Across the starting line we began, along a thin brick path too small for the small crowd to fit. The path bent around a small structure. I followed the leaders of the pack off the path and onto the ground where the pine needles dispersed and were replaced by sand. Our feet kicked up the sand until we passed through a wall that had obstructed our view of the columned structures and hills we were now see. But to appreciate the environment wasn’t an available luxury; I had to keep my eyes focused on the leaders, who were my only hope of knowing how to navigate this maze. We got to a fork in the road and two guys split up to find the trail. We soon followed left and then through a sandy area with rows of plants growing, or maybe dying in the heat. There was a foot-wide stone platform on which to run, and then up we went to railroad tracks, jumping over a small stream onto a slanted wall with rocks to offer support, like rock climbing. Then it was on the road until another checkpoint; a difficult one. Through a basketball court, between the cars and across a highway, and eventually up dozens of stairs and an unforgiving road to the top of a hill.
A short break permitted a 360 degree view of the township of Tongxiao. From up high I saw the ocean merging with the shore between the smoke stacks and the wind turbines. I turned to my right and saw the city give way to green. I hadn’t seen so many trees in weeks. It didn’t last long, and now the task was to descend all the tiny steps to the bottom and then press on. Along more winding roads and through some small buildings and we had to traverse through tall grass over an uneven ground up a hill and then down the other side. This was the 6 kilometer mark, and time for a water break, before seeking out the next marker.
Soon enough someone found it, and we continued running in the deadly heat. We descended onto rocks that blanketed a long expanse of sand. I smelled the beach for the first time in months, and carefully planted my feet on the tops of rocks to cross the shallow water to the other side. On the rocks we kept running, along factory-like buildings up to another busy road. About a minute of waiting for a break in the traffic and we sprinted across to run on a bridge and then turn left back to where our feet would make contact with the ground. Back through the town we ran and I could feel we were in the final stretch.
Sooner than I expected I saw the tall pines and the large tents signifying our destination. The trees did their job of blocking the sun again. I did not have the energy to sustain a fast pace, and even had to slow to a walk near the end. The heat and the climbing had sapped my energy.
The entire adventure lasted for about one hour and twenty minutes. So many of the places I ran through remain blurs, but they still stand out as vastly different from the metropolis in which I’ve made my temporary home. Some of the city areas we ran through remind me of less-populated areas in the United States in New Hampshire and Maine, and could even be confused for America if you ignored the Chinese signs.
We were not permitted to go down to the beach, due to a typhoon warning. Clouds blocked the sun in the mid-afternoon and with a strong breeze I experienced the coolest air I’ve felt in Taiwan thus far. Nature saw fit to withhold this pleasant temperature change until after the run, naturally.
This is the Hash. Running, community, and post-run beer. Actually, it’s mostly about the beer.