[Note: this was originally posted to http://fromthedriverseatdotnet.wordpress.com/ but I’m planning to remove that site, so I copied it over here for posterity.
The other day I had the good fortune to stumble on the fact that Minot, ND was having their annual Norsk Hostfest. As there are more than a few people in my life who call me a ‘viking’, it seemed only appropriate that I attend. Mother Nature was kind enough to bring about a rain day, so I was able to do so without leaving work undone.
The first thing I did was a little web based research. I found the location of the Hostfest via Google Maps and made my way there. Except what Google Maps shows as the location isn’t the location. (It’s where they have their offices.) This seems a little counter intuitive to me, but I didn’t really object too strongly because there’s things to see at their offices, which also is the Scandinavian Heritage Association.
The Sigdal House – Exterior
…like the Sigdal House. Typical of the life, furnishings, and size/shape of homes in the Sigdal Mountains early on. The place was disassembled by hand, shipped to the US, and reassembled by the same men who took it apart.
The Sigdal House – Interior
That’s one hell of a project.
The nice lady in the red coat (who’s name I’ve forgotten because I’m a terrible person) was very kind and acted as my tour guide and explained a lot about the furnishings and miscellaneous items in the place. The round ‘roller’ and flat board with a handle, for example, were early versions of a clothes iron. The user would hold the handle, and roll the board across the roller, which in turn, was on top of the wet clothes. This would effectively squeeze the water out and roll the clothes flat(ish).
I did eventually get my carcass to the fairgrounds which was the actual home of the Hostfest. There were many a vendor of food and crafts of all kinds.
A full night’s rest did me some good. When I woke up, I felt like I was able to function, if a bit… off.
Sadly, it didn’t last. It wasn’t long before my legs were again like wet noodles underneath my body. They just weren’t able to handle the trail + my gear + my 300lb body. What’s worse, it appeared that we wouldn’t be able to make it back in time to catch all of our connections which would allow Mark to go scuba diving off of the island of Yonaguni-jima later.
That one had me really upset. It’s one thing when a failure of mine limits what I get to do. It’s another thing entirely when it affects someone else’s plans. It didn’t matter that I was upset though – my body was having none of it. The hiking was painfully slow and filled with instances of me stumbling, falling, tripping, and bumping into things. I was moving like someone exceedingly drunk because my legs just would not support me and I kept forcing them to do so. I felt pathetic, and I’m certain that I looked worse.
After a while of this, Mark took mercy on me. He took my pack. Sure, it’s true that we weren’t carrying the 50lb frame packs of our yesteryear boy scout hiking trips, but they were still heavy. Mine still had the vast majority of my ‘regular life’ AND the equipment Mark had picked up for me for the purposes of this trek – things like sleeping pad, sleeping bag liner, water bladder, and my cold weather clothes.
I protested, of course. My pride insisted that I do so, though there really wasn’t any other option. Certainly not if we wanted to get back in any kind of reasonable time. Mark eventually not only took my pack, but soothed my pride enough that I let him. Embarassed doesn’t begin to cover it. My one redeeming physical quality (to me at any rate) is that I’m a big guy and I can carry the big guy’s load of stuff. Only here was living proof that this concept was simply untrue. I was as effective a hiking partner as a four year old. What’s more, I didn’t believe that the bag was really that heavy – that relieving me of it would do that much good.
Here again, I was wrong.
We started to make some good time. Far better time than the previous day, to be sure.
We eventually found ourselves at the last marker on the trail. That meant a number of things: 1. Cell phone coverage would be nearby (though we still didn’t have any at the close of the trail) 2. Most of our remaining hiking would be downhill – which, while still excruciating to me, was at least possible. 3. There was a chance – a very very slim chance – that we could still make it in time to catch our relevant connections in order for Mark to go scuba diving.
This gave me a burst of… something. I won’t call it strength (that just didn’t exist for me anymore) but something. Mark, in an effort to again ease my wounded pride, gave me back my pack so that when we eventually encountered other humans, they wouldn’t see him with both packs and me with nothing but my gasping for breath and my sweat soaked / mud caked clothes.
Just in the nick of time too. We came upon a group of hikers who looked to be stopped for a meal. While I tried to get some oxygen into my limbs and recover any semblance of composure, Mark started up a conversation. The very cute artsy/hippy/musician chick in the group was (of course) immediately enamored with him. She was taking a gentleman (who looked like a bored businessman) to the airport (which is where we were headed) and offered us a ride.
I followed this conversation because I know like three words in Japanese and because I know Mark well enough to follow tone and gestures and the like. Not because I actually understand all the words. It’s funny, but it’s this ‘tonal listening’ that makes me think I actually could pick up Japanese eventually if I was given enough time. Of course, I’m sure Mark would be well sick of me by that point.
At any rate, while Mark and Miho (the musician) were discussing things, a truck pulled up and out hopped an older gentleman who looked… worried. We would quickly find out that folks called him O Gi-san. Gi for grandfather – not gangsta, though somehow, I feel like that would be appropriate too. He wore US Marines camoflage clothes and started to immediately lecture Mark in japanese. There was no debating that tone.
Miho was smirking at us like a big sister might smirk at the little brothers who were catching holy hell from Mom and Dad. It quickly became apparent that we should load our bags into the back of the truck and climb in with them.
On the ride back to town, Mark filled me in on the details. To summarize, O Gi-san is the owner of the ryokan that we were to stay at the night before. When we didn’t show up, he started searching for us. Then again the next morning. They had been extremely worried about the two gaijin who had gone off into the jungle after being told that they were NOT to camp out in the jungle, and that they were to be to the ryokan before too late because that would worry O Gi-san. Then we never showed.
A police officer showed up as we were driving down the mountain. He exchanged a few words with O Gi-san which we didn’t hear and then proceeded to follow us down the mountain.
I felt like such a complete ass-hole. What’s more, it had started to look like we might make our connections, and if the officer wanted to talk to us for a while? Or, worse, teach us a lesson by popping us into a cell for a few hours or overnight? That would completely hose any chance of Mark getting his scuba trip. I had come to see that as some slight redemption for me being such an incapable ass, and it seemed like it might again be slipping from us.
I’m happy to say that things worked out in the end though. The cop only followed for a little while then pulled off to take care of something else. O Gi-san gave us a bit more lecturing, but eventually just asked us to pay for our night’s lodging as we’d made the reservation. We gladly did. We retreived the remainder of my crap, loaded up, and walked around the corner to the bus station. Took the bus to the Airport, and caught our plane.
That got us to Yonaguni-jima in time.
We were met at the airport by a grandmotherly woman who came up to me and asked if I was “Mah-ku?” I shook my head an pointed to Mark. A few minutes later we were in her car and en route to the mishuku. I was feeling so relieved by the time that we reached the place, I seriously could have cried.
The mishuku itself was fantastic. We checked in and dropped our stuff off. Mark wanted to go and check in with the scuba folks and get set up for the following day. He asked if I would go with him, and while my legs felt (I mean this sincerely) like jello filled with pain, I went anyway. It was flat paved ground and there was no risk of falling off a mountainside if they gave way, so why not? As long as they would keep moving, I might as well.
Getting ready for bed that night, when I took off my boots, I half expected some sort of cartoon-esque ‘pop’ and for my feet to inflate to three or four times their normal size and turn candy apple red. They didn’t, of course, but I did find that I had the largest blister I’ve ever had under my left foot (I wasn’t even sure it was a blister at first) and that I had managed to damage three toenails enough that I was sure to lose them.
I genuinely didn’t care. We’d made it. Mark could scuba, and I could have a day to recover. I’m not sure my head hit the pillow before I was unconcious.
Mark and I were discussing these posts and he made the argument that there aren’t really enough photo in each post to provide proper context for the posts. I think it’s a good line of thinking.
So, rather than go back through and monkey with the posts themselves, I thought I would try something a little different. I’m leaving the posts as they are, but I will be creating a gallery at the end of each post with additional photos related to that day/those events. In other words: you may want to go back and check out the previous Japan posts.
Took a chartered boat down the “Japanese Amazon” to the starting point of our hike. Beautiful vistas on either side of lush vegitation and deep jungles greeted us as we passed.
We entered the jungle at a dock built to allow access to tourists. The first portion of the trek was easy and well groomed. We found ourselves confident that we could complete the 8 hour 12 mile hike in the single day allotted. Or perhaps that was only me.
Not long after the waterfall, we found ourselves at the start of the official ‘trail’ through the jungle. We had been warned that the trail would get tougher, but we (again – probably just I here) didn’t pay enough heed to those warnings. The Japanese (in my limited experience) will tell you something is “terribly dangerous!” when the reality is that it’s barely a blip on the danger scale. They have a lot of ‘rules’ in their lives that we westerners wouldn’t even think to pay attention to. Example? There could be no cars for miles, but if the pedestrian crossing sign shows “do not cross”? The Japanese will not cross. That would be terribly dangerous.
It wasn’t long after that where my confidence/cockiness quickly abated. The simple truth? I was way too out of shape to complete the hike in the amount of time provided. Had the whole trek been as well groomed as that early portion, I have no doubt we would have completed the trail in plenty of time.
As it was, we had to spend the night in the jungle.
Which, is ‘illegal’. Because, you guessed it, is ‘terribly dangerous’. Except that, in this case, it really is. The deadly night hunting habu snake, dramatically dropping temperatures the fact that it’s illegal to start a fire, and (really) no clear space to set up camp all make for a potentially disastrous night in the jungle.
I should point out here that I’m really lucky. I have people like Mark in my life. I was… ill prepared. Mark was not. He had done his homework when planning the trip. He had a tent for us. He had sleeping pads for each of us. We had discussed it in advance, and we agreed we should have these things “just in case”, but it was Mark who both started that discussion and eventually purchased the items so that we would have them in time for the trip.
In the end, we settled into our tent for a moderately comfortable night. I was feeling terribly defeated, and my body felt… well, broken honestly. I had reached a point where I didn’t think I could take another step long before we’d stopped. It was an experience I can only assume is like that of a marathon runner – when you simply do not believe that there is enough energy in your body to lift your leg one more time and yet you find yourself continuing to do so – over and over again.
Going to start breaking the trip down into single days in an effort to keep the ball moving forward here a bit more…
We woke early and caught the train to the Kansai Airport where we hopped on a flight to the New Ishigaki Airport.
Once in Ishigaki, we took a bus to the port where we boarded a ship to take us to Iriomote-jin. Not before purchasing a really delicious burger though. Note to self: if you ever have a ‘home’ again – keep wasabi on hand not just for sushi, but as a burger condiment as well.
For those keeping track, on this single day, Mark and I availed ourselves of the following means of transportation:
Catch that one did you? Yeah. Water buffalo. There’s a smaller island just off of Iriomote (called Yubu Island). The intervening distance is pretty shallow and somewhere in the past, the locals realized that they could lead carts across to the island being pulled by water buffalo. Fast forward a few decades and the transportation method is mostly a tourist trap, but what the hell? We were tourists, and it seemed fun, so away we went.
It was a very good call. While crossing, our host even played a little live music on his… banjo? Lute? Not sure what to call it. Ok music peeps – educate me.
The cart had a ‘privacy panel’ which the driver lifted to shield us from the view when the water buffalo did its business. We both had a good chuckle about that.
On the island itself there was an impressive amount of things to do given the size of the island. A gardens area, a restaraunt, and the home for the water buffalos all were packed on the island which couldn’t have been much bigger than a fistfull of city blocks.
Mark and I turned in our coupons for a free glass of pineapple juice. It was delish. Fresh as it gets. We also debated trying the regional funky ice cream flavor*, but decided against it in favor of some pork and noodles soup at the restaraunt. Quite tasty, but too much grissle for my liking.
We left the tiny island the way we came – we caught the last water buffalo out of town. I just like saying that.
Back on the bus, we continued on to our home for the night. We made it in time for dinner and a show – more live music with the same sort of instrument – this time by our new friend Aki (short for Akiro). Aki proved to be a great resource and Mark talked to him a good deal about our upcoming trek and safety precautions as Aki had done the traverse several times. I believe he also caught the fresh fish we ate for dinner. Aki? He’s kinda a renaissance guy.
*That’s a thing in Japan. It seems like wherever you go there’s a regional flavor that they make into pretty much everything, and they start with ice cream. I’m certain (though I haven’t seen it yet myself) that there’s a region who has the flavor (and thus the ice cream based on) “seaweed”.
For all intents and purposes, I spent all of Monday in the air. Yay for international flights and time zone shifts!
I arrived at Tokyo International Airport (NRT) and headed straight for my hotel. I’d arranged for the room in advance, and I’m seriously glad I did. There had been a problem with my flight taking off from LAX. One of the engines was problematic and a piece needed to be replaced. That meant a six hour delay for departure.
While that’s annoying, it didn’t really mean much to me. My next flight was the following day, and I already had my hotel room booked, so no big right? Well, a number of the folks on my flight were just laying over, and now all of them had to be put up for the night (near the airport) while the airline scrambled for a way to make things right for them.
When the pilot announced that they would be putting people up in rooms for the night, I noted that he said that some of them would have to stay as far as an hour away from the airport because everything nearby was booked.
Did I mention that I was glad I’d booked my room in advance?
Tuesday, February 10th, 2015
I woke early, jumped on a shuttle back to the airport, and checked in for my flight to Osaka. Specifically, I was headed to Kansai International Airport.
Checking in with Peach proved a bit interesting because everything was, well, backwards. You check in where everyone else is Arriving, and their departure gate is completely off on its own and was closed when I got there.
Still, I managed to get my butt on the plane in time for departure and all was well. The flight was great, and I even managed to get a great pic of Mount Fuji thanks to the anonymous guy sitting next to me.
The pilot announced Mt. Fuji and everyone started looking out the window and taking photos. I was on the aisle for the leg room. When the guy in my row who was sitting in the window looked back at me and saw I had my phone out, he gestured a “would you like me to do it?” and I nodded emphatically.
“Arigato gozaimasu.” I said when he handed it back. He did quite a job:
My flight landed fairly early and that gave me some time to get situated before meeting up with Mark that evening, so I decided to make my way to our ryokan(1).
First tricky part to that was figuring out the train system (which thankfuly butted right up to the airport). There was a cute gaijin who had been following the same route as me from the airport (we both wound up going a bit the wrong way) and we had a brief discussion about the chaos we found ourselves in.
Shortly thereafter, I managed to get myself on board the right train and headed in the right direction. Amazingly, I managed this without error. I even had time to snap a couple pics of an interesting art installment which was made with tickets from the railway system.
I met a nice family who were tourists themselves when I offered to take the picture so that Grandpa could be in it as well. As fate would have it, Grandpa spoke some english and far better than I speak japanese, so we had a nice (if brief) chat.
I jumped off the train at Izumisano and found my way to our ryokan. It was too early to check in, and the japanese have their rules(2), so instead I just dropped off my big bag and decided to walk around town a bit.
Feeling a bit peckish, (hey, I don’t come by this dainty physique easilly) I decided my first stop would be some food. I backtracked a bit to the train station in Izumisano and stopped into a place called London Bakery. After watching the crowd for a couple of minutes to determine the ‘process’ involved in ordering, I realized that you a. grab a tray and tongs from there, pick the items you want and add them to your tray, then take them to the counter to pay for them. I did so, and additionally requested “Coffee” which (the gods bless me) sounds enough in japanese as it does in english so I’m able to get that through.
The ‘sandwich’ is a bread with egg baked into it and noodles stuffed into the center (welcome to Japan!). The pastry in the back is a simple bread with cream cheese and blueberry core. The coffee was delicious.
I was a little surprised and disappointed to find that London Bakery didn’t have a wifi connection available to customers, so I started roaming in order to find one. Then I kept wandering.
The walk reached its pinnacle when I reached Rinku Pleasure Town. No, it’s not that. It’s a giant mall. I’d been winding my way there for a while because I’d seen a giant ferris wheel stretching above the building tops. In a foreign city? Don’t speak the language? Why wouldn’t you seek out the giant ferris wheel?
I really enjoy walking in a new town. I do this when I’m working, and this seemed an even better time for such things. After a bit though, I made my way back to the ryokan, checked in officially, retrieved my hoodie (it was getting chilly – even for me) and jumped back on a train bound for Osaka.
Once I exited the train in Osaka, I made my way to Nanbantei – a yakatori(3) place Mark and I agreed to meet at. I was a bit ahead of schedule (Mark had to work a full day at the office before heading to Osaka) but I wanted to put a pin in the mental map and be sure where I was headed later. Then I could wander with peace of mind.
I have to tell you – there’s something mind boggling about meeting up with your best friend on the far side of the planet. Wandering the back streets of Osaka only to step out into the light long enough to catch your buddy’s attention, then duck back down the alleys to a fantastic meal eaten at a table filled with strangers? Yeah. It was like that.
We didn’t stay in Osaka long. We had early travel plans for the following morning and we needed to get the proverbial move on, so we pretty much just ate and jumped on the train back to Izumisano Station. Mark commented on how funny it was that I needed to show him where to go. The guy has lived in Japan quite a bit over the years, and here I am on my first real day in Japan and I’m the one who knows the way.
A breakdown of the trip thus far as copied from mrlich.onepostwonder.com (I plan to put all Japan trip posts here, but started it out over there)…
Friday February 6th, 2015
Left northern Florida (JAX) via Southwest. Stopped in DEN and then on to LAX where I was met by my buddy Jason who swept me off to his place to crash. The slight headcold / congestion did very little to dampen the experience.
The Denver stop was a bit of a tease. I have some really great people in Denver and I’ve been wanting to go for a visit for some time now. So being in their city and not able to visit was a touch frustrating. I, of course, find this to be one of those scenarios where “If that’s my biggest problem in life…”
Saturday February 7th, 2015
I had breakfast with Jason and his family at a place called Country Deli in Chatsworth CA. Delightful family place which serves a yummy sausage breakfast burrito. After breakfast we visited local fish/reptile shop because they were looking for some things to fix their aquarium.
Post pet store, I had a planning session with Mark via Google Hangouts in order to go over some of our plans for the first adventure one I’m in the country. First up? Tropical jungle camping/hiking on one of the southern islands of Japan – Iriomote.
Chilled out with Jason and his son while his wife and daughter were off having some girls only chill time. Then the boys made their way to a swanky steak house for a really satisfying meal.
Funny side note: I’m planning on using Japan as a jumping off point to improve my diet. Content of my diet, sure, but the primary focus is portion control. To that end, I was proud of myself for ordering ‘only’ the six ounce steak. Of course, the the portions on everything else about the meal were so ginormous as to render my herculean effort null and void. C’est la vie.
At the end of the night, Jason and I watched John Wick starring Keanu Reeves. Stop laughing – it was surprisingly entertaining. (And not in a “I can’t believe how awful this is…” sense.)
Sunday February 8th, 2015
Woke up fairly early and reduced / repacked my bags in order to get rid of some of the ‘excess’ that I had collected. Yes, I felt like I had too much stuff with my two bags loaded.
I explained to one adorable little girl and her very awesome brother that “That Boy” would come back soon.
Jason and I made our way to brunch with some dear old friends (Patty and Mike) at a place called Pann’s just outside LAX. Patty and Mike are great human beings. They scratch a very specific itch I have for chatting with crazy creative people who also have more than enough brains to support that creativity. While I’m really blessed with so many folks of that particular mix in my life, Patty and Mike have a different flavor to their creativity that I feel like my life would be greatly reduced without. A chance to hang out with them is something I will never pass on. I also got to consume one seriously yum Louisiana Omellette.
Once Jason dropped me off at the airport, my check in went easy on a ridiculous scale. My only objection there was the fact that they forced me to check my backpack because it was a couple kilograms over the weight limit. Not the end of the world, certainly, but I work really hard to keep it to carry on only, so this frustrated me. On the plus side, the woman who checked me in and made the request couldn’t have been more gracious. I suspect that’s a taste of things to come, and frankly, I’m looking forward to that.
My take off was a different story altogether. My flight was originally scheduled to leave at 2:20pm. Due to some technical issues with one of the engines, and the need to replace some component therein, we didn’t actually take off until 6:30pm. End of the world? Far from it. It was a little bit stressful, but mostly from the fact that my brain wouldn’t let go of the idea that “there’s something wrong with one of the engines”. Still – they fixed the part, the staff was gracious and responsive, and eventually we were on our way.
A side note about the staff of Singapore Air flight SQ011 – I don’t know if I simply ‘lucked out’ or if they have some sort of attractiveness requirement for their staff, but pretty much every crew member on this flight is of model level attractiveness. The men are handsome and the women are beautiful on a ‘my chest aches just looking at this human’ level. None of this really matters for anything, but as it’s a first in my air travel experiences, I thought it noteworthy.
I’m here to talk about John Fabian. That’s him sitting on my right (light blue shirt). He was something of an inspiration. He did a number of things that, well, I would like to do. And what’s more, he seemed to do them right.
As you may have guessed by my use of the past tense, he passed away recently, and that (in my opinion) makes the world a little darker.
A coworker of ours made the point that it seems like a lot of folks tend to hyper romanticize the dead. I’m inclined to agree, and (from what I know of him) I don’t think that John would want that, so here we go.
What I Know
John was a Mobile Mapper like myself. He too seemed to be doing the job because of a sense of adventure and a desire to roam. In fact, he was on a leave of absence to go exploring New Zealand when he died.
He worked a job where he traveled non stop and took his leave so that he could… travel more.
His photography skills make me want to work harder at taking photos when I’m out in the world.
He wrote in a simple and understandable way. There’s a sense of zen to it. I find it delightful.
He liked to help. He made great efforts to bring his fellow mappers together socially via an online forum that he set up and maintained for us. Our job can get very lonely, and he provided a means to reach out to each other in a less formal than “this is for work” way.
He also wrote a number of other religion focused books (also available on Amazon) though it would appear that most (all?) were simply translations of existing texts. I’m unsure if his efforts were faith based, based on a desire to help others, or simply a business. I kinda like that I don’t know.
What I Don’t Know
Honestly? Most anything about the man. I only recently met him. In fact, the first photo in this post is from the first time I ever met him face to face just before Thanksgiving 2014, and we only got to visit for a few more days before we both left town.
He seems a bit of a mystery. Like the sense of adventure – of discovery – fits him perfectly.
Sure – my vantage point (as the guy who hardly even met him) colors this perspective heavily. I’m ok with that.
Was he a religious man himself? What other businesses did he create? (Aside from the writing – he hinted at other businesses when we talked, but we didn’t have time to go into it.) Who were his friends? Was he ever married?
This would (and possibly does) sound creepy if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s gone. If I do some online digging, I can find out more about him, and perhaps I will. If he was alive that would be weird. Since he’s gone, I almost feel like it’s a kind of obligation.
Picking Up the Torch
Partly in honor of John, I’m going to do my best to spend more time here on this blog. Photos and writing. Bringing the things I find back to those of you who don’t get the chance to roam quite like I do.
I probably won’t write as eloquently as John did, and my photos will likely not be as impressive, but it’s something.
My hope is that it will get me to think more about the amazing adventures I’m having. That it will help me to burn it into my brain and not overlook these fine experiences. I don’t want to take them for granted.