Take 450 people. Two of those people set out on a 5-8km journey through mountain roads, paths, and non-paths and leave dashes of baking soda and shredded paper along the way as breadcrumbs. Very soon after those two people begin their run, the remaining 448 people follow along the same path, using the markers left by the hares to make their way to the end.
Denise and I signed up for the All Island Runapalooza thinking we would jog along merrily for 8km or so. Like all events in Taiwan, what you think will be the case never is. Within five minutes of beginning the AIR, we were sliding in mud and running through rushing water ankle deep.
2 hours, 43 minutes and 24 seconds later we had ascended a small mountain: we began at 653 feet and, at the highest elevation, were at 1,472 feet. Our grand total distance covered was 4.77 miles. Those are the technical details.
The Hsinchu group gathered behind the train station and left for the mountains on five small buses. We arrived at the base of the mountains an hour later and congregated with the other hash clubs from around the island.
As I looked at all the fit people around me, I joked that I didn’t know abs existed on foreigners in Taiwan. Then the massive group began warming up together under a brief sputtering of rain, and I gabbed with friends and prepped Runkeeper for the excursion.
It didn’t take long, once the hares had taken off and the rest of us started following, for Denise and I to separate from the rest of the group. We decided to take the longest route and followed some very in-shape Taiwanese men in their fifties, along with some fellow expats. The quick rain from earlier made for interesting terrain.
I panted. I slid. I cursed. I accidentally slapped myself with branches. I walked into baby caterpillars hanging from a single thread of silk. I sweat so much my iPod arm cuff repeatedly slipped down to my elbow. We climbed up steep, muddy embankments and had to use bamboo and trees along the sides for support. At one point I saw Denise sitting in the mud, holding on to a thick bamboo stalk next to her.
“Oh, are you sliding down?” I asked.
“No, I slipped!” she responded, laughing.
She shot me a look. When she saw that I was not playing dumb and was honestly asking such a stupid question, she smirked. “Yes. Totally on purpose.”
“Okay. I should, too.” I proceeded to sit on the ground and slide down the muddy part.
Not only were we passed by elderly Taiwanese men with walking sticks, my dignity was struck down at one point 3km in when I moved aside to let another foreigner pass. He stopped with me. “Sorry, I have to stay behind you. I’m the sweeper.”
I was going so slowly that the sweeper, the person dead last to make sure no one is left behind, was waiting for me. Couple that with the old man who kept calling to me, “Jai yo! Jai yo!” which means, literally, “add fuel”. An octogenarian telling me to hurry up and the sweeper right beside me – it was an interesting moment.
Denise and I were hiking along when she glanced at me and laughed. She pointed at me and said, “You’re sweating.” It was true; even after drinking four bottles of water and three sports drinks, I didn’t use the restroom once because every drop of liquid sweat out. Then she clarified, “No, I mean the pattern of sweat around your sports bra. It’s really funny.” Two dry spots on an otherwise drenched-in-sweat tank top do look a little silly.
Later, with less than a kilometer to go, my feet suddenly went airborne and I landed on my back in the mud. Denise and some girls we’d caught up to heard my exclamation, and yelled back to see if I was okay. With a sly look on her face, Denise looked back at me. “Did you slip?”
For all the complaining I did, I had a lot of fun. We were sore, tired and hungry, but I haven’t laughed so hard in a very long time; at one point I grinned so hard my cheeks hurt, but the antics of drunkards and people who just didn’t care kept me entertained.
Thanks to Denise and James, who are both hilarious, as well as all the other hash runners, the All Island Runapalooza was a blast. Also, thanks to the AIR, I now have James’s word that he’s going to make me a quesadilla sometime soon. Knowing a Culinary Institute-trained chef in Taiwan is gold.