Category Archives: Travel

Travels in Japan

Japan has a well-tempered travel culture, thank goodness, because tourism is soaring.  Travel elicits curiosity and wonder, and emphasizes our mutual interdependence.  If we can treat everyone equally in public travel spaces, and honor each person’s value and dignity, we are on our way to a better quality of life and facilitating stronger global citizenship.  Japan has a good blueprint for treating everyone like we deserve to be treated, like we’re one big human family.

Osaka has amazing shopping districts, with streets made for walking

Kagoshima in Kyushu has bike share and street greening initiatives

Japan’s traffic system is one of the safer systems in the world.  The photo below shows a few reasons why.  The intersection has huge crosswalks, and the stop bar on the street lane is way behind the crosswalk.  This creates space for pedestrians.  There is no left turn on red in Japan (the U.S.A.’s equivalent of right turn on red), and that reduces possibility for conflict and eases pressure on people walking.  The sight lines at this intersection are open, too, so there is good visibility for all users.  The light gives a pedestrian signal automatically, so no one has to push a button.  The speed limits are also very low (30-40 kph, or 18-25 mph) to increase safety for all.

the van in this photo is a driving school van. Driver training is very intensive in Japan!

Safe streets and lots of good transportation choices makes it easy to relax and access all the good amenities a given place has to offer.  In the the shopping district in Komyoike, where Mai’s parents live, we encountered this country western line dancing gig.  It was cool, upbeat, friendly.

I really love the contrasts and continuity in Japan between historical and present culture.  We went to an Ikebana (art of flower arranging) exhibition in downtown Osaka, and saw this shrine on a rooftop pictured in the photo above.  The photo below is of Osaka’s famous walking mall.

In Japan people are walking everywhere so you get used to it.  Crosswalks, like the one below in Komyoike, are clearly marked and signed.  And the neighborhoods in the newer suburbs have dedicated pathways, mostly off street, to connect to markets, work, parks, schools, and transit.

It’s not all about infrastructure for sure.  Many towns and streets were laid out and built a long time ago, and the car was introduced later.  This is where manners and respect is even more important.  The street pictured below is definitely a “yield street”.  I bicycled this street several times.  There is a transit stop on the left.    People get off the bus and walk on the street.  Bicycles and cars yield to pedestrians and share the road.  There are also other hazards you can see, like open drainage and telephone poles on the side of the road.  These close quarters cultivate cautious users and a culture of sharing!  Courtesy, respect and skills guard our dignity.  Japanese cars and smaller, and pedestrian safety measures are designed into the vehicle.

I experienced travel in Japan from many perspectives, by foot, bicycle, train, plane, automobile, bus, subway.  They were all valuable experiences.  Cycling was a special joy.  The vending machines in Japan are so well positioned, just where I needed them on excursions.  Some machines offer an hot espresso drink, hot or cold, at the base of a long mountain climb.  Thoughtful touches for travelers in Japan make it welcoming, rewarding and inspiring!

Mountain roads and sacred places

“A good scientist doesn’t have to be separate from the world to make sense of it.”  –Eva Saulitis, Every Reason to Stay in The Sun Magazine, January 2017

While cycling in Japan I discovered some amazing places, like the one pictured above.  I was on a super narrow road, a path really, and the light shining through the bamboo forest canopy and pooling on the ground startled me.  When I’m out cycling my work interests in geography, culture and sustainable transportation flow together with my sense of curiosity and wonder.

Sakai City Japan, the suburb of Osaka where Mai’s parents live, is the home of Shimano, a leader in cycling manufacturing.  Shimano adapted technologies from gun manufacturing in the 1800’s and applied them to cycling parts construction to meet demand for cycling.  Shimano has a bicycle museum in Sakai City.  I’ll have to visit!  This time around I was happy making my own firsthand experiences cycling in Sakai City and the adjacent mountains.  The museum looks very interesting, as they tie together the evolution of technology with the ongoing development of cycling culture.  Cycling is an epic story, a way to relax in nature, build community, be joyful and work towards big picture goals such as global sustainability.  The museum website is here.

Cycling works as a positive force promoting a sustainable, connected, healthy way of being.  When I met other cyclists on the road in Japan there were head bows, encouraging words, and looks of understanding, unspoken communication of shared joy.  The bicycle builds natural and inclusive culture amazingly well if people are open to it.  Cycling creates communion.

Japan’s beauty is awesome.  On this road pictured below climbing up into the Kongo Range, a creek and waterfalls were flowing beside the road.  The landscape’s sweet music.  It reminded me of the sound of meltwater running off the San Juan Mountains I hear in the Ironhorse in Durango, Colorado, which is upcoming this May.  Cycling keeps me motivated and looking ahead to the next sequence of discoveries and shared experiences.  What a joy.  Thank you!

Cycling Japan lights my fire

“Touch is the greatest thing on earth. “ –Ray Charles

After five trips to Japan with Mai, on my sixth trip I finally cycled there.  It made all the difference.  This time I was determined to take time for cycling.  I rented a bike on two different occasions, and cycled about 460 kilometers.  Cycling put me in touch with a lot of things.  Here are a few photos and a sketch of my cycling experiences.  I’ll add more detail in my next posts.

My first ride in Japan was in Kagoshima with Mai.  We took a ferry across the bay to Sakurajima, an active volcano.  Mai rented a bike there and we pedaled together on a combination of paved paths, village and farm roads, and highways.  What a beautiful way to experience Japan.  The next day Mai connected me with a local professional cyclist through the bicycle shop I rented from, Fun Ride in Kagoshima, and he led me on a ride through the city and out into the hills.

The vistas from the hills above Kagoshima looking out onto the city, bay and Sakurajima were mesmerizing.  Japan is over 70% mountains, and has more land covered by forest than any countries other than Sweden and Finland.  So once you get out of town, the landscape is rural and a complete contrast to the busy cities.  There are many small farms, and nature abounds.

After two days of cycling in Kagoshima, we took the Shinkansen (high-speed rail) back to Osaka where Mai’s parents live.  I rented a bicycle there, and ventured into the mountains straddling the border between Osaka and Wakayama, Mount Izumi Katsuragi, in the Kongo Range.

I was delighted by the back roads.  There are so many byways from the foothills up the mountains that are only a lane or a lane in a half wide.  There is hardly any motorized traffic on them so it seems more like a mountain bike ride.  Very peaceful, quiet and enchanting.  There are roads like this in California such as Ebbetts Pass (though it has more traffic) but Japan has an incredible network of them.   I had some knowledge of these roads based on what I’d seen on maps and Google Earth, but cycling them gave me an entirely new understanding.

The access to the mountains from Osaka is pretty amazing.   Since it was the start of Spring, blooms were beginning and farmers were busy working their fields.  Schools were on break.  It was a great time to be cycling, and I can’t wait to go back and explore more.  Arigato Japan!

Walking the land and thriving

That which we are, we shall teach.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

tent-rocks-expansive

For President’s Day, Mai and I headed north towards Santa Fe.  Before ascending La Bajada we veered west and crossed the Río Grande.  Nestled against the Jemez Mountains, there’s an unlikely place where volcanic pumice, tuff and ash cliffs have eroded into conical forms. This place is called Kasha-Katuwe, meaning “white cliffs” in the Keresan language of the Pueblo de Cochiti.  It’s also called Tent Rocks.  We took a hike there, and walked into surprising beauty.


this song by Gil and Cartas reminds me of walking in beauty

tent-rocks-climbing-the-canyon

It felt so good to get out of the car and walk into the fresh air.  Our legs reached for the land like a tree grows to light.  The trail begins at the base of the white cliffs.  We walked through juniper and piñon forest.  Then we entered a canyon, which narrows down to a slot several stories high and barely wide enough to walk through.  The trail curves around rock, its way carved by water.  It seems an improbable passage but it leads out into open higher ground.

tent-rocks-emerging-from-canyon

tent-rocks-perspective-from-slot

Unexpectedly we found ourselves at eye level with the tops of the “tent rocks”.  The last steep pitch delivered us to the plateau above the tent rocks and awesome views of the Southwest’s grandeur and splendor.  We gazed at mountains all around, the Sandia Crest above Albuquerque, the Sangre de Cristo above Santa Fe, and volcanic peaks of the Jemez Mountains.

tent-rocks-hello

tent-rocks-overview-with-cochiti-kids-climbing

At the top we sat on a rock and drank water.  A group of school kids climbed up the trail just behind us, and their teacher sat on a rock next to us.  The class was from the Cochiti Pueblo.  The kids had the day off from school.  They were wearing shirts with a slogan about being healthy and fit.  Their teacher said activities like this were helping the kids realize their powers to live a healthy life.  The kids were catching the wind, smiling, enjoying the day.  An experience like this walk helps us get acquainted with ourselves and the living land community first hand.  As humans we are constituted to walk.  It fills us with insight.  We inhabit the heart of nature.    When we joyfully obey this enthusiasm, we find ourselves in new country, walking into health.

tent-rocks-sandia-in-view

Magic magic magic, or, ode to cycling

You mean I’m the one who has to change?  –Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia

Cycling at Great Sand Dunes last September

Cycling at Great Sand Dunes last September

When times are tough I have to admit that it is not all bad.  This song makes me think of that.  How can life be so tough when I have the freedom and opportunity to ride my bicycle?

corrales-library-biking

Cycling has such great rewards.  Every ride is a sensual experience of the land community.  Ride by ride the landscape enlivens us.  Every effort gives us strength and knowledge.

The Wedding Rocks in Japan

The Wedding Rocks in Japan

This month marks the 20th year since I started cycling daily.  I moved to Reno, Nevada in 1997 and fell in love with cycling, the Great Basin desert, the Sierra Nevada mountains, with learning, and my wife Mai.  That was sweeping change in my life, all because I dove in.  Cycling calls on us to dig deeper, awakening something inside.   It puts us in touch and builds our capacity for empathy and wonder.  Cycling shifts our perspective from detached to engaged, from separated to in touch, especially with the world around us, recognizing we are all made from the same fabric.  Cycling shows us we are all one.  Cycling emancipates us.

el-camino-real

in Bernalillo on the road

Everyone I talk to who cycles has something to share about how cycling provides structure to their lives.  When integrated into routine, cycling is a way of living.  A commute can help blow off steam and refresh the day.  A Saturday morning ride can be a social occasion with friends, with family.  Ride by ride you build your life like a stonemason laying the foundation of your home.

on-the-trail

cholla-garden

Cycling is making the day your own.  Propel yourself joyfully into nature’s order.  The heart that beats to the cycling rhythm is timed to kindness.  Our minds are illuminated by making our way in the world with the simple proposition of a bike ride.  And road cycling is a virtual Leave No Trace activity.  It is way to put sweat equity back into our communities.  To be a good example for our kids.  To be a kid again.  It is amazing how a simple act fills us with such joy.

tramway

Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.  — H.G. Wells

The Spirit of the Bicycle

Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?  –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

Bicycles remind me of the Canadian rock band Rush.  They’ve never had the marketing machine elevating them to pop star status, but their audience grows over the years through consistent competency, practicality, artistry, value and pure fun.  They simply perform well.

west-looking

And so it is with the bicycle.  I was talking with a bike shop manager during a ride.  His ideal customer is someone just getting started and wanting an entry level bicycle, $400 or so.  They ride it until it wears out.  Through their experience, they have a clearer idea for the next one.  I told him that was my story.  I started riding almost 20 years ago on a Specialized Rockhopper.  It cost about $400.  Now, 20+ bikes later, I’m on a Specialized Tarmac.  Technology is wonderful, but the most important thing is your bike fits you, and is mechanically sound.  How much money you spend is irrelevant.  The ride characteristics come from you, the rider, from your heart and soul.  A good bike lets you do what you want to do.  It is intuitive, honest, trustful.  You are the instrument making the sound.  You make the bicycle go where you want to be.

wilderness-edge

The places we can go are fabulous!  When I was driving 18-wheeler across America for a living, I saw a lot of country.  But I missed most of what was out there.  The bicycle allows you to immerse yourself and get a 360 degree experience of the landscape surrounding you.   Cycling experiences make our senses and minds more impressionable.  It keeps us fresh, youthful.  If I would have had a bicycle with me on my 18-wheeler rig to ride during layovers, loading times, and rest days, I could still be truckin’.  We live in the best of both worlds.  We have macro-transportation capabilities to span the globe, and can find intimacy and serene pleasure too if we take the time to be quiet, humble, and explore under our own useful and fitting powers.  Keeping a balance is key.  We have to choose wisely, and accommodate ourselves to the world.

fr-445-specialized-action

The bicycle allows us to build an understanding of the world minus the scaffolding.  The structure of the cycling experience is almost unmediated.  What a brilliant, fun technology.  The bicycle is sustainable transportation.  It is practical and worthwhile.  My how we need it!

champions

tall-view

If you want to be a champion to future generations and create important changes now, be a champion of the humble bicycle.  Let people make music with the bicycle.  Embrace this technology and abide by it.   Unlike the rock band Rush, bicycles do not grow old.   We are on the precipice of big change in the world.  Bicycles help us move our story in the right direction and produce more positive outcomes, win-wins.  Bicycles build optimism, health, and–

  • get us out of our bubble
  • activate our inherent mobility powers
  • shift our perceptions so we tune in
  • stimulate creative thinking
  • help us meet new people, feel connected to our communities, and be a part of the world
  • assist us in creating change
  • deliver benefits in health and wellness, sustainability, and creative development

Bicycles put humans in a positive light.  Days are gifts as we pedal forward.  The bicycle abides.

at-the-dunes

resources:
Check out Specialized for bicycles.  The spirit of the bicycle is you!

Flying Days

Cranes lead an amazing life.  They sleep on water, glide on air, and feed from the earth.  Mai and I made our holidays a New Mexico stay-cation.  We visited our feathery friends down south.

bernardo-corn-tips-and-wings

bernardo-corn-twist

bernardo-crane-flight

My cell phone is at its limits trying to capture the majesty of these birds.  Mai took photos with her Nikon, and when she releases those, I can do a blog post with better imagery.  But I just had to put these up since these trips to spend time with birds bring such serenity and excitement.  Or as John Muir said, breaking clear away and spending time in Nature will “wash your spirit clean.”  Most of the birds pictured are snow geese, just because they are easier to photograph.  Cranes are more fun to watch, though.  They feed, dance, and play all day.  They talk a lot, too.

bernardo-cranes-soaring

bernardo-sunrise-and-bird-flight

snow-geese-explosion

We live in a time where it is important to dream ecodreams.  Visions of humans as a part of a world where all life flourishes.  Wildlife reminds me of the equivalency of all times.  Our life would be much poorer if we loose it.  Future generations will judge us by our actions on this most important issue of our times, conserving land and biodiversity, the source of all wealth.

bernardo-cranes

bernardo-flyout-all-in-line

bernardo-leagues

It is touching to see so many birds thriving.  People giggle with laughter standing witness to so many birds in action.  Managing the wetlands for harmonious relations between humans and other wildlife is a good example of Aldo Leopold’s principle of a land ethic, where “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.”

bernardo-snow-geese-from-field

bernardo-snow-geese-circling

bernardo-circular

We when drove down at predawn, we watched an almost new moon with just a sliver of edgy light rise slowly up above the Manzanos to the east.  The black disk shadowing earth’s orbiting companion.  There is a splendor to this time of day, greeting sunrise with the birds.  Although it is nothing but common, there is kind a momentary glory that hitches itself to your life.  When people come into contact with healthy nature and we receive it with impressionable senses, we are sowing the seeds for a brighter future, where our hearts are fresh, energetic, and true.

swimming-out

bosque-del-apache-sunrise-flyway