By Jim Boyce | Can this dude really walk 900 km in November? Or 100 km on November 7 alone? What does he eat—besides berries and chocolate? And how does he remain sane?
I caught up with Mike Wester, head honcho at The Beijinger, on Monday as he walked Ritan Park and discussed his “Mao-a-Thon” quest to cover 900 km this month, including the Third Ring Road on his first day, and support the annual Maovember charity campaign and its 2017 partners Bread of Life and The Library Project.
Maovember starts in less than 48 hours and you’re walking like a maniac today. Shouldn’t you be resting!?
I’m in training! I might go for ‘a century’ on November 7. That would be 100 km in 15 hours of walking.
You’re averaging about 20 km per day in the lead-up to Maovember. How long does that usually take to walk?
On an uninterrupted path, like around the Gongti track, inside Ritan Park or along the Tongui River path, I walk at 6.5 km an hour, so 20 km can be done in a little over three hours.
Beijing is sadly really poorly designed for pedestrians. With cars parking on the sidewalk, delivery boys racing around honking, a billion sloppily parked share bikes, zillions of crosswalks that no driver respects, and underpasses, overpasses and inexplicably designed infrastructure that create ridiculous impediments, my walking pace is usually 5 to 6 km per hour.
Along with money for charity, I would love to raise awareness about Beijing’s need to become more pedestrian-friendly.
What’s a better title for your mission? The Mao-a-Thon Man, Journey to the Wester, or Michael Learns to
Either of those first two.
You’re pretty much a non-carb eater, right? But you’re walking for the charity Bread of Life, which is based in a bakery. Any internal conflicts?
I don’t avoid carbs entirely. I aim for around 100 grams a day. I also splurge once a week and eat anything I want.
Besides, what Bread of Life does is amazing. Giving otherwise marginalized people an opportunity for a productive working life is something I am proud to support.
What do you eat on that weekly splurge? Cheetos? Pasta? Whole deep-fried potatoes?
I gotta have pizza once in a while. And if I am ordering at Biteapitta, it’s hard to resist The Pitta Feast. The curries are so good at places like Punjabi, I need rice or Indian-style bread. And a Xinjiang meal just isn’t the same without one of those giant naans either.
I also eat some berries and dark chocolate most days for a snack—plenty of carbs there.
Do you listen to music while you walk or instead indulge in the soothing sounds of Beijing traffic, construction work and expectoration?
I do five things. QQ music: free access to practically every song ever made. Podcasts: Love ’em, mostly sports talk, alternative health, NPR type pseudo-intellectual shit, and weird offbeat ones. Work: I can do about 60 percent via WeChat while walking. Get to know the city: I love people watching, exploring new areas and discovering new things in my long-worn daily paths. Finally, I add to my Beijing Street Fashion Wisdom collection. I spot endlessly amusing ones daily. Like this one I passed a minute ago.
Are you ever tempted to break into a light jog, a medium trot or a frenzied sprint?
No. Every time I do, I end up injuring myself. Plus, I look a little too much like Forrest Gump when I run.
How can people support you?
People can sponsor me two ways. Individuals can sponsor rmb90, which is one mao per km, or rmb450, which is 5 mao per km, in honor of Maovember’s fifth anniversary. All the money goes to Maovember. I’m collecting it by WeChat as it’s easier to track and I can see who donated and do shout-outs on my social media.
I’m also hoping some companies might find in their hearts to support a good cause, with sponsorships starting at rmb500. They’ll get publicity out of it, too, on The Beijinger, maovember.com and other forums.
Read Mike Wester’s personal appeal for donations, including details on corporate sponsorships, at this link. You can donate rmb90 (1 mao per km) or rmb450 (5 mao per km)—or more if you want! I’ll be providing updates on Mike’s progress here and on Facebook. You can also learn more about Maovember here.