“It’s 6:30am, my tour doesn’t leave for another 2 hours so I should just stay in bed. But it’s a 3 hour drive there and back so I could take a nap then. Do I even feel well enough to spend the day out at The Great Wall? I paid 280 CNY for this tour. I’m going. Yes, I came all the way to Beijing. I’m going.”
Those were the thoughts that ran through my head the morning of my tour to the Great Wall. With a runny nose that wouldn’t quit and a cough so grizzly it could ward off the most ferocious feline, I would make the trip and pay any consequences later. Like I said, I couldn’t come all the way to Beijing and not visit the Great Wall.
So on my last day in Beijing, I not-so-gracefully dragged myself out of bed, slung my hair up into a functional ponytail, and headed to the lobby to order a mediocre breakfast and a soggy sandwich to take with me on my tour. At 8:40am, a vanilla tour van with 18 other passengers promptly scooped me up from my hostel, and we made our way. Tucked away in the back corner, I completely zonked out leaning against the window, missing my tour guide’s greeting and instructions.
When I awoke from my sleepy haze, we were 20 minutes away from the trail leading up to the wall. From Jinshanling to Simtai, we would hike 6 kilometers along the most rugged part of the wall through 22 towers. We were allotted 3 hours for the hike, and at the beginning, we had the choice of walking up to tower 1 or 5. Taking the cable car was another option. With a cool, crisp morning and multiple layers of clothing to maintain my fever, I vowed to start from Tower 1. At first, it seemed like a stupid decision that would surely have me in the hospital at the end of the climb.
However, despite being sick and huffing and puffing the whole way, I was the first to finish with a record time of 2 hours, and I wasn’t moving quickly by any means.
The word “rugged” doesn’t even come close to describing this portion of the wall, but it certainly is less touristy. You know the phrase “what goes up must come down”? Well, as it applies to the wall, it should be amended to “what goes up must continue going up until eventually coming down”. It was like rock climbing up and down steep curves with so many broken stairs and horribly chopped up pavement. It required an immense amount of concentration to ensure I didn’t trip. In a way, sweating through the hike ended up being really good for me because it got my blood flowing to move all the germs out of my body.
With the sunshine lighting the way and only a couple of people trailing behind me, I wasn’t pressured for time, and I really enjoyed the hike. The last thing you want is someone disrupting your strenuous experience. The Mongolian farmers stationed along the wall tempting you to buy snacks and souvenirs can be a bit of a bother, but at the same time, they act as a secondary safety feature if something happens.
After seeing the Great Wall in magazines and movies for so long, the experience of finally seeing it in person was completely surreal. The unworldly view of the hillsides stretching on forever made me feel like I was stuck in a picture frame. One day, I’d love to go back with a group of friends and camp on the wall for a couple of nights.