The 70k highly mountainous Lantau Trail in 22hrs – and more
Day 2,409 since October 10th 2013: 194 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross).
It became Time To Play
‘Time To Play’ is Salomon’s motto just as it is ‘Deeper Understanding’ for Ross DK, ‘A Stranger Is A Friend You’ve Never Met Before’ for Once Upon A Saga and ‘Always Present’ for the Danish Red Cross.
While I want this entry to be about the Lantau Trail I will just quickly list some of the activities I have had this week: there was a Zoom interview with The Hindu, I had a service call with Stripe in order to fix online payment for the OUAS SHOP, I was interviewed by Phil Wheland at the RTHK station, I met up with Salomon in Hong Kong, I was interviewed by Johan from Dagens Industri SE, I met up with Pavel who’s a friend and reporter, I met with a representative from Hong Kong Tourist Board, I had a Zoom call with Liz and her 2nd graders at the Rooftop School in San Francisco (USA) and in addition to all of that I had an average of three written interviews per day to reply to, social media to manage, a broken body to recover, family life with the Savagar’s, a long distance relationship with my fiancée to manage and naturally all the time spent in public transportation as well. And that is just some of it. However the main event for me was making it through the Lantau Trail and living to tell the tale.
Finally got to meet the "king of the airwaves" Mr Phil Wheland :)
So here we go! I am not a professional trail runner. I’m not even a semiprofessional trail runner. At best I’m a “headstrong amateur” and I was hardly ready for such a challenge. We do not need to go far back in time to find me moving less than 2km (1.2mi) a day. Towards the end of 2019 I was splitting my time between container ships and tiny Pacific island nations. I’ve been doing my daily pushups but that was just about it. Once my stay in Hong Kong began to get prolonged during early February I began to take up running again. And the Savagar’s whom I was living with (and still host me today) are avid hikers and brought me along to see some of Hong Kong’s splendid nature. I have always enjoyed hiking and Hong Kong is just perfect for it. So I took advantage of the many trails and continued pushing myself harder and harder with more and more difficult trails. I’m sure all the hiking lately has mostly been rooted in anger and frustrations but at least I find that it was channeled well. I soon learned about the 100k (62mi) MacLehose Trail and decided to do that in just three days. It has an elevation gain of 4,730m (15,518ft). Mount Everest is 8,848m (29,029ft). That meant about 10-12 hours of hiking per day and I was tired once done. However I naively also thought that I had “conquered hiking” in Hong Kong at that there couldn’t possibly be anything that could beat that in little Hong Kong. And I was so wrong. It took no time at all before someone told me that MacLehose is only one of four major trails in Hong Kong. For the next one I recruited some friends! Leon, Brett and Dehua joined me for the 50k (31mi) Hong Kong Trail which we completed it about 12 hours. That one just has a 2,400m (7.874ft) elevation gain. Those hikes did not worry me. I felt (over) confident that I could hike MacLehose in three days and fully confident that the four of us would manage the Hong Kong trail in a day. However the 70k (43.5mi) Lantau Trail with an elevation gain of about 3,500m (11.483ft) had me both scared and excited. Could I do that in less than a day?
You can find me at the club...
It is not a problem to do the Lantau Trail in less than a day. The record is set at around 7 hours for the entire trail!!! Yeah…that’s where the “I’m not a professional” comes into the picture. Well, if I was going to fail then I wanted to do that in style so I reached out to Salomon to see if they would send me a care package for the challenge? They did not hesitate and I was soon fully equipped. You could hardly tell me apart from Mira Rai or Kilian Jornet. Well…on a photo at least. In reality they would both leave me in the dusts and likely set a new trail record. I’m so impressed by those two athletes! With the equipment in hand the next step was to reassemble the gang. And I almost succeeded. Dehua had to cancel due to a client meeting and Leon couldn’t be there from the beginning but would join in. However Brett from The Running Klub was game and by far the fittest of all of us. I was banking on having Brett steer me through it with advice and energy. Brett suggested that we would start the trail at 10pm last Saturday and walk throughout the night. He calculated that we would need 17-20 hours to complete the trail and perhaps even more. Temperatures have been climbing fast in Hong Kong recently so a night hike sounded good to me. And I had been training hard and living (sort of) healthy in the days up to Lantau. In fact I was ready to run some of the flats and downward sloops. I met up with Brett in front of McDonalds in Mui Wo and off into the night we went. Brett is among many things a tennis coach and had been working forty hours during the four days up to setting out on the trail with me. He’s ten years younger than me but still!!
My face got intimate with more than one of these!!
A lot was going on in Brett’s life. His beautiful wife Emma was almost ready to give birth but was snug at home cheering on Brett through WhatsApp. Brett and his partner are trying to get The Running Klub off the ground. COVID-19 had the tennis courts closed and coaching only just began again. Emma and Brett may even be moving soon. So as Brett took his first few steps on the trail he felt tired. Really tired…but he soldiered on. I had a bad bowl of soup earlier the same day and had to spend some time on the toilet. I was hoping to have slept a few hours prior to the trail but things got in my way and while my first steps on the trail where not as hard as Brett’s I was still quite weak and staring into a long night of darkness. But we had each other and that was enough. Brett is such a good guy on so many levels. As we walked along the trail it quickly became apparent that we had a lot of cobwebs to deal with. Freshly finished strong cobwebs with big spiders in the center. Most often perfectly constructed to the height of our faces. We dodged a few and hit a few. It slowed us down considerably. With the rising temperatures the snakes also begin to appear. Generally snakes try to avoid humans but we were hearing lots of stuff on either side of the trail. So look down to spot for snakes and get a cobweb and a spider on your face or look up to avoid cobwebs but step on a snake? Brett was in pain. He had to stretch a lot. We were talking and having a good time but moving slow. We were joking that Brett was doing a Benjamin Buttons with his pain. He would start off bad and uncomfortable but gradually get better and finish with no pain. Well…after several hours it wasn’t looking good for that theory.
At times the moon would provide enough light for me to turn of my head torch.
We were only moving ahead with about 3 kph (1.86 mph) and Brett was getting worse. Severe pain in his back. Finally we decided that a bit of rest would do him good and he laid down to get a few minutes of sleep. He probably slept for no longer than 4-5 minutes but rested for about 15. Then he stretched and suddenly he was fine!? Now we were running!! Unfortunately we found out that we were running in the wrong direction so we turned around to head back and look for the turn we had missed. That sat us back about 3.6 km (2.24 mi) but we got back on track. And we were doing well. Running…walking….running. We even hit a few more cobwebs along the way. The sun rose around 05:24am and we were running. At 06:06am we teamed up with Leon who greeted us with a big smile!! After an ultra-short break the three of us continued: the three Musketeers.
The Three Musketeers having breakfast in rural Hong Kong :)
At around 8am we had breakfast but it felt like lunch given that we had pushed throughout the night. I changed my socks and fixed my blisters. Brett and I restocked on water and away we went again. The weather forecast had predicted rain and thunder but that had been pushed to the following day. So we were blessed with a bright blue sky. Spirits were high and we were moving along. Parts of the trail was pure magic. There were lots of butterflies and the Lantau Trail is overall the most beautiful trail I have seen in Hong Kong. While we were walking I was updating social media in real time. Brett was strong but still stopping to stretch out now and again. Leon was just one big smile and full of spirit. He always seems to be. Leon is passionate about his family, tennis and his business (Lasvit). Before noon I found myself running low on power. I was also running out of water. I kept pushing but eventually I had to tell the guys that I needed to sit down. It was like hitting the wall. The sun was up high. I was drenched in sweat. We had far to go. I sat down and the guys sat down with me. We talked about if I needed a short nap somewhere. Eventually I got up, took the lead and pushed on. Leon and Brett followed. I wanted to stop a million times but I wanted it to be perfect: a pavilion in the shade. That never appeared. Eventually we made it to the peak of Ling Wui Shan at 490m (1.607ft) and shortly after that I found some shade under a tree and took a 20 min rest. Perhaps I even slept for a minute or two. When I got up Leon gave me some water. About 250ml which was a welcome gesture. And then the tree of us powered on all the way to Ngong Ping.
Ngong Ping. You can see the Buddha in the background.
Ngong Ping is famous for its big Buddha but we were delighted because the area had food and stores. We had done about 55km (34mi) at this point, the temperature was above 30C (86F) and the humidity was around 85%. Brett and I had been going for almost 18 hours at this point. I hydrated and so did the others. Then we had something to eat. At this point I felt pain in places where the sun never shines. Obviously my underwear was not suited for such a distance. We had something to eat and a bit of a rest. Then we hydrated some more. To my great surprise Brett decided to return home!? Brett was by far the strongest of us all and has a parade of physical achievements behind him. However he explained that the pain in his back was out of control and that stretching was no longer releasing the tension. He had in fact been in a lot of pain for several hours. It was the right choice although it was a shame we couldn’t complete the trail together. He wasn’t losing out in terms of the trail though. Brett had already done the part we still had ahead of us: Lantau Peak! Lantau Peak sits at 934m (3.064ft) and is the second highest peak in Hong Kong. The climb is steep and highly demanding. Brett is a sensible kind of guy. He knows when to quit and he also knows that his career depends on his body. I don’t have a sliver of that kind of sense. So we parted and Leon and Leon and I continued up the steep climb. While Leon is slightly older than me he had only covered half the distance. So he was my beaming light ahead of me saying: “come on Thor! You can do it! Breathe through your nose. It’s all in your mind. It is really flat. Come on!” I had an energy which I didn’t have before. I powered up the steep climb. Leon wanted to run but I was nowhere capable of that. But eventually we reached the peak. It was windy, slightly cloudy and beginning to look like rain. I had not looked at social media for a while but whipped out my phone to take a few photos before heading down the other side of the mountain.
Leon and I with renewed energy on the home stretch!
Apparently running down stairs was my forte. Leon had a hard time keeping up with me. I was flying down the steps which were created by rocks in various sizes. And after 30 minutes of running down the stairs I had to stop up and wait for Leon. But as soon as he caught up he was in the lead again. Funny how that worked out. Leon was super strong on the uphill stretches as I was on the downhill. It basically meant that we had to wait a little for each other depending on whether we were heading up or down :)
Leon was definitely the stronger one on uphill stretches!
Then the thunder and lightning began! It was frequent!! Probably more than twenty lightning flashes per minute. The wind picked up and we knew we had to get down from the mountain fast! The rain slowly began. We were racing down the mountain making excellent time but as it got late it also got dark and we had to fit our head torches and slow down a bit. And as such the trail had taken me from night, through the day to night again. Leon and I kept pushing and exactly 22 hours after Brett and I sat out, Leon and I finished! It came out to 72.67km (45.16mi) and in the process I had burned 7.341 calories amounting to 13.6 Big Mac’s!! On that day my step counter read 94,424. Now that was something! Leon and I sat down in a bar and had a beer before taking two separate ferries out of Mui Wo. Leon returned home to Discovery Bay and my ferry brought me to Hong Kong Island from where a taxi brought me back home to the Savagar’s, a shower and a solid meal provided by James. I love that family!! Then I slept.
Back "home" and after a shower. Victorious! Tired :)
I did not leave the house the next day. My legs were not as sore as I would have imagined but they got worse as the day progressed. The next day I had four meeting downtown and just had to hump along. Now four days later I mainly feel the blisters however still some fatigue. My friend Pavel is a former athlete and told me that I should rest for a full week before running again. That sounds about right although my body is calling for another run already.
Thankful to James and Mandy at Salomon HK. And to Adrian and Bruno in France! :)
That concludes three of Hong Kong’s four major trails. That means we are now left with the Wilson Trail which is slightly longer at 78km (48.5mi) and boasts more than 6,000m (19.685ft). So tell me…how can I stay away from that? ;) In other news Brett made it home that evening after Leon and I continued on our own. When Brett made it back home Emma went into labor and they are now parents to adorable Grace Claire Hillier. If Brett had not parted with us, then he would not had made it home in time. Wild!
Alright now…lets round this baby up. I have now spent 109 days in Hong Kong adding a full week on top of the old record which was Lebanon at 102 days. That means that in the past seven years there is no place where I have spent as much time as I have in Hong Kong. And for good or for worse I have sort of built a life for myself here. I have friends, routines, running routes, a favorite café, a favorite restaurant and I’m even a guest member at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC). It will definitely be bitter sweet to leave Hong Kong when the time comes. I now have too many and too much to part with. My friends here are local, they are expats and I even have some from my home country. And the day will come. Day by day it is looking better and there is a chance that the Saga will move on before May is over. I wouldn’t put my money on it though but let’s see what happens. The Saga is well connected and I am certain that when there is an opportunity – then we will be notified. And, like that, he’s gone…
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - #TimeToSleep
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga