Sasaki rolled into town December 9 hauling a 175 lb rickshaw and wearing a big smile.
He was looking for a pair of new boots, because he’d worn his last ones out walking to Jasper. He was coming from…Alaska. “I didn’t expect to get to Jasper in the winter,” Sasaki said. “But I liked the hiking in the Yukon, so I stayed longer.”
Speaking through a translator, Jasper’s Rico Naito, whom he met while walking the final 10 km into town (Naito was coming back from skiing at Decoigne when she spotted him), Sasaki said he’s been enamoured by the landscapes he’s walked through since July 4. He saw the Northern Lights for the first time, stripped naked at the Arctic Circle, ate caribou and other wild game and got approached by grizzly bears in Denali National Park. Even in the trying times, Sasaki could see the good through the bad.
“The Dempster Highway was the most difficult time but had the most beautiful views,” he said.
Difficult sounds like an understatement. Pictures of Sasaki’s tires caked with the mud of the notorious 745 km Dempster Highway make the Dawson City-to-Inuvik pace of local fatbike celebrity, GVT, look positively hummingbird-esque in comparison. It took Sasaki 23 days to traverse the Dempster Highway, 20 of which were in the rain.
The 37-year-old Japanese lifeguard and rescue worker has undertaken previous multi-thousand-kilometre journeys: he circumnavigated his home country of Japan and Korea for two years, then, for his next trip, he walked 4,400 km from the top to the bottom of the Australian continent.
“It was more than plus 50 degrees Celsius in the desert,” he said.
What did he learn from those journeys? “I didn’t learn anything,” he said. “Just that it’s very hard.”
And then, as an afterthought: “And the kindness of people.” Sasaki found out that Jasperites are kind, too. He took a break from his three-year mission at the home of Sherrill Meropoulis. Sasaki isn’t raising money, and doesn’t really have a message. He said he simply loves to travel and appreciate nature, and walking through the world is the best way he can think of doing that.
He also said that the hardship of his journey allows him to empathize with others, such as the people he helps as a rescue worker. “To help people, I must first become strong.”
He was about to get stronger; poised to roll his rickshaw onto the Icefields Parkway, Sasaki was warned about the highway’s dangers: namely it’s predilection for extreme weather and its isolation. But he was looking forward to seeing a part of the world which is held in high esteem in Japanese travellers’ books. Plus he was thrilled to learn there are no transport trucks allowed on the Icefields Parkway; he had too many close calls on Hwy 16.
“Although I know this will be very hard and cold, it is beautiful. It will be like a dream,” he said.