By Kelsey Breseman on Data Together

2020 was a year far apart from ordinary. We saw fear, courage, trust, the practice of daily sacrifice for the benefit of the greater community. We each made small choices with large impacts. We felt the struggle to feel connected in a world requiring greater isolation. As a global community, we felt from varying distances raging wildfires, melting sea ice, critical elections, necessary rebellions, and people in the streets both fighting and making food to share with strangers. …

Early June, we just had to get outside: the weather fine, the parks just one state away open for camping. And now we’re out here again: a car spewing PM 2.5 like any other affordable vehicle, tracing down the 101 while fires rage and, after six or seven months of quarantine, still skirting six-foot circles around masked strangers.

These are times I hope to keep as only a legend from memory: remember that one year when the world went mad? …

Steam curls from each of our cups of tea. We pass the teapot around on the lazy Susan of our round table.

Our packs are propped against the wall: my blue, Jon’s orange, Rick and Eileen’s gray ones in classic backpacker style; Ert’s blue one incongruously cubic in shape despite its Osprey branding. The packs are a weathered pile, showing dirt and wear from sweat, bus holds, long trails.

This story is the continuation of a series that begins here.

It’s a typical dinner scene. We’ve pointed at vegetables that appeal, and they appear as hot spiced dishes. …

Firecrackers are going off down the street in a barrel.

The morning is cold: our breath fogs, and I wish I had gloves as we walk through the empty courtyard of the hotel to the street in search of hot breakfast.

The local specialty is translated “muddy flesh ersi”– a soup noodle dish made with fatty meat and a self-serve selection of red pepper, garlic paste, green onions, MSG, ground star anise, and some other pastes and powders I can’t identify. I add them indiscriminately to my bowl. It’s delicious. We eat streetside, soup steaming into the chill.

This story…

Taxi rides in China are incredibly cheap. Coming out of every train station, we’re mobbed by taxi drivers. Ert smiles. He relishes the haggling process — and a few kuai more or less is not a lot regardless of the outcome. 100 kuai is about $15, and we’ve gotten fairly long rides for as little as 10 kuai for the five of us and our packs.

In nearly any little town, as long as there is a road, there is someone who is interested in driving us. There are few opportunities missed to make a buck in China.

This story…

Our last major hike in China is our most intense: Gaoligongshan, straight up a mountain and back down the other side. It’s a through hike with our packs on, and the elevation will be above 10,000 feet. The trail is a section of the old Southern Silk Road, paved in 400 B.C. It was the site of some fighting between Japan and China in World War II.

The way to Gaoligongshan’s trailhead is an adventure in its own right. Ert has booked a taxi, which shows up as scheduled at 7am on the dot. …

There is a village near Tengchong that is famous for jade. It’s our intended destination for the day, but the jade shops are crowded with Chinese tourists. We gravitate into the old town, where the people live, instead.

There’s a woman washing her laundry in three successive cement vats built into the street, water flowing in one side from clearest to soapiest. A man sits outside in the afternoon sunlight building low chairs from slabs of wood.

This story is the continuation of a series that begins here.

Tengchong itself has no old town, we learn the next day. The…

After a hike, a van ride, three hours on a train, and three more on a bus, we arrive in Baoshan at 10:30pm. We’re very ready for sleep. Fortunately, Ert has reserved rooms for us at one of the brightly lit hotels near the bus station.

Vouchers in hand, Ert walks up to the front desk and begins the usual lengthy check-in process. We walk around the lobby, which is oddly also a showroom for massive wood carvings, clever wooden vanity chests, and jade jewelry.

This story is the continuation of a series that begins here.

A group of men…

We set our alarms to 6:55 to catch sunrise in the morning.

Bundled in blankets, we stand on the rooftop and watch as the sky purples down the gorge. Hazy and orange, hills in the distance gradually grow light as we sit, shifting, in the cold of our valley.

We eat breakfast and stare out at the golden sunlight far away down the gorge, then pack and begin the hike, still in the shadow of the peaks.

This story is the continuation of a series that begins here.

The second day of our hike is all flat or downhill. We…

There is a long line of cars and a fairly empty visitor’s center at the Quiaotou entrance to Tiger Leaping Gorge.

“This wasn’t here five years ago,” remarks Ert. “Last time I was here, there were just a couple of parked cars.”

The road itself is new, too. Apparently, they have demolished the hillside where the trail used to begin. We walk the road instead, winding through the traffic of waiting vehicles.

This story is the continuation of a series that begins here.

Around a bend, seven perfectly spaced peaks appear, all equal in height. …

Kelsey Breseman

An adventurer, woodland creature, and engineer. Currently working on data ownership models, environmental accountability, and intentional community.

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