It has been 1.5 years in the making, but I finally stepped foot on the Great Wall of China. It took so long to get here, but went by so quickly. If someone said I had to do it all again tomorrow I wouldn’t even hesitate to say yes.
I knew that it was going to be a trip like no other, but I don’t think I was prepared for just how much of an impact it has had on me.
Flying further than I’ve ever flown before
We were due to flight out with Emirates from Heathrow the evening of the 13th and with never having done a flight longer than 4 hours, I was more nervous about flying than actually completing the trek. Emirates had super comfy seats, a decent amount of legroom and a huge range of TV shows and films to make the two 7 hour flights feel like nothing at all.
It wasn’t long before we touched down in a hazy Beijing, the pollution very visible straight off the plane. We jumped on the coach for our final journey, arriving at the Tianjin Huangya Mountain Villa Guest House in pitch black. We could faintly see the outline of towering mountains surrounding us, but the best was yet to be seen.
Exploring the local village
Our first night, despite the tired eyes and exhausted bodies, consisted of us setting out to explore the local village and grab some well earned Chinese beers!
The village was pretty much the same at night as it was in the day, quiet and laid back. It was encased in sharp, blue mountains and provided only the essentials in their eclectic shops. The Great Wall and Huangyan pass was right on the hotel’s doorstep and provided are first starting point for our trekking adventure.
Testing body and mind
We were told pretty much straight away that this was going to be a mind over matter situation, it was going to be hard and we were going to want to give up, but we had to stay positive and keep pushing forwards. It was definitely easier said than done.
Our very first flurry on the wall saw us scaling steps that were carved for giants, not to mention the consistent up-hill gradient! All in the drizzly rain, which made a couple of the downward slopes difficult to master.
Our training guide told us to prepare for stairs, but nothing could have prepared me for the size or the amount of them. Even just a short 2.5 hour starter trek was enough to get me doubting whether I would be able to do this every day for 6 whole days. Our second day was the real test though, with 7 hours ahead of us I was a little worried how my fitness would hold up against the rest of the team.
In this first full day of trekking I probably learned the most about what I was capable of. From tackling heaven’s ladder, to scrambling through the thicket of a Chinese mountainside, the key to success really was changing your mindset. Once you got past the burn of the first hour, climbing your way through the forests became second nature!
The days that followed posed similar challenges, from carefully manoeuvring our way down the mountain on unstable ground, battling slippery flagstones and the steepest inclines and stairs you have ever seen in your life. It was exhausting, but the most rewarding thing I have ever done.
The greatest team a girl could ask for
One of the scariest things about setting out on an adventure like this, is that you’re going to clash with other people in the team, especially for me as I do have a very short temper and suffer with regular mood swings. It’s so easy to get maybe 1 or 2 people that are difficult to deal with, or that you just don’t click with, but we were extremely lucky that this wasn’t the case.
It’s crazy how quickly everyone clicked and formed a strong and supportive team, everyone was there to lend a hand whenever anyone was struggling and the nightly check-ins saw us share some of our personal struggles with mental health bringing us even closer. Sharing so much with people you have only just met is strangely empowering and even though I wasn’t quite as ready to share as everyone else in the group, it was therapeutic to hear everyone’s stories and feel the support from everyone in the room.
Plus a major shout out has to go to our amazing guide Sam, the man of the hour. Sam not only guided us through the winding routes around the Great Wall of China, but he also made sure we got a healthy dose of Chinese culture to make the whole experience even richer.
We enjoyed some delicious dumpling making lessons, paper cutting demonstrations, fully experienced Chinese fire water (it’s a must try for anyone visiting China), an unbelievable Kung Fu show in Beijing and a breathtaking tour around the Forbidden City.
An experience like no other
I knew that this trip was going to be life changing, but I didn’t realise just how much. It wasn’t so much actually walking along one of the biggest wonders of the world, it was more about what you learn about yourself whilst doing so.
It’s easy for me to talk about my mental health struggles on the internet or in a YouTube video, but what I didn’t realise was how difficult it still is for me to talk about it face to face. There is something painful about saying out loud in front of people who are actually listening to you, that makes it a bit harder to cope with.
When people would ask me why I was doing this for the Mental Health Foundation I started to talk about my own experience, but found myself trying to joke about it or make light of it to make it easier to deal with. I also couldn’t choose which part to tell them, as there is so much to my story and I don’t think I ever realised how much I’ve actually been through in the last 12 years.
I know for a fact though, that I couldn’t have done it without my China family and the fact that I now have that support system with me whenever I need it, even if it is still hard for me to accept help when I need it, is something I will be forever grateful for.
So let’s raise a glass to the Mental Health Foundation and the amazing people that joined me on this epic adventure, I’ll never forget it.
If you want to take part in the Mental Health Foundation’s 2019 China Trek, head on over and sign-up today! You won’t regret a single second.