Long Treks China Xining to Chengdu
For all the photos - http://www.flickr.com/photos/fartinabag
My name is Adam Richard Colton and on August 30th, 2012 I set out on a solo self supported journey to see what the outskirts of Tibet had to offer. I did not speak any Mandarin, I did not speak Tibetan tongue but I am an expert at facial expressions and hand signals. Below is a bit of a recap of the trip. Though to see the trip through the eyes of a camera check out EPISODE 1 here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rk3mcfCpC6Q
I hit the ground running after a 25 hour flight from LAX to XINING, CHINA elevation 7,000 ft. I felt like a wreck, hahah. I knew this was going to be a hard trip. It was like waking up from a horrible sleep and rushing outside to run a marathon with no training or warm up. First day right off the plane I started skating. I was already being bombarded by big trucks, nasty smoke, and mountains to climb. Towards the end of the day I was so exhausted, I found shelter from stares and people in a gutter on the side of the road. When you are tired, gutters are comfortable.
Night came and my confidence was shot down again. BOY it is cold, why was I such an idiot and kind of knowingly forgot my sleeping pad (the pad that separates myself from the cold ground). I put on all my clothes every night. I could only sleep on my side and stomach to preserve as much body heat as possible; sleeping on my back was too cold. To be semi-clever I took all my extra dry bags, pouches, and any material I had and put that beneath me, perhaps providing some warmth or mental comfort at least. I woke up each morning to a frozen ice sickle tent. Waiting for a frozen tent to thaw out takes too long so packing up the tent frozen each morning was a ritual that my hands did not look forward to. Then it took strategic planning throughout the day to dry the tent out before nightfall.
As I made my way further and further into the mountains, I became very irritated quickly with the constant honking of horns. It is a different way of road manners here. When you pass someone on the road, such as a skater you honk at them. You must honk to let them know you are there, it is programmed in them. Perhaps it is because people drive so crazy and impatiently that if they did not honk, people would get run over all the time. Some days the honking got worse. You would have someone blaring down on the horn passing you, making you think oh boy this guy is angry, yet to look up and have him smiling and waving at you as he drives by, killing your hearing. Semi-truck horns right in your ear is enough at times to makes you want to fight, especially if in a bad mood.
With all the honking and distractions, I could not get into a good head-space. For me, the key to distance skating is not realizing you’re distance skating, go figure. It helps to not be aware that you are pushing a not so efficient plank of wood walking speed with a backpack on up a very large mountain with cars buzzing close to you. Why not be distracted with more lovely thoughts such as your girlfriend, why you were such a crazy person in high school, or dreaming about some made up family and how you would raise kids. Problem was daydreaming for a long period of time did not happen because I was always struck out of it with a horn blaring in my ear. Then anger set on for a bit and then came “Adam calm down get into the zone again” which then led to another horn blaring in my ear, hahah; a cycle that looking back was a wonder I did not go completely insane or perhaps I did. If I did get a break from a horn it made no difference because with my luck my trip occurred during a time when they decided to build a new road next to the entire length of the Route 214 I was traveling on. So as you can imagine, I was quite the wonder to the construction workers as they looked up to see some crazy white guy with a bright purple coat on go by on some weird moving object. Naturally, the outspoken ones of the crew would have to whistle and yell at me, wanting me to stop and sometimes I actually did especially if I had a question which I usually could not understand the answer to anyway, hahah. In my video series, I did a really good job of not capturing the construction and trucks for the most part; I filmed the nice parts that I want to remember.
Most of the trip was at high elevation, some of the highest I have ever skated. The Andes Mountains in South America gave me a taste of what high elevation is like but China was another level. In China there were too many 14,000 ft passes to count; they were relentless one after the other they kept coming. Though still the hardest pass I have ever pushed over was in Peru. Paul, Aaron and I skated 79 miles from Sea level to 14,100 feet through rain and dense fog. That pass took us 4 days I believe. In China my highest pass and the highest I have ever skated was 15,800 feet. This is cool because it is higher than Mt Whitney at 14,505 ft which is the highest in the continental USA. I lucked out a bit because most of the 15,000 ft pass was an unskateable construction site so I got to hitch a ride for most of it. But when the pavement turned good, I got out and I skated the beast. Yeah you feel the altitude alright, work is hard and you feel it in your breathing. Secret is to pace yourself, slow and steady, nice easy breathing and you get it done. After this monster pass I had the daydream that I was going to be going down the gnarliest and longest downhill of my life. Well that was not the case, I dropped 1,000 some feet and stayed at 14,000 plus feet for pretty much a week. I have heard you have crazy dreams at night at high altitude since the lack of oxygen. I have not googled it to see if that is true, but I did have some pretty crazy scattered brain dreams. I like skating over mountain passes but China haha that terrain needs to give you a break, too many.
While amidst all the road chaos and construction, I still had a sense of being very alone. The kind of alone and helpless feeling that made me wonder if I got seriously hurt how would I get treated and where would I be taken? If I was to become very ill, where would I go to get out of the cold and seek warm comfort? There was no communication between me and the people. Half the time people did not even speak Chinese; it was a Tibetan tongue. I really was a drifting strange creature pushing my way through their world; I was kind of in luck’s hands. At least I had my spot tracker. If I was dying I could hit the red button and get rescued by a helicopter, so they say, and would that work in China? The idea seemed nice.
From interacting with people in the stores to buying a selected amount of junk food; to saying hi to kids that ran at me with rashes from the harsh cold on their face; from knocking on someone’s door and having them open the door cold and dirty, blood covered on their hands and on the floor meat bits with fur being torn and cut apart, to eating pretty much the same Chinese broccoli and noddle soup for 3 weeks straight. It really made me like the idea of the Sushi place down the street from me in LA and the Lemonade restaurant with over 15 different kinds of healthy tasty dishes, sweet potato pistachio, arugula and blue cheese. But it made me realize a lot more. We have so much potential and options here in the USA. For most of us in the US we can pick and choose to rough it and survive in the wilderness on a camping trip, get cold, and then come back home to a warm place. I can go on the internet and arrange a whole trip, flight, and accommodations in a far off place like France. I have mountain biking trails at my disposal all around me. Even though we live in a very complex time with lots of gadgets and distractions, we can still pick and choose our way through it all. I was here in China roughing it with the people surviving in their harsh environment but the whole time I had the option of leaving; I was going to leave. The families I saw in China did not have this option really. This was their life and it was fine and they were happy, working together as a family unit surviving, but I feel very fortunate to have a life with so many options and opportunities.
Out of all my distance trips this one was the shortest coming in at 3 weeks. But let me tell you my 3 week ordeal felt like 1.5 months of time. Time is double slow when distance traveling for me. Time is dependent on the event and how fast or slow you perceive it going. When distance skating, it is typical for the first 2 weeks to feel like a month, sooo slow. Everything is new, your senses are heightened, you are overly stimulated and nothing is smooth going yet, you still are a bit too clean, not enough dirt on your clothes, or dirt under the fingernails. There is no distraction by the internet, oh crap 2 hours went by in a flash. No zoning out in front of the TV…. all you have is the environment and your head to distract you and loads and loads of time. Sure day dreams take you out and away from the trip a bit, but you can’t daydream the whole day away and at times daydreaming can even become tiring. With time and usually around 1.5 to 2 weeks something changes. You become a bit more numb. You are not overly excited; everything is a bit like old news. You got your routine down of setting up camp, packing up, and heading off. The different things of the land and how people do things that once puzzled you are not so strange anymore. You got snot on your shirt sleeve, you smell sour, gear is thrashed a bit and skin peeling off your nose. From the clean off the plane California boy, you are now somewhat of an animal of your environment, a wild scary looking traveler, hahaha. You become more connected to the environment; in fact you are wearing the environment. You move through things more like a dream and more relaxed and loose. Soon it becomes a month that goes by and time keeps going faster and faster. Soon enough you start to get this craving to actually be home, the place you wanted to escape to in the first place. The idea of doing nothing excites you, hahah no joke, just sitting and being in comfort seems like the best thing after being tired and cold for so long. It is amazing to see this transformation of being done. And for me it is quiet satisfying to come home with a deeper respect for comfort. But hahah such is life, memories and activities fill the mind and soon you forget how good and comfortable you really have it.
So now it has been 3 months since I have been back. It is funny even with 3 months, the trip has changed in my mind. The mindset I had when I was done with the trip was screw the skating I am over it for now, haha, time to take it easy. That has kind of faded and the romantic day dreams of another trip are slowly brewing, funny how that works. I am sure if I could be put back in all the sucky times, the weight of the trip in my head, re-living all the exhausted, helpless, cold moments, I would be less inclined to go out and do another trip. But as with life so many things happen and memories get faded and fuzzed over by new memories. Life can be so drastic in a flash and I knew this. Every time when I had it really sucky in China, I just laughed to myself because 3 weeks from now I was going to be lying in a warm bed cuddled next to my girlfriend and this bad moment will be something to shrug off and laugh about. This video series that I filmed will act as a way for me to remember and most importantly inspire you all, because inspiration is a cycle for everyone. I get inspired by all of you and go out and do something, and in return I post a video and share my trip which hopefully inspires others to do something in which they will share and in return will inspire others, a never ending cycle of awesomeness.
Thanks for listening to my rambling. As you know these are just thoughts, thoughts change and are hard to express in words. If you really want to see what a distance trip is like, you are going to have to go out and see for yourself. Words are just words, actions and being there on a trip is the true testament.
Already planning another SUP trip, stoked.