Dreams of Running The Great Wall of China
A virtual vacation in the time of quarantine
In times of uncertainty, there is nothing more uplifting than making plans to embark on a journey. It’s amazing how quickly you can transform your life through the simple act of movement. We all fall into the ruts of routine and expectation, but when the familiar becomes a burden it’s time for a change of scenery.
People are often reluctant to try so much as a new haircut for fear of a negative response. But when you go on a journey to a distant land, nobody knows you and you are free to explore aspects of your personality that you’ve habitually suppressed. There is nothing more liberating than visiting a new place and reinventing yourself into your ideal image.
As we wait out the stay at home order, it’s fun to daydream about places to go and things to see. Every now and then an event transpires which provides a reminder that life is short and there are vast and vibrant corners of the world to explore. Sometimes you have to recognize the perfect moment will never come so it’s important to always push yourself to indulge your spirit of adventure.
The mistake most people make when they plan a trip is to fall into the routines of other travelers. They go out and purchase a guide book, and let the explorations of others determine what they see and do. Before you make any plans, it’s prudent to spend a few moments soul gazing in an attempt to discover the type of spiritual sustenance you are truly hoping to find.
For me, I’ve often dreamed about visiting the Great Wall of China. I’ve always had a fascination for ancient places like Machu Picchu, or Chichen Itza. There’s something about enduring stonework that offers a reminder both of the enduring industriousness and the fleeting nature of human existence. The staggering works live on even though they were constructed by the hands of individuals who have long since passed.
The Great Wall of China offers some interesting obstacles for tourism. It’s not the type of destination you can pull into a parking lot, take a selfie, and go back to your hotel with a complete understanding of what you’ve seen. When you journey, it’s important to process the energy of enduring places, so you can absorb a new perspective and use what you have learned to fortify yourself as you continue on your life’s path.
The Great Wall of China has almost 4,000 miles of actual wall that passes through a variety of terrains. Achieving a proper concept would require significant interaction. You’d have to see it in crowds and alone, in silence and in celebration, under the stars and as the sun passes overhead to change how the shadows lay upon the stones.
Above all, I would love to take my family and run a significant length of the wall over a period of weeks or months. The idea is not completely without precedent. The Appalachian Trail is around 2,200 miles, and the current record is just over 41 days. I’ve run the Inca Trail and know what it feels like to lose yourself in space and time in a foreign land.
My daughters have both become more interested in running, and it’s amazing how much you can learn about a person through the shared intensity of even a two or three mile effort. A massive, endurance trek along the Great Wall of China is the kind of epic journey that would divide your life into everything that happened before and after.
To fully absorb the magic of a setting you have to eat there, sleep there, and push yourself to your physical limits there. Just as your perspective of the wall changes with the angle of the sun and the rise and fall of temperature, it also changes as you pass through the stages of physical exhaustion.
Sometimes we get so caught up in our trivial, mundane problems that we are rendered blind to the world around us. Hunger and fatigue are existential landmarks that remind us of what is real when we are lost.
During a marathon you experience all the highs and lows of a lifetime of emotion. You learn to focus on food and when you are profoundly thirsty, a simple cup of water will bring you more happiness than achieving every professional accolade you’ve deluded yourself into pursuing.
A through hike upon difficult terrain provides you with a transcendent concept of reality. I’d like to share such an experience with my children and help equip them navigate the natural ebb and flow of emotion that accompanies exhaustion, hunger, and discomfort. They’ll encounter these moments again as they transition into adulthood, and it would pacify me to know they’re experienced in handling them.
I can happily imagine struggling with the local language, learning the few words and phrases that are necessary to fulfill our quest. I expect we’d wander into villages that are not accustomed to tourists and we’d eat from pushcarts or restock our supplies from exotic markets. By exposing yourself to survival tourism you are offered the opportunity to learn as much about yourself as the place you visit.
No matter where you go there is a unique kinship that binds human beings together. Yes, you meet the occasional bad person, but the vast majority of the time you’ll find individuals who are happy to provide whatever assistance they can to see you safely on your way. We are all travelers, united by a common spirit.
There is security in the familiar because it provides you with an illusion of safety. Vulnerability can be terrifying because it feels akin to exposing an exploitable weakness. Travel gives you the chance to get out of your comfort zone and grow into the ideal version of yourself. Sometimes when you return home, you realize that you’ve become larger than the place you left behind.
Life is a journey. Don't be afraid to take the first step.