Running on the Wild Wall

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

(Note: I'm still trying to work out a way to post properly while I'm traveling in China. Until then, it's Do It Yourself photos again…)

(Edited on March 10, 2010: I've cracked it! I can now access Blogger, Twitter, Facebook... all those subsversive websites China doesn't want me to see. I've gone back and fixed up the old posts to include the photos, so they're all pretty pretty now.)

I wasn't sure about the Beijing Hash. I thought I'd arrive in Bejing mid-afternoon on Saturday, have the evening to relax and start to get over the jet lag, head to the 2:00 pm hash on Sunday afternoon ande back in time for the 6:00 pm group meeting for my Intrepid tour. Instead, my flight was delayed and I arrived at about 11:00 pm Saturday night. And it turned out that the hash for March 7th was a special one – the plan was to meet up at 11:00 am, get on a bus for two hours, run along a disused section of the Great Wall, have beer and dinner, and then get back onto the bus for another two hours. It sounded like a lot of fun, but I wasn't sure I'd be up to it, and I felt guilty about missing the meeting.

Regardless, I set my alarm for 9:00 am and resolved to make the decision when I woke up. When the alarm went off it felt like the middle of the night and all I wanted to do was roll over and go back to sleep. Instead, I forced myself to get up and spent the next hour flip-flopping about whether or not to go to the hash. In the end I decided that the chance to run along the Great Wall was too good to pass up, so I wrote a quick note to my tour leader explaining I'd be missing the meeting, dressed as well as I could for the weather (cold) and hopped in a cab for the meeting point, an Irish pub. Once there, it became clear I'd made a good choice. The hashers I met were friendly and welcoming (is there any other kind?) and the pub had full Irish breakfast on the menu, which was exactly what I needed. I paid the ¥100 (about $15.00) for the day's activities, and eventually everyone piled into a buses, cabs and cars for the drive.

The trip was long, and we had a beer or two, and I napped a bit, and eventually we made it to a small village, where I got my first glimpse of the Great Wall, through the snow.

Exciting, but really, it was cold.

I know I'm supposed to be a tough Canadian and contemptuous of everyone who whines about the cold when it's warmer than about -25°, but I've been away for a while now, and I just don't have the heart or (more to the point) the wardrobe for these temperatures right now. Patti brought me a set of MEC long underwear when we met up in Delhi, and if I didn't have those tops and bottoms right now I'd really be sunk. I even ended up buying a bright red Beijing Hash hooded sweatshirt for a mere ¥50 (about $7.50), and it may have been the best investment I've made in ages. Suitably attired, and briefed on the peculiarities of Beijing hash marks, we were off.

Beijing Hash trial marks. The one on the left in On Trail, next is a two-way check, then a false trail, then the all-important beer stop.

The first part of the trail was through the village, and we made it to the first beer stop quickly.

Me at the first beer stop, sporting my fetching new BH3 top

Not long after we started climbing out of the valley the village was in and up to the Great Wall, and it was steep. However, the views were certainly worth it, and how could I possibly complain? I was hashing on the Great Wall of Freakin' CHINA! And this wasn't some chunk of wall that was refurbished, crammed with tourists, and overrun with souvenir shops and noodle stands. It may actually have, technically, been closed. One of the other hashers (an experienced "Wall Walker") said that about ten years the LP had declared this its favourite section of "Wild Wall". The local have tried to capitalize on this, but it still seemed pretty wild to me.

A nice view of the wall

It was a great run – there were times when you actually had to scramble on hands and knees because the sections of stairs were so steep and broken. And there were places where the surface was broken up and you had to pick your way over upturned paving stones. In some places the path was so narrow you couldn't pass the runner in front. There was even a beer stop on a broken section of tower. It was a great way to experience the Wall for the first time, and it really pointed out how great it is to hash when you're traveling. There's no way I'd have seen that kind of thing as a tourist.

This bit was a scramble.

Near the end we came down off the wall and back into the valley on trails so steep they resulted in much arm-wheeling and grabbing of shrubbery to slow the descent. We lost the trail for a while, and I was profoundly grateful that I wasn't alone at that point because (naturally) my instinct was to go in exactly the wrong direction. It was a large pack, and by the 90 minute mark we were strung out a long way; if I'd had to find my way back alone, I'd still be out there. (In fact, one pair did get so lost they had to be retrieved by car much later.) Luckily I stuck with a few local hashers and we eventually found the trail again and retreated to the warmth of the bus to change into dry clothing and wait for everyone to come in.

Circle was long and raucous and quite cold, but eventually we retired inside to a nearby restaurant. There was no ordering – the kitchen just kept bringing out new plates again and again. I think we ended up with somewhere between 12 and 15 different dishes, all arrayed on a giant lazy Susan in the middle of the table. I can't remember all the dishes, but there here's a sample: slices of dry-cured sausage, egg and tomato soup, a shredded turnip/radish kind of thing in broth, potato and beef, steamed cauliflower and broccoli, a whole grilled fish, a fishy broth with egg, chicken with almonds, rice, shredded pork in sauce, omelet, and deep-fried tofu bits. It was really hard to pace yourself, because there was no indication of when the parade would stop. (I later learned that when they bring the rice out it's usually an indication that the end is near. I filed that away for future reference.)

Yum. And yes, that guy in the baseball cap is wearing a bathrobe. He was also a visitor, and even less prepared for the temperature than I was, so he brought the bathrobe from his hotel. (And he did get a down-down for it.)

When I finally got back to the hotel that night at about 9:00 pm I was exhausted and happy and really grateful to have a warm bed to curl up in. My Intrepid group leader, Huang, was kind enough to meet up with me when he got back from dinner and he gave me the low-down on everything I'd missed at the meeting. So after all my waffling about whether or not I should go hashing, everything turned out just fine. I had a brilliant day at a completely untouristed section of the Great Wall, and everyone lived happily ever after. At least until they woke up the next morning to a fresh snowfall in downtown Beijing, facing a long day of outside tourist activities with a suitcase full of inadequate clothing. But as we say here at GSRED, that's another story.

(Note: To everyone who's clamouring to know where I spent my two week vacation: I will never tell. You and the whole rest of the online world have been privy to my every move for the last 8 months. Can I not have these few moments to myself? As I said, you're welcome to speculate, but you'll get no confirmation from me. So there. ;P)

3 Comments:

Phonella said...

Ahhh, your China journey sounds wonderful and for the first time I viewed one of your sets (Beijing) in a slideshow. How cool is that! What great shots you've taken, Pam -- great work with the new camera.

You look rested and happy!

FLF said...

A. Glad you are back
B. Still pondering where you were
C. Not liking do it yourself photos
D. Mouth watering at food descriptions
E. All of the above!

Robert said...

I don't know what all the fuss was about the hair cut - it looks fine.

As for the rest? Many chapters yet to be written...

My guess: Back to Portugal to Visit Freddie.

Happy trails...

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