Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Great Wall hike (Part One)

When I first heard that I had a lateral meniscus tear on my right knee back in October this year after doing an MRI scan, and the only apparent recommended remedial action was to do a surgery that could take well over 3 months to fully recover, the first thought that came to my mind then, was "Oh No! How on earth am I going to do my dream hike along the Great Wall now? Am I ever be able to do that hike again?"

I told the specialist that I was preparing for my hike in mid November and asked him if that would be alright for my knees. His answered without giving an answer! 

"You tell me." he replied. "Huh" I went on.
"You tell me. If it hurts so bad, then obviously, you are not going to or can do the trip. But, if the pain does not bother you that much, then you could do it...It's up to you..." he said nonchalantly...

Well, I was determined to do it because I reckon that if I do not get this done now, while the pain is bearable, I might never be able to do this if and when my knee situation deteriorates further. With that in mind, I rested my knee as much as I possibly can and bought myself a good sturdy knee protector to get ready for hike.

The night before the hike, I felt as if I was a teenager going for my first ever overseas trip. I was excited and kept checking my gear over and over again, making sure that I had all the necessary items packed, in particular, my camera equipment. I went over my memory cards and batteries several times, just to make sure that the memory cards were empty, ready for my highly anticipated pictures and that my camera batteries were fully charged to last my two days trip.

The driver finally came to pick me up around 10:30 in the morning. We had a pleasant 2 hours drive to Gubeikou, made one stop along the way for my hiking partner, Yuki to get her mandatory morning coffee fix before proceeding for lunch near the foot of the Crouching Tiger Section of the Great Wall. I made a request that we include that as part of our hike the following day.

I was not really hungry or maybe I was just too excited to eat. I was just too eager to get started. Besides excitement, there was also a element of fear, the fear that either my knees or my fitness will give way somewhere along the hike as I have not been doing any serious hiking nor exercise for ages.

After a hurried lunch and my bottle of Tsingtao to quench my thirst, we got back into our car and by 2:30pm, we were driving along a narrow dirty village road, passing by small local village houses, towards the foot of the hill where we were to commence our hike at Gubeikou.

The path up to the Great Wall took us past some local villages and houses of those who lived just beyond the Great Wall of China. Here, were dried corn plants, uprooted from the fields after being harvested in summer and autumn.

The car finally stopped at the end of the dirt road. "We go by foot from here" Andy, our tour guide said.

As I put on my backpack, I looked around for the sight of the wall but there was none to be seen. "Where is the wall?" I asked.

"Another 20 minutes hike up that way!" Andy said pointing towards a small muddy path that leads into some bushes some distance away.

Winter has started to kick in by the time we start our hike in November. Corns which were aplenty during the summer had mostly been harvested. What that was left were hard dried corn, stacked up as seen here, ready to be used as seedlings once the winter is over.

I have learnt from my many photography trips that there are always good photography opportunities everywhere, as long as your eyes are opened to observe and to appreciate them. With my trusty Nikon d90 ready, my eyes were peeled for any good picture. This might be my one and only hike, considering my age and my bad knee. I am not going to let this opportunity slipped by me.

Piles and piles of cut dried tree branches, neatly tied and bundled up and stacked along the walking path we took as we hike up to the Great Wall.

Soon, we leave behind the village and civilization, as it were, and began our climb up a hill towards our destination, the Great Wall of China. As we started our hike, I noticed that the clear blue skies that greeted us had slowly but surely turned grey and storm clouds were coming in fast. I was fearful that the weather will dampened any good photo opportunities that I was so looking forward to. Little did I realize until much later, that the storm clouds were a blessing in disguise, a special gift from the heavens above, to make every picture so much more interesting and captivating.

Our spirits were high as we marched on, hiking upwards. "This isn't so bad." I shouted.

"Of course NOT!" Andy replied. "We have not even started!"

Now that was comforting but we were determined to finish what we have started and conquered the Great Wall we will.

Leaving behind the villages, we started our hike uphill towards the Great Wall, as storm clouds started to form overhead.

After a 20 minutes or so hiking upwards, I could finally see the crumbled sections of the Great Wall. Words just cannot describe the excitement that welled up from within. All this while, after experiencing the Great Wall at Mutianyu and Jingshanling, I have been dying to see the wall in her natural state of despair. And there she was, just meters away, waiting for me. She was everything I envisioned her to be and more, much more majestic, much more enticing, beckoning me to climb on her back and take me places where I have never been. Yuki was feeling pretty much the same way.  I could tell because she was practically running the last few meters to get to the wall.

We finally made it to one of the crumbled watch tower of the Great Wall at Gubeikou. From here, we will start our 5 hours hike from Gubeikou to Jingshanling.

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