Friday night my friends and I all went out to our “local watering hole,” to celebrate the birthday of our friend Adam. Through the shots, loud music and flashing lights I asked my friend Rebecca what she was doing the next day.
“I’m walking around Xiamen. It’s 50km,” she told me.
“Huh, sounds cool. Can I go?”
The city of Xiamen is an island and apparently, someone (Red Bull actually) had organized a walk around the entire perimeter. A night walk, starting at 7pm and going till about 8am the next day. I had no idea what to expect and was astounded when I hit the starting line to see thousands of people, banners, sponsors and people who were way more prepared than me. I had gotten just a few hours sleep the night before, hadn’t eaten a proper lunch or dinner and carried one bottle of water.
There was 5,000 participants from cities all over Fujian Province. I could see well organized teams with walking poles, team uniforms, head lamps and protein bars. We all got a small “passport” to get stamped when we arrived at 5 checkpoints setup around the city.
7pm came and we started walking.
The first 5km was easy peasy. About an hour, Rebecca and I chatting, passing by the quiet beaches and boardwalk of the east coast of Xiamen. The crowd of walkers was huge, and there was a festive air. When we got to the first checkpoint at 9.5km, we were a little sweaty and tired but feeling good. The Red Bull we got for free perked us right up, and we continued without taking a break.
We crossed the WuYuan Bridge, heading to the northmost point in Xiamen. The area was still pretty quiet, it’s not a residential part of town, and the road was dark this late at night. But in front of us I saw a familiar looking shirt. It was our frisbee teams shirt and out of the shadows steps our friend Xiao He. (pronounced Shao-heuh)
Xiao He, Rebecca and I are secret friends. Well, everyone knows we are friends, but we have a chat group and while the three of us don’t hang out often, we talk a lot and know each others secrets and gossip. But Rebecca and I hadn’t hung out with Xiao He for months because he has been busy and we used the next few km’s to catch up with him and his life. He had been watching The Wire (the TV show) and was practicing his new street slang he had learned from it. At one point Rebecca said something like it felt good to stretch. “I feel ya,” he replied, then he laughed proud at using the new vocabulary properly.
The kilometers went by, the hours passing with them. We were heading in the direction that I live, so I knew the roads well. The north part of Xiamen has train stations, bus stations and airports. We got to see the planes landing just meters above us, which was pretty cool, but there is no shops, no residential areas and as it was 10-11pm, the whole place was empty.
In the beginning a few industrious street sellers were following the crowds, selling water, ice cream, and other snacks. But now we were in a more abandoned area, with wide highways and tiny sidewalks there were none around. We stumbled upon a small gas station and saw a crowd out front resting. The place had no idea 5,000 thirsty people would be walking by, and they had sold out of all the cold water by the time we arrived. I got a can of coke, happy for the sugar rush.
We also took a small break. We had walked about 18km, without stopping, so we sat for just a few minutes. We didn’t want to get sore yet, so we hopped up quickly and kept going, planes flying right over our heads. Xiao He is an expert in planes and construction, and as we had a few more hours until the next checkpoint, we learned all about planes.
At around 11pm, I was getting pretty tired. We had been walking for four straight hours, about 20km, and still had another hour to get to the halfway point. We all decided that was as far as we were gonna go that night, but the last hour was the longest.
A friend who was behind us caught up, and we spent some time trading bad knock-knock and blond jokes. We could see the bridge (the next rest stop) in the distance and Rebecca was keeping track of the kilometers we still had to do.
“5 more kilometers.” “3.5 more kilometers.” “1.7 kilometers.”
About 15 minutes before we arrived at the halfway point we found a store and got cold drinks and ice cream. It was delicious and refreshing, and very welcome at that time.
A little after midnight, about five and a half hours after starting, we rolled up at the 25km point and finally sat down. We had walked half the island, had sore feet, achy calves and cell phones with no batteries, but we had done it. We sat down for awhile and then, with creaky knees, stood up to find a taxi to take us back home.
Somewhere in the teens, I realized this was a perfect moment for me. Almost exactly one year before I had arrived in Xiamen, with no friends, unfamiliar with the city and the people. Now I was walking around this city that I love so much, in the company of good friends. A moment of reflection. A moment of gratefulness.
And a moment of motivation. I had no idea what a big event this was and next year I want to actually prepare (a good nights sleep before, protein bars, etc) and go for the full loop. A few friends from our group did indeed finish at 8am. 11 hours after they began they went back to the beginning and hit the 50km point.
As for me, I crashed into bed as soon as I got home around 2am, and slept like the dead until 8 when my bladder woke me up. Lying down I felt great, and then I stood up and walked. Well, hobbled is more accurate as my feet and ankles were so sore I leaned on the door frame for support. And yet I’m STILL happy I did it, and look forward to next time.