Stace and I decided to skip the delights of breakfast this morning and opted for a far more desirable couple of bars of chocolate instead!!! Having been sat on the balcony watching the spam platter as well as other such fetching items being ferried up to the Karaoke Bar from last night which was the breakfast destination for this morning, we decided that frankly a couple of bars of chocolate would suffice!! We completed a video blog entry instead and watched the rain still chucking it down – I didn’t think that it had stopped doing all night by the looks of some of the puddles. Wow the wall was going to be an adventure an a half today, slippery treacherous and obviously very very wet!!
We packed up and shipped out to the bus once more, thrilled to think that we are in the Holiday Inn in Beijing for more than 1 night so we could settle a bit more and have a reshuffle of the packing!! It felt really weird that this was our last day, both in a really bad way but also in a really good way. Sad to think that it was soon to all be over but thrilled that I had managed to make it in one piece. It was going to be a tremendously emotional day whatever. It wasn’t that far a journey to the start of our trek today and the weather sadly didn’t look like it was going to change.
We had the choice of walking up the thousand or so steps to the wall itself or taking the cable car. My head was screaming CABLE CAR but my heart was telling me, I’d started this and so I was going to bloody well finish this. No short cuts. I was here to complete this properly not take the easy option, but I soooo wanted to. The steps that we had to walk up were man made and pretty much persistent, ie no little breaks. These were the kind of steps that get my asthma flaring up, an addition to the pot that frankly at this stage in the day I could do without.
I could feel my reluctance to want to start hitting me as I slowly battled on in the pissing rain, I couldn’t work out if I was too hot or not and I started to think. Never a good idea, but at this emotional stage of my journey even less of a good idea, bit like watching Marley and Me on the plane!! I realised that this was my goodbye to Penny, time to really let go and I really was not looking forward to doing that. I was doing a lot of thinking back over happy times with her and tears welled in my eyes. I was fighting my own battle climbing those steps in soooo many different ways. I was taking it really slowly and not really talking much as my mind was preoccupied with other thoughts. Stace was doing a stirling job, as always, of egging me on; reminding me that I can do it etc etc. I was a little snappy I think at one point when I said ‘I know. Thank you’. It came out before I had a chance to stop it, she was only being supportive bless her. Sorry Stace, I had so much swirling around in my head I wasn’t really able to control what came out without thinking about it. The first and only time that I actually needed my inhaler was when I got to the top and rested. I had to take my waterproof off too, it was doing a marvellous job at keeping me dry but I was sweltering in there as despite the vial weather it was still pretty darned muggy and humid.
It was really weird seeing loads of other people on ‘our’ wall. We had only had the company of each other the whole time pretty much and to suddenly be surrounded by tourists who were doing their bit of walking on the wall and were somewhat bemused by all the kit that we had with us, about as much as we were at some of the attire that they chose to walk along the wall in. The etiquette of trekking the wall – ie waiting for each other, noticing others around you wanting to pass and so on seemed to have flown out of the window. The amount of heads in shots (that have since been deleted) from people unaware that my holding up a camera means I’m trying to take a photo not looking at the view through the screen.
There were quite a few flatter bits with just a small ridge at sections which on a sunny day I think even I could have run over (just to say I had run the Great Wall only of course!!) but it was really tricky to work out which ones were the sloppy ones. It would be just my luck to slip on my arse and cause myself an injury on the very last leg – oooh bad play on words there sorry!!
We had started out quite early as we needed to start heading back into Beijing in good time so as not to get stuck in the hell of the city traffic. This section of the wall really didn’t feel very difficult compared to the previous 4 days of trekking. We didn’t really take long breaks in any of the towers, we all seemed to have a sort of adrenaline rush to want to get to the end point, proud of ourselves that we had so nearly done it.
We got to the bottom of the stairway to heaven which is a flight of 440 steps up to a sort of platform. We couldn’t even see the top of where we were climbing to the weather was so ridiculous and there was fog and mist from the rain. This was it, this was our everest!! After all that training, the tears, the doubt, the amount of talking to myself and double checking that Mummy Penny was watching, this was THE last ascent on the wall that we would be doing. Of course the mountain goats set off at break neck speed, but I was breaking down after only about 50m. The tears were going no where but down my face, I couldn’t stop them. I was of course at the back so thankfully it was just Stace that saw the teary snot ridden mess. It was absurd the closer that I got to the top the snottier and more tear soaked my t-shirt became – not that it really made much difference as I was already soaked from the rain and sweat and the worse the tears got. I guess I was just so amazed and proud of myself that I had actually managed to do it, that I had broken nothing, was not in persistent agony after every day and most of all there was a weeny part of me that actually enjoyed the hardship that I had put myself through for the last 5 days.
Michael was behind us getting photos and so on and we managed to get him to film the last sort of stair case by which time I was crying so much as this was it. It’s really twee, we hold hands at the bottom and go up that final bit together, ok until it got too narrow!!
Once that we had made it to the top we donned our Charity Challenge T-shirts as requested and we stood in a big circle at the top whilst Peter handed out a medal to each and everyone if us (much to the bemusement of several randomers who had climbed up themselves!). The rain really was coming down now, rather than being in the air as it had been all morning. We had an extra surprise from them all as well – champers!! Bless them, we were more than happy to share in a little sip to celebrate our success on mass. Then came the mass photo call en masse as well as individual and pairs and so on. It was all really emotional to put it mildly but yet also all over in a split second really! Stace and I did an Allez Bath from up there, recorded for the supporters’ club and then packed up and started to make our way back to the coach (yes, it did have to be done!!). This could have taken some time if we had decided to walk back down the 1000 steps as well as passing back through the towers. But we’re not stupid!! We came down in the cable car with Abi and Mark after strolling back to the right tower! We talked to a few people along the way who asked what we had been doing and so we explained our weeks activity and frankly most of them were quite bemused at what we had been doing for charity, on the other hand though, they were American!! It was quite nice it had to be said to feel like it was an achievement it has to be said.
Once we had alighted from the cable car, orange as well which made me giggle – looking back I think that I failed to point out that fact to Stace!! We were bloody grateful for the idea of not having to walk back down. As far as we were concerned we were already done and so there was no sense of cheating from any of us! We had to walk through all of the sellers trying to sell us cheap crap frankly, t-shirts saying ‘I’ve walked the Great Wall’, which in hindsight I really wish that I had got one of. After dumping our stuff on the bus at the bottom we headed to where we were having lunch – subway!! No I’m really not kidding! I was SO grateful for food I could eat and it was pretty much the same! I eat it so quickly Mark and I were eyeing up the idea of a second. I had got a cookie too so I decided against, just in case supper was any good!! I decided that I needed to say that I had got something from the foot of the Great Wall and a stuffed panda with a little blue kimono thing on would do the trick. I had my first experience of bartering when I walked away and thy grabbed me back and I got it for the price that I wanted. That seemed easy enough! So the newly named Peter, Michael, Sasha Lieu was my first purchase in China (other than beer!!).
So another enjoyable trip on the coach followed, I closed the curtains and took my sopping t-shirt off and put the dry one on that I had left on the coach for this specific purpose. I felt a bit odd. A whopping low came over me as I mentally waved goodbye to the wall. The realisation that it was all coming to an end in what suddenly felt like no time at all seemed to put the wind up me as I tried hard to have a little doze as we chugged back into Beijing through the ridiculous traffic. As I sat with my eyes shut I tried hard to think myself out of my low.
I started to think about what to look forward to when I got back or at least what I could start organising to look forward to when I got back. There was of course Squeeze the Cheese on Friday night which is always a giggle and a much loved evening and once we are back to quadruple confirm with Paddy then we could set up an event on Facebook as our ‘Home coming party’. Loads of people expressed an interest in joining us at the leaving do so that would be awesome. There is the rugby on Saturday of course! I think that there was some mention before I left of Tash being down for Sammie’s sisters wedding or something so she might pop over on Sunday week to hear how it went which would be lovely. In reality, and no offence to Tash, I wasn’t really going to get too excited about that as the last few times we have arranged to meet up either here or there, it’s sadly never materialised as she had other plans or double booked but I will just have to keep my fingers crossed that it does materialise. There is of course the Italy away trip to finalise. I sent Jim the details before we went away as he was meant to be doing the research as Stace and I were a little preoccupied with China and so on before we left and by the time we get back it would be a little too late. So hopefully we can book that before the end of next week and then that should be enough to get me back into the swing of things! I still thanked myself for taking the stand and handing my notice in at Invensys as I am pretty sure that I would be in way worse a state right now were I having to go back there. But I guess I have the excitement of starting a new job as well, hopefully it won’t take too long!
I woke up from my doze to be surrounded by high rises and horns. Yup Beijing was a noisy place to be!! Michael began to take our preferences for male or female masseur, my god was I looking forward to the full body massage. I had been craving one after pretty much the first day!! Only 3 chose not to have it done, Stace being one of them but luckily Abi and Mark were the other two so at least I knew that she would be ok in the bar! By the time we got to our room in hotel we were knackered but we had a nice shower in one that I didn’t feel the need to wear my Crocs in which was great! The bonus too of going to the loo and being able to flush the loo paper rather than putting it in the bin next to the loo like we have been having to do all along the trip so far! I hung up my 3 tops from today in the cupboard to dry which I thought wouldn’t take them too long. Had a bit of a reshuffle of the bags, enjoyed the fact that I could actually take the boots off and know that I wouldn’t be trekking in them for a while! I think that I might have to wear them tomorrow because it could be pretty wet underfoot, I’d work that out later though! We headed to the bar for a quick beer before heading down to the lobby for our meeting time to get the bus to go to a Kung Fu show which was an optional extra but that came highly recommended by Michael and co.
The show this evening was called The Legend of Kung Fu, a show that has clearly been running for a while and as well as having a show running in America it has toured over in Europe as well including the UK. It was all about a little boy called Chun Yi and how he came to become the Abbot at the temple through the art of Zen and of course Kung Fu. It was very good I have to say, quite a brief performance if I have to be picky!! I would not have been happy to have had to pay a stupid amount back in the UK for an hour long show, but then that’s me. The skills they showed was amazing and yet also made me squirm in my seat as it looked so ruddy painful if you know what I mean!! After the show we were luckily met by Michael who escorted us back to the bus which was now parked up out front and there was no way that we would have found it quickly as there were SHED loads of coaches parked up outside the theatre.
We headed off to supper where we once more were in a private room, this time tho instead of being the usual split as always seemed to happen we had Gavin and David on our table. It was pretty annoying that we did not mix more at meal times it has to be said. Maybe the want to bugger off as soon as us slow ones caught up might not have been so blindingly obvious if the effort had been made. Too late now to worry about that though. We had the usual array of pretty inedible stuff for me unfortunately, however there was another whole fish which David was most excited about as he did not get the opportunity to eat a fish eye earlier in the week. So out they came and away he went. I am SO glad that I could control my gag reflex. Video of him doing it below- eeeeewwwwwwwww!!
Those of us that had massages pretty much skipped down the corridors of the hotel as we went back to our rooms where apparently the masseurs would be waiting. There wasn’t one waiting outside the room when I got there which I found to be quite strange seeing as I was the first room on the list?! I waited patiently – a good 25 mins went by and I went down to the bar having heard nothing and thinking that Peter might have been down there to check everything was ok. Nope just Stace, Abi and Mark. They knew nothing. I went to reception and tried to get them to call Peter’s room so I could find out what was going on. He apologised and said that he would get Michael to call my room to let me know what was going on. So back up I went getting pretty pissed off now having looked forward to this all day and knowing that every other lucky bugger would be getting one but me. I never heard from Michael and so called Peter’s room direct and just asked him to cancel it as time was pressing on – it was like 9.40 now and the massage was for an hour and a half and that would mean we were looking at around 11.30-12am before Stace could get back into the room which was not really all that fair on her. It was just so sodding typical that out if the whole group it wad MY ruddy masseur that never turned up. I felt my whole body sort of flop and say bugger out loud! So I headed down to the bar in a grump for a beer before bed time! Once in bed I read up a little on the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City and also out loud to Stace so that we knew a little about what we would be seeing the following day on our City tour of Beijing.
8km trekked in 4.5hrs
Highest point 570 metres high
81 towers total
It didn’t seem quite so hot this morning when we woke up and it was quite overcast which gave us hope that there might be the promised bit of drizzle. Sadly this was not to be but we were told that it was slightly cooler today at 31 degrees!!
Breakfast was a pretty impressive array of food, not quite what you would really expect for breakfast but it was a traditional Chinese style we were told. As it was going to be another scorcher I decided to play safe as I really didn’t want an upset tummie to cope with as well as the pain in my knees and feet and of course the major over heating!! So rice it was with a fried egg on the top which was actually runny. Sounds fairly vial but I knew that the packed lunch could be somewhat interesting and so I knew that I needed some slow releasing energy in me.
We once more drove to where we were starting off which was only a short trip thankfully and we had some tai chi and stretching before we headed off to another day, of frankly – hell, where once more I would teach myself to push on regardless thinking of Pen and all she went through. Stace was really not doing too well this morning and really was suffering with her tummie and persistently sick, poor love. With the heat as well I am really not sure how she does it, it was touch and go for a moment as she really couldn’t face the idea of another day of it. I told her to do what she usually does, and what I hate her saying – suck it in!! After a few tears which I think just needed to come out as much as she hates it, she was back on track and slowly we carried on dripping in sweat which really was most unpleasant to do after such a short amount of time. It was a fairly intense start as we ascended a hill pretty quickly which, in the heat, was simply horrendous.
We started to get quite a way behind some of us as we were taking it slowly at our own pace as really nothing can prepare you for doing this amount of exercise in this really humid heat. Seriously it feels like we have not been training with Lynnsey since January looking at some of the others who had hardly broken a sweat – bastards!!! But I intend on completing it without any massive injuries and to have enjoyed/endured it as much as I possibly can rather than hate every step and wish I wasn’t there and taken on this mammoth task.
We were on an older section of the wall which had not really been restored and so was pretty dishevelled and meant you REALLY had to watch your footing as it was easier to fall arse over tit! There were few places to rest where there was some shade but not really enough for all of us as a group. Stace’s bag was looked at and parts taken out and passed to Michael and then Peter carried it for her for a while which seemed to help as she was really stuggling with her tummie, poor darling. I was REALLY worried as I didn’t think that she was taking on enough water as she was hardly drinking. Problem was that with every sip that she took it made her want to barf so a loose loose situation really! It began to get really irritating that with every time that we would meet up as a group the faster ones would then get up and leave with Michael leading them.
Seeing as Michael is also taking photos for us and namely the group shots and creating a photo cd of them all which saves time really rather than 17 versions of the same thing on everyones cameras, we soon realised that actually we are in none of the single shots etc as we were never anywhere near him – how to feeled loved and part of the group hey!!
Stace was feeling a wee bit better after we stopped for lunch and so she took her rucksack back. She had already offered to take mine as I was struggling quite a bit with my knees and feet, nutter – there is a reason why you are NOT carrying one at the moment, you loon!! It was so humid as I said but there was also a breeze on certain parts, namely ones that had no sides and a fairly massive drop either side which even made my tummie turn, not one for my darling Dad! I tried to get some photos without actually falling off showing just what the drop was like and how narrow the wall was in parts. I’d hate to be on there when there was a stronger wind. It was so refreshing though to feel the breeze on various parts that were more than sweating however!!
Once we started to our way down from the wall we were walking through farm land and it really was quite steep, thankfully I had Peter to help me for some of the bigger steps as those were the ones that were excruciatingly painful on the balls of my feet and brought on the sensation of walking on drawing pins. Of course I was in the back of the group and part way down we caught up with Elaine who, I have to say, has been ruddy amazing in all that she has achieved. Scary to think that 10 years ago she was paralysed from the waist down. She had been on her own walking down quite a bit of it and the front few noticed that she was no longer with them and so the boys sweetly went back to help her, you could then hear a voice saying ‘Elaine? Why is it all about Elaine? What about me?’ That got all our heckles up I tell you. Elaine, thankfully, didn’t let it phase her as she has had to deal with so much in her life she can let things like that blow over. If only I could (were it me being talked about like that) I don’t see why she should have to tho. Whose ever voice it was, sadly/thankfully, we were not sure. But I can tell you now if I had recognised it I swear down, I would have given them an earful as I like to look after my friends, not make them feel like shit.
Once we had totally come down off the mountain we were then on to a concrete road which my knees and feet seemed to loathe and the pain was really searing up my legs becoming almost unbearable. It just seemed to go on and on every corner that we thought looked like the last led to another corner. I had slowed up considerably and was more than tempted just to sit down and wait for someone to come and get me as I really felt like I could go no further. Peter and Sasha had gone ahead which rattled Stace more than it did me and by this stage I was using both poles as a support and concentrating more on moving my legs which felt seperated to the rest of my body by this stage. We did finally make it back to the bus which was a very welcomed sight and a quick 20 min bus journey to the evenings accommodation.
Our accommodation this evening was the one that we had previously been told was ‘challenging’ and so I had prepared myself for the worst possible scenario already teary from the pain and emotino of completing the day. Yes the room was damp and yes, it smelt of pee. Yes the beds were as hard as nails again and we couldn’t get the lights to work and finally yes the light switch was hanging out of the wall and right under the shower as well as a lot of electricity cables. But other than that it was ok?!!!
It started spitting a little as we walked down to the restaurant for supper which was fairly bland again it has to be said, mainly because I couldn’t eat the majority of it because of the peppers which was really beginning to get mighty annoying I have to say. After supper we sat on the veranda (of sorts!) for a beer or two and I sneakily managed to get most people to sign Abi and Marks anniversary card for tomorrow. The rain by this time was totally chucking it down, didn’t bode very well for the morning really. Not sure which I prefer walking in – the boiling heat or pissing rain?! Guess I’d find out the following day!! We got our bed bug sheets out and slept in our fleece liners as the bedding still felt pretty damp to the touch. So it was nice to have found some use for them!!
27 towers passed through
Highest point 570metres high
15km trekked within 7hrs
After a fairly decent nights sleep – all things considered, we headed over to breakfast. An interesting array of foods in a buffet style with a sort of tv dinner style of tray. I tried a few things but, seeing as breakfast is not really my forte at the best of times, I was not really up for eating most of the things on the agenda. I opted for oats (as in add milk and voila porridge) and plain yoghurt, which was vaguely do-able. I knew that I needed something in my tummie to help give me some energy for the day of trekking that lay ahead. We collected our pack lunch outside the breakfast room before heading back to our room to fill up the water and put lunch into the box ready for the day ahead. I was sensible and decided not to take the fruit that needed peeling or the veg that wasn’t peeled which meant that the food options were limited. So I went for cookies and a couple of unhealthy other options. As soon as we got on the coach I decided that I would hang up my socks on the bus to get them to dry quicker on the washing line, thought that hanging my bra up as well was pushing it just a little!! This caused much hilarity and others quoting that they had seen it all! After the amount of money that I have spent on socks since we took on this journey I was not prepared to have to shell out for 5 pairs of socks I had taken 3 and was rotating them as I went washing, drying, wearing! I had already thrown out £48 worth of 1000 mile socks as they gave me HIDEOUS blisters.
After a shorter coach journey than yesterday we arrived at the main gateway to the Black Dragon Pools National Park named so as legend has it that there once lived two brother dragons who grew up together but soon had reason to part. The black dragon, being both virtuous and humble, decided to give up his home and went to reside in a grassless and waterless place. There, he strove hard to build a new home, which soon drew the attention of the gods. Because of his long and arduous work, the gods awarded him with 18 pearls. These pearls then became the 18 ponds after the dragon scattered them throughout the valley. The national park is thought to be the ideal of a peaceful getaway and is now mainly used by pensioners of the area who use the park as a place to meet up with friends.
There was another pit stop needed pretty much as soon as we had pulled up. Thankfully I was not in need, I say thankfully as it transpired to be THE worst loo that had been come across so far. It was making people feel very sick just going in there! Once they had all been relieved (or not, depending on how strong their stomaches were feeling!) we did our stretching and prepared for day 2. I was liking the idea that we were not on the wall today, the temperature was the same as yesterday but there was at least sections of shade and most importantly we were promised that it was not so hard as yesterday.
Off we set. I was really, really nervous about just how difficult it was going to be, quite how much pain would I be in come the end of the day? But I had to bite the bullet, take it slowly and at my own pace again. It was lovely and cool at the bottom of the valley and you could occasionally feel a light breeze. We had several giggles over some of the signs that were appearing in the park and the different ways in which they could spell ‘No climbing’!! Talk about stating the obvious at times!
It didn’t take long however to become dripping in sweat and for the knees and feet to begin to ache a little. We seemed to climb persistently upwards which I was not particularly fond of as it meant a fairly long down part which I really was dreading as that was the bit that hurt the most. We passed little pools as we went upwards which had inflatable dinghies floating on them or little row boats and often a few elderly Chinese sitting around in the shade nearby or actually in the dinghies and row boats of the water. I could see why people came here, the tranquility and beautiful surroundings seemed to make it an idea place to stroll and just relax.
We had been following a path (or two – we followed Michael like lemmings!) slowly and steadily upwards like I said and we started to struggle a little with the heat as mid-day came as the shade was really not as frequent as it was when we first set off. We seemed to move off-piste and through several bushes. I hated to think what the drop was like the other side of them which none of us could see. Every next stop was lunch and I began to wonder when and where we were actually having lunch! It took a lot of scrambling through bushes, and use of the GPS I guess as there was not really an obvious path as far as I could see, shimmying down rocks and such the like by which time my poor little feet were back to the sensation of the walking on drawing pins and my knees just felt like I couldn’t really rely on them but we were having to leap and jump over various bits of land. Really not comfy. By the time we got to the lunch stop I was close to tears with the pain again contemplating once more the actual necessity to keep going. Pen was out on my stick and I was having words with myself to keep going. Perhaps I should explain that last sentence?! By saying Pen was out on my stick I mean one of the pictures from my T-shirt from yesterday, I had cut them out last night so that I could keep them with me in my pockets. The rest of the T-shirt went in the bin! I found that by having the picture of her in my hand it spurred me to carry on as I just thought of all of the pain that she went through in her heroic 14 month battle with cancer and that my pain was nothing in comparison at the end of the day. Also at least I could put my feet up at the end of each day and have a beer and forget about it. Something that she never had the joy of doing. So when I was struggling I took one of the bits out of my pocket and held it either in my left hand when feeling slightly unsteady and in my right hand when I needed to see her with every step and so I wrapped the fabric around the handle of my walking pole so that her picture was on top. Somehow, it gave me that extra bit of strength that I needed. But boy oh boy was I glad to take the pressure off of my knees and feet and sit in the shade and relax a little when we eventually made it to the rest stop for lunch. I desperately needed to try and build my strength physically, and more importantly mentally, for the down section that was still to come.
Once we had completed a fairly comprehensive rest stop we were up and off again. The way down was fairly hairy with loose mud under foot and not really very sturdy branches etc to hold on to. I was almost certain that I was going to slip and send everyone flying like dominoes as it was really steep we were quite close together to begin with. I was grateful tho that at least it was shady and so one of the nasty factors of the beaming sunshine was out of the way, sadly it was incredibly muggy and humid so we were still getting a sweat on – nice!! Mark was a star helping several of us wimps down I just couldn’t trust my legs and feet to do what I wanted and seriously the LAST thing that I wanted was to do an actual injury meaning I REALLY couldn’t do any more. As much agony as I was in I was still determined to succeed. There were enough people back at home who were doubting that I would complete it, no way in hell did I want to prove them right. The scenery, even though not the wall, was stunning. Rustic, untouched China now that we had wavered away from the specific man made path that we had stuck to earlier in the day.
Once we had got to the bottom we had to make a little detour to a waterfall for a photo opportunity. To be honest the waterfall was more of a weeny trickle but it was meant to be the most famous as it was once named the tallest waterfall in Beijing coming down over a sheer rock face. Frankly having been there, done that, and got the photo it really was not worth it and I would have been better suited sat on the bus resting my legs!!
After a fairly pungent visit to the ‘respectable’ loo at the exit gateway we headed out to our 3* accommodation for the night. Looking forward to the idea of a swimming pool, which they were rumoured to have – to be honest that helped I think for the last section of the trek. I think that the drive was about an hour and we as always checked in and went straight to our room for a shower! Sadly the swimming pool idea was short lived – it was going to cost about £10 and you had to wear a swim hat. I wasn’t that desperate. I decided that I’d have a damned good shower and wash 2 pairs of trousers/shorts at the same time to make up for it – wow what a treat!!!!
We had beers before a fairly hideous supper, voted the most unpleasant by the others out of all meals that we had. It had very little choice for me so I couldn’t really comment on it. The other table were eating fish eyes which the very idea of which made my stomach turn. It transpired during supper that there was no water in the hotel – had all of our showers earlier drained the supplies?! Surely not!! It made Stace really nervous as she would doubtless need the loo. I told her not to worry, if she had to go she had to go and just not to flush what ever it was and just hope that it would all be sorted in the morning. I could tell that she was worrying about it as we went up stairs.
We headed to bed to try some sleep before hitting the wall again in the morning and the pain once more that lay ahead.
13km covered in 6 1/2 hours
Highest point reached 410metres high
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
I made the decision a while ago to attend the first half of the first match of the season. The timings would be tight but it was entirely doable. Some thought it an insane idea but to be honest it felt only natural to be there on the day that I left for China as it would be where Mummy Pen would be, somewhere up there on her cloud watching over us with a fag in one hand and pint in the other screaming at the top of her voice for our boys!!
So after managing to park in the sports centre car park to ensure a speedy exit at half time, Paddy and I headed to Cafe Retro for a fairly slap up breakfast prior to the match. I’m not too sure that my stomach could actually cope with it as I had a whole swarm of butterflies going mental in my poor tummie! My nerves were totally gone I was beginning to get REALLY nervous about what lay ahead. After spending so long planning it, finally the day was here that we were to leave. I hadn’t really thought about how I would deal with the eventuality of actually going, as a result on leaving day I was all over the place.
It was definitely the right thing to have done. It was so nice to see so many familiar faces all wishing us well (even though it was only me there!!) and to be honest only make my tummie turn more, particularly when people asked how I was doing as I still had no idea!! I had a text off of Peter alerting me to my ugly mug being in the programme so I got 2 checking that Jim and Stace would want one too. It’s quite funny and really very fitting that I was the main focus for the advert this week!! I greeted the Brunton clan and Gouldy in the usual place behind the east stand for a fag and a catch up before we all headed to our seats. It was lovely to see them all – all 3 brothers, Kelvin, Hannah + bump and my rugby niece Amelia. It just felt so right to be with them all.
So we found out where our seats were as there have been some modifications to the east stand, apart from it being the mens and not the ladies at the bottom of the exit stairs I am pretty pleased, not much has changed. The weather was glorious, man alive it was great to be ‘home’. Still tainted somewhat by the lack of Mummy Pen tho. I spent the majority of the first half counting down the mins until it was time to leave. When it was, I gave huge hugs and was wished well as I sped to the car and got on the road to my parents. I think it’s safe to say that I cried pretty much the whole way home, thankfully there was no traffic and it was as if the road and traffic lights had all been fixed for me. I made excellent time. When I arrived there I put everything into Dad’s car which was waiting in the middle of the driveway, ran in to powder my nose and then after hugs and kisses from Dad I was on my way with my amazing taxi driver at the helm once more. My Mum is an actual angel. As well as catching her up with how my last couple of days had been I was chopping pieces of cream paper to the appropriate size to fit the travel journal as I was very conscious that I didn’t have enough pages to write on. She wanted to come in to wave me off, bless her. It’s not as if I’ve never done anything like this before though?! So I convinced her to just to drop me and go. Sadly I managed to leave not only my fleece on the back seat but more importantly – my Indy hat!!??!!
I had texted Stace on the way up to the airport to keep her updated as to how far away we were. To be fair though, I was not last and it was not all the massive rush that I thought it would be. I collected my packet from the random lady at the airport that was waiting for us with our T-shirt, luggage labels and of course the ticket. After all of the skillful packing and repacking to get everything in it transpired that I could have put 31kg in my bag for the hold. I was asked to repack my rucksack as carry on as they weighed it and it was too heavy which got me all in a fluster. I took out about 3 things then sat on my bag whilst I tried to shut it. After finally getting sorted we went thru after saying goodbye to the Ginger Bird fan club. Just getting through the X-ray machine was a mission in itself. The whole palava of taking off and putting back on again the boots was rediculous, had a bit more of a sensible pack so that the things that I wanted for the flight itself were actually on the top of my bag.
Then we headed straight to the pub for a much needed ‘calming of the nerves’ drink! It was here that I realised that I had left my hat behind. Sadly there was not an appropriate outlet in Duty Free for me to find one. I did get a bigger memory card and a proper camera case so I could carry all the bits together. I was sweating lots and so decided to stick with the rugby top for now and change into the Wii Not Fit one on the plane in an attempt too freshen up. I sent a few last min texts and updated my status, even received one too (thank you Emmie, timing was perfection!) and it was aboard we went, nervous giggles ALL over the place!!
Stace and I were at the arse end of the plane and as soon as I got on I could tell that this was going to be yet another flight that I would be unable to sleep on. The seats were like boards, they were SO hard and the head rest, even when you moved it just wasn’t in the right place. I had a rather large Chinese man sat next to me and was stuck in the middle which I hate as it means that as soon as everyone nods off I am stuck and can’t get out. I realised that I had left the 2 sleeping pills behind that I had been saving one for the flight another thing to add to the list of things that I had left behind!! Elaine offered me one but I then thought that there was every possibility that being in the middle and with everything else going on the last thing that I would want would be to take a sleeping pill and not be able to actually sleep.
So, as predicted, I got no sleep. I got stuck for about an hour desperate for the loo but didn’t want to wake Stace and the final delight was that, yes the Chinese dude I sat next to was a snorer. I couldn’t believe it, I could even hear it when I had the headphones on trying to watch a film or tv or just listen to music. There is simply nothing more infuriating! As predicted I could eat hardly any of the meal as it had peppers in it or was frankly looking like something that one of my girls would bring up!!
I watched Marley and Me which was an absolutely ridiculous idea. I had no idea really what it was about, I had just heard from loads of people what a good film it was. I think that I balled my eyes out silently for about half if it. Post film tho was my breaking point I think. I couldn’t stop it, waterfalls out if each eye no tissue and a runny nose – it was a great look!!
As we came into land I changed my t-shirt and freshened up for the onward journey to where we were staying for the first nights accommodation. I was really nervous about going through passport control after all of the issues that I had gone through when trying to obtain my visa I really didn’t want any interrogation when I got to Beijing. We walked through some temperature controller to see if we had any form of disease, I could almost feel my temperature rise just at the thought of it being checked. Then we got to border control which thankfully I sailed through with out a hitch. I breathed a huge sigh if relief. We alighted the monorail to the baggage hall there were heaps of belts, where ours came off was no 41?!!! Mine was the very last bag to be collected off the belt, I really was panicking to put it mildly!! I managed to change money before we walked through customs, nothing to declare if course – confidently (but shaking like a leaf, still freaking that they might take my happy pills off me) I walked through, relieved not to have been stopped.
After meeting up with our guides Peter and Michael who would be at the front and Sasha at the back when we start trekking we went out side to the coach where the smokers amongst us could partake in a quick fag. Why does it always feel so good having one after a long flight?!! We sampled some of the Beijing traffic as soon as we left the airport and OMG I could so see how there was a 65 mile tailback where people were reported to have been stuck for 9 days. I fell asleep pretty soon after getting on the bus and woke up in yet another traffic jam nearer to where we were staying I was assured though that we weren’t in one the whole time!
We were struck by the heat as soon as we arrived, that it was going to be very unpleasant to walk in as it was majorly sticky. We were near the Ming Tombs on our first night and had no idea of what to expect accommodation wise. I was pleasantly surprised by what we had as I was ready for a mattress on the floor and a shared bathroom. Not in the slightest, beds, tv, our own bathroom with loo etc. I was glad to have brought my crocs to shower in tho as the floor looked pretty minging! After a bit of repacking and what have you I had what felt like simply the best shower and had a bit of relaxing time on my bed just calming my brain down which was spinning with a variety of things and worries of exactly lay ahead, what we had let ourselves into and of course sent the vital text to the folks to let them know that I had arrived safely.
Before supper we had a bit if a briefing from Peter as to what to expect in the coming days, what the weather was due to be like, when we would get our water etc. We got warned that our accommodation on Wednesday evening could be described as ‘challenging’ which sounded fairly ominous to put it mildly, so we prepared ourself for the worst!
Supper was pretty much eaten in silence, we were so hungry and I guess that reality was REALLY hitting in for a fair few of us. Wonder how long the quiet meal times would last?!! We were suggested to stay up as long as possible as we would probably not be able to sleep for the full night if we went to bed too early, no matter how tired we were. So a few of us had a little natter before bed.
Stace and I crawled into bed absolutely shattered, somewhat petrified of exactly what lay ahead.