28-year-old backpacker completes 15,000-kilometer walk

Zhang Long
Xiaxia, a 28-year-old from Hubei, traversed the challenging 318 National Highway from Sichuan to Xizang on foot with her incredible journey inspiring many online followers.
Zhang Long
28-year-old backpacker completes 15,000-kilometer walk

Photos of Xiaxia before (right) and after she set off her journey, prompted questions over whether going through such an ordeal was worth it.

Xiaxia, a 28-year-old backpacker, has gone viral after completing a grueling 15,000-kilometer trek on China's National Highway 318 in just over a year. Her dramatic physical transformation sparked widespread curiosity online.

Unlike many other travelers on the 318 National Highway, who usually ride bicycles, motorbikes or cars to enjoy the beautiful scenery along the way to the border between Shigatse, Tibet, and Nepal, she chose to walk.

28-year-old backpacker completes 15,000-kilometer walk

A screenshot of Xiaxia walking with her cart last week. Her caption read: "Do I look like I'm in my 50s?"

Xiaxia's video of camping on a mountain with a beautiful view.

"Despite numerous setbacks along the way, my life has expanded in incredible ways," she said. Next, she plans to venture abroad on foot.

Born in 1996, Xiaxia set off to walk the 318 National Highway after quitting her job in 2021.

In November of that year, equipped with a cart, four gas canisters, a sleeping bag, and a cooking pot, she set off from Wuhan in Hubei Province, passing through Hunan, Chongqing, and Sichuan, eventually reaching the Potala Palace in the Xizang Autonomous Region, covering a total distance of over 5,800 kilometers in a year and two months.

"I was a complete novice. Inspired by others' road trips along the 318 highway I saw online, I chose this path. Initially, I was filled with worry and fear," Xiaxia said. The journey was fraught with challenges, including pushing a cart weighing up to 160kg up steep mountain paths. Reaching the summit was always celebrated with a rewarding hot pot meal.

28-year-old backpacker completes 15,000-kilometer walk

Xiaxia cooks in the open air.

One of her most memorable experiences was a 50-kilometer hike from Kangding County, Garze, to Yajiang County.

"It was 11pm, raining, and there were no service areas nearby. Descending the slope in these conditions meant risking uncontrollable slips. I had to lean against the front of the cart to increase friction and carefully make my way downhill," she said.

Her path was perilous, often plagued by altitude sickness due to the elevation and the desolation of the surrounding areas. She persevered through the night until dawn when she finally saw villages and people, when she could pitch her tent and restock supplies.

Her journey, documented through videos, once showed her stranded with depleted gas canisters, leading a viewer from Litang County in Garze to bring her four replacements.

28-year-old backpacker completes 15,000-kilometer walk

Xiaxia often encounters followers who give her supplies and encouragement.

Upon reaching Xizang, she fulfilled her dream of visiting the Potala Palace and the Hoh Xil region. "The wind in Hoh Xil tore my cart apart, reminding me of our insignificance against nature. Yet, this journey was incredibly worthwhile, and I'm grateful I didn't give up."

Brushing her teeth and washing her hair outdoors became routine, and she once found herself in a standoff with a wolf during her trek. After her first journey, Xiaxia slimmed down from 110 to 90 pounds, quit her soda habit, and gained muscle. To save money, she only stayed in hotels a few days a month to clean her clothes and sleeping bag, relying on service areas or local residents for other needs.

She encountered a wide range of fellow travelers, villagers offering local specialties, supportive fans, and those less welcoming. The hardships of the road, from harsh weather conditions to the challenge of eating uncooked noodles in winter, tested her limits.

Discussing the transformation in her appearance that sparked jests online, Xiaxia said her journey healed her of "spiritual exhaustion" and appearance anxieties.

"My intention was to experience the world and challenge myself. Our troubles are trivial compared to the vastness of nature. My sunburns are badges of my efforts; they make me love myself more."

On how she managed to sustain herself, she emphasized living a fulfilling life over conventional employment. "Life is only once; I want to seize it to do what I desire." Her parents, sensing her determination, respected her choice, empowering her with the courage to face the unknown.

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