So Small

Up the stone path, at first it’s like a large hill.

Like the ones we ran in Suzhou.

Towering trees overhead.

Gray headstones grow from terraced slopes.

The three of us hike through this ancient graveyard.

Green moss covers some headstones. A crudely made white ceremonial headdress hangs from a post over another grave.

One headstone has a red crucifix.

Slick mud. Then rocks. Mud, rocks.

The trail flattens out near some graves, but is mostly straight uphill.

This altitude does not offer enough oxygen to us sea level Shanghai folk and my girlfriend Guilin is hurting a bit.

A female runner comes charging downhill towards us. My host Sid’s good friend.

Soon, a man comes flying down through the water-carved channel.

He’s a pro, sponsored by Garmin & North Face. Sid says he’s doing 5 repeats of this hill circuit. A total of 20km…with about 2,000 meters of elevation gain.

1 kilometer here feels like 5.

But soft beds of pine needles cushion our final ascent.

We come out on a stone path called Jade Road.

I’m ecstatic when Sid says it’s about 10k one way from end to end.

I want to get some momentum going.

We’re at about 2,671 meters.

That’s 8,763 feet.

Yesterday was my first run over 4,000 feet since Mongolia in October.

Before that, I had not even been above 3,000 feet since Kenya in 2010 (my daily living and training there was at about 8,200 feet).

I stayed on relatively flat ground yesterday. Only about 800 feet of elevation gain and “only” a max elevation of about 7,053 feet.

Not quite as high as Mexico City, but higher than Colorado Springs proper, meaning before trails are ascended (Boulder proper is at 5,430 feet.)

Darn the diarrhea I experienced pre-hike. Every time I’ve ever been at altitude, I’ve had one day of sickness: Wyoming in ’98; Colorado in ’99; Kenya in ’10.

But diarrhea?? Has to be related to altitude somehow. I haven’t been sick at all from foods anywhere in Asia, excepting during the 24 hour relay race in September in which my main fuel beforehand consisted of “soy milk,” spiked terribly with dairy powder. Never a good idea for a vegan of 17 years.

Guilin & Sid continued their hike. I had to–I needed to–run Jade Road.

Why do some of us NEED to run as others hike? What compels us?

My spirit–this innate, primal force bestowed upon me–has to be fueled.

If I only walk, there is no ignition.

If I run…

A wholly new, blessed world of wonder opens up to me. Enveloping me, I become one with the stones.

With the towering trees. Giant boulders alongside this rim of rock faces, brazenly looking down into endless gorges.

This is no hill.

It never was.

But I only saw before what I could experience without running.

Now…oh, G-d! Lord, it’s breathtaking.

Indescribable beauty as I cross a footbridge over the roaring whitewater of a falls.

Lush blankets of green trees as high and low as one can imagine.

I’m in the middle, running a narrow ring through this majestic land.

So few people anywhere, I pick up my pace, Jade Road ascending, descending, ascending.

Hugging enormous rock faces:

“Pass fast”

“Through Quickly”

Signs warning of falling rocks.

Rounding turns, having no idea what comes next.


Another turn, another massive gorge.

I look beyond, barely seeing railing on the other side. The only sign of humanity here.

I feel so small.

I am tiny.

A speck of dust beneath clouds swirling over peaks 4,000 meters high.

Dali lies so far away. I see the city and it looks to be a world away.

Two monks live in a shuttered guesthouse just above me.

They seldom leave this mountain.

苍山:Cāng Shān

I, too, am home.

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