The day started out wet, cold, and just a little miserable! We were all a bit weary at the thought of the climbing ahead. Magically though, as we pulled away from the hotel in our bus, the rain stopped and the clouds cleared, giving us a pretty spectacular day which is something for China… It was so clear that we could see the Beijing skyline about 100km away from the Wall, which was an absolute rarity apparently! The Great Wall, surrounded by the colours of autumn looked absolutely stunning.
Our section to conquer today is called Mutianyu.It crawls along the spine of the ridge some 1000 meters about sea level. We were surrounded by craggy white, limestone-topped mountains on all sides and it seemed that our panoramic views changed with every step. The first portion of our walk was not steps (miraculously) but instead plunging slopes that wound down and up and down and up and down and up. This proved to be the most difficult type of terrain for Nicole with her fused ankle so Chris and Kyle developed a “cruise control” system that allowed them to monitor her downhill speed.
At the end of this section was our biggest challenge of the day – 1000 uninterrupted steps that wind straight up the side of a mountain, raising us to 1200 meters above sea level. I’ve heard it’s called the Stairway to Heaven…They are steep, slippery, and relentless but worth every ounce of effort! The sense of completion, accomplishment, and satisfaction boosts the endorphins and all that lactic acid build up, all that pain in the calves seems to just fade away. Knowing we have done it for a cause as important as Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service makes it all the more meaningful.
Due to rain, the final descent was more washed out than usual so some of us backtracked to our starting point to avoid the particularly dangerous downhill while others carried on past the “no tourists beyond this point” sign. Our path wound even further up, reaching the apex of The Ox’s horn before plunging back into the valley on a less than ideal goat track. We rejoined each other at the guesthouse, where the celebrations began.
From 4pm until bedtime we barbecued in the shadows of the Great Wall. We toasted to new friendships, new experiences, and new bottles of beer. We chewed on chicken feet, we choked down more Baijiu, and we laughed. Mostly at Rodney. As day turned to night and the cold moved us inside, we found ourselves in a circle talking about what brought us on this adventure.
Take 14 near strangers, throw them in a foreign land together, and within days we are all thinking like a team, acting like a family, and joking like lifelong friends. It is truly life-changing.