Chapter break

Making Chinese friends

143      Li Gao, or by his Chinese name Gao Li, had introduced Sheila and I into the world of China in person. By 2009, I was beginning to develop a variety of Chinese friends. Since I had taken the summer off work I had time to develop some of my other interest in life. It was at this time that I had tried to find an American girlfriend for Li. That effort led me first to a website which has been completely revised in the last year, www.ok-english.net. My connections at this website would soon change my life along with the changes that came with having Chinese friends. Within two years, most of my work would come from people in China and I would become an editor full-time. But with this website and my Chinese friendships that would allow that to develop.

144      The owner of this website, Julian Lou, and I would both be surprised how quickly I became popular on this website. Within the next year, my profile on Julian's website would receive more than 100,000 hits. My initial goal from a selfish point of view was to learn Chinese but I quickly learned how many people in China are dying to have American friends. I began to edit their blogs on this website as they helped me learn Chinese. I since found a second website that I still use, www.dioenglish.com and also made friends with Peter Pei. Peter obtained a law degree and decided to make a life for himself as a translator and editor. He asked me to help him improve his English on some of the documents he was translating and we soon struck up both a friendship and the business relationship. He would also introduce me to Edanz, as mentioned above.

Vacationing in Colorado

145      In August of 2009, I invited several Chinese students to take a vacation with me. Sheila had a new job and could not take off work at that time but I had always wanted to see the mountains of Colorado. When my family traveled to and from California in the 1960s I had always been disappointed that we never crossed through much of the Rocky Mountains on that trip. The closest thing to tall mountains on the old U. S. Highway 66 of the San Francisco peaks near Flagstaff, Arizona in the mountains near Albuquerque, New Mexico the rise only a few thousand feet high near the highway and up to 9,000 or 10,000 feet within a few of Albuquerque. I had actually been to Colorado twice, touching down briefly at the airport once in Denver and in about 2006 attending a meeting for a week in Denver when there was too much snow on the ground to go see the mountains.

146      I had traveled to by myself to Big Bend National Park in South Texas in 1997 in the same situation this time I invited Chinese friends to join me. Lin, Haibo, and Fang offered to go with me. Haibo had a learner's permit and wanted to learn how to drive. Despite the fact he had some driving experience, Lin and Fang were a little nervous about my allowing Haibo drive. But I wasn't worried about it all. I directed him drive slowly and we headed down the road. The guys were very excited when we included a section of old Route 66 as part of our trip and from there we headed out across the flat lands of Kansas. Eastern Colorado was not much different than it was nightfall when we arrived in Denver. The next morning we headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park and Long’s Peak

147      We arrived in Estes Park, Colorado and made a brief visit to the visitor center. I really wanted to see some wild animals, what we wildlife biologists call charismatic megafauna, the kinds of things that people are willing to donate money to keep from going extinct. People are interested in preserving species like eagles, hawks, geese, bears, deer, and wolves but have little interest in preserving other species such as rare species of flies, mice, or especially invertebrates or fungi. I was also interested in doing some mountain climbing.

148      We inquired about the availability of campgrounds as I was concerned we might have difficulty finding a place to camp in the National Park during the summer time. I know from past experience that many popular parks will fill up in the summertime and was pleased to find one camp ground had open camping spaces. I was even more excited when I discovered a trail left the park to a mountain more than 14,000 feet high (4,346 m), Long's Peak. We drove up to the campground and pitched our tents so we could claim a campsite and then headed back into the main part of the park to see what we could see. The next morning, we woke up early an hour before dawn so we could make it attempt at climbing the mountain. Only once before had I been up that high in elevation. But at the age of 57 I wasn't sure if we could make the round trip in a single day. We were prepared to camp on the mountain so we decided to see what we could do.

149      I had a hard time convincing the guys to bring water but I did bring a gallon myself in my backpack. We took off through the forest on the hiking trail and dawn met us as we ascended from our 9,000 foot base camp. It took a couple hours for the forest to give way to shrubs and already I assumed we were not moving fast enough to reach the mountaintop. That was okay with me. I just wanted to see how far we could go, and in particular how far I could go. The trail ascended slowly like a good trail should and along the way we saw several friendly chipmunks one of which the guys tried to feed by hand, successfully.

150      Eventually, the landscape opened up and we could see the mountain in front of us. It seemed to take forever as we ascended slowly and saw snowbanks in the distance in protected areas of the mountain. The trail divided at one point and we started to circle around the south side of the mountain. Eventually, the younger guys decided they wanted to go farther ahead on their own so I gave them half the water and they struck out ahead. Even Fang could outpace me but that was okay. I enjoy hiking alone and had already spent several hours with them. Even though I could see a mile or two ahead they quickly flew out of sight. I took a more leisurely pace and enjoyed the barren rocky scenery.

Making new friends

151      The trail wound its way up to a ridge where I paused to rest. One can often run into interesting characters when you're out hiking because it is independent people like me that like to get out and hike along trails. I met a man who is spending his life enjoying many parts of the planet and we had a long discussion as I rested about Americans and languages as I discussed my Chinese friends and my interest in their language. “The English language is a very selfish language,” this fellow told me, "When you speak English you are constantly talking about yourself. Words like my, me, I, we, and so on are used very frequently in the entire language centers on self. This isn't so with other languages." He told me of a mountain people who have a different way of thinking about things. Rather than being self-centered the language was centered on other things.

152      "If you had a leather backpack," he said as he pointed at my backpack made of modern materials, "You wouldn't call it ‘your backpack’ in their language. The leather would be described as the leather that the animal gave me which someone used to make the backpack for me." The emphasis of the language was not on self than on what others did for you. This was one of the reasons I wanted to learn Chinese. I knew that German, Spanish, French, and other European languages were all closely related. I wanted to experience completely new ways of thinking by learning a completely new language.

Elevation sickness

153      By now my three companions were far ahead of me. I'd given up on having any chance of catching up with them but I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Soon, I noticed pikas poking their heads out from among the rocks. I always enjoy coming across species I've never seen before and was quite excited to sit back and watch them. The north side of the mountain had a grand view across the main part of the National Park and I felt great to be fulfilling one of my boyhood dreams of hiking alone in remote mountains. From this vantage point, I couldn't see the peak of the mountain and the going was slow because I was no longer 25 years old. But I am who I am and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

154      I pushed on and gradually the mountain came back into view. I made my way into an iceless cirque where a very interesting campground had been established. People have carefully piled rocks in circles to make even ground so that they could lie down. The government had provided composting toilet facilities, which also surprised me. I wanted to go on but I had developed a headache. In fact, I had developed enough altitude sickness that I was somewhat concerned for my health. It was obvious my body was reaching its limits and pushing forward would not have been wise. I decided to rest and see if closing my eyes would help. I really felt like I could've used a night sleep but it was primarily the exertion that it wore me down. After resting about 30 minutes I decided to begin making my way down the mountain. I could see people along the trail in front of me that I could not pick out any of the Chinese guys. In fact, Lin and Haibo had made it past The Notch, a landmark along the trail, and Fang was trailing behind them. But it was already afternoon and obvious that I was not going to make it to the peak.

155      I made my way back down the trail. I had reached 12,300 feet at the campsite and after I was down below 11,000 feet again I began to feel better. I was about a third of the way down when the guys caught up to me. "Do you have any water," they asked. I tend to keep a little extra water with me which we quickly drank.

156      "Did you drink your water," I asked them.

157      "We thought it was too heavy and poured it out." Their response did not surprise me because I knew inexperienced hikers would be reluctant to carry water with them. They have decided they did not need water early in the morning but now as the afternoon wore on all of us became very thirsty. After a while, as we reached the edges of the forest the sky darkened and soon we were walking during the start of the night. But we had a great day and I had thoroughly enjoyed it. Unfortunately, the rest of the trip did not go quite as well mainly because of an old health problem that cropped up and my decisions.