The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

In April 2018 I signed up to my greatest mental & emotional challenge yet.
For a couple of years I had wanted to visit the great Wall of China, it was on my vision board.

When I split from my marriage & relationship of 27 years, I decided that I needed to find something to focus on greater than my immediate issues, grief of a loss Id never expected and to put something better into the world.

Sat in my friends spare room as a lodger I began researching The Great Wall and stumbled across Charity Challenge.
Perfect, I love to raise money for good causes and basically they organised the whole trip leaving me with only the costings, insurance, Visa application and very importantly, the fundraising…

All I would need was the drive, determination and motivation to train, fundraise and have the strength to keep going when the going got tough.

Before I knew it, id set a fundraising page up, applied and been added to the WhatsApp group with other people on my trek, all raising money for different worthy causes- first scary step- 25 other people across the UK who i didn’t know!!
After applying for my Visa, I set about looking for equipment Id need.

Having never done this before, wondering what gaffer tape was actually needed for & whether walking poles & a water bladder were really necessary items!

So I started with boots and socks and started training- thank goodness I did- these boots are bulkier than my wellies for dog walking or running trainers!!

Only a week before I decided Id purchase the walking poles “just in case” and a water bladder. That week I also contracted a water infection which led to me resorting to taking a course of antibiotics… so out of character!

20th October arrived, friend lent me his holdall, and I got a lift to the airport, so apprehensive at meeting my new travel buddies- how would I remember all their names, what if they didn’t like me, what if they’re super fit and I cant keep up- so many ridiculous thoughts plagued me.

It was a difficult evening flight; with the water infection still hanging around; I twisted my back as I got to my seat; my stomach started to hurt (maybe nerves); there was a loud snorer the whole 10 hours and two girls next to me were chatting while the whole plane seemed to be able to sleep…

I was grateful to land and to be met by our tour guide, at this point everyone else seemed to have paired off or have been travelling with a friend. We got on the transfer coach & headed to the first Lodge, it was like the accommodation on Hi-de-hi and the room stank of stale cigarettes. We had a lovely Chinese buffet and were given a debrief on the first days trekking.

Day 1

After preparing a weird packed lunch and filling the water bladder, an interesting task that I needed assisting with (which was to become problematic for me daily).

I felt quite poorly, thank goodness for the team leader & tour guide, Hastings who gave me some Chinese remedies and some balm for my lower back.

The wall took over an hour to reach with lots of steep steps, it got hot quickly, thank goodness I packed my shorts & made a quick change!
The wall started of with an old section which was loose underfoot, side walls missing and collapsed towers that we had to navigate around.
As we joined the renovated part of the wall it was seriously undulating, thank goodness it was a dry day… the walking poles really were a blessing, without them I think Id have had to travel down the steep sections on my bottom! There was a knack to using them and even using this it was still a slow process.

Had quite a bit of fun on one of the towers taking photos, doing yoga and having Chinese tourists wanting to take photos of the blonde ladies in our group!

The trek was over in 5 hours… my initial thoughts, difficult but nothing I can’t handle…hahaha may have spoken too soon!!
After heading back to our coach we arrived at lodge 2, room slightly better but it stank of drains and temperatures drop so low once the sun disappears.

By this time my back was killing me (bladder infection, seriously constipated from the extraordinary amount of rice in meals & missing my diet of greens!)

I was feeling tearful by this time. Im grateful for the support from my team & and early night.

Lesson of the day; Walking poles are necessary for serious hiking and I would have struggled without them!
Be yourself and have fun- not everyone will like it!

Day 2

What a day!
Packing again and putting holdall back on the coach, making another strange packed lunch & battling with the water bladder again… which by this time is becoming the Bain of my life, because I keep having to ask for help!

We walked behind the lodge to start our upward climb to the wall… and I realised Id left/lost my sunglasses. Disappointed that I still had 4 whole days left without them, I carried on.

The wall was seriously thin with massive drops either side. It was cold when we set off and the wind was strong. I wasn’t in my usual place up the front- I had a lady directly behind me having a panic attack and this made me even worse.
I was quite distressed and my legs were like jelly- I was also making this funny whining noise and barely moving one foot in front of the other- it was just soooo tough for me.

The scenery was beautiful and the sky was so clear yet I didn’t really see too much of it as I was so focussed on staying upright and moving forward- I was worried Id lose footing or get blown off the wall & also very aware that I was holding up the entire team.
So grateful for a lovely husband and wife team who talked me through step by step. When we went down off the wall into the countryside (military section of wall) the paths were steep, overgrown with rough bracken and it was cold.

To top it off I needed the toilet in the middle of nowhere and thankfully by this time Id now resumed my place up the front with Hastings… so I needed to head off to find a place to “go”, so undignified & not very ladylike!!

Today was far fetched from yesterdays yoga on the wall, what a difference a day makes!

We finished our walk on the place we finished on day one & headed back on the coach to lodge 3 where we were advised to check our rooms and bedding for insects & creatures!!

Oh my Lessons of the Day; Tape is for sore toes- to protect sides from boots.
Everyone is on a journey and what is a breeze for some is a struggle for others- we all have strength & weaknesses.

Day 3

Me and water bladder are seriously falling out! Help needed again and everyone was struggling with it.
Our journey on the bus was quite long and the silly water bladder leaked all over the coach seat and soaked the contents of my bag, great I started the trek with a soaking bag (and back).

We had an extremely steep walk of about two hours into the mountains, when we stopped half way up to wait for the rest of the group I realised the water bladder was still leaking, out came my roommates Gaffa tape- yay she fixed it up!!!

We reached the top of the wall with me leading the way so the guide could hold back to direct the rest of our group, there were tiny uneven rocks to balance on to pull ourselves up onto the side… thank goodness Im strong. The walk up this morning was higher than Scafell Pike, it felt like such an achievement although my word, my legs were proper wobbly! I managed to climb onto the roof of the tower
and stand for a photo!!

Bag started to dry as it was a scorcher of a day- yay!! Missing the sunglasses though!! The walk along the wall was overgrown and super skinny, however the views were awesome and the fact there was so much overgrowth meant I couldn’t see the drops like yesterday.so it gave more of a sense of security.

We stopped to eat lunch at the edge of a dangerous part of the walk that meant we had to walk through the forest on the side of the mountain to rejoin it.

It was a great place to stop as I was able to lay the contents of my bag out to bake dry in the sun!!

On arriving back on the wall we headed towards the tourist area of the Heavenly staircase. Due to the fact its the main tourist attraction it was much more even underfoot and although undulating and quite long it was strange seeing other people, being able to use decent toilets and it being quite commercialised, with flags and street sellers.

We were all given a group choice at this point to either walk down the wall, get a cable car or ride on a toboggan!! I chose the toboggan- such fun and a great ending to the third days trek as there was a bar and ice creams at the bottom!

In the evening after arriving at the next hotel, we had a nicer meal followed by lessons in Chinese writing from Hastings. I had wifi so was able to catch up with all my special people which made me cry as it was now Wednesday and I was really missing them!

Lesson of the day- Enjoy every moment, every adventure, smile, laugh & be present. Accept peoples kindness & help- The leaky water bladder gave someone else an opportunity to help me!

Day 4

Water Bladder only just surviving!

Today I woke up feeling like it was all too much and just wanting to give it all up, it was cold and damp, the breakfast was seriously non existent for me, so much meat & bread (which I don’t eat) or rice.

My energies were super heavy and I spent lots of time deep in thought.

I was slow, it all hurt. The wall seemed so much more of a challenge. It was wet, slippery and I cried way too much.

We took a special- heat up your food on the wall, effort for lunch- which was quite fun actually- however all I seemed to hear was people moaning. Perhaps it was just a reflection of my state of mind.

The afternoon walk was so steep, wet and windy that I was on my hands and Knees crawling along- talking myself through it out loud.

I was so reflective and mentally re-living some of the toughest times in my life that seemed to have hidden away- I cannot believe that I didn’t value myself at all and was so unaware of how desperate I actually felt at times… Im grateful that this adventure has given me the opportunity to “feel it to heal it” away from judgement and in my own space- thank fully I took my journal, so wrote it all down when we arrived back on the coach.

Lots of realisations today and a greater understanding of myself and other people in my life.

Lesson of the day- Look deep inside, let it out & let it go!
Embrace life, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

 

Day 5

Water Bladder and the bin became friends… no more struggling with something broken- something else to let go!

Last day of trek… Ok so super strong winds, temperature so cold that my “below zero” running gloves didn’t stop my fingers being numb.

We set off with another walking group who’s leader made them stop and turn back due to the extreme winds!!
This was just purely one way… up, up, up… higher than Ben Nevis I believe.

I kept being blown off my feet, the sides were lower than most days and the poles were vital in actually helping me stay on my feet.
It was literally taking my breath away- and I was struggling to catch a breath!

The climb up seemed to go on and on and the only way to deal with it was to just keep ploughing forward.
The skies were blue and the scenery was just out of this world.

When I reached the summit, I tried to do a little video to upload but my phone kept dying from the cold!! A few of us took some photos in our charity tops and I top a sheltered spot to sit and be quiet to take it all in, be grateful and appreciate that not everyone takes a chance to make an opportunity like this to happen.

Lesson of the day- keep going when most would give up, you never know when you are three feet from Gold!

 

Mel Smith's walk for charity - Great Wall of China

Thank you for reading my mad journey of self discovery, challenges, mental breakdowns, but mostly expanding and enlightening adventure!

Please feel free to click the link below and donate to this amazing cause- I’m grateful for all your support & love

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/Melsmith1432

 

 

*featured photo from Wikipedia (Accredited to Severin.stalder)

Author: Melanie

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