Friday, November 23, 2012

No rest for the Weary...or just a tad bit!

After the 100K we stuffed our faces with Dim Sum in Hong Kong and got 1.5 hour massages where the woman massaged me with her feet *only* for the 1st 45 minutes. She hung from metal bars in the ceiling to adjust the pressure. What a normally person would then have done is stay on the couch, elevating and icing their legs in recuperation. I, on the otherhand,had Taiwan to explore.

Side Note: My 3.5 train ride TO Taidong was a 'no seat' ticket. When they say, 'no seat,' they really mean no seat. People literally were standing in the aisles for the duration of the ride. These feet have some limits. So, i squeezed into the luggage area behind the chairs and curled up on my backback for the journey. Kind of ingenious I think.

Summary of my post 100K activities and moments of relaxation in Taiwan:

* 20K bike ride around Green Island (bike was meant for someone who was 5'4, not 5'8)

* 3hrs of soaking in one of the few salt water hot springs in the world

(Survived 5.2 Earthquake - epicenter in Taidung)

* 4-5 hrs of hiking - yes, more stairs and hills - through Taroko Gorge.

* 1hr of soaking in scorching hot natural, outdoor hot springs in the Gorge

* 1hr of stuffing myself with Taiwanese treats at the Hualien Night Market (my version of Thanksgiving feast)

.....that about covers Day 1 to 4 in Taiwan!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

100k (62 miles) across Hong Kong. Check! OR Never Say Never....

Walking 100K (62 miles) is a battle of fitness, endurance, mental strength, team unity and exhaustion.

Team J*N Sando (Jeanne, Jen, JuAnne, Karen) set off to attempt this endeavor in 29 hours or quicker on Friday, November 16. I came up with the brilliant idea so I was prepared to take the blame if it was decided part-way through that this was the worst idea ever. When it came down to it, none of us had ANY idea what we were getting into. Jen was coming off an injury. Karen had run a marathon and had been going on 'walks' to break-in her shoes, I had run a marathon and JuAnne and I had walked the perimeter of Manhattan (32+ miles). 

So when we rolled up to the start line (with having read training suggestions and packing tips only 24hrs before), we encountered a sea of hikers decked in gear from head-to-toe - all armed with hiking poles. The hiking pole 'must have' recommendation was something Karen identified during the last-minute 24hr cram session for tips, so she picked up poles and Jenn brought her set. Luckily, the Bravos loaned JuAnne and myself poles, as my plan to resort to a long umbrella if need be was fraught with trouble. I am not afraid to go as far as saying that Jess and Lander Bravo saved 2 lives that weekend ;)

Not only did we feel inept on identifying the gear we needed and what to pack for each leg, but we were in the dark on what preemptive body care was required. Should we be strapping ourselves with neon tape across our knees and thighs like the clearly prepared hikers around us? Karen pulled out baby powder and said: "I powdered my feet. I HEARD it helps." Sure, why not, i thought. It can't hurt. And while I was dumping powder on my feet as if i was a pastry chef preparing for a big bake-off, it truly dawned on me that we not only had no idea what we were getting into, we were completely clueless. So, I embraced the notion that ignorance is bliss and that there's no use trying to cram last minute for an exam. As long as we could all place one foot in front of the other, we will get ourselves to the end....somehow.

This 'somehow' took many forms. I would like to attribute 75% of that 'somehow' to the superfans. Mrs Lee (Karen's mom) and Kenny (Lee family friend) were our support crew who met us at 3 checkpoints (and knew the course checkpoint details better than us), transported our excess gear that we used to replenish at the transition checkpoints, nourished us with vegetables, home-cooked fried rice, yams, boiled eggs and more (instead of living off of GU, nuts and peanut butter as originally planned) and served as our momentum to keep us going and keep us up upright (literally) at the end when we were clumsy and swaying with exhaustion. 

By saying this, I might be adding fuel to Karen's theory, 'Jeanne, I don't know about your shady math' when i was re-calculating our expected finish time (which for the record was somewhat on-mark), but I would also like to attribute 75% of that 'somehow' to my team members and our laughter. Yes, we probably laughed our way through several parts out of delirium, but whether it was delirium or not, my team made me laugh and as odd as this may sound, I really had fun walking those 100 kilometers with them. The goal was to check-in every 2 hours and create a quote board of classic phrases and moments. This proved to be a bit dangerous in the pitch black and pouring rain, so after i almost ate it twice, i put my handy device away and concentrated on the trail. The common refrain uttered became 'that's going on the quote board.' Including these quotes out of context will likely fall on deaf ears and/or make you question our sanity, but we found humour in discussions over what would cause us to melt-down, when some of us would pop ibuprofen and some Vicodin, wedgies vs butt chafing, sweating balls vs monsoon-like conditions, leaving raincoats and warm gear in the car while its monsooning with dropped temperatures, the strategy of trying to nap while walking and many more.

25% of that 'somehow' was the scenery. We crossed beaches, climbed up steep, rocky mountains, walked through the woods, sauntered through grassy fields, pounded across hard pavement, scaled down rocky hillsides and then climbed up more steep hills with grades so steep that put San Francisco hills to shame. "Couldn't we have picked a flatter country to do this in?" Jen said as we ascended so many steps and down so many more. Our calves and quads were jolted awake and Jenn's knee was swollen like a pumpkin harvesting between her thighs and calves. However, without those steep ascents, we would have been bereft of those stunning 360 degree views with the highest point on the course at 957 meters. Although i rather agree with Jen's second observation, "Hong Kong clearly does not know about the concept of switchbacks." We saw Hong Kong go to sleep, we saw the city slowly sparkle as it woke up and to our dismay, since we were originally hoping to be done by 4pm or earlier, we once again said good night to the sun, watching the daylight disappear as the darkness creep in and our beds remaining a distant memory.

Which brings me to the last 25% of the 'somehow' (i decided that it takes 200% of 'somehow' to finish this damn thing). It takes a mix of mental strength reinforced by stimulants, drugs, along with team unity to persevere through the exhaustion. For me, scaling the endless steps and steep mountainsides was a good physical challenge, but doable. In fact, on leg 3 when we were hitting our first series of mountains in the dark, I sucked down a GU with caffeine and i found myself weaving in and out of people up the mountain to the beat of my music. Once again on leg 6 after 60+ kilometers, I took the same caffeine strategy up Needle Hill, which is a 300 meter elevation increase climb for 2 kilometers and I felt like I flew up the 'hill'. So, physically, i felt great. No blisters. My knees and muscles were holding up. Although my feet were having moments of revolting and sending a shooting pain up the right foot. This is where the ibuprofen came into handy. But what got me was the exhaustion. By kilometer 79.1 (49 miles), I was getting sleepy. The inevitable caffeine crash. The big middle finger from my body saying it is pretty damn pissed off that i've avoided curling up under the covers for 2 evenings in a row. And we were all feeling it. I saw the look on Juanne's face after Needle Hill (60K) and her joke about skipping out on the rest of the hike and hitting up Dim Sum probably partially rang true. The hardest part was coming to the realization of how much the hills were slowing us down and our estimated goal of 29 hours was turning more into 35 or more if we did not step it up. "Do you really want to come in at 1am?" Karen said during her pep talk at Checkpoint 7. Hell no, we all agreed and as a team we rallied. JuAnne led the way and powered us up the final 465 meter elevation gain climb. We fueled up by our Superfans at Checkpoint 8 and all agreed we could tackle the last 13 miles, aiming to run a few stretches since the last 6 miles was 'supposed' to be flat. Ambitious? yes, we were, but at least we were consistent! I started to hit a wall. If a cop were to make me walk the line to test my sobriety  I would have gotten a big fat 'F' and landed myself in the slammer because i could not keep straight. Jenn gave me gum to chew. A few times, she startled me awake as I was nodding off, asking me questions to keep me alert. The team was looking out for each other. The last checkpoint was grim. People looked like zombies. And our spirits were deflated when the flat 6 miles we had been dreaming of never materialized. Remember when I mentioned that we were a bit behind on the preparation reading material? Somehow we missed the memo that there was a course change and the last 6 miles were no longer flat. At this point, I was still zig-zagging, Juanne was dizzy, Karen was falling asleep & Jenn was trying to keep us together (perhaps this helped her avoid thoughts about her swollen knee and popping blisters). We pulled over and had a heart-to-heart to see if it was safe for us to continue. The group consensus was to pop more Chocolate covered coffee beans, more ibuprofen & to keep on trudging. The last 1.5 kilometers seemed endless with multiple signs encouraging that we were 'almost there.' We still had humor in us though as I snapped a photo of Jenn flipping off this cheery sign. And karen asked me, on the Scale of 1 to 10 how much do you hate yourself right now for coming up with this 'brilliant' idea. And i laughed and gave in and said, "ok, you're right. i am a 10 for complete self-loathing."

But as much as we joked about our 35 hour and 55 minute 100 Kilometer hike across Hong Kong being the 'worst idea' ever, and although Jen and JuAnne look like cripples as they walk, Karen's muscles are still sore 3 days later, I have lost 1 toe nail with another on the way and another is turning black, Jenn's feet look like she's nine months pregnant with twins, Juanne is swollen and we all are non-stop eating post-event, I would venture to say we had a blast. Karen says, Never again. Jenn says, Never say Never. As i crossed the finish line, I said Never again. But hey, a better motto in life is, 'Never say Never,' right? ;)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hong Kong DAY 3: Pain & Relaxation

Today was about relaxation. And this Relaxation took several forms. 1) Pain, 2) Lounging, 3) Gluttony

1) Pain
It might sound masochistic to say i experienced absolute agony to get to pure relaxation. But i only speak the truth. As my calves were killing me, I sought out a masseuse to help work out my knots before I create more on Friday.

I told the woman i like a 'strong' massage. They send in a tiny, young woman, wearing a mini white polo shirt, an orange mini-skirt and pink jelly flip-flops. She shuffled her way toward me and let out a giggle and said 'you are very strong,' and showed me her legs to compare. While i had 15 seconds of doubt on how this massage was going to go, this was quickly countered as soon as this woman layed one finger on my body. Holy shit was she strong. I realized that for the next 90 minutes i would be deep breathing my way through agony. She found tendons and crunchiness that I  might have known existed, but did not realize it was possible to activate the pain in the ways she successfully managed.  After 90 minutes, i lied on the table like a limp doll. Amazing.

2) Lounging
I took a ferry to a bus to Cheung Sha beach on Lantau Island. THis is one of Hong Kong's longest beaches and along this strip of sand, there was one other couple, a man swimming laps and a local guy skating with a skin board along the water. I listened to the waves crashing and chilled on the beach until the sunset.

3) Gluttony
The gran finale of my relaxation was splurging on a chef's sushi selection followed by hunting down a highly recommended dessert place, 'honeymoon desserts'. Hong Kong is horizontally challenged so most restaurants are in tall buildings and shopping malls. While i would not seek out a food court in the US, i made my way to the 11th floor in the mall to try one of the numerous dessert options offering some form of mango, black sticky rice, coconut juice, sweet glutinous ball concoctions. With a full belly, I ended my day of bliss.

NEXT STOP: 100K Trip Prep, Another Beach Exploration & Dim Sum with Jordan!

Hong Kong DAY 2: I HEART da' Kong

Whoever says they didn't like Hong Kong clearly did not get out of the city. This place boasts more hiking trails than you can imagine with stunning views and easy access to beaches and waterfronts. Practically everyone speaks English - or enough to get by - public transportation is intuitive, people are friendly and everywhere so far has felt safe. 

Day 2 proved to be a 'fail' on proper tapering pre-100K walk, but a success in getting out of the city and exploring. My day started with morning yoga, home-cooked breakfast and then setting off to the subway to then catch a bus to Big Wave Bay. There are several long hiking paths throughout Hong Kong. I am doing the full 100K MacLehose Trail on Friday. Today, I started from the end of the Hong Kong Trail, which runs 50K and is a series of rolling hills with coastal views. By the time i got to the start of my hike, it was 12pm, hot and the trailhead began with nearly 1000 steps leading me up the mountain. I would beg to differ with Jordan that this portion of the hike is 'easy.' :)

I decided that 20K was sufficient and escaped by 2 busses to Stanley where there are touristy markets, bad expat restaurants, but nice waterfront views. 

I then found my way on another bus to Aberdeen where I joined Jordan and his girlfriend at their Dragonboat practice. Dragon Boats are human powered boats (powered by our paddling) and I learned a few things. One you can't take a break or you will get behind and hit the person in front of you. Two you don't want an uncoordinated beginner to sit behind you or she will splash your back and head with water and smack your hand and paddle with her paddle the whole time. I thought we were going for a light paddle in the evening around the bay. Hence, why i 'failed' again on my pre-100K tapering. Regardless, it was a lot of fun and I highly recommend pretending you're a local and crashing a dragonboat practice next time you're in town.

The night was not complete without stopping by a local dive to eat some noodles (sans soy sauce is a bit flavorless, but I will take what i can get).

NEXT STOP: Find a masseuse to ease my aching body and RELAX!

Hong Kong DAY 1: City Sitings & How Spoiled Am I?

I arrived to Hong Kong and made a rookie mistake (i blame the jet lag) of losing my subway pass, which is required to exit the station. I talked / smiled my way out of the fine and continued on to my friend Jordan's house. And How spoiled am I there?

Jordan's parents place has a view of the Hong Kong city and I have my own room with a live-in maid who cleans my room, washes my clothes and makes me breakfast every day. Not to mention, Jordan has planned out itineraries of things to do each day and how to get there. Lucky me! So Day 1's post will capture some of my city observations, experiences and ruminations.

* So far, 2 people have asked to take a photo WITH me

* Shirtless men carry bags or wheel barrows of heavy goods through the city streets

* Condom ads and ads with half-naked seductive women have made more appearances than expected along the subway escalators

* There's a street where each vendor sells gold fish

* I apparently have an addiction to taking pictures of fruits, vegetables, hanging meat, flopping fish and big blocks of tofu in the street markets

* I also am compelled to take pictures of random signs with Chinese characters that look cool to me, but probably just say 'laundry' or 'garbage'

* Starbucks has monopolized this city

* Soy sauce is in everything (damn glutard)

* Expats are in abundance & often are toting a lit cigarette unnecessarily close to my face in the crowded streets

* There's a plethora of dried powders, mushrooms, fruits and vegetables that i am intrigued to know how each is consumed

* Bright, neon cartoon figures truly are loved here

* Bright, neon signs shine bright across buildings even in the day

* Even people with limited English have gone over and beyond to help me, such as the man who worked at 711 who spent 10 minutes trying to help me figure out how to set-up my phone with my SIM card

* My calves have reported back that Manhattan is a LOT Flatter of an island, which is not boding well for my 100K walk on Friday

NEXT STOP: Adventuring outside of the city