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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Today In The AA [#10]: Taroko Gorge Hiking Trip

It's been a week or so, and I'm back! Allow me to (attempt) to summarize the hiking experience I've had the pleasure of enjoying, over the last weekend. I was invited by my professor Jacky Baltes, and his wife. 

Day Before the Hike

I spent my time working on  a paper due soon from the lab. Unfortunately, I couldn't sleep well the night before thanks to sleep walking. .. 
it's upsetting considering I'm asleep and have no clue... but I apparently do talk a LOT (says my girlfriend...)And move aggressively  (says my family and anyone within a kilometer radius...)
Nevertheless, I got a solid 3 hours or so and was hoping to sleep well tonight.

Jacky arranged to meet with me at 6pm from the NKFUST campus. He unfolded his Brompton bike  (yes, I said unfolded...), and we were on our way. I quickly picked up the ability to ride a bike quickly through busy traffic with a rather heavy case carrying the darwin robot on my bike handle. We made our way the metropolitan park in Kaohsiung and then  made way to Taipei using the high-speed train.

That night I spent attempting to sleep on the NTNU lab floor. Surprisingly enough when your brain realizes you need sleep, it will let you pass out on the floor, flat on your back. Aside from being stiff on awakening, it was a solid 2 hours rest and now it was 3:40 am. Time to go!

We head out bright and early and met up with the group we'd be hiking with. The next couple hours I managed to rest again until the jagged motion of the tour bus awoke me. We had reached the mountains.
Let me not be the first to say *I'm pretty sure the earth isn't flat*. Anyone who believes so is either a complete idiot or lives in the prairies. It felt like the earth was not only round, but almost like a big salad role with the plant life wrapping around both views out of the bus and spanning 1000s of meters upward
Went hatless, so I needed something
to keep the sunburn away!

The Hike Begins

We started up on the ascension of over 2.5km upwards starting off with many stairs.

Jacky and I ended up getting ahead of the group, so once we hit a rest point we'd quickly traverse the stairs downwards to meet up with the group and check in on things. We covered at least 30% more stairs, which made for a solid workout.
The resting point, after completing several hundred stairs.

After the stairs we hiked for another 2 hours or so, through a more mountainous-feeling trail.
Lots of interesting wildlife
It was fascinating to hear and see the wildlife changing as we increased elevation.
This church would make for a good album cover!
Eventually we found a place for lunch, at an abandoned church. The whole little town up here was abandoned as well. 

I quickly chugged down some water and took in some carbohydrates. 
I was planning on having a nap; until for some reason, became really focused on the insects walking about on the ground. It's a weird feeling, I'm not sure how to describe it; but sometimes... something can just become mesmerizing, and everything else stops existing. It's a weird out of body feeling -- always been a quirk for me. 

At first all you see are bugs: ants, spiders (big ones), and so forth; but on closer observation you will notice that patterns start emerging. The ants walk in very orderly lines, due to breadcrumb-like  pheromone tracks they leave for each other. The spiders periodically do checks around their web in the same flow. Caterpillars move forward a certain distance, then look up, left, and right, before choosing a direction. If you poke them gently, they will freeze for several seconds and begin moving again. Poke them again, and they will freeze for longer. It is intelligent life yet so simple to watch. 

I went for a brief walk with one of the girls on the hiking trip, she brought me down the path further to an abandoned house and was explaining how simple the lives used to be. When Taiwan was under the Empire of Japan, settlers would populate these mountains, bringing life and community. It was after world war 2 when Taiwan was overtaken as the Republic of China, that nearly everyone was forced down the mountains and into the city. It's sad to think that all of these people had to radically adjust their lifestyles to accommodate for industrialization, and changing culture in regions they had no relation with. The wildlife remains, flourishing. I hope it stays that way.

We continued hiking, for another 3 hours or so, until we reached the most interesting portion of the trip for me. 
I mentioned previously that the little villages were abandoned; no one was here, EXCEPT FOR ONE

One of the Japanese settlers of Taiwan, remained on these mountains. The man, in his 80's, and incredible shape, manages his life up here alone, doing the hike quite frequently in order to obtain food. In fact, he did the whole hike that we did, in order to carry enough food up by himself to feed all of us.
It was almost as in the scene for a movie. A group of hikers wonder into an abandoned village to meet with the 1 remaining infamous mountain man, who provides rations after a treacherous journey. 
Inside of his quarters he had collections of images of countless hikers he has met over the years.
It went from day to mist pretty quick, with the clouds rolling in around the evening.

By night time I was feeling the culture shock a lot; but thinking of this gentleman living up here alone helped relax me.
Let me just take a moment, to really put this feeling across. I was away from Canada, from my family, friends, and aside from my professor, I was completely alone. Few people spoke English fluently so I observed and thought, rather than talked as much. The washroom was comprised of buckets, I had minimal sleep, and still had to adjust to the "country life" which is way more intense when it's not your country in the first place. I had the stress sinking in; but this was giving me a real chance to combat it. There was no one here to help me pick up my feet, no one to do anything for you, at least not like at home. It was all up to me, to keep it together. 
The morning arrived for me, 11 hours later after a long well-needed slumber. The others had taken off to go watch the sunrise. I rolled out into the hallway, and greeted the friendly mountain man. He was quickly preparing -- again -- a massive feast, in which this time was breakfast. I knew not enough of any particular language to communicate with him fluently; but his smile put across everything.

We began the descend down the mountain by around 8am, and it took far less time than to climb upwards. I was able to learn many fascinating things about Jacky, my advisor, in which helped me wrap my head around my own stress. He mentioned a was talking during my sleep, of course. I should have checked the walls for dents before I left...


I've realized that there are certain things others can say; but can't enforce on you. There are concepts you can read about and study, but can't easily embody. You have to pick some things up yourself. I think this hike helped me uncover some of those things, despite being far from my studying environment.
More often than not, specifically around University, I hear friends exclaim they need to "find themselves" first, realize who they are. The same is said before a career path is pursued, or any other major life change. 
To those people, I suggest taking a trip similar to this. Even if it's not far away, take time to put yourself in a situation, where you rely much more on yourself to keep afloat. 

When you take the time to really leave the comfort zone, and reach a point where you've got no one there except yourself, then, that's who you will find.

Kyle, The Mountain Man, Wei Jen, Jacky

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