Self portrait at the Forbidden City in Beijing
That’s us, Emma Nicholas and Brendan Fletcher, international couple of mystery. Brendan’s the American-looking one. Emma’s the Australian-looking one.
We met in 1999 at a party in Washington, DC, where a friend from Chile taught us the salsa and merengue. The sensuous Latin American rhythms worked their magic that night, and each of us saw in the soul of the other the shimmering reflection of a truly bad dancer. We’ve been a couple ever since.
We moved to California about a year later. In 2002, we hiked the John Muir Trail together, got engaged on the summit of Mt. Whitney (highest peak in the lower 48), and moved to Australia.
We got married in Bowral, New South Wales on October 4, 2003. We live in Sydney (usually) with our crazy spoodle, Bailey.
Bailey and her imaginary friend, Jake
Before we made the move to China to walk the Great Wall (or at least attempt to), I was a full-time journalist with one of Sydney’s community newspaper groups. I wrote news and arts stories and, most recently, edited the homes and interiors page. This was a great way to help us through some of our own household dilemmas – like how to fit a tonne of books into a small space and how to stop the dog from eating the fireplace.
Now my big dilemma is this: do I go with the Cool-Max or the Interwool T-shirt to last me the next six months? Do I take the wooden chopsticks or the fold-up ones? Has anyone invented a deodorant injection yet? And surely there is such a thing as lightweight foundation, right?
Emma at the Harbin Ice Festival in far northern China
I was born in Sydney and went to Glenaeon Rudolf Steiner School for the first 11 years of my education, a school known for its acres of bushland (technically out of bounds) and artistic emphasis. In the last two years of high school I went to SCECGS Redlands where I completed the HSC and the International Baccalaureate (back in the old days students had to do both – so unfair).
I studied journalism at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst then transferred to Georgetown University in Washington, DC, where I completed my Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service (Bill Clinton’s old school). It was there that I met Brendan (see note above).
Emma in pose
I’ve learned languages before but none as hard as Chinese; I’ve walked long distances before but never as long as this. To me, walking the wall is about expanding my mind, my physical abilities and my knowledge of China’s history and contemporary culture.
I was born and raised in Holton, Kansas, a town of about 3000 people in the American Midwest. It was a fun, safe and beautiful place to grow up, with brick streets lined with huge oaks, parades on the Fourth of July, and the best swimming pool in northeast Kansas, built in the Great Depression courtesy of FDR’s Works Progress Administration.
The big guy at rest
My undergraduate degree is from the University of Kansas in history and political science, and I have a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley. Since graduating from law school I’ve been a lawyer or policy analyst for a series of environmental groups and government agencies – in the US, the US Department of the Interior, the California Department of Fish and Game, and Defenders of Wildlife; and in Australia, the Inland Rivers Network and the New South Wales Department of Environment and Conservation.
Brendan out of pose
See the trajectory leading to China? Ahem. There is actually a thread to trace back, it’s just not in my CV. I like to walk, and I always have. When I was a kid, my brother Brett, my friends Cory and Todd, and I would ride our bikes to a creek about a mile about of town, hide the bikes in the weeds, and walk up and down the creek. We knew all the little holes, where to find the fish and where to avoid the nettles. When I was in my twenties I spent weeks hiking in the mountains of California, and in 1992 I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, 4000 kilometers (2700 miles) from Mexico to Canada. In my thirties I spent a lot of time wishing I had more time to walk.
Now five or six months of walking the Great Wall are stretched out before Emma and me. If I had ever thought to be careful what I wished for, well, I guess it’s a bit late for that.