Growing increasingly restless at his job as a Software Engineer and rapidly falling out of love with the country he once admired, Dutchman Randy van der Heide decided he needed to make a change in his life. So, he quit his job and decided to cycle from Kanagawa to Cape Sata at the southernmost tip of Kyushu.
Of course it wasn't such a rash or ill considered decision but rather one he had been mulling over for months. Given the multitude of options available to him, the decision that could ultimately shape his future was not an easy one and to use Randys own words "I decided not to decide." He decided instead that he needed time to sort out his thoughts, and time to explore Japan to see if he could rediscover what he once loved about this country so much. If at the end of his journey he was still disillusioned with Japan his decision to return to the Netherlands would be an easy one.
So it was in February that he made his intentions known via his blog entitled The Colorful Wolf and began preparations to begin his journey in April. First up his bicycle needed some repair, he had to get rid of all his worldly posessions, and of course there were the thorny visa issues to sort out.
Randys trip began on April 13 with a surprisingly simple blog post "Today is a beautiful day. I'm waiting for electricity to get cut off, then I can leave." Not long after he is in a bicycle shop getting a new front tire fitted! Not exactly the start he was looking for and hopefully not an omen for the rest if his journey. In the following weeks he meanders his way south west and blogs about his experiences as he travels to Mount Fuji, Wakayama, Nara, Kyoto and more interestingly the places in between.
When I questioned Randy about his route he readily admits has nothing planned just a general direction in mind. He tries to avoid setting goal distances to ride each day, and stops or detours whenever something interesting catches his eye. For acommodation he is carrying a tent and sleeping bag, but also relies upon youth hostels and business hotels. I asked if he was carrying any cooking equipment (a rookie mistake in Japan) and while he had considered the idea he decided to take advantage of Japans wonderfully convenient convenience stores, family restraunts and cafes. After all when you're trying to enjoy a wonderful bicycle tour in Japan who wants to cook and clean?
April is an amazing month to begin a bicycle adventure. Spring has sprung and the temperatures are on the rise, at least it was that way before climate change screwed it up for everyone. Unfortunately for Randy this April has been the coldest on record in Japan since, well, since the Ice Age wiped out all the dinosours and prehistoric bicycle tourists. When I asked him about his most usless piece of equipment to date he replied that the "Most 'useless' equipment so far has been my tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat. It's really too cold to camp." Then goes on to tell the stories of some of the cold, cold experiences he has had so far. I can't believe the weather hasn't forced him to give up.
Luckily over Golden Week the weather has picked up as have Randy's Spirits. Not even a night surrounded by oyaji in a Himeji capsule hotel managed to dampen his spirits.
As for the most useful pieces of equipment on the trip thus far Randy cites a waterproof bag and his netbook. Using his netbook and a USB device from DoCoMo Randy is able to connect to the internet at any time. He is able to survey the following days route and scope out accomodation options online, and also uses the netbook to upload stories and photographs from the day to his blog.
Randy blogs daily, sometimes multiple times per day, I find myself visiting his blog religously each evening to check his progress. His blog posts highlight some beautiful and not so beautiful spots in Japan. He talks of some of the interesting, and most down right boring people he has met on his travels and there is always something valuable about bicycle touring in Japan to be learned from his writings. But more than this I find myself reading his blog daily for its honesty on his own mental state. He has only been underway for a few weeks and thus far has had some very low lows mostly due to the punishing weather we have been having. Of course there have been good moments too, but will they eventually overshadow the bad ones and convince Randy to stay in Japan?
I am keen to know the outcome of Randys journey as I believe every foriegner in Japan goes through a dark patch where they have to decide if they will stay here or move abroad. Everyone tackles that question in a different way, and I certainly admire Randy's quest for a solution. Occasionally he writes along the lines of "I'm 70% in favor of staying in Japan right now", then a few days later he changes his estimate to 50%. Other days he admits he may have made a mistake even thinking that this trip would help him decide his future.
I must admit in all my years on the internet I've never wanted to follow a journey this closely and I highly recommend you follow his story as it unfolds day by day.
Good luck Randy, I hope you have somewhere dry and warm to sleep tonight.