Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Things I Still Have To Do

With only 2 days to go I am faced with what seems like a million things to still take care of before I go. I need to:

  •  Order my phone through Rentafone Japan
  • Pick up a pack cover, some extra hiking socks, boxers, pack repair kit, batteries, and insect repellant from EMS
  • Print out my Nakasendo Map from the computer
  • Print out my Hotel/Ryokan confirmation e-mails and their locations
  • Print out my itinerary
  • Buy my remaining toiletries: sunscreen, deodorant
  • Remember my Passport
  • Pick a Medical School
  • Pack everything up 
  • Get on a plane

Monday, May 4, 2009

Traveling Solo

As it gets closer and closer to my trip I've been thinking a lot about what it's going to be like traveling alone for five weeks. I've mentioned this before briefly, but I'd like to talk a little bit more about what this means to me. 

I've never done anything remotely like this before. I had never even been hiking before this year, so making the decision to walk over 300 miles straight was pretty wild for me. Part of the allure is in the fact that this will be (and has been already) one of the few things that I've really done on my own. This is not to say that I think I've lived a particularly sheltered life compared to most. Or that, say, my parents wrote my college essays, like some people I know. But I've never really had to go out and do something on my own like this for an extended period of time.

Mostly, I want to see if I can do this. I know that the act of walking in itself isn't a particularly difficult thing. But I think having to rely on myself day after day for a month will help me learn a lot about who I am, and what I'm made of. It's something that I've thought about quite a bit this year. I was doing Kyokushin Karate for a while this Winter before I moved back upstate with my Mom, and I think that was partially about answering this same question. I've spent too large a portion of my life sitting around and thinking about doing things instead of just going out and doing them myself. So walking the Nakasendo is just one way I can try and figure out who I am.

I know that there will be parts of this trip where I'll want to give up and go home. I will miss my friends, my family, and my Jilly. But in some way I think the best part of going away is that you have time to think about what is really important to you. I think that often we qualitatively label emotions we experience when alone like loneliness or nostalgia as "bad"; but honestly I think that these are some of the best reminders that we are alive. 

Thursday, April 30, 2009

It's Been Way Too Long...

First off, I should apologize to anyone who actually cares and reads this blog. I have been so awful about updating this blog. I've been busy traveling on medical school related business for the past two weeks, but still, I should have taken some time to organize my life and post some updates on here. By the way, anyone who is interested in my more general ramblings about medical school and life should check out my other page Paging Dr. Bad

Now for the fun stuff. I'm actually buying most of the rest of my gear for the trip right now on Backcountry. Anyone interested in doing any sort of outdoors activities should check out their online store. They have a ton of stuff, much of it on sale, and you can return almost anything at anytime. I also bought some items at my local Eastern Mountain Sports store yesterday, including another SmartWool merino baselayer, a SIGG water bottle, some moisture wicking socks, a pair of NorthFace shorts and a pair of convertible pants. I'm doing pretty well in terms of what I need, but it's coming down to the wire and I need to buy the rest of what I need ASAP so I can be sure I haven't forgotten anything. 

The gaps in places to stay I talked about in my last post (way back when) are still there, staring at me every time I check my list of accommodations. But that's OK. I'm going to bring a sleeping pad and bag as well as a Bivy. If Plan A fails (asking at the Tourist Information Center via my Japanese Phrase Book) then I'll try Plan B (looking like a nice, lost gaijin who needs a floor to sleep on). And if Plan B fails, well, I'll be sleeping behind a shrine or on the train station bench. But as the Walking Fool kindly reminded me, when I sleep outside, I need to be sure I do it in a place that doesn't have any signs warning me about the local bears! I'm not sure exactly what those look like, or if I'll even be able to read them, but I imagine they have a picture of an angry bear on them somewhere. Ahhh adventure. All I can say is I will make sure to stealth camp or sleep nojuku in a relatively urban/suburban area. Think outskirts of town or under the eaves of a train station rather than the middle of the bear infested woods.

So - I'm going to stop being such a bum and start posting on this thing regularly as my trip approaches. It's hard to believe that I'm only 2 weeks away from flying to another country to walk over 300 miles. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about the whole thing, and I think that's OK. Tomorrow I'm going to talk a little bit about what I think traveling solo will mean to me; good and bad. I'm also going to post my plan for keeping in shape while I'm on the trip. On my other page I've been posting about my plan to gain some weight (think Vin Diesel not Oprah). Also look forward to my updated gear list in a bit, that along with pictures from a few of my training walks. Until then, thanks for reading.

Estimated Distance Walked Since Last Update: 65 miles
Total Distance Walked: 123.28 miles

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Revising The Gear List

With only 10 days to go, I need to finalize my gear list (amongst many other pressing matters), to make sure that I can grab every last little thing I need before I leave for Japan. I've got a mega-order coming in from Backcountry tomorrow, but there are still a bunch of odds and ends I want to grab to make my trip run as smooth as possible. Below is the much updated list. Let me know if you see something you think I need.

  • Backpack: Osprey Aether 70 (Emerald Green)
  • Sleeping Bag: Big Agnes Summer Bag 
  • Sleeping Pad: Big Agnes Air Pad
  • Shelter: Bibler Bivy Sack
  • Rain Jacket: Cabela's Gore-Tex Pac-Lite Rainy River Parka (Tall)
  • Rain Pants: Cabela's Gore-Tex Pac-Lite Rainy River Pants (Tall)
  • Hiking Boots: Merrell Chameleon Evo Gore-Tex XCR; Nike Air-Pegasus
  • Boot/Shoe Inserts: SuperFeet Green and SuperFeet Orange
  • Sandals: Teva Tera Fi II (Black)
  • Glasses: Rx RayBan Aviator Sunglasses; Two Pairs Rx Glasses
  • Hat: Yankees Cap 
  • Undergarments/Base Layers: SmartWool Micro Long Sleeve; SmartWool Medium Long Sleeve; 2 NorthFace Flight Series Synthetic T-Shirt; 2 Patagonia Wool1 Merino Short Sleeve Shirts; Underarmor Boxers
  • Pants/Shorts: 1 EMS Excursion Convertible Pants; 2 Arcteryx Long Shorts; 1 The North Face Hiking Shorts
  • Fleece: The North Face Denali Fleece
  • Hiking Socks: SmartWool PhD Medium Socks; Wicking Socks 
  • Stuff/Dry Sacks: 
  • First Aid Kit: (To Buy)
  • Sunscreen/Lipbalm:
  • Earplugs: Hearos
  • Camera: Cannon Powershot (Including Case and Charger)
  • Maps: Google Map Printouts; Japanese Cartoon Map; Guidebook
  • Map Case: (To Buy)
  • Compass: (To Buy)
  • Guide Books: Lonely Plantet Japan
  • Phrase Books: (To Buy)
  • Cell Phone: Rentaphone (To Order)
  • Swimming Trunks: 
  • Towel: Micro Backpacking Towel
  • Water Bottle: 2x 1 Liter Water Bottle
  • Snacks: Trail Mix (To Buy)
  • Beer

Saturday, April 4, 2009

I Have a Plan - Sort Of

It's been a long time since I've updated this page, mostly because I've been crazy busy for the past two weekends, which is when I usually get to update it. I've also been busy booking places to stay on the trip, and I'd say I'm a little more than half way through that process, which is pretty good. I have some gaps in there though, and I'm trying to figure out how exactly I'm going to go about sleeping in those cases. As I see it there a few options.

My first option (which is really a group of related options) is to either fax or call the places I haven't been able to book online through sites like Rakuten. Fax is a better option, as I've heard generally Japanese speakers are often more comfortable with written English. The downside is I don't really have anywhere where I can fax the document and wait to make sure I get the return fax. And although my Japanese is improving in very basic scenarios thanks to JapanesePod, I'm not quite delusional or drunk enough at the moment to think I can call one of these places up and sound coherent. My friend Yuuji has offered to call some of the places up for me and take care of it in Japanese for me, and in some of the busier areas where things might get filled up, I may take him up on that offer. Another thought is to try and have some of my previous hotels, or even the Tourist Information Center at Narita Airport to call them up on my behalf.

My second option is to try and book a place using my extremely limited Japanese at the Tourist Information Centers that are located by the train station in most towns throughout Japan. This could be difficult - I'm well aware most of the clerks won't speak a word of English. The thought of me standing there repeating minshuku or ryokan to a confused attendant is somewhat funny though. And I'm thinking with a phrasebook it's possible that I could pull this one off in a bind.

The third option, which I'm considering more and more, is to simply attempt stealth camping or nojuku, which is what my friend over at 546km is planning on doing for the whole trip. In places like the Kiso Valley, I think this might be my only option if I can't find a place to stay. Figuring out gear for this scenario is a little more complicated though, and I really don't want to carry all the extra weight of a tent for limited use. One thing I've considered is just going the way of many ultra-light hikers and using a bivy as a shelter. One option I definitely don't want to pursue is sleeping outside, no shelter, in the rain. 

All in all I will probably pursue a mixture of all three options and see where that takes me. Sleeping outside could potentially suck, depending on weather and the availability of stealth camping sites. But it may also be a great cost saver in a country where even budget accommodations aren't very budget. More to come, including pictures of an Appalachian Trail Hike I've done a few times over the past few weeks.

Estimated Distance Walked Since Last Post: 39 miles
Total Distance Walked: 58.28 miles

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Bronx River Pathway - Shoes

Well, for those of you who don't know, I've been working Jury Duty in White Plains for the past few weeks. Besides my very interesting experience with the law and criminal trials, I also got so spend a bunch of time walking around while waiting for my Mom to get out of work. It turns out that the Bronx River Pathway, which runs continually all the way from Hartsdale to Kensico Dam in Valhalla, passes right through White Plains. I made a point of going and walking on the path as often as I had time. Sometimes I walked up to Kensico Dam and other days walked South to Hartsdale.

On some of the days I covered up to 8 miles in 2 and 1/2 hours, heading to Kensico Dam Plaza in Valhalla and then back to White Plains. I think this is pretty good, considering my training is just beginning; and I had no real blisters, although I did experience some foot soreness on the bottom of my heel and forefoot. I believe that part of the reason I had foot soreness is because I have insanely high arches: one amongst a long list of things I can curse in my gene pool. I'm hoping that some Superfeet Insoles will help support my arches. 

Also, The walking fool has been helpful once again in detailing the kind of paths I will encounter on my trip. Considering that most of what I will encounter on the Nakasendo will be paved over or smooth dirt paths, I am going to try to find some regular walking shoes with Gore-Tex and tons of cushion in place of my Merrell Chameleons. I think the Merrell's more aggressive tread and increased stability is better suited for the kind of hiking I plan on doing here in Upstate New York, such as the section of the Appalachian Trail in Pawling. On regular paths it feels like there is not enough surface touching the concrete to support the bottoms of my feet. The last thing I want to deal with (after getting lost and blisters) is unnecessarily sore feet. So here's hoping I can get this figured out soon. 


Distance Walked Past Few Days: 8.4 miles
Total Distance Walked: 19.28 miles

Sunday, March 15, 2009

In 60 Days I'll be in Tokyo

It's hard to believe that I will be in Tokyo in just two months. I still have a ton of things to take care of and a ton of training to do. But despite all the work and preparation, or perhaps because of it, I am getting excited for this trip. I have been telling my girlfriend, my sister, my parents - really anyone that will listen to me - how excited I am about this.

 But more than anything, I am motivated by the fact that this will essentially be the first serious thing I've ever done in my life by myself. Those of you who know me know that I've been out of school (graduated) since May of last year, working a crap job that involves me fixing other people's problems for lousy compensation. Sitting there for hour upon mindless hour I didn't simply lament the terrible state of my semi-professional life. I thought about what this year "off" was supposed to be about. It was supposed to be (at least according to my academic advisor!) about me figuring out where I should go to medical school, and perhaps more importantly about me figuring out who I am - that is - the essence of me. 

Sitting trapped in a cubicle wasting hours of my life for minimum wage made me realize that I was also wasting perhaps the one great opportunity I would have in life to do something extraordinary, and to find out a little bit about myself in the process. The truth is that I have always been afraid of doing new things, and especially by myself. That is, until I started sitting in my cubicle. I am looking at the Nakasendo as not only an amazing opportunity to see Japan but also as a chance to experience something powerful on my own.

I keep coming back to a few important quotes that have been stuck in my head recently. The first one is simple: "Be the man you want to be." For so long I have been either going through the motions or just too scared to man up and become the person I want to be. Walking the Nakasendo is a part of becoming who I want to be. As Alan Booth describes what he ultimately took away from walking through Japan in The Roads to Sata, "I think I've learned a bit about Japan and a lot about myself." I can only hope to be so fortunate.

Distance Walked Today and Yesterday: 2.5 Miles
Total Distance Walked: 10.88 Miles