Determination, pain and accomplishment – beyond the Wilson Trail
Day 2,430 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).
To do what I do you would need to be me…or at least something darn close to it. Social skills, programmed for problem solving and a very strong mind. Locked on target: let’s go!
Have you ever reached a point in life when nothing that gets in your way could possibly stop you? Well that may not always be rational or constructive but it is the kind of stuff that gets people to where they want to go. I love stories about incredible people like Usain Bolt. His world record may only have taken ten seconds (or less) to create…however he spent every single day for more than a decade to get to a point where he could do that. It is certainly repetitive when I state that I’m not a tourist. I hardly even see myself as a traveler although I certainly travel quite a lot. Most people who set out to travel the world they do so for 6-18 months before it becomes enough and they return home. I do enjoy traveling and very much hope to do so once the Saga comes to an end and I finally return to Denmark. However Once Upon A Saga is undeniably much more than travel. And now during COVID-19, it more than anything else, is about being headstrong. As I have also mentioned before, it was laughable when I first reached Hong Kong and was issued a three month visa. However now more than four months later the laughter has disappeared. I am not capable of leaving Hong Kong without flying. The exception would be to board a private boat and that just isn’t a good idea for several reasons. So here we are and I sort of already covered the “waiting element” of the world’s current situation in last week’s entry. So without further ado: the Wilson Trail!
The weather forecast!!! We were planing to be on the trail Saturday/Sunday.
I like M. Night Shyamalan’s super hero thriller ‘Unbreakable’ from 2000. Basically the antagonist played by Bruce Willis finds out that he doesn’t have any limits in relation to strength. I’m far from limitless and I can definitely break. However towards the end of the demanding Wilson Trail and after nearly 26 hours…I was still capable of running?! So clearly that wasn’t my limit. However four days after completing it I was still in pain. The Wilson Trail was the final one of Hong Kong’s ultra-distance trails. I was joking that completing the “set” might just be the cosmic release needed for me to get out of Hong Kong and continue the Saga. I figure it’s utter nonsense but I do like to play with the idea that sometimes here in life we need to be finished with one thing before we can move on to the next. As such there might be some “Groundhog day” scenario I must figure out. In the movie ‘Groundhog Day’ Phil (Bill Murray) gets stuck within the same day for more than eight years. Every morning when he wakes up it is the same day over and over again. Everything stays the same except for Phil’s memory. He is eventually released from the spell-like scenario when Rita (Andie MacDowell) falls in love with him. And she only falls in love with him after he (many repeated days later) transforms into a likeable person. Once that happens Phil finally wakes up to a new day. Yeah…I’ve seen a lot of movies in my lifetime. So ignoring the nonsense within these speculations I continue to wonder what I must do, who I must meet, what I must trade or what needs to happen before I can finally leave Hong Kong. How amazing would it have been if I completed the Wilson Trail as the final of the four, and right there in the darkness at the end of the trail a car slowly approached? A man in a trench coat steps out of the car and walks towards me with a closed envelope. I look inside and there is a golden ticket which offers access to a ship heading to the next country. Yeah…that didn’t happen. But here is what did.
Power bars, gels, apparel, running pack, head torch, mask, money, batteries, spare socks, paper tissue, pain killers and plenty of fluids.
I called upon four friends to help me out: Brett, Dehua, Leon and Belinda. On the actually day Brett, who recently became a father, unfortunately had to withdraw. But the rest of us went forward with the plan. I would set out Saturday evening to complete the first of ten section on my own. At the beginning of section two Belinda and I would meet up and continue together through the night until sunrise. Then she would head home and Dehua and Leon would take over and keep me company.
View from the starting point of the Wilson Trail, Stanley, Hong Kong.
The first section was dark and lonely. There were plenty of cobwebs but wise from former experience I picked up a stick at the beginning of the trail to carry in front of me. My friend Pavel, who’s a former athlete, sent me a text joking that the rain had stopped just in time for the trail attempt…however stating that it would bring out all the king cobras and pit vipers! Ha ha!? Well although I’d probably be fine I suddenly had that on my mind too. I was on my own for about 90 minutes before I caught up to Belinda. The first ten minutes were nice and clear. Then it became really damp and foggy. I had really hard rain for about 15 minutes and a lot of elevation gain and loss to deal with.
The start of section two. With Belinda :)
Belinda and I set out into the night. It was such a blessing to have her by my side. Especially the hours between 02:00am and 04:00am are murder. And in the darkness the views generally aren’t great unless you can see the city. There was the constant threat of rain but it abstained apart from another 15 minute shower. The elevation profile of the trail was impressive. Historically the 78 km (48.5 mi) footpath was first opened in January 1996 and was named after David Wilson, Baron Wilson of Tillyorn, who was Governor of Hong Kong from 1987 to 1992. The MacLehose Trail is also named after a former governor.
05:28am - Sunday
The night seemed to continue forever but finally the sky began to turn brighter which was a clear sign that we had made it through the night. Our final accent up to the meeting point with Dehua and Leon was brutal. While Belinda is both fit and spirited she had to put in a brave fight to reach marker no W041. It was up, up and more up. We spotted a few snakes which did their best to get away from us. And finally around 06:16am we reunited with the boys.
The four musketeers!! At marker number W041.
Belinda soon hopped into a taxi and was off. Dehua, Leon and I continued the trail side by side. It was all downhill for a very long while. We had breakfast at a local shop and then continued in high spirits. Both Dehua and Leon were there for the 50 km (31 mi) Hong Kong Trail back in April and it was good to be together again. Dehua is really strong on the flat bits and generally had a tendency to disappear up ahead of Leon and I when there was no elevation to deal with. Leon was the stronger one on the uphill bits and would often mix in a little running while on the sometimes endless stairs. I was the fastest of us when heading down stairs. I can’t quite explain why or how. I just have a good technique and it almost feels like a dance. So the three of us had each our advantage. Dehua stuck around for about 25 km (16 mi) between marker number W041 and W090. Then he got into a taxi and was off to join a late lunch.
We stopped for meals twice. The second time was when Dehua parted with Leon and I.
Two weeks earlier Leon and I both made it to the final marker of the 70 km (43.5 mi) Lantau Trail. This time we were going for the final marker on the slightly longer Wilson Trail. But me oh my we had to work for it!! Leon joined me from marker no. W041 to the end at marker W138. That would be about 53k (33mi).
With Cloudy hill behind us. It turned out to be nothing compared to what was coming. We dubbed the last two mountains "MOFO" and "the real MOFO".
On the other three ultra-distance trails (MacLehose, Hong Kong and Lantau) the markers were set up with 500m (1,640ft) between them. On the Wilson Trail they obviously were not. If they had been then the final marker should read W156 but it was listed as W138. As we got tired it certainly felt like some of the markers were very far apart. I didn’t enjoy the trail all that much. A shame as the trail was in beautiful settings. It kind of just felt like something I had to do, and wanted to be able to say that I had done, but not something I actually wanted to do. However the company of Belinda, Dehua and Leon definitely made it so much more enjoyable and became the highlight of it all for me. What is life if not shared with someone?
11:23pm - At the final marker. We even ran towards the end.
Towards the end of the trail Leon and I took some serious punishment through elevation gain and loss. Over and over again! The final four hours were in darkness with torches, mud and slippery rocks. The views sometimes boasted pretty eliminated skylines in both Hong Kong and across the border to mainland China. But the final leg of the trail felt like monotonous torture in the dark. BUT WE DID IT!!
Thank's again to Salomon for helping out with the care package :)
At the end of it all it had taken me 25 hours and 54 minutes from the first to the last marker. I had covered more than 78 km (48.5 mi) and I had burned 8,800 calories. My step counter for the day had reached 110,214 steps! I had endured muscle fatigue, insect bites, blisters, rashes and some places on my body the skin had been scrapped off due to constant friction. Ahhhh…the sweet smell of victory! Along the trail we had seen monkeys, birds, frogs, snakes, insects, spiders and crabs. The rain never came. Neither did the man in the trench coat with the golden ticket.
It hardly rained. However temperatures stayed around 31 C (87.8 F) with a humidity around 86%.
At around midnight Leon and I got into two different taxis and headed our separate ways. It took me roughly forty minutes to reach my hosts (the Savagar's) home and I was dead tired and smelled like road kill. I smelled so bad that I actually felt sorry for the taxi driver. My hosts had left some food for me on the table but my initial though when I got back was that I was too tired to eat. However I managed the strength to heat it in the microwave oven and before I knew of it I had inhaled the entire meal!! I must have been hungry for both protein and carbohydrates. There was also no limit to the amount of milk and water I could drink. For 26 hours I had almost entirely been running on power bars, gels and fluids.
Soup awaited me when I returned!
I did the dishes, switched off the lights, locked the door and went upstairs. Then I had a well-deserved shower, sorted my equipment, texted my fiancée good night and went to sleep around 01:30am. I got out of bed the next day at 1pm and was sore all over. Humping about like an old grandpa. I especially felt my feet, my legs and my back muscles. My body looked fairly done for with all the insect bites and rashes. It wasn’t until Thursday that the body began to feel normal again (we completed the trail Sunday night).
And a traditional Danish meal with roast pork and potatoes was also waiting for me when I returned from the trail. I love the Savagar's! :)
This week hasn’t differed much from the last. I’ve been keeping social media alive, I have had several meetings and I’ve done roughly an interview per day. The main difference has simply been the physical pain that accompanied it all. Being that I’m in Hong Kong I have a superb internet connection which has been a blessing for video calls with friends and family. A common question on social media has recently been: “where are you?” That puzzles me given that the past gazillion post on social media and the past 18 blog entries have all been from Hong Kong. And yes…I could be writing about culture, restaurants, heritage sites etc. but haven’t I already done that? Another common question in recent times comes from journalists and has been what I think travel will look like in the future post COVID-19? I don’t think we will experience much change. It’s likely that temperature checks will become common as well as there will be more sanitation at terminals and on means of transportation. And then I’m pretty sure we will need to click on "accept" or sign guarantees ensuring that we are not sick and have not been in contact with anyone sick for the past 14 days prior to a departure. This way liability will shift from the carrier to the passenger. The infrastructure is still out there: hotels, planes, buses, trains, cruise ships, casinos, theme parks and all that jazz. Money makes the word go round and it will all start up again.
This week I also experienced some tremendous hospitality as I spoke at the DSV office here in Hong Kong before an energetic and fun audience. DSV is a global supplier of transport and logistics and since last year they even joined up with other leading Danish companies on an ambitious sustainable fuel project.
Spectacular crowd!!! If only these people knew how much pain my body was in ;)
I have now been fortunate to speak across sixty countries and for a huge variety of audiences. My talks center around why I do what I do, the logistics behind it, the Red Cross Red Crescent, the importance of adjusting our world view and my take on people in general. There was an extra connection with DSV as the Danish Red Cross is DSV’s international humanitarian aid partner. DSV provides the Red Cross with logistics services, logistics expertise and financial support. And then on top of everything else this was the fourth time I spoke at a DSV office!! I had the privilege of dropping in on them twice while in India last year (Delhi and Mumbai) and once in Kenya (Nairobi).
Thank you people! Let’s keep on keeping on!
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - tired.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga