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Race Review

Jun 26 / 2008

Passing the Baton - Dr Patricia Bowmer

Passing the Baton
by Dr. Patricia Bowmer
June, 2008

When I want to remind myself who I truly am – my mission, my ability to overcome obstacles, what gives me greatest joy – I do so by Adventure Racing in the wonder of the Hong Kong countryside.  At the end of my last season here, the highlights from a myriad of Sprint races play before me:

A tunnel underneath a road in Deep Water Bay, long, circular, metal, completely dark, just tall enough for standing.  The 2007 Asia Miles Eco Action Asia Adventure, with my teammate Angie.  The sound of footfalls echoing in the water-lined tunnel quickly replaced by Indian war cries, as racers become children in the dark, and woop-woop their way to the round circle of light at the end.

Scrambling up a dry waterfall in Lantau, thick vines crisscrossing it like a ladder.  Spiders scuttle away at our onslaught.

Climbing nearly to the top of a recently cut single track trail along the unfrequented side of Violet Hill in Tai Tam Country Park, my breath coming fast. Stopping and looking back, my breath taken completely away by the beauty of the countryside we have had the privilege to climb.

Dancing down concrete-and-stone steps, on the way to a river crossing at Pui O Beach on Lantau.  Soft footprints in the wet grey sand, letting the tide wash over my sneakers because I know we’ll soon be in the ocean anyway.

An amber rainstorm in Sai Kung, thunder and lightning all around, the racers have spread out, and I am alone on the trail with only red ribbons for company.  Laughing aloud at the danger and the thrill, and then sliding down the steepest mountain I can imagine, drenched and muddy and so alive.

Swimming across pools at the base of waterfalls, in reservoirs – reservoirs! – and kayaking in Deep Water Bay.  Abseiling down a cliff face on Lantau.

Ah, the joy of it.  The knowledge that, were it not for Adventure Racing, for this sport I had never even heard of until 2003, I would have missed all this glory.


What does it take?  A bike helmet.  A pair of gloves – I like the fingerless ones I bought at EMS in New York City – because then I can truly feel the rock I am climbing.  A water-carrying backpack.  A waterproof pouch to carry my mobile phone, a few hundred dollars, and my house keys – just in case I go off-course and have to get home the hard way.  A couple of energy gels placed strategically so I can reach them while running on the easy sections.  Preparing all this the night before a race still makes my stomach uneasy, because, after twenty or so races, I know the challenges that lie ahead.  But I breathe through it, and find my guts again.

There’s something all the cuts and scrapes and bruises have taught me that no gym or solo run on stable earth could have done.  We live the challenge, and so become the person who can live the challenge.  Untapped within, we find a self we didn’t know was there, waiting to come out and stand with chest lifted.  Call it a hero.  Sunshine after rain.  Like a child, grinning while showing off scraped knees.

And there’s more still.  Once on a hike – not adventure racing but after several seasons of races, just hiking – my husband and I came across a distraught woman.  Her dog had got itself stuck down a steep trail leading to a river gully in Tai Tam Country Park.  She was in tears, calling and calling the dog, but the dog was too scared to climb back up.  We stopped and spoke with her.  I looked down at the dog, thought about it, then scrambled over the ledge, down the trail, slipping and catching myself on roots, trusting myself that I could do this.  I reached it, she called the dog, and I pushed it up to her.  Before adventure racing, I wouldn’t have done this.  I wouldn’t have trusted myself.  That’s what adventure racing has taught me.

The countryside of Hong Kong has become my cathedral, my religion, where I seek and find my best self.  It is a self I’ve learned to trust to get me down the steep trails, the coastal rocks, the ropes tied above waterfalls.

Now that I am leaving Hong Kong, after six years and countless races, I recall the faces of all the people I have raced with.  How we encouraged one another.  Gave a hand up – or a shove up – when it was needed.  The bright smiles.  The curses.  The relief when we knew we were close to the finish line.   The way we shared gels and water and race stories.  Stories of heroism, really. 

I am leaving Hong Kong.  It is time, now, for me to pass the baton onto others, those who will line up at the start next year, and the year after that.  My aim in writing this piece is to inspire you to be one of those people.

You might adventure race because it exposes you to some of the most beautiful terrain in Hong Kong.  You might do it to compete.  Or you might, like I did, do it to find a self inside that’s capable of climbing mountains.

Here.  Take the baton.  It’s calling you.  The self you find inside will be delighted you did.


Dr. Patricia Bowmer

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