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Decade of wanderlust remembered

By Zhang Yue ( China Daily ) Updated: 2013-09-17 09:35:13

Decade of wanderlust remembered

Lei Diansheng shows off pictures and items he collected during his 10 years of continuous hiking around China in a small museum in Beijing. Zou Hong / China Daily

Lei Diansheng looks fresher and more limber today than five years ago, when he had just finished 10 years of continuous hiking around China. Setting a new Guinness World Record for 81,000 km on foot, he returned with his hair more than 1 meter long.

He now has a grizzled brush cut, wears a simple T-shirt, and his voice is a bit hoarse. Though he has not been keeping to a regular exercise regimen since his marathon hike, he can still easily lift a person who is 90 kg in weight and 1.8 meters in height.

"I've been living a relaxed life since I finished hiking around China in 2008," says the 50-year-old, at home with his wife and their 2-year-old son.

He does not practice qigong as he used to, mainly because his fame in recent years has pulled him into many business and social activities. Yet he still keeps in good shape, which he attributes mostly to his two decades of preparing for and then undertaking his record-setting hike.

He got the idea for the long hike in 1987, when a set of stamps marking the 400th birth anniversary of Xu Xiake was issued by China Post. A noted traveler and geographer of the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Xu traveled around and conducted surveys in 16 provinces, leaving his footprints in virtually every part of the country.

"Xu's story amazed me as that was the first time I realized that a person could visit many places to enrich one's life," Lei says.

During the next 10 years, Lei worked hard to earn and save money, research hiking, and exercise to get in shape for the hike. He also learned everything he could about circumstances he would find around China, for example, how to eat insects and tree leaves when you are starving in remote areas with few or no people.

In 1989, he met and asked for advice from Yu Chunshun, a famous explorer, who also hiked around China but lost his life during a 1996 adventure in Lop Nor in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

"He was my hero," Lei recalls.

Lei left his hometown in Hulan county, Heilongjiang province, in 1998, to start his decade-long trek.

"Both of my parents passed away when I was a teenager. I was bullied a lot by peers when I was little, because nobody would protect me and I was always looked down upon," he recalls. "Therefore, loneliness is something I learned to deal with at a very early age, and this helped me during my hiking trips."

Lei finished the hike in 2008, after completing a distance equal to going twice around the equator.

Five years on, he has been running a small museum with photos and items he collected as he trudged 81,000 km. He also runs a company in Beijing that provides outdoors training for businesses and schools.

"Only by walking through the country you live in can you truly understand the beauty of it," he says. "I hope other people know about the joy of hiking through my experience."

He remained single until 2010, when he was introduced to his wife Zhang Shuang.

Lei recalls several chances for romance that sparked along the way.

"There were romantic feelings for sure," he recalls. "But none of the women wanted to walk together with me for the hike. One woman walked together with me for one week, and that was the longest."

He admits there were even times he was willing to stay and have a family.

"But nothing ever beat my idea of finishing the hike, even death. This is the only thing I want to accomplish in my life, something that other people have never done."

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