Monday, December 29, 2014

Urban Hike: Disputed Tracks

I sometimes wake in the night and listen for a distant train, a steady rumble as locomotives pull a mile of freight cars. Oil from North Dakota, coal from Wyoming or Montana, grain from Minnesota or North Dakota.

I'm standing next to the railroad. The first snow of winter has melted, fresh snow is falling. It's time to follow these tracks before they becomes impassable on foot. The hike will take me on track where deep snow can hide ankle-twisting cavities, control equipment, and levers.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

My Worst Travel Fail

I have rarely felt more alive, more calm, more in the moment, more close to death. But that all came later that night.

It was October 2011, northern India, Haridwar, one of Hinduism's holiest places. The city is set in the foothills of the Himalayas at mile 157 (253 km) of the Ganges' 1,569 mile (2,525 km) journey to the Bay of Bengal.

I was traveling alone, doing what my partner, Dwight, would call a route march. I loved Haridwar. It was a manageable size, the walking was good, the oppressive heat of summer was long gone, street vendors and beggars generally ignored me.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Changes of Gauge

Delta flight 160, Denver to Amsterdam, landed today (December 1, 2014) in Amsterdam with no Denver passengers on board. This is not uncommon: it also happened with DL160 on November 13.

The explanation starts with a "change of gauge," a term rooted in railroads.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

An Old Lady with Attitude

What is this? Surely it's not a hat.

I came across this while reorganizing our kitchen drawers. It's a tea cozy, designed to keep a teapot warm.

It was 1999. I was in Glasgow, Scotland, visiting my elderly aunt. Her elegantly dressed, equally ancient neighbor presented me with the tea cozy she had knitted.

The neighbor giggled as she told me how she had knitted a, ahem, willy warmer for the apartment building manager.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Dreaming of Kyushu

This winter I'll be back in Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's four main islands.

I will have visited Kyushu three years in a row: 2013, 2014, and 2015. I go back for the gentle subtropical climate while Minnesota's long winter refuses to budge.

Kyushu is a manageable size, about one-sixth the area of Minnesota or Britain. It feels laid-back compared to the megacities to the north. The 800 miles (about 1,300 km) from Tokyo by bullet train to southern Kyushu is too far for most foreign tourists.

I treasure the national parks, gorgeous hiking trails, smoking volcanoes, the early cherry blossoms, the ancient cedars.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Travel Gear: Spectacle Case

You pay attention to every item that goes into your backpack if you're going to carry it for 330 miles (about 530 kilometers).

That was my state of mind when I planned a walk around the north of England with my partner.

I scrutinized every item. Does it provide sufficient value? Can I find something equivalent but lighter?

I used a spreadsheet to maintain a running total of the weight of our packs. Eventually each pack would weigh 14 lb (about 6.4 kilograms).

Our spectacle cases at 3 to 4 ounces (around 100 grams) each were preventing me from reaching the 14 lb goal. Our three cases would be approaching 3% of our total load. Not a lot, but I was getting compulsive about that goal.

I couldn't find spectacle cases that were sufficiently lightweight and crushproof. Then I learned from a Web discussion group about tenite butyrate tubing.

Monday, November 3, 2014

7 Ways Twitter Helps My Writing

I use Twitter as a microblogging tool.

Because I use photographs, Twitter limits my posts to 118 characters. In that small space I can tell a story about my day.

You can see the results in the sidebar to the right of this post. If you are reading this on your phone, my Twitter stream is here.

A small space to convey an idea forces me to examine my writing skills. Here's 7 ways Twitter is helping me to improve my writing.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Phase 3 Writing

All my life I've allowed my audience to constrain my writing.

Writing was a product for teachers, academics, engineers, customers, and decision-makers. I succeeded if I satisfied my consumers.

The cage door is now open and I am free to step outside. In Life, Phase 3, life untethered from work, I get to write for myself.

I get to explore my brain's attic, piled with disorganized thoughts.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Travel Gear: Trekking Gloves

In Marketing class I learned about a man who had a bunch of folding stools to sell. He first positioned them as general-purpose folding stools, but there were no takers. He sold them all when he positioned them as fishing stools.

A well-positioned product connects with a specific market. With a bit of luck, the sale requires minimal targeted advertising and fetches a premium price.

This week I've been in the market for gloves. Not just any gloves, but gloves to protect my hands when I clamber over rocks and ride scree.

Monday, October 20, 2014


It was breakfast at the Granvia Okayama Hotel.

The tour group at the next table murmured in agreement as the colonel railed against typographical errors in the itinerary.

I pegged him as "the colonel," now a paper-pusher, close to retirement.  It was impossible to tune him out as he recalled his first encounter with the errant itinerary in excruciating detail.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Our Castle in England

I'm back in Minneapolis from my travels, so it is a priority to plan future travels.

Today I booked an entire English castle for 2016. It's just a little castle, actually a gatehouse, it's only for a week, and it costs about the same as two hotel rooms.

I want to introduce my nephews and their parents to the area I grew up in Northeastern England. Morpeth Castle is a good base. It dates from about 1350, and it has a parapet where an almost-9-year-old and an almost-8-year-old can imagine pouring boiling oil on invading forces.

I found myself putting together a document about the trip, including the following mundane details:

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Monasteries on Rocks

"It's a good trail."

I could tell from the young woman's hiking boots and glowing expression it would, indeed, be a good trail.

I gratefully accepted the walking stick (tree limb) her companion was ready to discard as they left the trail.

I clambered over rocks and headed away from the idling tour buses.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Views from a Rooftop Bar

"Great view."

I kept looking at the Acropolis. Then I realized I was being spoken to. I turned around to see a man in his 70's. I muttered something in agreement.

Hearing my accent he started a "Your Country" routine about British politics.

"Wrong country," I interrupted.

Once he determined my actual citizenship he started another "Your Country" routine, this time directed at American national politics.

"I don't talk politics in bars."

He deftly switched course to prime ministerial politics in his country, New Zealand.

"Sir, I do not talk politics in bars."

But I now had an inroad. I enthused about trekking in his country.

This led to a decent conversation about our daily lives--stuff that unites rather than divides us.

Friday, September 26, 2014

My Long Journey to Ireland

I disliked history classes at my high school in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

The focus on studying for examinations did not fit my learning style. The teaching style often reflected the teacher's lack of interest in teaching.

To be fair, I did not then have the life experiences to sufficiently understand the nuances of how the world works.

Then, one day my ears pricked up when I heard the teacher talking about exploding mail boxes and post offices.

We had reached the Ireland of 1916. Domestic terrorism seemed so improbable.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Ireland by Numbers

Today we reluctantly leave Ireland: Dwight heads back to Minneapolis, and I continue my travels for a little longer.
18: # days in Ireland
It never rained, not once.
0: # days it rained
0: # days I wore a jacket
And it was warm.

We walked almost every day.
150: # miles walked (approximately)
75: # miles walked with backpacks
We took advantage of the good public transport system both in the Republic and Northern Ireland.
9: # buses (public transport)
2: # trains
0: # taxis
To be fair, we did rather enjoy being driven around by friends on a couple occasions.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Independent Scots

She stands resolutely in front of her home in the "mucky wee port" of Port Glasgow, Scotland. My Aunt Madge, helmet and gas mask at the ready, standing against the Nazi threat.

The threat was real. Bombs rained down on the nearby shipyards, and on British, American, and Free French bases. My mother and aunt spent each night in an Anderson shelter; in the morning they climbed over fire hoses to get to work.

This week, Scotland is confronting its own sovereignty. Mercifully, this time the confrontation is somewhat peaceful.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sheep's Head Way

I like to hike in peace.

Consequently, today, we find ourselves hiking the Sheep's Head Way  along "a peaceful, unspoilt peninsula" in a remote southwest corner of Ireland

If I Google "Sheep's Head Way" I get 14,500 results. If I Google "Giant's Causeway" I get 3.8 million results. We'll give The Giant's Causeway, the Blarney Stone, and numerous other "must-sees" a wide miss.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Travel Gear: Rain Jacket

The rain was torrential.

"You look funny" commented some miserable-looking middle-aged woman as she stumbled towards us on the Wainwright Coast-to-Coast hike across England.

I gurgled something to show I was glad I had added to her happiness on that grey day. I suspected this was her first and last long distance walk.

We certainly looked unusual. This was probably her first encounter with rain jackets with humps to accommodate backpacks. Fewer than 200 are sold each year.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Our State Fair

The Minnesota State Fair is a big deal. It runs for 10 days through Labor Day with a total attendance around 1.8 million.

This morning, I was one of those attendees.

I'm not one for crowds, or food on a stick, or animal competitions. But I do like to drop in on the Fair every few years to check out some of my old favorites.

It's the strong continuity with the past that gets me. On today's visit, I was seeing the same things I had seen on my first visit, a third of a century ago.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Travel Gear: Trekking Pole

I often hike with one trekking pole. Some hikers prefer two poles: I don't have enough hands to carry two while operating my GPS, or grabbing tree limbs.

It's largely about balance, but I suspect my knees are grateful when I lean on the pole while climbing.

Unfortunately, a trekking pole makes air travel more complicated.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Nagasaki/Saint Paul

Nagasaki aesthetics, Como Park, St. Paul, MN.
Minneapolis and St. Paul are twins; Nagasaki and St. Paul are sisters.

In March 2014, I got to meet St. Paul's sister.

I decided not to stay at the Hotel Saint Paul Nagasaki, its name designed to attract my compatriots. I had not come all this way to overhear their comments in the breakfast room.

It was the Nagasaki of 1800 that drew me here, but I first needed to pay my respects to the victims of the atomic bomb.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Glass Houses and Buried Museums

The Farnsworth House
A Glass House in Illinois

Completed in 1951, the Farnsworth House, near Plano, Illinois, is widely regarded as one of the major architectural achievements of the twentieth century.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe took his belief that "less is more" almost to the limit by designing a steel-framed, glass-walled box.

The box floats above an Illinois field, supported by I-beams. This is more of an idea than a home.

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Cold Beer in Passchendaele

World War 1 erupted 100 years ago.

About 50 years ago, I decided WW1 was a travesty. I remember my father's sadness and my mother's rage when I announced my (paternal) grandfather died at Passchendaele for nothing.

Teenagers are not known for tact, and I am not proud of that outburst.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ignoring Barriers

If I'm on foot or bicycle, chances are I'll go round barriers like this one.

In recent weeks, barriers across trails all over the Twin Cities have become a fact of life. Flooding and fallen trees have made walking and cycling more interesting.

That got me thinking about a hike back in April on Sado Island, in the Sea of Japan.

I wanted to walk to the top of a snow-capped mountain. Trails at higher altitudes were still impassable, so this would be a road walk.  I figured it would be a quiet road, or at least it became a quiet road after I passed a gravel quarry.

Then I came to the locked gate shown at the top of this post.

I decided not to bother using my phone's Google Translate app to figure out what the signs were trying to tell me. I probably wouldn't have done anything with the information.

I climbed round the gate and continued my trek to the top. I wondered if I would be intercepted by the authorities, adding to the drama of my walk.

My senses were well-rewarded.

Note: Next day I hiked in the valley and wrote about this in Plain Views of Sado Island.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

We're in This Together

When he saw I was bringing my backpack, the six-year-old decided to bring his. When he saw we were bringing backpacks, the five-year-old decided to bring his.

Three backpacks, each containing one bottle of water.

Fifteen miles, three happy guys, in this together.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Success Secrets They Don't Want You to Know

Success is too often defined as celebrity, money, or power.

Do Something

A colleague, an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota, was about to deliver an early morning lecture. He stood in his heavy coat, and pronounced it to be a super frigid day.

The students groaned in agreement.

He then asked: "What are we going to do about it?"


Then, everybody laughed as he removed his coat to reveal a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Urban Hike: The Green Line

The Green Line, and stadium construction
June 14, 2014, the Green Line starts light rail service between Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Back in December, when I hiked the Green Line, there was deep snow, no trains, and the Metrodome was still standing.

Green Line, under construction; Metrodome about to be demolished
I had planned to walk on the railroad ties, but realized this would be treacherous: the snow hid knee-deep cavities for control and signal equipment. It was wiser to take the adjacent streets.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Maps, Kids, and Adventures

What does this have to do with a map?
My nephews (5 and 6) have known about maps from an early age.

I've given them age-appropriate, map-themed books. I've mailed them maps on postcards from faraway places, along with postcards showing photographs of those places. 

In the process of finding a world map for them, I realized most world maps are centered on the Atlantic Ocean. This does not work well when explaining how to get to Japan. Imagine showing a little kid the route, falling off the left side of the map, only to reenter the map from the right side.

No, I had to find a Pacific-centered map.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Travel Gear: Headphones

I rarely use headphones when traveling. On a long-haul, I prefer to read, snooze, or watch a movie in silence with subtitles turned on. I have yet to find comfortable, compact headphones.

Back in 1980, when the Sony Walkman was introduced to the USA, the airlines were still handing out pneumatic headsets in Economy.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Urban Hike: Nordeast Minneapolis

Nordeast, looking towards Downtown.
Last weekend, the annual Art-a-Whirl artists' studio tour drew crowds to Northeast Minneapolis ("Nordeast"). 

Nordeast was a quieter place back in February when I went there on an urban hike.

It was a winter's day, but I took advantage of the shoveled sidewalks and warm, locally owned businesses for coffee and lunch. I felt a strong sense of place: each building had stories to tell; this is no Anywhere USA with its temporary cityscapes and mandatory car ownership.

As I walked, I played audio produced, narrated, and sung by the people who live in the neighborhood. These recordings revealed political, social, and historical layers I would otherwise have missed.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Traveling with Cherry Blossoms

It could be another week before the buds on our apple tree explode; spring blossoms come late in Minneapolis.

Back in March, I hiked up Kaimondake, a volcano in southern Japan for a day with Cecilia, a twenty-something from Sweden. She was traveling with the cherry blossoms, through Japan, from south to north. She would end up on Hokkaido in late April when the blossoms would finally be coming out in that northernmost of Japan's main islands.

Beyond that, she was living in the moment: no onward ticket from Japan, no concern her meager funding from an arts organization might run out.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Travel Gear: One-Time Password Generator

My smartphone and tablet make it easy to access my Internet accounts, maybe too easy: what happens if my devices fall into the wrong hands, or if a username and password are somehow intercepted?

On my most recent trip, I used a YubiKey Neo one-time password (OTP) generator.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

End of the Line

I'm on a fast train when I see a single train track peeling off into the distance. I want to go where that track is going.

Maybe the end of that single track is a remote place I can use as the start of an "Ekikhara hike," a hike from a train station.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Plain Views of Sado Island

Rice Field #1
Today, I explored part of the plain that bisects Sado Island (an island in the Sea of Japan, off northern Honshu, Japan). Walking on level ground gave my knees a rest after walking up a mountain the previous day.

Beyond wanting to be in the countryside, I didn't have a specific plan. If a side-road looked interesting, I took it.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Meeting Bashō

Zenshoji Temple
For two days I've been exploring an area the writer Matsuo Bashō visited in 1689 while traveling his "Narrow Road to the Deep North."

Today it worked out more practical to explore Bashō's journey in reverse. While he headed south, I walked north, in the rain, looking for little connections with his journey. I wondered if we would meet.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Temple Plumbing 2014

Just after you enter the grounds of a Japanese temple, there's always a fountain for ritualistic rinsing of hands and sometimes the mouth. Here's examples from the temples I visited April 2, 2014 when I walked the route of part of the Shikoku Henro pilgrimage ("Shikoku 88"). 

I wrote a similar post in 2013 when I visited other temples on this pilgrimage.

Temple 1 (of 88): Ryozenji

The pilgrimage starts at this temple.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Day to Forget

OK I admit it: I got tired of figuring out this place all on my own, so I signed up for a "Landmarks and Viewpoints" tour for foreign visitors.

This was a day to forget.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Passing Through Cedar

A Shared Culture

When I'm in Japan I feel happiest and most comfortable when I'm hiking.

When I pass another hiker in rain gear on the trail, a cheery "konnichiwa" is enough said. We look at each other, knowing we are sharing the same experience.

A shared culture across different cultures lets me belong.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Traveling to a Different Mental Place

Yakushima Island
Life Phase 3 means I get to travel for a few more weeks while Dwight returns to The Cities and Work World.

For the past 10 days we've been with family, vacationing together within an agreed zone of comfort.

Traveling by myself, with 14 pounds on my back, and both arms swinging freely, I can welcome some discomfort; I'm responsible only to myself when spontaneous plans fall short of expectations. I get to constantly solve problems of my own making.

This week I move from an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to an island on the edge of the East China Sea: from Hawaii Big Island to the little island of Yakushima, Southern Japan (195 square miles, population 13,178).

Starting in Yakushima I can travel spontaneously. I'll travel without a specific plan in a country where I do not understand the language and barely understand the culture. It's a safe enough place: the political and legal systems are familiar, and the infrastructure is wonderful.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Our (Rented) House on Hawaii Big Island

The family that built this house in 1947 still owns the house. We get to rent it for a week, something we've been doing every other year since 2010.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park 2014

We keep coming back to this park. There's trails at sea level, there's a trail going to almost 14,000 feet to the snow-capped summit of Mauna Loa, and there's plenty trails in between.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Honoka'a after Dark

The hotel duty manager warned me: Honoka'a shuts down by 8:00 p.m.

That's why I'm here.

It's time to go out on the town. At night, this old sugar cane town takes on an unfamiliar hue, reminiscent of sepia-toned photographs from a different time.  I wonder what is going on.

The sodium street lights seem different from the high-pressure sodium lights of the mainland. But why?

There was some layer to be peeled back, so I Googled and learned these are low-pressure sodium lights. And there is a really good reason for this unusual lighting.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Old Hawaii

Honoka'a Theater, still operating.
There are many Hawaiis.

There's the Hawaii of shiny resort hotels, shopping, and activities for purchase.

Then there's the Hawaii of rusting corrugated iron roofs. And there's the Hawaii of trails that predate Cook's first encounter back in 1778. I like to wander through these Hawaiis.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Castles in the Air

Poster on my office wall
It's hard to beat a journey that starts with deicing fluid rumbling onto hollow metal. Before you know it you're six miles above a perfectly blue Pacific. Then, just as the sun is thinking of setting, you arrive in HNL (Honolulu) to a terminal with walls open to fragrant tropical vegetation.

The reality has to be nuanced. Ask the honeymooning couple just off the plane in HNL anxiously waiting for the no-show lei greeter.

Welcome to the Land of Brochure-Speak: there's still time to escape.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Walking into Forbidden Places

We were riding the Delhi metro when we became aware of dirty looks, and, oddly, all the other passengers were female. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ikebukuro Station

This picture evokes vivid memories.

April 2013, I'm underground in Tokyo, in Ikebukuro Station, the second busiest train station in the world with over 2.7 million passengers a day.