2013-06-07 / People

Neighbors

Journey to goal was worth the ride
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


From left: Scott Keenan, Andrew Marston and Dylan Gunning cycled 3,518 kilometers from the southernmost point of Japan to the northernmost tip over 43 days in 2011. Two years after their journey, Marston released a documentary to chronicle the trip, “Japan by Bicycle.” (Courtesy photo) From left: Scott Keenan, Andrew Marston and Dylan Gunning cycled 3,518 kilometers from the southernmost point of Japan to the northernmost tip over 43 days in 2011. Two years after their journey, Marston released a documentary to chronicle the trip, “Japan by Bicycle.” (Courtesy photo) For about a year after his bicycle trip from the southernmost point in Japan to the country’s northernmost tip, Andrew Marston was willing to let his 43-day, 3,500- kilometer journey be a memory to share only between himself and his two fellow travelers, Scott Keenan and Dylan Gunning.

But after he returned to Maine from Japan, Marston, a Cape Elizabeth native living in South Portland, decided to share the experiences of his journey with the rest of the world. He worked in his spare time for months to edit hours of video footage shot on a handheld camera down to a 45-minute documentary, “Japan By Bicycle.”


Dylan Gunning, Scott Keenan and Andrew Marston celebrate at the finish line in Cape Soya, Japan after completing their trip. Despite the challenges of minor accidents and a major storm near Mt. Fuji along the way, Marston said the people the group met along the way made the trip worth it. (Courtesy photo) Dylan Gunning, Scott Keenan and Andrew Marston celebrate at the finish line in Cape Soya, Japan after completing their trip. Despite the challenges of minor accidents and a major storm near Mt. Fuji along the way, Marston said the people the group met along the way made the trip worth it. (Courtesy photo) The documentary was released May 27 on Marston’s website, JapanByBicycle.com, to mark the two-year anniversary of the trio’s journey in 2011.

The idea to bicycle the length of Japan came to Marston while living in the city of Fukuoka after graduating from college in 2009. After two years living in Japan teaching English, Marston decided to put a capstone on his time in the country by biking its entire length.

Marston called a few friends to pitch them the idea. He said he received several of rejections, but found two takers in Gunning and Keenan. Gunning was living in Canada after moving back to North America from Japan. Keenan, also from Cape Elizabeth, had attended high school with Marston at Greater Portland Christian School in South Portland.

“I didn’t think it was going to happen. I thought it was a crazy idea,” Keenan said of his initial reaction when Marston called him in fall 2010.

But Marston was persistent, and both Keenan and Gunning, 24 and 25 at the time, respectively, were looking for an adventure. Keenan was granted two months of unpaid leave from his job, and he set out for Japan.

But just before Marston, Keenan and Gunning were set to begin their trip, in March 2011, a 8.9- magnitude earthquake off the east coast of Japan set off tsunamis and radiation leaks from nuclear power plants that ultimately caused more than 18,000 deaths.

Marston said his initial thought after the disaster was that the trip would have to be cancelled. However, after a discussion with Keenan and Gunning, the trio found a safe route away from the epicenter of the damage and decided to turn their journey into a fundraiser for relief efforts.

The group asked those following Marston’s blog to make donations either to the Red Cross or Samaritan’s Purse and send receipts. Their efforts, spearheaded by Gunning, raised more than $13,000 in relief aid, surpassing the team’s goal of $10,000.

Marston said the challenge of the journey was not one insurmountable leg of the trip, but the day-to-day exertion of cycling for miles. Outside of the trip, Marston is not an avid cyclist.

“The biggest strain was the constant physical exhaustion. It didn’t hit us all at once, but every day we were a little bit more wiped,” Marston said.

Keenan said he was more mentally weary after the trip than physically tired.

“We were doing back-to-back centuries (100-kilometer days) near the end of the trip. I was not drained in that way at all. I was ready to just rest and not have to worry about packing up a tent in the morning or finding a campsite.”

All in all, the trip from south to north spanned 3,518 kilometers, or nearly 2,200 miles. The riders tallied 175 hours pedaling, including one particularly harrowing day of 222 kilometers that culminated in the three cycling straight into a typhoon near Mt. Fuji.

“I’ve never prayed so hard I wouldn’t die. There was a wall of rain soaking everything,” Marston said.

Marston said it was the personal encounters with the people in Japan that allowed the travelers to overcome exhaustion – as well as the cuts and bruises from a few minor accidents.

As Marston, Gunning and Keenan neared the home stretch of their trip, more than a month into their journey, they arrived at the apartment of an artist, Takaaki Yatsunagi, with whom they had connected with through the travel website Couchsurfing.org.

“He laid out this huge spread of delicious Japanese delicacies for us. He had just gone all-out to make us feel at home,” Marston said. “He was an artist, and the next day he took us to a studio and gave us a tour. We still keep in touch with him all the time.”

Overall, Marston said he came away from the trip learning two important lessons. The first was the value of commitment to a big goal. While there were times he wanted to quit, the support of his two friends provided Marston with the push he needed to make it through.

The second lesson he learned, Marston said, was the idea that no idea is too big or too crazy to be accomplished.

Today, Marston is working in graphic design at Woodard and Curran, while his wife Lori pursues her teaching certification at the University of Southern Maine. When she finishes the program, Marston said the two plan to move to Singapore.

“When you allow yourself to think outside the box, it’s amazing what things are possible,” he said.

To see the documentary of the trip and read more about Marston, Kennan and Gunning’s journey, visit JapanByBicycle.com.

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