🎄 Happy & Holidazed 🎄

Full vision baby

Cyclist passes a blind Daruma /// Yokohama, Japan

Hello Adventurers, 

Sumo, Tokyo, and Roninand/or metaphors for discarding one’s personal baggage, celebrating a world that is worth caring about, and honouring what we can become (if we harness the courage to do hard things). That’s the gist of the previous three issues of this newsletter…which were threads that recently revealed themselves to me in Japan…which are themes I’ve explored all year long…which are loose ends I had to tie-up before I maybe publish the final issue of this newsletter next week.

I don’t know if I was successful at knotting these nodes…but I did try my best to throw everything I could at ‘em (done for the sake of conclusiveness). In doing so, I said my piece, gave ‘em hell to make my peace, and now? Now, we’re deserving of a breather…

…Which is why this issue of the newsletter is intentionally lighter in tone…because such aligns with the spirit of the holidays. Basically, I hope you’re receiving this dispatch in your pyjamas and/or while blobbing out on the couch…as you enjoy some time-off from work!

Much like a holiday potluck, this issue of the newsletter is sorta random; some sections are unchanged, others have been reconfigured, and some are complete detours. The goal? Some fun, a lil entertainment, and some big feels.

In closing, I want to wish you a belated Merry Christmas / Happy Hanukkah, and an early Happy New Year! Let’s get into it,

- Ben Pobjoy


Where in the world...record am I?

The Marathon Earth Challenge went to every country turned red in colour

  • Countries visited: 70

  • Flights taken: 75

  • Kilometres flown: 139,643

  • Marathons completed: 241

  • Kilometres trekked by foot: 11,414.3

  • Total kilometres trekked since 2015: 74,506


My regular ‘wild, obstacle, lesson’ programming returns next week

“Don’t miss the crime!“ text on a sticker near some security cameras /// Tokyo, Japan

I spent most of December celebrating Japan, so here are some Japan-centric series to binge…which may add colour to my recent commentary:

*These hyperlinks are Canadian. If you live elsewhere, you may have to dig!


The standard-bearer for strolls and storytelling

Craig Mod in his guest room (as seen through his living room) /// Kamakura, Japan

Last month, I took two big swings…which I had no business taking (and which had little chance of connecting): I emailed Haruki Murakami’s representatives as well as Craig Mod, each with interview requests. I wanted to ask one why they run, and the other why they walk…and I knew getting time from either — while I was in Japan where they both live — was a long shot.

Why? Well, because Murakami is one of the planet’s most acclaimed writers, and because Mod is one of the planet’s most prodigious makers…and because Mod was in the middle of promoting his new book Things Become Other Things. To my surprise, Craig acquiesced…and invited me to spend an afternoon with him at his lovely home in Kamakura.

I’ve long admired Craig’s work as well as his work ethic. He’s such a multifaceted maker that he’s actually quite difficult to summarize. As such, I’ll pilfer how one Twitter user once described Craig Mod; he’s the ultimate triathlete; a walker, writer, and photographer.

Craig has released numerous books, has bylines in everything from the New York Times to Wired to the New Yorker, and has uniquely sustained his worldly walking adventures through a membership program which is full of perks for patrons. He also cuts videos and records podcasts and he livestreams, and he publishes multiple top-notch newsletters (which I encourage you to sign up for). Oh, and he’s an essential ‘follow and subscribe’ on IG and YT too.

A foggy coast /// Kamakura, Japan

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. And it includes photos I made in — and around — Craig’s town (on a marathon of mine back to Tokyo)…because I think Kamakura says a lot about Craig, and what he values.

Mr. Mod at home /// Kamakura, Japan


Originally from Connecticut, Craig Mod is a forty-something American who has lived in Japan for the past 20 years. He came here at 19 — after an unfulfilling stint at an American college — before finishing his studies in Japan. He’s been programming computers since he was a boy, and it shows (because his writing and photography are systematic, and executed with an unparalleled eye for detail). Like, this short video he made says all.

A BMXer and a skater in his teens, Craig didn’t get into walking — as a practice — until he moved to Japan (where a mentor put him onto it). And the practice stuck; Craig became a self-described ascetic thereafter (“walking by day, writing by night”), he began broadcasting what he was doing, he got inbound requests, he turned a 1,000 kilometre-long trek into a beloved book (now in its 5th edition), and he’s since made a livelihood from walking and making (which is a simplification on my part…because he works and walks hard).

Craig digs walking, writing, photography, making things, Japan, and travel — as do I — so naturally, that’s what I asked him about.

Craig’s kicks /// Kamakura, Japan


You've been in Japan for more than 20 years, what has kept you there?

Japan has so many social services, it has universal health care, a reasonable cost of living, good infrastructure, and good public works. All of it had a healing effect on me, because I come from a place that essentially has none of that...so I ended up sticking around. Plus, the language acquisition was really fun, and I wanted to invest more in that.

What’s one inaccuracy about Japan you want to correct, and something you wish more people knew about Japan?

That it’s expensive...it’s not…and I don't understand why Tokyo isn't the artist centre of the world. Tokyo should be the epicentre of global art. The cost of living and the resources here...it's the best balance of anything in the world; exciting, vibrant, it’s alive, etc.

Today, you’re known as a writer and a photographer…but how did you get into these things?

I've always been a writer and I always wanted to do photography...but we couldn't afford cameras. My family…nobody around me was doing anything creative. So it wasn't until I came to Japan — and had access to all the used camera stores here — that I picked up my first camera.

And the walking…how did that come about?

Well, it started in Japan in 2013 because my friend — who was like a mentor, and who has lived a Forrest Gump-ian life — he started inviting me on walks, and so I joined him on big walks. I was looking for a reason to be in Japan — because I didn’t work for Japanese companies nor had the family thing going on yet — and my friend turned me onto all these historical routes…and it kind of ticked everything.

I got to use my language to connect with people in the countryside, physically it was really satisfying, and historically and anthropologically...it's interesting to see how areas in Japan change over time. Plus, it's just a good excuse to go out there and do stuff.

So I started doing more of that — and broadcasting that I was doing it — and then I started getting inbound requests from people. And I was like, "Oh, this can become a platform for creative work.” And that's sorta what it became.

Then, I started doing really big solo walks — like 40 days or whatever — where I'm alone all the time, and it became an incredible writing space for me; walking every day, dictating constantly, and then writing at night.

Trees, hills, and vending machines /// Kamakura, Japan

These monster walks of yours...can you describe them?

I book everything in advance; the route, the logistics...everything's set. There's been walks where I've done 30 days; doing 30 kms to 50 kms a day...but that's not fun, it's just too much for me. My ideal is 20 kms to 30 kms a day.

I begin walking at 9AM, and spend the day talking to people, and photographing. I get to the hotel by 3 or 4PM. I usually only have 1 or 2 outfits with me, so I start washing stuff (so that it can start drying). And I’ll also Uber myself some food…because I don’t have 3 hours to go sit in an izakaya. And then I import my photos and videos, I start editing all that, I go through everything I've dictated that day, and start writing 2,000 to 4,000 words…that I try and publish every night by 10PM, and then I’m asleep by midnight.

I actually can’t do too many of these…there’s too much stuff to synthesize…like, I’ll finish a 7 day walk with 30,000 words sometimes! So I like the ‘chunking’ of big walk projects; I like the intensity of them, I like the intentionality, and how generative they are for writing.

How do you stay so productive? How do prevent creative burnout?

I'm maniacal about protecting my sleep; 8 to 10 hours a day. And not drinking. On a percentage basis, alcohol affects my ability to focus, and I can't afford to lose time. So if you protect sleep and remove alcohol, it makes you almost superhuman compared to the Average Joe.*

*Craig proceeds to tell me he’s actually a pretty lazy person…and I rib him… because the evidence screams otherwise.

A house beside a mountain tunnel /// Kamakura, Japan

As a writer and photographer, what is it about walking that is conducive to creating?

I think we're programmed to self-reward for walking. That's how we've thrived as a species. And how we got out of Africa; we walked out. And walking has solved a lot of our problems.

And as long as you've got food and water, walking puts you in a state of reward. And I think in that state, it's easier to be kind to yourself, and when you're kind to yourself, it's easier to be creative.

For me, walking is almost meditative. And it gets me into a state of mind where I can't stop writing.

What has your walking practice taught you about yourself?

That I can do it! Last week, 12 of us walked 100 kms out of some Thai mountains, and into Chiang Mai. For most of those people, they’ve never walked 100 kms in a week before…and to look at a map and see the ground you've covered, it's pretty inspiring — and cool — and I think it makes you reconfigure your sense of geography, and what's possible in your own city; how you could engage with it in a more intimate way.

And then for me, it has taught me how to perform that ascetic practice of walking all day, and writing all night.

I’m always pitching the merits of walking...what's your pitch for it?

It's just there for you to do! You don't have to prep! It's full of delights...like, there are almost no downsides to it. Walking is the best balance of a physically-induced meditative state, plus still being able to interact — and engage — with the world.

Also, there's a certain amount of faith — like, almost true spiritual faith — required for creative work. And I know that if I just go and do a walk, there's going to be interesting shit. It's there waiting to be found! So for me, walking enables testing — and feeling — for what has internal traction as a good story.

Living room turned command centre for book launch /// Kamakura, Japan

Bit of an aside here, but long walks aren't easy…so what gear is essential? How do you prevent busted feet? And what do you do — to stay in the fight — when long walks get hard?

Sunglasses...good polarized ones. And an umbrella [laughs]...because I'm very sun sensitive! For feet? Kinesiology tape! It's miraculous! If I'm gonna do a big walk, I pre-tape — and if I do that — I don't get hot spots, and could walk for a year.

And if my mind starts to go, I'll call a friend...I've definitely walked hundreds of kilometers with friends in my ears. That's kind of…it's cheating, right? Like, the solitude and — the stress of solitude — it’s part of the reason we do it. But if you're doing 30 days of walking, there could be 2 or 3 days where you're like, "Alright, I'm just gonna talk to a friend!" So if you need to do a call...do a call, and stay in the fight.

Can you tell me about your new book Things Become Other Things?

It's a book about a big walk I did of the Kii Peninsula; through a depopulating area of Japan where towns are shrivelling up and disappearing. But everything is kind of happening with a certain amount of grace, and it made me think a lot about where I come from — and a particular friendship I had as a kid — so it's sort of a memoir through the lens of this big walk on this kind of dying peninsula.

Oh...I just made the book sound really depressing [laughs]...but it's pretty joyful; shutting down with a certain amount of grace, which everyone should be afforded.

Lastly…any new projects on the horizon?

There are 5 books I wanna do...they're there...I just need to sit down and get them done.*

*Craig’s answer to my final question made me laugh in person…because it illustrates how much of a workhorse he is…so don’t believe him when he tells you he’s lazy…just get into his work, and be dazzled by it 😊

‘Kissa by Kissa’ 5th ed. and ‘Things Become Other Things’ by Craig Mod /// Kamakura, Japan


Portuguese Christmas Eve…always a big and noisy affair /// Mississauga, Canada

Folks, I need us to keep a lil secret; I completed my 240th freestyle marathon of the year on Christmas Eve (and surpassed the official Guinness World Record for ‘most marathons in a year’). But we gotta keep our lips sealed ‘til January 4th 2024…because that’s when the press release is being issued (because that’s when journalists are back in the newsroom post-holidays). And if we outwardly spill the beans before then…well, my communications team will kill us, capisci?

Now, not to sound like an ungrateful brat, but this project didn’t end the way I conceptually envisioned it would. Huh? Well, originally, I planned to stay in Japan over the holidays, hit 240+ marathons there, draw a second pupil on the Daruma my wife gifted me last Christmas (to acknowledge the completion of my 2023 goal), and then burn the doll at the Nishi-Arai Daishi Temple in Tokyo on New Year’s Day. More on this ritual if you keep reading…

However, my wife asked that I return to Canada for the holidays (to be with her and our family) — and I was more than happy to do this (because I’ve asked a lot from everyone this year) — so I changed my plans, tried to get to 240 marathons in a much shorter timeframe in Japan, and failed (because I was too lazy to do three days of double marathons there). And as a result of my inability to get my desired result abroad, I became disappointed with myself…because how I ultimately hit my project’s major milestone, it didn’t honour the global spirit of my project.

But I’ve since been taught an important lesson; how we individually want things to end can sometimes be wrong, and can differ from how our tribe rightly deserves things to end. And in my case, the universe conspired to make things just.

Basically, I finished marathon #240 trekking out to Mississauga, the city where I was born. Specifically, to a family member’s house there…which is beside the pre-school I went to as a boy…which is beside the park where I competed in some of my earliest cross-country races as a teen…and marathon #240 delivered me right into the arms of family (who were glad to have me back in Canada safe and sound). And while I flew around the world a few times this year — and went to the far corners of the earth by foot — it sorta didn’t matter in the end…because I ended where my life began, and I think this was a big reminder to never forget where you come from, never forget what shaped you, and never forget those who were integral to your success (everything…no matter how solo…Marathon Earth Challenge included…is always a team effort).

As such, there was actually a ‘finish line’ moment of sorts…naturally produced by the holiday season (which was the real reason my family was gathering together)…and I never designed for this ending (because I’m a fool), and I’m very glad that it was the final ending (because it opened the figurative door to let everyone in, and collectively breathe a sigh of relief…as well as celebrate with me).

So I did Christmas Eve with the Portuguese side of my family which cascaded into Christmas Day with the English side of my family…and lots of good food was eaten at both gatherings…but what was more nourishing, was what was reflected back at me;

This sense that everything was as it should be; everyone together…and not an empty seat at the table.

English Christmas Day…always a small and quiet affair /// Oakville, Canada


On taking the first steps towards making amends

Daruma doll (before it burns) with baby bracelet (before it was returned) /// Toronto, Canada

Have you ever hurt the people you love most? It is brutal, and makes you deservedly feel like a huge asshole; especially when their pain is the byproduct of a decision you’ve voluntarily made.

How do I know? Well, nearly one year ago today, I boarded a red-eye flight to Colombia on New Year’s Eve in order to start my first marathon in Bogotá on New Year’s Day…then I remained abroad for much of the year. And the beginning of my project? It was excruciating.

How so?

Well, I said goodbye to my wife in her apartment on New Year’s Eve — on a festive night where couples happily celebrate the possibility of what a new year may hold for them — and it may have been the saddest I’ve ever seen Christine; very few words on her part, and no big waterworks either…just the tiny tears one’s ducts can only half-produce when one’s self is too shattered to make more. That was my last memory of Christine…before closing the door on her, and turning my back on her.

And then Mum insisted on saying goodbye to me in person at the airport. Her tears were the big ones, the Mum ones, the ones Mums cry when they’re deathly worried about their child’s wellbeing. That was my last memory of Ann…before turning my back on her, and passing through airport security.

Those two moments were harsh ones; totally cruel by way of me. And that’s the god’s honest truth…when you’re the devil to your angels. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Last Christmas — the 2022 one — Christine gave me a Daruma as a present, which is a Buddhist tchotchke I first pointed out to her when I took her to Sensō-ji on our honeymoon to Japan in 2019. A Daruma is a little papier-mâché doll — round and often red in colour — that is associated with Japanese Buddhism. There, you buy ‘em from temples, and their eyeballs are white. However, you then paint the left pupil when you have a goal, and you paint the right pupil when you’ve completed the goal (delivering full vision to it by way of goal realization), and then you chuck the Daruma into a temple fire on New Year’s Day (as a ritual to embrace continual growth…because you start the process all over again with a new Daruma and a new goal in a new year). And Christine gave me that Daruma to physicalize her support for my Marathon Earth Challenge, which — as a project — was terrible for her (physically, emotionally, everything-ly).

And last New Year’s Eve — the 2022 one — Ann gave me a hospital bracelet at the airport. It had been wrapped ‘round my wrist — presumably by a nurse — after Mum had pushed me into existence at some Mississauga hospital back in 1981. Through tears, Mum asked me to try and imagine how small my baby wrist had been…after a lifetime of hearing her say, “No parent should outlive their children.” It was Ann’s way of letting me know she supported my project…but with one condition; I had to return the bracelet by returning alive.

Thereafter, I carried the Daruma and the bracelet on the hundreds of global marathons I did in 2023. As amulets, they helped keep me safe across five continents…because the Marathon Earth Challenge had its moments; getting robbed with a hipped gun ground into my hip, getting jostled by an earthquake, that one failed attempt to jump me on a street, the one country where parts of the constitution were suspended and things were touch and go, the projectiles hurled at me, the insults thrown at me, getting sized up regularly, being locked in a car racing down some highway with an aggro cabbie unsuccessfully trying to rob me, jumping out of another moving car elsewhere when I sensed another cabbie trying to do the same, gun shots ringing out here and there, and all the times people aimed a ‘gun gesture’ at my face to test me. I could go on and on…

But I couldn’t pay it any mind, because promises made must be promises kept. And they were, and will be.

So I privately drew the second pupil onto Christine’s Daruma at her uncle Joel’s and aunt Micaela’s place in Mississauga after marathon #240…and I’m hoping I can burn the Daruma at Joel and Micaela’s cottage on New Year’s Day 2024 (after we celebrate New Year’s Eve together).

And I returned the bracelet to Ann on Christmas Day; slid into some gifts which I got her on marathons in Mongolia and Japan.

Daruma and bracelet…things given as things, now amulets given back — or released — in their respective and deserving ways.

And this selfish year of mine? It was my year; me doing me…which has to be a one-off exception, not the on-going expectation. And that’s why 2024 has gotta be the year where I show up for others like never before…because of how everyone just showed up for me (not as transactional payback, but because love has a price).

The reality is that I can never make up for my absences this year…you just can’t right those types of wrongs (because some moments are simply lost to time… and just gone)…but my lack of in-the-flesh-presence this year — from being abroad for so much of it — it taught me everything I ever needed to know about commitment;

You see, I never cared if I broke my promise to myself vis-à-vis the Marathon Earth Challenge failing. Yes, I’d have momentarily felt like a loser…but I’ve already felt like a loser a thousand times in my life (and I’ll prolly feel like a loser another million more). Who cares? Not me…because in time that loser-y feeling fades.

However, what I never stopped caring about this year, were the more important commitments I had made to Christine and Ann; the husband ones, the son ones. Those? You can’t break ‘em (for the obvious reasons).

And ya, I got the job done — being the realization of my 240 goal — a goal which others selflessly made lotsa space for, and sacrificed for.

But the real work…it starts now; that of presence and of faithful service to others (because I gotta be honourable and settle my debts of gratitude).

To my friends and family, I am sorry for everything I missed this year — like, I know small moments are somehow life’s big moments — and I’m additionally sorry for the worry I caused.

The silver lining? I think it’s that the Marathon Earth Challenge made me a better person because of what the experience — as well as the world — taught me…but that’s for me to prove to you (by how I show up ahead).

Anyhoo, it has been nice to hear loved ones say they’re proud of me for reaching 240…but now it’s on me to demonstrate that their sacrifices — that enabled me to get to 240 — were worthwhile (which won’t register as a number recorded in a ledger…but by how my comportment makes them feel).

…Because I remember how things felt;

Being the pain I caused when I first left…which I must make right…since I am back now.

And like a Daruma, one New Year’s Resolution begets another.


A lil giveaway for those who are gonna give’r in 2024

Buddha dressed as Santa /// Tokyo, Japan

After dropping some heavy feelz on you today, we obvs gotta end things on a happy note, right? Well, you may recall I did some prizing through the newsletter earlier this year…so I wanted to personally pitch in too!

As such, I’m giving away FIVE free copies of the special edition 2019 reprinting of my first book Land of America (which first came out in 2008). This book is a photo-packed memoir ‘bout a 7,000 mile-long bus ride from Montreal to Tijuana (and back). It is totally different than my newsletter…but similarly adventurous (and unfortunately just as crude).

So how do you participate? Reply to this email by Friday, January 5th 2024 with an answer to the following question*

“What goal are you most excited to tackle in 2024?”

The goal can be big or small, personal or professional…anything…whatever is most important to you!

*Your answers will be kept private / the top five answers that make me go “HELL YEAH!” will be selected as the winners.

‘Land of America’ 2nd ed. by yours truly /// Toronto, Canada

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