Section – Jinshanling
Section, Great Wall of China
chilled air bit at all of us – straight to the bone for some – as we disembarked
from our bus; a one hour jaunt from our overnight lodging towards our first
day’s journey on the wall.
five layers I was wearing were doing a good job at keeping me warm but a stiff
breeze caused me to pull on a sixth – a wind shell – in order to mitigate the
frigid air from stealing more warmth from my body.
I still felt chilly wearing six layers – some of the other hikers on the trip
were not as lucky as many stuffed jean bottoms in sneakers, pulled socks over
their hands, and layered t-shirt-over-sweat-shirt-over-t-shirt in what appeared
to be a marriage between a wardrobe malfunction and a confederacy of dunces.
performed some last minute calisthenics as a group in order to get some blood
pumping before Raymond and his staff led us out of the Gubeikou village towards
our first section of the wall rising in the distance: crumbling from millennia
of use, disrepair, or thievery that rendered the once impenetrable military
edifice rotting from abuse – both man and nature taking equal measures of
no one else but farmers and hikers from our own group; Raymond indicated that
this was a unique experience, a chance to “…see a part of the wall that few
tourists ever get to visit” as we climbed through the foothills of the small
farming community toward the wall snaking its way in the distance.
re reached the ruined remains of the structure: it clearly separated one side of
the hills from the other. The wall connecting the rising and falling ground
across both mounds and gullies alike and was at one time the only thing
separating China from the Mongol hordes on just
the other side.
guide also explained that during the wall’s heyday the Gubeikou pass served as a
direct route from the wilderness of the border into the city of Beijing: a strategic fact as the Japanese used during
World War II and their invasion of mainland China.
that Post-It Note of historical knowledge to the inside of my brain; I joined
the trailing section of our group – wanting to make sure that we left no one
behind. In my company were our older participants: the dependent family member
and the lifelong learner who had followed through on their pledge to join us on
our trek today. They slowly – albeit steadily – brought up the rear of our
lent my walking stick to one of them in hopes that it would help mitigate the
challenge of the hike as well as aide in keeping up her speed so that she
wouldn’t unduly impede the rest of us during our journey across the first leg of
speeding ahead to reach the middle of the pack and after about forty minutes or
so of a rocky uphill climb: I stopped and decided to re-layer – having warmed up
significantly since the beginning of the hike. But as I looked back past our
route I saw only one of the ladies instead of two.
then learned from Raymond that one of our older participants had turned back – a
bittersweet decision for her based on the zeal of which she talked about
climbing the wall – but which secretly relieved me since our schedule would not
be less likely to be upset by either a slow pace or a possible medical
that I could move my concentration away from matters of group safety and towards
the historical and personal significance of this structure: I looked both
forwards and backwards at the edifice that snaked into the horizon – willing
myself to take on the secret history that these billions of stones held between
each ounce of mortar…
kind of action had they seen? How long had they been here? Who built you? And do
any of your ancestors remain?
my body warmed from the exertion of the hike my spirit brightened with the
possibility that perhaps one of my ancestors had worked on the wall’s
construction – since at the height of its development over a million laborers
from all over China were directed to finish building the snaking masonry
while matters of the heart battled with matters of the body; eventually matters
of the stomach trumped both as I recalled yesterday Raymond asking us to
indicate what we wanted for the picnic lunch for today: “Beef, Chicken, Fish, or
Veggie Burger” – to which I pleasantly indicated one chicken and one beef –
leaving the question of fulfillment up to him and his staff.
the morning wore on he kept informing the group that the “Burgers” would be on
the way – the rest of us questioning both the logic and logistics of getting a
grill, coals, and burger making supplies up the steep and winding trail that now
when we reached one of the partially standing watchtowers did we learn that the
“burgers” for our lunch that Raymond had indicated on our itinerary had in fact
consisted of three full sized red coolers of McDonald’s value meals complete
paper bags and individually labeled boxes.
of which had been carried to our lunch spot by human muscle as one of the
farmers waved towards a wooden framed backpack that he had lashed all of the
coolers to before trudging up the steep and narrow path.
it was there I sat – possibly on a millennia old piece of stone…
a Big Mac in one hand and a Fillet-o-Fish in the other that I contemplated the
ludicrous irony: that the wall that had originally been constructed to keep
foreigners out was now playing sponsor one eating western fast food on it.
Remember the fifth of November
To stay in our hotel we did
We hiked the great wall
In the chilly
Ate Big Macs ‘cause that’s we got.