“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman
November 23, 2014Posted by on
I have been in Tokyo for over two months and am finally bringing you an update. I blame this lapse on the fact that my camera quit working during my first week back here. But I now have a new camera (which, by the way is a Canon S120) and am excited to share some highlights from the last few weeks.
I still love Tokyo. I’m very comfortable with my life and sometimes I can’t believe I live here. I work five days a week, 7:30 – 4:30. After work I often walk around the city, finding new corners and side streets to explore. I find it fascinating, as I always have, that I can just traipse on down to Tokyo Station or meander by the Imperial Palace or stroll by Tokyo Skytree whenever I want to.
This is the first term I’ve actually lived in Tokyo. Before, I’ve lived in Nagoya, or a suburb on the outskirts of Tokyo. But now, I’m actually within the borders of Tokyo, albeit on the very edge. It’s only a 25-minute commute to the office in Yushima, where I work with staff from Japan, England, Australia and the U.S.
Two weeks after I finished backpacking the CT, I packed for the next four-and-a-half months of life in Japan. In mid-September I flew from Denver to L.A., then from L.A. to Narita International Airport on the biggest passenger jet in the world, the Dreamliner Airbus A380.
It felt like a cruise ship taking off, but once we were airborne it felt pretty similar to other wide-body aircraft.
Here’s a fun fact: According to the inflight magazine, the Singapore Airlines flight attendants’ uniforms have not changed since 1968. If it’s not broken…
I love the anticipation of returning to Japan. Despite my anxiety about flying, I still enjoy the flight knowing I’ll be touching down in a place that has become very familiar and which I love. I’ve heard other teachers mention this relaxed sense of satisfaction they feel as soon as they arrive at Narita. It’s exciting, calming and reassuring. We know what to expect and feel at least a bit confident that we can successfully manage our lives in the most populated and enigmatic city in the world.
I arrived a day earlier than I had to and stayed the night at the Narita Airport Rest House. The airport hotel was verrrry basic, but I was so happy to get to sleep after the two-hour flight from Denver to L.A., a five-hour layover and a 12-hour flight across the Pacific. It made meeting the Westgate staff, traveling to my apartment and getting settled the next day actually enjoyable.
A new first for me – seeing The Teaching of Buddha along with the New Testament (both in Japanese) – in the bedside drawer.
Over the course of the last four terms here (this is my fifth term in Japan), I’ve walked all over Tokyo. Usually in pursuit of some goal I’ve selected out of my Lonely Planet guidebook, or just random meanderings, stopping at various train stations and following paths and roads that beckoned.
This term, I decided to be a bit more organized about it and bought Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City. Every once in a while, I choose a different walk. Sometimes I take a detour, but mostly I follow the route described.
Since I get off from work at 4:30, I have a good portion of the evening free for a long wander. But the days are getting shorter, so the walks are turning into night walks. If the weather cooperates, the weekends are nice for day tours.
One of these excursions led me through Kitanomaru Park.
Near the park is the Nippon Budo-kan, the Japanese Martial Arts Hall. It was built for the 1964 Olympics and can seat 14,000 spectators. The Beatles played here in 1968, which was the first time it was used as a concert hall.
As much as I love the quiet gardens and side streets, I also love the chaotic energy of the city. Sometimes I’ll walk through Shibuya just to take in a bit of the lights and craziness.
People go to the 2nd floor Starbucks of the Tsutaya store to watch the massive crossings. I took this picture on a week night.
Ginza is another famous shopping district. On the weekends, the roads are closed to cars and it’s transformed into a walking mall.
Tokyo Tower is an iconic landmark and was the tallest structure in Japan until Tokyo Skytree opened in 2012. It was opened in 1958 and is reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower. I visited the tower on one of my after-work-walking tours.
Omotesando Hills is another famous place in Tokyo. On the weekend that I was there, the fall colors were beginning to peak.
A friend and I made the trip to Omotesando so we could have breakfast at bills.
bills is a popular restaurant which originated in Sydney, Australia by Bill Granger. He went on to establish other restaurants in Japan, England and most recently, Hawaii. Lunch and dinner are served, but the specialty is breakfast, especially the ricotta pancakes. Hannah introduced me to bill’s during the term we taught together and I’ve been a fan ever since. There are other bills in Japan: Yokohama, Odaiba and Shichirigahama (Kamakura). Click here for a review.
This is the view from the office. If you have to work in an office, there could be worse places than the 8th floor in the middle of Tokyo. It’s a 10-minute walk to the famous Ueno Park and we can see the top of Tokyo Skytree tower from our window (but not from this view).
One day, there was a man on the roof of the building across the street. We don’t know what he was doing. That’s the tippy top of Skytree on the far left, peeking over the white building.)
Oh, and here’s Skytree now. Another post-work night walk.
Now you’re a bit caught up. I’ll post more Tokyo excursions and walkabouts in the coming days.
November 6, 2014Posted by on
Before I began the Colorado Trail, I had registered for the Revel Rockies Marathon. I would have to take a couple days from the trail to do the run, but I was excited for challenge. It was the last chance I’d have this year to run a Boston qualifier and I felt that I was in peak condition after training for the Morgan Valley Marathon, which I ran three weeks earlier, and backpacking for the previous week.
After meeting me at Wheeler Flats, near Copper Mountain at the end of my first week on the CT, my folks and I stayed in their RV at a nearby campground which was close to the location of the race. I enjoyed a rest day and the anticipation of another long run.
The route began at 10,000 feet and ended 26.2 miles later where the canyon opened up near Morrison, at Bandimere Speedway. It was beautiful, following a winding, forested, two-lane road, through tiny mountain towns and neighborhoods as the sun rose over the eastern horizon. I struggled in the final few miles, as the elevation dropped and the heat intensified. The final mile, which funneled runners across a busy intersection and onto a gravel parking lot, was not the most inspiring end to a long race, but at least it was over. Although I ran 18 minutes faster than the last marathon, I still couldn’t break the 4-hour mark (4:04:09) and missed my chance at qualifying for 2015. As in my other races, my parents and Chris were at the halfway point and at the finish to cheer me on. Knowing they would be there was such a boost and gave me something to look forward to when my energy began to drop.
The run was painful, but I felt pretty good considering the physical demands I had put on myself in the last two months. After training for a half marathon and two full marathons and backpacking 118 miles of mountainous terrain in one week, my endurance was at its peak. Still, after returning to the RV post-race, I kept myself curled up in a fatiguied ball for hours, not able to find an ounce of leftover energy to shower. My mom kept bringing me snacks and rubbing my poor feet and legs, working the lactic acid out of my system. Eventually, I was able to get cleaned up and begin a bit of recovery. The thought of putting my pack on the next day was not appealing.
But I did it, and in slow, tenuous steps I resumed my hike.
This was a training area for the 10th Mtn Division soldiers during WW II. They trained in climbing, skiing and high altitude survival. Some of the veterans went on to establish some of the major ski resorts in Colorado after the war.
After reaching Highway 50, my trip for this season had come to an end. I hitched a ride into Salida and stayed at a hostel in town for two nights.
I slowly made my way home by a series of buses. I was in deep need of rest and had two weeks to recuperate and prep for my return to Japan. It was a good time to leave the trail for this season.
During this hike, I saw people every day. There were other hikers – day hikers and thru-hikers. There were mountain bikers, and I shared the trail with riders from two different races. I usually camped alone and I was never afraid. I love the trail. I love the woods. I am at home there and know how to thrive. To walk in the wilderness is one of my greatest pleasures. I love the feel of the pack on my back and watching the sun cross the sky as I move through the day.
For now, I’ve put my backpacking gear away. I’m in another wonderful place, but as far from the deep woods as one can get, that is, Tokyo, the most populated city in the world (37,126,000). These dramatic changes in surroundings are not hard for me. I transition easily from one to the other, appreciating each for the curiosity and wonder they inspire.
I’ll continue to post about life in Japan for the remaining two and a half months that I’m here. And then… anything is possible!
November 3, 2014Posted by on
I’m finally catching up on the last of my post-Laramie, pre-Tokyo adventures.
(I stalled out a bit on posting from Japan as my camera quit working during my first week. I recently bought a new Canon and am excited to document the next three months of my life here, following this post.)
Just a few days after returning from the Americana Road Trip, I sorted my gear, packed my backpack and headed to the northern terminus of the Colorado Trail.
I had a month left before I was to fly to Tokyo and couldn’t think of a better way to spend the late summer days than to hike through the Colorado mountains. I’ve done the CT twice before (1991 with friends, 2000 solo) so I knew what to expect and was thrilled to begin this trek. The trail winds 480 miles from the foothills west of Denver, over several ranges and passes, along rivers, and through open land to the southern Colorado mountain town of Durango.
It was my intention to do the whole trail in three and a half weeks, but soon I realized that was too ambitious. I’ve hiked many consecutive 20+ mile days on other backpacking trips on much more difficult terrain and thought I’d be able to do that on the CT. But I didn’t have the time to acclimate to the higher mileage. I had recently run the Morgan Valley Marathon and was still recovering from that. I was also registered to run another marathon a week into this trip, which I did, but was very fatigued for the next week. I also needed more time to regroup before going to Tokyo, so I let go of having to do a thru-hike, and hiked just over halfway and will finish the second half another time.
On August 9, my folks drove me to the trailhead at Waterton Canyon, we took pictures, and I began my journey into the woods. My dad walked the first few miles with me before turning back.
I didn’t have to wait too long before I was rewarded with an amazing meal and a visit from a good friend! Chris met me at the end of my first day with steak, salad, dessert and a fun night of conversation and car camping. Thank you, Chris!
I couldn’t get too used to this as this was only Day 1 and I had a long way to go in a short amount of time. The next morning we packed up and Chris and her pooch, Mia, walked a few miles with me.
For the next week, I enjoyed nicely graded trails, beautiful skies, and the gradual climb to the Colorado high country.
Going over Georgia Pass, heading toward Breckenridge…
Descending into Breck.
The next day, I hiked over Ten Mile Range and into Copper Mountain where I met my folks at Highway 91.
Two days later I ran the Revel Rockies Marathon and returned to hike for another week.
Week Two, to be continued…
October 8, 2014Posted by on
The final episode of the Americana Road Trip…!
Day 3: Hill City to Deadwood
Before we made our debut visit to Sturgis, we explored Mt. Rushmore.
Mt. Rushmore is an icon of America, a massive sculpture featuring four U.S. presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Detailed information can be found here and here.
It was constructed between 1927 and 1941, cost $989,992 to build and required the labor of over 400 employees who worked for $8.00 a day under very dangerous circumstances (none of the workers died during the construction). A good friend once told me how her grandparents, who knew someone connected to the project, had once stood on the scaffolding that was attached to the monument while it was being constructed.
Some great early photos can be seen on the NG site: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/02/pictures/130216-presidents-day-mount-rushmore-photography-pictures-south-dakota/
In the rock behind Lincoln’s head is a vault called the Hall of Records. It was partially constructed in 1938-39, but was never completed. In 1998 park personnel decided to use the vault for which is was intended by the designer and lead sculptor of Mt. Rushmore (Gutzon Borglum): a repository for the texts of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, as well as other documents and literature. These records were sealed within the vault, never to be removed. It is not open to the public and cannot be seen from any standing vantage point, but only from an aerial perspective.
I was impressed. After seeing so many pictures of Mt. Rushmore, it seemed I had already been there. But there was so much more to it than I knew existed. With Rushmore on the books, we were ready for Sturgis!
Boots, black leather and Harley Davidson bikes. Suddenly, we were a part (in our non-conforming, rented mini-SUV) of the 74th Black Hills Motorcycle Rally, otherwise known simply as Sturgis, the name of the small town in South Dakota (pop. 6,883) which hosts the annual event.
Even though this wasn’t part of the original plan and neither of us know much about motorcycles, there was no way we were going to pass up a chance to experience this HOG extravaganza!
We had a great time for about two hours. Then our internal alarms went off and we were suddenly exhausted. We accepted our Sturgis rookie status and split.
Our next destination was Deadwood, SD. In the late 1800s, Deadwood was known has a wild and rough Western town that attracted prospectors hoping to find gold in the streams that cut through the steep hills. In this century it became famous again, in large part, due to the HBO series, Deadwood, which portrayed historical characters such as Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Charles Utter, and Seth Bullock.
After our trip I learned that my paternal grandparents lived in Deadwood for a year in the late 1930s. They had told family members about a local character named Potato Creek Johnny, who paid kind attention to my uncle who was a baby at the time. Apparently, Potato Creek Johnny was rather well-known, based on this article.
We were excited to be in Deadwood, but first we needed lodging. We didn’t have any problem getting a hotel room in Hill City and were hoping the situation would be the same here.
Arriving in town, we began calling hotels and soon realized this would not be easy. Over 400,000 people were riding around the Black Hills, all needing accommodations. One local hotel had a room available but we’d have to pay “rally prices,” which was way too much.
We pulled off the narrow two-lane road to assess our situation. We were tired and felt like we’d ridden our Harleys in our black leather from the other side of the country. While pondering the options, we noticed a non-descript mom-and-pop hotel across the road from where we were parked. Weirdly, there was not a “No Vacancy” notice.
KRC called. In the most serendipitous event of our trip yet, we got a room. Just before we called, someone had canceled their reservation due to being in an accident (the person was okay, but had to go home). The proprietor wanted to fill the room and offered it to us at a huge discount. She asked how soon we could be there because she wouldn’t be able to hold it long. KRC told her we were right across the street. Two minutes later we were handing her a credit card.
Lodging secured, we headed to town.
No horses anymore, just hogs.
There was more we could have done here, but we still had miles to go and more to see. Driving through Deadwood felt stressful and we had an embarrassingly difficult time getting out and back to the highway. But soon, we were finally on our way to our last location: Devils Tower, Wyoming. (I know. I want to put an apostrophe there too, but this is how it is, so there we are.)
Day 4: Deadwood, SD to Laramie, WY
Devils Tower National Monument is located in northeast Wyoming. It’s considered sacred ground by the Lakota and other tribes and is closed on a voluntary basis every June. “The National Park Service has decided to advocate this closure in order to promote understanding and encourage respect for the culture of American Indian tribes who are closely affiliated with the Tower as a sacred site.” More information about the voluntary closure, the dimensions and climbing the tower can be found here.
For KRC and me, we just wanted to see it. And we took a lot of pictures.
I have more pictures of Devils Tower if you’d like to see them. You want more? No? Just let me know if you do. Because I do have them…
And then it was time to drive back to Laramie, get some things I left at KRC’s house and return to Colorado for the final adventures of the summer.
October 7, 2014Posted by on
Well that was a long gap! I’m writing from Tokyo, Japan – my fifth, and most likely last, term teaching here. But I’m going to keep things in order and catch you up on the last few weeks of my summer in the U.S.
The day after I moved out of my apartment in Laramie, I began a long-anticipated road trip with my dear friend, KRC. We’d both become enchanted with Wyoming in the last year and had talked about taking a tour of the state. We also wanted to explore South Dakota, so we decided to make a big loop hitting some famous landmarks. These next two posts will capture that trip.
KRC had plans to be in Hot Springs, SD with another friend for the weekend and the timing worked perfectly for me to drive from Laramie and meet her there. I rented a mini-SUV, moved my belongings to her house on the other side of Laramie, packed my camping gear and extra clothes and hit the road. (After the trip I’d move my things to my parents’ house.)
Day 1: Laramie to Hot Springs
During the mid-1800s, pioneers coming from the East crossed the arid land of Wyoming during the westward migrations. The Oregon, California and Mormon Pioneer trails were the routes by which an estimated 500,000 people made their way west. Remnants of these passages can still be seen in many places. I could have easily driven to Hot Springs in four hours, but I wanted to stop along the way to see some of these historical markers. The four-hour journey became seven.
The wagon trains that came across the plains often spread out so as to minimize the dust that was kicked up. But in some places it was necessary for the wagons to travel in a line, one after the other. The ruts left by the wheels of so many wagons can still be seen in several places on the plains. The ruts near Guernsey, Wyoming are the most famous and are cut into the sandstone to a depth of five feet. The center rut was created by people walking behind, often having to help push the wagons through the rocky terrain.
Nearby is the site of Register Cliff which is close to the North Platte River. This was an encampment where the pioneers would rest and resupply before continuing on their journey. Many people left a record of their stop by scratching their names in the soft rock, which became known as Register Cliff.
A cave was dug which was used to store food and other supplies for the travelers.
This location also served as one of 184 stations of the Pony Express. The Pony Express is an important part of American history and was the predecessor of the U.S Postal Service. Mail and packages were carried across the continent by riders in a kind of relay system, making it possible to transport the mail from coast to coast in 10 days. It was in operation for only 18 months, coming to an end when the Civil War broke out, and as the telegraph system became the more efficient way of delivering messages.
All of these features are located near the North Platte River.
Despite the paved roads, scattered modern buildings, signs and vehicles, it was still easy to imagine what this area might have looked like as an encampment for the pioneers so many years ago. I could envision the covered wagons, tents and fires for cooking; people going about their chores and life as they knew it on this unprecedented journey to a place they knew very little about. However hard they thought their trip had been so far, they had no way to predict how much harder it would become as they continued west over the barren land of Wyoming and through the Rocky Mountains. Had they known, they might have decided to stay right here.
I, however, had miles to go and continued on to the border of South Dakota, my 48th state visited (North Dakota and Mississippi are the only ones left).
Now I was all business and ready to get to my destination. I drove a couple more hours to Hot Springs and found a lovely campground just outside of town. Tucked in my tent on the edge of the Black Hills with a crescent moon above, the first day of exploring new territory had come to cozy end.
Day 2: Hot Springs to Hill City
The next morning I found KRC and her friend Erica walking through Hot Springs. Erica is a magician and they were in HS for a performance she had scheduled there. While walking around, we came upon an exhibit of The Wall. This is a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. I’ve been to the memorial in D.C., and this one was no less heart-wrenching than the original. The names are listed on each panel by day of casualty.
After spending some time reading names and sending silent tributes of honor, we pulled ourselves away and officially began our mini-Grand Tour.
Our next destination was the Crazy Horse Memorial. Crazy Horse was a Lakota Native American Indian and one of the most important and famous chiefs in history. The memorial, near Berne, South Dakota, is in recognition of his legacy and, “to honor the culture, tradition and living heritage of North American Indians.”
The memorial will be, when it is finished, the world’s largest mountain sculpture. It was begun in 1948 by Korczak Ziolkowski, who was commissioned by Lakota Chief Standing Bear to create the monument. It became the life work of Ziolkowski, his wife Ruth, and their 10 children, six of whom are still involved with the project. They established the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation and fund the project with donations and admission fees to the visitor complex, and accept no government support. The face of Crazy Horse is complete and was dedicated in 1998. It will be years before the entire structure is finished.
I knew about this sculpture from family members who had been there, but had no idea how extensive the complex was or how much history was presented. The museum had many original Native American artifacts, including letters, ceremonial dress and displays of arrow heads. The most interesting aspect was the documentary film, which told the story of the Ziolkowski Family and their commitment to the memorial. Some interesting facts about the project can be read here.
The visits to the Crazy Horse Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial, while fascinating, were also emotionally exhausting. It was difficult to integrate the historical impact and conflicting feelings that were tripped by these exhibits. But it was also important to acknowledge these emotions and take in the importance of what we were seeing.
After leaving Crazy Horse we headed for Hill City, found a hotel, and pondered the bike rally we’d somehow, unwittingly, found ourselves a part of:
To be continued…