The Winding Wall

Rest day, a thing of the past, we slowly worked our way out of the river basin and up towards the desert plateau. The scenery once again entrapped our imagination and the wall seemed to feed out of the earth ahead of us like a giant thread of silk. The vegetation had now become scrubland, Karoo-like bushes as we slowly climbed up and up towards the mountains. As we followed the wall, now solid as far as you could see, the desert spirits danced beside the wall (The locals call the whirlwinds this). Large angry ones twist and curl, like a Mongolian horseman’s spirit taunting the wall. Smaller, bent spirits of the Chinese workers labor and swish along the scrubland, down the wall, eventually dissipating into the wall as the perish under the laborious task of building. Small white whips of perfect twisters flaunt the spirit of a young maiden searching the parched ground, picking the last of the autumn flowers, joyously dancing into the distance.

We trundled along the magnificent section, climbing up to 2300m, slowly the cold was starting to bite. The locusts are out in their thousands buzzing past with their bright red wings reflecting a metallic sheen. Flying up to shoulder height and then falling to the hard earth with a thud, they would regroup and take to the sky in their drones. Every few kilometres we spot a herder, perched on the hilltop, wrapped in white bleached sheepskin, his only respite from the piercing wind. Sitting motionlessly, like centuries watching over us as we plodded up the valley into the lunar landscape of sun baked hills.

The days are now becoming weeks as our journey takes shape. The 10 kms are becoming hundreds. The days are slowly stringing together as the enormity of this journey begins to take shape in our minds, what we have done so far is a mere speck on the map. I don’t even want to look at what we still have to cover. The pounding is slowly adding up as we move day by day. Every bit of rest we can steal out of a day becomes more and more important, slowly I can see the physical signs, the skin on my legs have begun to wrinkle as every ounce of fat is been used. By the end of each day my feet ache and joints throb, this slowly subsides as we stretch and replenish out spent energy with our hot evening meal.

All the months of training, the mental preparation have stood me in good stead, but no training or advice can ever prepare one for this, totally different to what I had expected, even though I had done the reconnaissance trip a year ago. Where have these 4 deserts come from plus the odd mountain of 2600 meters thrown in, I thought we had covered it all?

The terrain is constantly changing, making each days planning unpredictable, on top of this, the weather and altitude come into play. At 1400m it is +30 and at 2600m we have to deal with -3. The province we are traveling in is having a severe drought, fine dust covers everything. Your eyes scratch all day, teeth are constantly biting into grit with every mouthful of food.

Then, the rain. The first big drops make a “plopping” sound as they burst into the dust and instantly being absorbed buy the parched soil, slowly as the drops intensity increased the ground turns into slurry. As we ran each footstep would add a layer of mud under our shoes, after a few meters this would build up into a platform making it impossible to run, we had to stop and scrape it off. Slowly the day progressed. As quick as the rain and cold descended on us, it was burnt away. As quickly as the rain passed so has the evening come and the next day lies ahead.

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