Time & Again: Vashon cyclists — Seeing the world from the seat of a bike, then and now

  • Tuesday, February 13, 2018 1:23pm
  • News
Kuichi Tanaka in 1915 (The Boston Globe Photo)

Kuichi Tanaka in 1915 (The Boston Globe Photo)

This past summer, two bicyclists from Vashon, Bob Horsley and Bruce Morser, completed a 4,300-mile cross-country bicycle trip after two months on the road. They began in May, heading west from Gloucester, Massachusetts, to Vashon. The trip was the result of a 30-year friendship marked by running, rowing and biking together over those years, and Gloucester was chosen as the starting point because it is Bruce Morser’s hometown.

Covering about 80-miles each day, the duo experienced several epiphanies along the way. They each completed a painting for each day on the road. Despite their initial concern about being “blue state” islanders riding through mostly “red states,” they quickly found that there are more things that unite us as Americans than divide us. And, they came to realize that the moist Pacific Northwest air and the lush green of the west side of the mountains made a memorable homecoming.

The two men presented an impressive talk at the Vashon Center for the Arts last October about their experience, showing slides of the photographs they took and paintings they completed, and telling stories about their experiences peddling across the country.

Over 100-years earlier, another islander, although he was not an islander at the time but later came to live on Vashon for over 40 years, undertook an even more ambitious 10-year long bicycle trip around the world. Kuichi Tanaka graduated from Kikkokwai University and became a member of the Imperial Japanese Geographical Society. The society gave him a commission to travel the countries of the world and study the “manners and customs of foreign lands.” The first two years of his journey took him through India, the Malay Peninsula, Australia, New Zealand and then China and Siberia. He spent two more years traveling though Europe and Africa and another year traveling though Central and South America. He then spent nearly another year traveling in the United States before arriving in Boston in early 1915. By that time he had covered over 93,000 miles, visited 53 countries and had worn out five bicycles. After traveling south along the East Coast, he traveled up the Mississippi Valley into Canada and then West to Vancouver, British Columbia. While in the Pacific Northwest, he visited Vashon Island and established contact with friends who had immigrated here.

It is not clear when Kuichi settled on Vashon, but after Naboru Hoshi’s death in 1934, Kuichi partnered with Sato Hoshi and became the stepfather of the Hoshi children and became the beloved “Ojiichan” (grandfather) of the next generation of the Hoshi family on Vashon. Tanaka and Sato married in 1972 when she was 79 and he was 84, although in the 1940 census they were listed as husband and wife with Sato as the head of household. There must be a romantic story behind that nearly 40-year relationship and the decision to get legally married in 1972. Kuichi died two years later in 1975, and Sato died in 1982. They are buried close to each other in the Vashon Island Cemetery. Sato is buried next to her first husband Naboru with a single joint headstone, and Kuichi is buried with his own headstone.

When Horsely and Morser completed their cross-country bike trip last year, Kuichi Tanaka’s epic around-the-world bicycle trip was unknown to islanders. Now we can connect the indomitable spirit that drove both journeys, although over 100 years separate them.

— Bruce Haulman is an island historian, and Terry Donnelly is an island photographer.

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