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Going Places: Father-daughter duo backpacks across China

Deborah Peterson • Feb 26, 2018 at 10:30 AM
Most people only dream of traveling across the world to explore an exotic country. But Kingsport resident Bob Harris and his daughter, Lynne Harris, made the dream a reality. Last May, the adventuresome father-daughter team spent a month backpacking across China.

Besides learning a little of the language, Lynne did a great deal of research to find off-the-beaten-path places that allowed more hands-on experience. The pair brought no luggage other than their backpacks in order to save time and cover more ground. They traveled by train, plane, boat, bus, cruise ship and hiked many miles. There were often many steep steps to climb, rough terrain and high altitudes to adjust to along the way. Bob said he was proud of how well Lynne did on this trip, which took a lot of physical stamina. Lynne thought that was amusing, coming from her 82-year-old dad.

“Everybody reacted to Dad’s age (then 81) and wanted to know how old he was,” she said. “I was proud of his accomplishments but had no doubt about his ability to make the trip.” A retiree from Eastman, Bob works out nearly every morning when he is not playing basketball. He makes his exercise program a priority, but also credits God with blessing him with good health.

Bob and Lynne loved visiting The China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP) near Ya’an City. They were thrilled to be able to work in the compound with the bears. While there, Bob received quite a surprise when he met a former Kingsport resident, Meredith Barefoot. As it turned out, they both attended North Carolina State University, both graduated from the School of Chemical Engineering, both worked for Eastman Chemical Company (at different times) and had both lived in Kingsport.

“It was great spending a day cleaning bear compounds, shoveling ‘panda poop’ and personally feeding the giant pandas,” Bob said. “It was doubly special to share this experience of a lifetime with another NC State Wolfpack alumnus!”

One of Bob’s favorite adventures took place on the Yangtze River. While taking a three-day cruise, they not only saw beautiful scenery but met some friendly locals. One evening, Bob and Lynne were invited to join along in some karaoke music and found themselves on the stage entertaining the crowd. “I had no idea I’d be singing on a Chinese cruise ship, but we did our best and everyone had a great time!” he said.

Lynne shared that one of her favorite places in China was near Xi'an, where the first emperor Qin Shi Huang was buried along with an entire army of terracotta sculptures. The Terra-Cotta Army is a collection of sculptures of soldiers, weapons and even horses, whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife. “Seeing this was actually on my bucket list. It has always fascinated me,” Lynne said.

Bob and Lynne agreed that the Great Wall of China was quite impressive. The wall, which stretches over 5,000 miles, is generally recognized as one of the most impressive architectural feats in history. “Being an engineer, I know what it takes to build such a wall,” marveled Bob. “I wondered, how did they do it back then?”

Although Bob said he was at first overwhelmed at the sheer number of people in any given area, he was surprised at how friendly and welcoming the Chinese people were. “They were very gracious people and very kind to us,” he said. Bob shared that he was reminded how fortunate he is to have religious freedom where he lives. “Chinese Christians are under heavy scrutiny and have to meet in secret,” he said. “We are blessed beyond belief in our country.”

When asked where his next adventure might take him, Bob said he would love to take a rafting trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. His past travels have included places such as Japan, Hong Kong, Hawaii, Canada, Mexico and most of the United States. Bob said he chose China this time because it was somewhere he hadn’t yet been and had read with interest about the Yangtze River and its famous dam.

Lynne caught the travel bug from her parents, evidently, as she has lived in Japan as a missionary, backpacked across Europe with her sister, and visited Hong Kong, Singapore, Greece, Acapulco, Hawaii, Spain, Mexico City and Canada.

When not traveling, Bob stays physically active and also sings with the Appalachian Express, an international choral group. Although he and his wife, Betty, are both from North Carolina, they have made Colonial Heights their home since 1960. They raised their daughters, Lynne and Holli, in Kingsport. Both now live in North Carolina.

Whether it was floating down the Li River in a sampan, crossing the country in a high-speed train, visiting the Dalai Lama palace in Tibet or mingling with the locals, Bob said that through it all he was most grateful to spend that time with Lynne. “The Lord blessed me greatly to be able to do this with my daughter,” he said.