Waking up today was somewhat bittersweet. Yes we got to take on another spectacular section of the Great Wall but today would be our final encounter with it's wonder, majesty, and all-around awesomeness. Were we really nearing the end already? It had all been moving a bit too fast for our liking.
The bus dropped us in the heart of a small village right at the base of the hill, which looked far more like a mountain. From there we walked upward. And upward. And upward along a skinny paved path that seemed to tilt upward at roughly, say, an 87 degree angle. Little trucks and tractors zoomed by, raising the question of whether or not it would be alright to hop in back and ride up to the wall itself. "No," we said. This is a charity challenge and we are here to kick some great wall butt for Black Dog!
The paved path devolved into an off-road slippery, rocky track that the group had nicknamed "goat tracks." Still, upward we went deep into the fog (or smog, no one can be sure) for a solid 90 minutes before catching our first glimpse of the wall itself. It wasn't a slow and steady appearance either. Instead it was more of a BOOM, there is the bloody Great Wall of China!
We ducked through a small pathway and up onto the wall itself. As Unfazed Beauty (Vicki) turned her head to see the stairs that meandered up and over the ridge ahead she turned to me and said "Kyle, what are you trying to do? Kill me?" Actually, she said something entirely different but I can't reprint it here. In fact, it can probably never be reprinted anywhere ever but you catch my drift.
The rest of the group had begun their upward sojourn of what we would soon count to be just over 1,000 steps in total, climbing from 500 meters to 1,000 meters above sea level! Now let me break this down for you. That is the equivalent of climbing the staircase of a 100-story building. How is THAT for exercising your mood?!
The look of relief, success, and sheer joy on the team's face at the top was incredible. It felt like a serious success and the entire team - Amy, Tracy, Libby, Jules, Geraldine, Hayley, Stef, Sam, Nick, and Vicki all looked so relieved, so happy, and so sweaty. My goodness it was humid! Naturally, Vicki our Unfazed Beauty still looked as if nothing had happened.
From there it was up and over an even higher ridge, down a bend, across a valley, and up to another tower perched at the highest point of this section of the wall. This last spot offered some of the most spectacular views of the Great Wall on our entire trip and it was the perfect place to begin our decent, which was a slip-sliding good time. A recent rain storm had left the track quite slick, which left Libby on her bum more than once. Meanwhile, Stef continued her trend of odd short-term injuries. First it was a mosquito bite on her face. This time around it was a fire ant bite to her right thumb. Don't worry, she recovered just fine! Special shout out to Jules, Libby, Nick, and Geraldine for doing an incredible job of supporting Amy (our Barbie girl scared of heights and descents) all the way to the bottom. We really have become a team and it just feels great!
At this stage we had been walking just under 7 hours. Nearly the entire group opted to continue on another two and a half hours to another section of the wall, where they rock-climbed up and on to a very unrestored and very remote section of the wall before descending back into the valley and into our guesthouse.
Tonight would be our furthest departure from our creature comforts. No hot water, no western toilets, no air conditioning, and no towels (oops, we forgot those too!). Thankfully, the beer flowed freely and we were able to both make and devour our very own egg and chive dumplings!
The evening brought about fantastic discussion about our favorite travel spots, our least favorite travel spots, stories of love and broken hearts, reflections on enduring relationships, wisdom from the more experienced to the less experienced, and reminders of our seemingly never ending stream of inside jokes. This element of familiarity and fast friendship is probably my favorite aspect of our Inspired Adventures. You can take 10 near strangers, chuck them in a foreign land together, and within days they will think like a team, act like a family, and joke like lifelong friends. No doubt there will be plenty of post-trip reunions happening. I believe the first is already set, as Vicki has invited all of us out to her place for the weekend. Get ready John, Alex, and Emma. We are coming!!!