Tag Archives: Hokkaido

The Best Part of Travel

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I love to travel. New sights, exotic foods, interesting conversations with strangers all stretch me a little.

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Niseko with Mt. Yotei in the background

Travel takes me out of my comfort zone, turns me upside down and gives me a shake until quarters (or perhaps yen coins) drop from my pockets.

I’m in Niseko on the Japanese island of Hokkaido in search of new experiences, legendary powder and the famous japanese powder trees. Excellent sushi, apres ski onsens (the japanese version of hot tubbing) and a lively little ski town doesn’t hurt either. We’ve been here for a week–hence the lack of new blog posts the past few days–and return today. Or tomorrow rather. We leave tomorrow and get back today. Or something like that. All I know is that we leave Sapporo at 2pm on Tuesday and arrive in Seattle at 8am the same day. It’s like a time machine. I’ve been playing Back to the Future in my head like an earworm, “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads!”

Yesterday we skied at a tiny area with one lift used by the military for training. It is surrounded by easy access backcountry peaks carved against the backdrop of the Sea of Japan. After a short skin above the lift, we carved down a protected face of fresh snow, the stellar crystals glinting in the sunlight layering itself across the slope like curtains of light.

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Hot spring at the base of Chisenupuri

Lap after lap we found untracked turns, until we skied down to the onsen and lowered ourselves into the steamy, sulfurous water. Our Japanese friend Kenji claims the sulfur warms you to your bones and soothes sore muscles. He might be right about that.

Sometimes, though, the best part of travel is returning home. Seeing new places can offer fresh perspective, it can scrub away the jaded edges that form around familiar viewpoints. Maybe flying 4,000 miles to ski powder makes you that much happier to know its piling up at home, filling in the jibbed-out lines and

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Chisenupuri with the Sea of Japan behind

resetting itself for your return. I appreciate more now the familiarity of skiing at home, knowing to ski Appliances when the wind blows from the south, how the sun and temperature affect particular lines, that the trees will protect the snow in Paradise when Exterminator, with a similar aspect, is burned to coral. That Powder Bowl stays dry and chalky even in the midst of record breaking inversion. That you can almost always find untracked lines beyond Boxcar.

I return now to yesterday, to the snow storm that’s blowing in Monday evening, even though its Tuesday morning here in Niseko. The sun is out here and it looks like a leftover kind of day. But yesterday it’s snowing at home.

Now all I need to do is channel some lighting into that flux capacitator and just maybe I can bring some of this japowder home with me.

Spontaneity Rules

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My childhood desk was a work of art. It didn’t just sit in the corner of my room, accumulating piles of homework and stray scrunchies–it did that of course–but it also was a sort of friendship map. It was covered in colorful text. It included the phone numbers of everyone I ever knew, my oldest and dearest friend’s numbers relined and doodled upon lovingly. There was also the names of crushes outlined in painstakingly scrawled hearts, and quotations by my favorite authors. Hearts and mountains, raindrops and waves filled the spaces between the numbers. Some words and numbers were forgotten under the layers, others were new. But one line dominated the canvas. Across the top of my desk was written in big blue letters, “Spontaneity Rules.”

I was weird in High School. Not trench-coat wearing weird, more pseudo-intellectual weird (I pictured myself someday with Joan Baez hair and a book or two to my name, which is kinda strange when you think about it).

Lets just say I wasn’t your typical late 80s high schooler. Otherwise I’d have written “Beastie Boys Rule” or simply “Wham!”

Not me. I wasn’t going to be defined by my musical choices, but rather my lofty ideals. I had a loose plan of someday saving the world. Or at least showing the world how righteous you could be if you simply memorized a few quotations and outlined them in felt markers. I mean c’mon. We are the world, people.

My first car was a 1962 Ford Galaxie 500XL, and it was pretty sweet

My number one lofty ideal was spontaneity. Not that the daily grind of a high school Junior leaves many spur-of-the-moment decisions. There were the odd Fridays that I skipped afternoon classes and played pool at Jody’s instead. Sometimes I’d lower the top down on the Ford Galaxie when really summer was still months away. Or I might slide down the center of the outdoor escalators at the Wells Fargo Building in downtown Seattle just for fun.

Later, I would mourn the loss of this supposed spontaneity when I developed Type 1 diabetes and would need to take insulin and plan my activity with each dose of medication. When an unscheduled romp down a slip ‘n slide followed by a pick-up frisbee game could send you into diabetic shock, it’s easy to leave the bag of spontaneity by the front door.

So when my husband called me from two states away just after I finished by book signing at Brighton Resort on Saturday to ask me if I had any plans “Monday through Friday,” I didn’t even ask what he had up his sleeve. I remembered that old message scrawled across my desk and asked, “What do you have in mind?”

“Japan.” He said.

“What’s that noise in the background? Are you at the bar?”

“It’s puking in Japan.” I could hear him smile into the telephone. “Martin and Jesse and Scott are going too. Are you in or not?”

Maybe Japan will be something like this

I didn’t hesitate. “I’m in. Of course. It’s dumping? When?”

“Excellent. Now. Tomorrow.”

I would need to change my flight back to Seattle in order to make it happen. I calculated the gargantuan effort it would take to explain to John where my skis and all my gear was spread out in the patrol room–my ski boots in the boot drying room two pairs from the left, my powder skis one slot over from my locker next to the radio cabinet and behind another pair of skis, my helmet hanging above my locker on a peg, my ski pants at the apartment hanging on the back of the front door.

While he bagged up our ski gear, I’d head home from the airport and get our passports. We’d meet back at the airport an hour later. Could we do it?

“It’s dumping?”

“I just spoke to a woman in Hokkaido. The upper mountain was down today, roads are closed, cars are stuck. Its puking. Its sick.”

“Awesome. I’m all in.”

“Great,” John said. “I’ll call you back with the details in an hour.”

And so that was it. We are off to Japan to ski powder and eat sushi and soak in the hot tub with monkeys. I’ve been promised monkey hot tubbing, and I’m not leaving until I experience it. That and washing down a miso ramen with a Sapporo beer.

I’ll probably post a Japan condition report later in the week. And I might get out a High-Five Report sometime this week. But I may not even have internet connection since we don’t yet know where we’re staying. Oh did I mention that? We don’t actually have accommodations yet.

But that’s okay. Because “spontaneity rules!”