Taking the high road to adventure

By: China Daily
Updated: Mar. 03, 2022
Fu Zihao enjoys the scenery at Yamdroktso Lake in the Tibet autonomous region in 2019. [Photo provided to China Daily]
Young people are heading to Tibet to challenge themselves and find new ways of looking at life.Yang Zekun reports.
In September, Zhang Qinghong set out to walk 20 kilometers a day to reach Lhasa, capital of the Tibet autonomous region-a journey of 2,900 kilometers.
Wearing a prosthetic leg and pushing an 80-kilogram two-wheeled cart, he slept in a tent, cooked for himself and regarded the trek as a personal challenge.
In recent years, many people have walked or cycled to the region, which they regard as a place of spiritual sanctuary. They believe that the experience of visiting Tibet provides a form of self-awakening.
Having visited before, Zhang knew he faced the challenges of altitude sickness and rapid changes of weather on the high plateau, but he also knew that he would enjoy the scenery.
Then age 21, the native of Honghe Hani and Yi autonomous prefecture in the southwestern province of Yunnan started his trip from his hometown along with a friend.
In November, Zhang was forced to abandon his trek along National Highway 318 as cold weather and health issues meant he was unable to continue the trip, which he had hoped to complete in seven months.
Zhang Qinghong sits by a local resident at Nam Co Lake in September 2020. [Photo provided to China Daily]
Recuperation process
The journey was meant to be another step on the recuperation process he started after losing his right leg in 2012, when he accidentally touched a high-voltage power line.
The injury beat him down, leaving him isolated, despairing and in pain as he struggled through two years of recuperation. With the guidance and encouragement of his parents and friends, Zhang slowly walked himself out of the slump.
In 2014, he regained his love for swimming and joined a disabled team. In 2018, he won the gold medal in the 100 meter backstroke at the 11th Yunnan Provincial Paralympic Games. In June 2019, he decided to open a training class in his hometown after retiring from competitive swimming.
In September 2020, Zhang rode a bicycle to Tibet. The 32-day journey was inspired by Guo Shaoyu, who lost an arm and a leg in an accident but still biked around China.
"I learned about Guo's story in 2017, so I thought I could also ride a bike to Lhasa. The seed was buried in my mind until 2020, when the COVID-19 outbreak stopped me from teaching swimming. I decided to challenge myself and achieve my dream. I saw scenery I had never seen before and conquered challenges I had never met before," he said.
Having cycled to Nam Co Lake in 2020, Zhang does a handstand at the water's edge. [Photo provided to China Daily]
Difficult journey
As walking to Lhasa is far harder than cycling, Zhang hesitated before deciding to attempt the journey on foot because of concerns about whether his leg could support him for the entire trek.
Eventually, his traveling companion convinced him that he should go, so Zhang obtained his family's permission, promising to contact them every day.
"The initial stages were hard, as I couldn't get used to walking long distances. The skin was very thin at the point where the prosthesis meets my leg. It chafed and healed twice, so it hurt a lot when I walked," he said.
He had to be very careful when going downhill because his two-wheeler was heavy, so his legs could not break the momentum effectively. Every 20 days, Zhang stayed at a hotel to charge his mobile power batteries, but he slept in his tent at all other times.
"I enjoy all the experiences that occur on the road. The most important thing is to enjoy the process, including the scenery along the way, the people and the difficulties I encounter. Difficulties may obstruct my way forward, but when I recall them in the future, I smile and think about how I conquered them," he said.
Zhang said people who encountered him during his trip or watched his videos and livestreams on social media often marveled at his experience and courage. Sometimes, they wondered why he didn't just stay home and find a steady job rather than venturing into the wild.
"When I walk outside, I feel an inner freedom. The only thing I need to think about is the next day's journey. Nothing else bothers me, unlike when I was working in cities where I faced many problems every day," he said.
"No matter whether I am cycling or walking, going to Lhasa is a natural part of my life, and everyone has their own plan and lifestyle. The journeys made me more outgoing and confident."
Fu takes a selfie at the Potala Palace in Lhasa in 2020. [Photo provided to China Daily]
Fu Zihao has walked to Tibet on round trips five times. He plans to make the journey via 13 different routes before he reaches the age of 40. So far, he has completed eight.
The 32-year-old got into the hiking habit during the seven years he spent in France as a student. He loves poetry and longed to visit Tibet after reading poems written by Tsangyang Gyatso (1683-c.1706), the sixth Dalai Lama, who was also noted for composing romantic verse.
Fu made his first hike to Tibet in 2017. His last trek started in September 2020 and took more than a year to complete.
"I want to finish all 13 routes while my physical condition is good. Making the journey alone was awesome, but it was really tiring," he said. "I traveled for more than a year. I could feel my physical condition gradually becoming weaker. I had to take a day off every three days or so, whenever I arrived in a township."
Fu allowed himself a budget of about 100 yuan ($15) a day. As he has no job, he mainly funds his journeys through his savings or via family support and money loaned by friends.
"I don't really pursue material things-like some people who want to buy houses or cars or get married-or have any worries. I focus more on spiritual things. I write poetry, so I like to find inspiration on my journeys," he said.
"Sometimes, when I am alone on the road, I think about the big questions related to life and death. When I see the endless mountains and the straight road with the blue sky and white clouds, and hear the speakers (on his phone and carried in his rucksack) playing a song about chasing dreams, I shed tears. I need these shocks to move myself, to adjust my mood. Most of the time, I feel in a state of emptiness, enjoying the natural scenery."
Although he prepares well before every trip, Fu said such journeys can be dangerous because there is no one to help him if he meets trouble-such as the threat of hypothermia on the plateau or attacks by wild animals-when venturing through unpopulated areas.
He quoted an old saying, "Traveling thousands of miles is better than reading thousands of books."
Fu added that people who travel long distances need to have some emotional release during their journeys, so he keeps a diary, which he plans to use as an aid to memory and write a book about his trips.
"But before I finish my challenge, I just want to keep quiet about my experiences and enjoy walking alone," he said.

By Yang Zekun