Ohio native and lifelong runner Shane Early gets his fill of small town living in Mui Wo, and hopes it will continue far into the future.
From his, er, base camp at Lantau Base Camp (LBC) in Mui Wo, Shane Early takes every opportunity he can to evangelise on the glories of trail running on South Lantau – and on Lantau in general. Hong Kong’s first shop dedicated to trail and ultra-running opened in 2012, the proprietors at the time being Canadians Jeremy and Valerie Ritcey, former teachers. Before the Ritceys moved home in April 2014, they scouted around for the right buyer and found Shane.
“When I moved to Lantau I just fell in love with it. I don’t want to live anywhere else,” says Shane of his move four years ago after eight in other parts of Hong Kong before that. “I’m from a small town and Mui Wo feels like a small town.”
Shane, also a teacher (formerly at St Margaret’s Girls’ College in Mid-Levels) arrived in the SAR over a decade ago from tiny Van Wert, Ohio newly wed to a local woman. Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t work out, with Shane ruefully citing his obsession with running as a major contributor. “Honestly, with my lifestyle? There’s not a lot of time. I’d have to find someone that does the same thing I do and who would understand,” he says. “You have to have a very understanding spouse.”
Shane stayed in Hong Kong anyway, continuing to teach and explore his childhood passion for running. Making regular treks out to Lantau to put a few hundred kilometres under his shoes became a way of life. The combination of that, Lantau’s natural charms and the fact that he “didn’t want to retire a teacher”, prompted Shane, now 45, to listen when Jeremy offered him LBC.
“Why not do something you’re passionate about? Take a pay cut, but if you’re really happy and you enjoy [what you do], you’ll do better in the long run,” he says.
A community of trail runners
Shane is now fully entrenched as a small business owner and community fixture, who can’t say enough about life in Mui Wo. During our chat, his early retiring seriousness gives way to a sneaky sense of humour and a penchant for finding the amusing details in any given situation.
Shane regularly mentions how the locals have each other’s backs, how people have got used to his morning greetings and how easy Lantau living is. He recalls a time he left some used books on LBC’s doorstep for anyone to browse, went off to the post office – and left them outside. “A guy called me and said, ‘I just want to let you know I put HK$20 under your door’. That’s the way Mui Wo is. I remember laughing and thinking, ‘What an awesome place to live’.”
Also awesome? The increasing respect the island’s natural environment and the trail running the shop caters to are getting from locals and visitors alike. “The sport has grown exponentially around the world and in Hong Kong too. Hong Kong really is the Asian leader of trail running,” enthuses Shane. “We get people flying in from Singapore, the Philippines, China, Malaysia, you name it.”
Compared to road running, trail running is faster and lighter, with a bit of hiking up hills thrown in for good measure and making it more of a challenge. Citing the lack of switchbacks on some of the SAR’s more challenging trails – where courses can literally go straight up – Shane points out how many visiting runners have commented on how technically complicated our routes can be, while remaining accessible. “You can be on a trail in five minutes from an urban area,” he says. “It’s amazing.”
That the broader community is really getting into the sport is also a bit of a dream come true. “That’s what I’m passionate about,” explains Shane. “I really like it when people come into the store and they want to know and they want to get involved.” And if it raises awareness of the natural world around us, all the better as far as Shane is concerned. He points to local educators like the Facebook group Hong Kong Snakes, headed up by long-term South Lantau resident William Sargent, as an example of island residents embracing their home’s wonders.
“Now I go on trail runs and keep an eye out for snakes,” he says with a grin. “I’ve also seen rare birds, and there are barking deer. They’re a protected species but you can hear them at night. They’re very reclusive and it’s cool when you’re out on the trails and you can hear them in the distance. It makes it more enjoyable and you really feel alive. A lot of people in Hong Kong don’t know what’s out there.”
Speaking out for the environment
Like many Lantau residents, Shane worries about the looming plans for rapid development at the cost to the environment that makes the island what it is. “I’m concerned and not just because of the shop. I moved here for a specific reason, and it’s the same for a lot of people out here. We wanted this lifestyle and enjoy it the way it is,” he reasons. “I lived in Yuen Long in 2003 when there were fish farms and cows wandering around and it’s all gone now.
“My biggest concern is the roads,” Shane continues. “There’s no realistic plan for parking, cyclists have a really hard time now, there’s a lot of construction vehicles… I’m concerned that it’s going to be uncontrolled.” Were Mui Wo to turn into Yuen Long, Shane would be done.
Worries aside, Shane still shepherds the four annual LBC races, including this month’s Salomon LT 70 and the Raidlight Twins, sister races on Lantau and Hong Kong in May. He also organises more casual beginner runs in the evenings and at weekends when he has the time. No surprise then that when he’s not at the store, Shane spends his leisure time – wait for it – running.
Does he ever hit the beach and just relax with a cheesy novel? “If I go to the beach, I’m going to sit in the water and play around like a little kid,” he says. Not so serious at all.
Images: Terry Chow and courtesy of LBC
• Lantau Base Camp, www.lantaubasecamp.com