While I gasped for air, I made that final step to the top of my climb as perspiration dripped off my body. I could feel the breeze rush past my head, but I couldn’t seem to get any air to my lungs. It felt like I was dying on the Great Wall in China, but I was actually having the time of my life.
This past summer on a blistering August day, I found myself in the mountains of China preparing to surmount the Great Wall at Jinshanling, but I was not alone in this quest because, in addition to a chain-smoking tour guide at the Great Wall, I was also traveling with my brother and father. Standing at the bottom of a mountain and gazing at the Great Wall above, we were oblivious to the difficult, but rewarding trek ahead. Knowing not of the challenges ahead, we all agreed to tread the longer of the two paths available, but, just as my burning legs were telling me, the Great Wall is not to be taken lightly. Let me say that I am not in terrible shape and neither was my dad, but the Great Wall kicked our butts. Meanwhile, my brother demonstrated the prowess of someone who had been raised by mountain goats, as he scaled the precipitous path with little effort. However, the most amazing physical performance I saw on the Great Wall was of our guide who, despite bringing only a bottle of Sprite, a pack of cigarettes, and a lighter, outperformed the rest of us handily and could have effortlessly traversed another ten kilometers of hiking before the day’s end. After five grueling hours of hiking sheer inclines and declines, I made it to the end of the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall, and the timing could not have been better. By this point of the day, my legs had become jelly and my clothes had taken on a higher salt content than the Dead Sea, and the boost of relief that washed over me when I first glimpsed the end was the only thing that enabled me to make it that last kilometer. If asked to describe my hike on the Great Wall, I would liken the physical effort to a toll one has to pay in order to observe the breathtaking sights of the journey.
Even knowing the Great Wall can be seen from space, the sheer magnitude of its structure was still staggering. The Great Wall seemed to have no end as it disappeared over the horizon and continued on. My favorite part of the Great Wall at Jinshanling was the pristine structural condition which had literally been left untouched for hundreds of years. Gazing down from a crumbling watchtower above even the clouds, I felt as if nature had enveloped me with its pure air, verdant valleys, and virgin peaks, and demonstrated the lack of mankind in all directions. After having traversed the populous cities of China for three weeks, the remoteness and purity of my mountain view revealed just how special and unique a place like the Great Wall is compared to the congestion and bustle of the modern world.
I think that what I experienced and saw on the Great Wall is something that is incomparable in this world, and I feel as if the Great Wall lit a fire in me to travel the world and attempt to find other places that are its equal.
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