The path up Nanshijiao Mountain twists back and forth the entire journey, tempering each successful climb with a sharp, narrow corner. An older man, perhaps in his sixties, with skin like leather in folds along the back of his neck, cycled up beside me. His calves tensed as he pushed down on the peddles, and he grinned jovially on the overtake.
I growled and got back on my bike.
For tourists and locals alike, Elephant Mountain is far and away the most well-known and well-travelled destination along the Taipei skyline. And for good reason; it’s a short hike, to rather spectacular views, made all the more surprising by the sprawling streets of Taipei in miniature below.
We passed the time by pointing out the brightest stars, the formations we could just about recognise. Eventually, with the breeze against my face, I drifted towards sleep.
Which was when I heard a shout – my flatmate, breathless and excited. “Hey, look, that star is moving!”
“When you climb,” Joe tells me, “you understand your body. Sometimes I complete a challenge and think: Oh! I can do this movement, it’s unbelievable! Maybe it sounds like I am overstating, but it’s exactly true in my mind. Recently, I learned to jump between handholds, and the feeling was just amazing. I can feel my body changing, getting better.”
The rules to our expedition were simple: walk, and walk, and walk, and don’t head back until our feet have whittled down to red raw stumps.
On that last point, we were quite successful.
That bike ride to Oxford was one of my very first adventures, in the sense that I really thought about it as an adventure, not a holiday, or a trip, or a day out. And even though it was small, hardly worth mentioning, really, and even though I failed, it’s still one of my absolute favourites.