Story (Nature vs Nurture)

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Nature vs Nurture
By Wade Zhang

The 2002 annual 26-mile hike was put on May 12, the Mother’s Day Sunday due to scheduling conflict.  Since last year’s leaders were not available, I was made the leader for the trip.  It is incredible that I went from an inexperienced, poorly trained and ill-equipped novice in 2001 to the trip leader of “the most challenging hike of CMC”, all in one year.

In spite of the poor weather forecast and knowing the hassle involved with rescheduling, I was determined to at least attempt the hike.  Chi Chan and I were the first to arrive at the TuxedoPark police station at 5:50 AM.  Since I did not receive any positive confirmation from anybody, after my usual long distance hiking partners: Joseph Luk, Mr. Chen, and George Li showed up, we promptly started our annual 26-mile hike at 6:15 AM, my second.

Fully aware of my teammates’ commitment and training they had leading into this hike, I never doubted about their ability to complete the hike.  Unlike last year, this would have been a quite uneventful hike, if not for the drizzle, rain, and thunderstorm that accompanied us for the entire afternoon.  We did have a few mishaps that I would save for the end of this article. First let me regressed:

On May 13, 2001, along with other 8 CMC members, I attempted my first official 26-mile hike and most importantly finished it.  Although I was a newcomer to the CMCNY, thanks to the articles written by Chi and Michael Tam about their experience with the hike, and Chi’s article of our Hawaii trip, I was put on the CMC radar screen and became known as a “tough hiker”.  On several occasions, some members approached me and inquired about my background and posed me the question: is it “nature or nurture”?  I would like you to decide for yourself after you finished reading about how I progressed into a long distance hiker.

I first started hiking with CMC in 2000 after a friend asked me to hike with her. I did a few 8 to 10 mile hikes and I was bored.  There was nothing really interesting to see at HarrimanState Park and the hike was too slow and easy for me.  I would certainly have given up hiking if not for someone I met at trail that told me about the long hike.

The short hike is just too unchallenging for me because I used to play in mountains since I was little.  I came from a place that is surrounded by mountains.  It is called Zhousan archipelago (perhaps the best known island in the archipelago is Putuoshan, one of the four famous Buddhism mountains that is the home of Guanyin Bodhisattva), in ZhejiangProvince. While the mountains are not very big or tall, they are very close and big enough that we would always go and play.  When I was older, I even went there to gather firewood.

I must have been up and down the mountains thousands of times while I was growing up in China, never in my wildest dream would I image that one day I would get up at 4:am and climb up and down the mountains for 12 straight hours.  Life is so ironic.  I left my village for America so I would never have to work in the mountains for the firewood.  And now I would get up so early to hike in mountains for exercise to stay in shape. Go figure.

Growing up in the 70’s when China was still shut off from the outside world and left in the mid 80’s just before Chinese economy took off, I basically grew up at a time when China was very poor and undeveloped.  Many families in rural country were still struggling to make the ends meet.  And contrary to the westerners’ view of China with a billion people on bicycles, most families in the villages did not own bicycle until mid 80’s.  And the public transportation was far and between and very unreliable in the rural area, not to mention that it was relatively expensive at that time.  It was also very difficult to get on even if you were willing to pay.  So relying on ones’ feet was common and practical mean of getting around.  But most I ever had to walk to go somewhere at any given day was probably 3 hours.

So walking and mountain climbing were just part of my childhood.  I must admit that even at very tender age, I could out walk even many of the adults.  I guess I am blessed with the ability to hike for both the distance and the speed.

Like earlier alluded to, I would have stopped hiking if not made aware the existence of the long hike. Once I knew about it, I was very excited and intrigued.  Though I knew all along that I could hike long distance, I had no idea how far I could go.  I was never pushed and tested.  But I knew better not to try a long one without first testing out on an intermediate distance.  Since my occupation pretty much limited how much activity I could do during the busy tax season, I did not try any of the long hikes scheduled for the winter of 2001. After a winter of hibernation, I first tried an 8-mile hike in March 2001 for conditioning.  We saw Mr. Chen, in shorts, when we got to the parking lots at Rt.106.  He had already finished about 4 miles on a snow-covered trail.  Little did I know that I would later on trek on that same trail so many times with him.  That was the first time I met Mr. Chen.  I was very impressed.

As soon as the 2001 tax season was over, I tried a 14-mile hike, my longest up to that point.  I was extended a bit, but manageable.  My third hike was the 22-miles.  When I showed up at the trailhead, two female members, Chi and Marj started questioning me whether I had done any long distance and that if was capable of such long distance.  I did not like people questioning my ability.  I was very annoyed.  How would I know if I never tried?  Regrettably, I was unable to finish the hike due to insufficient water I was carrying. The unseasonable temperature, high humidity, and the inexperience did me in.

I would like to take the opportunity to express my appreciation for the concern Joseph showed for me during that trip.  I was hiking without a map in an unfamiliar territory after I split with the group.  I was just waiting for them to catch up at an intersection unknowing that I might have got lost in a big mountain when Joe, Chi and John finally caught up.  He not only shared his precious water with us, but also stayed with me all the way back to the parking lot.  Joe showed same concern on this year’s hike again. Thanks, pal.

Although that 22-mile was an unsuccessful journey for me, at least I knew that I could hike with the big boys.  I just needed to be better prepared and trained.  Gaining the confidence of the long distance hikers, I was invited by George and Mr. Chen for a warm up 26-mile trial run the week before the official one.  So basically, I ended up doing two 26-mile hikes in a span of 8 days, not bad with the limited training.  Just like Michael and Chi described in their articles, I too experienced some pain both on the second hike.  Looking back, two 26-mile in two consecutive weeks was just too much without adequate training.

Pain or not, at least I did it. From being questioned about my ability, to finishing 26-mile twice, I have proved myself.  Chi and Marj never doubted my hiking ability again.

I must have been a dark horse that surprised many people.  Hence the curiosity about me.

In case some people got the wrong impression that I was a born hiker, I want to say that since last year’s 26-mile hike, I have been doing a lot of long distance hike with Mr. Chen, George and Joe. I also jog on a regular basis the last few years.  Even Chi has been doing a lot of intermediate hike with us since we got back from Hawaii.  She had definitely gained speed as well.  To me, “nature or nurture” is as irrelevant as “chicken or egg”.  Anyone who had done 26-mile hike would concur with me that proper training and conditioning is key to the long distance hike.  When I first started out hiking with Mr. Chen, I used to having to run just to keep up.  Now I normally set the pace for them.  I sure have come a long way.

As for this year’s hike, Chi is the only one that experienced some pain toward the end. But the constant rain definitely makes this hike more interesting.  Oh, we all missed the trail a few times.  The climb down the cliff in the rain when the rock became so slippery was quite an amazing experience.  To top all, Chi, Joe and I managed to get ourselves lost in the mountain in the rain around Orak Ruin just before we reached the fire tower.  Wasn’t that fun?

As for George, he started out in such a quick pace.  Initially I thought he would be the laggard of the group and he would sweep. He caught us all by surprise.  He must be possessed.  After Mr. Chen and I stopped to put on our rain gear in the early morning, they were gone.  We did catch up with Chi shortly after.  We finally caught up with George on the Red Cross trail just past the LakeTiorati, after we shaved off about one half mile because we missed the Long Path turn just past the Time Square.  He was going so fast that not even Joe could keep up with him. Since Joe too missed the Long Path turn, he ended up far behind all of us.  We did manage to catch up with George again near Pingyp Mt after he took a short lunch break around noontime.  He lost us again when we took our break.  At that point, I knew I needed to stay with Chi and I gave up pursuing him.  Mr. Chen did try though, to no avail.

When Chi and I finally arrived back at TuxedoPark police station just past 6:00 PM, we expected they all would be gone. (Joe hiked the second half with Chi and I after he finally caught up with us around IrishMountain and left us just before reaching park lot.). Instead, we saw Mr. Chen waiting in his car.  Since 5:20 PM.  He was so concerned and surprised that George had not yet showed up, he and I were about to drive back to the cliff near Rt. 106 to look for George.  I was just about to start my car when George finally showed up at the parking lot around 6:45pm. We were so worried that he might have fallen off the slippery cliff in the rain.

I suppose George have not read the fable story about the race between “hare and tortoise”. Though he did not want to admit it, from his sheepish look, we all knew that he must have taken a detour like the fabled hare.  The two tortoises, Chi and I got the last laugh.

Although we were soaked wet since noon, the rain certainly did not damp our spirit.  It was a long and gruesome day, but it was also great fun.  To me, instead of describing it as the “most challenging hike of the year”, I would call it “the most rewarding hike of the year.” What challenge so long as one trains for it?  Besides, what other hike would allow you to accumulate 26 miles in one day?

Two down, many more yet to come.  See you guys next May!!! 

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