Athletics is a Major Skill

So I find myself in the middle of another vacation, only a week before my next one.  This week we get three days off (Wed-Fri) for the sports expo.  This is a fairly common thing for Chinese universities.  Earlier each department had their own, and now is the full-school one.  It consists of a lot of dance performances and other athletic events and is a huge part of bringing the school community together.

I am not participating due to my still somewhat handicapped knee, but my new athletic goal for the semester is a bar muscle-up, basically going from hanging on a par to being pushed up above it in one fluid motion.  I should have the strength, and now it’s just a matter of technique.  I and some classmates also took advantage of the three days off to climb Mount Hua, only 40 minutes from Xi’an by bullet train, one of the five sacred mountains of Daoism, and home to one of the most dangerous hikes in the world.

It’s been worshipped by Daoists since the second century BCE and is believed to house the god of the underworld.  It was mainly inaccessible until more recent years, old cut-stair paths were deepened and given guiding chains.  Even so, it’s sheer paths are dizzying for anyone afraid of heights, as is this pathway below (don’t worry mom, I didn’t do it).  It’s a lot a lot of stairs though.

800px-Thousand_feet.jpg

Anywho, we did a night hike at my suggestion to catch the sunrise at the east peak, and my was it wonderful. The sunrise was nothing amazing, but the whole hike was everything I could have hoped for.  For those who know I used to work at Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp the first three summers after high school, where night hikes on our days off were one of my favorite experiences in the world. Thus will convince my ode to night hikes, please enjoy.

At the beginning of each night I’ve been on hike, you start with the hazy silhouette of your objective in the distance, its black mass with vaguely distinguishable feature contrasting with the azure night sky.  A sky that feels more vast and empty than its daytime counterpart somehow, regardless of the amount of stars, clouds, or people around you.  The point where the mountains reach the night sky almost pulls it down to earth, bringing it closer to you and you closer to nature.  Then begins your ascent, step upon step, lulling you into a trance with black on all sides, revealed only via the moon, stars, and whatever flashlight you might have.  Ideally, you hit your goal about an hour before sunrise, when black still reigns, just in time to witness that celestial limbo where the eastern horizon begins to lighten before the sun emerges.  Hydrangea blue pushes against deep azure, drawing a line in the sky as night slowly recedes.  There you sit on the top of the world, waiting alone with your thoughts and nature until Ra graces the earth in light.  After a rest, you begin the next transition.  Night to dawn, ascent to descent.  As you head towards home, you retrace your steps through completely new scenery as the world reveals its true appearance.  Perfection.

This particular hike had all of that (and a fuckton of other people), but I was so lost in the experience I didn’t quite mind.  We passed by some old men playing with whips in the base town, hiked up the stone stairs (practically climbing vertical ladders at points) and climbed and climbed and climbed.  We hit the north peak after about four hours, and then proceeded on to the east peak for the sunrise.  Everyone was tired, so we went back to the north peak, and instead of going all the way down, took the “smart route” as it’s called in Chinese, which cut down the side following the path of the cable car, and was allegedly used by CCP soldiers during the civil war to take over a KMT post on the north peak.  So that was cool, and my knee felt no worse than after any other day so I’m feeling cautiously optimistic.  My thighs and calves on the other hand are shredded to hell.

Back in Xi’an and getting work done ahead of a field trip on Saturday and going to Myanmar the week after next.  Enjoy the pics!

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