This Open Road

A season walking southbound on the Appalachian Trail

Tag Archives: hostels

Walking Through Pennsylvania

(Although I finished the A.T. over a month ago, I’m reliving my trek in these blog updates. The following post is a continuation of this entry, which I published on January 31st.)

I continued walking south into the deepening fall. I sensed a new kind of solitude. The few southbounders that I felt connected to were now far ahead. I would not be able to catch up. I acknowledged the loss, knowing this was a defining aspect of the trail. Hikers literally walk into each other’s lives and share a few, or many, miles together. Some hikers make a unique connection and find they’re compatible in terms of pace, schedule, and trail lifestyle, and may decide to stay together for as long as they both remain on the trail. But many (perhaps most) partnerships that form are short-lived. The variables that make up a successful hiking duo or group can be too disparate, and eventually people separate, decide to hike alone, or connect with others.

As I began my hike, I felt an unexpected liberation. In the midst of this three-month journey, I was beginning again. All I had to do was walk, as fast or as slow as I wanted. My body had recovered from the half marathon and I had renewed focus. From here on, all I needed to do was hike south to Springer Mountain. I was ready to go.

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The only thing I was racing was the weather. It was mid-October and fall was intensifying. As if I needed a reminder, snow flurries and attention-getting temps welcomed me back to the trail on my first night out. Here we go, I thought. As it turned out, it did not get that cold again for several weeks, but I was on alert. I was hiking in the Appalachians in the fall and it was supposed to get cold. Hike faster, winter’s coming.

The hiking was solitary and exhilarating. My days were mostly clear. Occasionally I’d pass another hiker – a section hiker or day hiker – but I did not pass or get passed by another southbounder. The last northbounder I had met was “Scrabble”, in southern Massachusetts. I wouldn’t see another nobo until I got to North Carolina, when early starters were beginning their 2016 thru-hikes.

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Rocksylvania

Pennsylvania is one of the flattest states on the A.T., although very little of the trail is actually “flat”, as most people perceive “flat” to be. It’s also the rockiest state on the trail and is thus called “Rocksylvania.” Hikers will always have something to worry and complain about on the trail. In PA, it’s the rocks.

Certainly, they can be annoying. In some places the rocks are big and it takes long, stairstep-like strides to move over them. Most of the time the rocks are small and pointy, making it easy to turn an ankle or trip. It’s often difficult to find a good hiking rhythm. A hiker must always carefully watch for the next step. Because if the rocks won’t get you, that snake hiding just beneath them might.

Rattlesnakes, copperheads and black snakes are prevalent on the trail and especially in Pennsylvania. I’ve hiked approximately 7,320 A.T. miles since 1994 and have encountered one rattlesnake and about a dozen harmless black snakes. The rattlesnake that warned me off in 2010, was occupying trail real estate near Rice Field Shelter in Pearisburg, VA. I think I’m one of the few hikers who has never even seen a poisonous snake in Pennsylvania.

I talked to other hikers on this trip who saw several snakes among the rocks of PA, and I was always watchful, but never saw one myself.

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Lehigh Gap is one of many iconic places along the A.T. There is a long ridgewalk which eventually begins a steep descent down a rocky precipice into the gap. Some hikers think this is one of the most dangerous areas of the trail due to the exposure along this section. In bad weather this scramble could be uncomfortable. The weather was on my side the day I went down to the gap, and step-by-careful-step I made it to the bottom. The trail crosses the Lehigh River and gradually gains the elevation back on the other side.

The fall colors were becoming quite spectacular. Locals said it wasn’t a good year for the colors due to the lack of rain in previous weeks, but I was in awe every day. I loved hiking in the fall and this was one aspect of a southbound hike that I had been looking forward to before I started.

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Looking down to Lehigh Gap.

 

One evening, I stopped by a spring to get water near Eagles Nest Shelter. As I was finishing, another woman hiker, “Shelob”, walked up to also get water. She was going on to the shelter which was .3 miles west of the trail, too far to go, in my opinion, when there was water and plenty of camping available right where I was. After chatting a bit with Shelob, I went back to the camping area, and began to set up my tent. I invited her to camp with me if she didn’t want to stay at the shelter.

A while later, just as it was getting dark, Shelob came back to the campsite. No one else was at the shelter and she seemed more comfortable tenting near another hiker. I made a fire, we ate our dinner and began sharing our stories. She had started at Springer and was walking north as long as the weather would allow. This was not her first time on the trail. Shelob had hiked southbound a couple of years earlier, and I asked about her experience hiking south into winter. I was daunted and impressed by her answers. She told me stories of crawling on all fours when the trail was too icy to walk on. She said there were many mornings when her boots were frozen and she could barely get them on. She and other southbounders would hike four days at a time, then find lodging to wait out another storm. Still, she was able to log 20-25 mile days on a regular basis. I took these markers as my guide and accepted that the conditions she described would be repeated for me.

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“Anywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.” – Steven Wright

If one keeps walking, day after day, eventually they’re going to cross big milestones. My first big milestone was getting to the 500-mile mark way back in Vermont. That seemed like ages ago. Then, at another quiet place on the trail, I was suddenly reminded, by these rocks, that I had walked 1,000 miles. That felt like something.

* * * * *

Two days later I walked into Duncannon. I must admit, Duncannon has never been my favorite trail town. It’s a popular one because the trail goes right through town, and past the Doyle Hotel, an easy and almost unavoidable stop for hikers. The Doyle is an old hotel that was one of the premier lodges in the early part of the century. Now it’s run-down and in need of some upkeep. The buzz on the trail is that it’s not a great place to stay overnight, but one of the best places for hiker food.

Early in my trip, Ben, a social media friend and fellow 2010 hiker whom I’d never met in person, contacted me to say he’d like to possibly meet to help in some way, and maybe hike a few miles with me. Our schedules never coordinated, but he sent me a message telling me to check at the Doyle for some trail magic he left there.

When I arrived, there was a card for me with $20 and a note from Ben, saying to enjoy a meal at the Doyle, his treat. We’d never met, but we shared a common bond through the trail and I was happy that he could be a part of my trip in this way. His generosity was so appreciated and I had one of the best burgers I’ve ever enjoyed!

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I was well into this feast before I remembered to take a picture.

 

My stop at the Doyle was important because it was here that I would meet another dear trail friend, Michele, or “Mitch”, as we know her in the A.T. tribe.

Mitch and I have known each other since our ’98 thru-hikes. Along with our friend, Hawkeye, she was one of the first people I met that season. For the last several years, Mitch has been a caretaker at the Scott Farm Trail Work Center, which is an A.T. property. (I stayed with Mitch here on my 2010 section hike as well.)

Mitch met me at the Doyle and took me to the Farm for the usual luxuries that mean so much to hikers – a bed, a shower, laundry facilities and good conversation. We have many common friends and shared experiences and it’s always good to reconnect with her. It just doesn’t happen as often as it should.

Since the Scott Farm is on the trail, staying here allowed me to slackpack in this section. I took most of my gear out of my backpack, kept only the things I’d need for the day, and set off to hike about 24 miles. Mitch would meet me at a road crossing later that evening.

Toward the end of my hike that day, I came upon some people during a photo shoot, who were definitely not dressed like hikers. I quickly realized I had just photobombed a couple getting their wedding pictures taken! There was a sharp turn in the trail and I had suddenly walked upon them from behind. I apologized and tried to move on. But they got so excited and asked me to be in their pictures with them. They said they were hoping a hiker would come by. The best part: the bride and groom were wearing hiking boots! They were just about to leave for their wedding, but took time to take extra pictures and asked what my trail name was. They were so fun and sweet and loved the spontaneity of it all.

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I was afraid to get too close to her beautiful dress!

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The photographers get photographed.

 

A few miles later, Mitch met me at the place we agreed upon and took me back to the Farm for another night of civilization. It was wonderful to spend this time with my friend!

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Halfway(s)

There are a few “halfway” points along the A.T. The psychological halfway point is where the ATC’s (Appalachian Trail Conservancy) main office is located in Harpers Ferry, WV, and where I’d be in a few days. There is the actual halfway point, which can change year-to-year, due to relocations along the trail. And then there is Pine Grove Furnace State Park, where hikers can take part in the Half Gallon Challenge at the general store. To mark reaching the halfway point (generally speaking), hikers buy a half gallon of ice cream and eat it in one sitting. A lot of hikers are successful in this endeavor. I have not done this in the past, and didn’t get a chance this time, because the store was closed the morning I came through.

I had camped nearby but didn’t have enough water for breakfast, so I took a break here, got water which was available from a faucet, and ate breakfast before moving on for the day.

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Pine Grove General Store

 

This is also the location of a hostel called the Ironmasters Mansion Hostel. It was built in 1829 and was the residence for the ironmaster at that time. Apparently, there is a room in the mansion that was used as a way-station for the Underground Railroad during the slavery era.

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Ironmasters Mansion Hostel

 

Another interesting building here is the Appalachian Trail Museum. It contains many artifacts related to the A.T., including some gear used by early thru-hikers such as Earl Shaffer, Grandma Gatewood and others. It was also closed this day, so I didn’t get a chance to visit.

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Appalachian Trail Museum

 

Finally, later that day, I reached the actual halfway point for 2015. It was at the unfortunately-named Dead Woman Hollow Road. Fortunately, there were no dead women to give validity to the name.

I gave the sign a high-five, snapped this picture and realized that from now on, there would be fewer miles in front of me than there were behind me. I had walked 1,094.6 miles. Only that much left to go!

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I was almost finished with all 229 miles of Pennsylvania. Most hikers believe this is the hardest state because the rocks can really beat up their feet. I didn’t mind the trail here. There are other sections that I’ll be happy never to go through again (like Mahoosuc Notch in Maine). Pennsylvania, I like.

28 miles later, I said “Goodbye” to PA and “Hello” to Maryland.

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Pennsylvania (But First, a Half Marathon in Yosemite!)

Dear Reader, I finished my southbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail on January 19, 2016! I hiked 2,189 miles from Katahdin to Springer in just under six months. I did not mean to leave you hanging, but I found it increasingly difficult to keep up with the blog, conduct my online lessons and do everything I needed to do in town (laundry, resupply, rest, talk to people at home, etc.) and still hike. At the end of October I suspended my online lessons until January, and decided I would catch up on the blog when I finished the trail.

I knew that I would need to stay as focused as possible in order to finish the trail before it got too cold. As it turned out, it was a fairly mild fall and winter. I had some cold days, but not as intense as I expected and not cold enough to force me off the trail.

The Appalachian Trail is so much a part of my life and who I am. To have been able to hike it three times is a blessing and something I’ll always treasure. I’ve walked northbound (1998), section hiked (2010/2011), and now, hiked southbound. (I also began a thru-hike in 1994, going almost 700 miles before stopping.) Writing about this journey after I completed it will allow me to process what transpired, relive it and share the experience with you. Thank you for your patience.

* * * * * *

At the end of January 2015, shortly after I returned from Japan, and before I made my plans to hike the A.T. again, I committed to run the inaugural Yosemite Half Marathon with my good friend, Jannele. Some people from her job were forming a group and she invited me to join them. It took me about five seconds to make a decision. I was ready to train for another race, I’d never been to Yosemite, and I would get to spend time with Jannele, whom I’d not seen in several years.

Later, I realized a thru-hike was possible and although I’d have to leave the trail for a few days to go to the race, I decided to do it all. It would be an adventure within an adventure and I was ready for it.

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Back on the trail… After crossing into Pennsylvania, I walked to the Church of the Mountain Hiker Hostel in Delaware Water Gap, a hostel that has been serving hikers since the mid-70s. It’s located in the basement of the church, and has a bunkroom, shower and common area for hikers to use. One aspect of a southbound thru-hike, is that there are very few hikers still around at this time of year. The northbounders have long passed through Pennsylvania and most southbounders are well into Virginia. There was only one other hiker staying at the hostel when I was there. This was where I would leave the trail for the next nine days.

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Getting from the Appalachian Mountains to the Sierras was not as complicated as I expected. From the hostel, I walked about a mile to the bus station, took a bus into NYC, then a shuttle to the Newark airport, flew to Kansas City (by way of Atlanta), was met by Jannele and spent the night at her house. The next morning we flew from KC to Fresno, CA (via Phoenix) and drove a rental car to Oakhurst which is the nearest major town closest to Yosemite.

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The weekend was wonderful. It was fantastic to spend that time with one of my dearest friends, whom I’ve known since college. Ours is a friendship built on ease and gentle camaraderie. We can be talkative and we can be quiet. Our shared history, respect for each other and mutual sense of humor create the foundation of our relationship. And we both like to run.

Yosemite National Park was absolutely more astounding than I imagined. Even after seeing many pictures of iconic features such as Half Dome and El Capitan, I was still amazed by the magnitude and grandeur of it all.

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We both ran better than we expected. The morning was cool, the course wound down a curvy, tree-lined road and we glided easily toward the finish line. I had not run since mid-July, and was a little concerned about how I’d do. To my advantage, I had strong hiker legs and that helped me maintain my sub-two hour goal for half marathons (I finished in 1:53:02).

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Jannele also did really well, but we both paid for our efforts after the race. By the end of race day we could hardly walk. I had made plans to visit my family in Colorado after the race and I was glad for the rest days. It took several days before I felt normal again.

After the race weekend, I did all of the flying activity in reverse. By the time I was back on the trail nine days later, I’d been on 10 flights due to the stopovers each flight entailed. Not complicated, it just required organization, timeliness and a little luck (only one flight was late in this whole itinerary).

Finally, I was back in Delaware Water Gap ready to resume my walk south. I stayed another night at the church hostel, got a shuttle to Wind Gap and started hiking. It was a chilly morning and it was the first time I really knew the rest of the hike would be a race against winter.

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Back on the trail at Wind Gap.

 

Weekend in Takayama and Hida-Furukawa

2 1/2 hours northeast of Nagoya by bus, tucked away in the foothills of the Northern Japan Alps, is the smallish community of Takayama. It’s famous for its traditional architecture, nearby onsen (hot springs), quirky shops, specialty restaurants and ancient shrines (including one originally built in the 8th century which was later destroyed by fire; some of the present buildings on the site date back to the 16th century).

Last weekend, Hannah, Kim and I met for a girls’ weekend in Takayama. Kim and I took a bus from Nagoya and Hannah arrived from Kanazawa, after a few days of exploring that region. We had a fine time walking all around this lovely hamlet, ducking in and out of shops, eating at local traditional restaurants, perusing the morning markets, strolling along the paths that meandered through the forested grounds of a local temple and enjoying the camaraderie that goes with such trips.

It was during a walk after dinner at a tiny family owned restaurant, that I was struck again with the privilege of getting to choose this life. It was so ordinary – walking with two friends after a satisfying meal. But it was beyond that: I was walking along a quiet street, otherwise dark except for the muted street lights along the route, in a mountain community in Japan, with two people with whom I shared several values, namely, a love for travel, other cultures and teaching. And there we were: we had made independent decisions, applied for a job, finagled some logistics (a lot of logistics, actually), boarded a plane for Japan, and, on this weekend, ended up in Takayama. And as we walked on that road, on that chilly evening, I considered the simple reality of it. How did I end up here when I could have been anywhere else? I’ve been fortunate to have had other situations in which I could have asked the same question – from any peak, valley or trail I’ve ever hiked; from dirt roads, cafes and hutongs in Bolivia, Boulder and Beijing. But in this moment, I was in the foothills of the the Japan Alps and could not be more thankful for it.

Everyone has their own story, however easy or difficult getting to where we intend might be. I’ve been in a long season of getting to travel and work and it’s never lost on me how lucky I am. This little excursion was another reminder of that.

Meeting Kim and heading to Nagoya Station to catch our bus!

Meeting Kim and heading to Nagoya Station to catch our bus!

Excited trip faces - ready to go!

Excited trip faces – ready to go!

First thing to do: eat traditional ramen. This was the best ramen either of us have eaten yet.

First thing to do: eat some traditional food. This was the best ramen either of us have had yet.

We met Hannah and began our tour of Takayama.

We met Hannah and began our tour of Takayama.

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Sacred temple grounds.

Sacred temple grounds.

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Rickshaw.

Rickshaw on the bridge.

Robyn on the bridge.

Robyn on the bridge.

Tiny corner neighborhood restaurant. We all agreed this was a highlight of Japan so far.

Tiny corner neighborhood restaurant. We all agreed this was a highlight of Japan so far.

Food is served in several small dishes. More was to come even after this photo.

The food was served in several small dishes. More was to come after this photo was taken.

Our newest favorite Japanese restaurant.

Our newest favorite Japanese restaurant.

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On our second day, we took a train 15 minutes away from Takayama to Hida-Furukawa. While there were lots of tourists in Takayama, we seemed to be the only foreigners in Hida-Furukawa. This was a small, unassuming community that seemed not to notice (or care) that only a short distance away was a place that drew travelers from all over the world.

Finding the way in Hida-Furukawa.

Finding the way in Hida-Furukawa.

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*

Hannah captured the perfect moment of laughter.

Hannah captured the moment perfectly.

There were three shrines that seemed overwhelmingly large relative to the size of the town. The first...

There were two shrines that seemed overwhelmingly large relative to the size of the town. The first…

The second shrine.

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There were two shrines that seemed out of proportion relative to the size of the town.

The second.

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After all the walking and shrine-looking, it was time for…coffee!!

Somehow we just new this was the place.

Somehow we just knew this was the place.

Japanese-style.

Japanese-style coffee time.

*

*

*

Perfect.

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A unique display we saw along the street.

A unique display we saw along the street.

Detail.

Detail.

Tiny stairs engraved into the rock.

Tiny stairs engraved into the rock.

Ready to head back to Takayama.

Ready to head back to Takayama.

We stayed at J-Hoppers, a cozy, clean, hostel run by super nice staff.

We stayed at J-Hoppers, a cozy, clean hostel run by very nice and helpful staff.

(Maybe it was too early for pictures...)

(Maybe it was too early for pictures…)

We had a fantastic time in Takayama. I was there for two days and one night and felt like that was plenty of time to take in the richness and essence of the town. Hannah and Kim stayed for another night and visited a nearby onsen, which I heard was beautiful and relaxing.

Takayama is now one of my favorite places in Japan and I’d love to return sometime for another visit.

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Hokkaido: Part II (or, Everything That Wasn’t Covered in Part I)

(Part I here)

After my first night in Sapporo at Jimmyz Backpackers, I returned to the station and took a bus two hours northeast to Asahikawa. The drive was beautiful as the road rolled through lush farmland set in the foothills of the bigger mountains of central Hokkaido.

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Asahikawa is the connecting point for some interesting places in the area and has one of the coolest hostels I’ve encountered yet.  The Guest House Asahikawa is run by a local couple, Isao and Yukari, and is located on the downtown pedestrian mall. They’ve created a bright and cozy place to hang out and will help their guests plan activities.

Yukari and Isao.

Yukari and Isao.

Who's Who for the night.

Who’s Who for the night.

Dining room. This couple was from Italy. I hid my Kraft parmesan cheese from them. ;)

Dining room. The flags resting on the window sill represent the countries of the guests visiting that day.

Sinks and kitchen.

Sinks and kitchen. And a snowboard.

The bed cubbies are separated by curtains and have lamps in the corners creating a very cozy nook.

The bed cubbies are separated by curtains and have lamps in the corners creating a very nook.

Tatami mats and futons.

Tatami mats and futons.

It was tempting to burrow away here and just read and nap, but there were things to see and do, so I pulled myself away and ventured out. I visited the hilariously named Coffee Stand Container…

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The barista made an excellent mocha.

The barista made an excellent mocha…

Which was pretty cute too.

…which was pretty cute too.

The shop was set up in retro decor and had great atmosphere.

The shop was set up in retro decor and had great atmosphere.

I could have stayed here for much longer than I did, but I also wanted to see the local park…

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The main attraction was the lavender farm – Farm Tomita – in Furano which was an hour south by a special local train. The station was a minor event – this was a huge new station and shockingly empty, something I’ve never seen in Japan, as every major station I’ve been in has been very crowded.

Asahikawa Station.

Asahikawa Station.

Where is everybody?

Oddly empty.

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Taking the special Lavender Train to Furano.

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You say Lavendar, I say Lavender…

There are several fields on this farm where many varieties of flowers grow.

There are several fields on this farm where many varieties of flowers grow.

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The sunflowers were my favorite.

The sunflowers were my favorite.

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Lavender scooters.

Lavender scooters.

Back in Asahikawa…

Along the pedestrian mall in Asahikawa.

Along the pedestrian mall in Asahikawa.

Jazz was a musical theme during this week.

Jazz was a musical theme during this week.

* * *

After my visit to the Lavender Farm, I stayed a second night at the Guest House Asahikawa, made another visit to the Coffee Stand Container, then took the bus back to Sapporo. Before going directly back to Jimmyz, I made a short detour by train to the seaside town of Otaru. By the bay is a canal and historic warehouse district with restaurants, a few artists and a busker…

View of Otaru from the train.

View of Otaru from the train.

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He was playing Country Roads when I walked by. After leaving some yen in his tin, and chatting for a bit, he played Leaving on a Jet Plane as I walked away.

He was playing “Country Roads when I walked by. After leaving some yen in his tin and chatting for a bit, he played “Leaving on a Jet Plane” as I walked away. Seemed appropriate as I would be leaving on a jet plane the next day.

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Finally, I returned to Jimmyz, but I just couldn’t stay inside for long. I walked to the north side of the city where Hokkaido University is located. It’s on a beautiful, sprawling campus and I walked through one small section of it. Mr. Murata, the leader of the students I taught in the intensive course went here, as did a couple of Westgate staffers.

Hokkaido University.

Hokkaido University.

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Central Sapporo.

Central Sapporo.

"All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go..."

“All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go…”. Sapporo Station.

There was just so much to see and I couldn’t seem to quit. On my way to the station on my last morning, I spontaneously took a turn down a street to see a famous landmark. Built in 1873 this former Hokkaido Government Office was one of the largest buildings in Japan at the time.

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Historic building that is the former government office of Hokkaido.

And then. Then! I did not pass go, I did not collect $200, I went directly to the station and took the train to the airport where I boarded an Air Asia flight back to Tokyo for my last night in Japan for this term. I stayed in another unique hostel in Shinagawa, which was located on a lovely side street near the train station. The next morning I took the Narita Express back to the Tokyo airport and began my flight home. It was blissfully uneventful (except for the storm in Denver, which our flight missed by 15 minutes; all flights were diverted to other airports right after my plane landed), and my family (including my sister and niece) was in the Arrivals area to greet me.

It’s been a week of resting and regrouping: tomorrow I leave again, this time flying to the east coast, staying in Boston for a night before taking a bus to Vermont where I’ll begin a three-week southbound hike on the Long Trail.

You’ll be able to read all about it right here. :)

Hokkaido: Part I (or, Getting There is Half the Fun)

I’ve been back in Colorado for a week now, enjoying the cool, dry temperatures and the thrill of recovering from jet lag. It’s more manageable each time I come home as I’ve been more assertive with getting back on a regular sleep schedule. This last flight was my 10th transoceanic trip in three years, and while the adjustment never feels easy, at least it’s getting more predictable.

I spent my last week in Japan traveling to and around Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. A heat wave had descended upon Tokyo during July and the humidity seemed almost unbearable. I expected it to be much cooler in the north, but in fact it was still quite hot when it wasn’t raining. Despite the warm temps and rain, it was great to see a completely different part of Japan.

Hokkaido is Japan's northernmost island.

On Saturday July 27th, I checked out of my Kanagawa apartment and spent the night in a cramped little hostel in Tokyo. The Yadoya Guesthouse was an adequate place to land for just a night, but it was not one of my favorite hostels. Fortunately, the rest of the hostels I stayed in were much more comfortable and/or welcoming.

Kitchen at the Yadoya Guesthouse.

Kitchen at the Yadoya Guesthouse.

The next morning I got on the shinkansen and traveled 445 miles to Aomori, which took almost four hours.

My shinkansen has arrived!

My shinkansen has arrived!

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At Aomori I took another train to Hakodate. This route went through the Seikan Tunnel, the longest undersea tunnel in the world, beginning at the northern end of Honsho and ending at the southern end of Hokkaido.

Charts on the backs of the seats showing the entrance and exit times and points for the undersea route.

Charts on the backs of the seats show the entrance and exit times and points for the undersea route.

Coffee and an audiobook - travel necessities.

Coffee and an audiobook – travel necessities.

Rainy introduction to Hakodate.

Rainy introduction to Hakodate.

My time in Hakodate was unplanned. The original plan was to simply transfer to the final train that would take me to Sapporo. However, when the train arrived at the station, there was a crowd of people backed up at the exit gates. The foreigners were looking at each other quite confused. Finally, someone told us, “Train, cancelled. All day.” But no one told us what we should do next. We’re not in Tokyo anymore, Toto. Very few staff at the station could speak English and it took a couple of hours waiting in lines, trying to get information. Eventually, someone told us that the weather had been severe and that all the trains to Sapporo were cancelled until the next day. There were buses still running, but they were already booked. Finally, I spoke to a person at the tourist information desk who helped me find a room for the night and I was able to transfer my ticket for the last train the next day.

It all worked out and I had a lovely, if rainy, time in Hakodate. My room was at the Nice Day Inn, just a few blocks from the train station. Saito-san is a sweet little grandma who has operated her boarding house for many years. The guest rooms are on the ground floor and she lives on the upper floor. There are two rooms with two bunk beds in each; two showers and two sinks, a table with coffee cups, hot water and instant coffee. Old posters, photographs and journals decorate the walls. My hostess spoke pretty good English. She told me that she and her husband had lived in Hawaii many years ago and she learned English while living there. Her husband died several years ago and she runs the hostel/inn/boarding house by herself.

Journals from past years. Reminds me of shelter registers from the AT.

Journals from past years.

My hostess at the Nice Day Inn.

My hostess at the Nice Day Inn.

I walked around the bay area in the light rain. Hakodate was one of the first ports opened to American whaling ships in 1854 when Japan began trading with the West. There were several historical buildings which were significant during this time. I would have explored more of these places, but the rain had increased and instead I went to a local sushi train restaurant, one of my favorite types of eateries in Japan.

Sushi train restaurant in Hakodate.

Sushi train restaurant in Hakodate.

By the time I returned to my room to settle in, it was raining quite hard. A few minutes later, there was a knock on the front door and a male voice asked Saito-san if there were any rooms available. I heard her say, “Sorry, all full. Sorry, full.” Then there was some hesitation and shuffling about and then she knocked on my door. With apologetic eyes she looked at me and asked, “Sorry, can two boys stay in here with you? So sorry.” The other bunk room was taken and I was the only person in a room with two bunk beds and it was raining outside. Of course, I was happy to have them stay there. So Julio and Raphael from Italy (!) who were on their way to Wakkanai (a city in northern Hokkaido) moved in. They were polite and full of happy energy and on a quest to find fresh squid, a specialty of Hakodate. I was asleep when they returned and still sleeping when they left in the morning, so our encounter was brief.

My reserved seat ticket was scheduled for the last train but I was able to catch a morning train and get a non-reserved seat. However, all of those seats were taken and there was only standing room available in between the cars. At first it didn’t seem so bad, but eventually it became hot and crowded. Being prone to motion sickness, I knew this was going to be a long ride to Sapporo.

68-Hokkaido 172

After a couple of hours, I was able to move to the regular car when a few people exited at previous stops. Standing there was much better and I even had a seat for the last hour of the trip.

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Four hours later, I arrived in Sapporo. I took a local train to my hostel for the night: the cozy, clean and lovely, Jimmyz Backpackers. That’s it, just Jimmyz Backpackers. :)

Jimmy - of Jimmyz'.

Jimmy – of Jimmyz.

Community area.

Community area. Jazz music played in the background.

08-Hokkaido Hostels 010

There were two rooms upstairs with very comfortable bunk beds and plenty of space to move around. The showers and bathrooms were clean and modern. The kitchen area was small but had everything for preparing good meals.

I met a few other foreigners including Liz, who teaches in Wakkanai (where the Italians were headed). She’d been to Sapporo several times and knew of a restaurant – Garaku – that served a local specialty, curry soup, which was fantastic. Then we walked around enjoying the bright lights of Sapporo, which felt like a mini-version of Tokyo: interesting people, but not the densely packed crowds; lots of tall buildings, but not overwhelmingly so; one significant train station, not several with similar-sounding names.

Enjoying curry soup with Liz.

Curry soup with Liz at Garaku

I stayed at Jimmyz for two nights – my first night in Sapporo, and my last night, after traveling to Asahikawa to see the famous lavender farms which I’ll write about in Part II.