by trying the local specialties including Okonomiyaki and oysters. We also took in the two main sites, peace park and Miyajima. Both were very interesting and worth checking out. The peace museum was especially well laid out and displayed. In Miyajima we took in the shrine at high and low tide. We also walked around the island where the fall leaves were especially colorful. It reminds us how lucky we are in Canada to have our leaves as we saw so many tourists so excited to experience this phenomenon we see yearly. We were also surprised to find that the morning after Miyajima,  having hiked around a small lookout point, to find our legs really sore! More so that any day biking! 
After comparing the costs for the high speed train with the bus, we opted for an overnight bus to Tokyo. It worked out great as the seats reclined and it was decently comfortable. Once we arrived in Tokyo we hit the ground running. Over the next two days we ate amazing food, walked tens of kilometers through district after district and Chad finally got to a true Japanese whiskey bar. Highlights from the food included sushi near the outer fish market where we waited in a huge line wrapping round the block to get in and tsukemen ramen style noodles. Of the districts we explored we really loved the akihabara gaming area and shibuya crossing. After covering so much on foot we spent our third day going to Disney Sea!! It was the kind of fun day that only Disney can offer. The incredible park themes and attention to detail in each part kept us amazed all day. Thanks to some planning ahead and taking advantage of their efficient pass system we got to do everything in the park we wanted to in a jam packed 12 hour day! 
Today Chad wanted to check out one last museum and I spent the morning getting organized and wandering the area around our hotel (Yes, I opted to skip the history museum on the edo period specifically...) In the next hour we will head to the airport and fly to Hawaii! We will wake up tomorrow in Maui ready to set out in our campervan!! Although very excited, we are so sad to leave Japan.  We will never forget this incredible experience and opportunity like no other. We biked across a country, met the nicest people, saw amazing sights,  ate the most delectable food, challenged ourselves daily and furthered our own relationship by doing it all together.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Final stretch

Before we cover the last leg we need to complete an addendum to the last post. It was written, as mentioned, in a coffee shop in Beppu whilst waiting to check into our accomodation. After the completion,  we struck up conversation with the shop owner, Mickey. After almost 2 hours of talking we ended up planning to meet up with her and some of her friends who had dinner plans that night. What a great experience! We joined them at a Japanese BBQ place where you use a grill in your table to cook. We shared all kinds of foods we would have never ordered but are quite common like intestine and liver. The best part by far was just spending the evening with a group of people we would have never met at a local restaurant. We have a picture of the group we took afterwards that we will include below.

The next morning we woke up to complete the last leg of our biking journey. We left Beppu by ferry and entered the same port we left Shikoku on at Yawatahama. The purpose of going back to Shikoku was to reach the Shimanami Kaido, a group of bridges with bike only lanes to reach Honshu. Our first day from the ferry we stayed in Futami at a cute campsite overlooking a beach that provided a great sunset. We headed out the next morning and stopped for lunch to walk around Matsuyama. We went into the impressive castle and had a great lunch in town.  We stopped 18km before the bridges to stay with Taka, our second warm shower host. He was on odd man with clear pack rack tendencies but he was welcoming and our beds were very comfortable.
We reached Shimanami Kaido early the next morning and spent the day picking through the bridges and islands they connected. We had perfect weather for our last day beside the sea. It was pretty impressive to have these massive bridges that were actually a highway with separate on and off ramps and lanes for bikers only. We camped on the second last island called Inno-Shima at another closed but beautiful campsite right on the sea with our own beach. 
Today we finished our last push towards Hiroshima with a stop in Takehara, a small town with a preserved historical section which apparently used to be a village for samurai to live. One of the reasons we wanted to stop there was because of a large sake brewery called Fujii Shuzo which we checked out, sampled and purchased a bottle.  We had marked a campsite about 30km from Hiroshima for our last night but when we arrived it was obviously closed and was washed out by a nearby river. We ended up cycling up to a neighbouring shop where we explained our situation to the woman working there. She offered to let us set up our tent next to the workshop and even gave us instant noodles and a coffee.  So now we have our tent set up on the driveway and are about the cook dinner on our last planned camping night in Japan. Tomorrow we will bike into Hiroshima and track down some boxes to ship our bikes home. We have a lot of feelings tonight, besides the fact that we are randomly sleeping in a factory yard,  about the last almost 6 weeks crossing this amazing country by bicycle. Many reflections and thoughts have been discussed back and forth all day. It will take some time for it to all sink in and we are sure getting to Hiroshima tomorrow will be a little emotional. 

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Arigato to Highway 11

Kyushu has presented us with so many highlights including an active volcano, a city thriving in a crater, a quaint onsen town and a geothermal park. Above all that though, highway 11 has taken first place as our number one ride in Japan so far. Here is a breakdown of our time on Kyushu.

Day 1 : Usuki towards Aso
We woke up early and took the ferry at 5:40 a.m. to Kyushu arriving at the port city of Usuki where we started our climb towards Aso. We covered about half the distance before staying at a cute little (and another legitimately free) campsite just after Harajiri falls. The riding was not super interesting and the wind was demoralizing so we took a long midday lunch break.

Day 2 : Aso City
Completing the push up, over and into Aso city after an early morning start. Aso city is a city built inside a crater that was once a lake. It is incredible to have a city surrounded 360 degrees by a huge crater wall! We entered the national park and saw Mount Aso, a collection of five volcanoes amongst which one is active and as long as the levels of sulphur permit you can go up and walk along the edge. We waited about 2 hours to get the green light to go up. It was a really incredible sight but to be honest it was the whole park and area that impressed us. That night we stayed at a local hostel where the setting was more like a home. It had a well stocked kitchen where we made dinner and enjoyed the evening with other travelers including two other cyclists.

Day 3: Highway 11 from Aso to Kurokawa Onsen Town
For both of us this was perhaps the best day of cycling yet. It was a challenge for sure requiring us to climb out of the crater and up into the plateau but the scenery was so stunning. Looking back on views of the town of Aso set in the crater with the national park with Mount Aso next to it was spectacular. We continued to climb until we reached a campsite right outside Kurokawa Onsen town. Voted best onsen town in Japan it is a picturesque little town with adorable ryokans. There are 24 participating ryokans that have onsens in them. We bought a "hopper pass" giving us entry into three of them. Neither of us are big on lounging around in hot pools but the settings were beautiful and it was cool to check out each ryokan and their respective onsens while walking around the town. 
That evening we headed back to camp and spent our coldest night yet huddled in our tent.

Day 4: Highway 11 continues from Kurokawa Onsen Town towards Beppu via Yufuin
Tied with the day before as the "best day of cycling " yet, we continued climbing along highway 11 with more impressive views back at the crater while heading towards Beppu. We completed the Makinoto Pass which proved challenging and rewarding as our last mountain pass on the agenda for this trip. It was a proud moment to do yet another pass amongst many on our first big cycle trip. It is amazing how much stronger we feel since our first pass in the alps almost 5 weeks ago. 
It is clear that we found fall with leaves of almost every colour throughout the ride today. We stayed the night at a campsite beside Lake Shidakako where we spent part of the evening chatting with a couple from Switzerland, also cycling Japan, around a campfire.

Day 5: Descend into Beppu
Technically a "non-biking" day, we only biked 20kms today but it was all downhill back to sea level. At we entered town we went to a geothermal park called "Hell's Beppu". We have been to a similar type park in New Zealand many years ago. This was much more developed but still very fascinating to see multi-coloured pools bubbling and steaming up from the earth. 
We are currently waiting to check into our accommodation at a coffee shop while finalizing plans for the next few days. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Shikoku Tour

The post below was written last night. We made it this morning at 4:30 a.m. to the ferry and are currently on our way to Kyushu!!! 

The drive for many of our travels to date have included incorporating multi-day hikes. We love them because it means multiple days are booked, we get to be active and we see amazing scenery. Shikoku turned out to be our parallel for a multi-day trek but nestled into our bike trip. There were no big sights to see. We primarily went to towns we had never heard of or planned on visiting and the vistas were amazing every single day. Something else of note is that Shikoku,  although one of Japan's four main islands, is much less populated and therefore has a much different pace than the main island of Honshu. 
I will break it down in terms of days to try to cover some of the details. 

Day 1: Tokushima to Izari
We arrived on Shikoku and stayed in the port town of Tokushima to allow an early start the next morning. We headed out to catch route 26 along the Eastern coast. We made our way up a pretty sizable climb to a campsite we had searched out. It was closed. We set up anyways and hiked down to our own private beach for the afternoon and cooked dinner while the tide came in.

Day 2: Izari to Toyo
The weather didn't quite cooperate on this day with mostly overcast skies and rain threatening all day. The good news was that we had already arranged our accomodation for the night in our first "warm shower", the biker's equivalent to couch surfers. After a day of tough climbs but great costals views, we descended into tiny surfing villages dotting the route. We watched a few surfers catch waves at a point break and then finished the ride to arrive in Toyo before the skies opened up and the rain fell for hours. We were greeted by Tomoya, an organic tomato farmer who at first came across very shy and skirted away to finish his work day. He announced that dinner would be at 7 p.m. and we were pleasantly surprised when it featured Mahi Mahi caught that day by a local fisherman. It was delicious. Tomoya opened up and we shared the Shochu, a liqueur, we had brought him to say thank you. He then generously shared a few others from his collection, one made from sweet potato, another from rye and a favourite made from sesame. The evening was spent sharing stories and learning more about Japanese culture from a local. Overall a huge highlight. 

Day 3: Toyo to Kochi
When we left Toyo the goal was to get as close to Kochi as possible, it was was about 120km away. The bike conditions agreed with us as we biked along a flat coastline right next to the sea and had taken a huge dent out of the distance when we reached the southernmost point of Shikoku at Muroto point. We decided to push on as it was a really fun day of riding. The last 10km we hit wind, lots of wind, and ended up arriving at our campsite after dark but we had made it all the way to Kochi! We camped at an actual campsite with other tents but it was strange because it was clearly a city park with no camp administration or fees. There was a cute little gazebo beside the water where we cooked dinner and chatted with another traveller from Switzerland.

Day 4: Iya Valley and Kochi
We left our tent set up and rode our bikes to the train station where we caught a train to Oboke in the Iya valley. This area was said to be a big highlight in Shikoku but since we took the coastal route it meant we would miss it as it was centrally located. So, we took the train to check it out. After a short boat tour in the Oboke gorge we took a local bus to see the vine bridge famous to the area called Kazurabashi. We arrived back in Kochi around 4 p.m. and were debating what to do when we started walking around and really loved the vibe in Kochi. We checked out the castle grounds, wandered the market and stumbled across the coolest place for dinner, Hirome Ichiba. Essentially, a big hall with food vendors around the perimeter. We ended up grabbing a few things including katsuo-tataki, lightly seared bonito fish. It was clearly popular with the locals and a really fun atmosphere with long shared tables. 

Day 5: Kochi to Shimanto Area
A huge highlight day! We biked all day up high getting incredible coastal views from above. The weather was perfect with clear skies. The water was turquoise and bright blues with inlet and bays one after another. The waves crashing on the coast of beaches and huge black rocks with lush greenery lining the shores. All day we couldn't help but continue to stop and stare in awe.
We once again had a campsite to ourselves that night.  It was once again clearly a campsite with bathrooms and a gazebo as well as cooking facilities but no administration so no fees.
We cooked tuna we got at the grocery store and drank red wine under the gazebo as the rain came down all night.

Day 6: Shimanto-Gawa
The Shimanto-Gawa, or Shimanto River, is well known as it is a huge river and apparently the only "non-dammed" river in Japan. We biked along route 381 to follow the river for some inland scenery. We had a great lunch break at a roadside stop with an incredible view overlooking the river. We finished the day at a rocky campsite on the river's edge, once again a free campsite.  Before going to bed we layed out in our sleeping bags under the stars huddles in our sleeping bags looking up at a clear sky.

Day 7: Shimanto area to Uwajima 
A shorter bike day to get to Uwajima where we spent the day resetting. We grabbed a hotel near the train station and enjoyed a shower, got our laundry done, stocked up on food for the next few days and planned the remaining days on our bikes. 

Day 8: Uwajima to Yawatahama
This is where we are right now,  sitting in yet another gazebo in a park that was marked as a campsite but most certainly is not. We are going to stay here because the first ferry tomorrow leaves at 5:40 a.m. and is only 4 km from here. We also have not come across any internet today to look for another option. Plus the gazebo overlooks the sea and the sunset is sure to be beautiful tonight.
In order to get here we rode along route 378 back on the coast in and out of little fishing villages all day. Another amazing biking day!

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Kyoto to Shikoku Route

The way out of cities is often filled with stops and starts and can be a little frustrating on a bike,  but the way out of Kyoto was a biker's paradise. Less than a few kilometers from our accomodation we hopped on a river side trail that took us all the way to our planned lunch stop in Nara. We actually planned to go to Nara because it was about 50km from Kyoto and we knew there was a big park, apparently with loads of deer roaming around. We figured it would be perfect for a picnic lunch. What we found was indeed a park filled with deer but also a huge temple complex featuring the world's largest wooden structure enclosing a massive buddha. The translation came out as the "Buddha's Den" and it was really quite impressive. The kind of thing that makes you wonder if your eyes are tricking you because the scale is so enormous and the likelihood that this was actually constructed seems impossible.  
After leaving our awestruck experience in Nara, we headed onwards towards Koyasan. We altered our route to include this little town as it meant we could reach for ferry Shikoku without going through more urban areas west of Kyoto. One catch, it meant another day of climbing as Kyosan sits in a basin in the mountains. The night after Nara, before our climbing day, we had found a campsite that was our target midpoint, unfortunately as our directions lead us there and we got more into a suburban neighborhood we knew no campsite would be found,  we were right. With dusk setting in we looked for a hotel without one nearby. Finally,  we decided to try to make it to the next Michi no Eki or roadside stop, akin to En Routes in Ontario. All the blogs we have read say that cyclists can camp there overnight,  something we had yet to try but figured we might be out of other options for that night. It was only about 9km away but it was now completely dark (but only 5:45 p.m) and the road was getting busier. We got about halfway when we spotted a roadside hotel,  we decided we would take it. What it was was quite interesting,  leopard print wallpaper and lace bed canopy,  maybe meant for a couple's getaway but for us perfect for a good night's sleep before the climb. 
The climb was as tough as we have done. The thing is that it was also the most beautiful ride we have done so it was hard to hate it. The reward was the cute little town of Kyosan. It is a Buddhist pilgrimage town with lots of temples and a beautiful cedar filled cemetary with huge headstones for prominent deceased Buddhists. We stayed at a campsite just outside of town,  even though it too was also closed,  at least it existed.  This morning we headed towards the ferry at Wakayama to head to Shikoku.
We continue to love the freedom of traveling by bike but finding accomodation has proved to be more challenging that we thought. It is always a stressful part of the day so we are working to plan for that a little more. This sounds easy but when you aren't sure how your legs will feel or if you find a place 20km out of the way it is not quite reachable when it gets dark at 5:15 p.m. Right now this is really our only complaint as it is really fun to be active and outside all day and we get to see such off the grid parts of such a beautiful country. We think the pros far outweigh the cons and might just have to sleep in a few more closed campsites or shady hotels to make it work. 

We covered Maui

Maui was booked as a post bike trip to unwind.  We anticipated some rest and relaxation and actually planned some workouts to ensure we kep...