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  • Writer's pictureMichael Van Elsberg

Lantau Island

Updated: Oct 9, 2021

At the beginning of my second trip to Hong Kong in February I stayed in Tung Chung for several days and got my first taste of the Lantau trail. The Lantau trail is the last of the four trails in the Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge. I volunteered this year and I'm training with Chris to participate in 2022. This trip is one of several I'm planning as I prepare and get to know the trails. The challenge finishes in Mui Wo at the famous green post box and the finishers and survivors traditionally kiss the post box and are then showered with champagne from Andre, the race director, at the very end of it. It is something deeply moving to witness in person, especially after you have gotten to know some of those same amazing people, and also had the tremendous privilege of cheering them on along the way.

Tung Chung is on the northwest coast of Lantau Island, which is famous for the Big Buddha and Po Lin monastery at Ngong Ping. Lantau Peak (Fung Wong Shan), further up the trail, is the second highest peak in Hong Kong. The third highest peak, Sunset Peak (Tai Tung Shan), is also there and can only be reached on foot. On the second or third day there I decided to do a little training run and make my way up to Sunset Peak. It turned out to be one of the most daunting things I've done while training for the HK4TUC. I never seem to have figured out the right equipment or how to dress for a run. Either I have more than I need and I'm weighed down, or too warm, or I don't have enough and I'm cold. It was warm in Tung Chung, where I started, so I wore a light short-sleeve button-up shirt, but as I got halfway up it began to get very cold and windy and there were very steep stairs that seemed to go on forever and I was on the exposed side of the mountain. After false summit after false summit I thought I could see the end at the top and honestly considered turning around short of my goal. I was concerned about it getting dark (I had planned to reach the summit at sunset on purpose) and it was getting even colder and the prospect of going back down the way I came was almost too much to think about. But I persevered and after quite some time I ran into two young men who were, like me, lost in the gathering fog which made it hard to figure out where to go.

The two were both determined to reach the summit just like me. I asked if they had flashlights because it was about to get dark and they said they did not. So I told them to follow me and stay close because I had both a strong, fully charged, tactical flashlight and also a clip-on light for running at night. We finally reached the top but the sweeping vistas at that point were obscured by the dense fog and the beginning of dusk. They both looked at me surprised by my light shirt and asked. "Aren't you cold?" At that point I wasn't so I replied no and one of them said, "Wow, you're strong!", which made not giving up that much more satisfying. I could also tell that they were surprised that I could keep up with them, which was also satisfying, and, along with the views, made the whole trip worth it.

To get back to where they came from meant going back down the other side of the mountain which I had not originally planned on doing. We ran down the mountain together at a very fast pace, which was also very treacherous in the dark, even with my lights. One of the two young men, in particular, had that sense of invincibility that usually only comes with youth. When we got down to near the bottom there was a bus stop that they had to take to get home. I said, "Hey, isn't Mui Wo nearby?" and they said yes, "Just down there" pointing in my new direction and I thanked them and left. At the bottom I recognized the area from the documentary, Breaking 60, which is about the challenge, and continued until I could see the green post box and nearly cried when I got to it and saw it in person for the very first time. My short jaunt paling in comparison to the truly heroic deeds of those brave souls who actually completed all four trails over the course of nearly three days about ten days later.

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