06 December 2008

The Great Wall...or...The Most Terrifying Experience of My Existence

Lauren and I spent a large chunk of November in China. We've been planning this trip for months now and I was so excited as I have wanted to see China for years and years now. We made pretty good use of our three weeks and hit all the major sites of Beijing, Harbin, Xi'An, and Shanghai. We took advantage of being in Beijing to spend a day hiking on the Great Wall. There are several sites on the Wall for tourists. Badaling is only about 30 minutes outside of Beijing and it is probably the one most people think of...in fairly decent repair, smooth walking, etc etc. We didn't go there. We went to a section 3 hours outside of Beijing for, I believe a 6 hour hike that involved give or take 8 miles. Maybe 10? I'm too traumatized to think about it.

We got there and had a choice; take a cable car up the mountain, or walk an additional 45-ish minutes to get to the same starting point. Yeah, we totally took the cable car. The cable card ride took about 20 minutes and I was a little freaked out. We were fairly high up and there was nothing below us except the ground a very far distance away.

The view on the way up though could not be beat.

And once off the cable car (which we had to jump out of while it was still moving), the view got even better.

Then we started walking. I will preface with no, I'm not in very good shape and while the hike would have left me winded regardless, it was not lack of breath or out of use muscles that had me trembling; it was stark, cold fear. I am afraid of stairs. People laugh and ask "seriously?" Yes freaking seriously. It's not heights, it's stairs. I fall down a lot. Generally for no good reason. I can be walking across a perfectly smooth floor barefoot and just collapse. usually not very gracefully either. I'm tall and big and hit the floor hard. So unlike my irrational fear of airports and clowns and full body mobile Kermit, I feel that stairs are a pretty darn legitimate fear. I have fallen down the stairs at my parents house (broke my tailbone), at my university, down both sets of stairs in my house, down the escalator at the Foggy Bottom metro, up several staircases...and so on and so forth. I did not know that the Great Wall had that many stairs. It's a wall, walls are, you know, even. I thought that I would be walking, not frigging climbing bloody stairs. Stairs that, by the way, were often 12 to 16 inches high (I don't know how Lauren did it) and were crumbling and falling apart.

During the time that it took us to pass through the 30 towers we had to get to our pick up point, I shook with fear and terror. Sometimes there were bits of actual wall or ramparts or whatever on at least one side of the stairs and I could cling to that on my way up or down. I liked those bits. Most of the time I relied on the help of a local who attached herself to me and helped me in hope that I would buy some of her stuff (which I happily did cause I would not have made it without her). The absolute only thing that kept moving me forward was the absolute knowledge that there simply wasn't another way. I could either move forward or stay in one spot indefinitely. I stopped a lot along the way, sometimes I just needed a minute before I could face the next five. Sometimes I couldn't breathe I was so scared.

I cried several times on the wall. I wonder if in a few months when I think about it if I will only remember the incredible beauty and awesomeness of the views and the knowledge that I was standing on a piece of history...or if I will always remember that it was the most terrifying experience of my entire existence.


GVL said...

Oh Andrea,

This is your mom's cousin Gretchen. That was such a funny story. The pictures were marvelous. I could see you jumping out of that cable car while it was still moving. What afunny concept--climbing the gfeat wall when you are already afraid of stairs. Thanks. I had a good laugh and saw the Wall in a new light. Gretchen

julie said...

Hi Andrea,

Your pictures are beautiful!! I can feel your fear for I am afraid of heights, I realize it is different, but the fear is the same. You should be proud you made it through. And what a wonderful experience.

I am glad you made it home.
Julie Maxwell

julie said...

Hi Andrea,

What beautiful pictures, I really enjoyed them. I am sorry you were so scared.

Julie Maxwell