Category Archives: 2005 Denmark

Good times at

Study sports in Denmark this Fall…

The director of Nordjyllands Idrætshøjskole, the folk school I attended in 2005, has asked me to recommend a couple of people for scholarships to study there this Fall. The semester included a trip to Chamonix, France for glacier and rock climbing, rafting, mountain biking, and more, as well as a ski trip to Lillehammer, Norway. In addition to these school-sponsored trips, NIH was a great home base to explore Scandinavia on long weekends.

One of the most intense and gratifying experiences of my life was the school-wide 24 hour adventure race, which included canoeing, biking, running, skating, climbing, problem solving, and very little sleep. Sound fun to you?

Petite Fourche Summit -  11,548 feet (3,520 meters)If you’re into the idea of five months of sports, teamwork and leadership training, and whipping yourself into the best shape of your life, email me and I’ll give you more details. The students were age 18 to 30ish.

You get to choose two periods of two classes from:

  • Adventure (biking, skiing, climbing, rappelling)
  • Aerobics
  • Badminton
  • Dance
  • Fodbold (soccer)
  • Floorball (hockey in tennis shoes)
  • Håndbold (somewhere between indoor soccer + basketball, big in Scandinavia and Korea.)
  • Powersport
  • Spinning
  • Volleyball


(I took my film camera, and have yet to get the pictures developed, but I’ll scan and flickr them as soon as I do.  There should be some good ones in there.)

I was going to hang out and travel in Europe over the holidays, but my folks (easily) talked me into coming home for Christmas and Winter Dance Week.  Since I wasn’t going to travel at the end of school, I decided to take a little time off of school to go somewhere new.  A friend of mine had told me that she was going to be in Amsterdam, I figured out that I could get there easily enough by train, and bought a Eurail pass, all in one night.  After all, it was going to be my last chance in the foreseeable future to be in that city of my friends’ legends.

I packed light, realizing how nice it was to have NIH as base camp.  For some reason the DSB website had told me to go one-hundred kilometers south past Hamburg, then wait for a train back to Hamburg before connecting to Holland.  Luckily I realized how dumb that would be, and saved about four hours when compared to the computer itinerary.  It was dark when I arrived in Amsterdam, and as I soon learned, that city gets a little crazy after dark.  I wondered down a street, in a direction that I thought might be towards my hostel.  After walking a block, I stopped at a corner to look around, and immediately a man asked if I need help finding anything.  Dutch people sure are friendly.

“No,” I replied, “I’m just looking around.”
“No, where are you headed?  I can show you the way.”

Isn’t that nice of him, I thought.  He sure is trying to be helpful.

“No thanks, just checking the scene out,” I said.
“When did you get here?”
“Just got off the train,” I said, motioning to the backpack on my back.
“Where you from man?”
“USA, but I’m living in Denmark now.”
“Looking for something to smoke?”
“No, not really.”
“I know where you can find some good stuff.”

(Well, so does everybody else on earth that has even heard of Amsterdam.  If I had been looking for something to smoke, I imagined it would have been easy enough to pop into any of the three coffeeshops within sight…)

“Looking for a good time with a girl? Coke?  Speed?  X?” came the rapid-fire response to my ellipses.
“Uhm, no,” I said (thinking no, no, no, and hell no).

He didn’t give up, and seemed the only way out of the conversation-turned-pleading-accusing-begging-hustle was to walk away saying “no thanks.”  He followed for a bit, offering to show me the places the tourists don’t see (I’d rather see the Van Gogh Museum, thanks) and dropping bits of advice like “don’t smoke anything they give you in a pipe on the street because you’ll wake up with no shoes.”  I guess I took that advice to heart, because I didn’t smoke anything given to me on the street the whole time I was there.  I sure can’t wait to get back home to my sheltered life where smoking random s#!t from the street is a rational thing to do.  He gave up after a bit, once I had stopped acknowledging his existence.

“Hey buddy, got a light?” asked someone walking the other way.
“Yeah sure,” I said, still distracted by the the strangeness of the last conversation.  I’d never seen a panhandler be so insistent.  I fished the lighter from adventure class from my jacket pocket and handed it to him.
“So… what you smoke with that lighter?  Pot?  Hash?  Got any pot?  Need any pot?  Need any hash?  I know where you can get the good stuff.  Can you spare some change?” he spurted.

Even though this guy obviously needed to work on his timing, he did get the “most blatant lie to bait a tourist into listening” award.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that basically every person that talks to you in Amsterdam has got some hustle.

Somehow I was lucky enough to walk straight to the hostel without even looking at a map.  Helen wasn’t going to get to town for another couple of days, so it was probably the first time for me to be in a city knowing no one.

I wasn’t sure how much Japanese I had forgotten in my time in Denmark, but  my confidence had been restored in the train when I talked to a guy for three hours in Japanese.  He was a vintage clothes dealer, which seems to be a popular occupation for young Japanese people that want to see the world.  At the hostel that night I struck up a conversation with another Japanese guy who was talking to a Korean girl in Japanese.  After awhile another Japanese girl joined us.  It was cool to get back into the shaberi-flow, and they were a metcha-friendly bunch of folks, if a bit naïve about their surroundings.  (“We like Amsterdam, but we don’t like drugs, and coffeeshops are stinky…”)

Wednesday I decided use one of the extra days on my train pass to go to Brussels.  I didn’t know much about the place, but I’ve always wanted to see the European parliament and figured the city would be entertaining enough for the day.  I was surprised how busted that city seemed to be.  Central Station’s lights didn’t work, I had to use my keychain flashlight to find what time to catch the return train.  There seemed to be major demolition and construction on every block.  Besides the broken parts, it seemed like a pretty cool town.  I got to see Parliament, St. Micheal’s cathedral, and a couple of cool museums in my time there.

That night, back in Amsterdam, I went out to find food, and found the best pizza ever.  On the way back to the hostel, a guy approached me with a map.

“Excuse me, do you know where Dam is?” he asked, looking perplexedly at his map.
“Nope,” I lied, not missing a beat or slowing down.  Being the seasoned Amsterdam traveler of two days, hearing this, I had heard it all.  There was no way I was going to get sucked into another drawn-out hustle.  I felt bad when I glanced back though, because he was going back to his friends, still looking at the map.  I think they actually were lost.

In conclusion, I met up with my friends, saw the Van Gogh museum, met two cool bros from Mallorca, saw some hot Spanish hiphop, and dodged hustlers for the rest of the week.  Good times.


December 17, 2005
I’m in a train now to Hamburg now with
the memories of the past five months flashing around me. Another
chapter abroad has come to a close. The past three weeks have been
especially full, with the International Class’ trip to Copenhagen,
friends’ weekend at the school, my trip to Amsterdam, the Adventure
Team’s ski trip to Lillehammer, parents’ weekend, the last week of
school, and the voyage home…

MBK morning

This morning I was sleepily walking the halls after cleaning (7am…
souji time, how Japanese, huh), and the Adventure class teacher said
“you look tired, don’t worry, we’ll wake you up this morning.” So 8am
I go out to Adventure class walking though the frost-stiff grass and
find out that we’re to do ten laps of the 1.4k mountain bike circuit.
Fourteen kilometers isn’t much on a bike, but it took me an hour (and
forty-four seconds) of rough work to finish, because it’s all slowing
down, speeding up, up hills, ’round corners, and all that. There are
no mountains in Denmark, so they had to make everything up on this
circuit, and did a pretty good job. Through the woods, over
buildings, cutting up and down banks (aim right or you’ll be in a
bush), across the tops of embankments… all in the frosty morn. It
was a semi-goal of mine to make it around at least once without
putting my feet down, but I didn’t.

[ofo] the great twenty-four hour adventure race

I woke up Thursday with Christmas-morning apprehension, as did my fifty fellow participants of the adventure race starting at ten. We knew that the next twenty-four hours were going to require us to push ourselves to the limits, but few specifics of the race. We had maps with checkpoints and breakpoints marked, but no idea how we would be required to get each one. I had been sick all week, and fighting to get well enough to not kill myself with twenty-four hours of physical exertion. By Wednesday night I felt well enough to tell myself that I would go if I felt better or the same when I woke. I still felt crappy, but backing out would have been too much of a let-down for my team and myself to even consider it.

ready... After the final info meeting, Anders said “GO!” and we set out for Manna on bike. There were immediately some map-reading issues: one team didn’t make it to the first checkpoint, and many teams (mine included) took some accidental detours, but we didn’t lose too much time.

adventure raceadventure race Once we got to the stream park in Manna there were a series of tasks to complete. First, we had to move a couple of gallons of stream water to a bucket through one small cup. Then, we had to guide one blindfolded team member on a mountain bike around an obstacle course. Each time we touched them, or they touched the ground or hit an obstacle, we got a time penalty. Then we had to shoot three balloons with five BBs. We managed to pop all three with our first two shots, but less lucky teams had to run one hundred meters to fetch extra BBs, and could only get one at a time. The last task was to run down the road to a local farmer’s silo, and send one team member up to rappel down.

adventure race The time was still running and the pressure was still on. To get to the next checkpoint we had to canoe downstream for about ten kilometers. It took me a couple of minutes to reremember “the J stroke” for steering a canoe, but once it did it was pretty easy to pass a few teams that were zig-zagging from one side of the stream to the other. Once we reached the checkpoint in the river we had to carry the canoe for a couple of kilometers to the next checkpoint, which was pretty tough. From there we had to run as a team to the first break point. I was feeling a little better to run than my team members, so I followed some advice from the first week of school and gave them some of my energy by running with my hand on their backs. I had to communicated with my team that it wasn’t pushing in a bad way, so it worked well.

adventure race We got to the first break point, and tore into our lunches. We had a few tasks to complete at this point, including climbing a rope to touch a branch, putting a kid’s puzzle together, and doing a mini-ropes course. Once all of the groups made it to the break point we found out that the next leg would be on inline skates. I don’t think I’ve ever tried inline skates, and I’ve only ice-skated a few times in my life. I got pretty confident after a bit, though, and only crashed once. Skates are a perfect example of technique over power. It was my teammates’ turn to push me (vocally), since they both had much more experience and technique. They stuck with me and cheered me on, and we were able to maintain our position in the rankings.

the support trailer The next checkpoint was orienteering, with a map and compass. We quickly fell into specialized team-roles for this task. Tine was “The Cartographer,” interpreting the map and giving me distance estimates to the upcoming landmarks. My jogging stride is pretty darn close to one meter, so my role was “The Odometer,” measuring distance by counting my steps. Once I got us to the approximate location, Pernille had a supernatural knack for spotting the red stamps for our punch-card, so she was christened “Eagle Eyes.” Our system did us well, and we were able to finish the orienteering in good time.

bike'n'run! The next checkpoint was ten kilometers up the beach on bike. There waiting was the first and only nasty trick of the race, a wild-goose forbidden-fruit chase of golf balls in the ocean. No groups found any, so we probably shouldn’t have tried, but the free minutes were too alluring. It wasn’t all bad, though… we got a cold footbath out of it, and we didn’t let the waited time bother us too much. The required task at that checkpoint was to find five golf balls in the sand, and we had much more luck at that. It probably helps that there are no currents up on the beach. From there was a ten kilometer Bike & Run to the second break point. With one bike for three people, each team has to decide the best method to trade bikes around. I was feeling good to run, so my teammates traded the bike between them to keep up with me, which worked out well. There was an added challenge for this B&R: if any teacher or helper came within fifty meters they could command us to run back or, worse, drive us back up the beach for a penalty. I ran a good distance along the top of the dune, out of car’s reach. Some people even ran into the ocean to evade capture, but I wasn’t about to go that far. Running on the beach, the sunset was beautiful. We made it to the break point just as dusk was starting to fall.

huddle up At 10pm the rules of the upcoming game were explained to us. A couple of kilometers up the beach were dozens of German WWII-era bunkers, which fall from the dunes to the beach below as the years pass. Hidden in the bunkers were a bunch of bags of white powder “drugs,” and about a dozen four-digit codes. We were to collect as many of these as possible, and each one would give us some minutes subtracted from our time. “Police” in reflective vests could search and seize our precious cargo, and “kidnappers” in black could take us out of the game completely, so the game was a pretty intense version of treasure-hunt meets hide-and-seek meets flashlight-tag. I went into a pitch-black bunker pretty early in the game, straight into a kidnapper’s trap. There were four others from other teams imprisoned, so I didn’t feel too stupid. We were able to buy our way out with three codes. There were pretty funny stories from the game, one police officer chased a player for about a kilometer up the beach, but when she finally caught her the player didn’t even have anything to lose from being searched. She had just ran because she was scared. Another player tried to evade two teacher-police by running into the ocean, but that slowed him down enough that they could just jog on the beach, trapping him there.

The game was to end at a certain time, but nobody had watches (taken at the beginning). One everybody got back there was plenty of stories and laughing, waiting for the results up to that point. My team got the best rank that we did for the whole race, fourth of fourteen, so we were pretty happy about that. I think we got ahead during the orienteering, and just maintained during the rest of the tasks.

adventure race With the time still paused, we were given the next checkpoint: back to Manna. Everybody was to take their skates, shoes, and one bike per team. Our team got a little lost, so the fourteen kilometer leg became about twenty, but we weren’t too stressed about it, because the time was paused. I skated about twelve kilometers and rode the bike the last eight. There was no moon, and the sky was crisp and clear, giving us an amazing view of the stars. Back in Manna, I crashed under the stars, which were beautiful even blurred by my sleepy naked eyes. I crashed hard, and woke two hours later to the sound of busy preparations,,, my only clue that time had passed was Orion’s seemingly instantaneous movement of thirty degrees from the horizon.

adventure race We canoed upstream this time, our head-mounted flashlights keeping us from running into the sides of the stream. On the first canoe leg Pernille had been the cheerleader and pace-setter, but this time it was all she could do just trying to keep from falling asleep and into the the water. A sliver of a moon rose as dawn’s colors slowly started to creep over the horizon and up the sky. About three hours upstream we finally saw our people waiting for us at a bridge ahead.

dawn on the climbing pole After getting our canoe out of the stream we had to run back to the school to complete the last task of the race: climb the climbing pole, stand on top, and yell our team member’s names and team number. I saw one group’s climber forget to say her own name and have to stand up again, which isn’t the easiest thing to do on top of those poles. It felt good to be up there and finished with the race.

Our team’s goal was to survive, have some fun, and push ourselves. We came in ninth of fourteen teams, but accomplished our goals, so we were happy about that. All in all, it was a good opportunity to look inside myself and see how I deal with pressure and no sleep. I signed up for another adventure race in a couple of weeks. That one will only be eight hours, cake after this one…

10km – Start – bike to Manna
– Check-point – silo rappelling, blind MTB, balloon shooting, water to bucket
10km – Canoe downstream
2km – Carry canoe
3km – Run to camp site
– Break-point – rope climb, puzzle, mini ropes course
5km – Time starts, inline skating
– Check-point – Orienteering
10km – Bike on beach
– Check-point – look for golf-balls in ocean, then beach
10km – Bike & run to Løkken
– Break-point – drug search / flashlight tag in bunkers on beach
14km – Bike & skate (untimed) to Manna
– Sleep til 5am
8km – Time starts, canoe upstream
3km – Run back to school’s base-camp
16m – Climb the pole, shout team member’s names & team number to stop time.
Total – 80km, 23 hours

[ofo] getting to nih

Hej all,

back in Denmark after a week in Chamonix – Mont Blanc, France. Sorry to
those out of the loop, it has been awhile since my last big email. I
hadn’t even left Tokyo with my sister… it’s been a pretty busy couple
of months since then. Here are some highlights: a week at a youth
hostel in Ogasawara (a randomly Japanese tropical island accessible
only by a 25-hour ferry ride),,, back to Iwate with my sister to teach
folk dances & waltzing to all my students,,, goodbyes to all my
schools,,, goodbyes to all my Iwatelope friends,,, helping Taneichi’s
new ALTs settle in, translating for them and introducing them to
schools and local festivals,,, getting accepted to Nordjyllands
(North Jutland Sports Folk High School, where I am now)
with 16 days to get from Taneichi, Japan to Brønderslev, Denmark,,,
missing the night bus for my departure,,, taking the shinkansen the
next morning and making onto the plane by half a hair’s width (the last
standby passenger accepted),,, four nights at home, including two
contra dances,,, To øl tak.then
a plane to Hamburg and a train to Odense, where I meet Lindsey, and the
adventure begins (ha),,, we stay with Hanne “Belle” Jørgensen (formerly
of The Freight Hoppers), get the royal tour, and even get to jam on a
few oldtime tunes,,, get on the train to Brønderslev the next day.
After two train car changes we found some seats that were actually
headed where we were, and settled in for the last couple of hours of
the train ride. As a conductor firmly but politely reminded us, we were
in a “shh, no talking” car. “Oookay,” I thought, marking the incident
down as Danish culture shock number one.

We (quietly) rolled into Brønderslev Station, and walked out to meet
the Anders, the school’s representative. He took our bags and pointed
the five of us from that train towards the school. Lindsey and I had to
laugh as we started hiking… our first adventure had already been
assigned! We didn’t say much of anything to the other kids as we
walked, which is funny to think about now… after a month of living,
eating, working, and playing with them, they feel about as close as can

leading up to Chamonix now feels like preparation for the trip. They
have all kinds of cool games and activities that people at the school
have come up with over the years. One of my favorites was like a
low-tech laser-tag game (with crumpled newspapers wrapped in tape
instead of lasers) played in a gym full of gymnastic equipment for
obstacles. They also got us to come up with games, in teams, of course.
One of those involved stealing clothespins from the back of the other
team’s jerseys, which degraded into a big grabass fest. My favorite was
a kind of soccer / hockey hybrid, with one player of each sport tied
together with bicycle innertubes. That’s when I met Bjarni, my big
Icelandic viking friend, who pulled me around the court making me feel
like it was more of a horse-and-chariot competition than anything else.

A more serious competition original to the school (?) is the
bike-and-run. I think this sport might have been born as a practical
solution to a bike shortage, but it’s pretty cool. In one of it’s
forms, a team of two people with one bike have a 10km course to
complete. When the teacher says “go,” they have to copy the course to
their map (one per team). One person starts running, the other starts
biking, and it is up to them how often the biker leaves the bike for
the runner. It’s a pretty exciting race, because you don’t really know
your position until the end. Even if you are keeping up running with
people from other teams, they might get a bike before you, leaving you
in the dust.

After a month of such team-building hijinks with all these cats we got
in a two-level bus headed for Chamonix, France. More on that later…