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Backroads of Gunma…

These roads were made long before cars, or bicycles… These roads were built by those who lived remotely, either for security or seclusion, in the high mountains of Honshu…

These are the roads I dreamed of before heading to Japan, and while there were better (as you will soon see) this was the first proper, old road we had the pleasure to travel…

Gunma will stay with me always…

No editing here… One take… Eight minutes of what was a 40 minute descent… This was the best section though…

 

 

Riding Fuji…

I’ve been pretty cold on a bike a few times…

A few friends and I got caught in a storm rolling through Gardens of Stone National Park once, rained hard and icey wind came up, and we had no choice to ride through it for about an hour and a half… We all made it out safe, but I lost the feeling in most of my right hand for three months…

When Rosie and I decided to take a day and ride up to Fifth Station on Mount Fuji, at around 2600 metres, it was a glorious sunny day… We packed light, but took all out warm and waterproof stuff and headed out through Kawaguchiko for the Subaru owned road to Fifth…

Grabbed some important supplies along the way…

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Fujiyama dark beer is pretty awesome…

Few hours of riding in the increasing old to Fifth Station was really pleasant, even as the snow by the road side deepened… Sun no longer shining as we were up in the clouds now, but we were having a great time…

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Arriving at Fifth, was a bit weird actually… The place was pumping… Full of tourists that had come up in a bus along another route… No one was partaking of soft-cream though…

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Aside from totally random souvenirs, like most places in Japan they had a pretty awesome little restaurant and a big bowl of gyu don and some ramen went down nice… And a beer… Or two…

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That’s about where the fun ended though… At least until we reached the rest area at the bottom of Suburu Line, about a 35 minute descent…

We were both wearing baselayer, heavy seven or eight hundred loft down jackets, gore tex over the top… Merino tights, waterproof and windproof pants… Shoe covers and a couple of pairs of gloves… Thick hats…

Despite all that, it is the coldest I have ever been on a bike (maybe Rosie had ridden in colder in Scotland) and have no wish to be that cold ever again… Looking back though, I am so glad we did it…

Here’s a short edit… Apologies for the quality, it is filmed on Rosie’s OLD Canon handheld mounted on my handle bar… Music starts about a minute in so give it a chance… Only my second go editing video, let me know your thoughts…

Hope you enjoy… More soon…

Been A While…

But hope you all get an email that says I posted something and smile…

Been messing with some footage from Japan – there is HOURS of it – and put a small edit together…

No music, bit rattly from some resonance through the frame, but if you listen you can hear the ocean, some Tombi (Kites) and my Chris King rear hub…

Hopefully you find it reasonably entertaining… Next effort will be better – I do have footage of decending Mount Fuji with the road covered in ice and snow…

 

Maybe see you again real soon…

Dear Arran Pearson…

I remember when you were a fat banker…

I remember when your bike fell off your car at a hundred kilometres an hour the week before a huge race and we had to build you something from scratch a week out…

I remember when I put together a week long bike ride for my thirtieth birthday and you were the first one to yell ‘Hells Yes!’ Was that your first multiday ride? Maybe, maybe not… Either way that was some of the best times of my life…

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I remember getting caught in a storm on that same ride and you and I discussing the near hypothermic nature of our friends and whether extraction was going to be needed…

I remember when you broke your shoulder and your collarbone like a thousand times and got strong, and back on the bike each time…

I remember when you made mistakes and copped some shit from people, and from me, on the internet and said ‘Yep, fucked that up a little, let’s remember that and keep rolling…’

Remember when we took all those hubbards out for a two day ride which they assumed would be easy, cause you know, fire trail is easy to ride, right? Few people learned some things that weekend…

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Three Days from now, you will wake in Banff, Canada and begin your journey towards Mexico in the 2013 Tour Divide… I know we’ve been speaking about it and you’ve definitely been thinking about it and training for it for so long now that it maybe doesn’t seem so but holy shit man, this is massive…

One of the things I will miss most about no longer working in the bicycle industry is having the opportunity to be a part of journeys like yours… You’re still a banker (nobody is perfect right?) but of all the people I know, of all my friends, you have taken your life and turned it into something pretty special, bettered yourself, and that is a massive inspiration to me and I think to a lot of other people around you and those that have been following your progress

So thanks man…

If you come back the same Arran as the one that left, frankly I’ll be impressed that you were that in touch with yourself before the ride, but I think this shit is gonna change you… Either way I am looking forward to hearing the stories both good and bad over some hard to find beers on your return…

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Oh, and if you DNF for any reasons other than ‘consumption by bear,’ breaking some kind of bone or that little Sheep gives up the ghost and snaps in half, we’re not speaking for a while…

All the best man… We’ll be following you all the way…

A Musical Interlude…

Yes. It has been some time since I posted here… There has been plenty going on – lots of new stuff at work, plenty of personal shit and a tonne of excellent bike riding. I don’t, however, really seem to be in a place where I feel like writing much about it and sharing it with you all, so I hope an introduction (and it will be an introduction to most) to some of the tunes that have gotten me through the past few weeks will suffice in lieu of something more substantial…

I’m gonna start with this, because as much as I am not really that into Irish folk music, this tune and the video clip totally made my week… HUGE thanks to my friend Mutsumi for sharing it with me… Pretty hard not to smile listening to and watching this, and was nice to come across it at a time this week where I really needed a bit of a cheer up…

 

Woods of Ypres. These guys have been the soundtrack to my 2013 really, after my awesome punk-rock-dad of a friend Rod put me on to them… It’s interesting hearing someone you will never know summarise the way you feel about something, so simply and beautifully… I will never grow tired of this song…

 

Raindigger… I don’t really know what I can say about it… Erik Mongrain is a strange looking cat, but shit… Just listen…

 

Lastly, she was here recently but I had way too much going on and I missed her… Pretty good chance I’d have been just about the only non-lesbian in the house though and I get that at home… So good…

 

More real life stuff soon, I promise…

 

The Knife…

Three days before I arrived back in Sydney from Japan was my father’s sixtieth birthday… I was pretty bummed that I was not going to be at home for it, but he’s not a huge birthday-celebrating kind of guy anyways…

One of the things I really wanted to do while in Japan though was find him a pretty awesome present… What I had in mind was a knife, made in the Japanese tradition that was passed down from those that honed their techniques through the manufacture of swords… Before I and my sister showed up and spoiled the fun my Dad was doing a bunch of stuff he loved – camping, bow hunting, kayaking – and they have some pretty great stuff in their house that he either carved or built out of wood… It was my hope that, now that he was getting ready to retire, he’d be looking to get back amongst some of that kind of stuff and what man doesn’t need a good knife..?

I did however, have absolutely no idea how to go about finding such a thing…

Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market was suggested by some friends in Tokyo before we departed, but I assumed that the knives there were going to be very cooking oriented… And so we hit the road, and I planned to keep an eye out and maybe ask some people along the way…

It was not until we reached the small town of Yusuhara in western Shikoku that I came across anything…

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Yusuhara, like most Japanese towns, has a small visitors centre where local produce, art and various other items are displayed and sold to travellers and locals alike… They had some pretty interesting looking knives for sale… Some wooden handled, some with handles made from deer antlers, but all with the obvious markings of a blade forged by hand…

‘Do you have any more of these,’ I asked the staff in busted Japanese…

After a little bit of mucking around working out what I wanted and how much things were and asking if I could use their computer to check my bank balance (I had been on the road for seven weeks, I had no idea how much money I had) we were taken a few blocks away to the house of Ken Kageura…

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Kageura-san is not an easy man to find information about on the internet (maybe one of you that reads Japanese can dig up something cool for us?) but here’s a small biography of him…

Unfortunately, I don’t have any decent photos from inside… My brain was working at 110% trying to communicate with Kageura-san’s wife about what exactly I was after and didn’t touch my camera… Rosie took some great pics I’m sure, but incase you hadn’t assumed from her absence in this place since Japan, all is not well there and I do not have access to those pictures… If I ever do, there will be a The Knife Part 2…

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Kageura-san is a 25th generation blacksmith specialising in blades and (as far as I was able to establish from his wife who speaks zero English) his ancestors were creators of swords used during tribal times in Shikoku…

We arranged for a custom sheath to be made and for the knife to be sent to Toumai and Amahina┬áin Takao, the restaurant and store managed by my good friend Hikari where we were staying at the end of the trip…

In the three weeks getting back to Takao, I totally forgot how awesome this thing is…

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I gave it the old thumbnail sharpness test – rest the blade on your thumbnail and using just the weight on the knife itself, drag it along your thumbnail away from you. See how much comes off… The sharpest knife in my kitchen (and it is sharp) barely leaves a visible scratch… This thing almost took my entire nail off!

I want one..!

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I was surprised to find that I had no issues getting it back into Australia, and I presented to my dad the day after I arrived home…

He was pretty stoked to receive it, and even if it doesn’t see much use, I hope he always has it around as a reminder that it doesn’t ever matter how old you are, if you have the time you can definitely take the things that you love doing and make them a big part of your life… Again…

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Can’t wait to go back to Yusuhara…

 

Meet the Muratas…

Around ten years ago, it seems like a lifetime, I received a call from someone in the bike trials world. Who it was I don’t exactly remember, but they had called to tell me that one of Japan’s better trials riders, Riki Murata, was coming to Sydney and was hoping it would be alright to stay at my house for a couple of weeks…

That two weeks basically ended up involving hanging out and riding for hours, drinking way too much beer, and then doing it all again tomorrow… We were both having a pretty good time, and Riki ended up extending his crash on my loungeroom floor to about three months…

There were trials comps, road trips to awesome places to ride and, yeah, a tonne of beers… If you go looking you can find a bunch of videos from this era, this is the best one… That’s me picking his bike up at the end and laughing in disbelief…

Fun times…

When creating the route for the japan trip, one thing I really wanted to do was pass through Riki’s home town of Kochi on the southern island of Shikoku… I had contacted Riki before we left and he sounded pretty stoked to have us come stay for a few days…

Getting to Kochi through western Shikoku was incredible…

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Quiet roads with great surfaces, no traffic and beautiful mountain air… Shikoku is fantastic…

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There’s also Japan’s last freely flowing river, the Shimanto… The road was about five metres above the river, and I have no idea how deep the water was, but you could easily see the bottom and a tonne of fish. Huge fish… Such a beautiful place. The fact that very few Japanese ever make it here is both sad and great at the same time…

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It’s not all rivers, mountains and moles though (yeah! I totally saw a mole… weird!) The southern Shikoku coastline is among the most scenic in the country…

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This is the last ‘getting to Riki’s house’ picture, but I had to share it… I saw this kind of thing a LOT in Japan when riding near the ocean… It’s not an illusion, I don’t think, the road is literally WAY below sea level… There were many places in Japan where I thought that the balance between living in harmony with, and controlling, nature was pretty fragile and this pic sums up my thoughts exactly…

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After some pretty congested roads on the outskirts of Kochi, we arrived at Riki’s place and were welcomed with open arms by his wife Mie, son Tamio and contender for mother-in-law-of-the-year Kimiko… This isn’t a great shot, but it sure was a great few days of hospitality…

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When I first met Riki, he was in the employ of his father who owns and runs a timber mill to the west of Kochi… Arriving at Riki’s place and staying with his family I actually had no real idea of what he was doing with himself…

‘I work at Kochi Daijingu…’ was the answer he gave when questioned…

‘Tomorrow, come to Dai-Jingu at three o’clock…’

We spent the morning exploring Kochi Castle, one of the very few original castles remaining in Japan, well there was a small fire in 1727 but they fixed in up properly… Many of the other castles in Japan are concrete replicas built after the real ones were destroyed in World War II… It was also build in a time of relative peace in Shikoku, and as such the boss’ quarters are on the ground floor, openning onto the gardens rather that way up high where it’s hard for warriors with swords to get to…

Really loved this place…

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The castle fully explored, we headed a few blocks to the daijingu… The daijingu is a sub-shrine of Ise Jingu (which we would later visit) the shrine in which Amaterasu, the Shinto Sun Goddess of Japan is enshrined… I was still super curious about what Riki was actually doing…

When we turned up, he was rocking a tshirt and building a cupboard from some fine looking timber…

‘Makes sense,’ I thought, with his background in timber and all…

‘Wait a moment please, I’ll go and get changed…’

Uummmm, okay man..?

So anyway… It turns out that Riki is now a Kannushi. Or Shinto Priest… Wow, was NOT expecting that…

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The main responsibilities of the Kannushi are ceremonial. Wedding and the usual things you’d expect for sure, but it is also tradition in Japan to have your new house or car blessed and Riki spends a bunch of time driving around Kochi and it’s surrounds to perform such blessings…

The next part blew me away, and is up there among the greatest experiences of my life…

I don’t know how many white people have ever been inside Kochi Daijingu, I am thinking not many, but Riki invited us inside a performed a shinto ritual to bless our trip… I assume its totally not cool to take pics during said rituals, so I didnt, but Riki let me snap this one afterwards and you can see how blown away Rosie is… Truly amazing…

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The nice thing about Shinto is there are no real restrictions on what their ‘clergy’ can do… Riki has a wife, likes to use the word ‘fuck’ sometimes and he proved that, while we are both getting older, he can still put away a tonne of excellent beer and make everyone laugh…

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Thanks again Riki, for making the trip special in ways I could not have hoped it would be… Looking forward to seeing you and the family again soon, maybe for a long walk in Shikoku to visit the 88…? I hope so…

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