Bike seats are uncomfortable right? Josh Stinton’s found a way around it, kick back La-Z-Boy style and pedal with your hands. Yup, our first ever Adventure Tales speaker just handcycled the length of Japan to raise money for charity. He called our Editor from a Japanese petrol station the day after finishing his 2,112km, 22-day journey.
First up, some background. Josh Stinton is a bit of a mad bastard. Back at Adventure Tales 1 in 2017 he talked about competing in Vasaloppet, the hardest cross country skiing race in the world, despite never having cross country skied before (spoiler alert: he finished). He followed it up by competing in a mountain unicycle race in Spain and the world’s hardest mountain bike race, the Offroad Finnmark 700, in Norway.*
What stood out to me more than anything was how much Josh wanted to talk about the people who’d helped him and the charity he was supporting. The dude had just pedalled over 2000km with his hands but the details of the actual journey seemed secondary – human connection stokes him out above all else.
Josh wasn’t racing anyone this time, but two constants remain: undertaking a very hard and slightly wacky challenge, and doing it for a small charity, this time the charity was called APRICOT.
*Read more about Josh’s previous challenges on his website, Outspire.
Josh: I like to pretend that I’m the first phone call you’ve received this week from a Japanese gas station.
Tim: (Laughs) I reckon it might be!
So not sure if you know, but I gave a talk at Adventure Tales, the first one.
I was there man!
Oh dude! Absolutely. So you heard the shenanigans I got up to back then, but far out, this was a beast!
All of your other adventures were races, but this one was different wasn’t it?
Yeah, all the other ones, they’re a thing that exists. You sign up, you do the training and you follow the track. This one, from the get go, I gotta say; I love the big organised races and challenges that are out there, but being a part of something that you created and designed and literally throwing yourself out into the wild, that was incredible. Finishing this one was so different from finishing any of the ones I’ve done in the past.
Because it was harder?
Certainly there were hard times where it would’ve been good to have a traditional support team or whatever but outside of that, I wasn’t for want of anything. I put it out there and as far as I know, I’m the only person in the world to cross Japan using only his arms – pushing a handcycle.I was on Japanese handcycle navigator Facebook pages, all these cycling pages, handcycling, paralympic, disability pages. For two years I’ve just been attacking as many different channels as I could and learn as much as I could.
The only thing that proved difficult was getting the handcycle! That was really hard to do. I didn’t get one till the last minute, I booked my flight, landed in Japan and I’d never seen a handcycle in my life.
My dad found one in the US, picked it up, used his air miles to fly it over (legend) and we drove the box to the far south. On the morning of the 11th, the day I’m gonna kick the whole thing off, I just start putting it together. I didn’t even know which direction the handles went on. I was thinking ‘I’ve got a long month ahead of me.’
Did you know that you were going to have to move both hands at the same time in that kind of parallel, butterfly-stroke motion?
No! What I’ve seen (I’ve been watching more YouTube videos on handcycling than I care to admit) they’re always alternating like on a bike but they’ve got this kind of clutch that’ll align the handlebars to get them to go at the same time, it’s mainly for uphill and stuff, but this one was just locked in to that rowing mode.
Of course I learn that the day that I start going up, because I’ve never even seen the thing before.
But dude, it all came together.
Sum up the trip for me, what really stood out?
If I had to wrap a word around all of this it would be ‘support’. It was incredible bro. The posts I made, the people I reached out to, people were reaching out from all around the world.
There was a British guy who runs a cycling group in Japan called The Knights In White Lycra, they started posting all about it! Then there was this guy called Egon, a New Zealander and one of the Knights who’d lived in Japan for 28 years, he reached out after seeing my Facebook post and says ‘I saw you don’t have your route yet, can I help you?’ And I was like ‘Yes!’ I had no clue where to go on this handcycle, I didn’t even have it yet.
20 hours later he’s back, he’s spent the whole night fully designing the path, he just pieced together all the excellent rides he’s done in Japan.
Instead of planning the route city to city I had it loaded onto a GPS (which was also given to me by a group of legends called Wahoo Fitness) and I just kept following my nose.
Loads of people connected with the work the charity, APRICOT*, is doing. There were heaps of shares on social media and people talking about the work the charity’s doing for children’s mental health in Japan after the earthquake. I’m all smiles man, it’s all incredible.
*Allied Psychotherapy Relief Initiative for the Children of Tohoku
You often focus on small charities don’t you? It must have an amazing impact when you do something like this for them.
That’s exactly it mate. Like I said at Adventure Tales, it was completely by accident. I was taking on that ski race and I wanted to support my mate James and his wife Kristy that run Feel The Magic in Australia, the grief counselling program for children in Australia. They were only small, James was working part time to put the thing together, and I thought if I could raise a few bucks for my mate that’d be great.
Then it came together, I was on TV and stuff and it just did SO MUCH for this charity. I thought. ‘If I do these ridiculous things and just focus on small charities and causes it’ll really make an impact.’ The small charities, they’re often right in the heart of the issue and in there for a passion, so that’s my focus.’
Why did you decide to do a journey like this instead of another race? What was the catalyst to make it longer?
It was just organic (like everything from the past few years). Based on one interview, this guy from APRICOT reached out to me on LinkedIn and said they wanted to know if I’d be interested in doing a race on a road bike versus someone on say, a handcycle.
So I said ‘Thanks but I’m not really competitive in nature, I just do things ’cause I’m passionate about them but let me look into this handcycle thing.’ I’d never heard of them before.
They came back and said they’d just thrown it out there as an idea, they didn’t know if anyone had handcycled Japan before.
Bing! ‘I’m you’re guy,’ I said.
Did you have a shred of training or did you just go over with none?
Well, I made a lot of it up. I was posting handcyle pages on Facebook and being honest, just like ‘Hey, I’m able-bodied, any suggestions for someone who’s never handcycled, gonna be doing a significant amount of handcycling in one go…
Yeah haha! Man these people were so lovely, I’ve become very conscious that ‘disabled’ is a word I want out of my vernacular. The strength and willpower and drive and the ability of people who are quote-unquote ‘disabled’, it’s beautiful man.
They recommended rowing and the cross country ski machine. I live in Norway now so that’s all we got, so I did that but I was just totally making stuff up. Just attaching elastic bands to my hands and waving them around like an Air Traffic controller, anything to hammer my shoulders four days a week at least. Swimming too
So, 22 days of pedalling, what’s the plan now?
Well we’ve unloaded the RV (Josh had a small support crew who drove behind him and pedalled alongside him), hosed done the handcycle and the support bikes… it’s a little sad to be honest.
You train for something for so long and… that’s the thing with these challenges. You associate with the challenge, you become that guy who’s doing the thing, and there’s ego in there and that’s fine, but then when it’s done, now you’re the guy who did the thing? Like, ok?
One thing I’ve really learned with these associations is that, no matter what it is in life, it could be a challenge or a job, every experience that you have (sorry, this is the cheesey American in me) is a medium for learning and an opportunity to grow and impact others.
Now when things are over, I keep that in mind. Like yeah, it’s a little sad, I’m flying out of Japan soon and I don’t have to talk about handcycling with my girlfriend back home anymore, but you get to take those things you learn away with you.
Thanks for sharing your story with the We Are Explorers community Josh!
What a beautiful community you guys have going on, seriously, the engagement and the stories and like, bless all the outdoor magazines, they’re fantastic, but you guys really get it right, I love the stuff you guys are doing.
Thanks man, just hearing you talk about this trip gets me so pumped to go out there and do something mental myself.
Yeah, sorry for that!
Get inspired and get out there!