Approaching the edge | 80 days in Hong Kong
Day 2,381 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).
I get by with a little help from my friends
Years ago I was stuck in Lebanon waiting for a visa so that we could take the Saga into Syria. After several months the Danish Red Cross stepped in and offered to help. That was kind of them. We ended up spending 102 days in Lebanon but Hong Kong will surely beat that. And I was already sick of it back then with sixty countries left to go. Now we have nine.
I am privileged. Eighty days in the home of a loving family of four: James, Cassie, Edward and Harry. Four people who used to be strangers but are now friends. I am privileged to be able to leave my home and reach for the stars. Not many would dare to give up years of their life in the pursuit of every country. I have loving woman waiting for me at home. I have a family which supports me. I have friends that support me. The Saga has several partners which support the project. I am physically healthy. I was born with a safety net. I am privileged. I have paid for a lot of it. I have paid for this accomplishment with bravery. I have paid with time. I have rarely found myself with less than a thirty hour workweek in the past six years – I have often been pushing a hundred. The Saga is a very ambitious ordeal and I could have made it a lot easier for myself. However I have standards and ambitions. As such we have managed to pay a visit and make a promotion of the Red Cross Red Crescent across 189 countries. We have managed to inspire and motivate people across more than fifty countries and over a hundred speaking engagements. We have generated social media which reaches tens of thousands of people in approximately 180 countries. We have delivered interviews in more than 140 countries. The social media has been updated with photos, videos and stories at an uninterrupted pace since 2013. We have spent countless of hours with thousands of modes of transportation. We have encountered death, had near death experiences and have on a few occasions stared death into the eyes. We have been to hell and back again. We have danced with depression more than once. We have obtained basically every visa on earth. We have crossed nearly every border. In some cases we had to put on our Samurai armour and battle the densest waves of red tape. Franz Kafka has got nothing on the Saga!
A modern couple in Hong Kong.
In return for all our efforts and with the generous help from people all over the world, I now stand amongst the most accomplished travelers the world has ever seen. I have become the first man to reach 187 United Nations countries in an unbroken journey without flying. And 194 countries by the Sagas count. I am the first man to visit the Red Cross movement across 189 countries. I have become one this planets 300 most traveled people measured by countries and territories. I have become an experienced motivational speaker. And we have inspired and motivated people in ways which few will ever understand. But I am tired now…and by repeating myself in the good words of JRR Tolkiens Mr. Bilbo Baggins: “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” Or to put it into my own words: imagine sitting in a boat without oars, heading towards a waterfall…that is me as our current situation stands. The future is utterly out of my control. There is nowhere I can go except for perhaps to the airport and fly home. But would it all be wasted then? So wait…but how long? How long can I sit in that oar-less boat until we reach the edge of the all destroying waterfall? How far away is the edge? In a very real sense I have no idea about when it will once again be possible to board a container ship and furthermore when I would be able to enter a country again. We are left with nine countries and we have no idea when they will open their borders again or in which order for that matter? So here we are.
The sun setting over Sai Kung.
And this is where this entry takes a turn. Because I am laughing as we approach that waterfall!! BRING IT ON!!! Any change is welcome at this point! I have not at all been dormant during the past eighty days. I figure that at least fifty-five days have gone to research, networking and meetings. Then a fair bit of time has been spent on physical fitness and various challenges to take my mind off things. I have made new friends and seen a few sights. My fiancée bought me a pair of running shoes and that helps to keep me motivated as a runner. And this family I am staying with is truly something. The Savagars have been living though a very common situation these days. Both parents are working from home and both boys are being temporarily homeschooled. And as many people now know…that intense family situation can be somewhat of a challenge. However I think the Savagars master it to perfection. A few days ago it dawned on me that I have never before spent so much uninterrupted time with children before? I’m used to children and enjoy families with children but I’m used to leaving. As such I have been diving in and out of my friends’ families for decades. And I have seen children grow up from afar. However living with children for eighty days! That is a new one for me. It fascinates me how fast they lose interest in something and move on to the next. When I first arrived UNO was the thing! Then it was badminton, paper airplanes, completing a 1,000 piece puzzle, Monopoly and the list goes on! On average it seems that something holds interest for about 3-4 days before they move on. There have however also been constants. Harry (9y) is mad for Ninja Kidz TV on YouTube and Edward (11y) is very fond of Minecraft. They both have a healthy passion for racing around the house on their EzyRollers. Great kids! A solid job on the part of their parents. Such luck to end up with a family like that.
The temperatures are coming up...
Now on with the show! As you may well know I have a passion for nature. I fare well in the city but nothing beats looking up towards the sky through leafs and branches. Or sitting on a mountainside with a majestic view and a fresh breeze. As such I believe many of my fondest memories are tied to outdoors experiences. Just within the Saga we have wondered through countless forests, made it on top of several mountains and by default we have seen plenty of ocean and desert. Hong Kong is a whole lot of nature! They say 75% of Hong Kong is nature and I do not find that hard to believe. At this point I have after all seen a great deal of it. With the MacLehose Trail we virtually walked across Hong Kong! We…me…I…it’s a lonely project. Painfully lonely to have accomplished so much on a solo journey with thousands of spectators but few to hug. My beard has never been this long before. I last saw my fiancée in September 2019. We don’t know when we can meet again. To most I’m just a traveling man. The stress levels are unhealthy high though. There is always something which must be done. There is always some obligation. There is also the constant pressure of reaching the final nine…without flying…without going home. How long will it take? Will someone beat us to it? Will my friends understand and wait for it to finish? Will my family? Well – in nature I can breathe. The trees listen to me. Sometimes they whisper something back. The mountains lend me their strength. Strength which they have built up over the course of millions of years. The birds look down at me. The grass looks up at me. MacLehose is the longest of Hong Kong’s four major hikes. Ever since I completed MacLehose the other three have been calling my name. And as I revealed last week that I was in for some more Viking Hiking! The 50km (31mi) Hong Kong Trail.
05:37am at the begining of The Hong Kong Trail.
There is no way I can possibly express how much it meant to me that I got to complete the entire Hong Kong Trail together with three friends! I do almost everything alone. I’ve lost count of how many times I have taken the trip from Sai Kung in the New Territories to Hong Kong Center. It takes little more than an hour for me to walk out to the street, take a bus to Sai Kung, take another bus to Hang Hau Station, catch the metro (MTR) to North Point and another MTR to Central. Alone. Surrounded by people of course but alone in their company. Alcohol is starting to look more appealing. I don’t have a history with alcohol and these days my tolerance is low. However I do enjoy the prospects of looking deep into a glass and putting all thoughts on hold. Haven’t done it yet however I am meeting Pavel from Russia tonight at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC). Yeah – I do have a base of friends in Hong Kong by now and it feels more real when we organize things to do together. So while I was feeling weak the night before and woke up a few times during the night covered in sweat – I still managed to get up at 04:00am and meet with Dehua, Leon and Brett at Victoria Peak as agreed. Brett has a very pregnant wife and Leon has five children! I didn’t get the impression that anyone had a good night’s sleep before we set out. However that did not stop any of us from meeting up for the challenge. In reality I suspect it wasn’t much of a challenge for Brett who’s an accomplished ultra-distance runner and a coach of twelve years. He’s quite fit. Dehua runs 10km (6.2mi) a few times a week and Leon plays lots of tennis and generally looks fit. Yet three of us had never covered a distance on foot which exceed a full marathon. How hard could it be?
We sat out in good spirits and apart from some poor navigation on my part right at the beginning we followed the trail as meant to be. We practically did not have a break between 05:37am and 11:30am. Within that time we had covered half the distance and Dehua was going to leave us. He always doubted that he could pull off the full distance and just wanted to join in for half. However as we finished lunch, which consisted of some delicious homemade sandwiches and a Corona beer for each, and we got ready to part with Dehua, he surprised us all (and possibly himself too) by announcing that he would continue a little further. At this point Brett looked completely unchallenged however some fatigue had set in with the rest of us. But on with the show!
Halfway! Selfmade lunch after a stop at a supermarket.
By the time we reached the Dragons Back Trail Dehua was still with us and Leon and I were both in pain. We had another couple of hours of powering through to go and we were going to make it. After about ten hours of hiking and twelve hours after we set out from Victoria Peak…we made it! We passed the final marker and high-fived in a mix of accomplishment and combined joy that it was over. For me the hike wasn’t especially scenic in comparison with MacLehose. However it had its moments. The real pleasure was the company!! Dehua completely surprised me. We had hiked together on several occasions and he is a solid hiker. However I would not have guessed that he could have pulled through! Impressive! It just goes to show that our limits are far from what we genuinely believe. And only by pushing forward will we ever truly know. What if we have no limits at all? Dehua is a lot of fun. He comes from Dalian in China but moved to Beijing long ago. He works in high finance and spends a lot of time in Hong Kong. Leon is from Czechia but has for many years lived in Hong Kong with his wife. They have together built a very successful…hmmm…I’m not sure what to call it? It is called Lasvit and they specialize in making the most incredible things of glass and crystal. Seriously impressive creations like the Crystal Dragons in Saipan! Brett is yet another Aussie. The world will never run dry of people from “Straya”. They are everywhere! Good fellow though. Brett and Emma are expecting their first born later this year. They both love rescue dogs, children and are kind to people. Besides they had me over for dinner and gave me some delicious tea so I have to say something nice ;) Furthermore Brett and his co-founder David are currently working on getting The Running Klub off the ground. You should check it out as there’s a great offer on for free this month.
See our 6 minute video HERE :)
I really thought that the greatest thing about the Hong Kong Trail would be accomplishing the distance and getting closer to completing all four major trails. However there was no doubt that the true value was in doing it with friends.
"You can find me at the club..."
In other news Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II of Denmark turned 80 years of age and wisdom yesterday. So she got to put some significance on the number before I did. Good on her though. She is my Queen of country and heart. Strangely her birthday had a few of my tears appear. It is a tremendously Danish thing and suddenly Denmark felt so far away. Under usually circumstances hundreds if not thousands of Danes would congregate before her palace with Danish flags and good spirits. She would appear on the balcony and wave. It would have been broadcasted nationwide and together we would celebrate that such a fine ambassador for the Danish way of life turned eighty. However in these days of social distancing this year was different. And can also report that I had a fine evening with Kate at the FCC. She is a freelance journalist who is working on a story about the Saga for CNN. So that is pretty cool. And I have also been in touch with Otto from Lock Cowboy in the UK. Otto is the founder of Lock Cowboy which sells lock pick kits. I grew up watching MacGyver and always wanted to know how to pick a lock. So now he’s sending me a lock pick set. Our friends at Salomon might also be sending me a Hong Kong care package for some upcoming adventures. Because while I did feel tired at the end of the Hong Kong Trail…I also felt like I had more in me. And the Lantau Trail is 70km (43mi) but with steeper peaks. I figure I can do it as long as Brett hops before me as a kangaroo. Now all I need to do is work out how to steer a boat without oars or simply survive going over the edge. We truly don’t know our limits…
I would like to start a new tradition at the end of each entry by always thanking our esteemed partners for their invaluable contributions to Once Upon A Saga: DB Schenker Denmark, Kameli, Red Sand Solutions, Salomon, the Danish Red Cross and Ross DK / Geoop
If you enjoyed this blog or think I am doing a good job then you can support here below. The Saga needs funding. Thank you :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - just trying to make the best of it.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga