Another story of endurance and teamwork – Hong Kong continued
Day 2,675 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 which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).
Thankfully I have friends
I have distant memories of Hong Kong. So distant that it is hard to believe that they are in fact relatively recent. The past year has been full of encounters, events, meetings and places. My mind sends me flashbacks all the time. I feel like my mind is a hard disk drive which is running out of memory.
Last week’s entry: Tragedy or celebration – a year in Hong Kong
I haven’t quite worked out how to manage all the new activity across social media and the higher influx of emails. Perhaps a few models could work? One strategy would be to reply to people for twenty minutes every day and ignore the rest. Another solution could be to reply to thirty people every day and ignore the rest. Back in January I pushed whatever I could into February (Interviews, meetings etc). Well, here we are. And February should be a lot easier than January although we were off to a really rough start. Let’s go a week back to the day I released last week’s entry.
Chinese New Year is approching - some people don't llike it when it is called that.
Last week the Friday Blog was online at around 1pm and I barely managed to get 45 minutes of sleep before heading out to the Savagars in Sai Kung. For months my friends and I had been preparing for the MacLehose Trail which is sometimes referred to as the Grandaddy of Hong Kong’s long-distance trails. A 100km (62mi) path across much of the New Territories, with a 5,000m (16,400ft) elevation gain (and decent) along the way. It is a popular trail which sees many hikers and trail runners every day somewhere along the ten different stages. Over time many athletes have tamed the full distance with impressive times. In fact, the fastest known time (FKT) is a mere 10 hours and 38 minutes. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department estimate that a hike through all ten stages would take about 35.5 hours putting the FKT into perspective! I wanted to see if I could manage the distance under 24 hours and last Friday I headed out to the Savagars who live very near to the trail start. It was as always good to see Harry, Edward, Cassie, James and Arlene! Arlene had cooked a massive lasagna for me and I was joined by Harry and Edward while I ate THREE FULL PORTIONS! Probably not a good idea just before such an endurance test but it tasted really good. The first episode of the Mandalorian season two was on in the background: this is the way. Edward showed me his LEGO Saturn V rocket which was beyond impressive! And then after a short while Cassie drove me and the boys to the visitor’s center, which is as far as you can go with a car. We said farewell which I recorded in a short video. The younger Harry was, as always, the media darling greeting the camera with a bold “What’s up guys!” and a smile. Edward was hiding behind Cassie while grinning. We parted and a few minutes later I joined Anders at the trail start. We still had a few minutes before 6pm – and we wanted to start sharp.
Ready. Set. Go!! Together with Anders. 0km (0mi) - 0 min.
At 6 pm exactly we started our Garmin watches and began making our way. I had been couched a little by Frank who has been though the MacLehose Trail three times already setting some impressive times. A few other Danes in Hong Kong such as Bjørn and Thomas S. have also earned their stripes on the ultra-distance trail. Would I make or break? I was nervous. The kind of nervousness which comes when you suddenly doubt your own preparedness. Or perhaps the feeling which comes in the moment when you, far too late, realize what it is you have embarked on. My body new I was nervous long before it dawned on my mind. My stomach had been uneasy since midday. Well, there was no turning back now. Anders was joining me for the first 62km (38.5mi) which according to the plan would be the entire night. So roughly 13 hours. The sun was about to set as we began the trail and for the first hour, we could manage without our head torches. At around daybreak we would meet up with Kenneth who would join me across stages seven and eight. Two stages which are home to three of Hong Kong’s highest mountains (Needle Hill, Grassy Hill and Tai Mo Shan). Then before noon we were scheduled to meet Poul who would fast-walk/run the final two stages with me. Everyone was bringing food. Everything had been scheduled and coordinated. Was it going to work?
We had a bright moon for much of the night.
It was a long monotonous night. Some 12-13 hours of darkness. Anders was the right man for the job! He had never before done more than 40km (25mi) in a single hike so a third would be unfamiliar territory for Anders. However, we were well prepared. We knew the terrain and had the right equipment. Besides – Anders is a very strong hiker. We agreed to run the downhill bits and some of the flats to make good time. And we ticked off the first two stages with an extra 6 minutes in the bank. We also won some time on the next two stages, which are largely regarded as the two toughest stages on the trail. I twisted my left ankle twice and pulled my right ankle in the night. But nothing so serious that we had to stop or slow down. And I stomped my toes on an untold number of stones along the path. It is the kind of stuff that happens when the mind and body start to get tired. I always find those hours around 2am really rough. Those are the hours when a voice in my head strongly begin to question the sanity of the situation: “what are you doing? You could be at home sleeping. Who is this for? Who cares if you make it or not? Just go home”. That same voice also tortures me regarding the Saga. Around 4am I was feeling strong. I had found the right balance between energy bars, energy gels, pace, clothing and strides. Anders was by my side and we knew the sun would be greeting us after just three more hours. To my surprise we were not alone in the night?! Every so often we would come across small teams with backpacks and head torches – where they also doing the entire trail? No time to chitchat. Go. Go. Go! We also came across some senior citizens walking along the road with canes in the middle of the night? Sometimes listening to music as they went along. Hong Kong never fully sleeps.
DAYBREAK! It was a welcome gesture from the sky. It was time for Anders to head home and Kenneth to take over by my side. Anders lives in a small village on Lantau Island so he likely had at least 90 minutes home. That would be a tough transit after such a night! I gave Anders my sweaty long- and short sleeve t-shits along with my head torch. Meanwhile Anders and Kenneth refilled my Salomon soft flasks and drinking pouch with water and sports drink while I put on the fresh ones Kenneth had brought me. I thanked Anders, began biting into the homemade sandwich Kenneth brought along and off we went. We had lost some time on stages five and six and Kenneth was hellbent on winning some of it back. We weren’t far off the time line and we were chasing and separate goal apart from completing the trail in less than 24 hours. I’m highly competitive with some things. And I knew what Franks best time was and didn’t mind shaving a bit off it. Furthermore, Thomas S. had taunted me by stating that he would expect a young man like me to complete the trail in less than twenty hours. It was within reach. Would I burn out or could we keep the pace?
With Kenneth after 76km (47.22mi) - 16 hours in.
Kenneth was “flying” across stages seven and eight! Faster than I had ever seen him before. It was clear that he was going to do his outmost to deliver on his part – and he did!! My knees had begun acting up. It had started during the night as I felt that something had sort of tightened across my kneecaps. And as I kept going it began to feel more like a crystalized pain within my kneecaps. Every breath I took felt like if they were drawn in cold icy weather. Like a mild icing of my lungs. My hair was slimy from the salty sweat. My skin was covered in salt. My muscles felt strong though and I had a good balance of energy to work with. We were making great time! Up hill was less of a problem for me. Down hill became rather painful for my knees. Tai Mo Shan is the tallest of Hong Kong’s mountains and the last vertical challenge on the trail. It towers over Hong Kong at an elevation of 957m (3,14ft) and the plan had always been to run down it once we reached the peak. The pain in my knees were however not encouraging the idea. I suggested that we could try jogging 8kph (5mph) instead of the usual 10kph (8mph). But we sat out with 10kph almost from the begging and kept the pace all the way down. It was about three times as painful to run as it was to walk downhill. But, pain is temporary – right? And I have some experience with pushing through pain. It wasn’t long before we reached Poul.
Click HERE to watch the video!! :)
THE FINAL TWO STAGES!! We quickly refilled my water pouches and parted with Kenneth who had ensured us an astonishing swift time across stages seven and eight. Morale was high! Poul and I continued on the mostly flat final two stages. Poul is a very fast hiker (as long as it's flat) and he was onboard with the idea of getting us below twenty hours. We ran the downhill stretches to the displeasement of my knees, which were crying out for mercy! Get in line!!! At this point I was dealing with my lungs, my left shoulder, the bones within my feet, my abs and my chest muscles. Great stuff! At forty-two I was the youngest within the team. Kenneth has a year on me, Poul is forty-nine and Anders is more than fifty. We had done well! It was now time for the final push! Poul and I were advancing rapidly under a blue sky. It was a beautiful day and the end was getting closer with every step. After hours of pushing hard we reached the final decent and stopped the time at 19 HOURS and 35 MINUTES!! Solid effort!!! A time my Russian friend Pavel who used to race semiprofessional, would later refer to as a 7th place in the 65+ age category for women. Probably not unrealistic but I was happy with the time. Overall, we had kept a pace of 5.1kph (3.17mi) across 100km (62mi) and an overall elevation gain of 5.023m (16.480ft). It accumulated to 136,224 steps and I burned 9,329 calories which is equivalent to around thirty-five hamburgers! (which would explain why I have been so hungry ever since). What an ordeal!! Thank you SO MUCH to Anders, Kenneth and Poul! The three right friends and the exact right stages of the trail. VIDEO HERE! :)
With Poul after 99.35km (61.73mi) - 19hrs 35min. DONE!
Afterwards Poul and I hopped into a taxi and set out to pay Kenneth a visit. It was only a short 15-minute ride but I couldn’t stay awake. A blister on one foot had begun to reveal itself and there were no comfortable positions for my knees. As we arrived, I felt like I had climbed out of a car crash. The few minutes it took to reach Kenneth’s door might as well have been a marathon. The fifteen-step staircase was like a mountain. Inside I had a Cola and the subway Poul had brought me which I never ate until then. Actually, I did not eat it – I inhaled it! I didn’t stick around to celebrate for long. I was too done for and we soon called me a taxi. The ride home might only have been ten minutes but I fell asleep again. Once home, I quickly took a photo to announce the victory to the world, had a shower, brushed my teeth and went straight to bed. It was 4:13pm. I woke up again around 10:30pm because I was too hungry to sleep. So, I got up and felt the full wraith of both my knees begging me never to walk again!! Bah – pain is temporary – right? I cooked some dinner, inhaled it, brushed my teeth and went back to sleep. Usually, I would stretch after such an ordeal, sort my gear and do the dishes. Not that day!! I left it all undone and fell asleep again.
Monday: shopping for the ship. Thursday: urban hike w. the boys.
Getting ready to climb a few steps with a PS5 on my shoulder. The good ship Maersk Eindhoven (my job as an assistant of the Danish Seamen's Church).
The following day I walked 0.41km (1,378ft). But the day after that I had to run some errands for a ship and among other things buy a Play Station 5 for the crew. So that day I limped about 6.6km (4.1mi) including a very long climb up the gangway followed by a very long climb down. The captain was super cool though and the crew was ecstatic about PS5 which would be welcome during their trip across the Pacific Ocean. My right knee quickly got better but my left knee still has some way to go. It has been getting better every day though so I am not worried at all. Yeah – I have been resting up, doing some easy chores, I have been replying to emails, social media, interviews etc. I have had a few video calls and I have slept more than usual. Afternoons have generally been calling for a nap. And I have been constantly hungry. During some meals I had to eat four portions to satisfy my energy consumption. On top of everything I have found myself easily irritated and at times frustrated. I guess that comes with the overall physical stress. But, its not just that. The Saga is a highly stressful project and the overall question of when it might be time to pack up and head home is always banging on the door. You may say that we are so close and that there are “only” nine countries left. I may reply that I have already spent seven years of my life on something which was supposed to take less than four.
I appreciate street buskers so much more now that concerts are out of the question.
We did not reach 194 countries in an unbroken journey without flying by accident. While most people who follow the Saga today are blissfully ignorant of what it took to get this far…some of us are aware. It has come with a lot of sacrifice and hard work. The Saga, as people experience it today, hardly resembles what it was for six years as we were moving along. Today it is more than anything a waiting game. A test of endurance on my part. Back in December I thought we could have a chance for moving on in March 2021. Today I laugh at that. I fear that the pandemic is going to turn far uglier before we see the end of it. And I am almost certain that it will take much longer before we can set sail out of Hong Kong. Let’s see…it is hard to predict – especially about the future.
Upon a tradition which Thomas (of the Andersen Clan), Kenneth, Poul, Jesper and I have begun, we went hiking again yesterday (Thursday). We aim at a few hours of urban hiking which offers little elevation, and then we follow up by celebrate our marvelous accomplishment with a glorious meal and a reasonable amount of red wine. Last nights hike was a bit over the top for my knee and I also found myself enjoying a very reasonable amount of wine. I have made many fine friends during my time here and I have no doubt that a tear will run across my cheek the day the Saga finally depart Hong Kong. That is the bright side of the pandemic: there will be many more Thursday hikes.
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - recovering.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga