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To Begin

 

About ultramarathons, I take it this way: this is more than just running. This is self-finding and mind-digging activity in such a long distance and long period of time. Actually most of the time doing this is not delightful though, at the moment of finishing, all the pain, desperation, happiness along the way turn into satisfaction.

This is not an article about the scenery on the race course, nor is this about how I completed the 111km race in desert with my greatest consistence. It’s about the reflection of mine. It can be a song. It can be some people in my life. It can be many other random things come up to my mind in the desert. Although different songs, different people and different thing are reminded to different ones, however, if my writing can echo with anyone, of anything, even just a bit, that’s good enough for me.

致,青春”(Cheers, the Youth of Mine) are the characters in modern style printed on a car in the race. The local driver would carry the staff and the water, stopping by the aid stations and waiting for the runners. I often saw it stayed at a faraway point, defining another level I’ve get through. When I kept going on after refilling my bottles and resting for a while, I saw the car passed me in a rush and disappeared in the sand dunes. I like the feeling of chasing my youth and it disappears again unconsciously. It’s surreal. So I made it my title.

 

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If I’m gonna tell a story of hope and desperation, it might be like this:
 

There’s one man who’ve lost his companion in the desert. Few hours ago, he just drank up the very last drop of water he’d carried. Everything in his view is only the yellow sand and the clear blue sky, but no hope.

Till he crossed the dune did he found a pair of footprints. He followed, with some hope of being rescued. It’s the windless day. He knew those might be footprints left tens of hours ago, though, that’s his only hope.

He followed the footprints across another sand dune until the line ended. He found the dead body of his companion. Before they’ve lost each other, he carries both of their water bottles.

 


The same scenery like this have surrounded me for all 3 days.

 

We’ve Kept Asking: Why?

I’m walking in the desert in the Inner Mongolia, now. For 3 days, 111km.

It’s 12pm, mid-noon, 40 Celsius degree. I cannot feel a single drop of sweat getting out from my pore, but I can feel clearly the sun is sucking every bit of water from my body with all his desire, from 7.30 when we started till this moment. The course in the first day is 38km. However, the landscape kept changing, so the number is not precise. Sand is soft. I drew out my foot every time the sand swallowed them. Continuously.

Generally speaking, there’s one aid station every 10km or so, which is 2 hours of walking. However, today, the distance between 2nd and 3rd stations is especially long. I’ve emptied my bottle after 2.5 hours of walk, and still see no supply car, not even the shadow of it.

“Why am I here?” I asked.

I’ve heard this out of nowhere: we, as a kind of rational creature, find seasons for our behaviors. If that’s true, can I figure out the reason why I’m here, in this desert named Wulan Buhe? Can I?

 

Wulan Buhe Desert, the Red Bull

 

Wulan Buhe Desert locates next to the Wuhai City in the Inner Mongolia. Wulan Buhe means “red bull” in Mongolian. According to the saying of locals, the coking coal resource is rich underground. It presents in the color of ochre when the sunshine spread on the desert. That’s where the name comes from. Wulan Buhe has been the focus on the development of coal-mining and heavy industry. But until these days when the coal has been emptied due to over-mining, factories and corporations have been moving out.

At my right side between two sand dunes, I can see one mining field still in operation. Gray trucks get in and out of the dark caves, carrying tons and tons of coal, like digging out the organs from a big sleeping red bull, watching it losing its life bit by bit. People have built up brackets inside the haggard body one by one, and digging out everything left. Maybe, maybe all these will stop at the day of ending collapse.
 

The sun is above my head. My shadow squeezes beneath my foot. Even the clouds cannot tolerance the temperature so they hide away from the clear blue sky. My mouth is dry, but I don’t have any water. Before I set off from the 1st aid station, I saw a lizard upside down on the ground, seemed to be dried out by the lack of water. I doubt if I will be another dried lizard.

I remember there seems to be one song describing the same image. I pause me steps, put on my earphones and get to the Pink Floyd column in the iPod catalog. Roger Waters’ voice appears, after a period of guitar prelude, hoarse but clear. He sang:

 

So, so you think you can tell

Heaven from Hell

Blue skies from pain

Can you tell a green field

From a cold steel rail

A smile from a veil

Do you think you can tell?                                     ------ 《Wish you were here》, Pink Floyd

 

 

The Guy Died at 29, and is Buried at 60

The Cover Photo of the album Wish You Were Here.
The one at the right firing is a symbol of Syd.

 

Pink Floyd published the song Wish You Were Here in 1975 in the album with the same title, presenting to the former lead singer Syd Barrett. Syd took drugs because of his psychological disease and the pressure of getting famed. He went in and out of hospitals times after times, and even got empty on stage, forgetting what he was doing or playing nonsense melodies, forcing other band members to deal with the rest of the mess. In the tour concert in 1968, all the other members intentionally “forgot” to pick Syd up, meaning kicking him out of the band. No one contact him in the following days. Nor did any one of them know where he was. But everyone has beard the guild and contracting emotion to Syd deep down. Finally, the album Wish you were here launched in 1975 spoke out their mind and fragility. The song describe the coldness of the industrial world that get people lost, and also the wish that Syd can be with them, together, to against the enormous shadow. The album received huge success like any other Pink Floyd’s albums in 70s.

What about Syd? A few music events once in a while, and that’s all. In 1974 after Abbey Road Studio had done their final lousy recording, he disappeared from the music world completely. June 5th, 1975, when Pink Floyd members were recording this album, they saw a guy sitting in the back of the studio silently. He’s fat and sloppy. He shaved all of his hair and eyebrow. Sometimes, he stood up and scraped his teeth with his nails as if no one’s aside, than he jumped around insanely. They asked the staff who that guy is. Syd. When they heard that was him, they cried.

However, Syd has never attended any Pink Floyd’s concert since then. He kept disappearing for 31 years. In 2006, he was found dead at his home in Cambridge. On his death certification wrote, career: retired musician.

Syd, died at 60.

But for most of the people, has already died at 29, and finally got buried at 60.

 

“In the deserts flowers bloomed and insects and other animals lived their lives.”-- The Woman in the Dunes


Our camping site in the 1st night.

 

The supply car appears atop the sand dune. However, we can hardly fasten our pace but get toward the aid station step by step. I have no spit in my mouth to moisten my lips, which had split open for quite a while. The staffs out there are waving and cheering for us. From this moment, if I die here, I know, I can be rescued.

We refilled out bottles and rest for a while and kept heading to the destination. Less than 10km left for the first day. I looked back to the route I’ve been to, over the sand dune. “In the deserts flowers bloomed and insects and other animals lived their lives. These creatures were able to escape competition through their great ability to adjust. “Said Kōbō Abe. I tried to escape from being alienated in this capitalized world. I have no idea about when I am going to die, or if I’ve already dead. But, something for sure, I don’t want to be buried yet.
 

The camping site in the 1st day was between 2 relatively flat sand dunes. We’ve arrived there at around 6pm. Other runners who’ve already been there were sitting and taking photos on the sand dunes. I’m too tired to do that. I found my camp, changed my cloths, took out my dried food from my pack, asked for some hot water to get it ready and swallowed it in just one or two bites. Hungry still, so I took out another pack regardless of if I’ll be short of food in the other 2 days.
 

The sun is still hanging at the horizon at 7pm, but gradually losing its heat. Wind starts to blow from the top of the sand dune. It might be reward from the goddess for our effort. Some runners are sitting nearby. We talk about the road we’ve been to during our dinner time, and enjoy the moment of greatness.

I said, “Actually, people don’t really need much to live.”

“Yah, right.” He smiled in reply.

But, what do we need?

 

When I was in senior high, I had a classmate who was always the first in ranking. He’s outgoing and polite to everyone. We played basketball together and chatted about everything. By the time we have ne mobile, no laptop, and no social media that exist or used to exist, so things were not too fake at that age.

“National Taiwan University College of Medicine is my top and only desire.” He said. I thought he could make it at ease actually. “but before that, I’m going to tell the girl who is in the same cram school that I like her at the graduation prom.” Okay, on this part, I doubted.

He didn’t come school 2 weeks before the prom. Our teacher said he was sent to the hospital because of flu. I thought he would be fine after some days. Some days after, he was transferred to another hospital, according to our teacher, due to poor recovery. The prom was just next week. He would definitely get out of the hospital for the girl he liked, I thought. It’s such an important thing in the world.

At the prom night, he didn’t come, but the girl did. “WHAT? Does he really have no guts?” I thought.

When the music’s on, another friend came to me.

“He’s dead.”

“Fuck! It’s not a good joke!”

“It’s lymphoma.”

My friend’s face was pale under the light. The watering eyes and the shaking bloody lips, due to the bite to get back his tears, were composed on his paper-like face. He looked at me without talking anything more. My only memory left about the prom is, the girl ran out with her face covering her face after talking to one of her classmates.

After that I got to know that, in order to get to NTU, he studied till 2am every night and got up at 6. His body was so exhausted that he didn’t realize the illness. He thought it’s flu, but it’s already the final stage of cancer. The cancer cells have spread to the whole body, disabled his organs and killed him after no long. His last wish, his mom said, was whispered on the sick bed:

“I wanna go to the prom with my classmates.”

At the graduation ceremony, we spared his seat. On the seat was a bundle of flower from the girl he liked. “Congratulations. We’ve finally graduated.”Written on the card.

 

I’m Getting Older, and You’re still 18

 

The sky gets dark at 9pm. I get out of the tent. It’s 15 Celsius degree even though it’s up to 40 in the day time. I put on another jacket and take a stool and sit at a dark place. I light a cigarette. The red lighting spot on the tip of the cigarette cannot light up the yellow desert in front of me.

There’s no light in the desert. The moon outlines the sand dune with silver white. The Milky Way loops in the tranquil deep universe like a silk scarf. Wind blows once in a while, soothing the sleeping world. Polaris has been hanging up there for tens of billions of years above the Big Dipper, leading the way of those who’ve lost their directions.

After 19 years, the high school classmate has still lived up in my mind at the age of 18, while I’ve got older and older.

“Hey! Do you still remember the Beatles we’d used to listen together?” He asked me in the dream that night.

“I can hardly forget it, I think.” I said.

“Then, let’s sing together.”

“Sure.”
 

From this moment on I know

Exactly where my life will go

Seems that all I really was doing,

Was waiting for you

 

Don’t need to be alone

No need to be alone

It’s real love, it’s real

Yes, it’s real love, it’s real                                    ------ 《Real Love》, Beatles

 

 

 

》 To be continued...

 

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