We cross the world’s biggest city - so large it’s referred to as a megaregion. Weston and I ran from Guangzhou through Donguan and Shenzen to Hong Kong, crossing over 100 miles of crazy urban chaos home to over 100 million people.
For our running adventures, Weston and I both prefer to stay in urban areas. Given that we can only cover 20-35 miles a day, we get to see and do a lot more when we are surrounded by other people. Cities have playgrounds, museums, and restaurants – all of which makes for a more enjoyable and memorable experience for both of us. Often the first question from Weston when planning a new adventure is whether it will be “city or country”?
We love cities. So, when we sat down to plan a big wintertime global adventure, we asked what was the biggest, baddest city we could run across. The answer was clear - a city so large that it has outgrown the term and been labeled a “mega-region” – a conglomeration of 4 cities in a row house a total of over 110 million people
The Pearl River delta of southern China was filled with fishing villages until the economy boomed, driving the largest human migration the planet has ever seen - from the inland provinces to the coastal cites. The result is now over a 100 miles of non-stop factories, high rise apartments buildings, and general Chinese chaos.
It is truly an Endless City and it was calling our name.
Our plan was to arrive in Hong Kong and immediately transfer to the brand new gleaming super highspeed train that now makes the journey north across the region in under an hour. It gave us a minute of repose to gather our energy, enjoy the scenery and reflect upon the challenge ahead as we hurtled through the hills surrounding the region at almost 400 kilometer per hour. This new train is the highly controversial thread that is going to most meaningfully tie this mega-region together into one pulsing powerhouse, no matter how the Hong Kongese feel about it.
From there, we would make our way up to the center of Guangzhou and spend four days making our way back south through Dongguan, across massive Shenzen, cross the border back into the New Territories, and end things in downtown Hong Kong from where we would catch our flight back home.
Before we knew it, we arrived in Southern Guangdong and the let the craziness of mainland China envelope us.
Day 1 was short, with a misguided shortcut, some navigation issues, and a quick train to finish our run downtown. We were very tired from all the traval and had a long way to go.
The second day started with what was to become a tradition - a long, luxurious brunch at the American chain hotels were we stayed. Abject luxury for the same price as a Motel 6 in the US!
We made our way east out of Guangzhou, through a long series of job fairs and barely built sidewalks. We stumbled across a subway that had been built seemingly in the last few hours, which helped give us a couple mile boost and stay on schedule during this very long route.
We eventually made it to Dongguan - the largest city nobody has ever heard of. We enjoyed dinner at the official expat bar and stayed a very neon hotel.
Day 3 required us to pass through very challenging environments that we really not set up as jogging routes. However the teeming masses of humanity walking in every direction ensure that we always had someone to walk with and lead the way.
The main challenge at this point was the way in which local governments had built towering curbs with no pedestrian cutouts in order to keep motorbikes from parking and driving on the sidewalk. This meant that we had to hoist our 100lb stroller up over a foot every few seconds, which was exhausting and stressed our gear, shocks, and muscles. Thankfully, in some places the locals had then installed after-market concrete ramps so that they could access with sidewalk with motorbikes - which ironically were a great help.
The highlight of the day was time spent in the afternoon exploring a few local exercise parks packed with old people trying to stay fit. We attracted attention everywhere we went, but the ogle-factor seemed particularly high here. Dinner was spectacular Xi’an style noodles at a mall restaurant that specialized in central Chinese cuisine.
The next day was spent jogging the 25 miles from the towering building on the outskirts of Shenzen to the similar towering building in the center of Shenzen. It’s an amazing city that represents, to me, all the good and bad about where our society is going. Gleaming building, cutting edge technology, a well-oiled civic machine. Of course this comes at the cost of heavy-handed government policy, massive socioeconomic gaps, and huge environmental concerns. It’s a fun, amazing city and we plan to return someday to spend more time.
Weston love the chance to run around some of the more formal up spaces, meet some local kids, and stay at a fancy euro-style hotel in the center of town. We also made arrangements to have a whole variety of bike parts shipped here from across China, saving shipment and custom fees, but adding to our growing weight and girth.
Day 5, our final day, we the long-anticipated crossing back into Hong Kong, where we were joined by an old friend for a few miles. We cross the mountains of the northern territory, hung out with some monkeys, and then spent a few hours visiting a few shops around town.
All in all, it was a very rewarding and exhausting adventure. It reminded us just how diverse and crazy a world we inhabit and reminded us just how small were are in it. Despite our enjoyment and sense of accomplishment, we were excited to fly home and return to our tiny village!