Thursday, May 22, 2008

Pain is only ever an encouragment

After the day spent walking in the market my foot hurt. Granted, I had ripped off my big toe nail, pain was to be expected. Since I was trying to figure out what to do now that I had ripped off my big toenail, I considered further options. Out of respect for my physical limitations I boarded a bus that next Beijing morning, and, with the Australian, hit the Great Wall of China. I figured that I was in pain, but what was a little hike on a wall. No problem.

It was about three hours outside of Beijing to get to the wall. We had one police stop where everyone sat very quietly and without making eye contact while the red police yelled loudly at our driver and pulled him and the guide off the bus. We sat there in stunned silence and just hoped we would be moving on soon. After about five minutes of yelling, three phone calls, and tearing of signs out of the bus we were allowed to go on. Our tour mates whispered.

"I've never been so happy to know that I have my passport." Several people said.

"What just happened here?" The Australian asked me.

"We're in China."

We made the wall, a non restored section that we would hike down. The section started with a tall climb and finished with a steep decent and then a second steep two tower climb before the finish. In all we would climb about twenty tours and 10 kilometers. The climb was to take three hours.

I explained to the guide when we arrived that I had hurt me foot. He looked at me like I was out of my mind. And maybe I was.

But that never stopped me.

It was a chilly day in Beijing and in the mountains in general. I borrowed a Jacket from McGlynn to stay warm which was a mercy on the hike. The wind numbed out my feet and by the second mile I forgot I was in any kind of pain. I picked out a careful trail on crumbling rocks, watching for falling showers from above and trying to be mindful of those picking their way up behind me. Toe holds, hand holds, all of it important as the troupe climbed up and down and up and down again.

There is nothing to do when you are up there but walk. Beautiful, quiet, careful walking.

But not alone, no. At every turn there is a Mongolian sales person who has herded t-shirts, water, snacks, postcards, and other flotsam up to the peak. As you walk they trail next to you, occasionally tell you the history of the wall, then offering you some water. I admit, I did finally break down and buy a t-shirt from a set of Grandmothers selling oranges who reminded me so much of the hajumas from my own country.

In the end it was the asthma and not the toe that slowed me down, but I didn't realize I was having trouble breathing until the Australian made a joke and I tried to laugh and choked up. The guided pointed to the end of the trail, about five towers away from where we stood joking.

Pain, oxygen, and body numbness set in, but I walked. And I walked down to the bottom only ten minutes behind the rest of the group.

The wall itself is, as a friend put it "The most spectacular tactical defense error of all time." While true it does little to really define the absolute beauty and stillness of a three hour walk along the rocky slopes.

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