Murphy’s a smart man – anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Or more astutely stated, “means that whatever can happen, will happen.” and as scripted in the movie, Interstellar, which I ironically watched on the plane on the way to Urumqi, China. Is there a law of irony where what you observed virtually will indeed play out in reality?
With almost all the forces of nature occurring within 7 days in the Gobi Desert, it made for another memorable volunteer stint with the 4 Deserts Race Series. This is my fourth time volunteering, second time as the On-Site Media Manager. I’m the one who tries to keep the digital connection going between the competitors and the outside world during the race. Occasionally, you’ll see me wandering around in the middle of nowhere, looking completely lost, with my arm in the air trying to eek out any bit of communication signal. I got strange looks and questions from the Chinese military this time, wondering why I’m standing on a hilltop at midnight with a laptop trying to send emails. Giving me a few giggles and smiles, they probably thought I couldn’t curb my teenage-leveled enthusiasm of constant selfie-sharing.
I love meeting up with old friends and making new ones from all over the world and experiencing what life, literally, has to throw our way. This time we had a June snowstorm, rainstorm, the expected 47+ degree Celsius heat and a sandstorm for good measure. Yes, a snowstorm in June. I’ve lived in Canada most of my life and I haven’t ever seen this happen before. Like a badge of honour, our select group can now say, “Have you ever seen a sand dune covered in snow? Well, I have.”.
Everyone, staff and competitors alike, made good use of all the gear they packed. Some of the competitors on the verge frostbite, hypothermia, dehydration and heat exhaustion, made me reconsider competing in a race one day. Of course this is what you sign up for, and like a good Girl Guide/Scout should be, always prepared for anything. Endurance races are no stroll in the park. Good training will get you so far, but its the willpower that will get you across the finish line. When people ask me why I keep coming back to volunteer, its the privilege to witness this willpower firsthand. There’s nothing like being in the moment when you see someone achieve something they themselves never thought they could have achieved. The display of overwhelming emotions; tears streaming down their face, arms raised victoriously, grateful hugs and some even crumble to their knees humbled by their own drive, determination and tenacity.
All the competitors astounded me as they faced the challenges of last week’s extremely varied and harsh weather conditions, sore muscles and blistered feet. They showed us that limitations are fiction. Three blind competitors from Japan, China and Brazil, requiring more deliberate navigation, and two female competitors from Afghanistan, having training restrictions and visa issues pre-race, went on to complete the 250km, 6-Stage race, taking Murphy’s Law into their own hands. They knew what can happen and willed greatness to happen.
It always warms my heart to watch someone’s aspirations unfold. I’m an ice skating coach and yoga instructor and for those of you who are also coaches, mentors, parents, or supporters of any capacity, I’m sure you’ve experienced that same rewarding feeling. Although you’re on the sidelines, you still feel a sense of pride that you were part of that person’s journey in achieving their potential. This is why I continue to volunteer. When will I do a race? I’ll step off the sidelines one of these days.
Since this this is suppose to be more of a travel blog, here are my travel tidbits from this trip.
Murphy got the best of me a few times this trip:
– I had my Acuback confiscated at the Toronto Pearson T3. The inner water bladder contained over 100mL and had no outer markings to show otherwise. Managed to pass security with it when traveling Toronto to Maui, via Vancouver. It was great lumbar support for airplane seats.
– Beijing airport: had Power Monkey solar charger confiscated because there were no markings showing the battery’s charging capacity
– Urumqi and Hami train stations: knives confiscated, and confusion on train ticket purchases. If buying ahead online or booked by an agent, make sure you have the printed ticket itself or a code as proof of purchase to pick up the ticket at the train station. Agents at the train station do not speak English.
– Flew with Hainan Airlines Hong Kong-Urumqi return: If your layover is 12 hours or more you are rewarded with 1 free night at an airport hotel. Yay! But because my onward flight is with a different airline, I was not privy to this even though I bought my entire ticket through Hainan Airlines. Also, my return flight from Beijing to Hong Kong was canceled and I was never notified. Good thing for free airport WiFi. I contacted the airline only to find out they rebooked me on an earlier flight that departed at the same time my flight departed Urumqi to Beijing. Yes, that left me irritated and confused. Luckily, they were willing to rebook me on a later flight at no charge.