We’ve never been any good at bringing things to a close. We’ll put off a big decision until the final moment. We’ll hem and haw and shuffle our feet in the dirt before saying good-bye. We left organising our flight out of Beijing – during the height of tourist season – to a week before the day we were due home.
So it’s only fitting that we managed to delay completing our Great Wall adventure almost as long as humanly possible. What we expected to take six months took 13; the 3000 kilometres we planned to walk somehow became nearly 4000. But even the longest set of structures ever built by humans eventually comes to an end, and that means our trip has as well.
From the desert to the sea – the end of the Great Wall at Laolongtou
At two o’clock on July 7 (07/07/07 – auspicious!), we reached our destination: Laolongtou, or Old Dragon’s Head, the eastern end of the Ming Great Wall. And in a nice bit of symmetry, we were welcomed at the end by the same people who gave us a fantastic send-off from Jiayuguan a year ago, Dong Yaohui and Yan Daojun of the China Great Wall Society.
The moment we walked through Laolongtou’s gates, Mr Yan grabbed us by the elbows, escorted us to a meeting room to collect ourselves and wipe the sweat from our faces, then took us to a courtyard, where we were met by Emma’s parents Di and Mike, representatives from the local government and members of the local media, and even Mr Li and his family.
An achievement of his own – Emma’s dad, Mike, made the journey to Shanhaiguan not long after being seriously ill
Celebrating with Mike and Emma’s mum, Di. Is there anywhere on the wall she can’t go?
And how could we forget that smile? Mr Li, his wife and daughter were even there to welcome us back.
And at that point, with microphones thrust before us and a crowd of curious onlookers waiting for . . . something, it all became real – we were finished!
You go first … Mike, Mr Dong, Di, Emma, Brendan, and Mr Yan
Each of us spoke briefly and Mr Yan translated. Mr Dong said some gracious words on behalf of the Great Wall Society about our trip, the Great Wall exhibitions at the Powerhouse and Melbourne Museums, and our website. We were presented with some lovely bouquets, and everything became blurry – there were pictures for the press, pictures with tourists, pictures with kids. It was exciting, and tiring, and a bit chaotic – in other words, it was just like walking the wall!
Mr Dong and a young wall-walker in the making
So, who’s going first then? Mr Yan, waiting for one of us to talk so he could translate
When the short ceremony was over, Mr Dong took each of us by the hand, and just as he had accompanied us on our first few steps from Jiayuguan Fort 13 months before, walked with us, hand in hand, to the point where the wall meets the sea.
As we’ve talked over the past few weeks about what we might say in our final post, we’ve struggled to come up with a suitable title – we had wanted something that would capture the exhilaration and sense of completion we had imagined we might feel. And of course we do feel those things – you can’t imagine how excited we are to be done and heading home – but in the couple of days since we’ve been back in Beijing, packing up and seeing friends, we’ve also thought a lot about the things we’ll miss as well – walking into a dusty village to a stunned crowd for a five-minute drinks break that turns into an hour, the rhythm of our walking sticks swinging as we move along the path, all the sights and sounds (and smells) of rural China.
So it feels slightly bittersweet to have come to the end of the line – we’ve reached our destination and we’re enormously proud and relieved to have done so, but also just a tiny bit sad.
It’s all a bit much for Emma. Just because no one caught it on camera, doesn’t mean Brendan didn’t cry too.
But putting on his pack for the last time makes it all start to feel a bit real
We want to thank all of you for taking this journey with us, for sticking by us as we trundled through the broken foot and other injuries, for putting up with us as we dealt with technical delays, and for being there for us when we needed you the most. You can’t imagine how important it was to us to know there were people following our blog – it was to you we ran when we’d seen something amazing and had to tell someone, where we turned when we were lonely and exhausted and needed a reason to go on. This blog was our connection to the outside world, and every comment, every personal email and every message passed on was received with love and enthusiasm.
Several people have asked about our future plans, and of course we’ve discussed them endlessly as we walked, but for now we feel the best thing for us to do is to go home, rest a bit, and gain a little perspective in the context of our normal lives. We will compile final trip statistics and post them in the next several days, but this will be our last regular post on the blog. The blog itself, however, will stay up indefinitely and we’ll continue checking it for comments.
We don’t plan to leave Walking the Wall behind entirely, though. We may do some talks, write up a few articles, and who knows, we might even write a book. If you’d like to keep up with our future Great Wall-related plans, please send us an email at WalkingTheWallinfo@gmail.com (a blank email is fine), and we’ll keep you updated. Thank you for all your interest and support. It’s been a great journey and we’re going to miss it.