I first traveled to Japan back in 2007. I was like a little kid at an amusement park. Everywhere I looked there was something new and interesting. Our schedule back then was packed with interviews, transportation, big cities and lots of meetings. In looking back at that first trip to Japan, it really helped us prepare for this trip, six years later. We had a better idea of what to expect. We knew the things that we wanted to do differently. We knew we had barely scratched the surface of a meaningful experiences in Japan during that first trip.
I had been talking for a few years with our Japanese distributor, Motocross International, about the idea of Salsa returning to Japan to do a different kind of Salsa Tour. Each year something always came up or got in the way. This year, we both committed to making it happen. In May, our Salsa Japan Tour came to life and it was more than just travelling around Japan in planes, trains, buses, and automobiles. This tour had all those things, but most importantly, it also included bicycle touring, riding and adventure.
This trip plan had just about every type of bicycle adventure imaginable. We had a multi-day tour in a remote area of Japan. We had one-day adventure rides with incredible bike shop owners and their customers. We also had an intense remote mountain inn stay and trail ride outside of Kyoto. The final icing on the cake was that we were featured in a Subaru car ad in B-Pal, a Japanese magazine. It was all an incredible experience. One which I will never forget. Today, I bring you just a bit about self discovery and our multi-day bicycle tour of the Noto Peninsula. Over time, we’ll be writing and sharing more stories of Japan.
Going into this trip, we wanted to a multi-day tour with bike shop owners and employees to have a chance for some real interaction with them. Experiencing bicycle travel is very important to understanding us personally, and Salsa, and why we design our products the way we do. We also hoped that everyone on the trip, including us, would learn something new about ourselves or push ourselves just a bit further than we have before. Finding out something new about yourself is a big part of any bicycle travel experience, especially in a foreign land.
The Noto area of Japan is a fairly remote area of Japan. It is a mountainous peninsula, at least by our Midwestern United States standards, located on the western sea side of Japan. It is sometimes described as an abandoned part of Japan. It is known for many things including its beauty, small farms, remoteness, hand-crafted lacquer wares, blown glass and fishing villages. The word abandoned is lost in translation a bit because when I heard the word abandoned, I envisioned ghost towns of the old wild west. I envisioned old towns with nothing but empty buildings and no population. I quickly learned it simply meant that the population wasn’t growing, and is in fact shrinking. Folks are leaving the Noto area and its industries for the city or other areas. Yet, we found such rich and vibrant experiences and amazing people along the way.
We also wanted a multi-surface route for our tour. We didn’t want to do a traditional pavement-only tour. We wanted old and narrow roads. We wanted to get lost at least once. If we could find dirt paths or roads, we wanted to ride them. As we planned for this trip, I pressed our contact for a map or a description of the route so I could do research. I heard that folks were working on it, but nothing ever came through! Just days before the trip, I prepared my riding partners, Kelly Mac and Kid Riemer, that we were going to the Noto peninsula for a multi day bicycle tour without a map. Each of us needs to plan accordingly and make our final gear selection without knowing where we’d sleep or what we’d run across on our trip.
That statement was actually freeing and I think it actually helped each of us to prepare. I’ve never gone on a trip not fully knowing what I was getting into, no less travel halfway around the world with no way of turning back or correcting my gear mistakes. I’ll be honest, that pushed me quite a bit as I really do have a tendency to be a bit OCD when getting myself into bicycle adventures. For me personally, this moment before I left for Japan is where my personal growth and discovery occurred. I had to trust that it would all work out out on the other side and I just had to worry about riding my bike and taking pictures. Transportation would work out, we’ve have the right gear, and we’d find food and water along the way. Self discovery is a big part of travelling by bicycle and in this case, I believe I experienced more on this trip by letting go of the route before I left.
Our route meandered around the Noto peninsula, up and over the mountainous spine, and around one of the surrounding islands. We had sun and rain. We had laughter, joy and a bit of pain. We ate like kings and queens. I think we all learned something about ourselves on this part of our Japan tour. The landscape, people and the food were outstanding. I think between Kelly Mac, Kid Riemer, and I we took several thousand images to try to remember it accurately. Today, I am just going to share a sample of my images from the Noto area. I hope you enjoy them and that in some way we encourage you to plan something big or small that makes you learn or think differently. Enjoy.
We discussed the route and saw the map for the first time the evening before heading out on tour. Each of us were filled with both excitement and uncertainty.
We landed and walked out the door to find great friends and assemble bikes. Our only mishap was Kid Riemer's bike had lost a front brake in the packing, inspection and transportation process. But, you make do with what you have and we pressed on. Each and every one of us had a feeling of anticipation at this point. What would the next several days bring?
Within minutes we were on small mountain roads. Our trip was filled with every terrain imaginable. We went up, down, over and around.
As I mentioned earlier, we ate like kings and queens.
The whole experience was incredible and the people, food, sites, smells and sounds are the most intense memories. I learned so much about Japan. We met such amazing people and formed lasting and meaningful relationships. I also learned that I could let go and trust that all things will work out if I just make do and press on with what I have. I am so thankful that I let my fear of not knowing the route go so I could fully experience these things. Thank you bicycle travel. Thank you friends. Thank you Japan.
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Growing up as a Minnesota farm boy, I developed an appreciation and love for land and open space. This appreciation has fostered two passions, cycling and photography. Both of these passions provide freedom, encourage me to explore and foster creativity. More importantly though, my journey with a bike and a camera reminds me that the world is big and I am small.