The drought has been raging on in the area that we are traveling through at the moment.
As well as this it’s the winter season and no rain. The shrubs, trees, dead grass and fallen leaves are bone dry. As you trundle along the paths up to the wall the dead vegetation underfoot sound like you are walking on old chip packets; it’s just crunch, crunch with every step and plumes of dust swirl around your foot as it hits the soil. Its fire season, on every little access road to the mountain and ultimately to the wall there is a fire marshal posted. In order to get past this obstacle, we leave just as the sun is coming up and before they reach their posts. Unfortunately last week a fire was started, so access to the wall has been blocked, this means finding tracks and roads below the wall that we can continue with the journey and get through this flashpoint. The only road we could find was a newly built one which is part of a greater plan to connect rural China to the cities, giving easier access to produce.
This new route came with its own problems; tunnels.
We had been running about 10km when we hit the first one. We spotted this overhead beam with cameras and thought ‘that’s it, here we are stuck, we will be spotted, or we just have to try and run the tunnel.’ The sign said that it was 1.5 km long. We ran on up to the entrance and looked in just as a massive truck was exerting belching black diesel smoke everywhere.
Looking down into this black smog filled toxic shaft disappearing in the distance ahead, my stomach turned as Andy lead the way into middle earth. Metre after tense metre we ran as fast as we could, the deeper we got the colder it began to get as the tunnel twisted and turned inside the mountain. Then finally a bright glow radiated into the tunnel, we sprinted out into the sunshine and shouted with relief. It was not long and there was the next tunnel entrance, in we dived. Same old scenario as the last, except that this one had more tight turns and the side paving was in bad shape as it seemed that the trucks were hitting the paving and smashing it because of the twists. The big problem was that below the broken paving is a service duct for the tunnel one metre below.
One misstep on this and down you go!!
Andy then got a call from Jimmy, one of the crew. “Guys the next tunnel is 3km long.”
My heart sank at the news. I did not know if I could manage the claustrophobia of being inside the tunnel which will take about 30 minutes of running in the badly lit polluted space. We had no choice, in we went. Just as we entered, we had gone about 200 metres into the gloomy light and a car slowed to look at us (we have this happening all day as people take pictures of us or selfies with us). The car following was also rubbernecking at us and did not notice the one in front was going so slowly. We heard a massive crash, screech and glass breaking. We both turned and saw what had happened, the car had smashed into the back of the other – doors were being opened and people getting out.
We decided the best was to just push on as fast as possible and get out the other end and hope that the people would think it was an apparition that they just saw.