One man’s memories of Hong Kong’s 100km Trailwalker – pain, hardship, elation and addiction
Former Post technology editor Larry Campbell recalls his experience participating in Hong Kong’s first long-distance trail race in the early years of the event
It may have been 25 years ago, but Larry Campbell remembers his first Trailwalker vividly. Then, as the Post’s first technology editor, he formed a team with colleagues over beers at the old Hong Kong Press Club.
“My first Trailwalker was by far the most unforgettable of the lot,” says Campbell, 48, who now works for global consulting firm KPMG as head of financial services strategy. He would go on to participate in four more Trailwalkers in Hong Kong over the years, and a few more Trailwalkers in the UK.
“Those were fun years,” he recalls, “when my joints actually functioned without pain.”
Today, Campbell, who claims to have been “distinctly unathletic at school”, continues to participate in running and hiking events. Just last month, he returned from a charity fundraising 100km trek in the Gobi Desert. Here, he recounts his experience during Trailwalker ’91.
“We simply did it because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Being young and even more foolish than I am today, I wanted to see what my body could endure. I somehow became de facto team leader of our Trailwalker team, the Hungover Hombres. None of us had any experience at trekking.
In June 1991, we decided to start training with a walk in Lantau, which I hated, and a follow-up walk in Sai Kung, which I hated even more. We had no idea how to hydrate appropriately, what nutrition to carry, or what footwear to use. We just went out to “give it a go”.
We had rented a van as our support vehicle, and on the night before the event, Andy Windebank, the Post’s motoring editor and one of our team’s support crew, was sent to Happy Valley to pick the van up from the rental company. He was supposed to then pick us up from Quarry Bay and we all drive to the key Trailwalker checkpoints to agree on what times and where the support team would meet us.
Unfortunately, by 10pm there still was no sign of Andy. About 11pm we got a call from the Happy Valley police to say Andy had been arrested – he was stopped for speeding, did not have his ID card on him, and got into a row with the police. We managed to bail him out about midnight, and finally set off on our checkpoint reconnoitre, which involved several hours of getting lost. At any rate, we got to bed about 4am and woke up at 8am for a 10.30am Trailwalker start.
As you can imagine, we weren’t exactly in top form. David Wigan and Chris Chappel pulled out at checkpoint three, exhausted. Steve Harrison and I decided to carry on. We had planned to finish in 36 hours – a very sensible time, we felt. Sadly, due to inexperience, exhaustion and bad timing with our support crew, it took us a bit longer.
At one point, our support crew were 90 minutes late turning up at a checkpoint because they “hit a chicken” while driving along Castle Peak Road and had to “stop to wash the van”. One of the best excuses of all time for being late, I think.
Despite all the pain and hardship, as we walked closer to the finish, we knew we would finish and the adrenaline rush began. I remember the intense pleasure of humming the theme music from Indiana Jones as we began to walk faster and faster. We sprinted the last 200 metres down to the finish line at Perowne Barracks.
The feeling of elation at the finish line was indescribable. To this day, as much as my body remembers my pain, my mind remembers those pleasure triggers, and I find myself being able to draw on them when under similar circumstances. I can feel the switch being tickled now, even as I recount this.
We finished in 39 hours 59 minutes. I could barely climb the podium to accept our certificates. Within days of finishing all my toenails went black, and a few weeks later they all fell out. I had worn boots that were new and simply too tight. The Trailwalker killed my knees and to this day, my body complains and reminds me in no uncertain terms that I hurt it badly back in 1991.
I did, though, learn that I could ignore pain and press on where lesser – or wiser – mortals would not. The Trailwalker also imbued in me a love of the outdoors. A mountain is no longer something to dread. It is something that one thanks at its summit for letting one climb it.
That was Trailwalker No. 1, a truly horrible experience, and so it had to be done again, and again... and again. The addiction had begun.”