Reynolds was announced the winner in March 2016, and five months later she set out on the first portion of her journey. When she wasn’t flying, she traveled via motorcycle; she’d learned to ride several years earlier. Reynolds also brought along a Bolex camera, which, at five-and-a-half pounds, was “heavy and awkward and the opposite of digital filming because it’s so slow and old-fashioned.” But she appreciated its complicated set-up, she said, because it helped structure her visits to sites where often little or nothing remained.
Reynolds’s stop at Xianyang Palace was in many ways emblematic of the entire trip. Despite her guide’s resistance, she was able to pinpoint the location of the former library and visit the heritage museum constructed in its place. But it turned out to be dusty and underwhelming and smelled suffocatingly of mold. In short, it retained nothing of the place it was meant to memorialize.
“I was making this huge effort to travel and arrive in the present moment at spaces where every meaningful shred that was there was evacuated thousands of years ago, and to just stand there,” she said. “And that was also very dislocating.”