I am really excited to present an interview with Travis Jackson! Travis is a "gaijin"(foreigner) that lives in Japan. Although it sounds like he's assimilated right in with the natives. When I first decided to do my challenge, I was searching high and low on the web for info on biking to Mount Fuji. I came across Travis' blog entry on the Tokyo Cycling Club website that gave details about his adventure, biking to, and hiking to the top of Mount Fuji. I was inspired! I have read his entry at least 3 or 4 times trying to soak up every detail on how to do the ride.
Anyway, I sent Travis an email cold turkey to see if he'd respond. He not only responded to me, but has offered me some tips and encouragement as I prepare to take on Fuji.
Anyway, Travis was kind enough to also answer my interview questions, and offers some valuable insight to his approach to cycling. I haven't met Travis personally, but hope next year I might be able to. Even through email, he comes across as one nice human being!
So, here is Travis Jackson's interview...
Tell us a little about yourself
I was born in Canberra, in November 1971, but grew up in Sydney, where I lived until I turned 28. Around 1996, when I was 24, I began studying the Japanese language as a hobby, and eventually moved to Japan 4 years later, where I have lived ever since.
When did you start riding a bike?
Whilst in Australia, I never had any interest in cycling - or any other kind of exercise, for that matter - and spent most of my time drinking, smoking and having a good time. It wasn't until early 2005 that I was finally pushed (gently nudged) into it simultaneously by two friends in totally different social circles. One friend, Simon, was my long-term drinking buddy, and I was shocked to hear, after all of our long and detailed conversations together, that he was an avid cyclist. The other guy was my student, Mr. Sammori. During our very first lesson, I asked him what he would like to study, and he promptly plopped a cycling magazine on the table and said, "This!" - I was constantly being told about the merits of cycling, not only when I was at work with Mr. Sammori, but I'd also get an earful while I was trying to wind down with Simon. I took it to mean that divine providence was pushing me in a certain direction, and who was I to say no? So within a few short months, I found myself at Costco purchasing a mountain-bike worth around $150. That was the beginning that would lead to numerous upgrades, and then finally a move to a road-bike, followed by even more upgrades (Thankfully, you can only go so far).
Now, nearly 8 years later, having ridden over 35,000 miles (possibly 40,000), I feel that I could be called "adept", even if I might not actually be called "fast".
What motivated you to start riding?
In late 2006, after I had already made the switch to a road-bike, I joined the Tokyo Cycling Club (TCC) - This was probably the single most influential decision I have ever made. Not only has riding with other like-minded and more knowledgeable people been immensely educational and challenging, but it's also where I met my wife, so the benefits have been even more far-reaching than merely cycling. Riding with more talented and experienced riders is one of the best ways to also become talented and more experienced - You learn by osmosis, and after a while a lot of things just come naturally by having been surrounded by them, and seeing them done so often.
What is a typical day of working out look like for you?
My riding week now basically consists of 3 days commuting to various places around Tokyo (25mi, 20mi and 30mi), and a weekend ride with the TCC guys/gals; usually between 75 - 150 miles. I have been asked many times if I would like to work on weekends, but I flatly refuse as I regard my weekend ride time with friends to be more important to my overall well-being.
The weekend rides can sometimes get a little competitive, but that is what pushes you to get better. Every ride is an opportunity to get stronger - If you push yourself as hard as you can up a hill one week, you can guarantee that the next time (a week or two later), you WILL be stronger and faster. Over time, you'll be able to see your own improvement, not just compared to personal bests, but when you can beat that other guy who used to beat you up the hill, that is a special reward (and vindication). This is the motivation to race and compete.
Until very recently, I never really had a "typical" day of working out. When I was commuting, I had no choice but to ride, and whenever there was a TCC ride scheduled, I would do my best to ride with the group. Only very recently (since I decided to enter the Tour de Okinawa) have I started a more structured regimen - and it's not even bicycle specific - I'm trying to build my core-strength in the form of "two hundred sit-ups" (see: twohundredsitups.com). I also do 30 minutes of stretching / yoga every morning, more as an injury prevention measure than for getting fit; although it probably has other benefits aside from just stretching.
How do you motivate yourself when you don’t want to workout?
I try to enter at least 3 races a year (more if I have time), but generally one every 3 or four months works out well. If I don't have a race scheduled in my calendar, I find I have no motivation to train, or work out. I'm mostly concerned with my personal bests for each race - What was my time last time? What result do I expect this time? 2 minutes faster? 5 minutes faster? What kind of training will I need to do in order to achieve that goal? etc. Riding with larger groups is also good motivation. Once you've committed to a ride, if you don't turn up, the others will think you're a wimp - I use this self-imposed attack on my own pride to make sure I'm always there for group rides, even if I feel like staying in bed that morning.
I recently spent almost a year off the bike after an accident that led to some equipment issues, but in the last 2 months I have gotten back into full training mode. As a kind of "come-back" race, I have entered the "Tour de Okinawa" in late November, and I am totally committed to a place in the top 10%, if not in the top-10 finishers. This is perhaps the most "ambitious", and motivated I have been for a race in a very long time. My weight, before I started training again, was 168lbs - not a lot, I know, but it was not entirely muscle either, and my power-to-weight ratio in the hills was not so good. My goal is simple: to decrease my overall weight, while increasing my strength at the same time. I have succeeded in dropping down to 155lbs over the last 6 weeks, but I seem to have hit a plateau (I hope it's because I've gained some muscle, but I can't be sure) - My ultimate goal is to be 150lbs, with no extraneous weight at all - I'm not even close to that yet.
What is your philosophy about eating?
I have always been "naturally" skinny, although when I do put on weight, it is generally only around my midriff section, making me look like a ball atop two nails. Since I started riding though, I now have some thigh definition, which has given me a slightly more balanced look. The two main foods I have found that contribute the most towards weight-gain are ice cream (I used to eat 1~2 small cups of chocolate flavor per day), and salted crackers (these were like a comfort food - something to crunch on every few minutes), of which I would eat one or two packets per day. I suppose it was even a form of denial when I'd tell myself that, "No, it's not the crackers that are making me fat, but all of the other stuff I'm eating..."
Once I was able to identify which foods were causing the problem, it was much easier to put them on the "never-to-be-eaten-again" list. I still allow myself ice cream once a week though, on cheat days.
What is your post-ride nutrition?
One of the best recipes I've discovered to keep the ice-cream cravings at bay is the "Banana-tofu smoothie". It's delicious and healthy. It is also my main post-ride nutrition drink - Tofu is loaded with protein.
This is my breakfast on weekdays too - quick & easy, and it gets me through the morning.
How do you fuel when you do long rides?
For really long rides (over 100 miles), I usually start carb-loading the night before. I'll either eat a huge bowl of pasta with Bolognese sauce, or I'll have extra rice with my stir-fry. During the ride, I will take with me a banana, a sports gel, and a few pieces of pound cake. Riding in Japan, means that there are convenience stores within 20 miles of almost anywhere, so you can pretty much fill up anytime you like. But that kind of defeats the purpose - With my training rides for Okinawa, I have a 53-mile practice course, with no stops at all, and I have to eat everything while I'm pedaling (my self-imposed rules). My current time for the course is 3:28:15. My goal is to complete it in under 3 hours.
What is your philosophy about weigh loss?
My philosophy for weight loss happens to be the universal philosophy: "Burn more calories than you consume!" This is the golden rule. It's almost like a law of physics.
My daily diet now is very simple:
Breakfast: Banana-tofu smoothie - 300kCal
Lunch: Noodles - 300kCal
Dinner: Stir-fried meat/chicken/fish & vegetables, with a small serving of rice - 550kCal
On commute days, I also add a rice-ball (200kCal), and a piece of chicken (400kCal) between meals.
My weight seems to have hit a plateau at 155lbs. Next, I will have to start watching the calories I drink in the form of fruit-juices, coffee (with milk & sugar) and sports-drinks. My guess is that they are adding up to a lot more than I currently suspect.
Tell us when, and how you biked to Mount Fuji
Before I ever started thinking about doing the Mt. Fuji ride, I had been experimenting with ultra-distance overnight rides; kind of like "Brevets", or "Randonneuring" (200 ~ 250 miles). My first challenge was to ride across the middle of Japan from Tokyo, on the Pacific side, to Niigata, on the Japan Sea side - 222 miles. I left Tokyo at 8pm, and arrived in Niigata at 3pm the following day, then catching the bullet-train back to Tokyo, I was back home by 7pm (less than 24 hours for the round-trip). With that ride under my belt, I decided an even more adventurous ride - One way from Tokyo to Kameyama, in Mie prefecture - 272 miles away. This would rank as my most challenging ride to date. Not only because of the distance, but because it was done in late December, when it was freezing cold, and because I had a headwind to contend with almost the entire way. I was sure I could make the entire trip in under 24 hours, but with the cold and the wind, it took 28 hours - I left Tokyo at 3pm, and arrived at 7pm the following evening. Still, at 272 miles, that is my current record for a single ride.
Having done that, I figured Mt. Fuji would be a piece of cake. But no, Fuji is a different animal altogether.
The ride itself was the easy part - Having done two 200+ mile rides, meant that riding the 80-something miles to Fuji would prove to be no problem, and in fact, that part of the trip couldn't have gone more smoothly. Hiking up the hill, I also found was not so difficult ... up to a point, literally! It's hard to pin-point exactly where it starts, but at a certain altitude (between the 8th & 9th stations: Elevation 10,500ft ~ 11,500ft [The 10th station being the top, at 12,388ft]), walking becomes a chore, until finally, every step takes about 2 seconds to complete with an altitude gain of only about 4 inches at a time. One other thing I found even more distressing, as a cyclist, was that "going downhill on foot" does NOT equate to the fun of going downhill on two wheels. Walking downhill is just as, if not even more, strenuous than climbing.
What advice would I give anyone wanting to try this?
Don't just practice your cycling; go out into the mountains with some hiking boots, and spend some time walking around - preferably at altitude. A few weekends in a row ought to be enough to strengthen the ligaments and tendons that don't often get used when cycling only. I went into the whole Fuji thing with NO hiking preparation at all, and it hurt a lot - especially coming back down. I would have liked to run down, if only to get back to some breathable air, but my legs were mush, and I had to slog it out for a further two hours. I would have killed for a walking stick.
What advice would you offer to someone that wants to make a change in his or her physical activity?
For those people out there who want to make a change in their physical activity, I would say the very first and most important step is "Making a firm decision"! Once the decision has been made, the rest usually takes care of itself - You'll start asking yourself the right questions; the "How can I?" questions instead of the "Why can't I?" questions. The next step, although not necessary, can be helpful; Start recording everything. How much you weigh, what your waist size is, etc. Then when you make changes, even small ones, it'll give you the motivation to continue.
What brand of bike do you ride?
My bicycle of choice is a "Giant". On the TCC website, my original username was, "YellowGiant". That bike wasn't even yellow, but a gunmetal gray aluminum Giant - with yellow splashes, on various parts. When I crashed that bike, I had no idea what kind of bike I wanted to get to replace it. As fate would have it, I ended up with another Giant, this time in white - a beautiful carbon TCR Advanced model. So, a quick call to the TCC website administrator, and I am now known as, "WhiteGiant".
Thankfully, after changing the fork on my old gunmetal gray (Yellow)Giant, and upgrading a few parts here & there, it has now been restored to "fully-operational" status, and is my current commuting bike - The best of both worlds.
Where can we follow you on your journey?
I don't have a formal blog, because, well, I'm lazy in that respect. But I do occasionally post blogs on the TCC website when I feel a ride has been long enough, or hard enough to warrant writing about. I will definitely be writing about the Tour de Okinawa at the end of November - I'm expecting it to be a true adventure, filled with tales of overcoming and personal victories on a grand and mighty scale. Can't wait to read about it, myself. At the very least, I hope it will inspire others to just get out and ride.
|Arrives at the 5th Station...the farthest bikes can go. Now to the hike...|
|At the 7th Station on Mount Fuji|
(There are 10 stations from the bottom to the top of Fuji)
|At the Summit!|
If you want to read the blog entry about Travis' trek to Mount Fuji, it is HERE
Travis, thank you again for a great interview! You've inspired a lot of readers today, and many readers to come. We'll be looking for posts on the Tokyo Cycling Club website to see what you've been doing.