Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Franz Josef Glacier

The Franz Josef Glacier is big…and it is a glacier… and it is a World Heritage site. It is unique because it’s one of the only glaciers in the world to be located in a rainforest. It is also one of the only glaciers left in the world that is growing.
I went with a tour company because it promised to be the only ones allowed on the glacier. As we got to the glacier this seemed to be true as there were ropes where others had to stop, but our tour got to go on. We walked to the foot of the glacier and then put on crampons to walk on the ice. For the briefest of instances the sun came out, then it rained, then the sun came out, then it stopped, then it rained again.

New Zealand

The Second part of my trip took me alone to New Zealand. I arrived in Christchurch on the afternoon of the 25th and picked up my campervan near the airport. It was a bit relaxed compared to places in the states. The van came with a sink, stove, cooler, table and bench/double bed. The front seat was also quite wide and could probably sit three people without too much hassle. But alas, I was alone!
So after getting some gas and eats, checking my maps, and making a couple wrong turns I was on my way out of Christchurch and into the mountains. The first day I just drove and drove as long as I could. The fact that the scenery was quite amazing, all highways were one lane affairs(2lanes, one each way), and I wasn’t yet comfortable driving the van meant that I was going a bit slower than I would end up doing on the way back. Also, bridges were one single lane! One! At first I was confused, but as it turns out many of the bridges in the region are like that. The reason I will explain later, but basically you come barreling up to this bridge at 100k and make a quick check to see if someone is coming the other way. If no one is coming you can go across, if someone is coming you have to wait on the other side of the bridge. This example should clearly illustrate just how few people there are in the country that one lane will suffice for a bridge.
I put the pedal down as much as I could and only stopped once for about 3 minutes that day. I made it through Arthur’s Pass and on to the west coast just as the sun was starting to get low. That wasn’t going to stop me however. I pushed on as far as I could and around 730 noticed with a bit of panic that my gas was very low. In New Zealand there aren’t that many people and hence not a whole lot of gas stations. As I made my way through a town called Hari Hari I spotted one and shot in determined to fill up and press on with the last precious few minutes of day light, Franz Josef was only about 50k away. The station was closed. So I turned back into town and went to the only place that I could make out as a business which turned out to be a bar/liquor store/ restaurant/ hotel/ camper park. So I paid for a parking spot and then went inside for a meal and a beer. No one was unfriendly to me, but there was a feeling that I was set apart. So I finished up quick and asked the bar tender what time the station opened before heading to my van, 8am. I thought, “No worries”. The station opens at 8, I have to be to Franz Josef at 845 and I was making an average of 90kph so I could make it.

The next morning I got up at 7, showered and waited for the gas station to open. The guy showed up at 805 and I was filled by 810. I jetted out of there and made it to Franz Josef at 850 being one of the last to show up for the scheduled tour. I got outfitted with boots, pants, and jacket and we were on our way to the glacier. The hike was quite beautiful as I will describe in another short post, but on the hike I felt like the smartest man alive, or at least the smartest one on the glacier. As we made our way up the glacier our guide would ask us various question like do you know why the ice is blue? (Compacted ice and light refraction) How far away is the glacier from where we are? (About 2k at the time) why are bridges in the region built with 1 lane? (Building costs, floods a lot which washes the bridges away) And the like and every question I answered I got right while no one else seemed to get one. After a quick tour of the glacier it was back down and I was back in the van all gassed up by 2pm, back on the road. This day I decided that I would try to make my way back to Arthur’s Pass where I had read about some decent half day hikes located near some camper parks. I arrived at my desired spot, Klondike, about 6pm and so had roughly 2 hours till sunset so I walked around the area and discovered two young guys camping a fair distance away, but by NZ terms pretty close. As dusk settled in I went back to my camper to get ready for bed. After hiking around I was feeling a little unsettled about the place so, when I heard a very strange noise very close to my camper while I was brushing my teeth, I decided to get the hell out of there. I zoomed up the road a bit and stopped where I saw a few other vans parked at a wayside. I thought, “ah, peace at last” but it was not so. I fell asleep just before 10, but at 130am was awoken. At first I didn’t know why I had woken up, but then I heard a sound; the sound of a plastic bag being moved. I suddenly realized that I had a plastic bag next to my feet in bed and something must have gotten in to get after it. As quickly as I could I sprang up and banged on the light to see who was there, but saw nothing. After staring for a few seconds I decided I was dreaming, but just in case grabbed my flashlight. Sure enough, a few minutes later I heard the noise again only a bit louder. I flashed on the light and caught what I thought was the tiniest bit of brown fur dipping off the edge of my bed before all was still again. This time I got up and put the food in the cooler in back of the van and searched the rest of the van to see if I could find the bugger. No luck. I thought perhaps now that the food was inaccessible the mouse would stop. I was wrong. He tried scratching into the cooler and failing that made his way to the front seat where I had a bag of garbage. I banged on the light again to see if I could catch him but this time he didn’t stop moving. He was IN the bag. So I just opened the door to the front, tied up the bag, walked about 50 paces from my van and tossed the bag into a trash bin. I thought that was that until 4am when the mouse returned! However, this time I was not quite as upset and just let him be. He woke me a few more times, but by the time I got up around 630 he was nowhere to be found. Little bugger ruined my sleep and left me a few little round presents on the front seat.

Morning in the mountains was great and by 730 I was on the Beally Spur trail. I hiked for about 5 hours then got back in the van and made for Christchurch. After returning my van I walked into town and booked into the Riccarton Inn and after talking to the desk clerk figured out that I had to leave pretty darn early to make my fight out. Since it took me about 1.5 hours to walk to the hotel from the rental place I figured it would take 2 to make it to the airport which meant if I walked I would have had to get up at 3am at the latest. Despite being low on cash I thought bollocks to that and paid for a cab at 4am, not like that was much better.
New Zealand was great! There are so few people there it is amazing. I can’t wait to go again, with Dan, and make it a real hiking trip.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Today at work I had a discussion with a co-worker about bluefin tuna. This was especially interesting because this is a hot issue in Japan. Friction has been created from the differing sides of the issue taken by Japan and China in opposition to many western nations, including the U.S. My co-worker asked me if I ate maguro sushi, which is tuna. I could easily answer no because I don’t eat any type of animal, but the brief discussion that ensued would be typical even if I had answered yes.
He asked why the U.S. would put a ban on bluefin tuna. I told him that scientists that have monitored bluefin tuna populations for decades have seen precipitous decline and are recommending a ban on Bluefin. He said that the U.S. didn’t eat much tuna and so shouldn’t have a say in the tuna population’s control. I told him that despite that the U.S. doesn’t eat a lot of tuna that doesn’t change that the population is going extinct. We went around in circles like this for a few minutes before he was called away, but it was an interesting conversation. Just about everyone I have talked to in Japan holds much of the same opinion: Don’t mess with my maguro sushi.

While I am sympathetic, maguro is a really popular and traditional food here; I don’t understand why Japan would fight so hard to oppose the ban. I started to think, is it true that the Bluefin population facing collapse? What does this ban entail? Perhaps there was something that I was missing because surely any reasonable adult would be willing to give up something in the short term in order to ensure having it available in the long term. Surely.

So the first question I asked myself was; what exactly is tuna? I had better define it before I figure out if it is endangered and worth protecting. I think most of us know that it is a very large fish that inhabits the oceans of the world. Beyond that most people are pressed for details other than it comes in a handy little can in most grocery stores. Tuna is found all over the world, but it is misleading to think that means they are plentiful because there are lots of different kinds of tuna like Yellowfin tuna, Albacore, Bigeye, Black fin, Skipjack, etc. These are all slight variations on “Tuna” and they all inhabit different regions of the oceans based on their bodies, diets, etc. and in turn inhabit unique niches in their eco-systems. Hence the loss of these unique tuna means a drastic and possibly unknown change in the eco-system. So, Bluefin tuna, the one in question where does it come from and what is it like? There are, according to Wikipedia, three groups of Bluefin. They reside in the North Atlantic (and Mediterranean), Southern Atlantic, and Pacific.
So with this information came my second big question; are these three populations all endangered and would they all be included in the ban? Yes and yes. Suffice it to say that all three stocks have suffered a decline in population of 75% or more since the early 1960’s and all are considered in danger of collapse.
So then I asked my next question; why are they endangered? It turns out that Bluefin is hugely sought after, especially in Japan which consumes about 80% of the harvested stock each year. In fact the record for the highest price paid for a single Bluefin tuna is here in Japan. On the average they can sell for the equivalent of 10,000 dollars, but this one in particular sold for over 175,000 dollars. One fish, dead, to be eaten, for over 175,000 dollars. To put that in perspective, Bluefin tuna are quite large. They can exceed 1000lbs in weight, though I think this one was a bit less than that, around 600lbs. Did that put it in prospective or are you still saying “That’s expensive!” like I am?
So that led me to my next huge important question; could the Bluefin tuna reasonably be replaced by another tuna stock, now to save the Bluefin population from collapse or in the future if it does collapse? The answer is yes. Although there are other populations of tuna that are listed as endangered such as Pacific Bigeye and Indian Ocean Yellowfin, there are still other populations that are not endangered. Skipjack, which supplies 60% of the worlds consumed tuna, is not endangered.
So finally this led me to my final and perhaps most important question surrounding this ban on Bluefin tuna; what will the ban do? It appears that the ban will NOT stop the fishing of Bluefin tuna. What it will do is stop the International trade of Bluefin tuna, which is where Japan gets a kink in the neck. Most of the Bluefin that Japan eats comes from somewhere else and hence if an international ban is set their supply will be drastically cut.
For now that ban is being discussed, now, at the CITES meeting in Qatar where 175 member nations will discuss this ban among other things. It needs a ¾ vote to carry and for now it seems that it might do so. The U.S. and the EU (largely) are behind the ban and Japan and China are opposed. Soon enough we will see what happens. Now, more than before, I am left thinking, “What exactly is Japan thinking by blocking the ban?”

Monday, March 15, 2010


In a few days I fly to Australia with Aya. This is to be our honeymoon. First we are going to Cairns on Australia's NE coast, then a few days in Sydney. After that she is coming back to Japan because she has to work early. I am going on to New Zealand for a few days more.
I was thinking about this trip and feeling that there was something special, like some kind of marker that I would be passing by going here. At first I thought that it was going to make my 19th and 20th countries that I have traveled to, breaking me out of the teens. So I got out a piece of scrap paper and jotted down what countries I have been to. That was not it, they will be 18th and 19th. That seems like a lot when I say it, but when you compare it to people like Charles Veley ( it's not that much.

Then I thought this will be my longest flight ever. It is quite a ways from Japan to Australia since unlike a lot of other flights the pilots don't have the "by the pole" option that has saved me so much time before. This flight will actually not even be close to the longest, that was Tokyo to Minneapolis at about 10,000 miles. So it's not the 20th country and it's not the longest flight, but I thought it might be since it's in the souther hemisphere and... oh yes, they are in the southern hemisphere!

This will be my first trip south of the Equator. First time, that sounds strange to me considering that, you know, there is this whole half of the planet that I have never set foot it. There are some reasons for that like the difference in landmass between the northern hemisphere and the southern, roughly 2/3 of the continents' landmass is in the north. When you consider that there are also population considerations. About 85% of the world's population lives in the northern hemisphere.That is quite a difference.

So there you have it. I am headed to the other half of the globe and a new continent! I remember that my grandfather said there was some ceremony that he did with his ship mates when they crossed the equator on their destroyer in WWII. Something about making a gift to Neptune. I wonder, if I am flying, if I should give a gift to Jupiter instead.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Νενικήκαμεν, We have won

DNF. That is an acronym used in the world of foot races that I thought I may have to title this blog with. Even during the race I thought that perhaps this would brand my experience, but once I went past the 30k marker I knew that even if I walked I wouldn't have to use Did Not Finish as a description of this experience.
My Tokyo Marathon run ended Sunday at about 2pm, around 5 hours after I crossed the start line. I say about because I really don't know. There were so many people that, despite the start gun I didn't even get to the start until 10 minutes after the race had started, and the people were so thick for the first 10k that I didn't make good time (1hr 10min) and the lines for the bathrooms were so long that each of the two times I went cost me 10-15 minutes. So of my time for the marathon I can't say definitively. I don't know the official and I don't know what I really 'ran' but the time on my watch said 5hr 5min. In the end, I don't care. Sure, it would have been nice to run a faster time, like I expected, but I am really really happy just to have finished the race.

At 6am Sunday morning I woke up to take a shower and get my gear on. I was out the door to the train station, Aya guiding, by 730 and by 800 I was in the race area. Here I departed from Aya and awaited my start. By 850 I was in my 'block'(H) waiting to start the race. It was raining, windy and about 6C (43F ) which are not exactly ideal conditions for running, but at least I had 30,000 other people to share my discomfort with, which makes things a bit more bearable. At 9:12 I heard the official gun and the ensuing fireworks and everyone started to cheer. Slowly my group started to move. By the time we crossed the start 10 minutes had gone by and looking ahead and behind there was no end of runners. The first 10k seemed like a breeze. At this point the 10k runners split off (there was a 10k race attached to the first part) and the marathoners went on. It was also at this point that Aya and I had set up our first meet point, and there she was with her parents. Unfortunately because of the 10K runner's chute I could not go talk to them, but just wave, yell, and run on. Shortly after I took my first bathroom break and started to shiver as I cooled down in the line.
Starting off at 10.5k with my watch reading 1hr 20min was a little discouraging. I thought I would be making better time, but unlike in training I had to deal with people around me and could not just pee by the side of the path like usual. At about 13k I started to develop some trouble on my left ankle, it was sore and that had been a worry spot in training so I was careful to take it easy. Thankfully by 16k the pain was drifting into the background among a number of new pains. At 17k, as the course was doubling back on itself I got to see the back of the pack and realized that about 5k behind me the pack was thinning to almost no one. I was falling behind. It was here that I again took another bathroom break, the second and last of the race. At 20K I again saw Aya and her mother at our planned point, I am told her dad was somewhat beforehand yelling my name, but among the hundreds of people yelling from the sides I never heard him. At this point I thought, this race could go either way. I was feeling fairly good, but that ankle was hurting me and I was hoping that it and my finicky knee didn't decide to go foul.
Going into 21k I felt pretty good. I was into the race, my pace was evening out, and the race was evening out too. As I passed by the 26k marker and then again at 33k I noticed the back of the pack like I had at 17k, but this time it was a lot thicker, people were slowing down and dropping back. This was to be expected as this was the time for "the wall". I can't say exactly that I felt like I hit a wall, but at about 24k I started to get what I would like to dub the 'unending pain'. I never got really tired, but I did experience increasing pain in my knees. I had experienced this before in training, but only briefly. I was to know it on a new level this day. At 30k I marked my time at 3hr 20min which I thought was not so far behind my predicted goal of 3hrs, with the two bathroom breaks I took the extra 20min was to be expected. On pace and happy.
Going into 31k I was ecstatic. I knew I had already finished so to speak. I could technically walk the rest of the race and make it before the course closed, which if worse came to worse I would do. Things were getting rough and I took a couple brief walking/stretching breaks between here and 35k because my hams especially were getting tight and tired. There was also a building pain in my knees which I did my best to stretch out. By this point, among the runners I was among, about 1 out of 10 were dropping to walk. I was sympathetic, I too wanted to walk, but I was so afraid to walk for any amount of time that I kept going. At 35k, at the appointed spot, I found Aya and her parents. It was so good to see them. Dad gave me a tea and quick massage on the back while mom and I talked. 7k left to go, I couldn't fail.
Just as I was saying my goodbyes and turning to go I realized that my legs were no longer functioning. I tried to run, but hard as I might my legs would not rise properly. Slowly, like a train building steam, I went from a walk to a slow jog to a little faster to a little faster and finally a slow plod.
Going into the last 7k was such a strange experience. I was there, I could taste it, and yet the pain was so heavy I seriously considered stopping. As some cruel joke the planners of the race had set the course of the race to end with a series of hills. Many people, about 1/2 had started to merely walk up the hills, but at this point I recalled some advice given in an article I read. "keep running, if you stop to walk, you may never run again." After my little surprise at 35k I was apt to believe that and I only stopped to walk one time after I had mounted most of the hills and was going into a flat stretch. There is not much to say about that point on. I saw the family one more time at 41.5k, hit the finish, and then walked through the various check points as fast as I was able (really really slowly to be truthful). I met with the family and that is where one of the above pictures was taken as they helped me get my pants back on. I was freezing (calorie loss?) and my legs hurt so much I could not bend to put my pants on nor raise my legs to hand level. So, naturally I suppose, my parents helped me put my pants on and get me on the train to the hotel.
Everyone along the race was very helpful. People poured out in incredible numbers to cheer on the participants, there was hardly a bare spot along the entire 42k of the roadway's sidewalks and sometimes 5 thick. Some people had sugary treats for the runners, some tea, some miso soup, bananas, plums, coffee, beer (yes! one beer guy), rice balls, and more. There were many acts along the way from taiko drummers to dancers, hula girls, high school bands, musicians, cheerleaders and race groupies. There were lots of official tables for sports drinks, bananas, peanut butter sandwiches, and water. Besides all that, the racers that surrounded me were all polite. I was bumped quite a few times, but more often than not I received an apology and sometimes even encouragement. I have to thank all these people for making my race an enjoyable experience.
I have also have to thank especially Aya and her parents for coming all the way to Tokyo to see me run and cheer me on (not to mention massage me). I also want to thank Dan for trading running stories with me and encouraging me along the way. I did it. I did it Dan.
So, when is the next one and who is with me?