TLT: For Relaxing Times…

For a month before I left to take on a small chunk of the Tokai Nature Trail, the 1700km collection of trail systems ranging from Tokyo’s Mt.Takao to Osaka, I couldn’t stop thinking of how badly I wanted to be out of this city. I was tired of the way I had to stop and wait for the train to pass before I could go home after work; I hated that everybody seemed to know who I was and where I worked; I couldn’t stand another trip to my local supermarket to stock up on a week’s worth of vittles.  Nothing against Sabae, Japan’s eyeglass capital and my current home; I just needed to get away.

For relaxing times, make it Suntory time. #Japan #lostintranslation #travel #whiskey #鯖江市

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When my hiking partner, Travis, and I made it to Shizuoka City and had our tickets to return to our regularly scheduled programming in hand, I felt no real excitement. I wouldn’t have to pay 6,000 yen to sleep on an actual bed for a night, and not walking 25 kilometers a day also had its appeal, but excitement?

The night I got home I was sure I’d flip to where I’d left off in my most recent read-through of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and let the darkness take me at its leisure. Dropping my pack in my apartment with a loud thunk, I realized that I needed to be moving, needed to be out doing something. Continue reading →

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Backpacking 101: Four Tips for Hitting the Trails with a Friend

This time next week, I’ll be hiking around the base of Mt. Fuji on the Tokai Nature Trail with a friend from London. Starting from Mt. Takao in Hachioji, Tokyo, we’ll be bouncing from temple to temple, mountain to mountain over 200 kilometers, finally finishing in Shizuoka. It will be the longest hike either of us has ever managed.

We’re going to want to kill each other once or twice along the way.

Gloomy morning at Letchworth's Hogsback Overlook. Beautiful anyway #nature #outdoors #NewYork

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I’ve been on two and three day retreats in a number of beautifully secluded locales in Western New York before, Letchworth and Stony Brook the most memorable among them. By the end of day three, I’m glad for the experience, but I’m slightly irritable with my traveling companion(s) for one reason or another. Here are just a few suggestions for those among you looking to enjoy nature with friends, but who aren’t looking to “accidentally” push anybody into a ravine along the way.

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Mountains around Sabae Japan Monjuusan

Chasing My White Whale in the Mountains of Fukui

After four months of trying to find my way to the top of the mountain, I was sure I’d finally found the trail. A cement torii framed aged cement steps that eased the sharp ascent through sun-spotted bamboo and humidity. A place that looked like the beginning of a level in Uncharted or a new iteration of Tomb Raider couldn’t possibly be anything other than the trailhead I’d looked for in snow, rain, and oppressive heat. And yet, it was just another dead-end.

Sabae Torii Gate

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Prison and Personal Injury, or a Recent Trip to Letchworth State Park

The Fourth of July weekend is coming to an anxious end, and with that ,  it’s only natural that many decide to head to their local parks/watering holes/sports stadiums to get one last bit of life in before work resumes on Monday. Thinking I’d use Sunday to visit a state forest I’ve never been to and hopefully check out some waterfalls, I instead found myself both threatened with arrest and injured — the latter of which occurred when a bear jumped out at me on the trails, causing a rather nasty sprain of the ankle. (That last part might be a lie.) Sonyea State Forest: A Stone’s Throw from a Local Prison Sonyea State Forest is located only a few miles away from the nationally famous Letchworth State Park, just outside of Mt. Morris, New York. The forest has a long history, starting many years ago as a colony for a local community of Shakers, before transforming into a retreat for those suffering from epilepsy. Following the advent of new treatments that effectively reduce the signs and symptoms of epilepsy, the retreat was finally repurposed by the state into the Groveland Correctional Facility. Groveland is a state-level high security prison for male offenders. Having never been to the forest before, I punched it into Google Maps on the trusty phone and sped on my way, the Tallest Man on Earth’s “Wild Hunt” trickling from the speakers, the gentle scents of honeysuckle and grass barely winning their fight with the country air (re: manure) as they pushed through my cracked windows. All signs pointed to a good morning. Continue reading →

Enjoying Independence Among the Trails and the Trees

The U.S. gets pretty loud on the Fourth of July. No, I don’t mean our typical level of noise we tend to make about global politics and whatnot; I mean oh-my-god-why-are-my-ears-bleeding kind of loud. Seemingly from the time the sun peeks its hot little head over the horizon, somebody is outside lighting up a charcoal grill upon which to cook up a week’s worth of tubular meat stuffs — all of them, mind you, to be consumed in one day.

Fourth of July, otherwise known as our Independence Day, is this annual exercise in complete sensory overload. Nostrils variably burn with the thick smoke of spent saltpeter and the charring flesh of some animal, porcine, bovine, whatever. Your ears are left undefended to ford a never ending stream of pop patriotism, belted out, as ever, by a dude with a beard. Fireworks excite the eyes, alcohol taints the blood, flame permanently reworks skin — as I’ve said, it’s all very loud.

I’ve always been more of a relax by the campfire with good beer, good friends, and a guitar to pass around kind of a fella. Despite my daily demeanor, I really don’t like “loud.” So at first light, I went straight for the quietest place I knew within 10 miles: the trails. Continue reading →

Backyard Hike: Carlton Hill State Forest

For just about any New Yorker from Binghamton and over, Western New York is a podunk little region of the state so worthless that it doesn’t even warrant being split off from “Upstate,” the name given to all parts of the state that aren’t Long Island or the confederated bits of New York City. Let’s get it out of the way: yes, Buffalo and Rochester pale in comparison to the vibrant, cosmopolitan epicenter that is the Big Apple, but what we lack in city culture we more than make up for in our plethora of beautifully varied state forests and parks. From Letchworth to Stony Brook, WNY has more than its fair share of the state’s natural wonders.

Carlton Hill State Forest, located in Wyoming, NY, is one such paradise. Strangely, despite living only 25 minutes from the forest, I hadn’t ever been there — not before today. Carlton Hill, part of a multi-use land project sponsored by the Department of Environmental Conservation, features some of the best hiking around. Varied landscapes, diverse flora and fauna, and challenging, winding trails make for an enjoyable day hike — so long as you pay attention.

What Can You Expect of the Trails?

Carlton Hill is located in one of the most remote areas of any state owned nature preserve I’ve yet visited. Driving to the crest of Bank Road in the center of Wyoming, you’re treated to views of farmland and woods of birch, evergreen, and maple to the horizon and beyond. Somewhere in between, there are farmhouses and homes, but this is a part of Genesee county that is very much ruled by the verdant.

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