14degrees off the beaten track
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August 20th, 2011 | categorizilation: all categories,Arrival Home,Japan,Post-2008

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Last week I cycled 8 days with my wife, her brother (Rowland), his wife (Alicia), and my wife’s friend (Saoka). It was four of us for the whole trip, plus the extra friend for three days. It was the first time I had traveled in a group before, and I thought I might jot down my thoughts on it, compared with traveling on one’s own.

First up, I have to admit that it was great fun traveling with family. Rowland and Alicia are both outdoorsy types, so we all got on really well. While there were a few moments of tension regarding pace, camping spots, and food purchases, on the whole we all got on just fine and enjoyed each others’ company.

The cycle touring crew in Hokkaido, Japan The cycle touring crew in Hokkaido, Japan

One thing I loved about traveling with others was the plethora of photo opportunities this presented me with. People are always more interesting to photograph than static objects, and with four human subjects around me for 8 days straight, I was loving it.

Camping near Bikuni on the coast of Shakotan Peninsula, Hokkaido, Japan Camping near Bikuni on the coast of Shakotan Peninsula, Hokkaido, Japan

Relaxing in Kyogoku Camping Ground, Kyogoku, Hokkaido, Japan

Camping at the Kamoenai Camping Ground on the Shakotan Peninsula, Hokkaido, Japan Doubling on a bicycle in Kyogoku, Hokkaido, Japan

It was also great to be traveling by bike with my wife for the first time. Haidee is a strong rider, and we make for good riding partners, it seems. She also has the distinct bonus of being exceptionally photogenic.

Cycling side-by-side near Lake Toya, Hokkaido, Japan

A waterfall near Kamoenai on the Shakotan Peninsula, Hokkaido, Japan

What I did find however, was that traveling with a group drew my attention away from my immediate surroundings more so than when I traveled on my own. That is to say, as we were sitting on the sea shore at the second camp site of the trip, Rowland mentioned that it must be different traveling with others, compared to when I was traveling on my own. I replied that indeed it was, and asked that everyone be quiet for just a moment, and take note of the water lapping against the shore. It was not until that we were all quiet that I heard the sea.

I guess that’s what everyday life is like. We get so caught up in the busy-ness of life and communicating and adjusting and discussing the small things that we often tune out to the gentle movements happening out of our field of attention. Noticing those usually un-noticable things is, upon reflection, one of the greatest joys of traveling on my own, and in a way, traveling in general.

Camping near Bikuni on the coast of Shakotan Peninsula, Hokkaido, Japan

This could, of course, have something to do with the fact that we probably spent a lot of time just figuring out what it means to travel in a group. A longer tour may have allowed us to develop a natural rhythm. Packing up, route choice, pace, buying food, all those little things that are easy to decide when it’s only a party of one, may become more streamlined, allowing more attention to be devoted to the smaller things.

It is quite easy for me to become nostalgic about solo travel. It really is an amazingly meditative and deep experience. Not so much in terms of finding oneself (you need others who have spent a decent amount of time around you in order to approach a well-rounded sense of that), but solo travel brings a depth of awareness that seems hard to find when surrounded by others.

In the end, it is quite impossible to state one way or the other whether solo travel is better than group travel, or vice versa. The moral to the story is that both forms of travel are different. There is something special about shared experience. There is also something special about being immersed in a natural environment, senses aware and honed. If only there was some way to strike a perfect balance…

Surly Karate Monkey in a campground next to Lake Toya, Hokkaido, Japan

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