Mount Fuji to Vancouver: boxing clever

After descending from Mount Fuji I headed off on the road that would take me towards my flight from Haneda Airport and onwards to Canada.  First I had a little climb and then the start of another big descent out of Fuji’s foothills.  The day had already started shading into the afternoon when I had come off the mountain and now evening and twlight were pressing in.
The area I was in threw me off a little as there seemed to be campsites everywhere – this worried me a little as it seemed to mean that all the good camping spots were already taken up by official sites.  I didn’t really want to have to pay to camp when I was quite happy pitching up any old where for free.  Eventually as darkness fell I decided I had better go and try one of the campgrounds that was signed.
The good news was that there was no one there and I would be able to camp there for free anyway.  The bad news was that it wasn’t really a campsite as I understood it.  Rather it was a series of pitches for people to park while they had a BBQ by the river.  The ground was basically hard gravel and I was only just able to get my tent sent up – at least it was flat!


The next day I woke up very early and snuck off the campsite in case anyone turned up to ask any questions.

I was riding down a river valley out of the mountains and it was very beautiful.  What was even more incredible was that as I rode down every so often as the valley kinked I would be able to see Mount Fuji.

Seeing the mountain glow in the sunrise was phenomenal.


I could see why getting to see Fuji was such a big deal.

The rest of the ride down was very nice as well and I eventually reached a beautiful mountain lake that I rode around and across as I went.


I was planning on reaching Kamakura that night – another of Japan’s ancient capitals.  I was going to have dinner with a Japanese lady named Miho I had met in Uzbekistan and one of her friends.

Before dinner I had a look around Kamakura and saw its big Buddha.


Like most Buddhas I had seen on this trip it was the biggest of its type.  This one was interesting because I could go inside and have a look around.

After the Buddha I met up with Miho and her friend and had some delicious okonomiyaki. 

We had to cook it on the griddle in the restaurant ourselves.


After dinner they took me to the biggest onsen I had been to yet.  It had a lot of different baths: some inside and some outside, some hot and some cold.  It also had different types of sauna and when I came out I was definitely very clean.
That night, Miho’s friend Sartorou, would be kind enough to let me sleep on the couch in his family’s second home in Kamakura.
The next morning I woke up ready for my last day’s riding in Japan.
Sadly no amount of sleep would have been enough to prepare me for the day that was to follow.

Before I reached the airport I needed to acquire a box to put my bicycle in.  I didn’t really have a concrete plan in order to get this to the airport and was just going to ride up to bike shops nearby and ask them if they had any boxes I could use.  I figured that as my flight was in the afternoon the next day I would have plenty of time…

The first shop I asked didn’t have any boxes.  The second shop had some boxes but none that would fit my bicycle – also I was still quite a way from the airport.  They suggested that the airport might have a service in order to get my bicycle packed.  That sounded good to me so I decided to ride to the airport and try that. It would also mean I would be able to confirm with Philippine Airways on their policy for bikes (I wasn’t too happy with the answer I’d gotten on the phone a few weeks before).

So I rode through Yokohama and the east side of the Greater Tokyo conurbation and eventually reached Haneda Airport, which was easier to cycle to than I expected.

Here my troubles began in earnest.  Philippine Airways policy was that my bicycle would have to be checked in as excess baggage, which was fair enough.  I had been told on the phone that the fee for this would be 15,000 yen or about $150 which was pricey but reasonable for a long haul flight.
When I got to the check in desk they said that it would be $150 only if my bike was under 23kg and within certain parameters of size.  If it was out on one it might be $450 and if it was out on both then it would be approaching $1000.  All this was worrying but something I would have to deal with as part of boxing the bike.  What was most terrifying was the fact that the man in charge said that I would have to pay the excess luggage fee twice as I had a long layover in Manila and my connecting flight didn’t leave until the day after my first flight. So I would have to pay the fee first in Haneda then again in Manila and to top it off I would have to get all my luggage and check it in again – including the bike.
This meant that I could end up paying anywhere from $300 to $2000, neither sum being particularly palatable.
I was fairly determined that this wasn’t going to happen so made a note to myself to call Philippine Airways customer service once I had my bike sorted.

So after talking to the check in desk I went to try and find someone to help me box up my bicycle.  This was a complete and utter failure, no one in the airport had any sort of facilities to help me.  Well I say that – if my bicycle was 50cm by 50cm someone might have been able to help.

This meant I had to leave the airport and look for some more boxes.  This took a long long time.  The first bike shop I went to didn’t have any boxes.  Then I found another one and I could see some big Specialized bike boxes inside (I’d gotten my bike in one of these when I’d flown a previous time).  I thought I was saved. I was not, the bike shop was shut that day and no amount of walking around it and peering inside the window hopefully was going to open it.  So off I went again to another bike shop that didn’t have any boxes.  I then asked at a building that seemed to do freight packing but their boxes were way too small.  It was starting to get late now and I was worried the shops might start shutting at five.   Then I went past a big department store and figured they might sell bikes there.  They did!
They also had some cardboard bike boxes.  The only problem was that they were for fold up bikes that were about half the size of my huge beast.  I was running out of ideas and was starting to realise that most of the bicycle boxes in Japan were probably not going to fit my bike.  I thus decided to see if I could use  a couple of the foldup bike boxes and tape them together.
The man in the shop was more than happy for me to take the boxes and so I dismantled my bike there to see if it would fit in the boxes when taken apart.  After a lot of messing about and some help from the mechanic to get my pedals off I decided that with two of the fold up bike boxes pushed together and another layer of cardboard round the join I might be able to construct a serviceable box.  At this point I was probably trusting to luck a bit more than I should but I was definitely out of time now as it had gotten even later while I tested the boxes.
So I was going to go with Frankenstein’s box and try and put one together myself from parts.  I knew that the key lay in packing tape and lots of it.  Luckily the department store had pretty much everything for sale there and included the Japanese equivalent of a Pound Shop: a 100 Yen store (though it should be called a 100 Yen store plus tax these days).  So I got reels and reels of different types of tape, a couple of balls of twine and some bubble wrap. If I wasn’t able to get a proper box I was definitely going to get proper tape.

Having got all this and some food to eat at the airport the next day I hit my next problem: how was I going to get four large pieces of cardboard back to the airport with my fully loaded bicycle.
Only three of the pieces of cardboard were flat as one piece was still partially assembled and I didn’t want to flatten it as it would weaken it.

Queue a comedic period of me trying to figure out how to get the pieces of cardboard to the airport. Plan A was drag them behind the bike – this worked for about thirty metres before I reached curbs.  Plan B was attempt to tie them to my back rack with my bag on top and ride like this.  This plan led to a lot of slapstick cardboard and bike dropping as I utterly failed to get them attached in anyway.  Plan C was to get serious about attaching them to the back of the bike and to tie the pieces of cardboard up properly with twine before doing it.  Having done this I wasn’t sure how to get them on my bike on my own.  I decided to message Miho who worked nearby and see if she had any ideas.
Miho asked if I could carry them on my back.  My initial thought was: impossible the bits of cardboard were over a metre in length and height, only someone who hadn’t seen them would come up with that idea.
Then I looked down at the cardboard and realised that when I had tied them together with twice I had in fact fashioned a rudimentary backpack.  I had tied two pieces of twine around them at either end and I could put one piece of twine over each shoulder and wear it like a very wide dangerous rucksack.

I was incredibly relieved, Miho’s suggestion was perfect and it saved my bacon.  I was able very gingerly to ride my bike back with the cardboard on my shoulders just about avoiding knocking into anyone and squeezing though some small gaps just about.

When I finally got back to the airport I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t think I was going to make it earlier.  I’d almost forgotten the fact that the boxes might not work and that I might have to pay a small fortune to fly with my bike.

At the airport there were some unusually assertive Japanese policemen on duty.  Most Japanese policemen wouldn’t say boo to a goose and they usually look pretty wimpy.  These guys on the other hand had big sticks and looked like they may visit the gym of occasion.  They also didn’t want me riding my bike in the airport or in fact to go in the airport at all with it.  After some explanation I managed to get my bike inside they did seem somewhat confused by the fact that it was luggage but the airports security guards seemed a bit more used to and said that was OK.

Next up was a few hours of messing about taking my bike apart again and assembling a giant cardboard box to put it in.  I had a lot of trouble with my pedals and could only get one off in the end even though I had only taken them off a few hours previously.  This was another thing to worry about – would my bike go in with one pedal still on.
In the end with a lot of wrestling, bubble wrap and probably about a kilo of tape I surprised myself by fashioning a reasonably sturdy and serviceable box.


I was rather pleased and even though exhaustion was creeping in felt a little bit more confident about the morrow as I had completed my first task.  I then packed up my stuff, negotiating another potential problem by getting all my things into my large dry bag and  a cheap japanese duffel bag I had bought.

I then went up to departures and tried to sort out with Philippine Airways customer service how much my bicycle would be.  This was not at all easy as I was using Skype and the connection was bad.  Also the lady on the phone was very reluctant to confirm anything. In the end she said that I should only have to pay the excess luggage charge once which is what I wanted to hear.  Unfortunately she was unable to send me any email confirmation of this which left me knowing I was in the right but not confident I would be able to prove it!

She also confirmed that the price would be different if my bicycle was larger or heavier than certain requirements.  This meant I had to spend some more time weighing my bike at unused check in desk scales in order to get the weight down.  I had to open the box up in the end and remove some of the stuff I had attached to the frame in order to get it to just under 23kg.

Next I hung around for a bit reading and using Haneda’s excellent free internet before deciding it was probably time to sleep.  This wasn’t easy and I probably got three or four hours before the airport began waking up at 4am.


The next day I spent nervously waiting for the Philippine Airways desk to open. I hoped they would open early so I could find out what the damage would be and if it was too great maybe attempt to find a smaller box for my bicycle.  No such luck though, the desk didn’t open until 12 noon, three hours before my flight and far to short a time to do anything.

While I was waiting I randomly bumped into some friends from London who were just flying home from Tokyo themselves.  That was a very strange feeling!


Finally the desk opened and I went over to my fate.

Thankfully it turned out I needn’t have worried: the man from yesterday came over and apologised saying he had got it wrong. I would in fact only need to pay once and even better my bags and bicycle would go straight through to Vancouver with no interference from me.  I was relieved about that but still worried about how much I would have to pay as  I was pretty sure that while my bike was within the weight it was definitely outside their size requirements.  Thankfully they only weighed it and didn’t bother to measure it so I was home free!  $150 still seemed a lot but after what I thought I might be paying it was a relief.

While it worked out in the end I couldn’t I help but be a bit annoyed at the unnecessary stress the airline had put me through.

I was so relieved and so tired from lack of sleep the night before that I completely forgot that Miho had said she would come and say goodbye at the airport.  I had managed to get through security and immigration before I checked my phone and saw the message saying she would be there in 3 minutes.  I felt more embarrassed than at any point on the whole trip.  Miho had been so kind over the last couple of days and I couldn’t even be there to let her say goodbye.  I wanted to crawl into a hole as I sent a string of messages saying sorry.

Having apologised it was time to get my first flight.  Thankfully the rest of the trip went without a hitch and I got to Manila in time for my connection.  Sadly this was 19 hours later, so I even a year early.  I had to spend the whole time in a special waiting room where I and some other people in a similar situation were brought dinner, breakfast and lunch depending on our sentence/wait.  It was very strange as I thought I would just be released into departures to wait.
The next morning when I finally saw the chaos that was Manila departures I realised it wasn’t as strange as I’d first thought.  I did at least manage to get some reasonable sleep on some chairs pushed together.

After heading into departures I got on the flight to Vancouver and 12 hours later hopped off in Canada. This was the first country that was new for me in almost six months and it felt strange for a number of reasons.  Mainly it was strange as people were speaking English.

In the airport I went through customs foolishly declaring I had some plant matter as I was carrying green tea for the friend I was going to stay with. This meant I had a strange code written on my customs declaration and when I finally collected my bike (box still intact) and bags I had to go to checking room for customs rather than straight through.

In the end the customs guys weren’t interested in the green tea in the slightest and were more interested in what brought me to Canada and where I was staying and how I was funding my trip and why I had a Pakistan visa in my passport.  I imagine my two months of beard and lack of shower for three days probably didn’t help.  In the end they started to check through my bags but got bored when it turned out to be clothes and camping kit and just let me through.

Once I’d put my bicycle together I rode off into Vancouver to find a bike shop I’d picked out to get some servicing.


At the airport a lady had told me that legally I needed a helmet to ride in Canada so I needed to get one as soon as possible as well.  The one I’d left home with had disintegrated somewhere in China.

Riding in Canada felt strange to start with; I was back on the wrong side of the road for one thing.  Everything felt bigger than in Japan as well.

Luckily due to Vancouver’s grid system I soon found the cycle shop I wanted: The Bike Doctor.
Here I received a sharp reminder of how the rules are different in the west. When I arrived I left my bike outside unlocked in order to see what was what.  The man working there said that I really shouldn’t do that and showed me a map of cycle crime in Vancouver.  You couldn’t actually see the map there were so many markers for instances of theft.
It thus became apparent that I’d need a new lock as well, as the cheap one I’d bought in China had stopped working.  Things were definitely going to be different from Asia.

Happily the guys at Bike Doctor were really helpful and got my bike fixed up really quickly and even gave me a discount when they heard what I was doing.

Once my bike was in I went off to my friend’s place.
That night I’d fight through jet lag to celebrate Halloween and the next night being Saturday I’d fight through it again to have some more drinks with my friend.  Come my birthday on Sunday I was a bit numb and just about managed to go and see my first ice hockey game.


Complete with fights:


And a bit of sport interspersed with the interminable breaks for commercials.


In Vancouver I’d also get to enjoy putine, which is chips (French fries) with cheese curd and gravy. I was glad I’m supposed to eat 6000 calories a day…


My friend had also chosen an apartment with a great view of downtown.


All in all Vancouver was a lot of fun though I left without feeling I’d fully kicked the jet lag.


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