My legs were burning. "Come on, Alex," I thought, wheezing for air. "If they could build the damn thing, you can climb up it."
"It" being the Great Wall of China.
The wails of a crying baby sounded in the distance.
"I hear ya, kiddo," I muttered. "I hear ya."
At last, I shuffled into the watch tower. Manfriend, with his giant man-lungs and stupidly muscular thighs, wasn't phased.
"Quite the climb, eh?"
"You're doing great, babe!"
The crying followed me in. The (adorable) culprit was a baby, squirming in his mother's arms.
I started having flashbacks of other times little kids had lapped me on a hike. While I had sat mid-hike, exhausted, children literally skipped past. Their young bodies hadn't experienced the poor choices mine had. Why must they mock me so?
For this hike, it was much the same. The baby's pace, despite the tears, was making me look foolish (and would continue to do so until the end).
So why push onward? Well, it wasn't for the typical mountain views this Coloradan is accustomed to. This time, it was for the rich history built into these hillsides in China.
Now, you're probably picturing the pristine, restored sections of the Great Wall. Or, following major Chinese holidays, walls overflowing with tourists, all looking for that grade-A selfie.
But the Huanghuacheng section, tucked up in the Huairou District of Beijing, is what's known as one of the wild parts of the wall. Steps have crumbled, and towers have collapsed a bit. Nature's chipping away at the trails, leaving them overgrown.
As a perk, it's where few if any tourists head to.
So Manfriend and I — and the busload of other hikers — explored a few kilometers of Chinese history. We marveled at the immensity, wondering how they built it at all. I could hardly get my own ass up there, yet those builders toted up massive rocks and building supplies. All for a wall that was largely unsuccessful in warding off most dangers. In fact, today, the Great Wall is more an example of China's love of grand projects.
But I will say: Standing atop those towers, gazing at miles of hillsides all striped with this great wall, it takes your breath away. (As do the dizzying inclines it takes to get there.)
As I gazed in awe, the aforementioned cutie followed along. He was oblivious to where he was, clumsily toddling along hundreds-year-old history. At one point, he and his mom enjoyed some well-earned chocolate, and my group of hikers stopped to ask for a photo with him.
"He's so strong," we commented in Chinese. "A great hiker already!"
And there, on the Great Wall, we captured the old and new of this country, in a photograph well worth the leg burn.