Bags packed, both the day bag and our main bags, we slowly headed over to breakfast both unbelievably nervous about the challenge that lay ahead. Even more so once we had felt the temperature at 7am and felt more than a little hot and sticky – what would the rest of the day be like? Breakfast was err interesting to put it mildly! We were prepared for boiled broccoli and rice as warned by Gouldy and were more than thankful to see that there was at least a little more of a variety; even if it did include spam, jam that looked like jelly, equiv. of Melba toast, some really runny porridge that was very murky looking rather than milky looking and some bean sprouts and cabbage as well as some egg fried rice. Just the mere idea of the spam turned my stomach and watching others faces as they tried to eat the ‘toast’ and spread the butter and jam with their chopsticks I decided that I would turn Chinese and had egg fried rice and cabbage for breakfast, slow release energy being a good idea as well! I also decided to go against Ben’s suggestions (for regular readers of the full China blog: off of Snowdon Trip) and had a coffee at an attempt to try and keep my eyes open but also took a rehydration tablet in water prior to leaving to hopefully stop any possible muscle cramps. We filled up our camel packs with the bottles that we were given for the day, I jumped on my case to try and close it now I had moved things around in it and we got on the bus to drive to the start of our adventure.
It was planned as an hour and a half journey, I think it turned out to be a 2 hour journey as we sat in such absurd traffic and really had our eyes opened to life out in China. They constantly seem to use their horns over here, they never seem to use their indicators, if there is the smallest of gaps to change lanes into, they will nudge their way in there, the amount of lorries that looked like they had come out of the 60’s was absurd, they cut each other up incessantly and then you add onto of that the bikes and scooters that just seem to go what ever bloody way they like either towards or against oncoming traffic it just didn’t seem to matter. I felt incredibly squeamish just watching some of the others on the road! We had our first sighting of the wall which made my tummie turn big time. It does look very impressive it has to be said. We passed several parts where people were starting their walks and noticed just how steep the steps up to the wall looked.
Naively we thought that we would never have to walk anything like that, it looked totally impossible and in the already soaring heat, if we were going to be told that was what we were going to be climbing I was already trying to build up my strength of mind to do it as my initial reaction was – err no?! Very funny, now take us to the proper bit we are doing, there is NO way that I can possibly do that in a million years.
It was probably a good plan that we didn’t actually see the section of the wall that we would be walking prior to actually walking it. It was a new late addition/amendment to the itinerary as the Simatai section that we were meant to have been walking at some point was closed as the government had put some money into restoring parts of it and so it was currently out of bounds. We alighted from the bus and completed some stretches and some tai chi as a group in preparation of what we were about to undertake, watched by some highly amused locals! The heat had increased quite considerably to put it mildly, which I knew was going to make it much much harder for us. Having left my fabulous Indiana Jones hat behind and unable to find anything in the airport, I asked Peter if there was anywhere that might be able to get a hat as I didn’t want to get sunstroke on top of everything else that I was having to deal with today. Luckily he had a spare one on the bus, not really one that I would have brought or indeed even chosen, but beggars can’t be choosers!! It looked like a bloody lamp shade, and that is the polite version!!!
The ascent to the wall was tough in itself and I was already doubting my ability to complete the week let alone the frigging day. I had brought both of my poles as I knew that I would be needing both of them to rely on heavily when coming down hill so that I did not let my knees take all of the pressure as they were the most likely things to suffer out of all parts of my body. Stace had not felt the need to bring either of hers in the end and so I lent her one of mine for going uphill but it soon became evident that she was going to need it for the whole week. Note to all those future Great Wall Trekkers – you may feel like a grasshopper using them in the UK but you DO need BOTH poles out here!! The weather conditions, I was so not prepared for – 36-38 degrees instead of the 22 we were expecting. Yes, I was ready for the steps but the first 20 mins are meant to be the worst. Well, it was more like 40 mins to an hour before I stopped feeling like I was actually going to die of heat exhaustion let alone anything else. Once we actually reached the wall itself reality somewhat kicked in of the enormity of what exactly lay ahead. All that we could see to begin with was a giant set of steps on either side of us, one leading up to a tower and one leading up to, what looked like, the horizon. We had a lady that also joined us from the office at the starting point – apparently she had to make sure that we all finished it as part of their insurance. I only found that out later, had I known that before, I might have had some idea if what to expect.
We took it very slowly, melting in the heat and dripping with sweat, yes, quite literally, as soon as we got to the top of the first bit of stairs that we could see. The wall at this point was fairly in tact and quite good nick which meant that although the first few flights of up were REALLY quite steep there was at least a hand rail which I began to rely on heavily when I started to feel the exhaustion from the intense humidity & the beaming sun. There were very few places to pause in the shade for the first part of today’s trek which made things even worse. Stace was puse in the face and I don’t think had ever felt anything like the heat that we were in. It’s one thing to be sunbathing in this heat but quite another to be pushing ourselves to the limit. It was insane, totally insane. I certainly had never done anything like this before in this heat, and for future reference didn’t plan to do anything again like it in this heat!
The woman from the entrance started driving me in sane as she was trying to ‘be helpful’ as she was adamant that my rucksack was too heavy and so would come up behind me and push my rucksack up whilst I was struggling up any steep bits but yet taking my time and going at my own pace. I felt totally unbalanced and almost fell several times and thus felt vulnerable and nervy. I asked Peter to tell her to stop as she clearly was not understanding my no’s and shaking of my finger. She persisted and so I asked Peter, again, to tell her to stop as I really did not feel comfortable with it. Finally she stopped with the rucksack and I have to admit she was a great help at times but other times she would persist in grabbing my hand and pretty much pulling me up which really got on my wick later on in the afternoon as my legs became a little more unstable and it kind if began to feel like someone else was working them for me.
We paused for a snack on one if the towers where we could see the point at which we would be descending. We were very grateful to be sitting in a little bit of shade and to be able to focus our minds on what we were doing. I was seriously struggling because of the heat and was seriously starting to doubt whether I would make it to the end in one piece, and when I say end I mean the end if today’s walk not the end of the week.
After taking in the totally breathtaking scenery and, also, just how far we had come already we set off once more, this time on some pretty uneven and broken sections which looked fairly treacherous to put it mildly. On stopping in another tower later on I decided that my knees could probably do with the tubigrips as they were starting to ache a little (well a hell of a lot really) and I didn’t want them being a major issue as well this week. The little lady had a lot to say to me when I stopped to put them on, none of which I understood of course! I asked Sasha to translate what she was saying to me and laughing at me about. Apparently, according to her, I should have put them on at the beginning. Well my lovely toothless buddy with no idea of the invention of deodorant but yet still you own a mobile phone, they don’t hurt on the ups and there was a lot if down hill to come so ergo I didn’t need to put them on at the beginning, thank you – they would have been dripping with sweat by now if I had anyway and as a result probably caused blisters too- ewwww not a nice thought it has to be said.
We were struggling BIG time and I was, once more, panicking if there was any way on earth for me to actually be able to complete this. The tears came and weren’t going to stop as I sat there and wondered what in the whole wide world I was doing here. I mean how pissed was I really when I signed up to do this back in January??!!!!! Bloody pinkie bloody promise!?! I think Stace even apologised at one point as it so wasn’t just me that was struggling!! The pain in the balls of my feet started about 3/4 of the way through the day (about 2/3 of the way in distance) but as we came to the last down section where I could see the end in sight, or rather the bottom of the last down section, I was in such agony that I could actually hardly walk, not couldn’t be bothered – literally could hardly walk. I think that it was the sensation that comes after the initial burning sensation on the balls of your feet. I really, really don’t think that you could actually understand the amount of pain I was in, even though I am trying my hardest to describe it to you now! Every step that I took was like the pain when treading on a drawing pin and then shooting up your leg like sciatica I guess but in the wrong direction. I was way behind by this point and we came off the wall just to the side as the wall itself down to the end of the section for the day was steep and broken and looked like it may well be fairly unstable under foot. Peter took my rucksack off me for the last 200m or so as I was really struggling and my legs were totally starting to seize up as well. I sat down at one point and blubbed my heart out. What on earth was I doing? ‘I’m not a celebrity GET ME OUT OF HERE!!!!!’
Why had none of the training that we had both been doing since January seem to have made not the blindest bit of sodding difference? I wondered what on earth it would have been like if we had actually not done any of the training? I then caught a glimpse of Mummy Pen who I had on each arm (I had 2 photos printed onto a t-shirt) I had a little word with her, told her I was being a silly cow and that I was going to stop sobbing and get a fucking move on! So I started to move on down some of the steps, about 30 of them I guess by shuffling and moving on my bum, not a very elegant or indeed ladylike way of moving down but frankly at this stage I really couldn’t give a shit and plus it’s not like it isn’t padded or anything?! Stace was further down and had found some shade, much to her relief as she was adamant that she was going to be blistered by the sun and was in a pretty similar mental state to me. Peter had gone down to sit with her as I did the oh so dignified arse shuffle. It worked amazingly well as it meant I had taken the weight off of my feet totally – the relief was immense. The only slight issue was a stump on one of the steps that ripped a hole in my trousers right on my left arse cheek!!
By the time I had reached Stace in the shade, the snot had been wiped all over my shirt sleeves, the tears were mixing in with the already sweat soaked t-shirt, my face was bright red from the sun my hair was pretty much matted still underneath the oh so fetching hat – am I painting a beautiful picture here? I daren’t hug her or ask for a hug as I knew full well that would finish the pair of us off there and then and that we would take EVEN longer to get to the bus. Clearly this was one that needed recreating!! Somehow I managed to squeeze out a little more strength and relying heavily on my walking pole to try and ease the pain and walking on the heels of my feet I somehow, god only knows how, managed to make it to the very bottom.
Thankfully there was a jeep there that was checking that everyone got down ok that gave us a lift back to the coach where somehow I managed to climb aboard, went right to the back where my stuff was and did a quick video blog trying not to cry with the emotion of the reality that this was actually going to be one hell of a test for me. More than I had ever possibly imagined or dreamed. I could have so so done with sitting with Bab but someone had taken my seat & so I ended up behind Elaine who I found in pretty much the same state as me. I collapsed on the seat next to her & apologised for the stink and we sat for a couple of mins balling & hugging both admitting that this was quite possibly the stupidest idea that we had ever had & that we were both having major reservations of our ability to complete the week. In talking about it later that night and in the days after, it really was incredibly eye opening that very very few of the others even bothered to acknowledged us as we were last on the bus & were supportive in our achievement of completing the day. They may have been kept waiting for a while but sympathy or empathy didn’t seem to ooze? They could have even noticed that I was no where near my ‘partner’ on the journey back & thought of moving but no.
We headed to a farmhouse for a ‘quick lunch’ which was the old familiar chestnut of every meat dish being stuffed full of peppers, the meat dish that wasn’t being really fatty meat and so I had rice and a small selection of vegetables as they too mainly all had peppers in as well. I could easily see that I am probably NEVER going to want rice again after this week!! Elaine, bless her, fell asleep at lunch as she was feeling rather ropey like a few others. She had taken a couple if falls on the way down which I think knocked her confidence somewhat as her immediate response was to put her arms out, thank god for her splints! She, like I, was still in a total state of shock as to what we had just completed, and the fact that we have 4 more continuous days of this and that right now the idea of just getting off the bus and into the next accommodation was a frightening thought enough, let alone getting up the following morning for more. Of all the times that I needed to sit next to Stace on the coach this was it as I didn’t really need to be allowed time to think really but sadly, as I said, the seats around her were all taken. But I was more intent on making sure that Elaine was ok as the last thing I wanted was to see anyone drop out and I guess what I said to Elaine was what I needed to hear myself. I was fully prepared for the aching legs that we had once we had completed Snowdon, don’t get me wrong I was not ready to run a marathon or anything but I felt better than I thought I would.
We had an hour or two on the bus to the next nights accommodation. God traffic is vial in this place. Horns left right and centre. We sat in a non-moving slip-road onto the highway for a good half hour watching the most random of things going past, such as horses, cows, pak choi and other bits and pieces.
When we arrived at our nights accommodation they had The Beatles blaring out full blast just for us. Stace and I spotted that the majority of the staff were in sort of blue and white striped rugby shirts which amused us greatly! We showered and refreshed, once more grateful that we had brought Crocs with us as we could shower in those, I was not entirely sure how recently the bathroom had actually had a deep clean as they sure as hell weren’t my hairs round the plug hole and I was first in. I also washed my bra and socks so that they would be ready for later in the week and once Stace was done hung them up on the ingenious washing line that I had brought with me to dry over night.
Supper was the same affair and I was rapidly becoming a dab hand at the art of using chopsticks, previously most of it had ended up on the floor or someone else’s plate, certainly not where it was meant to anyway!! After supper we sunk a few beers around the open fire, not really needed as it was already quite warm but, none the less a nice idea. The Beatles had turned into heavy Chinese dance music, not something that any of us really appreciated it has to be said and I think it was Toria that, in time, managed to persuade them back to The Beatles as a preference!! The boys brought out some cards and started to play and although frankly I was ready to hit the sack, I knew that I would only wake up at stupid o’clock and get frustrated, I remembered UNO and went and got that to teach Abi and Mark before eventually people started peeling off to the land of nod and we all gave in and followed suit. Day 1 done. Wow. Was I going to cope with 4 more days like that on the trot?!!!
17 towers passed through, highest point reached 430m high.
12km walked within 6hrs