On the road!

First off, I must apologize for the lack of substantive pre-departure updates. Suffice to say, Ive learned a lot about packing and planning for a month long hike with 4 postal resupplies!

Second, I must publicly thank my Lady Friend who was tremendously helpful and patient as my preparations encroached deeper and deeper into pre-departure time that was supposed to be for relaxation together. Thank you for all your support, it was invaluable; cant wait to hike the Chuo-alps with you in two weeks!

Finally, thanks for the well wishes and encouragement Ive been getting today. Everyones interest and support has done a lot to bolster my confidence as I set out on a hike of this scale for the first time. I appreciate it deeply.

My biggest fear was moving myself so far out of my routine for so long: would my personality survive, or would I peal back the layers only to find the facade supported by a lattice of daily drudgery?

But, looking out on ripe rice fields as I speed towards the coast, I feel the irrational and insatiable optimism that has birthed faith and progress into the world, and I feel that everything is in its right place.

I hope you do too.

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Storm Before the Calm: Heading Out in Less than a Week

Like the two weeks before any big hike, these have been crazy. Without artistry or brevity, here is what’s been happening to make the big hike happen:


  • Canyoning trip in Hakuba. Absolutely necessary to prepare for any big hike. Pictures may be forthcoming.
  • Backpacking in a valley below Yari-gatake. Hot Springs flowing directly into the river, a view of the ridge/peaks I’ll be hiking from NEXT WEEK.
  • Finished my last paper of the semester.
  • 3.5 hours of futsal, also essential before a big hike
  • Trail running and swimming and Jelly Fish attack
  • Most final gear purchases (list forthcoming)
  • Read entire Hammer guide to nutrition for endurance athletes – highly reccomended
  • Meal planning: recipes and shopping list
  • First batch of Chris’s Carbo-Gel w/ Green Tea…so good when it hits your lips
  • Made some sweet tyvek chaps
  • Made some muffins
  • Route finalized, estimated time: 26 days, rough estimated distance: 400-450 km

As you can see, I am not quite paragon of focus. Still left to do:

  • Pack 60 zip-lock bags with meals, prepare packages to mail
  • Make more power bars and energy gel
  • Buy some titanium tent pegs
  • Double check packing list
  • Keep practicing setting up the tarp until its second nature
  • Make a hotel reservation on the over night before I start the trip
  • Quality time with the lady friend
  • A bunch of little things that I am forgetting
  • Another 2 hrs of futsal
  • Get drunk one or two times

Wish me luck! I hope to get a couple posts up about my food, route, and gear before I head out. I’ll be holding off on any gear reviews until I get back, see how it all holds up. I’m getting really pumped, a bit nervous, and can’t wait to get on the trail.

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Is Loving Lightweight Hiking/MYoG Genetic?

Steven Horner’s excellent reflection on how his “parents are the reason [he] started walking and camping in the first place” encouraged me to share my father’s reaction to my post on making my own bivy from Tyvek.

You are truly your father’s son. I read some of your blog I’ll read more later. (…) Did I tell you about the time I camped in Pamplona for San Fermen and made my tent out of an army surplus rain poncho. ( luckily it only rained a little).

Or more recently ( last fall ) went backpacking on Mt. Hood and fashioned my sleeping accommodations out of an orange plastic tube tent ($ 5) and a box of Staples binder clips ( Binder clips were free).

I have only ever car camped with my dad and had no idea about this inclination of his, maybe it came to me genetically…Moreover, what a unexpected and cool thing to find out from your dad reading your blog.

Have you learned any surprising facts about your family from blogging? What’s the greatest lightweight hiking or MYoG tip you’ve learned from your family?

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What’s Cheaper, Lighter and More Breathable than an E-Bivy? My MYoG Tyvek Bivy

As I’ve noted before, becoming a light-weight hiker can be a rather expensive process (and a lengthy one if you want something from MLD). I am on a budget and a schedule, so I’ve had to be a bit creative.

After looking at a variety UL bivies to go with my Locus Gear tarp, both Jototaro (of Locus Gear fame) and Hendrik encouraged me to try making my own out of tyvek (don’t know what tyvek is? here’s a short primer). Unfortunately, I have never done well in arts and crafts, I can’t really draw or cut straight, and I haven’t made anything out of fabric since I made a pencil case in 8th grade home-ec.

But, I did some research and manned up. Part of the whole experience of hiking across the alps is trying something new, pushing my comfort zone: trusting a bivy I made with my own uncertain hands certainly qualifies as challenging my comfort zone.

Here is advice for new light-weight hikers: when in doubt, consult the Backpacking Light forums. Once I did that, things started to roll.

This excellent BL thread convinced me I was capable of making a bivy and, since I don’t have a sewing machine, to use 3M Super 77 spray-adhesive. So I picked some up at Tokyu Hands. As for Tyvek, Locus Gear’s sister shop Outdoor Material Mart sells all sorts of MYOG supplies including a tyvek not normally seen in MYOG projects in the US.

The tyvek they sell is 1446B, a UV blocking soft-type tyvek. It’s water resistant to 14.9 kpa (I don’t know the conversion, but 9.6 kpa is 1000mm hydrostatic head, which considered waterproof according to my research), soft and very lightweight at 47g per square meter.

I didn’t have a pattern, and decided to make it up as I went along (kind of my MO). First, I got some paper clips and made some mock up bivies to give me a sense of how different designs would play out.  After I had a decent idea, I drew out a tapering design top and bottom on two pieces of tyvek, leaving 10cm on each side for a nice fat seam. The plan was for something that resembled a MSR e-bivy without a side entry. I screwed up the first side, but busting out some trigonometry (cosine!!) managed to get long straight lines from my short straightedge on the back side.  Now I have some sweet marker lines on the outside of my bivy. Not quite FSTPKR’s trail flare, but it will do.

Next: Cut out the pieces, and glued the body section to the bottom with no problem at all. The seams are lined up so that stress from rolling etc will pull in line with the bond (just overlapped the edges of the top and bottom). For the corners at the foot end, I cut the corners and folded them in to get a smooth seam (think wrapping a present). Lucky, the Super 77 is pretty forgiving so I could mash it together a bit just fine. I did the same for the hood. The whole thing took 3-4 hours including thinking, correcting errors, more thinking, and letting the glue dry. I think the next one will clock in at less than 2.

I stood in the shower with the bivy, worked out perfectly, dry as a bone. I’m going to trail test the bivy this weekend, and if it works (ie doesn’t tear and does breath) and there is interest, I’ll post photos and more specific directions. If it’s a disaster, I’ll post those photos and warn everyone away from it.

Do you care how much it weighs?

Thought you did.  Less than 6oz. (5.8-ish). Yes sir.

The One Big Caveat:

For information on the effectiveness of gluing tyvek, this report is a must read. The conclusions, which proved true for me, is that a bonded tyvek seam is stronger than the fabric itself. However, the bond will delaminate very easily. So, if you bond the tyvek in a way that the pieces can be pealed away from each other, they will (think the motion of opening a book, stress coming perpendicular to the top edge of a bond).

In my current version of the bivy, the hood overlaps the chest section leaving a flap that will delaminate quit easily. In order to remedy this, I will either have to cut the flap OR sew a couple of stitches at this stress point to take the stress off the glue. I am planning on doing the ltater.

All the other seams, as long as there aren’t any flapping edges, appear to be very strong.

One thing I will do differently next time:

I made the hood far too long and the chest piece too short. I guess I thought I was big headed (har….). So I’ll probably glue on a flap to extend the non-hooded coverage up to my chin.


A bonded tyvek bivy is an easy and fun DiY project. It seems like it will work well, and I’ll be super stoked to sleep in something I made myself. I’ve got a bit more tyvek so I might try to make another more shapely bivy, and if I can find a sewing machine on the cheap I will definitely be adding no-seem-um mesh and a side zipper.

Also thinking about making some tyvek chaps ala GG Spinn-chaps with the scraps…

If your thinking about buying a bivy, why not take an evening and try making your own first?

Do you make your own gear? Why or why not? Do you trust the stuff you make?

Posted in Gear, Preparations | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Is it Ironic that the Internet is Where I Learned how to Hike?

I’m used to being a bit of a freak show. Or maybe I flatter myself. But, I have two strange names, I’m a bit short, and I have a wee pot belly. It’s covered in hair. And backpacking, it was always something I did away from my day-to-day life (except for with my Lady Friend who I co-opted by buying her nothing but backing gear for birthdays, anniversaries, etc).

So when I decided that it was probably a good idea to walk across Japan (the short way), it was greeted with a sputtering of syllables amounting too ‘yes, you have just confirmed you are a bit strange, and I’m not quite sure you will do it.’ Of course, it was more politely said, and they probably didn’t mean that, but it’s what I heard given that I felt different.

The internet is magic. As soon as I unilaterally declared myself in, or opted in, or joined the online light weight hiking community, I met people who found what I was hoping to do exciting, normal and not remarkably difficult. I appreciate this deeply.

And answers to questions! The advice and response time of the lightweight hiking community is unmatched. Not knowing how to do something is no longer an excuse for not doing something.

Sometimes the Lady Friend gives me shit about twitter. And that’s healthy, it is addicting. But in the last month I have talked to more interesting people, learned more, and felt more inspired than for a very long time (follow me on twitter!). Walking across Japan (the short way) went from being a fantasy that confirmed I was a ‘different kind of person’ to a possible, challenging, and fun reality.

The Church gets that bit right, community is powerful norm creating force.

In May 2009, I had never participated in an online community outside of facebook (stalking). Lucky, that changed. Even after just a month, it has been incredibly motivating.

Warm-up Question: What are your favorite blogs, hiking related or not?

Advanced Question: Did I misuse irony in the title?

Questions for the audience:
For all who participate, blog, comment, etc: What’s in it for you? Why do you value this online community? Why do you share your stories, time and effort?

For all reading this blog who haven’t commented and don’t usually comment on blogs: please start. Join the conversation, contribute your ideas, ask questions, get inspired. After a month of blogging I’ve cracked 1000 page views, but only have comments from 6 different people; I’m really curious who all of you are. Tell me. Right now.  It’ll be fun.

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Do You Need Permission to Enjoy Nature?

We were naked in the out door bath after a great hike in Hokkaido (hike pictures).  The hot spring was on the shore of an enormous and ancient crater lake overlooked by our goal, now completed:

There is something very masculine about looking up at the peak you climbed while standing naked in hot water outside.  5ft away from the outdoor bath was the lake, cold, pristine, and inviting.

No one was swimming. Understand that Japanese hot springs are have a fairly strong unspoken code of behavior, but swimming in adjacent lakes isn’t covered…Papa (The Lady Friend’s) was sitting on the shore with one foot in. I took this as enough and edged my way in. Thighs…no one complaining…waist….no one complaining…shoulders…that’s when I heard it, ‘ah, he’s energetic!’ (元気だね).

A group of middle aged men were laughing. This, in Japan, could either be hearty admiration or patronizing admonishment.  Papa looked unconformable, but the water felt so good. Fresh, cold, natural. In I went, head underwater, eyes open, and a blue in 100 shades, deep, bright, and  expansive, welcomed me. With open arms, the lake told me I was in the right place.

I’d never seen anything like it, this blue; surrounded by this, the invigorating cold, and the lack of clothing brought me a primal satisfaction. I tried to explain to Papa; he needed to experience this. But, no. Too cold (re: socially unacceptable). Then a Russian guy took a flying dive off the rocks into the water. This was nice because I was no longer the most energetic (re: socially unacceptable). People left, I swam some more. And finally one brave Japanese soul tested the waters. Foot…calf…screw it-dives in! I was overjoyed.

And then Papa. He needed permission. Not from me, certainly not from the diving Russian, but from other Japanese; thankfully, he got it. He slide in, opened his eyes, saw the blue, and came up breathless. He had never seen anything like it, talked about it all night. Who knew you needed permission to enjoy nature?

One of my weaknesses is waiting for permission (and I’m in good company). Who gives hall passes for thru-hiking the Japanese Alps? Do I need a permission slip to tarp camp above the tree line? And what if I fail, what will people say?

Starting this blog helped; I publicly wrote myself a permission slip and no one said no (not even my mother). I gave myself permission to think big, look at nature with creativity, using ingenuity to enjoy her in new ways, see the opportunity to do things differently and take control of my experience.

What do you need a permission slip for?

  • Do you need permission to evangelize lightweight hiking instead of preaching to the choir?
  • Do you need permission to ask tough questions of the lightweight community?
  • Do you need permission to make the time in your life to really enjoy the outdoors instead of looking at MLD’s website and fantasizing about your adventures?

Those all ring true for me, but what about you: have you ever found yourself waiting for permission to enjoy the outdoors?

Posted in Hike, Preparations, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments

How Many Dollars per Ounce does it Cost to Lighten Your Pack?

Tight on cash but still want to reduce your pack weight? Me too. Most ask where in their pack they can reduce the most weight the quickest. I’ve had to calculated where I can reduce it the cheapest. Disclaimer: I rounded up to whole numbers, it’s rough, etc. Measurements in parenthesis are cost per10 grams for the gram counters out there.

The cheapest: Taking something out of your pack and not putting it back. Goodbye camp chair. Hello log.

The big winner: rain jacket. Switching from my 15oz REI Elements based jacket to a 5oz Dri-Ducks jacket costs only $1.55 per ounce ($.54) of reduced packweight. Anything fancier, such as Go-lite pertex based jacket, and the costs jump to $25 per ounce ($8.75) of savings.

Shelter and sleep systems, not surprisingly, are next. Moving from a 5lb Marmot 2 person tent to a roughly $200 Locus Gear custom tarp/ homemade tyvek bivy set-up will cost me only $3 per ounce ($1) of savings.

Coming from the 72oz+ Lowe Alpine pack I’ve had since high school, the pack is compeitive with the tent in the cost-effectiveness catagory.  My Granite Gear Meridian Vapor rings in at only $8 per ounce. Unfortunately, I don’t like the lid and if I use a packliner the side zip is worthless (didn’t follow the good advice: buy the pack last). If I can sell it and move to a Virga or Vapor it would cost me just $3-4 per ounce ($1-1.5) in savings.

Last in the big three, moving to a 24oz Go-lite Ultra 20 quilt from my 48oz synthetic bag the cost bumps up to $10 per ounce ($3.50) saved; the pricier 22oz Jacks R Better Mt Washington costs nearly $11 ($4)  per.

Then things get a bit scary. Wind jackets, rain jackets, and titanium pots would all cost me $20-30 per ounce ($7-11) saved. That is one hour of English teaching to save one ounce in pack weight: a true test of commitment to lightweight packing!

The big loser: underwear. Moving from my 8 year old miss-matched long underwear to the SmartWool ML series so tantalizingly displayed by Hendrik would cost upwards of $50 ($18) per ounce saved. 8 more years it is. Socks, undies, and other small but expensive stuff is equally costly.

I’ve got quite a few hours to put in at work to really get the pack weight down. All this makes making my own stuff far more attractive; I’m ordering tyvek from Jotaro as soon as I’m done with this post.
Conclusion: The big-3 are the best place to start for your wallet as well as your weight.

Next in economics topics: The labor-leisure choice and reducing your pack weight

Question of the day: How long would you be willing to work to reduce your packweight by an ounce?

Best song I listened to while typing this: Rhymes Like Dimes

Image credit: Atomic Sheep

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Training Hike 3: Reasons to hike when it rains

US had just got robbed in the Slovenia game, I was drunk, it was 130am, and I had to be up in 4 hours to catch the train. “Hiking in the rain will be nice…I can try the umbrella…” I tried to stay motivated as the rain came down.

Embracing the rain was new. Unlike the other seasons, the rainy season has no fans in Japan. In fact, although Japanese  brag of ‘4-distinct seasons,’ they quietly forget the 5th: the rainy season. I decided to be counter-cultural: I would love it.

Umbrella deployed I started the 1000m 6.5 km ascent to Tono-dake hard and fast. I passed all the hiking clubs that had caught an earlier train by 3km in. I  felt pity for them under their layers of gor-tex that amplified the humidity of the morning. Thank you Ray, that could have been me. The rainy season wasn’t so bad.

When hiking ridge lines in Japan you’ll often be looking at a natural growth forest on one side and only cedars on the other, the result of bad forest management policies.  This time, I heard only birds down the ridge on my left, and an insect orchestra fit for the amazon on my right. I have no explanation for this.

A handsome, young Japanese spotted deer greeted me at the summit of Tou-no-dake. He  grazed loudly  while I  munched on trail mix. We feasted together, and the rainy season was getting pretty nice.

The deer had distracted me, though. After 10 minutes of hanging out, he walked behind me and turning to follow him I realized I had been missing this right behind me:

The clouds had parted to reveal a floating Fuji; it couldn’t possible be rooted on the same ground I was. I took an early lunch and enjoy the view while it lasted. The rainy season, I imagined, was saying thank you for my faith in its potential. Continue reading

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Training hike 2: Kamakura Trail Run

Temples, shrines, jungly hills, ocean views, and a (relatively) quiet beach: all make for a great 10k training run.

After passing a couple old temples crowed with tourists, the run began with a hundred or so meters of vertical climb, then cruised up and down along a ridge line until 6km later we dropped down to my favorite zen temple in the Kanto, Zuisenji.  Watch out for hawks while you’re eating: one grabbed a onigiri (rice ball) from my hand. While I was eating it. With razor sharp talons. But this was 4 years ago, and The Lady-Friend reminded me of how tired she was of hearing this story.

Towards the end of the ridge we passed 10-20 small caves used as graves, mediation spaces, statuaries and memorials by the monks from Zuizenji for the last 600 or so years. All along the narrow  ridge the rock underfoot was worn smooth by hundreds of years of traffic; it’s hard to comprehend that kind of scale for someone from the Pacific Northwest.

From Zuisenji, we jogged through a neighborhood of old houses and temples before climbing 100m back up another ridge to see our final destination: beach!

On the way up, we passed the location of the last stand of the Kamakura bafuku, Tosho-ji. After losing a battle that would move Japan’s capital to Kyoto in 1333, the officers and family of the Kamakura regent barricaded themselves inside a temple and immolated themselves. In a hillside cave behind the temple countless others committed seppuku. Over 870 died in what is now nothing more than a grass field; three rather shabby houses now over look the site.

The Lady-Friend stopped me from going to look at the cave: a sign warned that visitors should avoid disturbing the spirits still struggling to find peace.

Running down the last 1.5km from the overlook, we passed through the middle preparations for a children’s festival. Continue reading

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Strategic Planning

Problem: Get really excited about something, think a lot about it for three weeks, don’t do it.

Theory: The internet provides  by an ample number of blogs, and then some, that deal with fixing this very common problem.

Seth Godin’s core message finally struck me after more than a year reading his blog. No matter what else you do, no matter your technique, your gear, you have one goal: ship.

If you dream the impossible dream and go after the thing that can’t possibly work, you don’t have to worry about being criticized, you don’t have to worry about the responsibility of shipping (…) After all, it was impossible.

“I Ship!” Sometimes I write it on the palm of my hand. Not shipping (because of fear, the lizard brain) is a perennial problem for me. Yesterday I got worried: am I tangled up in the big stuff so I can ignore the small.

My best advice: win little battles. Get in the habit of winning, of shipping.

Practice: So, now that the big why is settled, time to focus on the small winnable battles. Here are the next winnable battles:

  • Route: Get the framework of the trip down, the length between resupplies, and an estimated end date. Buy the maps, outline a rough plan. Once the frame is up, then other decisions can fall into place…
  • Gear: Pack the bag and do a practice run with what I have now. This will happen in a week and a half. From there, figure out what I need to make, buy, and throw out.
  • Food: Have some idea what I will eat, where I will buy it, and calculate calories per gram.

And that’s enough for now. Time to win some small battles. Time to ship!

…And once those are done,  Hendrik suggested I  make my own Tyvek bivy (translated). Sounds fun.

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