Day 2: Tiger Leaping Gorge: I hiked three hikes today

The uphill. Light rain – enough to keep the air cool and the gorge hidden. We begin to climb and start counting the infamous 28 bends, only to realize the teahouse stop is not only closed but also the signal to start the real ascent of the bends. More heavy breathing, and many short stops along the way. Red numbers painted on the rocks signal our progress – until #16. Then they seem to stop. We reach the summit which offers no view. Lisa says to take a picture would yield the same result as showing someone a white piece of paper. Still, going up was easier than I expected as the pink flowers that helped me so dearly yesterday were replaced by their vivid yellow sisters. I felt confident that I would make it the entire time.

the summit

Soaking wet, we made it to the top! Trust me, this is the summit — the flag proves it!

Then came the downhill. Though the rain had stopped, it had left its treacherous mark. Mud and slippery rocks made up the narrow pathways we needed to descend. Out group naturally broke off into three again, and like the day before I was by myself in the middle of our sprawled pack. At least I knew there was someone behind me in case I fell, but there were many times that offered little comfort. Sometimes the path was no more than 8 inches wide, with a steep drop-off providing strong motivation not to slip on the shiny, wet rocks. I reminded myself I was out of shape. The pine smell was beautiful.

 

Around a bend I saw our group leaders stopped, admiring the view. We had descended far enough that the clouds were above us, and the gorge made an appearance, the Yangtze River rushing below. I caught up with them, but then stayed behind to take more pictures that didn’t come close to capturing the textures, depth, and complexities of reality.

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Trust me again. It’s super cool.

Alone again, I slowly made my way down dirt paths, bamboo-covered paths, and rock “paths.” I thought my legs were going to give out. The painted red arrows assured me I was going in the right direction even when the paths vanished – not even burro droppings made it clear which way I should go. I could no longer hear my friends – or anyone for that matter – ahead or behind. For awhile it felt like Oregon, though, with pines and rhododendrons lining the path. I looked down at the hiking skirt I wore, once owned by my friend who is now gone. Alone, I was surrounded by familiar halfway around the world. Not alone, just by myself.

I reached Tea Horse Guest House, our chosen spot for lunch only a few minutes behind the leaders. I could have sworn they were miles ahead. Ten minutes later, we were all together. The trailers weren’t so far behind after all. We ate amazing food, my favorite dishes being the broccoli and yak (yum!), and warmed ourselves with the tea that greets us at every stop. Sated, we put our packs back on and walked the last leg of the day’s journey. There was sun and baby goats. The paths were still narrow, but the terrain flat. We tended to stick together as a larger group. The mountains met us at every turn. Sun, scenery, and company all together as we reached our stopping place for the night. My legs are wobbly, but I’m energized. The view from the room is as breathtaking as it was from the trail. Still, electricity is reserved for later, and once again I handwrite this documentation of the day.

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The view! From our room!

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Farmers working below our room.

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View from the deck.

I give thanks to all three legs of today’s trek and the gifts they brought. And now it’s time for a beer.

Note: I didn’t write anything about Day 3. Rest assured, we made it safely. The terrain was mostly flat and the weather was nice. There were more super-cute baby goats.

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Tiger Leaping Gorge: Day 1

I’ve been back from my three-week trip to China for almost a week. The lack of internet access prevented me from posting while I was there, but I hope to share some of my experiences now, unfiltered, transferring my scribbled notes here. This is the first post.

I’ve let my body down. Pleasure, laziness, and grief have made my heart, body, and breathing heavy. Straight up hill through the dust. Bright sun and still air. It’s beautiful, but I barely notice. I’m not sure I can do this and start to imagine my failure one hour into a three-day hike. Many of us are struggling, but it’s only my short comings I see. An old man follows us closely with his burro, hoping to make a few extra kuai by carrying our packs – he probably walks this trail several times a day, yet here I am struggling to do it once. No way will I give him the satisfaction of carrying my belongings, even though my face is already flushed with the first signs of heat exhaustion. This is the first hours of a three-day hike.

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The uninspiring beginning of the trek.

Then the path levels off and the smell of pine urges me on. I give thanks to it and the lingering cherry blossoms (or some pretty pink flower), somehow surviving in this unlikely climate. I’m simultaneously reminded of why I don’t hike and why I should do it more often.

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One of the only pictures I took that day. I was too stinking tired to take more.

The blossoms fade off as the terrain changes back to rock and dust. Two butterflies, my totem animals of change, lead me down a steep path. I separate myself from the group, part ahead and part behind. I let the grief come through, though the tears only last a few minutes. Molly should be here. Some would say she is, but I’m not the sort who believes that.

We reunite for a snack break near a farmhouse. The scenery is beautiful. We guzzle water, make small talk, and rest. Moods are positive. It’s hard to be anything but content in such a setting. I watch an old woman in traditional Naxi dress coming home from the fields. I wonder what her life is like living here, and don’t come close to having any perspective of it. Her life and mine are worlds apart in every possible way.

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Naxi woman carrying vegetables from the fields.

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The beautiful farm lands.

Off we go again. Soon after, we arrive at the Naxi Guest House, and I don’t feel so bad. We made it one day, and will spend the night before embarking again, moving forward. The tea given to us by the guesthouse staff is floral and slightly sweet, a true welcome after our “easy” hiking day. I hand-write this memory in my notebook while sitting outside, sipping the warm, comforting beverage. Relaxed, happy, grateful. It starts to rain.

We take shelter under the eaves and I notice my breasts are still sweaty and the wind on my back plus my perspiration cools me down. The tiny trek was tough, but I did it: the unforgiving inclines, blissful straight-aways, and slightly slippery descents. At some point the man with the burro had given up on us, seeing we were going to reach our destination. I didn’t notice exactly when that happened.

The rain comes down harder, and somehow the air is even fresher than before. They’ll turn on the electricity at seven tonight. In the meantime, I watch my friend and his daughter play UNO and wait for the sun to set.

A writing retreat

Trigger warning: Some acquaintance rape references in a research context.

Yesterday we were fortunate to arrive before sunset. The sky wasn’t completely greyed over – an anomaly for the Oregon Coast in November. We drive to the beach and walk along the low-tide waves as the sky turns from pink to orange to red to dark. The clouds turn the sky into an abstract painting. Both of us fall in love with the dead trees that enhance the scene.

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Dusk in Oceanside, Oregon

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I love dead trees.

Driving back to the house we rented for this escape, we discuss the plan for the next day – how to turn a mass of data into something that matters. How to convey the idea that when young people grapple with a scenario about sex and alcohol and popularity, that the word “rape” is relevant, yet barely reaches awareness. How “victim blaming” ideology still plagues our culture. Objectives for the next day set, we take our minds off of the work and indulge in a hot tub soak. Conversation turns to the data again; we are optimistic about our goals. Sleep comes easily that night.

The next morning brings the expected Pacific Northwestern rain and ten hours of work. The fire burned all day, filling the storming outdoors with piney smoke. We analyzed, deconstructed, reconstructed, and finalized an analysis plan. Wrote, deconstructed, and reconstructed again. A better plan. Writing was slow, but steady. It feels good, even though the material is heart breaking.

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This fire made everything better.

We finally take a break from reading difficult phrases uttered by youth: “Well I think she put herself in that situation first of all, and if she didn’t want that to happen, then she should’ve said, ‘No.’” and “how she could have prevented it” to cook a Thai meal. Onions, summer squash, baby bok choy, red peppers and tomatoes in a curry sauce. I over-cook the rice noodles but it still tastes good. The break from the sadness and frustration over the youth voices feels good, but it’s time to go back.

We notice flaws in the analysis, and begin again. A few more hours of struggle. The hot tub waits patiently. Finally, we put the computers, printouts, and pens away and soak out all the difficult thoughts. We talk about our dreams and fears. A couple of stars shine through the black cloud cover. The rain is light and cool.

Tomorrow we will dive into the work again for a few more hours. It won’t be as completed as we had hoped, but we’ll continue to make sense of something that shouldn’t exist in the first place.