In which I run down a mountain in a typhoon

In the course of my master’s degree, I had to do research observations in the mountains of Taiwan every two weeks. Oh, darn. I HAVE to go spend time in a beautiful national park? How will I ever manage?

This usually ended up being some cobbled together collection of six random days clustered close to a weekend. Friday was often good because there were no classes. Saturday was right out because I was teaching English, and that is the prime day to do so. Sunday and Monday were usually contiguous days that worked. Thus, research often looked like: 3:00am Friday, scoot up the mountain and do two study sites, hang around until the 4:00pm, do another observation and head down the mountain. Saturday, teach English in four locations between 10:00am and 7:00pm. Sunday at 3:00am, go back up the mountain for another three observations, stay the night in either the haunted temple or the youth-hotel, do two more observations (sleeping in until 5:00am) and then scoot back down the mountains to start the week of master’s classes in the day and teaching English at night. Tired yet?

I loved it.

There was one particular occasion in which the contacts and my eyes had a severe disagreement. I thought my contacts would be fine, but I was pushing the timing of wearing them up to 14 hours a day with added wind from all of the time on the scooter. This morning, my eyes decided they had had enough. As it turned out, all of the contact time and wind blowing resulted in chronically dry eyes and a lack of oxygen to my pupil. Thus, I had both capillaries start to grow into my pupil to give it more oxygen and cuts forming around my contacts as my eyes were swelling. Practically, this meant: agony and tears!

I couldn’t really open my eyes, and when I did, I couldn’t see anything through the water pouring out of my eyes. Needless to say, this is not exactly the best way to observe birds visually. I popped the contacts out of my eyes and decided I had no choice but to head down the mountain. The scooter ride down the mountain with no visual correction and eyes that could barely open, teared up repeatedly, and were being aggravated by the wind was the only time I have actually been concerned I would drive off the side of the road. I stopped a bunch of times to just close my eyes and build up some motivation to keep going.

I went down the mountain in defeat, found an eye doctor, and re-scheduled another trip up to make up for them. The problem with this plan was that there was only one more week left in the month, so it was the next week or bust. There was also a category three typhoon on the way.

I talked to my adviser about my dilemma, and he suggested that I could go up with another group of hardy researchers on Wednesday night, skipping classes Thursday to do observations. Then, I could catch a ride back down the mountain as the typhoon was supposed to be coming in.

A daring plan that involved catching a ride, doing observations, and then racing a typhoon down the mountains by hitch hiking? I’m in!

The typhoon came early.

I got a ride from the group that intended to weather the typhoon in a cottage somewhere in the mountains, and it started raining. The next day was more promising as I walked to my study sight because the rain had stopped (Typhoons don’t rain continuously per se. There are periods of heavy rain as the bands of clouds pass over followed by calmer weather between cloud bands. These are more pronounced near the outskirts of the typhoon). I did my observation and moved into phase two: run until someone picked me up. I didn’t have any transportation, and I knew that the single minded goal had to be to get down the mountain, so I figured that running would move that goal along more quickly.

Problem number one: it started raining again…hard. It wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t see, and the strong winds hadn’t kicked up yet. This was definitely a rain band though. My rain coat was also busy protecting the observation equipment in my backpack, so I was soaked pretty quickly.

Problem number two: running is a bad way to hitch hike. There were a number of cars that passed me as they whizzed down the mountain, and despite my attempts to look at them as pleadingly as a bedraggled puppy, none of them stopped to give me a ride because running is a sure sign of strength and intention rather than a desperate attempt to get out of a typhoon. One car even stopped. My heart leapt. It worked! I was saved!

They gave me a huge thumbs-up and drove away.

I stopped running.

At that point. I was at about 12km of running in the rain, but I was at least close to the coffee shop perched near the Bilu sacred tree. They specialize in selling coffee and tea with peach honey. It is amazing, and with the addition of some shelter and electricity, I spent a lot of time there. No other cars came by, so I ended up sopping wet, dripping on their floor begging for a ride down the mountain. The main proprietor of the shop, and an extremely nice lady took pity on me. She said her husband would be heading down the mountains that afternoon to take their children to the city and I could get a ride with him.

I spent the rest of the day trying really hard not to drip on their floor while we waited for the children to get out of school. The drive was fairly uneventful, and I arrived safely at home with a complete data set for the month. Typhoons are much more pleasant when you are not running through them.