Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Flora, Patty, Benson, James, and I left Taipei Train Station at 7 p.m. Friday night on a tour bus. The bus stopped at Linkou to pick up more travellers, and we pulled into a lodge near the Jade Mountain National Park around 2 a.m. Saturday morning. Not to my pleasure, we were up at 6 a.m. to get back on the bus to get to the park entrance. We started hiking at 8:40 a.m. and covered the 11.6 kilometers to Paiyun Lodge, near the summit, in a little over seven hours, including periodic rests and a lunch break.

I thought the combination of already being sleep-deprived and a day of hiking would surely lead to quickly falling asleep after an early dinner. Unfortunately, I fell asleep around 11 p.m. and slept fitfully. (Note to self: next time bring earplugs to block out the sounds of snorers.) Even more unfortunately, we got up at 2 a.m. so as to be able to watch sunrise from the summit.

In the darkness, I did something really silly: my left contact never managed to make it into my left eye. Even sillier, not till I was halfway up the summit did I figure out why everything looked so blurry. If I ever write Hiking for Dummies, point number one will be, "make sure you can see." Going up sans one contact was not too bad, as it was dark and all I could really see was the steps in front of me. Going down was more difficult, as my sense of balance was off and I had very little depth perception. Thankfully, Benson helped me:

"Just look for the steps."

"There aren't any steps, darn it, everything looks the same."

"Okay, right foot here, left foot there."

In any case, we were on the trail by 2:15 a.m. and spent 2 hours hiking the 2.4 kilometers up to the summit. The last stretch to the very top was apparently a 70-degree incline. There were chains to help guide hikers. I suppose that if you think of that last stretch as hiking up, it would have been very difficult. However, when I looked at it as a climbing wall, it became a very easy climbing wall, with many convenient hand holds and foot holds to choose from.

I'm really thankful that I've started rock climbing. Rock climbing has given me the focus I needed to be able to do this. Instead of thinking, "my, being on this narrow trail at the edge of a very tall cliff with the possibility of a rock sliding down from above and bopping me on the head is rather disconcerting," I was focused on where my next move would be: i.e., right foot here, left foot there. When I'm rock climbing, I'm never conscious of how high I am from the ground; I'm very much in the moment, calculating my next step and keeping my body centered.

I wouldn't have been this calm even as recently as seven months ago, when Danai came to Taiwan for New Year's and we hiked through Taroko Gorge. I remember asking Danai why I was so slow going up. Danai mentioned that part of the reason was that I would step with one leg, and then bring the other leg in line with the first, instead of stepping further ahead. Hiking through Taroko Gorge also taught me that I should push the incline button on the treadmill a bit more frequently. Further, Flora pointed out that running on flat land and going uphill uses completely different muscles, so even though I had been running regularly when I went to Taroko Gorge, I wasn't necessarily in shape to go hiking.

So for this trip, I was physically and mentally better prepared. Sunrise at the summit was beautiful, as it better had been! The sky was clear, and standing, looking out above all the other peaks, was such an amazing feeling. Wow.

I have never hiked such long a distance before, and with a pack weighing about a third of my body weight, too. And then to make up to the highest peak in Northeast Asia to watch the sunrise, when I am not a morning person and need a lot of sleep to function (and am very cranky when neither of those are met), ...wow.

I really have accomplished something.

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