A dream without the isolation of sleep
Years and then months of intense planning, and finally I have not only taken the first steps of our journey, but a week has already passed, over 200km of intense desert terrain. It would be difficult to ever encapsulate what has been going through my mind, the feeling of joy, elation and the scene of adventure, times of doubt, knowing every step that I take is opening a new world, not only for myself, but for the children that are going to benefit from this. I would love to in the future share with them the first thoughts that they experienced embarking on new lives after surgery; it is such an honour just to part of this, to be able to give some one a new chance in life.
The start was really emotional, I could only manage to make one call to my wife, Lizelle, this was hard enough emotionally, I had long pauses between words, suppressing my emotions and trying to pretend it was a delay on the line. We stood at the base of the wall next to the great white river, the delay for press photos with the Chinese media, and footage to get back home was agonising. All we wanted to do was get started.
Braam and I were finally free to go; our first stop was at the river to fill a bottle of water which we are carrying the length of the wall with us to pour into the yellow sea at the end of the run (a symbolic gesture). Then it was up the river gorge to the first turret, more pics and finally we could head off into the dessert and towards the fort at Jiauyguan. I dropped back from Braam as I did not want him to see the tears streaming from my eyes. All the pressure of the last few days seemed to be washed away. We ran in silence our feet sinking away into the warm dessert sand, we seemed to both suddenly stop, I could not resist it, and walked up to the wall and kissed it, I looked to my right and Braam was doing the same.
The fort, a masterpiece of ancient architecture, the gate to the west, it came and went as we headed on to our first nights rest, an ancient garrison outpost. Up early the next day and eager to go (as we had traveled only 15km due to delays and a late start). We had a briefing with the guide as it was difficult to follow the wall in this area , we set off from the outskirts of the town , the dessert got worse and worse so did our sense of direction, this seemed to be the pattern for the next few days as our frustration grew, we seemed to not make any headway. There were a few heated moments, tired legs hot dusty conditions and sand as far as we could see and constantly getting lost, this was not conducive to civil behaviour, the team was already being tested
The terrain was getting more and more rugged by the day, a lunar landscape that one can only do justice to by seeing it personally. One can only imagine what it was like to have to build the wall in this area. What had driven a nation to have to undertake to build a structure so massive in these godforsaken areas? Everyday Braam and I would stare at this in awe and disbelief.
From day 1 I had developed blisters, the only reason that I could find was that my feet were overheating in the black running shoes. They have just got progressively worse; the one on my right foot is the size of my thumb. The pain to get my shoes on in the morning, I am not even going there. It would take about 20 mins at the start for the pain to subside as the blisters “warmed up”, and then I could pick up the pace again.
The running of the wall is so inspiring; the scenery takes away the solitude of running. On days that the wall is a mere tower every 5 -10km the going is tough as there is nothing to break to grind. The stark beauty, a wasteland stretching to the horizon with wisps of dust storms dancing across the dessert, lets your imagination run wild with what it must have been like during the Ming dynasty days.
The next thing you know its evening and the camp is just ahead of you, food and a wash. It took me a few days to work out the best way to bath with a litre of water. I dug a hole in the sand and then lined it with a plastic bag, poured the water in and then stood in it, I then wash myself and let the dessert air dry me as I soak up the breathtaking views around.
We have now had a short respite from the dessert, Braam and I decended about 1000 meters from the dessert plateau following the wall into a floodplain below which now runs for the next 300km. The terrain is still semi dessert, but scattered with lots of small subsistence farms. We run through a village every 8km. This area seems to have stood still in time for the past 100 years. One thing that has become evident in these semi-arid farming areas is that the wall seems to be more of a hindrance to the expansion in the Northwest and no or little respect is shown to the preservation of the wall. Mud villages are dotted all over, very run down but functional. I think the next few weeks are really going to be testing as the terrain is less inspiring and we are going to have to put our minds to it and grind. We have still not managed to settle into a running pattern, but I am sure over the next week things will settle down. Things are going to get interesting as my blisters start to open more, as we can’t really slow down because the really cold Beijing winter awaits us. Every one that we have met has cautioned us against it.
Well today is rest day, we plan to film some cooking in the local kitchens and a guided tour of the market.