Hiking the Great Wall of China. Yes, Really. - The Beijing Experience: Day 4

Monday, September 1st

You guys...I'm never going to be on American Ninja Warrior.  I know this is a huge surprise, but it is also a disappointment to actually realize this.  Because we just got back from a hike on the Great Wall of China, and I can barely move.  When you think of the Great Wall of China, you don't really think it should be hard to walk on, right??  Oh, contraire...

Our tour guide was going to meet us at the hotel at 8a.  Breakfast didn't start until 730a.  So we knew we had to wake up and be ready to go.  There was no chance to oversleep.  Which meant I woke up several times in the night, worried I was going to wake up late.  Not the best start of the day, but whatever.  We were ready.

So there's this guy at the hotel.  He's a guest.  And there is something about him that we just cannot stand.  There's no real reason.  He's a very important businessman and acts like a very important businessman.  You know, he is the center of the universe.  He dresses in polo shirts and dress pants, with some kind of uncomfortable looking shoes (full disclosure...any shoe other than my El Naturalistas are considered uncomfortable looking).  Maybe it is because the guy is louder than the rest of his cohorts.  But we see (or hear him) and cringe.  Every. Time.

The Annoying Guy was hanging out near the dining room at 730a.  Apparently, they weren't quite ready.  Two German (I think) women hung out near the guy, waiting for breakfast to start.  At 735a, the server opened the door and basically pantomimed "why are you waiting out here??  Food is in there!!"  Annoying Guy must not have had any arm strength to open the door, which delayed everyone else's breakfast.  See??  This guy wrecks everything!!

We shoveled food down our pie holes as quickly as possible.  There would be food after our hike, but we didn't know how long we would need to wait for lunch.  So we wanted as many calories as possible.  We even tried to order the green onion pancakes.  But because of the Annoying Guy's inability to open a door, there was a delay in the prepared food.  It was almost 8a and we had to leave for our hike.  We left before the pancakes.  It may have caused a bit of a stir in the kitchen.  But we had a tour to catch.

Unfortunately, Beijing traffic reared its ugly head.  Our guide was here.  Our car was not.  So, pancakes could have been consumed.  But whatever.  We waited about 15 minutes or so before our car came for us.  And then we were on our way.

As we (Adele) did our (her) research, one name kept cropping up for a Great Wall Tour.  Joe Zhang is a guide on the Untouched Great Wall Hike.  The New York Times Travel section even did a tour with Joe.  So he comes highly recommended.

I think the name of the website should have been a clue.  Untouched Great Wall Hike.  Untouched.  At this point in the day, I was still oblivious to what was ahead.

We piled into the car.  Fay and I shimmied into the back seat of the van and I tried not to fall asleep, as I tend to do on long "bus" rides in foreign countries.  We were driving two hours outside of the city.  I wanted to see it all. 

The driver took us through the seven rings of Beijing.  We drove past the high rise buildings.  We drove past the Bird's Nest and Water Cube of the 2008 Olympics, our only view of the structures that were so important during the epic Olympics games of a few years ago.  The reality for us was that we only had so much time and too much to do.  The buildings got cut from the list.  Which was a disappointment.  But it gives me a reason to go back, right??  So back to the drive...

We drove for about two hours to Huanghuacheng, our portion of the Great Wall.  The driver stopped in the middle of nowhere.  We had passed a few more touristy entrances to the wall on our drive up.  I knew we would go somewhere away from the tourists, but I didn't expect to be dropped off on the side of the road.  We all loaded up on the bottles of water.  I had brought one from the room, then took two additional bottles from the car.  Ready.

Before we left the middle of the road, Joe pointed out the toilets.  Adele donned a mask and made her way in.  Danielle, Fay and Joe followed suit.  Me...I'm a camel.

A toilet.  Ladies on the right, Men on the left.
After the toilet break, we walked up a path to a home??  A structure of some sort.  Joe handed a woman some Yuan and we began our ascent to the wall.

And holy crap.  I was huffing and puffing just getting to the wall.  Look.  I am not in the best of shape.  I never have been.  I have also been dealing with a herniated disc for the last year, so my twice a week exercise "routine" has been thrown for a loop.  I've just recently been cleared to take Spinning classes.  But I do walk a lot going to and from the train to my office.  I can walk all day long.  Climbing a steep hill...that's a different story.  And my preparation for this was...ummm...so I was cleared to take Spinning classes again...

Let's just say I'm not a hiker.

I also didn't expect what we ended up doing.  The moment we started, I was brought back to the most insanely physical thing I've ever done.  Climbing Waynapicchu.  I did that.  I can do this.  Right??

We climbed up.  We climbed down.  Up.  Down.  From tower to tower to tower.  I'd like to say I kept up with the group.  But I really didn't.  I was always the last person to reach the tower.  I took a ton of breaks.  But God Dammit...I did it.

I started with a top and a tank top, knowing full well the top would get bagged quickly.  It did.  The sweat pouring from my body soaked everything.  The tank top was completely drenched.  My pants went from dry to sweat-filled to dry to sweaty again.  I was such a mess.  

Look at us!!
I didn't take a ton of pictures during this time.  I obviously wasn't going to stop climbing to take pictures.  I couldn't take pictures while climbing.  And because I was the last person to arrive to each tower, I didn't want to hold up everyone as I took pictures.  And at a certain point, I just wanted to get through the entire process.

At one point, Joe pointed down a hill.  I (we??) could take the "exit" here.  It would be an easier way out.  I shook my head.  No way.  I'm getting through this.  

Danielle can perform ballet positions on the Great Wall.  I can barely walk.

Hey...I see you!!
I'm not sure if this part happened organically or if there was a conversation in a tower as I was slowly making my way to the rest of the group.  But Danielle, Adele and Fay rotated their positioning to stay back with me.  Now make no mistake, they were still ahead of me, but they definitely stuck around to make sure I wasn't falling off of the wall.  Danielle tried to give me some words of wisdom as someone who hikes.  Her words, "Trust the shoes" was helpful, and I trusted the shoes.  These shoes got me up a mountain in Peru and on a glacier in Iceland.  I just didn't trust myself in the shoes.  The rest of the crew also made sure I was eating during a few of the breaks at the tower.  Apparently, the sheer amount of sweat pouring from everywhere may have been a concern for the group.  Bringing the three bottles of water was probably the smartest decision I could have made today.

And on a side note...why is it I can eat breakfast at 730a and hike up the Great Wall of China for four or more hours and when lunch is served at 3p, I'm just starting to get hungry, but at home, I eat breakfast at 6a and am attacking the Snack Wall in the office by 845a?? Can someone explain this to me, cause I'm having a hard time reconciling this fact.

I focused on the trail around me and only on the trail around me.  I'm sure I could have looked around more, but my focus was on every step I took.  

These were "stairs" up.  
During this time, we were the only people around.  It was the four of us, plus Joe.  As we started up the wall, we met up with a group of three or four tourists.  Ones that wanted pictures of us.  In the middle of the journey, we found three or four German (we think) tourists in our general area.  Knowing my speed, we let them go off in front of us.  We didn't see them again until the end of our journey on the wall.

At the end of the wall portion, we looked back and saw what we accomplished.  It was seven (or so) kilometers of climbing.  And it was a big deal.  Now we just had to get down to the ground level.  And that included about 30 minutes walking through a downward slope of gravel.  When we were done, it was time for food.  Oh, it was time for food.

We walked a half mile or so to a restaurant geared towards Great Wall hikers.  We decided to sit outside under a giant tarp.  Joe ordered a bunch of dishes and we had a bottle of Coke and water.  A few minutes into our lunch, the thunder started.  I honestly believe had it rained while we were on the wall, I would have sat down and just cried.  I don't think I would have been able to handle it.

The food was amazing.  I still wasn't ravenous.  I was hungry, but considering what we just went through, I should have been hungrier.  But we ate everything.  There was a potato dish which was wonderful.  There was an egg and tomato dish which was even better.  And I don't know what kind of pork dish I ate, but it's possible that I growled at someone when they went to get a serving of the dish.  We think it may have been a sweet and sour kind of pork, but NOT fried.
Remnants of the meal.

Once we were fully satiated, we exhaustedly crawled back into the van.  Adele and Fay took the back seats and fell asleep after a while.  I was starting to get a migraine, so I closed my eyes and tried to will the headache away.

About the time we made it back to Beijing, the skies opened up again.  The thunderstorm that followed was pretty impressive, like the others we've seen.  We asked Joe if this was normal.  His answer was no.  And this is a dangerous kind of storm.  It causes massive flooding and damage.  But this is the moment where we saw one of the funniest things we could see in Beijing.  In the middle of the thunderstorm, a woman was riding her bicycle...in a swimming suit...while wearing a swim cap.  I'll let that one marinate for a moment.  It deserves a moment.

Joe dropped us off at the hotel.  We were exhausted and all ready for a shower.  The rain was on and off.  And we needed to decide what to do for the remainder of the day.  Fay still wanted to go back to the Night Market and was going to go rain or no rain.  I didn't think I could move and my shoes were still not dry from two nights ago.  Adele, Danielle and I decided to stay in town and look for food.  We didn't want to do the hotel restaurant again. So we wandered.  We found a place around the corner where we pointed to food on a menu.  It was like the food yesterday.  Cheap and tasty.  Done.  We made our way home and lounged around until bedtime.  

It was a day.  One I don't have to ever do again, but one that I'm so glad I was able to finish.  Slow or fast, it doesn't matter.  I climbed this bitch.  

The crew.  This was midway through the hike.

Daily Stats - 17,533 steps, 7.54 miles


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