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.
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.
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.
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.