Friday, June 29, 2012

Things to do in Japan, part 1

In late March and early April this year, I spent 3 weeks traveling in Japan with my fellow nanotechnology students from NTNU. Upon personal request from a certain very special Auntie Ladybird, I'm going to do a couple of posts about Japan (because this blog didn't exist then!). In fact, if you ever happen to go to Japan, these posts might contain useful or interesting information, or they might just help you mental prepare yourself for the over-the-top, insane experience that Japan is.

Here's a nice Google map of my travel route. You can even click on it and zoom in on it if you want to!

View Larger Map

Without further ado, I present today's post:

Things to do in Japan: Part 1

1. Tokyo Tower: This was the only thing I did in Japan that felt like a waste of money (except accidentally giving a taxi driver a 10K yen bill (about 125 USD) and never getting change, but that's an entirely different story). After our first day in Tokyo, we thought it would be cool to go up Tokyo Tower and see the skyscape of Tokyo by night. Tokyo Tower is very cool looking, as illustrated by the artsy photo below.

Tokyo Tower by night
But when I arrived at the observation deck a 150m, I suddenly realized that

a) Tokyo has virtually no interesting landmarks that can be seen from the tower. Paraphrasing the professor who accompanied us on the first week of the trip: "Japanese architecture is like the inside of a factory".
b) Tokyo is an endless, homogeneous mass of city that extends forever.

Endless city is kind of my nightmare (those who have previously read my blog may have noticed that I generally enjoy being outside in, well, Nature). I also had no interest in waiting 45 minutes in line to go up to the higher observation deck, and consequently left Tokyo Tower rather quickly.

Pros: Building is cool looking. Going up gives you a good idea of the vastness of Tokyo
Cons: Uninspiring view. Expensive elevator trip. The realization that you are stuck in the world's largest metropolis with no escape!
Overall rating: 2/6

2. Hiking on the island of Yakushima: The Japanese are not great outdoorsmen, but when they undertake anything, they do so thoroughly. Yakushima is an almost oxymoronic example of this; on this beautiful island, the Japanese have tried tame and organize a wild, untameable jungle. There are signposts every 200 meters telling you exactly where you are; all wet spots on the trail have boardwalks on them and every hill has steps built into it or a rope that you can hold on to while you are climbing.

Quirks aside, Yakushima was fabulous. To save typing I will let the pictures say a few thousand words:

Entering the jungle. 
On top of Miyonara-dake, the largest peak on the island. From the left: me, Julie, Astrid

King Kong could live here: a view from the rental car up to the trail head.

Strange peak formation and tall grass above the jungle. Astrid in red, Julie further forward in green.
Endless ocean: Yakushima is very isolated island, 2 hours from the mainland. This is the view from out campsite the first night.
Best. Hot spring. Ever. This natural pool on the coast only costs 100 yen to soak in. But t clothing is completely unacceptable in Onsen (hot springs), and this particular one was unisex. Awkward story shall be skipped.
Pros: Beautiful jungle and hiking. Coolest hot springs in Japan. A less visited attraction than the big cities.

Cons: Hard to get to. Rains a lot.

Rating: 6/6

3. The old city of Kyoto: Kyoto is quintessential Japan. During WWII when Japan was being bombed like heck, Kyoto was preserved because both sides agreed it was to beautiful to destroy. The feel is completely different - especially in the old, UNESCO World Heritage part of the city.

I visited the old part of the city (Gion, etc) twice. Once very, very early in the morning and once during normal tourist hours. The first visit started when I woke up a 6 o'clock in the morning and decide it was an excellent time to go jogging. I knew my room mates would sleep for a couple more hours; I was, after all, training for a marathon. This proved to be an excellent idea. Padding slowly down the streets with only a map and my cell phone, I truly felt Japan. I could almost see a Geisha as I turned a corner; when I climbed the hill to Kiyomizu-dera temple, I felt contemplative and stop to take drink of water from the fountain and look at the city. Isn't that what visiting temples should be like?
Kiyomizu-dera temple, the cherry trees just beginning to blossom
A buddha (Sorry for the low picture quality, these are taken on my cell phone camera)
When I later wandered the same area with my friends, the magic was gone. Tourists crowding the streets, desperately snapping photos of the beginnings of cherry blossom brought me the present. Kyoto is bested experienced quietly.

Pros: The beautiful remnants of old Japan are a must-see. Definitely what you except Japan to look like before you get there.
Cons: Touristy and busy during the day. Many of the temples and shrines, although very beautiful, are similar, "once you've seen one, you've seen em all".
Rating: 5/6 at odd hours of the day, 4/6 during normal hours of the day

Now I feel I've rambled on enough for one day, but since there are more stories to tell, keep an eye on the blog for the upcoming  Things to do in Japan: Part 2 (The second post in a series of indefinite length, which will depend upon how much it rains in Oslo in the upcoming weeks!)

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Poetic Moment

How happy is the little stone  
That rambles in the road alone,

And doesn’t care about careers,  
And exigencies never fears;

Whose coat of elemental brown
A passing universe put on;

And independent as the sun,  
Associates or glows alone,

Fulfilling absolute decree
In casual simplicity

- Emily Dickinson
- The Wild Bazilchuk

Friday, June 22, 2012

What she saw

Pickled brains at the science museum

Nordmarka in the sunlight
The goat of Frogner
A woman dancing

Singletrack track through the trees

The Vigeland monoltih

Summer is nice :)
- The Wild Bazilchuk

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Oslo Forest Marathon 2012

As we stood on the platform waiting for the metro to Sognsvann for Oslo Forest Marathon 2012, the heavens opened. Luckily I was wearing rain gear, but I shivered at the thought of taking off all my Gore Tex and running 42.195 km in this weather. This is so not what I signed up for!

We arrived at the Norwegian College of Sports Science almost a hour before start, and fought our way to the start number pick up point past miserable marathoners huddled indoors, trying to keep dry and warm as long as they could. Past the stadium, the deep green hills of Nordmarka were uninviting and shrouded in fog. It looked like the start of a wet, cold day. I put on a t-shirt over my long-sleeved polypropylene top, afraid of freezing for four hours.

Rain before the race
Miraculously, the weather gods appeared to have heard the prayers of 500+ marathoners. Fifteen minutes before start, a small patch of blue sky appeared and continued to grow - although gray clouds were still ominously visible in the distance. By the start at 11 o'clock we were in the sun.

Pre-race nerves: Father and daugther
Upon the start signal, the runners chugged slowly of the stadium and towards lake Sognsvann. I had a weird, nervous feeling out not really knowing what I was setting out on - could I really do this?
Heading out of the stadium: you can just barely see me in this picture behind racer 878.
For a while, I really doubted that I could. Dad and I had agreed to set an 11 km/h pace and run together for as long as possible. Fat chance, I realized 2 km in. I needed to go at my own speed and let my legs wake up before I had any chance of keeping that pace. I let Dad drop me and took a 30 second stop to take off my long-sleeved shirt and throw it into my tiny race backpack.

I set out at a jog, trying not to look at the pace reading on my watch, focusing on my legs. I needed to be comfortable running if I had any chance at finishing. As I reached the 6 km sign, my legs suddenly became light and agile. I picked up the pace around lake Skjersjøen, for the first time in the race really enjoying running.

Many people were running with headphones. I often train with music, but when race time comes around I really like to go without. I like to be completely present, to really get a chance to feel the race. When I'm feeling good I can think about the scenery or the feeling of my legs racing beneath me. When I'm more tired I need to be entertained. To entertain myself sometimes I 'play' songs in my head, sometimes I calculate the distance to the finish in fractions and then percent, and sometimes I narrate myself running. Time passes rather unevenly, but somehow I get there.

On the downhill towards a few km from Bjørnholt, my legs started to complain, and as it flattened out people started passing me. Finally the only person I could see was an older woman in a pink Oslo Marathon 2010 t-shirt (which I also have, as this was my first marathon). I speed up to close the gap between us, and latched on to her like a leech. I followed her steady tempo out to the turning point, high-fiving dad running down the road in the opposite direction as me. He was about 1 km ahead of me at this point, still looking strong.

At the turning point, I felt relief. This was the furthest point out; everything from here on out was working my way back to start (albeit by a different route - se map below). For the first time I actually believed I could finish.

View Marathon in a larger map
The Oslo Forest Marathon route, as tracked on my cell phone GPS.

A few minutes after the turning point, 2:02 hours from start, me and my silent pink-shirted pacer hit the half marathon point. Again I felt elated; although I only half way, every step I took meant I had less left to run than I already had run.

It started to rain again. I was getting tired by now, so I can't remember how hard it was raining, just that I felt wet and was on the dangerously on verge of becoming cold. I focused on the woman in pink ahead of me keeping a perfect 11 km/h pace on terrain where I would likely leapfrog. Every time my brain said I'm tired I would take a sip of the foul sugary concoction in my water bladder. More sugar for you.

Past the dam at Fyllingen, I hit what I shall now refer to as the Hill of Death. Decisively flat-looking, this hill lasted for 3 km and reduced my pace to a fast walk/jog to avoid my legs seizing up completely. Luckily I biked the marathon route in May, so I knew that the Hill of Death was, in fact, not endless and that a lovely downhill was coming up, followed by a section of gnarly trail. These are two things I am good at, and I soon forgot the hill of death as I set down the even hill at 13 km/h, starting to pass people with less hardy knees than mine.

On the trail section I really came into my own - leaping over puddles and across rocking sections, probably passing a good 10 people. As I reached the dirt road again, I passed the 30 km sign and realized it was 2 o'clock.

The Man Unit!

Before the race, me and my boyfriend, Audun (fondly known as The Man Unit) agreed that he would start walking towards me at 2 o'clock at then pace me to the finish line. A few calculations comparing my speed to his (probable) walking speed lead me to an estimation that we would meet around 37-38 kilometers, and that thought was all-consuming for the next kilometers.

Just run 6 more km and you can run with The Man Unit.

Just run 4 more km and you'll meet The Man Unit.

He's just around the next corner, just keep running.

My calculations, luckily, were spot-on - we met between km 37 and 38. I immediately perked up, although I wasn't feeling very talkative. He informed by that he had seen a lot for people who looked like zombies, and that I, in comparison, looked positively perky. Looking good! Although my uphill legs were shot, reducing my speed to a crawl, on the downhills we could really make time. Most of the race that was left was now downhill, and we flew by probably 30 people. That felt good, although a few would inevitably catch up every time the trail flattened out.

Finally lake Sognsvann was in sight, we were crossing the dam, running up a tiny, oh-so-painful hill - and I could see the finish line. I registered my parents somewhere there, but I couldn't really hear anything except the tingling in my legs. I sprinted as hard as I could, passing one poor man in blue 20 meters before the finish line and practically crashing into the man registering start numbers.

I have no words for how I felt after finishing, but the following pictures summarize it pretty well.

Practically in tears after finishing at 4 hours 17 minutes

Dad in his bloody Trailspace hat - he cut his hand falling and then wiped in on his cap. Dad finished strong in 3 hours 57 minutes
The I discovered I had run the whole race with the brush I use to wash my bike in my backpack. Opps!
Down sweater on, completely exhausted on the subway towards home.
Would I do it again? Yes, I would. That was fun! Except I can't walk today.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

"I always did whatever I liked," she said, "but now I really can do it."

(Quote by A.A. Milne from Once on a Time)

After my last exam on Saturday, Dad and I headed for the mountains, looking to get one more good ski day in. In Norway, there is always snow - you just have to look high enough. Be the (almost) locals that we are, we drove 4 hours south and west to Trollstigen, a paved mountain pass that tops out at  850 meters. This is plenty high enough to still have good snow at this time of year. We generally do a ski trip up a mountain from Trollstigen every year, and usually it looks like this:
Finnan, 2010
Alnestind, 2009
This year it looked like this:

The skis: all dress up and no where to go. As you can see, there was no lack of snow.
Although the weather forecast mentioned clouds, it completely failed to predict the height of the clouds. Mountains: 1; Molly and Dad: 0. We started to follow some ski tracks up towards Breitind, our original goal for the day, but the fog was so relentlessly thick that we turned fairly quickly.
This river is cool looking. I wouldn't recommend swimming in it, however.

Total whiteout

We then drove into Åndalsnes town, determined at least to get some exercise out of our long drive, and powerhiked up Nesaksla. The trail up this small peak is 715 meters of practically straight up - and then down. It's a short hike, but brutal enough that my legs were smarting the day afterward.
Dad: superstoked to be out hiking.
Nesaksla is really right above the town of Åndalsnes, which makes the view of the town and the fjord pretty incredible. Knowing the mountains in the area, it would be even more spectacular on a nice day.
Åndalsnes and the fjord

Towards the top we ended up partially in the fog again.
Topping out on Nesaksla.
But everyone agreed it had been a lovely day out.

And now, for something completely different.

Since Sunday I've packed up all of my stuff, moved most of it to my parent's house, and moved some of it to Oslo where I'll be for the next six weeks. This is the fourth time I've move in the last three years, and every time I am equally shocked at the amount of stuff I own. This always makes me go on an antimaterialistic raid, in which I attempt to 'get rid of all of my stuff'. This time I gave 12 bags of clothes to Fretex (the Salvation Army), which is pretty good. I still ended up taking the train looking like this:
Loaded down: this is totally as heavy as it looks.
Since I fully intend on taking Casper the Mountain Bike with me to France, I think I might have to take less than all the stuff in the pictures -  but it's really hard picking stuff for a whole year! Six and a half weeks and counting.

- the Wild Bazilchuk

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Small Things

After x hours in the study hall yesterday, a huge rainbow showed up on the Trondheim skyline. I didn't have time to look for the pot of gold though - I have two more exams to study for!

- Molly

Monday, June 4, 2012

Top Muddy 7


The rain pattered on the roof. I woke up an hour before my alarm, looked out the skylight above my bed and saw only gray sky. I rolled over and slept again, but the weather was unchanged as Joni Mitchell started singing about sunny California on my alarm clock.

Well, at least I own wool boxer shorts.

It all started about a couple months ago when I saw an advertisement for Topp7 (Top 7), an event to get people out hiking in the local forest (Bymarka). The main route was 30 km, 1087 meters of vertical across 7 hill tops. That is when the idiot my head said, "Hiking my scrawy white left buttock! This is meant to be run!" I also thought that on June 3 the weather would be, well, summery. A pleasant morning jog.

5 degrees C and rain. Yup.
Top 1: Dad on top of Våtakammen, enjoying the view of Trondheim. His hands gesture says Why?

The trail started with a steady climb from sea level to Våtakammen at 286 meters. As we started about 5 minutes after the opening, we passed by about 500 people hiking up. Dogging people and dogs, I had an average heart rate of 185 all the way up the hill.

After Våtakammen we jogged across a couple of bogs to the nearby Geitfjellet - a very pleasant bit of trail. The fog had really settled by the time we reached Geitfjellet, so what should have been a fjord view was a panorama of grey.

Top 2: Dad enjoys the view from Geitfjellet

The journey continued around to the tiny top Tikneppen. On the way we played leapfrog with a couple other runners. We probably met about 15 people jogging like us, but we suspect some there was a pack of hardcore runners that left a few minutes before us and had a consistently higher pace. 

Top 3: Me with the friendly volunteers on top of Tikneppen. Their job is to stamp our card to prove we've been to each top.

And then it got slippery. The steady rain combined with the churning of passing people's feet turn the small trails off of Tikneppen into thick mud. Dad especially had traction issues, and I was started to get a little cold as we jogged towards the next top. Well, at least I'm wearing wool boxer shorts!

Top 4: On Gråkallen, a usually panoramic view of Trondheim and the fjord was transformed into gray fog. Inspiring June weather!

The next top was the Big One - Storheia, at 565 meters is the largest top in Bymarka. The trails continued to be muddy, so much so that I was almost glad we we hit snow. Much less slippery!

April showers bring May... big patches of mud covered snow? Oh, wait, it's June. Storheia is partially visible in the background.

On top of Storheia, we were met by cheers - in a effort to keep warm in the wind and rain, the volunteers on top were jumping up and down and cheering at everyone approaching the top. Even though we had been out for over two hours, and my legs were started to cramp because of all the uphill, I smiled at the cheering. The biggest climbs were over!

Top 5: Cheerful on Storheia with eager volunteers in the background. I realize that my jacket is open in all of the pictures of me, this is because I opened to get my (not waterproof) camera out. It was cold enough that I ran with it closed the whole way.

Then started the long, muddy descent down to Grønlia, a cabin the heart of Bymarka. The trail was alternately muddy and wet, as we crossed multiple bogs. The water was freezing cold, and I completely gave up on keeping mud out of my shoes - it splashed all the way up my thighs. Dad started to lag as he fell repeatedly. There was a maximum speed that one could go without wiping out - about 6 km/h, according to my watch. I was demoralized by the slow pace, but hummed the Indiana Jones theme melody and imaged reaching a harder trail that we could run on.

At Grønlia we stopped briefly to suck down some calories - chocolate, energy gel and bananas. I had a lot of trouble eating, which is typical of me on long distance runs. My throat just doesn't seem to want to swallow. 

A gradual climb up a forested trail from Grønlia brought us to the day's penultimate top, Henriksåsen, where a volunteer snapped a quick photo of us together. They said we didn't look tired at all, although I was feeling the opposite. 
Top 6: Henriksåsen, a hill in the forest.

Fifteen minutes of jogging brought us to the last top, and we could look forward to 8 km of downhill. After all the slow going in the mud, I was ready to get my speed on!

Top 7: Victory on Lille Gråkallen (meaning little Gråkallen, it is the smaller neighbor of Top 4)

A 'short cut' across several bogs brought us to the downhill trail, and I let gravity take care of my legs. Finally the kilometers passed quickly, and I sang as I keep a steady 12 km/h downhill. Arriving at the finish at 4:20 (by my watch, there was no time taking), we received finishers and then split up to go home and shower. Cold and muddy for sure!

Finish line:  I rain 30 km in the rain, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt!

Today I'm back in the study hall, trying to make up the hours I lost running yesterday (stop blogging and start studying Molly!). Of course, now the sun is out.

Until our next adventure!

- The Wild Bazilchuk