It took me five years but I did it. I wrote a book about my uncle Hippolyte and the journey Doug and I took through China. It is available pre-order on Amazon.
We got a late start on what was our last day of walking. When our alarm went off at 2:30am we could hear rain and thunder so we went back to bed for an hour. By 3:30, the rain had stopped and we were up and on our way by 4:15 am.
The rain came and went as we walked but that meant that the temperatures were blissfully cool and at least there wasn’t any lightening. The morning before we actually had to take shelter in someone’s doorway because the lightening strikes were getting perilously close. Knowing that the ferry terminal was only 12 miles away, I was tearing it up. I don’t think that I walked that fast once on the entire trip.
Contrary to what we had expected, most of the walk on our last day was in the countryside. At some point we missed a turn onto an access road and instead of backtracking, we decided to walk through the weeds and banana trees to meet up with it. We soon discovered that an irrigation ditch full of murky water separated us from the road we were supposed to be on. I didn’t care one bit and marched right into the knee deep water. Doug followed and we both agreed that it wasn’t all that bad.
The last 2 and a half miles my pace slowed down considerably and overall it took us 5 and a half hour to walk what turned out to be 12.5 miles. But we did it! We missed the 9:00 am ferry but we were there in plenty of time to make the 11:00 ferry. I immediately took off my wet socks and used my hankerchief and copious amounts of Purel hand sanatizer to clean my blisters. Then I had a beer.
How do I even begin to describe what an amazing journey this has been? First, I need to thank Doug for sharing it with me. I don’t know any other man whom, when asked, “Want to walk across south western China with me?” would in a heartbeat say “Sure” and commit 100%. Doug, I love you so very much. Thank you for sharing this adventure with me. Thanks are also owed to my cousin Clare Martinet, who suggested that someone from our family finish Hippolyte’s walk. Thank you Clare. This experience has been life altering and has given me so many memories that I will hold dear for always. I also owe thanks to my cousins Artie, Thomas and Brian who conducted and compiled all of the research that so inspired me and helped connect me to generations of Martinet family that I never knew and never knew I missed.
Doug and I have been so blessed throughout this walk, both this summer and last. The outpouring of support, encouragement and interest we received here in China was phenomenal. Everything from the multitude of thumbs up gestures we got, bottles of cool water, bags of fresh fruit, free meals, offers of cash donations, medical help and a thousand smiles- they all helped us walk over 1,100 miles through the heat and the rain across a country of unparalleled beauty and generosity.
While on this walk, I was really hoping to have some sort of supernatural- spiritual experience where I would meet Hippolyte, this amazing great-great uncle of mine who for two years essentially put his life into the hands of strangers because he had faith in our collective humanity. That encounter with him was never realized. Hippolyte never emerged from the ether to meet his great great niece but perhaps that was never the point. Maybe the point was to have a reason to walk and the reward was that I got to witness something I had never expected to see. I never anticipated that there would be so much interest and enthusiasm for what we were doing. I could never have imagined that we would get so much support, encouragement and help from complete strangers. In the first weeks, I was moved to tears multiple times. People would read our cards and then look at us in astonishment and disbelief before huge grins would spread across their faces. Those expressions eased the aches in my feet and the sting in my blisters and gave me the energy to keep walking.
Once again I have found myself in a foreign country seeing news from back home. Yes, there are a handful of people in this world who do such disappointing things that it causes me pain. However, the vast majority of people are good and they care and they are people I am proud of. It can be difficult to remember and so easy to forget. We are good. Be good.
I’d like to offer my thanks and deepest gratitude to everyone who helped make this journey successful, including those of you who followed us our blog.
Micae and Doug
We passed a temple just outside of Shendue today. It was lovely, peaceful and best of all cool and shady. The outside was beautiful and after a couple weeks of seeing mostly very utilitarian home/business structures it was such a treat to see some more traditional architecture. Both Doug and I loved the green ceramic tiles on the roof.
The temple had a little gift case that was filled with jewelry. I saw an amber colored jade bracelet but like many things in this country, they are not made for Westerners and it came nowhere even close to fitting over my seemingly giant hand.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of blisters and ear infections, it was the season of heat, it was the season of 3:00 am start times and 10:00 am hotel check in times because it’s just too darn dangerously hot to be outdoors.
And then, when my blisters that had gotten blisters got more blisters we said ” There is a port that has a ferry that goes to Hong Kong and it is 40 miles closer than the one in Shenzhen”.
Since I think I only have another quarter inch of flesh on the bottom of my foot before I officially hit bone. We are opting for the shorter route. I’m not going to say how many miles we have walked or when we expect to be in Hong Kong because last time I did that, it ended badly for me and my foot and I’m not going to tempt the fates and I’m not coming back here again to finish Hippolyte’s walk for a third time.
I’m posting blister pictures so beware.
We are officially in what I call the home stretch. Our GPS, which isn’t completely reliable, tells us that we have 86 miles left to walk. Doug’s achilles tendon is bothering him and at the end of each day, I somehow have at least one new blister.
We have been walking through cities for the last two days and I don’t think we will see any more countryside between here and Shenzhen which makes me a little sad.
All of our expectations regarding what we thought this last bit of the walk would be like we’re wrong. Internet access is even more sketchy here than it was in the most rural parts of our walk last year. (hence the irregular updates to growingsoles). And, contrary to our hopes, we aren’t encountering more English speakers. We also expected that hotels would be more plentiful and easier to find. However, today,after putting in our fifteen miles, we stood dripping with sweat on a corner asking a group of shop owners where the nearest hotel was. “A kilometer back that way” one man indicated to us while his friend pointed in the opposite direction indicating that the nearest hotel was further up the road. While the two guys debated, a woman who had pulled up on a motor scooter began yelling at them and then pointed directly across the street where not 50 feet from where we stood was a hotel. I cannot tell you how many times this has happened to us. We ask where the nearest hotel is and we are told it’s 8 kilometers up the road when in fact, the nearest hotel is literally RIGHT NEXT DOOR! Ten minutes later we were in a room with the AC cranked up. Life is good. I can’t help but think of Hippolyte whose only respite from the heat would have been a spot of shade and never a cool drink passed his lips. They seem like small things but make his journey all the more remarkable to me. He was a trooper.
Dr. Vincent said that he admired Doug and I for our perseverance. It was a nice compliment but I feel like it also gave me a reputation that I had to live up to.
I’ve had some awful painful blisters and I’ve been having an ear ache too. Pair those two things with walking all day and being refused at a town’s only hotel and we’ll, it just got me down and I wanted to quit. Then yesterday we walked through 13 miles of nothing but one marble/granite/stone warehouse after another on bother sides of the highway. They were literally one right after another for 13 miles. It was noisy and congested and my ear hurt and my feet hurt and it was ugly and trucks were honking and I wanted to get on a bus and take it all the way to Shenzhen. But then I remembered -I’m a perseverer not a quitter damn it! I don’t quit! So, we kept on walking and eventually we found a nice hotel. They had a world map on the wall and asked us to point out where we were from and then we gave then a California sticker.
This morning we had a lovely walk. We are back in the countryside now and it’s as pleaseant as can be. We shuffled into a town called Gaoyao at about 10:30 and I absolutely love it here. Everyone is so friendly! They all say hello to us and smile and wave and laugh and are helpful and kind.
We checked into a hotel, cleaned up and went to get some lunch. A man at a table next to ours was with his grand son. I think the child was maybe a year and a half. He sent the boy over to our table with a cigarette to give to Doug. Doug reached his hand out to accept it and the little boy reached up and stuck the cigarette in Doug’s mouth and then shook his hand. A second later he came back with a lighter.
After lunch Doug and I walked down the street to a little clinic to have a doctor look at my ear. The doctor and staff were very kind and I got a shot of antibiotics, some pills and some drops and all totaled ithe only cost me 28 kuai or $4.30. The doctor said I should be better in two days.
As a child, my parents let me do things that would mortify today’s parents. I sold Girl Scout cookies door to door alone, rode a bike without a helmet, walked to school, and rolled around in the far back of a station wagon as we drove down the freeway. I also probably ate an entire cow before I became a vegetarian. A warning to animal lovers- you may not want to look at the pictures below. I’m just trying to provide an honest perspective here.
Today was a mixed bag. Actually, it was a half and half bag. For as amazingly beautiful as the first part of the day was, the second part sucked in equal measure. We left our hotel at 3:30 in the morning and at 6:00 we started looking for a place to get some breakfast. As we were making our way down the street, a man stopped us and offered us two cups of hot tea. Now I ask you, who does that? Who sees two backpackers and thinks, “I bet they’d like some hot tea.” We accepted his offer and gave him one of our cards and continued on our way.
We soon found a noodle place and enjoyed a very nice breakfast among a group of smiling happy women. As we were leaving, we saw them preparing a dish we had seen and eaten before. I had no idea how it was made so we stopped to watch and I shot video as they were cooking the dish and before we could say no, they gave us a serving. It was savory with a squishy texture and I still don’t know how to ask for it by name which is a shame because it is delicious.
By 6:30 we were back on the road which had now narrowed to a single paved lane that meandered through lychee, banana and mango groves. We passed little pig farms here and there and even though we had caused every dog we passed to bark, somehow the sows and piglets slept soundly as we passed. We counted at least twenty pink piglets laying beside one massive momma pig.
Further up the road we saw a sign beside the road and Google translate told us it was a Buddhist temple. It was a couple kilometers out of our way but we didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity so we veered to the right and a few kilometers later, there it was on our left across a little bridge. They were up on a hillside and had the most beautiful views of the valley below that was dotted with little ponds. We were given bottles of water, offered food and escorted into the temple. The monk put on his robes and handed us lit sticks of incense and Doug and I walked to all four of the shrines, offered our incense and said little prayers. They even gave Doug a small Buddha figurine.
We left the temple and a few hours later, we were entering a town. We had walked about thirteen miles and my blisters were telling me that we needed to make it a short day. We went to the town’s only hotel and the guy running it flat out refused us. He had a very stern, unyielding and unfriendly expression on his face. We enlisted the help of our Mandarin speaking friend and she tried to straighten things out with him. He told her that the hotel was full but it was obvious to us that it was completely empty and that he simply did not want us there. We experienced this a few times last year as well and it’s something that we still don’t quite understand. Last summer it was only inconvenient as there were always other hotels nearby. But what do you do when that’s the only hotel in town? We tried talking to the guy’s son but it only seemed to annoy father more and when I saw dad get on his motor scooter, shoot us a dirty look and mutter something under his breath, I got the feeling that he was headed off to get the police so Doug and I jumped on the first bus we saw that was headed out of town.
It started to rain and then come down in sheets and out the windows of the bus I could see those beautiful limestone outcroppings that we were planning to walk past. I didn’t even get one picture of them.
We got off the bus thirty-five kilometers later in the next town. We walked into the first hotel we saw and we’re greeted by the entire four member family with “HELLO HELLO!” and the biggest smiles and laughter. They are so kind and helpful. Again, I guess we are where we are supposed to be but we had to cut 35k out of our walk and I was so looking foward to this section of the 324.