May 1st or May Day has more significance in some countries than others. Ever since the revolution in China it has been a National holiday and in the late nineties it was decided to increase the actual holiday from one to three days, and recently this has blown out to a full week for many parts of the workforce. Thus, on Friday 29th April, I found myself facing a very long weekend with nothing in particular planned. Having recently been introduced to the activity of confluencing, I decided to run the gauntlet of hoards of holidaying people extending the Chinese public transport system to it’s limits, and to have a go at visiting a previously unvisited confluence.
The next step was to decide which confluence to visit. As Targ Parsons had already visited all confluences within my home province of Guangxi and also most others within relatively easy reach, the nearest available confluence that appeared achievable, was 30°N 115°E which is in Hubei province. Just in case I found the going easier than anticipated, I also targeted two other confluence sites also in Hubei province.
A Chinese colleague accompanied me on the bus from Xincheng to Lui Zhou and then the train to Wuhan where I disembarked. From there on I would be on my own with nothing but a 1:800000 photocopied map, an extremely limited knowledge of the Mandarin language, and of course my Garmin GPS.
At Wuchang railway station I somehow managed to find myself on a train that was headed towards the County center of Dai Yi which, my map told me, was almost directly north of the confluence point. This transfer of trains was due in no small part to my colleague delivering me into the hands of a platform attendant and, in no more than 30 seconds, explaining where I wished to go. From there I was passed between about three other attendants each of which I followed with blind trust. Eventually I was sitting in a train which turned out to my astonishment, to be the correct one and several hours later I arrived in Dai Yi at about 5PM. For a few minutes I contemplated a quick reconnoitre of the general district of the confluence point but I dismissed this idea as the trip so far had drained me of energy, and so I opted to stay the night.
And so the big day, May Day dawned. Would I be able to achieve my goal just as the workers in Chicago in 1886 had achieved their goal of the 8 hour day?
A look at the map had indicated that the best line of approach would be from the east, but my luck of the first day of the trip had now run out. As I wandered around Dai Yi looking for the bus station or alternatively a taxi driver who looked as though he might be able to understand what I wished to do, I was confronted by a young Chinese man on motorcycle who indicated he was happy to spend two hours taking me to the village Long Jiao Shan which was on the west side of the CP. Thinking that I was on a roll of luck I agreed to go with this bloke whose name I soon found out to be Cao Zia Sheng.
During a quick trip down a new freeway in a southerly direction, the high peaks to the east made it obvious that I should have stuck to my original plan and tackled the CP from the other side of the mountain range. After parking the bike at an altitude of 131m at the village of Long Jiao Shan we set out to climb the mountain in the general direction of the CP which was about 4 km away to the east.
Anyone who has knowledge of the Karste land system will know that the limestone peaks can rise to over 500m above the surrounding land, and that very often these peaks are contiguous with any saddles between them also being at high elevations. For the past two years I have worked in similar terrain in Guangxi and so I knew that the prospect of there being any paths across the range was remote. However, inspired by the auspicious date and the magnificent weather, Mr Cao and I set out in search of the figurative pot of gold.
So, after sharing the load I was carrying we walked along a very minor pathway that led across a small tree nursery across a creek to a quarry where the track became more apparent. After passing through a village we entered a very picturesque forest and then arrived at a mine site which Cao thought might be tungsten. Locals at the mine indicated another track which led up over the mine stockpiles and soon we were on all fours trying to ascend the steep batters. At this stage I started to regret bringing my large pack which I should have left in Dai Yi, but being the optimist I am, I had thought that I would save time by not having to go back to the hotel to pick it up after completing the visit. I still have a lot to learn!!
After passing through a burned out forest we arrived at a summit which was at an elevation of 550m. At the summit there was a survey party complete with a total station survey instrument. These chaps had obviously come by an alternative route as they were cleanly clad while we looked (and felt) like a couple of chimney sweeps having just clambered through a burned out forest. When we indicated the direction we were headed they assured us that a good path lay just over the next ridge.
We believed these people and that was my next mistake for we soon found ourselves stuck in the middle of a very steep slope well in excess of 100% with the only way out of it being upwards through sparse vegetation with very few hand holds. After struggling across steep ravines covered in thorn bushes and crashing our way through bamboo thickets, we came to would you believe it, another well made track being used for the construction of a power line. This in turn led to a further summit (elevation 682m) where a substantial pagoda was erected. By this time we were both exhausted and dehydrated and about to give up as according to the GPS we were only about half way to the CP.
And then our luck turned.
Trying to get a better position to take a photo of the pagoda I noticed a building about 100m down the slope. My companion identified it as a monastery and we hurried off to it. The single monk in residence acted as though it was a common occurrence to have a foreigner on his last legs stagger in through the door, and soon had cooked us up a meal and served it with much holy drinking water. After this meal and a short rest we were in a fit state to communicate a bit more civilly with him. He and his brother monk who had been collecting firewood when we arrived, informed us that a track running past the monastery in an easterly direction when down to a village where we could get a bus back to Dai Yi. After making the appropriate gestures of thanks to both the monks and the Daoist gods we set off along this track thinking that at least we would arrive home safely.
Almost as an afterthought I took a last look at the GPS before switching it off and what do you think, the track was heading in the magic direction!
Thus with a new spring in our step, we started off down. Although the track did wander about a bit we were never far off our desired route, and as it ticked off the distances, the tension became excruciating. Would we actually achieve the goal after making so many fundamental errors, or would the path deviate from our desired route?
We soon had our answer as the path led to the village of Fu Jiao Shan where, located in easily accessible terraces right outside the front door of a farmhouse,was the confluence point. After doing the necessary recording and attempting to explain to the puzzled residents why we were so jubilant, we set out to return to Dai Yi.
This return trip was simple and comprised hitching a ride on the back of a passing motor cycle (3-up), a bus ride into Dai Yi, another 2 buses out to Long Jiao Shan to pick up Cao’s motor bike, and then a ride back into Dai Yi.
The return trip brought home to me the need for thorough preparation. What had taken us 8 hours could have been accomplished in less than two if I had selected the correct road which would have eventually taken us to within 100m of the CP.
And that was how I celebrated May Day 2005. The other two proposed visits will have to wait until another time.