Many people in Hong Kong do amazing things for those in need, including finding creative endeavours to raise money for charities. One such endeavour is the Hike for Freedom, devised by two long-time British expats, JO LODDER and CATHERINE CORMACK. Neighbours on Lantau, the pair set out to raise HK$100,000 in much-needed funds for a couple of worthy charities by tackling Hong Kong’s famous hiking trails over four days in March. We found out how they went!
To take on Hong Kong’s four main hiking trails – the Maclehose, Hong Kong, Wilson and Lantau Trails – and walk/run them all, back to back, over the space of four days. Together, the trails total 300km, with 18,600 metres of elevation.
- STOP (Stop Trafficking of People) is a small charity that works to stop trafficking in Hong Kong by finding enslaved victims and then helping to get them home.
- TAILS is an animal rescue organisation based on Lantau that rehabilitates abused and abandoned animals and finds them forever homes.
Between the two of them, Jo and Catherine managed to successfully finish the four trails in 101 hours. But this was definitely a team effort: Jo had to sit out the Wilson Trail on Days 2 and 3 on account of an injury, and Catherine couldn’t attempt the Lantau Trail on Day 4 because of an erratic heart rate.
A gruelling physical test
Jo reflects on these unexpected disruptions: “My injury really messed up things from the downhill section at the end of the Maclehose, and then from the start of the Hong Kong Trail. At 25km, Catherine and I decided it was better that she continue on her own; I was just slowing her down.”
When Jo came down from the Dragon’s Back, he couldn’t walk. “I was forced to skip the Wilson and get treatment from Philip Clarke, my osteopath. I still can’t believe I was able to complete the full 70km of the Lantau Trail the next day! Still, I was just pleased that between us we completed the challenge – even if it wasn’t like we had imagined.”
Jo didn’t expect the four trails to be so tough on his body – especially his knees and ankles. “I realise now that I’d done nowhere near enough training. I’ve never been in a race of any sorts and my body just didn’t stand up to the distance and the pounding it took. Fitness-wise I felt good, but my 50-year-old body just wasn’t up to it!”
He might have missed one trail, but this was a notable feat nonetheless. “I still did 220km, with 12,000m of elevation, which I’m pretty proud of. I’m especially glad that I could come back from not being able to walk to complete the Lantau Trail.”
Catherine’s achievement is equally impressive; she completed three of the four trails in 73 consecutive hours. “That’s 230km and over 14,000m elevation, and on the toughest trails: Wilson, Maclehose and Hong Kong.”
The experience has left the two of them in awe of the elites who manage to complete the 4 Trails Ultra Challenge from start to finish. “The guys who do this in one go? Just incredible!”
There were some especially difficult moments. For Catherine, the Wilson Trail on Days 2 and 3 were the hardest. “Physically, it’s the most challenging trail due to the elevation changes and technical aspects. With Jo pulling out from injury, and with us falling behind on the time schedule as a result, I was on my own for a large chunk of the trail. It was incredibly humid and I’d only had a few hours’ sleep in the previous three nights; mentally, I really struggled.”
The lowest point for Jo was realising his knee wasn’t going to improve with more walking. “Also, not being able to get out with Catherine to support her and watch her push herself to the limits through the toughest trail.”
Thankfully, there were plenty of people who were able to rally around Catherine. And not just by following her progress on the live tracker. Several of the pair’s friends in Hong Kong actually joined them at various points along the challenge. “They would magically appear on the trail at times where I felt the lowest; it really helped spur me on,” says Catherine.
One example was at the top of Fei Ngo Shan, which was where Catherine came closest to quitting the Hike for Freedom. “I was in tears, about to call Andrew, when a trail-running friend of mine, Dolly, called out my name. Speaking to her helped to cheer me up. Then, further down the hill, two close friends of mine, Connie and Simon, were standing there in tennis gear with coffee and a hip flask of whisky. I was so overjoyed to see them!”
Support to the end
These encounters allowed Catherine to battle through the low points. “On those final two sections of the Wilson Trail, in the dark, with every step hurting, tears running down my cheeks, I was incredibly grateful to have Andre leading, Sofia following behind and Nikki supporting me on the phone to ensure I finished safely.”
Another surprise visit came from Steve, who, Jo says, “popped out of the undergrowth” during the last 10km of the Maclehose Trail – pretty much in the middle of nowhere! “That was 9pm at night, and he gave me a knee support to wear for the tedious road finish of the trail. Without him, I’m not sure I’d have completed the Maclehose!”
Jo’s wife Novy, who is a chef and has a private kitchen, was another saviour, providing delicious food along with a smile.
There was plenty of encouragement from afar too. Catherine’s boyfriend Andrew, who is currently in Australia, did everything he could to keep the mood upbeat. “Hearing his voice when I was at my lowest, reading his messages of support and making me laugh really helped raise my spirits,” she says. “It made me feel like he was here with me throughout.
Final word – and how you can help!
“I’m incredibly proud to have completed this with Catherine,” says Jo. “Together we have raised a load of money for two very worthwhile causes in STOP and TAILS.”
He continues: “Over the last couple of months, we’ve both worked hard together to raise awareness for these causes; two people who have really only just met, setting a goal and working together in a common cause to do this. What we embarked on was mission impossible; however, we both put our hearts and souls into this and together we achieved our goal.”
While the Hike for Freedom is over, Catherine and Jo are inching closer to their goal of raising HK$100,000. Help them out by visiting this fundraising page!
Read more about Catherine and Jo and their expat lives in Hong Kong here.