Columbine grad riding bike across Japan to help victims of quake, tsunami

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By Emile Hallez

Columbine High School graduate Dylan Jacoby was only five minutes into his cross-Japan bicycle tour on July 24 when he hit a bump in the road and ruptured a tire beyond repair.

The rough start temporarily deflated his spirits, but it was actually one of the most important moments in his self-motivated 2,000-mile ride to raise money for tsunami and earthquake victims.

Knowing little Japanese, Jacoby simply smiled and tried to put forth good spirits during a two-hour car ride to the nearest town with a bicycle shop.

A man he met since arriving in Japan in January, to whom Jacoby refers only as “Kawasaki san,” gladly gave him a ride to Kagoshima, despite having dropped him off for the beginning of his epic ride less than half a mile down the road in Cape Sata, the southernmost point of the island.

“I was saved by the kindest person I have ever met, and someone that has helped me infinitely during my time here, Mr. Kawasaki. The real lesson that I took from that disaster, though, was to take every problem with a smile, always,” Jacoby said in an e-mail interview. “As I was loading my bike into Mr. Kawasaki’s car with the heaviest sense of defeat (and) embarrassment I have ever felt, I realized I didn’t know enough Japanese to act depressed for the two-hour car ride back, so being happy and cheerful were really my only options. … I learned early on how much more fun everything is when you just take it in stride.”

Back in Kagoshima, Kawasaki held an impromptu dinner party with some of his oldest friends, and after the 24-year-old cyclist explained that festivities weren’t necessarily in order, he managed to have a nice evening.

Following “the best worst beginning,” Jacoby restarted the long trip to Cape Soya on the northern tip of the island.

He expects to finish the tour on Sept. 16.

The ride, for which he admits he was initially ill prepared, has been taxing. Jacoby usually rides at least 50 miles per day, resting only about one day a week.

“Early on, because I didn’t quite do enough training, and there were mountains everywhere, I would get tired pretty easily,” he said, explaining that in the two months prior to his tour he made only five training rides. “I will ride for four to six days and then take a rest day, and the curve is always the same. I will really jam through the first day, feel a bit tired for day two, feel better than ever on day three, and then just be tired until I take a rest.”

To save money, Jacoby has avoided lodging in hotels. He’s arranged one-night stays on residents’ couches, and, following the advice of an Italian cyclist he met during the trip, he began pitching a tarp in public parks. Tightly stuffed into the panniers on the back of his road bike is virtually every essential supply he needs to set up camp.

“I couldn’t bring a computer with my, so me wonderful little sister has been using my (Facebook) profile and making all of the arrangements for me, and I can say, without a doubt, that this trip has been amazing largely because of couch-surfing. … When I don’t couch-surf, I play the part of a vagrant — parks, outdoor shopping malls, train stations, wherever I can nod off for a few hours until the sun rises,” he said. “Armed with only a big blue tarp and a sense of adventure, my very first night feeling homeless was also very interesting. … I was pointed to sleeping in the covered awnings in parks. As long as you (lie) down late and get up early, no one in Japan really bothers you.”

Over the weekend, Jacoby traveled through Sapporo, 1,800 miles from where he started in Cape Sata. He has raised about $1,000 in donations but hopes to raise more than twice that.

Jacoby, who graduated in 2009 with degrees in philosophy and computer science from Regis University, completed an intense six-week course in Japanese language and culture earlier this year. He wanted to see more of the country, but a high-priced vacation was out of the question.

“The idea of riding a bike through Japan sounded terribly exciting. However, I didn’t have a bike, the gear, the know-how or the maps to accomplish this, but I still couldn’t get the idea out of my head,” he said. “Of course, a large amount of importance in doing this trip is derived from a desire to raise money for a cause I believe in, and to help those affected by the earthquake and the more recent typhoon.”

The trip was also part of his “quarter-life crisis,” he said, an urge to drop everything for a loosely planned adventure. After nearly 2,000 miles, he admits he would’ve done a bit more planning in hindsight, though the haphazard nature of the trip has added to the experience.

“Beginning a massive undertaking like this without knowing your chances of success and with hundreds of reasons not to do it was very scary for me,” Jacoby said. “However … I can say that I have easily gained a lifetime of experience from this trip and certainly have few regrets.”


Contact Emile Hallez Williams at emile@evergreenco.comor 303-933-2233, ext. 22. For updates, check www.ColumbineCourier.com.



Following Dylan …

To follow Dylan Jacob’s progress and make donations to the Japanese Red Cross, visit http://www.amanaplanjapan.blogspot.com/.