Sleeping under Arctic skies, Japanese adventurer, 20, cycles to Tuktoyaktuk

Satoru Yamada isn't your typical 20-year-old: he's currently sleeping under the skies in the Arctic hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk after a two-year journey that's taken him from Japan, to Iran, to Russia and Norway, and on to North America.

'I just wanted to see the world,' says Satoru Yamada, who made his way North by hitchhiking and cycling

A man with a bike and a dream: Satoru Yamada, 20, has made his way from Tokyo to Tuktoyaktuk, where he sleeps under the stars on a reindeer skin. He says he dreams of heading to the North Pole under his own power. (Danny Swainson Photography)

Satoru Yamada isn't any ordinary 20-year-old.

The Japanese adventurer has made his way halfway around the world in the past two years, armed with nothing but a backpack and a bicycle. Currently he's in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., spending his nights on the tundra, sleeping under the stars. 

"I just wanted to see the world," said Yamada.

Yamada started his journey by hitchhiking and backpacking from Tokyo to Iran. From there, he bicycled to about six countries in six months, including Russia and Norway.

This year, after buying a plane ticket to Boston, he hitchhiked to Calgary, where he found a bicycle at a local dump, fixed it up, and began his journey north. 

"I started bicycling from Calgary to Whitehorse," said Yamada. "Made a raft, and floated to Alaska. Came back and bicycled the Dempster [Highway] this year in later October, and I'm in Tuktoyaktuk now."

The Arctic holds special significance to Yamada, who dreams of making it to the North Pole. 

"I had the idea that I really wanted to see the Canadian Indigenous people, and how they lived in the Arctic cold harsh weather, and then I really wanted to try to go to the North Pole by man-power," he said. "So all of that, Canada was the best place to learn."

Satoru Yamada, Japanese cyclist, spends winter in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T.

5 years ago
Satoru Yamada isn't your average 20-year-old. The Japanese world traveller has made his way to the Arctic hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk from Toyko, Japan, where he's cycling on the tundra - and sleeping under the stars. This video was submitted to CBC News by David Stewart. 2:47

'I just put reindeer skin on the Arctic Ocean'

In Tuktoyaktuk, Joanne Edwards-Steen and her husband, John, have given Yamada a place to stay — but their unlikely house guest prefers to sleep under the stars, even as the Arctic temperatures fall in the winter months.

"He's just been going out every day," said Edwards-Steen. "He likes to sleep outside to stay cold.… He's really just a nice person, nice guy. Everyone's phoning for him every day."

Yamada said that he's trying to get used to the colder temperatures by sleeping outside. A tent was donated to him, but he's taken to sleeping beside it, under the stars.

"It's just my feeling that I really want to do it," he said. "I just put reindeer skin on the Arctic Ocean, and two sleeping bags.

"I just sleep on it without the tent. Just under the dark sky."

'I never thought I'd travel this far,' says Yamada. His next goal is to head to the community of Paulatuk by dog sled. (Danny Swainson Photography)

'I never thought I'd travel this far'

Over the course of his travels, Yamada has made many new friends — made evident by a Facebook group frequented by over 8,000 people who follow his journey.

It's through those connections that he's had help with meals and places to stay.

Kurt Wainman, the owner of Inuvik, Northwest Territories' Northwind Industries, met Yamada and helped him get to Tuktoyaktuk.
'I started bicycling from Calgary to Whitehorse, made a raft and floated to Alaska,' says Yamada. 'Came back and bicycled the Dempster this year in later October, and I’m in Tuktoyaktuk now.' (Danny Swainson Photography)

Wainman said that he's been inspired by Yamada's journey.

"He's seen the world before he's a full-grown adult," he said. "He left home at 18, right? He's 20 now, he's been on the road two years.

"He tells you a story, and you look at his passport, and you're like, 'Wow.' It makes you wish when you were 18 that you did the same things."

Tuktoyaktuk isn't the end of Yamada's journey. According to the world traveller, he's got a lot more exploring to do.

"I never thought I'd travel this far," he said. "When I left home, I think I'd travel a year and go back home, but now, I can't imagine going back home and living and working."

His current goal is to find a dog sled team and head to the community of Paulatuk, where he'll continue his training for the North Pole.

"It's a really long-term aim," he said of his journey even farther north, "but that dream is always in my heart."

Yamada's goals aren't limited to the Arctic. Once he's finished his northern journey, he also has aims on a southern expedition. 

"I haven't been to South America yet, so I want to bicycle from coast to coast. From Tuktoyaktuk to Argentina soon."

Yamada cycles in the community of Tuktoyaktuk. As the calendar turns to December, temperatures in the hamlet frequently dip under -30 C. (Danny Swainson Photography)


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