#Ihaveguts

17 Oct

Deborah #IhavegutsWoo hoo I did it! I completed my trek on the Great Wall of China and I’m elated and sad all at the same time.

Great Wall final dayWe set off for our trek around 7.45 this morning and drove for about 90 minutes to the Juyongguan Pass which is closer to Beijing. Alan, our Chinese guide, warned us to expect more people and he wasn’t wrong. Coach loads of Chinese tourists were climbing the Wall, although thankfully mostly on the other side to us.

The scenery was dramatic with mountains all around but we’ve all been spoilt by the peace and tranquillity of the remote places we have visited and actually seen very few people or cars. Here in stark contrast, wherever you went, you could hear the hum of the busy road that cut through the valley.

The Wall was lovely as ever and of course we were instantly challenged to a steep climb. I’ve got to be honest – it was steep but a delight after yesterday!

We walked for a couple of hours only today, which felt too short for me. I would have liked to be back in Jinshanling with mountains stretching all around me. Of course, the purpose of today’s walk was for closure and to finish with a celebration. So after the trek, we all walked as a group off the Wall where Jen and Mark (our Discover Adventure trek leaders) were waiting with bottles of Chinese fizz. There was happiness and tears.

Great Wall Trek groupIt’s been an incredible challenge and for some of the group it’s been harder mentally and physically than others. The group has ranged in age from 21 – early 50s yet we’ve bonded well and also found our comfort points within the group. I’ve been particularly impressed with some of the younger members of our group. There are a few who have barely travelled, have struggled physically and felt homesick, and yet here they are completing this amazing challenge. I’m in sheer admiration of their achievements. Fantastic.

Deborah trek shirtAfter the trek we drove back towards Beijing and stopped briefly in a silk factory and museum which was interesting and then went on to have a foot massage. It was great, but oh my goodness it was so painful. I think my masseuse found every aching muscle in my feet and legs and there were a lot of them! I’m sure it will help in the long term.

We are off out now for our celebration meal as a group. Tomorrow we have a day exploring Beijing. Will write more then.

Happy weekend all.

Please sponsor me: www.justgiving/deborahalsina1

Mutianyu Great Wall

17 Oct

Great Wall long stepsI woke feel a bit ropey this morning. We’ve been eating really well, lots of gorgeous fresh Chinese food but yesterday it was a bit greasier… who knows what caused it but I really wasn’t sure which way the day would go so decided a long walk would sort me out one way or another 🙂

From the outset at around 9am it was hot and we had to walk from our hotel at the bottom of the valley up to the Great Wall. Oh my goodness, it looked high and far away, and for the next couple of hours at least we walked uphill.  We started on the road for what felt like an eternity. It was terribly hot, pretty steep and there were times when I felt dreadful. I tried to keep up with my normal walking buddies but kept slipping back. I couldn’t quite work out why it was such hard work. At the top of the road we were finally at the foot of the hill and started zig-zagging up the paths to the top. Bizarrely this instantly felt easier – in part because we were walking through trees.

As we finally climbed the steps onto the Great Wall we met some other tourists who looked at us with great surprise and admiration and said “Have you really just walked all the way up?”. We were all suddenly superheroes and the exhaustion of the climb was behind us. They had come up on the cable car (if only I’d known there was one!!). I suddenly realised I felt better, so the steep arduous climb had indeed sorted me out.

At the Wall we had a choice – either a couple of hours extension walk or waiting whilst the back of the group caught up and just chilling until those on the extension walk came back. So of course in the spirit of the challenge I signed up for the extension walk.

Deborah #ihaveguts stepsI think yesterday I said it was the steepest toughest climbs we had done. Well scratch that, it was today! 500+ incredibly steep steps below the first watch tower which were extremely daunting to look at but in fact were better once you were doing it. I cannot believe how far I’ve come over these last few months of training and trekking. Just a few months ago there was no way I could have climbed those stairs and smiled at the top, but today I did!

We then went on and did another four similar watchtower climbs. Only a small group of us went the full distance but we were buzzing from the sheer hard work, sense of achievement and awesome views.

Once we re-joined the group we all walked along the Wall for the descent, but, of course, there were a few final twists.  In fact before we could go down we had to go up so we were back climbing in 80 degree heat.  Eventually we had three options – we could walk down, go by cable car or toboggan. Personally I liked the walking option but everyone else wanted to toboggan (why??) so I decided to face my fears and join them. After all I’ve jumped out of a plane; surely it couldn’t be worse than that!

Great Wall viewFor surreal experiences, it was quite hard to beat… Tobogganing 2km downhill in 80 degree heat with the Great Wall towering above you is something I will always remember. But I’m such a wimp, I’d quite like to have taken it steadily but could hear group members whooping with delight behind me, itching to go faster, so I did my best to speed up and was delighted when I finally reached the bottom.  After that and the exhausting trek I feel a sense of achievement today. I have definitely pushed myself very hard and been pleased that both my mind and body have risen to the challenge.

Sadly tomorrow is our last day on the Great Wall. We will only walk for a couple of hours before taking our final group pictures and heading back to Beijing for the next couple of days. I’m pining already for the views.

Please sponsor me at www.justgiving.com/deborahalsina1

Jinshanling towards Simatai

15 Oct

Great Wall morning viewLast night was thankfully not so cold and we managed to get our room heater to work, albeit weakly, but that was very much better than the night before. Only one jumper last night 🙂 I slept like a log after the long day of walking and was truly grateful for the lie-in until 7am.

After breakfast we started trekking from where we left off yesterday to re-join the Wall. The long walk uphill certainly woke us all up.

Great Wall trekToday has been perhaps the most challenging trek so far because the wall goes up and down over the mountains around Jinshanling. It is an incredible construction feat but sheer madness so we’ve given thanks and remembered the thousands upon thousands of people who built and re-built the Wall in appalling conditions over hundreds of years.

Watchtowers punctuate the Wall regularly here and each one seemed to be higher than the one before, yet there was always a steep drop between them. Ouch! The steps have been both deep and steep in many places today and for the first time there were also smooth sections of surface between the watchtowers – a bit like a skateboard ramp – but thankfully these were punctuated by small ridges. Only willpower, zig-zagging and calf muscle got me up the steep climbs today, but I did it!

Great Wall stepsI’m pleased the organisers left this walk until today as I felt more psychologically prepared for it and my legs muscles are also less painful. My journey on the trek has been interesting as I’ve grown in confidence about my ability to complete it successfully. I am clearly not particularly fit but have been labelled as part of the “A team” because I’ve been walking as part of the front group. In part it has been the challenge of keeping up that has got me through this, but also several of us in this front group are of a similar age,  in similarly demanding jobs and I think we have all enjoyed the silences as much as the chats. However I have certainly loved the group camaraderie as we’ve regrouped and in the evenings.

Bizarrely today’s walk ended too soon for many of us as we had to pick up the coach to move onto our next destination. I guess the only explanation is that the views are so breath-taking they leave you wanting more, even if it means another few watchtower climbs!

During our last two days we will be trekking in the area of Mutianyu, where apparently the Wall is quite touristy as it’s reconstructed. That will undoubtedly be great to see but I suspect we will all miss the quietness of earlier days.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my lovely friend Gail whilst I’ve been here in China.  I’ve been fortunate to know Gail for a few years now because she has advanced bowel cancer.   She is one of life’s wonderful people – extraordinarily kind, warm, funny and generous – and I hate the fact that I can’t do more to help her. I would so like to have met her in other circumstances.

View from the top of the Great WallWhen I was choosing a trek I asked lots of people with advanced bowel cancer where to go and they choose China. Gail told me she’d have liked to do this trek and then go and see the Terracotta Army but is obviously too poorly, so after the trek I’m going to do that for her. I hope my pictures and updates will give her a taste of this amazing experience and I simply wish we could be here together.

I’m trekking to improve the treatment and care of people with advanced bowel cancer. Please sponsor me:

www.justgiving.com/deborahalsina1

Or text GUTS72 £5 or £10 to 70070

Spectacular Jinshanling

14 Oct

Great Wall lunch viewIt was freezing overnight literally and my room heater wasn’t working so I went to bed with thick PJs, socks, two jumpers and a hat. In fact, it was the best night’s sleep I’ve had since leaving the UK but waking at 6.15 was still horrid and bitterly cold. Apparently it had reached zero degrees overnight and there was frost on the ground.

Breakfast – the normal – cold fried eggs on sweet, slightly toasted bread was welcome though. We left around 8am in the bus to take us to the start of our trek.

Thankfully for my sore calf muscles that needed a good warm up, there was some level walking to begin with but it was short lived. We quickly made a steep ascent to the Great Wall and were instantly impressed with the views. The Wall at Jinshanling is impressive, weaving its way up and down across steep mountain tops. Why it was ever needed to stop an invasion is a mystery as the mountains themselves are pretty formidable and stretch out as far as the eye can see in every direction here. Truly spectacular.

Deborah morning selfieIn this section of the Wall there are regular watch towers.  Although it is not fully reconstructed, it is still very beautiful. We were aiming to reach the 24-window tower by lunchtime so around four hours of walking lay ahead. It didn’t take long before we were all quickly stripping off layers of clothes as the sun rose in the sky and it became very warm. It’s definitely been the warmest day so far with glorious sunshine.

We played tag with another group of trekkers for most of the day, as we kept crossing each other but on the whole it’s a pretty quiet route. It was a long morning trek full of ups and downs but around 1.30pm we reached the tower and we were all ready for our packed lunch!

The views from the 24 window tower were awesome again and many of the group took the opportunity to put on their charity t-shirts for photos, with many wonderful charities represented. As a long-term charity worker, it’s a delight to me to see people taking action and supporting the voluntary sector. After all it’s absolutely what we rely on to survive.

Deborah and BethBizarrely, my room-mate, Beth (pictured, right) is raising funds for the Bowel Disease Research Foundation which is a lovely coincidence as Bowel Cancer UK is currently running a joint project with them. I’m delighted we are trekking together and I have now met 5 people in the group who have lost someone to bowel cancer. It doesn’t surprise me at all that it is so common. If only we could really raise awareness and help people realise how common it is and the importance of early diagnosis.

After lunch we had to leave the Wall as it was blocked due to an army base and instead headed down through a village.  We passed fields where women were working and it reminded me of something Alan (our Chinese guide) said this morning,  “China is rich but the people are poor.”  The lack of helpful machinery certainly seemed an indication of that.

After a welcome stop for an ice cream in the one cafe in the village (aimed at trekkers) and we were climbing very sharply again to reach the Wall. By now it was late afternoon and the gentle light gave a warm glow across the Mountains. As we continued, we passed countless Chinese photographers waiting to take pictures of the Wall at sunset but taking the opportunity to take a sneaky snap of tired dusty trekkers as we passed by!

About 8 hours after starting our day we descended the Wall and walked back to our hotel via a local cafe. We were all in heaven with the proper coffee and cake!  Simple pleasures and all that.

It’s been a good day, very challenging at times given the steep climbs and length of the trek and there were definitely times this afternoon that I felt truly tired.  However the joy of watching the sunset on the Great Wall of China made up for it all and spurred me on. Hurrah, day 4 – conquered!

Here’s hoping it’s a bit warmer in our room tonight!

Please sponsor me:

www.justgiving.com/deborahalsina1

Or text GUTS 72 £5 or £10 to 70070.

Journey to the three Border Stone

13 Oct

Deborah Monday viewAfter a freezing cold night we were up again at 6.15am to prepare for the day ahead. Breakfast was Chinese porridge and pancakes which was interesting but I was grateful for the warmth of the porridge.  After our daily briefing, filling up out water systems and some warm up stretches, we began.

We started straight uphill – ouch! My calf muscles are very painful and tight from the big climb the day before so it was a struggle to get going but after a while as I warmed up it became easier.  We didn’t walk much on the wall today, rather next to it as it is largely destroyed in this area around Tian Jian. We eventually reached the top of the Yan Shan (Shan apparently means mountain) where there is a 3 border stone. The three borders it joins are Hebei (closest province to Mongolia), Tian Jian and the Beijing province. From here the panoramic views are quite breathtaking over the mountain ranges and you can see the (broken) wall stretching out in many directions. Wow!

The weather was tremendous – not super-hot but pleasant with the most incredible clear blue sky – our first so far. The truth is, whilst I am a bit tired and achy, what a huge privilege to be able to sit at the top of Yan mountain and soak in the views. So many of my friends with advanced bowel cancer have told me how much they would like to be doing this with me, yet are just too poorly, so I feel I must soak in the views and experiences for them too.

Deborah Three County Stone selfieOur local guide Alan gave us a wonderful talk at the top of the mountain about the ‘one child’ policy in china and generally about population change, as we rested. He is so interesting and knowledgeable it’s fantastic that every day he talks to us about different aspects of Chinese life.

Our trek leader Jen then briefed us on what was next and also took time to remind us about all we have accomplished by getting this far. It was a lovely moment that moved us all.  Many, like me, are facing their own demons and pushing themselves to go that extra mile to make a difference.  As Jen reminded us:

“Life is not about how long you live or how many breaths you take but about how many moments take your breath away”

And this was certainly one of them.

After we descended the hill, we followed the road down to where the bus was picking us up. We then drove for 2.5 hours to reach the Jinshanling section of the Wall closer to Mongolia. Oh my goodness, the mountains are big and the Wall looks awesome with its many watchtowers, like scales on a dragon’s back. It does mean however that tomorrow is going to be another 8-hour day, including a steep uphill climb. Every step hurts at the moment, so it will be a challenge but hey, with help from tiger balm and Ibroprufen gel I will do it and I definitely can’t wait to see those views!

Unrepaired section of Great Wall of ChinaI’ve been grateful to be able to be able to connect with my family today. I received a lovely email from my little girl, with lots of questions (clearly prompted by her teachers) about what I’m up to… And a later text sent from her Daddy’s phone telling me how much she wants me to come home. Gulp. I’ve heard from my husband and boys too in the last few days and I’m grateful.  I do miss them all terribly. It’s hard juggling the responsibilities of home and work but I hope in time all my children will be proud that I’m prepared to step up to the challenge and take action for something I believe in.

I was also pleased to catch up with some of my patient friends today via Twitter (I had a good internet connection for once). Some of them are having a really tough time at the moment and know they will not be around too much longer. It makes my heart ache and so as I face my fears and take on this challenge I do so for them. I may not be able to do anything useful for them personally (which I hate) but I am totally committed to trying to stop this happening in the future.

Please help by supporting Bowel Cancer UK’s Time For Guts campaign, which seeks to save lives and improve the treatment and care of people with advanced disease, by sponsoring me:

www.justgiving.com/deborahalsina1

or text GUTS72 £5 or £10 to 70070

Thank you.

Heaven’s Ladder conquered!

12 Oct

Great Wall stepsWOW what a day. After an early start we started trekking from our hotel at 8am. We spent the next couple of hours walking steeply uphill following the Wall as it snaked up the hillside. The steps on the Wall vary from easy shallow ones to challenging deep steps that require serious leg muscle! Gulleys (water channels) punctuate the steps and are a real hazard as you could really hurt your foot and ankl if you fall into them so walking with caution is essential.

Today had worried me a little in advance, as it included a walk up Heaven’s Ladder, which is an incredibly steep set of 200 steps. In fact whilst it was a big challenge, the walk up to it took an hour and half or so, which meant we were well warmed up and was probably as bad so it wasn’t such a shock!

The group took a break at the top to allow everyone to catch up and we were joined by a large group of Chinese trekkers who were in party mode at the top. Giving speeches, waving flags, singing songs – a perfect entertaining distraction from the last couple of hours of exertion. We were encouraged to sing for them also and the group didn’t disappoint with a hearty rendition of “swing low sweet chariot” and some other “national favourites”!   As a fellow trekker commented “who knew Heaven was a club” and indeed it certainly had a lovely happy (relieved) party atmosphere.

Deborah Great Wall of ChinaFor the next couple of hours we snaked through a woodland path climbing to the top of the hillside with staggeringly lovely views across the mountain range. It was simply stunning and made four hours of walking well worthwhile. As we finally stopped for lunch the sun finally came out.

Unfortunately straight after lunch we started walking uphill again and having rested and cooled down it hurt that much more. Bizarrely it felt more of a struggle than first thing in the morning but eventually the path evened out and my aching calf muscles had some welcome respite. We then cris-crossed a totally destroyed section of the Wall and took some narrow paths with sheer drops either side which were a real challenge to those in the group who have vertigo. I’m grateful I don’t – it’s looking up that makes me dizzy, which was a challenge on Heaven’s Ladder.

Then we started our steep decent downhill, rejoining an old largely unrepaired section of the Wall as it meandered down the hill with ancient watch towers punctuating the path.

I have loved the wild flowers and grasses today and thoroughly enjoyed the early autumn colour, which has been beautiful on the hillside.

Once we reached the bottom of the hill we had a short 3k walk up to a farmers house and trekking lodge. In total with lunch and stops to allow the group to reform we have walked for eight hours today. This was the day I feared most for some reason (potentially ignorance, there may be worse to come but Jen and Mark aren’t letting on yet!!) so I feel a huge sense of achievement. I did it. I conquered Heavens Ladder and lived to tell the tale. Result!

Trekker campfireTonight we are sleeping four to a room and enjoying the delights of more squat loos! It is absolutely freezing here so we are all adding layer after layer. I will almost be pleased to start trekking again tomorrow just to warm up. It’s been a lovely evening though snuggled around a campfire.

Of course over the last few days, I’ve been explaining to people why I’m here and why I feel so passionate about saving lives from bowel cancer (poor souls!). It has reminded me just how much we do at Bowel Cancer UK and I feel so proud of my brilliant colleagues for all they achieve with so few resources. Just imagine what we could do with more…

Please help us improve treatment and care for people with advanced bowel cancer by sponsoring me generously if you can.

www.justgiving.com/deborahalsina1

Or text GUTS72 £5 or £10 to 70070.

Thank you.

The Wall really is great!

11 Oct

1st day Great WallAfter a mixed night of rest, it felt like the whole trekking group was buzzing with excitement and nerves this morning as today we were going to see the Wall for the first time. Weather wise it didnt look particularly promising as there was heavy fog in Beijing but as we left the hotel and headed off in the coach the weather began to improve and the sun came out.

We reached our hotel after a couple of hours. We are staying in an old castle/ fort part of the Wall itself. It’s an interesting place, full of turrets, courtyards and a museum about the history of the Great Wall.

Once we had had lunch, we drove briefly uphill to the start of the Huangyaguan Great Wall, or Yellow Cliff Pass section of the Wall. Apparently our extremely knowledgeable local crew/guides, Alan and Dennis explained its one of the oldest sections of the Wall – some parts date back to the 6th century although a lot of it was restored in the 15th & 16th century during the Ming dynasty.

Great Wall sunWhilst everyone was excited to be here finally, I wasn’t alone in questioning my fitness levels, could we do this?? Our lovely trek leaders, Jen and Mark gave us an early pep talk, highlighting its not a race and that “we start as a team and we will end as a team” and so we began.

Today was just a warm up half day trek. Jen described it as our introduction to the trek as we would experience a bit of everything terrain wise. And we did! Steep steps up and down, uneven paths and a woodland walk. The group fractured into smaller groups so people could walk at a pace that suited them but we kept stopping to re-group which gave us lots of time to admire the views. Some parts were particularly steep and challenging but we did it… I did it! Hurrah!

The whole experience was great actually. After the anxiety and travelling it felt fabulous to be finally walking on the Great Wall of China. The views over the surrounding mountains were spectacular, even though it was sadly very hazy. The Great Wall actually does look like its pictures – pretty awesome!

Deborah's birthday cakeTomorrow is a long 8-hour trekking day, we are doing a steep hill climb including the infamous Heavens Ladder. We saw the path in the distance today… Yikes! We will then be spending the night in a mountain village that sounds pretty spectacular. My legs are aching a little already so it’s going to be a big challenge but now I’m here I am looking forward to it. I’m doing this for a reason after all.

Oh yes, and it’s my birthday! By this stage of my life I’ve begun to try to ignore birthdays but today has definitely been one to remember. A trek on the Great Wall of China and I was presented with a huge musical birthday cake at dinner and then randomly there were fireworks! Wow! What a lovely way to spend my birthday – if only my family was here too it would be perfect!

Please sponsor me and help save lives needlessly lost to bowel cancer.

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