Thursday, May 15, 2008
I was awake at 2 am. We had to be on the bus at 5 am - today was our "preview" day out at the race site. This was our opportunity to see what we were in for - what we came all this way to do. I layed awake and thought about it - am I ready for it or will I realize we have made a mistake, come all this way to do something so much bigger than us that we cannot complete.
We got up around 4:15 and got out to the bus. They had box breakfasts for us - a hard boiled egg, a ham and cheese sandwich, a few pastries, yogurt and a banana. Not bad. We settled in for a three hour drive out to the country. This was the first time since we got here that there was no sitting in traffic. The first time that when we asked, "how far of a drive is it" our guide didn't answer "about 20 minutes without traffic". The first few times we asked that question and heard the answer, we were happy to know that we only had a 20 minute drive. Then we realized that there was never a time of no traffic, so it never took just 20 minutes to get anywhere. I think the guide knew that if he said - "with traffic, it will take us about 3 hours to go 10 miles" all hell would break loose. Better not to know I guess. Anyway....when we asked how long it would take - he said about three hours. And he was right.
The ride was beautiful - we got out of the city into the suburbs. You could see people getting up and heading into the city for work. Our guide told us that most people can't afford to live in the city - so they live outside the city and commute. Our guide, Bing, lived about an hour out of town - so today he got up around 3 am to get on the bus and be in town to meet us by 5. He was with us until about 10 last night - didn't get home until around midnight. Sounds exhausting...he keeps telling us that a tour guide job is one of the best jobs in Beijing and that his friends are jealous. Wow.
After about two hours we were really out in the country. I don't think I mentioned that our bus did not have a bathroom...this was a problem for many reasons. First, we are a group of runners, getting ready for a big run on Saturday. We are all trying to keep hydrated. This is tough when you get on the bus and don't know when the next bathroom break will be. Most of the time, I found myself trying not to think about how bad I had to pee! The great thing was that everyone else was in the same boat. When we would get somewhere, there was always someone running to the front of the bus, needing to be the first person off, so they could get to a bathroom.
Speaking of bathrooms...this was the biggest shocker for me...in China, they don't have toilets like we are used to - they have holes in the ground and you squat. This is everywhere - even the new bathrooms at the airport are 90% this type of toilet - they have a few western toilets and that's it. These holes in the ground usually flush - there is no toilet paper provided. It took me a few days to realize that and finally we just threw a roll of toilet paper in our bag and brought it with us every day. The bathroom situation was really gross. I did not get used to it - it bothered me every single time I had to use it. Our hotels had regular bathrooms - so we did get to use those in the morning and at night, the rest of the time, we just had to deal with it. Whenever we went somewhere and they had western toilets - there was a buzz through the tour bus..."did you use the bathroom here? wasn't it great? if you didn't, get off the bus and go use it!!!"
I think of this now because after about two hours on our morning drive - we stopped at a "rest stop". This "preview" day was for everyone doing this race on Sat - about 1700 people and they were all being bussed up there - they were all stopping at this rest stop and we were the last buses. I cannot express you to the depths of disgusting that were experienced at this rest stop. Many people went behind the building into the fields to go to the bathroom because they couldn't stand it.
With that out of the way - we had about a 40 minute drive up the winding hills of the mountains to get to where the race would start. The part of the Wall we were running on was one not visited by tourists. It was remote. We drove through several small villages - the people were looking at this line of buses - knowing what we were there for - thinking we were crazy foreigners!!
We got to the meeting point. The race would being at an old fort - there was a courtyard, surrounded by bleacher seats. All the race participants sat there and the race organizers went over all the details of the run. Today we were going to be bussed up to the Wall, so that we could walk the 3 miles of the wall that we would be running on Sat. This would give us a chance to take pictures and be able to prepare our strategy for Sat. It was sunny and about 90 degrees already by the time we headed up to the wall.
The race would start at the courtyard and we would run about three miles to get to the wall - today they drove us those 3 miles...they were uphill...all uphill...not a little uphilll....steep uphill....that concerned me a bit - I tried not to think about it.
We got to the wall and walked up some stairs to actually get on the wall. It was so steep that I felt disoriented...I had some vertigo and thought to myself "this was a big mistake"...I said to Trevor, "we aren't ready for this" . After a few minutes, my mind acclimated and I felt better- we spent the next two hours walking up and down steep stairs, climbing, crawling. The stairs were all different heights - some a few inches, some more than a foot tall. There were no flat portions. There were portions that weren't brick, just rock - with no wall on one side - just a drop off. It was on these portions that I learned something new about the man I am married to - that I have known for 8 years - he is afraid of heights! Who knew.
At the end of the wall, in order to get back down to ground level - we went down about 750 stairs. Your mind starts to play tricks on you and you lose your balance and stumble and then you wonder how you will run 3 miles up a hill, 3 miles on this wall, make it down these stairs and then run about 7 miles. Again, I tried not to think of that!!!
We finished our walk - they fed us lunch and we got back on the buses to head back to town.
There were three buses in our group and usually people stayed on the same bus every day and sat in the same seats. We were on BUS 1. We sat in the front with our tour guides - Bing from China and Lee from Boston (originally from China). Behind us were Jim, May and their daughter Stephanie from Boston. These three were so great - we spent most of our time with them and loved every minute of it. We also had a woman named Margaret on our bus - she was 85 and had run 60 marathons in the last 20 years. Amazing woman - she was on this trip alone and not afraid of anything.
On our trip back to town, we somehow got some new people on our bus -they had come from bus 2. They apparently didn't understand how we do things on Bus 1....on Bus 1 - we wait for people, we are always the last to leave and the last to arrive and no one cares. We sit and we wait and we are happy about it. We sit in traffic for three hours and we don't yell at our tour guides. These people, didn't understand that. So, when we sat and waited for people and were the last to leave - these Bus 2 people decided to yell at Bing and Lee. Really yell. They were from New York and so they knew how to yell. They yelled before we pulled out, they yelled after we pulled out - about 40 minutes later, they were still yelling. Us Bus 1 people, didn't like it....we did what we do and just sat and listened. Finally we had enough and Jim from Boston said, "We love Bus 1, if you don't like it...go back to Bus 2". That was the end of the yelling. Now there was silent hatefullness at the back of the bus and we were happy again!
Two hours later, we made a bathroom stop at the airport. Crazy, but it worked!!
We got back to the hotel around 4 - there was a dinner that night - Peking Duck. Trevor and I had planned to go - then Lee was telling us about the dinner and how they raise the ducks. This was too much information and I decided I didn't want Peking Duck. Instead we went to a place called Lan Club for dinner. We had the most excellent dinner! We had spicy chicken, fried chicken, fried rice served in little bamboo baskets, steamed dumplings and a fabulous chocolate cake.
We walked back to the hotel - were in bed at 8 and asleep by 30 seconds after 8.