By John Scott Lewinski
It was a gray morning in April 2012 as Peter Mark rode his ATV over the rocky terrain of Graham Island, a sliver of land west of Canada’s British Columbian shore. A hardcore beachcomber, he’d plotted a course leading to the island’s eastern shore – and he had hoped to find a minor treasure there. A trinket or two. But not a shipping container.
“It couldn’t have been there long,” Mark says of the battered metal box that he found resting against the coast near a set of fresh footprints. Upon peering inside the shipping container, he found the rusted, salt-encrusted hulk of a 2004 Harley-Davidson FXSTB Softail Night Train motorcycle (as he would later learn) with Japanese license plates.
“I knew right away where it must’ve come from,” he says. A little more than a year before, a nightmare of a tsunami had raked across the eastern coast of Japan, killing thousands and setting off the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Apparently, the wave had also lifted up the motorcycle’s shipping container and sent it eastward across 4,000 miles of ocean to heave both onto the shore of Graham Island.
With help from local Harley dealers, Canadian news outlets and the Harley-Davidson headquarters itself, Mark traced the license plate to Ikuo Yokoyama, who had lost his family, home and friends to the devastating tsunami on March 11, 2011. Now living in temporary housing in the Miyagi Prefecture, Yokoyama refused offers from Harley to return the bike and instead asked that it be put on display in the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee.
“He personally asked to have the motorcycle preserved in its current condition,” says museum spokesman Brook Smith, “and displayed as a memorial to those whose lives were lost or forever changed by the tsunami.”
Yokoyama has refused all other comment, and no one has yet come forward with a theory explaining how a damaged steel container completed a journey worthy of any nautical explorer. Bikers offered a few theories at this fall’s Milwaukee Rally, but none that our crack team of oceanographers could verify by press time.