Great Wall Trek Diary for Tuesday 13th November 2001

This is my diary for Tuesday 13th November 2001. I was on a trip to China to walk on the Great Wall, fundraising for the National Star College. I kept a diary but I never published it, so here it is, 10 years on. I’ll do this for every day there’s a diary entry. [Text written like this is commentary added by me now.]

Index of all relevant blog entries is here.

Tuesday 13th November – final day, returning to UK

Boo, it’s over.

2023 UTC. Nightmare journey. Or maybe just tired and depressed.

Breakfasted early as I’d had an early night last night. Finish packing and wake Llew – who singularly did not have an early night last night. Hand in key. Polava, fuss and nonsense, as you’d expect with a crowd of seventy people all checking out.

Get on bus; go. Oh yeah – it snowed. Anthony summarises the week for us – bless. Pass USSR & Canadaian embassies. Running late.

Arrive at the airport, and head with Jack, one of the Chinese guides, to Lost Property to claim tripod. Show them the form we got on the way in, and get waved inside; gloriously, they don’t know which shelf it’s on, i.e. MY LOST PROPERTY IS LOST IN LOST PROPERTY! Anyway, find it and sign for it. The zip on the bag is broken; bah. There’s no good reason for that.

Find and rejoin main group, queueing at luggage check-in in queues which don’t move. After a while, Eric magically moves us to another, and progress is made. I don’t know the weight of my luggage but I’m not charged any excess – as predicted by Julie. Then we queue for security – Tony has tiny scissors and thus everything of his is searched; fail. My bic biro sets off the metail detector, but I escape the full cavity treatment.

Not much time before boarding so a quick rush into the shop for last-minute presents, then on we go, er, onto a bus. Then onto plane. Very pushy Chinese guy – de rigeur. Seated in the middle column of the plane, towards the back. Then, oooh how pleasant, a two-hour wait for some latecomers! Joy! Just what you want before an eleven-hour flight, eh?

Flight is generally tiring and depressing (and knee-hurting). Food not great (chicken and rice, beef and rice) though nut allergy people (i.e. Julie) get fucking steak. [Protip!] Have a bit of a snooze but uncomfortable as not by a window so nothing to lean against. [Amateur.] Films shite again. On the other hand, start reading “A Mad World, My Masters” by John Simpson – excellent, must buy it. All in all though, my worst flight yet, alas. Probably mainly down about returning to reality – just want to trek.

Land at Heathrow at 1630 UTC. People fucking standing on walkways! Stand on the right if you want to stand! Clear immigration, then to baggage collection – should be interesting. Takes a while but both rucksack and tripod arrive together – woo hoo. Sit on trolley while waiting for other people getting the coach back to the National Star Centre and beyond.

Non-bus people start leaving – argh. There go Rich and Ollie. There goes Emma. There goes Becca. There go Mavis and Alison. There they go… So sad! Will I ever see these people again? [For most of them, no; I saw a few a couple of times over the next six months of so but then that was that. I miss them, and for some of them I miss getting to know them at all.]

Neil, a bus person, has lost his luggage, and the decision is made to leave without it – very nice of him not to make all us very tired people wait longer. We clear customs without me noticing it. Then onto the bus, on which I sleep until Ullenswood, when I see the gates of Star College for the first time – but no more.

Farewells to all, especially Pete, Laura, Julie and Gill – total star. Anita, Jan, etc. Then Llew gives me a lift to the station, where I’m writing this. Should be home at 2245. Have phoned Mum & Julie, will talk more to them tomorrow. Really sad/depressed it’s over. This was the best thing I’ve ever done. End.

[So that's that. It really was the best thing I'd ever done in my life at that point, and I realised with something of a jolt that I should be doing more with my life, that something or some things needed to change. For one thing, I realised just how much I actually liked doing stuff outside - walking, etc. And also, just, life is short and you need to do things you care about; within a year of the trek I'd quit my unfulfilling job programming for a company which didn't care about anything except the bottom line, and got a job teaching at Swansea University, with more control over my hours, and the prospect of doing some research and one day doing a PhD - which I'm now a year from completing. I'm sad to say that the trek also brought my relationship with Julie to an end, though not immediately as there was a lot of momentum there and I had a lot of fear to overcome. I'm still no intrepid traveller, and haven't been adventuring overseas at all really, though I did go back to China for a week in 2005 with my job. So I've still got a long way to go, but I'll always remember the trek as a major waypoint on that journey, and one of the best times of my life.]