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2004-01-04 - 6:01 a.m.

huang hua cheng. a section of the great wall not renovated nor ravaged by tourism. i started the day after wrestling through the night with a post-new-year-celebration fever. i was delerious but this was to be my first real adventure outside the city where i was the one being relied upon to communicate in mandarin and guide. i was totally up for the challenge. we jumped on an early morning bus and drove several hours through the countryside, passing tiny villages wreaking with poverty and beautiful in their simplicity. villages where their day's event was watching us drive by, all the while smling weathered and wrinkled grins. villages where i stopped to use a public toilet that was three cement holes in one room. three full holes. no dividers. no fly swatters. no paper. and two locals. one being myself, the other a little old lady, farting like she was in bed with her husband of 60 years. nauseating, albeit strangely endearing.

we arrived at the huang hua section of the wall before noon. our driver demanded we pay two-thirds of the fee before hiking so i demanded he give me his ID card so he couldn't ditch us. making a wrong turn down the road due to my imperfect translating, we walked on a road parallel to the great wall until we were picked up by a minibus that delivered us to a point of access. we first had to cross a dam that dropped more than 100 feet below. although the path was at least 5 ft wide, the huge gusts of wind kept pushing a play button on the movie of "the potiential of death" while the mantra, "i will not be a statistic" repeated in my mind. it was a short enough crossing and the only real danger in the hike. the rest of the hike was a series of steep steps and crumbling inclines divided by castle-like towers. in the spring, we will hide in these towers until the last local leaves and stay through the night. it will be amazing. we almost did this for new years. we continued hiking. laughed and spun on adrenaline and thinning air. rested and switched back through the mountains to return safely and swiftly to our driver.

the wall was amazing. from every peak you could see it stretch like a zipper along the mountainous horizon. just think what you could do with thousands of slaves at your disposal! you could even build a great pyramid! but truly, it was almost hard to believe. i have heard that many of the men who died building it are buried inside. we found a stone engraved with writing that was a relic of the ming dynasty. the day was quite literally breathtaking. but since this was the cleanest air i had inhaled in months, my lungs were at equilibrium. and the sun blasted through the perfectly blue winter sky and tried it's hardest to warm the wind around us while my feverishness acted like a THC halo. it was bliss.

there are many sections of the wall you can hike. hundreds of miles of it. some completely renovated with hotels and restaurants. and some crumbling and dangerous, raw and barely trodden. i chose the latter.

2004. bring. it. on.

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