Go take a hike…in Beijing

Ever since little Yunie cut off her premium jeans to fashion stylish hiking pants, I packed some Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, and we both squealed with schoolgirlish delight when a certain boy (who was in favor back in the collegiate days) started a fire from scratch on a brisk Yosemite night I’ve been itching to go into the wild again.

Although many accuse me of being a city girl, I’m a country mouse at heart. After all, the bestest parts of my childhood were spent climbing trees along the Songhua River dyke (before it became overrun with “luxury villas”), swimming against the current when the tide was up (before the toxic waste from nearby plants caused skin rashes), and wreaking havoc on the neat rows of corn that my older family members had planted (before the time of town and village enterprises). But, finding the time, the place, and the right kind of intellectual who would not only entertain me with literary critique but could also cut down vines and make gourmet wilderness meals with his bare hands always stood in the way of my going hard core hiking again.

“Tree” in front of tree

This December, my wish finally came true when my Beijing bestie GJ – a petite Brit with an appetite to rival my own – signed us up to join Beijing Hikers on a lunar eclipse hike. (Girlfriends, they are indeed sometimes better than a man, even when it comes to fulfilling camping dreams!). I tried to keep my expectations realistic because I’ve been on Beijing “nature” excursions before and know that they’re a mixed bag. Sometimes the “organic farm meal” really is served up by a jolly farmer’s wife in Changping; other times you end up with overpriced scrambled eggs in a too-kitsch “farm house.”

We weren’t really doing the “into the wild” thing. The lunar eclipse hike included a night in a hot springs inn, unlimited bottled water, and pick-ups and drop-offs by van. But, it was the closest thing I was getting to getting back to nature in years.

Beijing besties in the wild

I was not disappointed. The company was an eclectic mix, as only Beijing mixes can be – the miniscule-but-tough martial arts-trained Queen’s English-speaking founder of Beijing Hikers and her energetic sister herding a group of thirty or so Belgians, Canadians, Spaniards, and more (and me). Oh, and let me not forget an awesome chick (I can think of no better feminist way to refer to her) named Mill.

Mill is who I want to be when I’m “pushing 50,” as she puts it. She’s a tough cookie who speaks every language I thought I’d already speak by now when I was thirteen years old (that’s Japanese, Korean, French, Spanish) and a couple more random ones I didn’t know about back then. She leads adventure travel around the world for a living (or, more appropriately, “for a life”). She’s African American married to a Nepalese man (please, for the sake of my future daughters can they breed a beautiful mixed baby boy?). And she has a bangin’ body – I know because I saw her in a swimsuit!

Harbin ice festival -40C boots work well for hiking too

So Mill led me, GJ and the rest of our motley crew through Changping villages, up craggy cliffs, and down quintessentially Chinese “hiking stairs” (for some reason my countrymen like to ruin every half-wild trail by carving steps out of rocks). Along the way we walked like Egyptians, sang “Ring My Bell,” and laughed about the “dancing Filipino prisoners” who have a penchant for recreating Michael Jackson music videos in their prison yard (YouTube it!).

The scenery was fantastic, the air a welcome change from the Beijing “fog,” and the temperature unseasonably warm. I loved every minute of it: from the slightly awkward dip in a hot spring pool that was a wee bit too small for comfort when there is a middle-aged dad present (and I’m in a bikini), to falling asleep with GJ chattering next to me, to the delicious farm meals, and even down to the week-long sore calves recovery afterward. It wasn’t quite the tent-pitching provision-toting kind of hike that I have been dreaming of, but it was exactly what I needed. Thank you Beijing Hikers, and thank you GJ!


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