Racing the Sun

Black-headed Gull: Beidaihe, China (September 2005) (photo: Alister Benn).

Every bump on the rough road jars my back as the heavy bag rearranges itself between my shoulders. Speed is the key, keep the legs pumping, breathe in through my nose and out though my mouth. I overtake fellow cyclists. Old men with ubiquitous cigarettes, their bodies burdened by agricultural implements. Children, three abreast, taking up most of the road and woman pushing carts full of cut wood. Four tractors cough past, emitting black smoke and diesel engine roars with equal quantity and enthusiasm, forcing me to hold my breath for 20 seconds until the air clears.

The fields are shrouded in mist, testimony to another cold night, the fires of the local duck farmers and onset of autumn. The sun hangs on the horizon, rising with unrelenting determination into the milky sky. My legs respond to match its effort, only another two kilometers to the river, where the breathless air of the morning will press the water surface down as smooth as silk.

Great White Egret: Beidaihe, China (September 2005) (photo: Alister Benn).

I drift into therapeutic pre-emptive thoughts. Find the ideal spot to sit to maximize the golden glow of dawn on the water. Do without the 1.4x lens converter to maximize sharpness in the pale light. Predict the dive, think like an Egret, when is it going to strike?

I negotiate the one junction with typical paranoid caution. Since my recent accident I am concerned about getting hit by reckless Chinese drivers, insane in their disregard for rules, sides of the road, speed and basic rights.

And then I'm there, unpacking my gear; unstrapping the Gitzo and Wimberley head of my tripod from the cross-bar of my mountain bike. I splash my way through the noisome mud to a dry spot at the mouth of the Heng Ho River ready for anything that takes my eye.

Great White Egret: Beidaihe, China (September 2005) (photo: Alister Benn).

A Great White Egret dances through the shallow mercury, sending up a myriad of little steel ball bearings. Periodically and subconsciously my fingers flick the dials of my camera, stopping down here, dialing in a little more exposure compensation there. A harsh call drags me away from the leggy fun to a Black-headed Gull plunging into the water, almost disappearing under the weight of its own enthusiasm for breakfast.

Little Egret: Beidaihe, China (September 2005) (photo: Alister Benn).

Little Egret: Beidaihe, China (September 2005) (photo: Alister Benn).

Two hours pass in dreamy isolation. I am oblivious to the fisherman digging for shellfish close by, until hunger at last knots my stomach and I too set off back in search of breakfast. The sun has risen; warmth floods the fields of Eastern China, and the layers that earlier were added to combat the cold are shed to alleviate the heat. On the way back I speed through rice paddies, eager to get back and have a cold drink. On the way out this morning I sped along a different road to catch the golden light of another dawn. A day of racing the sun.

Little Egret: Beidaihe, China (September 2005) (photo: Alister Benn).

To see more of Alister's stunning images, visit his website at http://www.pbase.com/alibenn/.

Written by: Alister Benn