DENISE'S CHINA CHALLENGE
"If you can dream it - you can do it" Walt Disney
The Great Wall of China, one of the greatest wonders of the world winds up and down across deserts, grasslands, mountains and plateaus stretching around 5,500 miles from east to west of China, just like a gigantic dragon. In September this year I will be fulfilling one of my dreams and trekking on the Great Wall for five days. John is not joining me on this trip but I will be one of fifteen people doing the trek on behalf of various charities. We visited China together in 2003 and had the chance to walk a short way on the wall. Since then I have dreamed about seeing some of the more remote parts of the wall and this year I will get to do that whilst raising money for Action on Hearing Loss. The trek will take me to exotic sounding places like Jinshaling, Gubeikou over the Yanshan Mountains, Black Dragon Paw Park, Mutianyu and a sunrise trek at Juyongguan.
I am paying for my own trip so everything I raise will go directly to Action on Hearing Loss. My target is £1,000 and so far I have raised £670 so still some way to go. I have been training hard and thought that you, my sponsors, might like to read about my experiences and see some of the sights along the way by reading this blog which I hope to be able to keep regularly updated during the trip. You can also leave me messages of support on our website - after a long day on the wall, that and a cool beer, will be much appreciated.
I've chose Action on Hearing Loss as my charity because I am partially deaf myself as was my mother and grandfather. To find out more about them go to www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk.
It doesn't matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop (Confucious)
Well the training is over its time to get down to the real thing and head off to China to get this challenge started. As a bit of a loner the thought of travelling with a group is a bit scarey. Who are they all? Will they like me? Will I like them? Why are they doing it? How fit are they all? Will I get left behind or slow the group up? All thoughts running through my head on my journey to Heathrow for our first flight. Then I thought, each one of them is trekking on behalf of one charity or another- we all have something in common we care so strongly about the charities we are supporting that we have decided to give up our time for fundraising, training and finally the ultimate challenge of the trek. I would have plenty of time to get to know them all in the days to come. At Beijing airport we met up with Kara and Lee-Ann from Canada. These two are truly amazing. Both suffer with MS and are planning to take part in 8 different challenges around the world for different charities. Take a look at www.thefinityproject.com and read all about these amazing young women.
We finally reached our first hotel on 15th September via Abu Dhabi. I worked it out and from getting up at 04:45 to get the bus to Heathrow, to arriving at our hotel at Jinshaling took almost 24 hours. We had all met at the airport , lots of different characters and age groups each with their own personal fund raising stories to tell. Despite being travel weary our first sight of the Great Wall up high against a clear blue sky was fantastic. Lots of photos being taken as the excitement which had been muted by our tiredness took hold again. With rooms organised and a quick shower we headed off for lunch making slow progress with all of the ladies from the small shops nearby reminding us to stop and see them later. Now was it shop 12, 18, 9 or 20? Doesn't really matter I'm sure they will all recognise us. Lunch was good with large tables and lazy susans filled with rice, veggies and lots of other dishes for us to try. Hope I master the art of chopsticks or I will definitely lose weight on this trip. Not that this would be bad thing. After lunch things went a bit flat again - we all just wanted to get started. Tired but probably too early to sleep and 5 hours to kill before dinner and our briefing for the start of the walk tomorrow. Sitting in the shadow of the wall there's not a lot else to do here except have a few beers, catch up with blogs or sleep for a few hours.
Our First Hotel Jen - my roomie Mark, Steph, Davina & Stevie learning Chinese Jen working whilst the hotel washing dries
Trek DAY1 - Jinshanling
First day trekking today and the hotel gave us a great breakfast to get us started. The Great Wall at Jinshanling dates back to the Ming Dynasty and has obstacle walls or walls within walls used to defend against enemies who had already scaled the wall. The highest point today will be about 700 metres above sea level. Waiting for us at the start are the Wall Catchers a group of people who join the trekkers, carry bags, help you along and even fan you in the midday sun. If you do no need one, the trick is not to make eye contact with them. I failed and ended up with a shadow for most of the day constantly trying to sell me something, catch my hand on the uneven bits or get me to come to her shop later in the day! The star of the show was Li, sixty five and carrying the medical kit, she fairly ran up and down the wall.telling us all to go slowly. Steph and Rachel, the Essex girls) really took to Li. I think they would have taken her home with them if they could. Walking with the group was a great way to get to know them. Each one has their own personal reasons for being here from the death of a loved one to their own physical impairment. Some have physical challenges to overcome like Jen with her fear of heights, Sean who, after a serious accident at work had had major surgery on his knee or Victoria whose is registered blind.The first part, although steep was faiirly well looked after and then it went down hill from there with steep, steps, uneven ground, missing bits of walls at the side. The sun was shining and the temperature was around 30 degrees - plenty of water needed. Roger our Chinese guide kept us up to date with the history as we walked. According to some famous person, you are not a man until you have trekked the Great Wall. Looks like we will all be men at the end of this. The other story is that the wall is built of not only stone but also blood and bone. Apparently 1 person has died on every metre of the wall. Thats a lot of dead people on a wall of 8000 kms!.. We only walked 8kms in 6 hours so that shows you how tough the going was .I usually walk around 2.5 to 3 miles per hour. But I did it! afterwards we all sat around and had a beer to celebrate our first successful day Next few days should be better terrain but we will do longer distances. Hope I feel OK tomorrow.
First sight of the wall Kara & Lee-Ann with all their gear Ready to go.. Obstacle Wall
How far will we go??? Not far by the looks of this!! Made it up the first stretch... Call this restored???
Trek - Day2 Gubeiko
Felt good when I got up apart from back so took a couple of ibuprofen to get me started. Once we got walking it was OK. We too a bus for around an hour to the start of our walk and passed some very steep sections of the wall. We had been warned by Roger that yesterday was a warm up and that today would be more difficult. He didn't exaggerate -the path up onto the wall wound its way skywards some steps some just very steep narrow climbs. The wall here was unrestored, approximately 2-3 metres wide with a path in the cnetre, no side walls and its very overgrown in some parts. It took a while to get the muscles warmed up. We had to carry more water today but thankfully no lunch. For anyone with a fear of heights this was a challenge and poor Jen was petrified or most of the morning with sheer drops down both sides in some places. Having said that it was more peaceful and we only met one other group of trekkers. The going was tough but the views were amazing. Sadly there was part of the trek which was in a military zone which meant we had to hide our cameras and mobiles. Others before us had been searched and had had to delete photos. We trekked down a very step overgrown path for lunch. The ground is very dry and I am allways wary of slipping. Lunch was delivered by motorbike. No soggy sandwiches today. Egg fried rice boiled egg and a banana. After lunch we started walking through maize fields then another steep climb onto the wall. Stunning vistas from watchtower to watchtower made up for the really difficult sections for me. In some places it was more like rock climbing than trekking and I was very grateful for the help of NUMBER 7, the wall catcher, today. Finally we were back on the Jinshaling wall where we had been the day before and walked past our hotel to pick up the bus for transfer to our next overnight stop. We had been warned that we would be three sharing in each room but although everyone else had normal beds, Jenny, Stevie and myself had a sleeping platform which consisted of on large cement base with very thin mattress and three duvets. I have slept in some bizarre hotels on my travels but this one was a step too far. We were all mates by now but three in a bed after just knowing each other a couple of days was a bit extreme and we were due to stay there for two nights. I was just too tired to argue, Jen was off using the wi-fi but Stevie was the hero of the hour. She was livid, racing around the hotel looking for Roger or Phil to give them a large piece of her mind. In the meantime, the room filled up with everyone taking photos of our typical sleeping arrangement. Finally Stevie caught up with Phil and some quick changes made him get the cement block and we took Roger and the drivers room. Dodgy shower but we did have three beds. But food was good and a a beer went down well. Absolutely exhausted tonight and a bit down with the room fiasco.
Roger - our guide Victoria & her Wallcatcher Rough going today!!!!
Taking a break with "No 7" looking on. It really is never ending.... Ice Cream Man appeared from nowhere.. Jen's turn with the camera today.
Would you sleep on a bed like this after 8 hours trekking??
Trek - Day 3 Black Dragon Pool Park
What an absolutely fantastic day. After a short bus ride we reached Black Dragon Pool Park for our walk today. Away from the wall the track wound upwards through the forest. We had been warned that the morning would be OK but that the afternoon stretch would be more difficult. The whole group were there, the sun was shining on us again but today because we were in the forest we had more shade which was great. The start of the walk was good we kept walking backwards and forwards across the river bed or streams. In some places the forest was quite dense and the path very narrow so it was important to follow the red markers which Roger tied up to mark the way. I managed to get a small section of the group off the track but it was quickly sorted out and I didn't feel too bad when Roger did the same thing later in the morning. Everyone was on great form today and it really was inspiring to see Jen with her fear of heights and Victoria who is virtually blind keep going over narrow trails, through dense forested areas, crossing streams and climbing steep inclines and going down into what was almost a cave on a metal ladder in the dark to follow the trail. We passed huge rock pools and a waterfall. I think the locals must wonder what on earth we are up to. This group of large (compared to them) light skinned people all wearing hats and boots and carting large backpacks around. They allways have a smile for us . Lunch was brought in again and we found somewhere selling ice cream so, believe me, after three days of rice a magnum was heaven. After lunch we were told that the trail would be more difficult upwards to a high tower which is not usually open to the public on a trail that had not been covered for almost 12 months. We almost needed machetes to get through. We had all slowed down but the camaraderie within the group this afternoon was amazing. Everyone helping each other, whether it's carrying water for someone else, handing round glucose tablets, sharing sun tan lotion, biscuits or sweeties, being Vikkis eyes on the scarey parts or simply giving someone a hand up or a well done when you reach the top. And when we reached the top, the tower was there to be conquered. The views from the top were THE BEST and the excitement was infectious as we all took photos of each other and group shots. After that ut was back down to the bus for our return journey to the hotel, where we all headed for the bar to swap stories and check out each others pics. great food to end a perfect day. Somehow, the room didn't seem so bad tonight!
Here we go again. All the way up there!!! Well done Sean. 400 steps from the lower tower to the top.
But we did it! My knees didn't like it much. Who cares the view is amazing.
Trek Day 5 Great Wall at Juyongguan
It's our last day walking today and I think we are all a little bit sorry that our time on thenGreat Wall is coming to an end. No bus today we could walk straight from the hotel plus we could leave our luggage in the room and come back for a shower in 3 hours time.
The walk takes us to tower 12 the highest tower and we are starting at the end , that is we walk to tower 15 first then countdown to12 from where we come down the ground level. It's just as well as although it is only around 7am we can see the crowds climbing up in the other direction. We've got used to having the wall almost to ourselves so the chattering crowds are a distraction especially when you can't get past them. Yesterday must have been a warm up for today as it's steps and more steps The first stretch was horrendous, the steps must have been about 15 inches high and very hard work. Poor Jen with her fear of heights was having a hard time today but she just kept her head down and climbed along with the rest of us. I had a bit of. Celebration at tower 13. This trip is part of my 60th birthday celebrations after all and my birthday is the 13th. How lucky am I to be able to do this? Although it's just 3 hours walking today it's a tough end to the trip, we are all in our charity T shirts, lots of photographs, joy at having succeeeded and plenty of tears and emotions as we crossed the finish line. My worries about fitting in or just keeping up with the rest of the group are lost and gone forever, I have never met such a group of caring sharing people who have helped each other along the Great Wall, inspiring each other with their personal stories and challenges. What a privilege to get to know them all!!
There's someone up there already. It's Charity Tee day today. This is tough even for Becks and Vikki.
Jen's smiling despite the height - go girl!! And there's MORE I'm keeping a brave face. Birthday celebrations at tower 13
Becks and Chris Davina & Stevie Rachel and Steph Victoria
Lee-Ann & Kara Jen, Rosie and Elly Mark & Vikki Guess who??
Roger, Phil & Rosie - Great Team! Sandra and Donna - Wonderful Family! Wedding Locks for Good Luck.
No I didn't get arrested. Coming in to the finish line.... What a day!!!
Were they expecting a swimathon?? YES WE DID!!!!!!
After a quick shower we were on the road again towards Beijing, lunch and a visit to a silk museum before a well deserved foot massage in the evening. I decided against going on to the pub and Karaoke bar and it seems that, for me at least, I made the right choice. I would have been able to cope with the five in the morning finish that some of them had. Oh to be that young again???
At the Silk Museum ........... they showed us how they weave the fine strands of silk..................... then stretch the small squares to fit into the wonderful quilts they make.....
BEIJING Day 1
Plenty of sore heads and red eyes. As we got off the bus at Tianneman Square, it's clear that we were going to be a small group amongst thousands of people. The noise was just too much at times. The funny thing was that, as we were taking photographs of the buildings the Chinese were taking photographs of us. There were plenty of other European and American groups around but I guess our group contained the most pretty young girls. Inside of the Forbidden City the story was the same, people everywhere. When we were here in .2002.there were only a few people around and in the Imperial Garden the only sound was the running water and the relaxing sound of a female choir. Not now, you almost had to fight your way around and trying to dodge people taking photographs was impossible.
With some weary looking girls we carried on to the Hutong for lunch in a family home and rickshaw ride around the Hutong area - old Chinese courtyard houses. The food was fantastic, the rickshaw ride was like Monty Pythons Flying Circus-over in under 10 minutes and the two times that the guide tried to tell us a little bit about the history his phone rang 4 times and he answered it, whilst we just stood sound waiting or him to continue. Not a good couple of hours. Next stop Silk Market-one of the largest shopping areas selling fake goods in the world. Over four floors you could by anything from a pair of chopsticks to fake Chanel. With the hawkers all calling out for you to come and have a look it too was deafening. We'd been warned to haggle and it was hilarious to hear Steph say to a little Chinese girl tryin to sell her jewellery "you're 'avin a larf ain't yer?". Rosie and I went for a coffee to escape. Funnily enough, when we all met up at the bus,there weren't many purchases.
Tonight was our Celebration dinner. The food was good, the beer went down well, everyone had made a special effort to dress up for this special occasion. Jen had written a poem and we had gifts to present to Roger, Phil and Rosie who had looked after us so well. Rosie had been doing some calculations and estimated that between us we had raised over fifty thousand pounds for our various charities. How amazing is that. Even the noisy rude French people who kept singing and clapping during our little speeches couldnt stop us all enjoying ourselves. Sean had his own awards to present. Apparently the boys had devised these after a few beers or more in the early hours of the morning.. They went something like this: Best Toilet Story Davina (you really don't want to know). Best Random Saying Mark Easy Tiger. Best Performance in The Jungle Victoria amazing considering she has such poor vision. The Person who Overcame Their Biggest Fear Jen and her fear of heights. The awards were small but believe me the applause was VERY LOUD for each of them .
BEIJING Day 2
After yesterday the majority of people had cancelled their trips so it looks like no Summer Palace for me. Its our last day in Beijing and our flight leaves at 0130 tomorrow morning with a 12 noon check out and airport pick up not until 2130 I decided to see if we could keep the room on for another night and Jen and Rosie said they would be happy toshare the costs. That way we could have a full day and then get back and have a shower. I wasnt having much success with the Chinese receptionist. Just could not make her understand until Jen turned up and asked one of the Chinese guests if he spoke English. Just as well we did because apparently the receptionist thought that the whole tour group wanted to book in for another night. With that sorted Rosie and I went off on the temple trail and Jen went off to sort out her train tickets for Shanghai which is her next stop. We had a great day - Temple of Heaven, Great Hallof the Harvest then metro to Lama Temple and a walk through the Hutong to the Confuscious Temple. Dancers at Confuciious. Tai Chi and Mongolian dances at the Heavenly Park and two visits to Costa Coffee - muffins in the morning and toasted panini melts in the afternoon - bliss after a week of mostly green veggies and boiled rice for us - Rosie is a veggie too. finished off with a pizza for dinner at the hotel before we got on the.bus to the airport. Another emotional day today as we say goodbye to Chris, Sandra, Donna, Kara, Lee-Ann and Jenny all leaving us to carry on with their own personal journey. Finally a bunch of tired people headed off to the airport many holding their breath at check in case their bags were overweight after shopping in the silk market.
Tiring journey home took 8 hours to Abu Dhabi, a couple of hours stop over and then 7 hours 15 minutes back to Heathrow. As usual, I couldn't sleep,.watched about six movies and was getting what I call twitchy tired. So glad to be staying down at Heathrow tonight and travel on tomorrow. It will give me a chance to have a shower, wash my hair and catch up on some sleep but, like everyone else, I just want to get the return trip over with and get back home.
Well I am back home now and boring anyone who will listen with stories of my China Adventure. It has been absolutely fantastic, Ive met some wonderful people whove shared their stories with me, Ive proved to myself that 60 is just a number and raised money for Action on Hearing Loss my chosen charity. The other charities being supported were: Big C, Castel Froma Specialist Care Centre, Children with Cancer UK, Cotswold Care Hospice, JDRF and JDRF Canada, Make A- Wish Foundation, Mothers Against Murder and Agression, RNIB, Rowcroft Hospice and Save the Children.
Would I do it again ?-Without a doubt particularly if I could do it with these guys. If any of you have the time to read this THANK YOU for looking after me and I wish you success with everything you decide to do in the future.
A GREAT BIG THANK YOU TO EVERY ONE WHO SPONSORED ME!!!! and if you would still like to donate my just giving page is still open www.justgiving.com/chinachallenge60.
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