Ex-expat, son finish 15,685-km Ireland-Tokyo cycling trip

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo News

LONDON — Briton Mark Swain and his son, Sam, are taking a well-earned rest after becoming the first father-and-son team to cycle from the west of Ireland to Japan.

Mark, a former resident of Tokyo, and Sam, 19, endured a host of challenges during their epic 15,685-km bicycle ride, which took them through Europe, Turkey, India and Southeast Asia before crossing into China and eventually reaching Japan.

They began their adventure in August 2008 and took 10 months to reach Tokyo, finishing outside the Irish Embassy, where they were welcomed by Ambassador Brendan Scannell on May 26.

The inspiration for the journey actually came from Sam when he was just 10. They had finished a short bike ride and Sam asked his father whether they could ride all the way to Japan.

As Mark, 51, explained: “He knew that his mother and I first met when we worked in Japan and there was a kind of mystique about the country. He didn’t know how far it was and at the time I thought he was crazy.”

Mark, however, discussed the idea with his child psychologist wife, who thought it was an excellent idea that would help to strengthen the father-son relationship.

He therefore decided to rise to the challenge and began planning for the journey in earnest about three years before the trip.

The duo departed from Dingle in west Ireland, embarking on a cycling odyssey that took them through Wales, England, France, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, China, South Korea and Japan.

After arriving in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, they headed east and toured Shikoku, Osaka and Kyoto prefectures before arriving in Tokyo.

“Cycling down Omotesando ‘Dori’ (Street) in Shibuya was a highlight for me. I had walked down it many times before, but to be cycling down there with my son was just mind-blowing,” Mark said.

During his stay in Tokyo, Mark, who is a health and safety management consultant, was able to catch up with old friends and introduce his son to his favorite drinking and eating haunts in the capital.

The trip, however, was not all plain sailing, and they faced many challenges along the way.

One of the scariest moments was when the two got accidentally separated during a train ride in Romania.

Sam was offloading luggage onto the platform only to find that the train was pulling away with his father and the two bikes on board.

The situation was made worse given the fact that it was midnight and the town was in the middle of nowhere, and Sam had no money, phone or passport.

His only option was to sit at the station and wait for his father to show up. Mark eventually managed to get back to his son, but it was a tense few hours of waiting for Sam.

On the journey, they averaged about 135 km a day, and would normally use local hostels for accommodation.