Man meets Wall

I’ve just walked the Great Wall of China. Ok, not all 6,600 miles of it, but certainly some of the most gruelling, challenging, awe-inspiring sections.

I know! Me! Walk the Great Wall! Even just typing the words gives me goosebumps. I pinch myself as I type. Damn, I thought I was made of stronger stuff!

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Imagine spending time with someone who after five days states that they have no idea what you do for a living yet you have had to rely on them and a band of twenty three others just to get through each day? This was the first time in my 42 years of life where I wasn’t a husband, a dad, a leader, a boss or a son, I was just Andrew and I liked it.

Just Andrew was to be a team player and work along with this intrepid band of hospitality vagabonds to complete almost 50 hours of strenuous mile after mile in scorching heat, carrying a back pack with up to six litres of water just to avoid dehydration. I think it’s fair to say that questions had to be asked if my marbles were still intact.

Precisely a year ago I was sitting in a meeting at Gleneagles Hotel. Inspired by some of my peers and their remarkable stories, I resolved to also also make a difference. Factoring in my determination to not become just another “Fat Dad”, I made a decision. I’d been humming and hawing over an opportunity to join a week long trek along the Great Wall of China to raise money for a Scottish hospitality charity and get fit at the same time. Now, with the rain pouring outside and feeling at a crossroads, it seemed to be a no brainer. I paid my deposit and the reply email informed me that I had 279 days to go.

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We all then got busy with life and the weeks turned to months and Christmas passed and we were down to sixteen weeks and that realisation was what I needed to get off the couch and start training and train I did. There was absolutely no way the others would be waiting for me. At first it felt like punishment but after the seventh morning of walking 90 minutes before work I was beginning to waken before my alarm and find myself looking forward to the walk. I was starting to eat healthier and drink more water. My work was benefiting from the new me; I was thinking more clearly, making better business decisions and could seem to manage more tasks each day.

The time arrived to head to China. We met at the airport, nervous giggles and cuddles were exchanged with my comrades. Little did we know what lay ahead over the next ten days of travel and trek.

Two days later we’re standing at the base of the tourist section of the Great Wall of China. Ahead of us, to the side and behind us was 6600 miles of one of the wonders of the world and there and then reality hit and it hit hard. I burst into tears and I was not alone, I tried to blame the sun tan lotion but we were all in the same boat. We were only doing a small few sections of this monster, I believe only two people ever have completed the whole thing and it took just under two years.

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We began walking and talking and very quickly the talking stopped but the feet kept moving and after 90 minutes we were told that we had only just arrived now officially on the wall. I consider myself a fairly fit man, I have cycled many races, competed in many active pursuits but this was something that I struggle to describe. The heat, the height, the team work, the sheer majestic scale of the wall commanding over the landscape. Simply breath taking.

I read about other people’s accomplishments and think how lucky they are to have been involved in something so special but on this occasion that someone is me. After day number three we had formed a bond that I believe will last forever, we laughed, we cried, we sweated but most of all we walked together as a team. We made an unspoken deal that we went as a team and would leave each day as a team, last man standing and all that!

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The fitties would storm ahead and the slower team members would carry out their day’s business at a much more refined pace but we arrived and left each section together.

Every night at dinner every single person had a story to tell from that days adventure:
“Remember when this happened?”
“Wasn’t it funny when?!”
“I cant believe that!
“Did you see when?”
I’m smiling as I type this.

I’ve gone through life thinking that I had something to prove, prove to others, my peers, friends and family, turns out that I was wrong. There is the old cliché that we are not here for a long time instead we are here for a good time and I now can see that. I had to travel half way round the world to finally get it!

Friends, family, health and stories is where it is for me now.

I will continue to work hard, try and help others but I will make more time for stories. I saw an opportunity and I took it.

After all, life is all one big story.