Fragrant hills – again!

I lived in various big cities. As much as I love hiking and being outdoors, as thrilled I am to live in huge cities. Beijing stands on its own: 25 million people, ever-growing, inconceivably big. Enough playground to explore. But by living and working in a city, I find it quite hard to do things tourists would do when visiting Beijing. 

But with my partner having visited me in Beijing it was the perfect opportunity to check out and explore the city together. So the next couple of posts will be dedicated to the city I’m calling home at the moment! 

As we are hikers it is not surprising that one of our first trips actually brought us away from the city. I have been out to the West Mountains once before, but at that time the Xiangshan Park 香山 was packed with over 82 000 people. That time we went on a work day and still we weren’t alone on that mountain. Fortunately there are different routes up the hill and several routes on the ridges of the range. So we were traversing the mountains a bit. Sounds like an awesome hiking experience? Well, hiking is something that hasn’t get to China …. yet (I guess). The trails are concrete paths and climbing that hill by proper steps and stairs is far from a wilderness experience. But we enjoyed being outdoors, marvelled a bit on the very last leaves that were not yet blown away by the autumn winds and we were convincing ourselves that the grey cloud Beijing was hiding in was actually fog and not air pollution. 

After some time the icy wind blowing in from the north was chasing us down from the mountain. 

I have been to the mountains …

October is a pleasant time in Beijing: Temperatures are cooling down, it is generally dry and as the heating season hasn’t started yet, we are lucky to get some days with a decent blue sky and quite some sun. As the last days had been really pretty with amazing air quality, two colleagues and I decided to venture out on a little trip and check out „Fragrant Hill“ (Xiang Shan 香山)。That is a prominent hill in the West Mountains that can be either climbed by walking or by taking a cable car up. This mountain range is about 15 km to the west and there is even a new subway line running all the way out there to the park. 

But when we changed subways for the second time and were about to go to the station where the subway for the last leg would leave, we suddenly realized that we were not the only people who had that idea to venture out and explore the West Mountains. There were hundreds, if not thousands of people waiting and queuing in amazingly neat and by security guys well organized lines. Then it occurs to us that this weekend is one of the most crowded weekends on that mountain: marveling at the fall colors is something people love and as there are many people in Beijing, there are proportionally many more people especially on a nice sunny Saturday. 

I honestly had that moment of „Are we sure we wanna do that?!“, but it quickly dissolved as the lines were long but moving surprisingly fast. As expected the train was packed, but after maybe 15 minutes we arrived at the park entrance with everybody else. So in tiny mini steps we moved slowly towards the entrance, got our tickets and continued slowly in this huge bubble of what felt like at least half of Beijings population. 

We slowly made our way up that 1,830 feet/558 meter high mountain (Beijing itself is at an elevation of 143 feet/45 meter). It was in parts a steep, but never a sketchy climb as the path going up is all – this is typical for China – concrete steps. On top of the mountain is a little temple and a couple of stone steles. If there wouldn’t have been that many people around me, I would have had amazing views over the surrounding mountain scenery of the West Mountains 系山 and over the city of Beijing. Unfortunately it still was a bit too early for more impressive fall colors, but as it is relatively easy to get there, this time for sure wasn’t the last time I have been there.

As we decided to take the cable car down, we had to queue for another 1,5 hrs. In the meantime we could catch some amazing views to the west where the sun slowly set, but also with the setting sun it got so cold, that even two jackets weren’t enough. The ride down the mountain provided some amazing views over the city that lit up step by step. A day nicely spend with awesome people … and also a lot of time in queues – but … who are we to measure time by hours?!

798 Art District

Even though I planned on having a lazy weekend, I got itchy feet and went exploring. After an eternity of 1.5 hrs of a subway ride I arrived at „798 Art District“ in the north east of Beijing. The huge areal is a former industrial site and most of the buildings were built by the former GDR. Nowadays the area is home to uncountable little art galleries, culture centers of different countries, little stores, coffee shops and restaurants that serve fusion food. It has an alternative and individual touch, but it almost felt a bit too mainstream and commercialized. However, I had a nice stroll through all those little lanes and along the streets. It is a surprisingly nice and unexpected get-away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Arrived in Beijing

Beijing – my new hood! It’s time to send a first „Ni hao“ from the Chinese capital that I call my home for now. I lived in China before: over ten years ago I started my professional teaching career in Guangzhou, a huge city in the south, neighboring Hongkong and Macau. Now I am back, this time in the countries’ capital, and after a rough first week with a lot of annoying and tiring paperwork, I slowly settle in. I was curious about how China changed, curious about how it would feel being back. China is a very different country culture and mentality wise. But to my astonishment I don’t feel as alienated and strange as I expected. Beijing so far seems way less rough than the south; there is way less spitting on the streets, I experience way more respect to personal space. Yes, the language barrier is huge as my Chinese is not existent (anymore) and hardly anybody speaks English, but a smile and gestures are internationally understood. My students are lovely, enthusiastic, open and interested; my colleagues are amazing. The whole work environment so far is very supportive and flexible (some days „flexible“ could be a synonym for chaotic, in a positive and, yeah, constructive way). However, it is very difficult to put all these new impressions and experiences into a short text, but in some regards China is like I expected it and it is complicated. In other regards it is different than I thought: The country is on the uprise, more than „the West“ would think, more up front and modern: digitalization here seems more real and more embedded in daily life than anywhere else I have been so far. What China actually is, is a very complex question and I cannot answer it, especially not after only having spent two weeks here. But –  things are not as easy as they seem from the outside.

And Beijing is huge! I live in the outskirts of the inner city (close to the 5th ring road) and it is about 20 km or a bit over an hour by subway to the Forbidden City that probably marks the heart of the city. The public transportation is impressive and it is still growing: more subway lines are under construction. It is – at least by subway – easy to get around, but the distances are long. It takes up half a day to get something done in the city; just swing by a coffee store close to 3rd or 2nd ring road ends up being a several hour trip in total. Even changing subway lines needs a lot of walking in between. So far I didn’t get to see a lot of Beijing as getting paperwork done and also work kept me busy. But I cannot wait to extend my explorations to areas off the district I am living and working in … and into the endless joys of Chinese cuisine!  

Benton MacKaye Trail

After having hiked intensively on the US West Coast it was time to explore the East Coast a bit further. No, I haven’t hiked the Appalachian Trail, not yet, not this time. But my partner and me hit the Benton MacKaye Trail. This is an about 300 mile long trail that shares its southern terminus with the Appalachian Trail, intersects with it a couples of times, but then makes its way north-west instead of following the AT to the north-east. It winds its way up and down the Appalachians through Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina. 


As I am still in love with the Pacific Crest Trail, I have to admit I had my prejudices about the not-so-high and not-so-spectacular mountains of the east. Endless and boring green tunnels under infinite deciduous trees of the Appalachians, now and then a quick glimpse over even more wooded mountains und rolling hills. Thousand shades of green up until the horizon. Add high temperatures and even higher humidity and annoying mosquitos all along the way – that’s what I expected. And blaming the close proximity to civilization I imagined the Appalachians full with people hiking and maybe even weirdos hanging out at the campgrounds. 

But all my prejudices quickly dissolved. The Appalachian mountains are beautiful. They lack epic views and all the epic scenery the west coast offers, but they have their very own pretty charm. For example seeing spring developing is magical. All that fresh and lush green. A lot of times we were walking through tunnels of rhododendron and along gurgling creeks. However, yes, we got poured on and it is humid. But to look upon it from the bright side: you don’t have to worry about drinking water too much. And the Benton MacKaye trail is a gem: challenging, yet pretty and offering pure solitude as we only met 2 other hikers within the about 10 days we spent hiking. 

Unfortunately we had to leave trail because of an injury just after we passed the halfway point, but we definitely will come back and finish that trail in these gorgeous woods. 
PC@ Longstride.net


Appalachian Mountains

As my partners‘ back didn’t want to cooperate anymore we made the rough decision to leave the trail. There is no sense in pushing on with severe back pain. It’s not fun, first of all, but also we couldn’t go any further than a couple of miles a day and John could hardly bend over. As camping out there is basically living on the ground one can imagine how painful it would become.

So by arriving at Tellico River Rd the decision has been made to call it a hike and leave the trail for now. As the Benton Mackaye Trail is more remote than the Appalachian Trail it is way harder to actually leave the trail. With a bit of luck we hitched a ride back to Tellico Plains and then on to Maryville the next day. As it is quite pedantic to get to a place to take a train or Greyhound back north, we decided on renting a car and take the scenic way back to Washington DC. So we made the best of the situation, rented a car for 3 days and went slowly back north by taking the Cherohala Skyway. That scenic byway is 45 miles long and winds its way through the Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee. Subsequently we took the Blue Ridge Parkway, that leads another 469 miles along the Appalachian Mountains through North Carolina and Virginia. On the way we stopped at uncountable viewpoints, seen amazing waterfalls and, of course, stopped for a couple of little hikes that brought us to the top of some mountains and balds. These balds are specific in the Appalachians: nobody really knows why they are there. Maybe because of former agricultural use, maybe because fires caused by thunderstorms extinguished all trees and plants. Anyway, going back slowly was a perfect ending to a not-so-perfect end of the trail. But, we will be back! 
PC by longstride.net


A new trail is up to come …

I am very excited! We just started to plan out the Benton MacKaye-Trail. That trail travels for nearly 300 miles through the beautiful backcountry of Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina. It shares the southern terminus with the Appalachian Trail, intersects with it a couple of times, but is way less traveled than the AT. I am especially curious about the Great Smoky Mountains Nationalpark as it is with 11 mio visitors a year the by far most popular national park in the States. Hopefully we won’t meet all those other folks on trail ;-).


What’s it all about …

Hello and a warm welcome to my blog!

What all this about? It’s about hiking and about the power and strength and confidence to do whatever you want!

You can follow my hikes and little adventures on

http://www.instagram.com/malawarszawa

And a project about inspiring ladies on

http://www.instagram.com/female_humans_of_the_world

For me as being born ’81 to an east German mother equality was never a big issue. Both my parents always worked , were equal, my mum even has a higher education degree then my dad, but that’s never been a big deal. I grew up never questioning my ability to do whatever I want to do. I always felt equal, I acted equal – some people might even call me uber-emancipated. But I am definitely not. In my point of view women can do whatever men do, society just grew different expectations towards different sexes.
Then, when I was turning 23 I started to travel excessively. To some so called first world countries first, other, maybe in some ways more challenging countries like Kyrgyzstan or India later on. There I figured that equality between men and women literally does not exist.
In some regions girls were not sent to school but have to help on the land growing crops.
In some places girls were married to an elderly man that their parents choose.
In Central Asia it is still a common habit to kidnapp girls and then marry them.
Girls in general don’t get the same attention than boys do.
Girls don’t get the same education as boys get.

…. but thats not just limited to the 3rd world countries. In the so called industrial countries girls face certain expectations too. Always take care of your appearance, be a good-looking sweet female and a caring mother and wife.

Since travelling I cannot count the times anymore how often I have been asked how I could even dare to travel all by myself.
Countless times I am told how brave I am that I travel all by myself. That was always meant in a flattering way, but I doubt people would have asked the same questions and comment the same way on a guy travelling all by himself.
Yes, it is an issue. And yes, we girls can do whatever we want to do!
We should not let put that seed in us that we cannot do things.
I travelled a lot, still do more then ever before and I never faced extraordinary dangerous situations, sometimes I faed verbal sexual harrasment, but I am strong and confident enough to stand these situations. Things can actually happen everywhere. Not just at home we have to use some common sense but in other places too.

With my hikes, – as well the day hikes as the long distance ones, with my little climbs and adventures I want to encourage, empower and inspire more women, ladies and girls of no matter which age to go outthere, go out of your so called comfort zone, do all those things you are dreaming about to do but never dared doing and encourage to “don’t give a shit” about what others might think or even say about that.
So go out, face your fears, push your very own boundaries, overcone those annoying expectations from others. Only you are the one person you should focus on. Explore the world … and not just that, explore yourself and grow with all these new experiences. When I can do that, everybody can.
For that you don’t have to cycle the length of Africa. Just start doing something, little adventures, day hikes, cycling trips, explore your surrounding and learn to actually say no when you want to say no.

Furthermore let’s get some money together to provide education to girls in regions of our world where paretns don’t invest in their baby girls.

Donate now https://www.gofundme.com/i-hike-4-u