Our 9-seater SUV departed from Chishang, Taitung at 7:00 a.m. Slowly, we climbed up along Provincial Highway 20, and eventually reached the altitude of 1,885m an hour later.
“Here we are,” our chauffeur announced.
We got right out of the car and started to prepare for the journey. “Where can we start?” No one from this group of ten could find the trailhead along the highway.
Our chauffeur, who obviously knew his way around, pointed at a vertical hillside. “The entrance is here.” I have come across hidden entrances like that a few times before in Hong Kong, but for such a popular alpine route in Taiwan, it’s definitely rare. For this three-day trip to Jiaming Lake, we’d pass by Jie Maosi and spend two nights sleeping in the wilderness. Once again, we tightened our shoelaces and adjusted our backpacks. Spirits high, we held on tight to the rope and embarked on our journey. Goodbye, civilization.
“A challenging start will keep us cautious for the road ahead.” It took me quite a while to be mentally and physically prepared.
In Taiwan, it’s common to see hikers carrying 12kgs of heavy gear on their back going up to the mountains of 2,000m to 3,000m to stay for three to four days; and for those who reside on the ground, they live a life similar to that of the city dwellers’ in Hong Kong — similar physical strengths, skills, and even ways of thinking. Yet at the end of the day, regardless of how high up in the mountain or how low on the ground you live, we all have to deal with similar things.
As the only girl on the team, I was only required to carry what I needed for myself in the backpack. For that reason, I managed to keep my pace and remain in the middle position among the group of ten. In front of me were those who moved fast and those behind were the first-timers with heavy gear. Though it was already mid-December and we were up high at 2000m, sweat was pouring down my face as I climbed up the steep, forested slopes. As I wiped away the sweat dripping down my chin, I could see that the backpacks of my teammates in the front were getting smaller; and when I turned around, I could hardly see anyone behind.
“Keep going for a bit and take a break later. There seems to be a gentle slope up there. Just a bit more to go.” This was how I talked to myself. Sometimes, on the flat land before climbing the next steep slope, I would catch up to my teammates, who would ask me to “hang in there” before saying goodbye. My body cooled down so quickly once I stopped to rest. So I waited for my teammates behind to arrive and together we started to go further uphill. High up in the mountains, body temperature became the manifestation of time. I hiked solemnly to the campsite, at such a speed, on the very first day of the trip.
“Thank you tree. Thank you for protecting me. I will do my best.” I was tired. As I gasped for breath, I wrapped my arms around a tree and found support within. As I set foot on the tree roots, I spotted the marks left on the tree trunk by hikers from the old days and found my way ahead. How could I not be thankful for trees? My body and soul were all focused on observing the road conditions and I moved ahead carefully. I hadn’t been so focused for a long time. Every time I needed to step on a huge rock, I got strength from holding on tight to the nearest tree trunk. “Trees are always protecting me. Aren’t they?” When I hike alone in the mountains, “Thank you!” is what I say most often. It makes a difference when it comes to saying thank you from your mouth or in your heart; it shows a different level of respect. When I say thank you out loud, it is as if I am getting a response from the tree at the same time and there is strength and power from it. “I can do it,” I said to myself as I pulled my backpack tighter to my body to move uphill.
I felt lonely as I hiked along the path. “Although we had our parents with us when we arrived and will have our friends and family by our side as we leave; and there might even be our partners, or even children, but children will also grow old… After all, aren’t we always moving along all by ourselves?” It got harder and harder to lift my legs. Why is my backpack getting so much heavier? There’s nothing good or bad about loneliness. Just like how hiking can be exhausting and tiring, but there are still so many people attracted to it; they’d complain about feeling tired, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they hate hiking. It’s just a kind of awareness. For quite a while, I was on the road all by myself, with only trees and a sense of loneliness surrounding me. As I finally came to the realization that I have to go through this all alone, though I didn’t feel relieved right away, I understand that I’ve already come a long way.
Jie Maosi is a hunting ground of the indigenous peoples and has become an increasingly popular route to those who are headed to Jiaming Lake. Having passed through the forested Jie Maosi, we arrived at Jiaming Lake, which sits high up at 3,310m and is known as the “mirror of the moon” (Cidanumas Buan) to the Bunun people. As I lowered my head to look at the reflection of the moon, I thought of the lyrics that complemented what was before my eyes — “The time between summer and autumn, the distance between the moon and reflection.”* The distance between humans might well be the same, I reckon. After spending almost a day hiking alone, I realized, at the end of the day, we all live solitary lives, and there’s nothing depressing about it. Feeling connected to the moon that is 384,400km away from me, I dragged my exhausted self towards its reflection. I lowered my head to look at the moon within me.