A large, brightly colored, number ten city bus grinds to a halt in front of the Xinjiang Arts Institute. The bus is full, packed to the brim but judging by the anxious crowd and the barrage of elbows, arms, and hands I take to the face and chest, it does not matter.
The hydraulic doors open with a hiss and the crowd rushes the door before outgoing passengers even have a chance to exit. I watch as a wordless battle ensues. Outgoing passengers slam into a wall of oncoming passengers creating an impenetrable bottle-neck.
Meanwhile, another number ten bus pulls into the stop. I quietly turn and leave the impatient mob to their dance.
I board the nearly empty bus and take my pick of the many seats available. Ahead of me I see the mob, still fighting for a spot on the fully loaded bus. The bus is so full that I can’t even see in the windows. People have, quite literally, been pressed into every crevice available and yet still more potential riders vie for a spot on-board. I sit comfortably in my own seat.
The driver of my bus impatiently lays on his horn. The low riding cattle-car in front begins to move with the doors still open and people still trying to board. Another honk. The driver closes the door but it won’t shut all the way due to the frantic, half-in, half-out passenger now hopping on one leg trying to keep speed with the bus. The driver stops once again, opens the door, yells something I can’t understand, and the would-be passenger shamefully begins his walk back to the bus stop.
My bus picks up speed much faster than the heavy-laden lowrider ahead. We move to overtake the bus and as we pass, the eyes of a hundred sweating Chinese meet mine. Instantly, they realize a mistake has been made. After cramming themselves into a slowly moving dutch oven, these riders now look on in envy as I and the few others around me ride in complete comfort.
We approach the next stop on our route. In the not so distant distance I see a strikingly familiar crowd. They catch sight of the buses and almost instantaneously and in unison they assume attack positions and begin to jostle amongst themselves. It quickly becomes evident that my bus is about to undergo the same bombardment as the one in front of it.
Seeing the bus ahead of me is packed they shift and make a b-line to mine. The doors open and within seconds I am now sitting with stomaches, butts, and little kid faces within centimeters of my head. The temperature rises, personal space disappears, oxygen supplies are depleted, so much for a comfortable bus ride…
A year of situations much like this one and far too little time in nature had this “country boy” feeling quite overwhelmed by the time I set foot back on American soil. I was in need of wilderness. A burning desire, unquenched by city parks or patches of green had swept over me. I needed to go pee in the woods, start fires, and walk just for the sake of walking.
So naturally, I called up my partner in crime, Jon Abney. He and I have never passed up a chance to traipse through the woods since the third grade when we met. The planning began…
*Urumqi, Xinjiang Province, People’s Republic of China