One weekend after my first sighting of the Great Wall we returned to Yanqing by train to hike it. Last year, one of the interns at China.org.cn went to the wall and stayed at this place called Great Wall Fresh. Apparently several years back an American hiker ran onto the Chen Family farm in search of shelter from a downpour after coming down from hiking the Great Wall. After receiving incredible hospitality he decided to help the family turn their generosity into a small business. Great Wall Fresh was born. Five years later my roommates and I arrived at the Chen house for an unforgettable experience.
Getting off the train we were immediately met by Mr. Chen himself. It's not as if the 5 foreigners getting off the train were hard to spot. Mr. Chen met us with eyes that smiled, a grin from ear to ear and a warmth that made it seem as if we'd known him for years. With lines etched on his face showing the wear of years toiling his family farm, he welcomed us into his home and made us feel a part of the family.
That night for dinner we ate the first of what would be three magnificent meals that weekend. Home grown vegetables, fresh roasted almonds, salads and a pork and potato stew filled our bellies and left us satisfied and sleepy. That night I didn't sleep well. It must have been the excitement of what was to come on the wall the next day. I found myself awake before the sun, but remembered what a friend had told me. She said that right before the sun rises is the best time to see the most stars in the night sky. When I looked up, I was in awe. You never see the stars in Beijing, because of the lights, but out in the country, there were so many stars. I was overcome with a stillness that can't readily be expressed in words.
The next day we headed off towards the Wall. We'd been forewarned the night before by three Americans who hiked the wall the day we arrived that the hiking would be steep, exhausting and completely amazing. They were right on all accounts.
We hiked for about four hours on parts of the Wall that had not been refinished. We hiked up steep inclines, up to 80 degrees - trying to find our footing on narrow pieces of rubble. But at the top of these ancient ruins we saw views of China that are enough to make you fall in love with the country. It was a great day, but the hike was easily the most intense hike I've ever been on in my life. I wouldn't change a thing.