Friday, July 27, 2018

We Took The Long Way Home

It's my 49th birthday.  We celebrate the day before during our day off in Fruitvale at a campground with a disc golf course!  Rick grills up a chicken BBQ with corn on the cob and coal-baked potatoes.

Roadside flowers that follow the morning sun and close up in the afternoon, appearing to be weeds in strict contrast to their incredible morning show.

The boys had just been lamenting their loss of sailing this summer as they weren't at their usual summer place - Camp Mishawaka.  However, low and behold we were hosted that night by a Warm Showers couple who treated the boys to access to their Hobie Cat, as well as a competitive game of Settlers of Catan.

An Elvis siting?  I think this guy was an imposter.  He showed up on our path as we pedaled another part of the Kettle Valley Trail.

Living outside...Sampson will especially miss the daily jump into a cooling waterway on our path.

I celebrate my birthday all July long.  This is another of my birthday treats.  Vanilla ice cream, craisin walnut oatmeal cookies and fresh strawberries.

The mountains in BC are endless.
Our last 3 weeks ride, Vancouver to  Calgary, an intentionally drawn out and thoughtful return home  - such a key part of our transition back to our life living a more "normal" lifestyle.  The ride has been fantastic.  It seems as though we've climbed innumerable passes (summits) but indeed I think it has just been 6 thus far - 2 more to go.  We've been astounded by the Selkirk Mountains, the Purcells, and now that we are about to cross the Rockies I do believe these mountains of ours (Calgary's) are really the most special of all.  The route we've traveled appears quite circuitous if you view it on a map - why would we add numerous kilometers to our return-to-Calgary-route that does need to meet a timeline? (Sampson's diploma exam for English, August 1 and 3, lurks just days away).  Our choice of route follows the same program we've followed the entire journey - make the most of opportunities that pop up in your path.

The last few days have been peppered with press.  Rick sent a note to the Calgary Herald, "Would they be interested in covering our story in the news? The note received an affirmative.  The initial article, first in the news blog and then in the physical paper was followed by several more interviews with local publications.  It's fun to talk about our journey, and I hope we are getting better at expressing the entertaining bits to people who find our trip of interest.  I guess I hope to get across the point, that for me, the trip is all about experiencing the great unknown successfully with the result of each of us attaining priceless respect for each other.  What more could a mother of three teenagers want?l

I will drink in the last remaining four ride days of the road home.  I offer to each person we brushed paths with on this trip a sincere appreciation for their involvement, support and additions to this incredible year we've had. Our life in Calgary and the upcoming adventures here await.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Sweet Home Canada

"Cowboy Chili", a perfect meal for dry camping along the trail.  Rick is a mean cook and it isn't just that food tastes better outside.

Blueberry morning, creamiest oatmeal we've had in a year!  Something special about returning to food you are familiar with.  We passed by fields of blueberry plants loaded with berries as we rode towards the Rockies out of Vancouver.  Two pounds fresh picked, sold out of the farmer's garage cost $4 Canadian.  How could we pass that up?
After a day of biking and starting out the Kettle Valley Trail out of Princeton, British Columbia, Tarn is deep into his downloaded book.  We camped on a piece of land donated to trail users in honor of the original homesteaders of the land.  Most gorgeous wild camping we've had. Not a speck of garbage, wildflowers everywhere, and layers of mountains beyond the gentle high country valley we were traveling up at railroad grade - 3%.  Pretty awesome.

Wow, what a country we live in.  We have traveled through 18 countries in the past 12 months and I am so happy to have these last few weeks to travel mine.  True pleasures?  Speaking the language and talking to people. Being able to get local knowledge multiple times a day. Buying food I'm familiar with and being on a closer time zone to family and friends.  Traveling slow, our style, through areas I've zoomed by in a car - the route from Vancouver to Calgary.  Taking in the beauty of the Canadian Rockies from the western approach.  Currently we are in Okanagan Falls taking a rest day.  The weather has been hot and clear for days, following our wet, chilly exit out of the lower mainland Vancouver.  We hopped onto the Kettle Valley Trail (a rail-to-trail route) and found amazing camping, fun single track and chopped up loose/rocky portions that were possible to  route off of to quiet and smooth dirt or paved roads.  We must be home by July 31st, Sampson takes a diploma exam in Calgary on August 1st.  Ahead we have numerous mountain passes and friends we hope to visit along the way.   We continue to "write our itinerary" at the end of each day; we are amazed each evening at what adventure and un-predicted circumstances and opportunities we had encountered that day.  We love this way travel, yet love our life in Calgary also and this trip will come to conclusion very soon.  I look forward to the smiling faces of the kids I get to care for in my Day Home, having a stove top with iron cookware and an oven for the baked goods Sampson, Markos and Tarn have brought up time and time again over this past year; our shady back yard and our wonderful neighbours who have cared for our home and our dear cat Vera over this past year.  Homecoming will be outstanding!

  (But we still get to live the life of the traveler for 2 more weeks!  Yee haw!)

Monday, July 9, 2018

Tokyo to Vancouver

The "Cocoon" building, from the 45th Floor of the Tokyo government municipal building.We began our three days traveling as "tourists" with a view of Tokyo from the top.
Sampson captures some angles inside the Tokyo Forum convention centre.
The "Hello Kitty" display at the Tokyo Tower gift shops are the place-to-go when in Japan!
Night lights in Sujuko. We met our friend Adam for an evening meal at an Izakaya, the Japanese version of an Irish pub/Spanish tapas bar.  Adam has lived in Japan for a bit of time and teaches English in Tokyo.  It adds so much to a big-city experience to have local knowledge and to go out with friends - how lucky we were to be in Tokyo with both!
Rick cooked the fish, Joan made the salad, another delicious meal with great people.  Joan and Rich took the role of a major support team during our time in the Tokyo area.
Good-bye Japan. China Airlines flew us through Beijing to Vancouver.  Unfortunately, an abrasive female security officer confiscated our lithium battery (used to re-charge the computers), it's a good thing school is out!
Sampson and Markos hula the hoops at a car-free fair on Commercial Drive, Vancouver.  We take a day off the bikes to acclimate to the new time zone (14 hours difference from Tokyo) and have a bit of fun!
Tokyo to Vancouver
What a whirlwind. And a good one.  We spent 3 days in Tokyo as tourists.  We took on the town with daypacks and ideas AND ended up with three fantastic reunions with friends new and old –what a setting.  The lights, the sights – we conquered the challenge of the megacity with style and had an incredible experience.  From finding an affordable hostel close to a neighbourhood veggie and dry goods market to having great consensus and harmony between the five of us, making a strategic plan for each "tourist" day.  And then, our exit, a 70 km ride through the city to get to the airport.  Surprisingly it proved to be smooth and doable…a civilized affair compared to the entry/exit from Phnom Pehn, Cambodia and Hanoi, Vietnam.

A short list of “Japan” for the McFerrins:
-“onagiri” rice/seaweed treats for a daily snack, “squid snacks” and little dried, salty minnows for a pre-dinner appetiser, additionally we will remember Rick’s skills at making popcorn with our camp kitchen
-the heaven/spa experience of finding an “onsen” on rainy days
-urban camping and the cheery interest of Japanese park walkers
-forest descents along rushing waterways, unexpected mountain bike “roads” and hidden shrines below towering trees
-cleanliness, order and kindness

We have arrived back on the North American continent; door-to-door…. 51 hours straight of biking-flying-biking.  Wonderful Warm Showers hosts at both ends.  Walking the aisles of Canadian Tire to find a new helmet for Tarn and shopping at Canadian Super Store for groceries was full immersion into the extreme array of products available at the fingertips of North Americans.  All the “stuff” that my simple life for the past year has been void of.  It’s nice to have the option to find whatever you need in one store but wow, the vastness of product is something to fathom.  We look forward to the remaining days of our simple life ahead as we cycle back to Calgary.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Last Weeks of School - focus and fun

Hydrangeas are in full force.  We arrived in Japan just after the cherry blossoms but no one ever talks about the whole rest of the crazy blooming spring in Japan.  It seems each week we are here brings the extreme explosion of the next bloom.  First it was the pink azealea bushes, then the lilies, iris, jasmine, roses and now the hydrangeas. The colorful flowers line the roads, fill the forest and grow out of the mossy walls and planted potted gardens.
Pictured is a taste sensation.  Our travels in Japan so far have been fueled by feasts we have created through grocery purchases and our western ingenuity.  When we stayed with our Japanese exchange student's family, his parents treated us to many Japanese culinary treats.  At the restaurant above, we sat at one of two small dining areas, with our feet below the "ground" level, in a space that opened below the table.  We sat on woven flat mats.  If you wanted a backrest, chairs without legs were handy to tuck under your bum and lean back on.
The small tower of plates emptied by four voracious teenagers.  Takehiro's family took us to a "conveyor belt" sushi restaurant where the boys ordered single plates of items on a touch screen.  Then, within minutes, their request appeared table side on a conveyor belt that shot out from the unseen kitchen.
A wet, wet frog crossing the road.  June is rainy season in Japan.  We've had numerous days climbing mountains in soaking rain.  Our creative campsites require some form of shelter.  Fortunately, the sun does come out and we dry out, though the waft of mildew seems to be ever present.  Yesterday was a day of cleanse.  We found a coin laundry and gave our entire wardrobe a wash and super dry.  Following we sought out an onsen (public spa) and scrubbed our bodies and cleared our minds in the restive setting of complete relaxation.
Mount Fuji.  Finally a clear day to see it well.  We've traveled in the Fuji area for several weeks now and glimpses of it are always special.
Sign posts on our ridge hike.  We got familiar with reading the Japanese symbols for the name of our route. The signage was frequently in Japanese only. The picture above this one  are the supplies we bought for our two day hike.  We created make-shift backpacks out of our panniers and got creative with what we could buy and carry.  The small mountain town we based out of had pretty limited, and pricey, supplies.  When you are used to biking, planning a 2 day hike requires a lot of effort.  We found great storage for our gear, scoped out the trail head and organized our hike supplies - all within the parameters of being back in the mountain town for scheduled school Skype calls, receiving responses from teachers on writing drafts, and being present for scheduled science quizzes. (Never mind that we are camped out at a river-side shelter, it's raining on and off and we don't speak Japanese.)

Sampson, Markos and Tarn are buckled down to their final school projects.  We are stationed at a riverside campsite where the excellent wifi from the nearby visitor centre is accessible round the clock.  The our location – a town named Okutama.  Here hikers and bikers from Tokyo take the train for weekend adventures.  Large groups of expeditioners arrive with each train, get their gear adjusted and head off into the hills, clearing the plaza for the next group.  We plan our “Stoney Ridge” hike to start Monday, when the trails will be clear and the hut at the top empty.  We have observed that many Japanese get out on weekends, and these are good times to avoid popular sites.

We are feeling the beginning of our last days in Japan. Who knows when each of us will get to return? We all are lingering in the present and wanting to make the most of our days here. Ahead...a cycle into the urban area surrounding Tokyo. Final exams supervised by new friends Joan and Rich, storage of our gear,  sightseeing in Tokyo for two days and finally, taking a bus to the airport and boarding a flight to the last leg of our trip: Vancouver to Calgary.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Highways, byways, footpaths and stairs –

Fifteen days non-stop (non rest day) between Hiroshima and Odawara.  We never would have imagined the crazy route we'd take, the weather, the bike repairs, the unbelievable extremes of biking situations we'd encounter, the temple sites, camp-landing places and ascents and descents we'd experience.  But we did it.  We made it to our goal of arriving as planned at our Japanese exchange student, Takehiro's home, on time, on the 15th of June.  His parents and Takehiro took care of us like royalty this past weekend, and the brutality of the two weeks past was shed with the beauty of hospitality in this Japanese home. Some of the highlights of our past 15 days...
The 75 km Shimanami Kaido cycle path connecting Honshu to Shokoku by 5 huge bridges.  So much fun.  Likely due to it being Saturday, we cycled the route with hundreds of other cyclists.  We chose the "beginner route" to
"slow down and ease off" - the shorelines and the easy 3% switchbacks up to the bridges made for a leisurely and thoroughly enjoyable experience.
One of the giant infrastructure roads lifting us up on a dedicated bike lane to one of the bridges connecting the islands of the cycle route.
Ojizo-samas, commonly wearing red bibs.  This shrine we passed as we rode up the Iya Valley, an incredible gorge leading to a not so incredible "vine" bridge/tourist trap.
Koyasan - wow.  An incredibly sacred location on a mountain top, following an 800 meter climb which involved 24% grade pulling up of the bikes and gear, traffic on mountain switchbacks without shoulders, and rain.  We found refuge for the night beside a deserted baseball diamond and stayed dry, cooking dinner in the dugout which had its own lighting and sink!  Japanese attention to detail included a drainage system that allowed the flooding field to pour into a covered trench...keeping us dry and super happy.
Part of the course requirements for Phys Ed 30 - an active volunteer component.  Sampson shows off part of his 10 hour volunteer commitment: cleaning up garbage.  It definitely makes a significant difference to the sites we camp, which although mostly clean, often have areas that given a 1/2 of volunteerism, look sensationally better.  Here we are camped out by a reservoir.
Pushing the bikes again!  Another opportunity to get off a busy road led to smaller and smaller roads, then mountain bike/touring, then slippery slidey inclines.  We had to unload and carry our gear over a ravine at one point.  Part of the unknown involved with taking the road less traveled!
A delicious salad and corn-based stew with chicken, mushrooms and broccoli.  We connected with Japanese "Warm Showers" hosts and got to stay in their heritage Japanese tea house/guest room.  Takumi, Setsuko and their daughter Yuno also had the answer to a better fix on Rick and Tarn's rear-derailleur which the day before had twist/broken off the bent derailleur hanger in a likely "no possible return" way.  Rick had once again worked the near impossible with another ingenious solution, Takumi had a replacement part that meant the repair was solid for the long term.
These cats were super creepy.  We traveled some bike ways on dikes along the coast and every once in a while a bunch of wild cats would appear.  We camped in a rather abondoned park area one night and they were slinking around in the woods....usually we love cats but these ones.....not such a good feeling.
Markos on top of these giant cement coast line controllers gives them some scale.  How do they move these things here?  We saw a huge metal mold for creating them withing 1/2 Km, so at least they didn't have to be moved that far.  Maybe they were made in place?  In Japan we are constantly aware of our placement in relation to sea level.  Tsunami signage of evacuation locations and placards indicating how many meters you are above sea level are common place along the roadside.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Riding Strong on the Island of Honshu



Sampson....our boys have become travel savvy.

Sampson and Markos learn how to make a tasty treat from Japanese workers who are staying at the same hostel we did 10 days ago.  Our days off have been farther apart, but golden when they come together.

The shrine we came upon at snack time - amazing things that show up out of the forest.

Rick and Tarn in a selfie, flying down a river road.

Misty clouds and moutains.

My rims were cracking.  Rick spent a day on our arrival to Honshu building me a new wheel.  At the same time Markos' rear hub completely failed and fortuneatly, a bike shop appeared at the right time.  The owner was super resourceful , and though he hadn't the right type of wheel at his shop, we waited a bit and one arrived by car.  Rick took Markos' former rim and used it to replace mine.  Rick's mechanic skills are extensive, as well as his patience.  He keeps us all rolling.
Japan is a surreal experience.

I’m sitting on a couch, drinking a cup of tea.  Seems like a normal thing to do, yet I haven’t had a home like this in….how long?  We’ve decided to treat ourselves to an AirBNB in central Hiroshima.  The historical significance of this location is one that we wanted to take time to digest.  Our bikes and gear have a place to be without us “babysitting” them and today, we went to the Peace Park and the museums and monuments. These locations are dedicated to Peace and designed to teach the world about the results that occur from the use of nuclear bombs. The discussions over lunch amongst my family were proof that our visit to Hiroshima had a significant impact on my children’s understanding of nuclear weapons.  From the number of Japanese school kids piling into the museum from a sea of buses, I could see that Japan is making sure they teach their youth about the significance of the use of nuclear weapons also.

We have been cycling the main island of Japan, Honshu, for just about a week.  It took me a short bit to embrace it as I had such an incredible experience on the island of Kyushu where we started our cycle journey in Japan.  Here on Honshu there seemed to be more noise, it was busier, there were thundering motorcycles….but then the Japan Cycle Network route we are currently following led us up through gentle climbing river valleys, low clouded, older looking mountains and into new landscapes.  A high karst region – prairie lands speckled with sharp limestone boulders.  An ancient samurai town with river fortifications and unique architecture.  Beautifully maintained community gardens. Seas of green rice terraces perfectly planted by amazingly designed machines.  A huge 800 year old cedar looking over an ancient Shinto shrine where we stopped by chance for a snack break.  Honshu has character of its own.

Sampson, Markos and Tarn are buckled down to their last month of studies.  Distance learning this year has taught them time management and significant communication skills.  I have no doubt that in their year ahead returning to the traditional classroom they will feel on top of their game.