Let the Challenges Begin
So the day I had been waiting and training for had finally arrived. Months of fundraising and prepping for the trek were over and it was time to fulfill the challenge I had signed up to do…No pressure, right?
My adventure started at the busy Heathrow airport where I met the Charity Challenge representative who handed me the tickets. I also felt a bit more relaxed when I recognised a few faces from our Facebook group. We were all in the same boat now. So with trepidation about what was lying ahead of us we boarded the Air China plane for the 10 hour flight to Beijing.
To be honest, my first challenge started already 10 000m above the ground. After months of planning my sleep and sleeping arrangements, it all fell through when I was placed in the middle seat. Luckily, I was sat next to one of the challenge team members so we chatted, drank green tea and we got our first taste of the Great Wall of China… which was a Chinese red wine.
After hardly any sleep we landed in China. The reality of what we were about to do kicked in when we met our Chinese guide Michael (real name Mada), his sidekick Mico and an English leader Steve. They all turned out to be a fantastic team, each of them amazing in their own way.
On the way to our first hotel we had our first glimpse of Beijing’s busy roads and we realised that driving in China is a skill in itself. We also experienced one of many extensive talks by Michael on the history, politics, Chinese alphabet and culture which was obviously a music to my ears. I was taking it all in, I was writing down the facts and being the curious one I was always asking questions and there were so many…
At the hotel we had our first taste of Chinese food which is always served on a lazy Susan. It is a challenge in itself when you are starving and need to wait for a spin. One thing to say here is that I had never been hungry on this trek. The food was always plentiful but I had definitely had enough of rice for some time now…
Every night we also had our daily briefing about the trek the next day: the dreaded wake up call, how long and how far we were walking and what weather to expect. I found it really useful as I could mentally psyched myself up for the challenge ahead.
After a minuscule amount of sleep, thanks to the jet lag kicking in, the day of the first trek had arrived. But before we set off we had to face the breakfast. As it turned out the hotel served mainly Chinese breakfast which was very savoury. If you like stir fries and all kinds of stuffed seamed bun this would be for you. Luckily, I brought a jar of peanut butter which nicely complemented my jam toast. Powered by coffee and high on adrenaline anyway, we boarded the bus and set off for our first taste of the Great Wall.
Today we were trekking the Badaling section of the Wall and the distance we were going to cover was 5.5 km. I have to admit that looking up at the endless trail of the wall snaking its way over the mountains was breathtaking but also made me realised how long and inaccessible some parts of it were. I guess that was the whole point of it. Protection and determent from the enemy.
The trek up this section took around 5 hours. It was a restored section of the Wall which was a nice way of breaking us in gently. This is not to say it was easy.. We got our taste of steps and 45 degree slopes both up and down. It was also a nice way to get to know each other and get used to the terrain. So the first day was done. A quiet afternoon to ourselves to chill and catch up on our sleep and get ready for the most challenging 4 days of the trek.
Tuesday started with around 2 hours of sleep, another peanut butter and jam toast and packed back pack as we were moving to a new accommodation.
I was definitely looking forward to today as Michael, our guide, told us it was going to be a warm and sunny day. The plan was to walk the Huanghuacheng section of the Wall and cover the distance of 11.5 km, well that was the plan…
We arrived at our starting point and could immediately see the Wall far in the distance and high up on a hill. Surely it was not where we were going? Well, it was. We set off and started a steady climb up the hill following the red ribbon trail which was a common way to mark the route. After 1.30 hours of walking up the dirt path, through prickly bushes and branches smacking in the face we realised that somebody played a trick on Michael and changed the position of the ribbons! Oh we laughed! By this stage we were all sweating and the legs were warming up nicely. It turned out we went a completely different way so we had to start from the bottom of the hill. Michael felt really bad but the promise of a cold beer at the end of the trek had spurred us on.
The new route was definitely the right one. It followed a track through the limestone rocks and we were rapidly gaining altitude. The views over the Yanshan mountains behind us were amazing. The sun was shining and the haze lingering over the mountains gave it an extra magical feel. Huffing and panting and ready for a break, we reached the entrance tower. Waiting for the rest of the group to catch up, we climbed to the top of the watchtower and our breath was taken back… We were standing on top of the hill looking down on the pin sized village where we started our trek from. The view was spectacular and so different: the green mountains on one side and completely bare on the other.
We also saw the crumbling Wall we were going to climb for the next few hours which was a complete opposite to the renovated wall from yesterday. There were no steps, no railings, no even a proper surface to steady yourself on. Instead we had overgrown paths, loose rocks for the steps and narrow passages with nothing to hold on to.
Spirits were high as we started our descent to the lunch point which was supposed to be delivered by a local farmer. The trek was challenging as it required full concentration. I was constantly thinking where to put my foot and what rock to hold on so I don’t slide down the path, After a few hours of trekking in the beautiful sunshine we finally saw the farmer at the bottom of another set of steep stairs. We definitely earned that lunch even if we had to use the chopsticks….
After the lunch we were supposed to continue our trek up some more steps but because of our guide’s little “hiccup” in the morning were were now running out of time and daylight. So after a little rest we made our way down to the village and the farmer’s house where cold bottle of beer was awaiting us…
A typical Chinese door decoration – New Year wishes down the side
Tired and ready to take our boots off we set off to our new lodge. After a delicious tea we sat in front of the bonfire and reflected on the day….but what will the next day bring?
To be continued… click here for Part 2.
Hope you have enjoyed my journey so far. It was far more challenging than I expected it to be but this was exactly what I signed up for.
Please visit the Gallery where I uploaded most of the pictures from my trek.
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