Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Hot Hike

It was easy. We drove there, to the "Great Wall by the Lake" thing. It was the entire crew from the hike three weeks previous, except for my favorite person in that group. Jesse, Mimi, Eva, Meadow, and I knew that there would probably be only one main obstacle to hiking the Huanghuacheng Great Wall this particularly blazing Saturday: the fact that it was blazing. All week it had been a million degrees, and humid, and awful. Undeterred, we showed up the this section of the Great Wall that dips into a big reservoir with liquid reservoirs of our own; I brought six bottles of water (and drank them all)(and didn't pee between when I started drinking and when I stopped).

We parked and started heading up some path until we reached the part of the wall that descended steeply into the water. Perhaps foolishly, we left the wall and took a path down, surveyed the bottom, and then pressed on.

The five of us circumnavigated around the water to where the Great Wall re-emerged back out of the depths and rose - again, steeply - up the hill and into the sky. The circumnavigation was a bit marshy; only one of us stuck his entire right foot in the water, but the show went on.

And it went on heatedly. As we ascended, the sun hit us with its full, terrible force. There was nothing to do but climb up the stairs, heat radiating back up at us as the sun's rays glared down. Sweat poured! It was sweet. So sweet that we stopped for lunch at the second of the three towers.

After lunch we pressed on - sometimes on the wall, sometimes off - to the third tower, the highest point in the area. We could see forever: back down where we'd come from, to the left in the direction we wanted to head, and! Away from the civilization, on and on, as far as the eye could see...the Great Wall wound like the dragon beast it is over the hills as they dipped and soared until all was lost in the distance. How fun would it be to just set out in that direction, with a tent and some food and no plan, and just go go go? See where the wall would take you? Very fun, I can tell you that much.

But, as mirages of Anne Hathaway danced before my eyes in the heat and nausea threatened after an especially quick ascent, I wisely decided to stay with the group. We went down an easy gravel path and re-reached the water on the other side of the reservoir. And bought some ice cream. And cruised past a beach to where we rented a boat.

The boating element of this hike will not be interesting to read about, so I won't write much about it, but it was super relaxing. We just slowly meandered around the reservoir, paddling at times, drifting at others, falling asleep or looking off absentmindedly into the distance. It was good.

Then we got out and went home.

So ended a very, very good month of hikes. I felt good about the people I went with, the fact that my hiking trip to Xinjiang left me with the right gear (namely, hiking pants and shoes), the amount of sweat that I left out there, the pictures I took, and the conversations I had. Always a good time. Hopefully it can continue come August. Let's make it happen.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Complicated Hike

The 404 bus took me to Dongzhimen. The 916 bus took us to Huairou. Some illegal taxi driver took us to the head of some trail that the Great Wall. To the Jiankou section, the most brutal of all the accessible parts of that mighty fortification. There the five of us - Marina (survivor of the hike on which we got crazy lost last year), Ruth (a professional assassin), Ben (a man who used to earn a living by letting people touch his hair), James (the other bass player at church), and I (I bowled one game of 59 and one game of 164 back-to-back in high school) - took off, blindly, up the path and into the wild.

And thus the complications began. There were a few different paths, but none seemed to go in the direction we desired: up to the Great Wall. We eventually ended up horsing around on a trail that headed into some fields, so after a brief powwow, we decided to completely abandon any paths we thought we saw and just plow through the foliage uphill until we hit brick.

This part was tough, but the aimless bushwhacking only actually lasted thirty minutes or so. We reached a ridge after not too much trouble and found what appeared to be sort of a path that ran along it, up and up, on and on, in the direction of the wall. So, even though it demanded that we squeeze through tight spaces and still push some trees out of the way, that became our course.

It also afforded us some super nice views, as we came up to different peaks along the ridge. Duh. Not only could we see a million miles in many different directions, but we could also note our slow progress toward the looming towers that we sought. Closer. Closer! Closer!

Eventually - after running into the main path that we probably should have been on originally - we came into a clearing and beheld: a ladder. And an old Chinese dude laughing at us from the top of it, from the Great Wall. Five RMB it would cost, to use this man's ladder and endure his chuckles. He had watched us all morning as we poked our heads up above the greenery, first on this hill, then on that, now on that there one. He also had super cold drinks. He was our friend immediately.

By this time, it was dang near two o'clock. The trek up had taken substantially longer than planned (whatever the plan was...), and then our ladder buddy told us it would take four hours just to reach the next section of the wall, at the far end of which we hoped to take a cable car down to our other friend on the hike: the illegal taxi driver who'd brought us out there in the first place (and provided fairly dodgy directions).

So we huffed it. It was a beautiful day, and we wanted to see everything, but between Jiankou (where we reached the wall) and Mutianyu (where we planned to leave the wall), we huffed it.

And eventually we passed the point at which my last hiking group had gained the wall, and I realized we didn't have as far to go as we thought, and then we got through the rough, demolished parts of the of wall to the civilized, restored version in Mutianyu, walked that part, and reached the cable car safely.

The cable car took us our driver in the Mutianyu parking lot. The driver took us back to the bus stop in Huairou. The bus took us back into Beijing. The end.

And, as such, it was a good day. A bit more complicated than the last excursion, more in's and out's and what-have-you's, but sometimes, when you overcome the curveballs that come your way, you feel a bit more fulfilled, satisfied, or accomplished with yourself. We did, definitely, after smashing our way uphill through the foliage to get to where we wanted to be. And we'll do it again soon.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Simple Hike

Saturday, June 7, was not only my dad's birthday; it was also one of the most beautiful days in both Beijing and in all of human history. The sun was bright; there was a nice breeze; the sky was as blue as any given Joe Mauer fan this year. It was superb.

On such a day, there is no choice but to leave whatever metropolis in which you reside and head for the hills. I was fortunate enough to join a group of people who were doing just such a thing. I don't know why they let me come, but, I am glad they were so kind-hearted.

The story is simple and goes like this: Ellen and I left Wangjing and drove up the Jingcheng Expressway amid other like-minded Beijing residents to Shunyi, where we joined forces with her small group: Jesse, Mimi, Meadow, and Eva. Our entourage then sped through the day to one of the tamer entry points to the Jiankou section of the Great Wall of China. We parked, put on too much sun screen, and set off on a hike through forest and dale to reach the wall.

After a mere forty-five minutes of green, we reached the wall and had our lunch. Views in every direction were marvelous. The wall and its surrounding greenery were extremely easy on the eyes. And the sandwiches that Mimi (salami) and I (peanut butter and jelly) brought were delicious.

Then we headed upward and off the wall for a while. You know, further from civilization. But clear paths didn't really emerge, so eventually we regained the wall as it merged with the Mutianyu section.

This was the calmest, most picture-friendly section of the hike, so we calmly took a lot of pictures and enjoyed the easier ascents and descents that this more heavily-trafficked area encompassed. Nothing wrong with that.

Eventually, we left the wall and went down to where most folks reach Mutianyu from Beijing (where Nasty Nate and I arrived and departed about this time last year, on a far less beautiful day) and the vehicles we came with grabbed us and heaved us back toward Beijing.

This is a simple post. It was a simple hike, on a simple day. Sometimes, amid the turmoil of people leaving, grades being due, other random deadlines looming, fatigue and stress, change and emotional upheaval, and that weird smell coming from my laundry room, a good, simple hike it just what is needed. And this hike, covering Jiankou and Mutianyu, was exactly what was needed.