Washington State – with Toddler

Dan, Gabriel, Dan’s mother, and I spent eight days in Washington State. We arrived home Sunday night – which was only five days ago, but already feels like a lifetime. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster of a week so far. Our cat, Penelope, seems to have gotten out of the house Tuesday morning (possibly Monday night, but we think we saw her Tuesday morning, and there was a clear opportunity for her to leave on Tuesday), and we haven’t seen her since. I’ve posted to our community’s facebook group about it and posted a few posters around the neighborhood with a picture and my contact info. I’ve asked at the local vet that everyone around here seems to use, including us (they also posted a picture in their office for us), and I’ve visited and filed a lost pet report at the local shelter. No luck so far. It’s been at least three days since we saw her. She’s gotten out maybe 4 or 5 times in her 13 years and has always come back, but this isn’t looking good.

And then Wednesday morning, I got Clio out the door at 5:45am to go for a run (which had the double purpose of looking for Penelope – slow run!), and two blocks away she suddenly yelped and could no longer walk on her front right foot. Dan thought she’d been limping for a while, but this made it suddenly really bad. I took her to the vet; he thinks she has just a bad sprain and is on pain medication. It seems to be doing better – she can walk on it and some of her steps seem normal… but she won’t move much! Which is understandable… but I took her out at lunchtime yesterday to go pee in front of our house, and she just laid down on the ground! Not usual behavior.

Anyway. We had a lovely time in Washington (and our pets were well-cared for by my good friend who housesat). We spent the first several days near Wenatchee State Park and Lake Wenatchee, about 30 minutes north of Leavenworth, which is a cute, Bavarian-themed town. Dan’s cousin got married near there, which is why we were there.

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The day after the wedding, the wedding guests were invited to hang out at Tierra Retreat Center for the day, and Dan and I got a chance to do a 2-mile burner of a loop hike while Dan’s mother watched Gabriel (side note: traveling with family willing – and excited – to be temporary caretakers = very good idea). Very steep uphill and even steeper downhill.

After that, we drove to the Olympic Peninsula and stayed in a house on Lake Sutherland, just west of Port Angeles and east of Lake Crescent. We took a FERRY as part of our travel, and it was AMAZING.

We visited the Olympic National Park visitors center in Port Angeles on our first half day there and walked the nature trail there. Gabriel was able to walk most of it on his own!

On our first full day, we drove to the Hoh Rainforest Visitors Center and did two hikes/walks. The first was the 1-mile ish Hall of Mosses trail that was a loop near the Visitor’s Center. For the second, we walked along the Hoh River Trail for about a mile, then walked back (in the pouring rain). That trail actually goes about 18 miles and has significant elevation gain if you do the whole thing. Gabriel mostly preferred to be carried in the hiking backpack that day, but did some walking on his own as well.

Instead of driving straight back to our house, we took a detour off Highway 101 near Forks and went to Rialto Beach on the Pacific. It was SUPER windy, and high tide. Gabriel (water baby) wanted to be near the water (that is, crashing waves), and I got soaked once by a particularly large wave right after scooping him up into my arms. We walked along the driftwood for a bit, then returned to our house.

On our second full day there, we went to the Hurricane Ridge area, outside Port Angeles. On the drive up Hurricane Ridge Road, Dan’s mother dropped Dan and me off (but kept Gabriel – have I mentioned that traveling with grandparents is definitely the way to go?!), and we hiked up Switchback Trail (~1.5 miles), past a trail intersection that went toward the Hurricane Ridge Lodge, to Klahhane Ridge. We walked along the Ridge for about 3/4 mile, then returned and hiked from the trail intersection to Hurricane Ridge Lodge where we reunited with Gabriel and Dan’s mom. The view from the top of Klahhane Ridge was amazing. It was a super clear day, and in one direction we could see the Strait of Juan de Fuca (with Mt. Baker rising in the distance!); Victoria, BC across the water; and the valley below us, including Port Angeles. In the other direction, we saw mountains for days, including Mt. Olympus. The hike was about 6 3/4 miles in total with decent elevation gain (especially the Switchback trail – oof).

On our last full day, we went first to Lake Crescent and hiked the 1-ish mile to Marymere Falls. Then we went to the Sol Duc area and hiked the similarly 1-ish mile to Sol Duc Falls and then took Gabriel into the hot springs. They weren’t that great. Sort of crowded and not that hot, especially the pool that kids were allowed in. But I wanted to do it, so we did. The hikes were nice, though! Gabriel did a fair amount himself, but also wanted to be carried a bit.

One of the evenings, we took Gabriel on his first kayak ride on Lake Sutherland using one of the kayaks the house provided! He loved it, and wanted to do all the paddling himself.

On our last partial day, we stopped at the Dungeness Spit for an hour or so and walked along the ‘spit’ (a narrow piece of land jutting out into the strait). We also stopped briefly in Bainbridge Island on our drive back to Seattle to see Dan’s uncle’s family and the town a bit. Then we ferried back to Seattle (!!!) and flew home early the next morning.

 

Camping with Babies

Having a kiddo changes almost everything. My social life revolves around nap schedules and a 7:30 bedtime, and it generally includes multiple individuals under age two. The books in my living room mostly max out at ten pages and are made of cardboard. ‘Kid’ has taken priority in my fiercely prioritized life over everything else. (If you’ve read my other posts or know me well, you know that ‘ everything else’ includes at the top: 8 hours of sleep, work, working out, eating well, husband, and friends, usually in that order.) Getting outside (that is, getting away from civilization) always fell somewhere on my list of priorities, albeit below all those other things, which is why it only happened a few times a year. And while having a kid has changed my priorities in unexpected ways (for example, it didn’t occur to me before having a kid that I would want to prioritize time with him over other things like working out or sleep, even though I knew I would often need to), it didn’t change that I still want to do all the things I used to do. Like travel. Like trying new restaurants. Like going camping and getting outside.

Those are still priorities, so we’re figuring out how to make them work! As my husband put it, camping with a baby is harder than camping without a baby, but being at home with a baby is also harder than being at home without a baby, and the difference is about the same.

So far, we’ve taken three camping trips, when Gabriel was 7.5 weeks, 5 months, and 12.5 months. Here’s how we did it:

General:

  1. Car camping. So far, we’ve only camped in campgrounds with baby. We used to backpack and backcountry camp, and we are looking forward to getting back to that someday. People do it with young kids, but not us, yet. Car camping, especially if you can find a good campground with reasonably quiet and secluded spots, scratches the itch of being outside, getting dirty, and enjoying nature. It also allows you to be reasonably well prepared for most eventualities. You can bring extra diapers, extra warm clothes, extra food, whatever, in the event that you might need it (but probably won’t). You can leave if you absolutely have to if disaster (or just extreme unhappiness) strikes. You can still rough it… but with a safety blanket.
  2. Length: Just one night. So far, we’ve only camped for one night at a time. We’ve got our confidence now and are considering a two-night trip in the fall. But this has felt manageable and not too intimidating.

Here’s more info about each trip – sleeping arrangements, food, etc.

Trip 1: 7.5 weeks, Cunningham Falls State Park

We went on our first camping adventure with baby in July, which is not normally a time of year in Maryland that I like to go camping. But it was lovely. We stayed in Cunningham Falls State Park.

We arrived in the afternoon, set up camp, and then hiked down to the Hunting Creek Lake and back. The lake was part of the park and had a beach and amenities. I wore Gabriel facing me in the ergo. We put him in a long-sleeve footed onesie outfit, I think because we were worried about bugs and sunshine, but it was a bad idea. Too hot. It was like 90 something degrees out. He was sweating. I was worried about him being dehydrated. But of course, everything ended up fine.

  • Food: I was breastfeeding at the time, so we didn’t have to worry about food for him. He was still up several times over night (I think at least 3 that night). I brought my boppy breastfeeding pillow to use as my sleeping pillow, and then just used it sitting in the tent to breastfeed when the occasion arose.
  • Tent: We only had our two-person backpacking tent that we’d used for years. Clio, our dog, always slept with us as well. So… it was a tight fit.
  • Sleeping place: This one has caused the most consternation. People want to know if we co-slept, but don’t ask directly because they’re worried about sounding judgy or permissive. We did not co-sleep. We brought the Uppababy bassinet attachment, which we’d also been using a lot for naps around the house, and set it at the foot of my sleeping bag. (Note, this picture was taken several months after the camping trip, and no, there was no blanket in the bassinet when G was sleeping in there.)

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  • Crying/fussing/noise: There was a family at a campsite nearby, whom I spoke to upon arrival and told we had a 7.5 week old. I apologized in advance for any noise. They were very impressed we were camping, had kids of their own, and were totally understanding. Gabriel was mostly fine during waking hours. He did have a bit of an extended fit at one point overnight when we had to change his diaper. Well, so. He did. Maybe the neighbors woke up. Maybe they didn’t. I don’t know. I would obviously prefer not to bother them at 3am, but if I did, I’m sure we’re all over it by now. He was a bit fussy the next day, too, but it was during the day, and so what.
  • Diapering: We used our diaper changing pad either on the picnic table or in the tent. We put used diapers in wet bags. We threw them out (we used disposable) when we were at a trash can.

I don’t think Gabriel had a ‘bedtime’ yet then, but we put him to sleep at some point before I went to bed. I wasn’t doing that that often then – staying up past when he went to bed. But I did that night, and I sat in a camp chair and enjoyed the fire and the stars and just thought it was totally worth it. And that’s what I remember, not being tired.

I also remember sneaking out of the tent at 5am, hoping to get some me time. This is a feature of my past camping experiences that I really hope to retain. I’m often the first one up, and I have time to make myself coffee, sit by the fire pit, and just enjoy – alone. I was hoping to get to do that on this camping trip. I think I got far enough to have made coffee before Gabriel woke up. Alas.

We went for another hike from the campground. Gabriel mostly slept, if I recall (again in the ergo, facing me).

Then we drove home, feeling very accomplished. If I remember correctly, though, Gabriel screamed for almost all of the 1.5 hour drive from the backseat. Sigh.

Trip 2: 5 months, Kearneysville, WV

Our second camping trip was at the end of October, when Gabriel was five months old. We stayed at this historic nature preserve that Dan found on airbnb. It was actually totally bizarre. You can rent this whole, huge… space. Overlooking this water-filled quarry. So we did. It wasn’t a traditional campsite near hiking, but we were able to take a 1-2 mile walk around the quarry, which was nice.

Dan’s sister came with us. She slept in our backpacking tent, and we slept in a borrowed four-person tent. The weather was pretty cold and windy. We had to stay pretty bundled up the whole time. In general, I did not enjoy this trip as much. Gabriel was pretty fussy the whole time and was not ever content to not be held. This was generally true at that point in his life, and I also think he may have been cold. I did most of the holding of the fussy baby and didn’t get to do much else.

  • Food: Still breastfeeding. I have no recollection of how many times he woke up over night, though I do know he’d only slept through the night once in his life by that point, so I know that didn’t happen.
  • Tent: We borrowed a four-person Kelty tent-mansion from friends for the occasion. It worked great! Much more space than our previous tent.
  • Sleeping place and clothes: We brought our Guava Lotus travel crib, which fit perfectly well in the tent-mansion. But it was pretty cold. We bundled Gabriel into a onesie, footed pajamas, a footed fleece thing (the orange one in the pictures below), and then another footed and hooded fleece thing (the blue one in the pictures below). Plus a hat. He seemed okay, and slept. I can’t remember if we had to change his diaper overnight. I think we did! Oof, that must have been a task (though I don’t have a clear memory of it, obviously). You can see I left his right hand uncovered, though, since he likes to suck his fingers. Seemed to be the best choice, though I did perseverate over it.
  • Other items: The plastic-y picnic blanket you see in the pictures below is nice to have for floor time.
  • Crying/fussing/noise: No one was around, so nothing to worry about here.
  • Diapering: Same as before. We use disposable diapers and threw them away when we could.

Trip 3: 12.5 months, Wolf Gap Recreation Area

Our final trip with a baby (he hadn’t started toddling yet, so I think ‘baby’ is still appropriate) was to Wolf Gap in the George Washington and Jefferson Forests. It is in West Virginia, but right on the Virginia state line. It was about 2.5 hours driving time for us, and I was nervous about that. At the time, that would be the longest car trip we’d taken with Gabriel to date, and he’d been increasingly mobile and discontent to sit still (still true). But it actually went fine. We timed it well with naps, and he mostly slept. Our trip there took a total of about four hours, which included a detour into Shenandoah because we were there and also lunch in… Woodstock, VA, I think. Wolf Gap only has 9 sites, and I was a little worried about getting one, but there were a couple left when we arrived. We stayed in #8, I think.

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A friend we’ve often camped with (both since being in Maryland and when we lived in Atlanta) drove up from Knoxville to join us. He brought his small dog, so Clio had a friend as well.

Before this trip, we purchased our own tent mansion, and this was our first use. It worked great. We also brought what I lovingly call ‘the cage’ – one of those six-sided plastic gate play pen things. We didn’t use it a ton, but Gabriel was occasionally content to be in there for a few minutes at a time when we all needed our eyes and hands to put up the tent, wrangle the dogs, or whatever else. The dogs got more use out of it, though.

After setting up camp, we went for a hike from the campground up to Big Schloss peak. I think it was two miles each way. I wore Gabriel in the ergo on my back. It was my second time doing so, and it works okay, but it definitely convinced me that I want a real child carrier for hiking (just ordered, arriving this week, hooray!). He tolerated it okay, but couldn’t really see over my shoulder. He was pretty fussy by the end and wanted to get out.

  • Food and accessories: First, we bring a structured silicone bib with the pouch that catches things whenever we eat out with Gabriel. One lives in the diaper bag. Brought that. We also bring one of his silicone placemats with attached compartments or bowl. Brought one of those. Gabriel mostly eats what we eat, so he had a (cut up) hot dog and bun for dinner like we did. For breakfast, he had packaged oatmeal like we did. We also had lots of snacks. String cheese, apple wheels (these Gerber teething things), pouches (at least to get in some fruits and veggies!), bananas. I think we were still feeding G pouches with a spoon then, but we have since moved on to letting him feed himself pouches. We had just transitioned to cow’s milk, so we brought milk in the cooler and his sippy cup. And we brought one of his 360 cups that he drinks water out of.
  • Tent: We used our newly-purchased REI Base Camp 4. Perfect. Plenty of space, easy to set up, nice vestibule, good windows.
  • Sleeping place and clothes: Again, the Guava Lotus. I think I had footed pajamas and a sleep sack for him. It was pretty warm but cooled off a bit at night. Nothing crazy, though. OH. We also have a portable white noise machine. I turned it on when G went to bed (before us, at 7:30), but turned it off when we came to bed because my husband (rightly so) wanted to hear the nature. I can’t remember if we used this for the earlier camping trips. But it always comes on other trips with us.
  • Other items: The same plastic picnic blanket was useful, especially in the cage thing.

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  • Crying/fussing/noise: Gabriel was sleeping through the night by this point and doesn’t have major meltdowns during the day, though I’m sure he cried at points.
  • Diapering: Same as before. We use disposable diapers and threw them away when we could.

 

So. That’s how we’ve made camping work, so far.

I also still want to do the things I used to want to do, but never made time for. Like… kayaking. Like… a lot of mountain biking. Like… a daily yoga practice. But if I never (or rarely) made time for them before, I’m definitely not making time for them now. But I will keep finding a way to do the things at the top of my priority list. Next camping adventure: October.

Colorado Mountains and Dump Ranch

A few weekends ago, we flew to Denver so that I could co-host a celebratory weekend for my sister, who is getting married in May. I left my baby and my husband with my parents and my sister’s fiancé in Denver, and I drove with my sister and four of her good friends into the mountains to stay at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort for the night. It was beautiful, and my sister’s friends were so generous. I’d rented a cabin with a kitchen, and I’d asked them to bring food for dinner and breakfast rather than planning to eat at the resort’s restaurant. (Since I was flying in late the night before, I didn’t have the time or availability to pick up groceries.) They contributed beautiful charcuterie, a lovely salad (with edible flowers!), adult beverages, tasty fruit and yogurt and granola. It was amazing. One of the women was doing a Whole30, and her enthusiasm for a few recipes AND her InstantPot stuck with me past the weekend, and I made most of her suggestions (several in the InstantPot!) the following week back at home.

Mt. Princeton Hot Springs was lovely. We stayed in a cabin with two bedrooms plus an upstairs loft with two queen beds. It had a mostly stocked kitchen, but no oven. The temperature got down into the twentys overnight, and was maybe 30-50 throughout the day.

We arrived around 3pm, had some snacks and drinks, and made our way to the hot springs. There are several pools and also creekside areas that are heated from below by the hot spring water. We tried some of the smaller pools and the creek (which was nicer in idea than in practice). It was super crowded, which was a bit unfortunate, but we still had plenty of room to enjoy ourselves.

After that, we ate dinner and played games in the cabin.

The next morning, after breakfast and packing up, we spent several hours at the pools again before heading departing. I got a sunburn wearing a bathing suit sitting by a hot spring pool in 35 degree weather! Colorado is so weird.

Before heading home, we drove a few miles in the wrong direction to Buena Vista, CO for lunch. I hadn’t been to Buena Vista in probably 15 years or more (since high school), and there was a totally new area called South Main with cute homes and shops and restaurants down by the river. We ate at Eddyline Restaurant, sitting outside on the porch, and it was delicious. The right side of my body got more sunburned. I had the pork posole and brewery burger on lettuce instead of a bun (it actually came wrapped in some kind of green leaf that way). Green chile and grilled prosciutto might sound a little strange together, but it was so good.

The first recipe I made that my sister’s friend recommended was the Dump Ranch. Apparently this is a Whole30 thing that I was previously unfamiliar with. I’d made homemade ranch dressing, I think from Cassy Joy’s Fed&Fit book before, but I’d never heard the term ‘dump ranch.’ I think there’s a lot of recipes out there for it, but my sister’s friend recommended this one from 40 Aprons. I maaaaaay have used this as an excuse to by a larger measuring cup that I could use my immersion blender in. It worked great, and the ranch was delicious.

I was skeptical before trying the stuff my sister’s friend made, because she’d told me the oil is avocado oil. I find Whole30 compliant mayo hard, because I *hate* the taste of avocado oil, apparently. I’ve been able to handle Primal Kitchen’s avocado oil mayonnaise in the past, but I don’t love it. However, I couldn’t taste the flavor that I hate in this dressing. My sister’s friend showed me which oil she used (Primal Kitchen’s avocado oil), and my sister confirmed that there are two types of avocado oil: light and dark. I think Primal Kitchen makes both. The light stuff (which I used, which was the right choice) is in a square shaped bottle. The darker stuff is in a circular bottle, and is extra virgin. It’s probably better for you… but the flavor is too strong! Anyway, it was fine! No bad flavor. Just delicious ranch dressing.

The recipe at 40 Aprons says to use it within one week. I have not. I still have some in my fridge, which at this point I should throw out. Going to do that now…

 

 

Eating In Japan (Japan: Part 3 of 3)

I’ve been thinking about how to structure this post. A day by day accounting of each meal? I sort of already did that in my Japan itinerary post, though without pictures of the food. Just highlighting my favorite meals? But even the not-so-favorite meals are still interesting and memorable. So you’ll get a mix.

First, a few thoughts on my personal approach to eating in Japan.

  1. Eat whatever is put in front of me. Why not? I’m probably not going to be able to ask what it is or ask for something different, so just go for it. This led me to eat a few things that I had never eaten before (raw horse meat, sea urchin), things I typically detest (shrimp), and things I don’t necessarily detest but just don’t… choose to eat because I like almost everything else better (squid, octopus).

2. Don’t be too precious or indecisive. By this I mean, I wasn’t concerned about finding the most authentic Japanese meal/experience or the best sushi or ramen. From everything I’d heard about Japan, it was all going to be good. Quality and service are very important and food is respected. I didn’t want to spend time perseverating over this option or that option. Plus, I don’t speak Japanese, and I wasn’t prepared to get uncomfortable enough to put myself in situations that might have been required in order to find the most authentic experience. So did we end up at a lot of safe, guidebook-recommended, English- and tourist-friendly places? Yes. Was it delicious? Yes. Was it the most authentic experience and the best food I could have had there? Probably not, but I was 100% okay with that.

3. Must haves. These included very fresh sushi (Daiwa sushi, check); conveyor belt sushi (place in Ueno, Tokyo, check); wagyu beef (Otsuko Steak in Kyoto, check); and ramen (multiple checks).

4. Try new things. I ate a lot of things I’d never had before, including the items listed above and most of the street food in Osaka. It also included:

  • Takoyaki: fried dough balls with octopus in them
  • Okonomayaki: savory pancakes containing almost anything – noodles, eggs, meat, sauce, green onion, cabbage, etc.
  • Japanese yam… paste? I don’t know what this stuff is called. We had it the first night in Tokyo at the Shinsuke izakaya with raw tuna. It was at the breakfast buffets in the Matsumoto and Yakushima hotels. And it was in this cold soba noodle dish at the cold soba and tempura restaurant in Matsumoto. It’s white (under the egg here) and had a sticky, pasty consistency and not a ton of flavor. I enjoyed it.fullsizeoutput_ae2d

So, we ate well. We didn’t fuss about it too much. My most memorable food experiences include (in chronological order):

  • Our first meal in Japan at Shinsuke Izakaya, obviously. It was our first meal! We each got a beer and we shared a sake. I don’t remember everything we got, but it included sashimi, the Japanese yam stuff I mentioned above, some pickled things. All in small dishes.
  • Daiwa Sushi. We didn’t have a super fancy sushi dinner in Tokyo, which we debated. But this was damn good sushi, worth the wait.
  • The izakaya, Soan Zama, in Matsumoto. As I mentioned in my first Japan post, we were the only customers, and the woman working did not know any English. There must have been at least one other employee cooking, but we never saw that person. We again each had a beer and shared a sake. We asked for something local. Dan ordered cold soba noodles and something else (I don’t remember). I ordered a set chicken dish, which I believe also came with rice, miso soup, and pickled vegetables. The woman watched us eat the whole time, essentially. Occasionally she would busy herself with something else, but mostly just watched us. We tried to just talk to each other normally, but it was tough. Still, the woman was adorable and the service and food so wonderful.
  • Dinner and breakfast at our ryokan, Shirouma-so, in Hakuba. Both were set course meals like I’ll show below for kawa doko. Both included whole fried fish, only one of which I ate the whole thing (head and all). Dinner also included a pot thing for cooking meat. It was clay maybe, and the meat cooked in liquid in a tray over a candle. When the candle was done burning, the meat was ready. We were told, if we wanted, to crack an egg into a bowl we had and dunk the meat in the raw egg before eating it. It was delicious. The meals also had miso soup, rice, and various pickled vegetables. Dinner had tempura vegetables and shrimp also. Breakfast had yogurt and melon and a crepe with a cooked but egg in it.
  • Eating in Osaka. I’ve already talked about takoyaki and okonomayaki, both of which we ate in restaurants in between strolling along the Dotombori canal and Dotombori street at night. The next morning, we went to Kuromon market and saw and ate a ton. There was so much food. The first thing I ate was a sort of meat and egg on a stick (pictured below). Then we got this cucumber salad with octopus in it (I mostly at the cucumber, Dan ate the octopus, but I did have a bite). Dan got this enormous scallop, which was cooked for him in butter over charcoal in its own shell. We ate eel, we ate eel over egg, we ate takoyaki, we ate a peach smoothie. And I’m pretty sure there were a few more things on sticks in there.
  • Kawa doko, eating on platforms above the flowing river, in Kibune. This was a set course meal. Dan and I were starving and both ordered the option with the most things. And beer. The meal included fish, sashimi, pickled vegetables, rice, miso soup, tempura, noodles, and probably other things I am forgetting. So many of our meals were like this in that they involve so many little, beautiful dishes – for the soup, for the rice, for the pickled vegetables, etc. It’s a lovely way to eat.
  • Lunch at the Kagoshima Toppy Hydrofoil port restaurant. Like a few other places we’d eaten (breakfast in the Shinjuku train station in Kyoto, lunch at Subaru Fifth Station on Mt. Fuji before hiking), we ordered via a machine that spits out a ticket, which you then hand to the hostess. In this case, the machine had no English nor pictures. But a poster next to it had pictures and prices, so we were able to figure out which button to push by finding the only one with the specific price of what we wanted. This place is memorable to me because it felt truly diner-like. Not run down, but sort of divey feeling. I loved it. Our ramen was sort of greasy and wonderful. Some of the other patrons were clearly also on their way to Yakushima (where we were departing on the hydrofoil from Kagoshima to) and were sort of hippy hiker-seeming. It just sticks out.

Finally, just a few other food/drink experiences worth mentioning, because I have the pictures:

  • Drink vending machines are everywhere. They have a lot of sugary sodas and coffee. And pocari sweat, a Gatorade-type drink that was really refreshing when we were walking around Kyoto!
  • Our first breakfast in Japan was at a fast food French cafe breakfast place. We got pastries with ham and cheese maybe, in rice flour dough. They were actually kind of delicious. (See above where I talk about not insisting on the most authentic experience.)
  • I did a tiny bit of research to find good coffee in Tokyo and found Nozy Coffee Roastery. I think these lattes were like $7 or $8 each. They were good, though, and much needed after walking a ton (this was the day of 33,000+ steps).
  • We shopped at 7-Eleven a few times (including for fruit and salad when I was really struggling! which they had! they have everything in Japan!), and they must have been running some sort of promotion. Twice, they motioned for Dan to stick his hand in this box and pull out a piece of paper. I forget what he ‘won’ the second time, but the first time was a bag of shrimp-flavored puffed starchy things. Dan ate the bag for breakfast the morning we left Tokyo.
  • Dan got green tea ice cream before we started on the Path of Philosophy in Kyoto when his blood sugar was dipping dangerously low and he was feeling hungry.
  • The food sold by vendors at the Gion festival celebrations in Kyoto was similar to the street food in Osaka. Lots of fried things on sticks. The lines were crazy.
  • Our lunch in Hiroshima. I need to go look up that name and I’ll update this. I had a nice meal of pork, rice, miso soup. The place was really cute and cozy.
  • For breakfast or lunch (timing was weird) in the Kagoshima airport on our way from Yakushima back to Tokyo back to Baltimore, I ordered something without having really ANY IDEA what I was getting. Turns out, it was this ground beef with egg ribbons. That looks like cheddar cheese, but it’s egg. And miso and rice and pickled vegetables of course. And, of course, our on-mountain ‘dinner’ at the Mt. Fuji hut at 3,400 meters. Not the tastiest meal ever, but it was food. Japanese curry (which was a thing), a sausage? patty, sausage links, rice, and pickled vegetables.

Hooray!

Five Hikes in Japan (aka Japan: Part 2)

While in Japan, we hiked the following:

  1. Mt. Fuji
  2. Shin-Hotaka Ropeway to Kamikochi (Japan Alps)
  3. From the top of the Happo One ski resort chair lifts to Happo Ike pond (Hakuba, Japan Alps)
  4. Kurama to Kibune (outside Kyoto)
  5. Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine (Yakushima)

A few general observations on hiking in Japan:

  • I underestimated the first few. My experience of hiking in Japan now is that it is almost invariably steep and usually involves a lot of stairs or rock scrambling. It was like doing hours of stair stepper. But prettier.

(Okay, to be honest, three of those photos are from the same hike. But seriously – all the hikes had either built stairs like this, rocks-as-stairs or rock scrambling like the last photo, or steps made out of the landscape.)

  • Japan is a small country with a lot of people. The hikes are not very remote and are generally fairly developed/built. And crowded.
  • MontBell seems to be the hiking gear brand of choice for Japanese, though I’m not sure if that’s because they offer rental equipment. Speaking of, it seemed like many people hiking Fuji rented their equipment – from packs to shoes. A good option if you don’t want to carry a pair of hiking shoes and warm clothes all over Japan in the middle of summer for the rest of your trip.
  • While some people were outfitted head to toe in serious hiking gear on each of these hikes… there were also pretty ladies in kimonos and sandals on at least one of them. And everything in between.
  • Japan’s got some pretty cool stuff to see on hikes.

Mt. Fuji

We hiked up Mt. Fuji from the Subaru Fifth Station on the Yoshida Trail. There are four main trails up Mt. Fuji. Yoshida is the most popular. You can begin Yoshida, and I believe the others, further down the mountain. I think most people begin at this or another fifth station, and the Subaru Fifth Station is where most of the tour busses and other public transportation go.

I wrote about getting to the Subaru Fifth Station in my main Japan post. We each packed a day pack (Dan used the top of his Osprey backpack and I used this awesome Sea to Summit sack) and then stuffed our packs (i.e., our luggage) in a somewhat random-seeming pay locker (1000 yen) in one of the buildings. Then we paid 1,000 yen donation to the folks asking for a donation and set off.

It started okay. The trail was relatively flat (even downhill – which ended up seeming unfortunate the following day when we hiked back) and wide for a while. There were a lot of people, but there was a lot of space. Before long, though, we started switchbacks up the mountain along a trail that soon had ropes on either side. It turned out that this would be what the rest of the trail was like.

I estimated it would take us 4-5 hours (max 6) to get to the hut where we would sleep that night. It took us 2.5. We were definitely moving, and more quickly than most people, but it was manageable. We were also willing to be jerks a little bit. Not too long after we started switchbacking, a few things happened to cause some backlogs: the trail narrowed a bit, the trail became very rocky and required some scrambling, and we began passing huts along the trail. At the first backlog, leaving a hut area, I was a bit flummoxed. I was sure it was an anomaly. But no, they got worse. Luckily, Dan and I were able to rock scramble around the crowds (still within the ropes of the trail, but to the sides where no one else was scrambling). We made it to the hut around 4ish, were asked to eat dinner right away, and enjoyed a beer at 3,400 meters looking down at the hikers continuing their way up the trail. This particular hut holds 300 people and was sold out, I believe. After a bit of a fiasco with our sleeping area (one sleeping setup was missing), Dan and I went to bed at 7pm and got a little bit of sleep. At 2am, we got up with the rest of the hikers that intended to make it to the summit by dawn. Using the previous day as my guide, I assumed it would take us less time to get to the summit than I’d originally estimated (1-2 hours), and I was worried about getting to the summit too early and being cold. I was already cold. So we set out around 2:30/2:40, and DAMN, we should have left earlier.

We almost missed sunrise. The trail up the mountain was SO crowded that we were literally in a traffic jam the whole way up. Sunrise was at 4:40, and we literally got there at 4:35 and raced to a spot where we could see. It was infuriating. The trail was narrower, so we couldn’t be jerks and go around anymore (though we did a bit early on – then we started getting chastised). Sometimes it narrowed to single-file from two, causing further backups. It was like step forward. Wait two minutes. Step forward. Wait two minutes. The sky started lightening around 3:15 or 3:30. It was pretty. But.

Thank goodness we made it for sunrise. It was really beautiful. I’m pretty sure that makes the whole experience worth it. And our hike around the rim of Mt Fuji was also really nice. We got to walk through a snow field and see the shadow of Mt. Fuji projected on the valley below it.

Then we were ready to go down. It was about 6am. We were among a crowd of hundreds of people trying to enter the trail (while some others were still coming UP the trail). By 7am, we had gone two switchbacks (maybe 100 yards). It was like that until we got back almost to our hut where the trail finally split off and there was a separate down trail that was even less pretty than the up trail, but was at least wide. Still steep, though, and mostly gravelly.

We made it all the way down by 9:30, and we were ready to be finished. I’m very glad for the experience, but I don’t think I’d ever do it again. At least not on a Saturday in July. (For the record, we were warned that it would be crowded; I just never imagined.)

 

Shin-Hotaka Ropeway to Kamikochi

This hike started from the top of the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway. I’d read in our Lonely Planet guidebook that you could hike this either direction, but that Kamikochi to the Shin Hotaka was very steep. We’d just hiked Mt. Fuji and just the timing and bus schedules made this direction more manageable. There was no information in the main Shin Hotaka observation deck building about hiking, nor were there clear signs upon exiting the building onto trails. We saw a couple going one direction, which seemed to be the only direction to go, and tried to ask if it was the way to Kamikochi. They told us that no, hiking to Kamikochi was ‘very hard mountain’ and that they thought it was ‘impossible from here.’ It was hard to know whether they actually meant impossible (like, that was the wrong direction), or it was just known to be a difficult hike. So we returned to the building to ask and got a sorta map written on the back of a receipt by the store clerk. We  determined that had been the right trail and set out. But all the signs were in Japanese until we got to a mountain hut.

So, the Japan Alps do have a good network of huts that allow for multi-day hiking trips. We were strongly advised to fill out a form in a small cabin before setting out regarding our intended itinerary or face a 50,000 yen fine, which we did. But we were only going for the day, of course. The trail was pretty steep uphill until we got to the only hut on our route, where we stopped to eat snacks. Then we continued on, and the rest of the trail was pretty steep downhill (many of it actual steps) into the Kamikochi valley. I think it took us about 3 hours total? This was the least developed of the hikes that we did, but it was still fairly developed. We passed a few people along the trail, but not many, so it was also the least crowded. We were trailing a trio of American guys that we then later saw in the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima – see, small country.

Kamikochi was beautiful. It’s not really a town (at least what we could see). There’s a bridge on the south end, where we arrived, and then another bridge about half a mile north on the north end that crosses the river. On the side of the river we arrived on, that half mile is dotted with several ryokans (one of which had a public onsen that closed at 3pm and we arrived at 2:45, sadly, so we didn’t go). We walked to the north end and crossed over. That side had a couple restaurants/stores and the bus terminal. I think that’s all there is.

Hike to Happo Ike

I believe ike means pond. This hike is from the top of the Happo One ski resort chair lifts (a gondola and two chair lifts) to a pond. The trail continues further to the summit (dake) of Mt. Karamatsudake, but we didn’t have the energy or time for that – we wanted to get back to our Hakuba ryokan and relax! Also, the clouds were rolling in and we didn’t want to get caught in a storm. I was less worried about hiking in the rain and more worried that the lifts would stop operating in a thunderstorm and we wouldn’t be able to get back down in a timely fashion.

Again, this trail was super rocky and pretty steep. Partly, this was the route we took up. On the way down, we took a slightly different route that had more built boardwalks and steps that made it easier. The views of Hakuba and the valley and the surrounding mountains were beautiful. And we saw (and walked through!) snow fields! For the top half of the hike we were primarily in clouds, including at the pond, which made it look very misty and dreamy.

I think we got to the top of the lifts around 1 and were back to the lifts by… 2:30? So this wasn’t a super-long hike. But it was really pretty. And made us sorta feel like we earned our onsen :-).

Kibune to Kurama

I don’t have a lot to say about this one. Read this for more information, better pictures, and a generally more positive perspective. (Note: we did this in the opposite direction of that description, as we wanted to eat above the river before starting.) As I mentioned in a previous post, the heat and humidity while we were in Kyoto killed my soul a little bit, and getting out of the city in the mountains a little bit didn’t help. At all. Plus, it was a Saturday, and this is a common excursion from Kyoto for tourists and Kyoto residents alike. It wasn’t crowded like Mt. Fuji by any means, but it wasn’t remote at all and we were hiking with many other people. This is the hike that many women in kimonos were hiking! With slow, short steps, as their strides were limited by their outfits. They looked wonderful with their perfect makeup and nicely done hair, while I was sweating like crazy and a little grumpy. It’s almost not even right to call this a hike. It was more like a stair climb to a summit and then a stair climb down, via a temple. We only took one picture.

However. On a day that is not 95+ degrees F with 95% humidity, I can see where this would be a really lovely outing, with or without the crowds.

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Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine

This is one of several popular hikes on Yakushima. The other we strongly considered was a full-day hike to Jomon Sugi, the oldest and largest cedar on the island, estimated to be 3,000-7,000 years old (!!). However, this was the last full day of our trip, and we were staying in a fancy hotel, and we wanted some time to relax, unwind, and enjoy ourselves. So we opted for Shiratani Unsuikyo, which offers three different loops of varying lengths. We essentially did all three, except for portion of the shortest one that didn’t overlap with the other two. I estimate that it was about five miles total??

To get there, you drive up a very windy, often one-lane road with very beautiful views of the valley and the town of Miyanoura on the coast below. We passed a family of monkeys on the side of the road! (We’d also seen monkeys in Kamikochi walking along the bank of the river.) The parking lot was full when we got there, but there they let us park on the side because we had an itty-bitty rental car. Others had to park further down the mountain road and walk up. It cost 500 yen (or maybe 300?) per person to enter.

The path started with boardwalk and steps, but once we veered off onto the longer loops, we found ourselves in what felt like very deep, very misty forest. We passed several very old cedars, all of which had signs marking them and observation platforms (usually with a bench) for sitting and admiring. There are also several large ‘second generation’ cedars in which a seed germinates in the stump of an older cedar. In a few places, there were signs describing how the forest has been cleared and replanted to some extent, and that all of the cedars in a particular area are from a ‘mother cedar’ in the area.

It poured on us at one point and was generally just wet and misty, so a lot of my photos have the film of mist over them. Apologies. We were able to hike to a rock summit with a really nice view of the valley. It was cloudy so pictures don’t do it justice, but it was a nice panoramic view. We had planned to eat lunch up there, but no food was allowed (understandable since it’s a popular hike and it would probably get too crowded having people hang out up there too long), so we ended up having to eat our hotel-boxed lunches (rice, fish, and orange slices) off the side of the trail soon after.

So that’s my experience of hiking in Japan. I would love to do more, especially multi-day hikes, in the Alps. We saw such cool stuff everywhere though, despite my grumbling about crowds and heat. Super awesome experience!

 

 

 

Japan – Part 1: Itinerary

This will be my first of at least three posts about my trip to Japan (which I’m currently on – four days to go! – but I probably won’t be when I publish this). In this one, I’m just going to share my itinerary. And some observations. In the other two, I’ll talk about food and hiking. Of course.

You can visualize our itinerary and get more details here on the Google map I made. It went like this:

  • Tuesday, July 4: Flew to Japan via Toronto from BWI. Arrived in Haneda airport in Tokyo a bit late due to a mechanical issue (just what you want to hear before embarking on a 13-hour flight around the world, eh?), around 4 or 5 pm on July 5.
  • Wednesday, July 5: Basically lost this day by crossing the international date line. But arrived at our airbnb in the Bunkyo neighborhold in Tokyo (near Ueno). Got dinner nearby (our first meal in Japan!) at a nearby izakaya called Shinsuke, recommended by our Lonely Planet guidebook.
  • Thursday, July 6: Walked around the Imperial Palace gardens. Subwayed to Shibuya to see Shibuya Crossing (a very busy intersection), found ramen lunch in a small side street. Walked up Cat Street (boutiques and other shops) to the Harajuku neighborhood. Fancy stores. Then we needed to kill time before going to Kodokan (judo training facility and museum), so we crossed over to the Meiji-jingu grounds (a Shinto shrine dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken). We walked around the Gyoen (inner garden) and up to the Yoyogi-Keon (a park). Then we made it to the Kodokan. After touring the small museum, we realized there would be a competition in 1.5 hours. So we left, got a beer at Hub, a chain ‘British’ pub that we’ve seen in almost every city here, and came back to watch. It was quite entertaining. Finally went back to the apartment for a bit before heading out for conveyor belt sushi dinner in Ueno, recommended by our airbnb host. 33,631 steps that day.
  • Friday, July 7: Woke up early (Ok, I always wake up early. This means I woke Dan up early. Maybe before 6). Went to stand in line for super-fresh sushi at Tsukiji Market, the largest fish market in the world. We considered waiting in line for the most popular Sushi Dai but decided instead to wait in line for the second most popular Daiwa Sushi. It was amazing. Walked around the nearby Ginza neighborhood. Then did the Lonely Planet guide recommended walking tour of Ueno and Yanaka, including the main building of the Tokyo National Museum. Which was super cool – the main building is organized chronologically with select pieces/ exhibits showcasing a lot of Japan’s history. Then a sake and beer at a hostel in Asakusa followed by tonkatsu ramen dinner at a chain ramen place (Ippudo). Then Tokyo Sky Tree! We arrived right at dusk and were 450 meters up to see the city light as night fell. It was pretty cool. All indoor, so I wasn’t freaking out like I did at the Eiffel Tower. There was some weird anime film projected on the walls while we were there about a villain trying to capture Sky Tree? It was super loud and not my favorite thing.  27,059 steps.
  • Saturday, July 8: Mt. Fuji day!! I’ll talk more about the actual hike in my hiking post. We took a bus from Shinjuku Station to the Subaru Fifth Station. We’d reserved and bought the bus tickets a week prior, and already couldn’t take the bus of our choosing. So we went an hour later than we would have liked (and the bus was 45 minutes late to the destination due to crazy traffic leaving Tokyo all the way into the mountains), but it was fine. Started hiking just after 2pm. Stayed in the Fujisan Hotel hut at 3,400 meters that I’d reserved months ago via Mt Fuji Hut Reservations Service. 15,834 steps.
  • Sunday, July 9: Woke up (without really having been asleep much) just before 2am. Left the hut at 2:30 or so. Again, I’ll talk about this more later. But we almost missed the sunrise due to RIDIC TRAFFIC (yes, on foot). I have never experienced anything like it. But we made it just in time and saw the sunrise, which was awesome. Then, after circling the summit, we experienced more traffic going down, but were back at the Fifth Station before 9:30am. Grabbed our packs from the locker we’d stuffed them into the previous day, got on a bus bound for Kawaguchi-ko station, and then took some trains to Matsumoto in the Japan Alps. Including this cute Thomas the Engine train. Got slightly lost before finding our Matsumoto Marunouchi hotel. Dinner at an izakaya found on Yelp. We were the only customers. The attentive proprietress (read: we had an audience the entire time) spoke no English. It was delicious, but an experience. Also walked around Matsumoto a little. It is SO cute. There is a lovely little street along the river with several coffee shops and small restaurants as well as shops carrying pottery, printed paper, printed cloths, fans, etc. Very charming and pretty stuff. (There is also a castle in Matsumoto that we walked by while lost looking for our hotel, but didn’t really see otherwise, which is a little too bad.) 24,833 steps.
  • Monday, July 10: Lovely hotel buffet breakfast in a fancy dining room, followed by an early bus further into the Alps to Hiroyu Onsen and then a transfer to another bus to the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway. The ropeway was a set of two trams up the mountain to an AMAZING view. Also to the start of a hike over the mountain to Kamikochi in a valley on the other side. Kamikochi was not really a town. It was more like a series of ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) and small restaurants, plus a bus terminal, on both sides of a river surrounded by incredible mountains. Really lovely. Returned to Matsumoto by bus. Dinner at a cold soba and tempura place found on Yelp. A specialty of this region is horse meat, including raw horse meat. Dan ordered it. I had a bite, yes. 24,727 steps.
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View from the top of the Shin Hotaka Ropeway
  • Tuesday, July 11: More Alps. We left Matsumoto after another delicious breakfast and headed to Hakuba, a ski town and site of some of the 1998 Winter Olympics. We took a bus from the train station to the bus terminal in the center of town and then found our way to the ryokan  (Shiramou-so) we were staying at (it was a two-minute walk!). Even though it was only noon, they let us check in, drop our stuff, and leave immediately to go for another hike. We took a gondola and two chair lifts up the Happo One ski resort and then hiked to Happo Ike pond. We were back at the ryokan by 3, just in time for the skies to open up. We had our first onsen (hot spring) experience and then relaxed in our room wearing yukatas (light kimonos) until our DELICIOUS ryokan dinner, and then relaxed some more. 15,623 steps.
  • Wednesday, July 12: Early morning onsen time at the ryokan followed by amazing ryokan breakfast. Then we walked to the ski jump that was used in the 1998 Olympics, and is still used today. We weren’t planning on it, but ended up taking the chair lift to the top. It was actually so cool. And terrifying. Then a series of trains, including our first Shinkansen (bullet train), along the west coast for a bit and then down to Osaka. This was our longest day of travel (almost 7 hours total), but that included layovers, etc. and didn’t seem that bad. And then… OSAKA at night. We came here to eat. And we did. We first dropped our stuff at our hotel (Hotel Code) and then did the Lonely Planet guide walking tour from our hotel through Amerika Mura, down the Shinsaibashi shopping street, across the Ebisu-bashi bridge, and along the Dotombori street. Mostly along Dotombori, we ate some takoyaki and then okonomiyaki that I’ll talk more about in my food post. We also drank a fair amount. We ended the night looking for a simple bar and ended up in a place where… hmm. It wasn’t unclear. Two young women were serving, and there were only male customers. They served us some sake very nicely (one using google translate on her phone to confirm we didn’t want food and to see how we liked the sake). And then we left. It was awkward. Osaka was awesome though. My favorite big city. Super funky, super hipstery. Lots of lights and energy and people out.
  • Thursday, July 13: Osaka morning. We headed straight to the Kuromon Market, which was a street food paradise. I’ll say more in my food post. It was incredible. There wasn’t much else we wanted to do in Osaka, so we trained to Kyoto, dropped our bags in a locker in Kyoto Station, and made our way to Fushimi Inari-Taisha, a large mountainside complex of many Shinto shrines and torii gates. We took a detour off the main path and ended up on a hiking trail to the top of the mountain, where we met up again with the main path. This was the hottest day ever, and I was fairly unhappy. We finished, grabbed our packs from Kyoto Station, and made our way to our airbnb where I passed out from heat exhaustion. Or just took a nap. We went to dinner at a nearby okonomiyaki place recommended by our airbnb hosts. 20,815 steps.
  • Friday, July 14: Kyoto. Kyoto has amazing temples. We started the day at Nanzen-ji, a large temple not far from us. Then we made our way across town to Otsuka, a small steak restaurant, for a truly delicious wagyu beef lunch recommended by one of Dan’s colleagues. We hadn’t originally planned it, but since we were over there, we walked through the Arashiyama bamboo grove and then along the river. We then intended to do a walking tour of Southern Higashiyama from our guidebook, but ended up on the right bus going the wrong direction, so instead took a bus tour around Kyoto and got off in a more northerly bit to visit Ginkaku-ji, a temple, and walk the Path of Philosophy. We ate dinner of sort of Japanese tapas at a small restaurant that also served fancy cotton candy by day. We’d passed it on the previous night in our neighborhood. 28,824 steps.
  • Saturday, July 15: Kyoto still. We spent the morning doing the walking tour we’d intended to do the previous day and visited two more temples: Koidi-ji and Shoren-in. Shoren-in was very close to our apartment, and less crowded and very lovely. Then we took the train out of the city to Kibune, where we walked along the road until we found a restaurant that would take us (sans reservations, on a busy Saturday) for kawa doko – eating a set course meal while seated on platforms over the river. It was great. Then we did the hike over the mountain to the next valley over, Kurama, and trained back to Kyoto. That night was the first of two eve festivals for Gion, an annual festival in Kyoto involving portable shrines (floats). On the 17th, the floats would parade through the city, but were parked for visiting as part of the street festival before then. It was awesome to be part of this. We ate lots of food from vendors. 28,664 steps.
  • Sunday, July 16: We left Kyoto and headed to Onomichi, a small part town that is the beginning or end of the Shimanami Kaido – a 75km bike route across bridges and islands between Onomichi and Imabari. We stayed at Hotel Cycle, which is part of a larger market that contains the hotel, a coffee shop, a restaurant, a gift/wares shop, and a Giant bicycle store. Except for the Giant, they are all essentially the same company, it seems. We arrived too early to check in, so got ice cream and sat on the outside chairs to relax. We got our rental bikes from the Giant, ate dinner at the restaurant, and just took it very easy. 10,301 steps.
  • Monday, July 17: We got up early to take a 7:10 cycle express bus to Imabari where we started cycling around 8:30am and did the entire Shimanami Kaido! We were tired and hot (and a little sunburned) by the end, but I think this was my favorite thing. It was so awesome. Bridges, gorgeous views, citrus groves, gelato, biking. All the things. When we were done, we showered in the public shower stalls outside our hotel, relaxed for a bit in the coffee shop, and then made our way to our Hiroshima airbnb. We walked to dinner at Okonomi Mura – a crazy three story building filled with various okonomiyaki shops. 7,016 steps. But 76km of biking!
  • Tuesday, July 18: Dan wasn’t feeling well this day, so we took a super relaxed morning. Then we visited the A-bomb dome, the Peace Memorial Park, and the Peace Memorial Museum. I actually learned a lot about the development of nuclear weapons and some of the politics and the museum. This was generally very sobering. Afterward, we ate lunch at a place recommended by Lonely Planet, which was really cute and wonderful, and then had a lazy afternoon. We were really losing steam by this point in our trip. We went to a Japanese curry place around the corner from our apartment recommended by our airbnb host. 8,905 steps.
  • Wednesday, July 19: We traveled via Shinkansen to Kagoshima, another port town. From there, we took a taxi to the ferry terminal and then a hydrofoil ferry to Yakushima. The car rental company we’d booked through met us as we disembarked the ferry and miraculously handed Dan keys to drive away, on the left side of the road. He drove us to the south side of the island to our hotel (JR Hotel Yakushima), which was also heaven. After settling in, we partook of the onsen and then the amazing set course dinner. 5,949 steps.
  • Thursday, July 20: Last real vacation day! After the excellent buffet breakfast at the hotel, we (Dan) drove back north and we made our way up the mountain to the Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine where we hiked for approximately 5 miles by waterfalls, across streams, and past HUGE very old cedars that the island is known for (the largest/oldest, which we did not see, is estimated to be 3000-7000  years old). We then stopped at the Senpiro waterfall on the way back to the hotel. Our evening was very similar to the previous… except! After dinner we made our way to the Hirauchi Onsen, which is part of the rocky sea shore and only accessible within two hours of low tide. Low tide that night was around 11pm, and we arrived sometime after 9. It was dark and we had trouble finding it, but we made it, and it was a really incredible experience. Unlike other onsen we’d been to, it was mixed gender. There were other people there, but no staff or system or lights or anything – just an honesty pay box and a place on the sidewalk to leave one’s shoes. There were several pools. It was hard to tell how many with no light. And there were STARS! It was amazing. A kind of bizarre, otherworldly sort of experience – bathing with strangers on the beach in the almost pitch darkness, staring at the sky. 15,751 steps.
  • Friday, July 21: We ate another great breakfast, then left :-(. We returned our rental car at the tiny Yakushima airport and took a flight from there back to Kagoshima, then Kagoshima to Tokyo. Then, after a bit of delay, we flew 11 hours to Toronto and then a few more hours back to Baltimore. All told, it was four flights and over 30 hours of travel. It was nice to get home.

And that’s that! The trip was really incredible. It all worked out almost exactly is planned, which is amazing. We had no major (or really even minor) disasters. Partly that was due to a ton of planning (it takes hours and hours and hours, and recommendations from friends are super helpful – feel free to ask me if you want more information about how we went about planning this), but it was mostly due to just how organized, efficient, and punctual traveling in Japan is. A few general observations about the trip and Japan:

  • Obviously Dan and I prioritize being outside (hiking, walking, gardens, paths) to doing more cultural things like museums. But Japan has it all, whatever you’re interested in.
  • The food is delicious. But I missed vegetables. I eat so many vegetables.
  • Trains not only run on time, but run super-frequently. Everywhere. Which was awesome.
  • Japan is hot and humid in July. I’m not sure if this is consistently true or if it was just the weather while we were there, but Kyoto was by far the hottest. Tokyo was warm, but not as bad. Osaka was also probably hot, like Kyoto, but we were really only there and out and about at night. I had some periods of misery in Kyoto.
  • There are many wonderful hikes in Japan. I’m sure we missed a bunch. But based on the ones we didn’t miss… they are also crowded. Our hike from the Shin Hotaka Ropeway to Kamikochi was the least crowded.
  • People stand on the right and walk on the left on escalators (opposite of DC, which makes sense, because Japan also drives on the opposite side of the road). Except in Osaka, they do the opposite – stand on the right and walk on the left.
  • Japan has got it figured out with the ryokans. Bathe in hot spring waters, eat delicious food, sleep in a super-relaxing room on futons and tatami mats, repeat.
  • We never had to use many of the Japanese phrases I spent time trying to learn. Even in the more rural areas, there was enough English to get by.

I’ll try to get the other two posts up soon!

Spring Hiking (Part 1)

I already wrote a spring hiking post, but I’ve been fortunate enough to go twice this spring. Here’s what I did for my first trip, which I took with my friend Easter weekend. We were both pretty busy at that point (my friend was in the final stretch of law school, and I was in Budget season), so we decided to make it easy by going to the AT in Maryland. The AT goes through a pretty narrow section of Maryland, has a lot of entry points, and is only an hour or so from both DC and Baltimore, so it’s easy to get to and requires little planning.


***Quick aside: I generally spend a lot of time planning these trips. That was true when we lived in Atlanta (and similarly would plan at least one trip each spring and fall), and it’s true here. I think my criteria are fairly simple:

  • Within max 3 hours drive (here in Maryland, we sometimes stretch this a bit since most of the VA and WVA hiking is juuuust a little further)
  • Reasonable length for two at-least-partial days of hiking (so… anywhere from 8-20ish miles)
  • Has backcountry camp sites

In addition to those essentials, I have some additional preferences:

  • Loop. But out and back is fine
  • Elevation change
  • Water source
  • Campground or other car camping available near trailhead for Friday night
  • Haven’t done before

I have a hard time finding ideal candidates, and then it takes a long time to find ones that meet some of the criteria, to compare them to each other, to find nearby car camping spots, to make sure there are backcountry camping spots, to figure out permits if necessary, etc. If you have suggestions for resources, let me know! I frequently use midatlantichikes.com and backpacker.com.

In any case, I hope this blog can be a resource for you for hikes that generally meet those criteria. Aside over.***


Needless to say, I did not put a lot of time or effort into planning this trip. And you get what you plan for. While the AT in Maryland is nice and convenient, it is not the most memorable nor scenic part of the AT. And the easy access means that it’s easily accessible to lots of people. I wouldn’t say the trail was crowded exactly, but it wasn’t very remote. We were never very far from a road, and our campsite (near the Crampton Gap shelter at mile 1029.4 of the AT, according to cnyhiking.com) was only 0.5 miles from Gathland State Park and its access road – which allowed for our nearby campers (we were one of maybe six groups in this camping area near the shelter) to haul in beer their friends brought for them and have a pizza delivered by one of their mothers.

Still, lovely to be in the out of doors, as always, and to spend quality time with my good friend and dog.

We hiked from South Mountain Inn to the Crampton Gap shelter (with an additional short addition to Gathland State Park), which was a little over 7 miles, and hiked back the following day – we essentially did this hike backwards.

On Saturday, we took a break (after only 2 miles) at the recently renovated Rocky Run shelter. We met a volunteer there who was hiking out from another shelter further down the path that he said was used more by locals for partying and therefore had a lot of crap. We took the same break on Sunday on our way back, this time going further to check out that other shelter (and let Clio run in the water that was down there to cool off – it was over 90 degrees that Sunday!). It was definitely much more rundown. No pictures of that one.

The trail itself was largely on a ridge. There wasn’t a ton of elevation change. It was pleasant and walkable.

The main points of interest were Lamb’s Knoll and White Rock Cliffs. We stopped at White Rock Cliffs both ways for pictures.

After arriving at the shelter and claiming our campsite, we continued on without our packs to Gathland State Park. The land used to belong to a Civil War journalist named George Alfred Townsend, who for some reason was nicknamed Gath. It has a monument to Civil War correspondents. It had a few other buildings and nice open spaces as well. There were some people in costume and filming (I think) in one of the ruins. Or maybe just taking photos. I only got a picture of the monument.

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After that, we relaxed at our campsite. We had a fire in the evening, watched the sunset, and I enjoyed early morning coffee and relaxing by myself before others started to get up.

On Sunday, we hiked back to the Old South Mountain Inn. It was hot. I got sunburned. After the hike was over, we stopped for lunch at Brew’d Pub on our drive home. I had a saison and a local wild boar kielbasa (sans bun). Clio rested her overheated and weary body on the patio. Mm mmm.

Dan and I are booked pretty solid this summer. We’re already talking about when to go in the Fall, but we have been invited to four weddings in five weeks between September and October (prime fall hiking months). At this particular moment in time, I’m feeling way too busy and reluctant to give up weekends at home. Plus, Dan will have just started a new job in August and won’t be able to get so many weekends off. So. We’ll see. Maybe it’s a really good thing I went twice this spring.