For the very first time since our trip began, almost 5 months before the events of this post, we are leaving our backpacks behind. This time, we are going to ride. The Shiminami Kaido is Japan’s most famous bike ride and, though it shames me greatly, there was just no way to carry the packs for this one. It’s 70km of paved, road-side trail across the Seto Inland Sea of Japan, spanning 6 small islands with huge suspension bridges to connect mainland Japan in the North with Shikoku Island in the South. According to the brochure, the route is well marked, predominantly flat, and with ample amenities, making the whole endeavor more or less fool proof. And while we could have rode the whole 70km in one day, that sounded awful on rental bikes, so we decided to make it extra easy and take 2 full days to finish the ride. So hold onto your butts, grab your ill-fitting rental helmet, and let’s roll. To reach the “trailhead”, it was a half-day’s train ride from Osaka to Onomichi at the Northern end of the path. Once there, we spent the remainder of the day planning and inspecting to get everything […]

Welcome to Osaka, the hipster capital of Japan! In modern times, it’s known for “the best” food, wild nightlife, and generally having an “alternative” culture compared to the dominant (business-like) style in Tokyo. The Japanese consider it smaller, quieter, and more laid back than giant, bustling Tokyo. Though, for some perspective, it still has a population of 19 million people in it’s metro area, which is about the size of New York City (but still nowhere close to the 38 million in Tokyo). In short, it’s the perfect place for us to relax and recover after our hike on the Kumano Kodo. So hold onto your butts just in case, but this time we are taking it easy. Our first day in Osaka we slept in and got a late start. Around lunchtime, we finally gathered up the energy to walk around some of the cities’ local parks and explore one of the canal areas. With nothing more than planned laziness for the afternoon, we were thrilled to accidentally discover a local beer festival waiting for us in the park! Not wanting to get too aggressive, we detoured across the canal to a hipster sandwich bar for lunch before making

Welcome back to our adventures on the Trail! For our final long-distance hike of the trip, we are hiking 60 miles of the Kumano Kodo, an ancient network of Buddhist pilgrimage trails in the mountains south of Kyoto. It’s not our steepest or most remote trail, but it’s certainly the only UNESCO World Heritage Pilgrimage Route on the itinerary. In fact, it’s only one of two UNESCO Pilgrimage Routes in the world, the other one being the Way of St. James on the Camino de Santiago.  The trail is covered in religious and natural monuments alike, not to the mention the crazy Japanese wildlife, cedar forests, and Buddhist ghosts that distinguish the Kii Mountains in general. Like the Camino being a network of trails, there are actually 7 different Kumano Kodo trails. We obviously chose to take the most strenuous and the most famous ones, the Kohechi and the Nakahechi respectively, to get the best experience possible. So hold onto your butts, pack your ultralight rice balls, and let’s search for enlightenment! Of course, the path to enlightenment isn’t as easy and just crawling around in Buddha’s intestines. From Kyoto, we were obliged to take 3 trains, an alarmingly steep

It’s finally time to say goodbye to Tokyo and Kon’nichiwa to the rest of Japan! Our original plan was to head north into the Japanese Alps after leaving Tokyo, but the weather in the mountains called for 7 straight days of rain and storms – we weren’t too encouraged by that and, on the advice of the guidebook, we opted to skip almost everything else in central Japan and go basically straight to Kyoto with just a few stops for castles and palaces along the way. At the time, we felt pretty defeated to be skipping yet another awesome section of mountains for bad weather (looking at you, Pyrenees!), and we were also reluctant to leave Tokyo behind when there was so much left to see, but in the end it (mostly) worked out. So hold onto your butts and keep both arms inside the car at all times, we are taking the bullet train to Nagoya! Jon possessed only a vague sort of curiosity about riding the Shinkansen (the name in Japanese), but I was giddy as a school boy. I knew from reading that Japanese bullet trains can casually pull 200mph on their daily trips, so in my

There’s lot’s more to see in Tokyo, but I’d like to start this post not with the regular day by day, but by sharing. That’s because some of our best memories from Japan aren’t in the places we visited, but in the day to day exploration of their strange culture. Perhaps you already suspected this, but the Japanese are really weird – and I mean every day weird, not just the stuff with the tentacles. As American’s, we found the total lack of Roman or Christian history to be really strange, but we found the whole concept of “face” or “loss of face” to be beyond indecipherable. Japanese society seems to be governed by a whole set of invisible rules, dictating everything from body language to how to eat rice, and any deviation might result in loss of face. In practice, not knowing the rules leaves you feeling like you accidentally walked into a strangers house – you recognize everything in there, but at the same time it’s arranged completely different. As an example, for the first few days all the cashiers would frown deeply at me or suddenly become hostile half way through a transaction and I couldn’t figure

The moment has finally arrived! We’ve been wandering around these Roman founded, Christian dominant countries for long enough, and now for something completely different – Rainbow Chasers is going to Asia! Jon and I are well versed in Asian cultures, having played a lot of Pokemon and watched several old WWII movies, so aside from our near-complete lack of a plan, we feel well prepared for whatever craziness comes our way. So grab your Hello Kitty and hold onto your butts, the Land of the Rising Sun awaits! Surprisingly, getting all the way from Oslo to Tokyo wasn’t too hard, just really, really long. It took us just over 20 hours, including a 2 hour layover in Doha, Qatar, to reach Tokyo around 7pm. From there, we still had nearly a 2 hour train/subway ride to reach our hostel from the airport, which is what you get when you fly a budget flight – they fly to inconvenient airports. We were strung out and exhausted by the time we finally reached the Wise Owl hostel, so hopefully you’ll forgive me when I tell you that our first impressions of Tokyo were “Wow! This place is packed with Asians!”, and “what

Our 90 days in the Schengen Zone is almost up, leaving just barely time for one last European city before we fly to Japan! Oslo is small, classy, and at the complete opposite end of the country from the Lofoten Islands. We spent a single night in the remote little village of Sorvagen (we might have stayed in Lofoten, such was it’s beauty, but the forecast sucked), before taking a bus to the ferry to Bodo. The ferry proved to be sturdier than the S.S.Ssss, though it was her maiden voyage, but better hold onto your butts just in case. The ocean between Lofoten and the mainland looks exactly like where a Viking sea dragon would sit and wait for a passing long boat – and I’d rather not imagine how it looks outside of a calm day in summer. We stood on the back of the boat and watched the jagged peaks of Lofoten recede, then moved to the front to watch equally jagged peaks of the mainland appear. Just try and remember what this looks like when you see the size of a real Viking longboat later! In Bodo, we walked almost straight off the ferry and onto

There’s no time to rest, our journey in the Arctic Circle continues! We wasted little time in Abisko, Sweden (beyond eating candy at the hostel) after finishing the Kungsleden, and were soon on a bus headed west to Norway. It took most of the day and a couple transfers to reach the remote village of Svolvaer, which is stuck out on a ludicrously beautiful chain of jagged mountains and fjords called the Lofoten Islands off the Norwegian coast. Hold onto your butts and get ready to have your minds blown, cause there’s a reason Slartibartfast won an intergalactic award for the fjords of Norway. True to form, we arrived in Svolvaer with only the barest outline of a plan, and spent most of that first day just trying to come up with a serviceable itinerary. Thanks to the brave translation efforts of the tourist’s information office, we eventually came up with a plan to day hike in the morning, kayak the next day, then go on an overnight hike after that. Luckily, the next day was forecast for blue skies! In the morning, we took our sweet time and sauntered over to the nearby trailhead after breakfast. Thanks to the

Alright boys and girls, we are finally back on the trail! This time we are headed North – far North – all the way up past the Arctic Circle and into the remote reaches of the Swedish backcountry. Even the official home of Santa Claus (in Finland) is further South than the Kungsleden, and that guy is a magic Snow Wizard. And, just to keep it interesting, we are going to be racing about 2000 other hikers who are right behind us! So hold onto your butts and grab your reindeer jerky, you’re gonna it. First, some brief explanation. We accidentally booked our hike to start at almost the exact same time as a huge, yearly hiking event called the Fjallraven Classic that brings over 2000 people to the Kungsleden, doing the same hike as us. I simply cannot bear the thought of hiking with so many filthy casuals, but by the time we realized our error it was too late to change our reservations and I had a total meltdown in Basel. Eventually, brave Jon pulled me back from the brink and we decided to modify/shorten our hike (from 110 miles to 70 miles) and actually race those Fjallraven

Alright folks, just one more Capital city to explore before we get back to hiking. Now I know you’re thinking that the Swedes can’t be that exciting, but don’t forget these guys descended from Vikings and actually had a serious empire at one point – remember that war that started in Prague when they threw some Catholics out a window? It’s not our most glamorous stop but it’ll still be fun, so let’s get to it. Hold onto your butts and say a nice “Hej, Hej!” to Scandinavia! Our first Stockholm day began as soon as we were off the plane from Budapest. Our Airbnb was within (long) walking distance from downtown, so once we were checked in we hit the streets – only problem was the streets were already being hit. The tail end of the Stockholm Gay Pride parade had just rolled through, and we were pleasantly surprised to find gays wandering around all over the place and Stockholm decorated with rainbows. We didn’t immediately party though, we had a lunch date. We met Jon’s cousin, and his two super cute kids, for drinks on a small square in downtown Stockholm. It was nice to see some friendly

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