Tribe adventurer Charlie Walker tells us about his
epic 1000 mile walk from Tiananmen Square to the edge
I stood at dawn, eyeballing a portrait of Chairman Mao and pondering the road ahead. I procrastinated for a few extra minutes knowing that, once I started walking, I would only truly be able to rest once I reached Ulaan Baatar, 1,000 miles away across the Gobi Desert.
I considered my ill-preparedness: the £5 pair of fake “Timberland” shoes, the £5 fake “North Face” rucksack; my general unfitness after an indulgent Beijing winter. But, pushing those thoughts aside, I put one foot in front of the other, the first of two million steps.
Beijing dragged itself out but the urban sprawl eventually ground to a halt in the evening at the foot of some wooded hills. I limped off the road with relief and slumped down onto the earth. Everything ached: feet, shoulders, hips, neck, knees. In favour of travelling light, I’d taken an army surplus bivvy bag instead of a tent. A slim crescent moon hung in the east and sleep came quickly.
Waking up under a paling grey-blue sky with a blood red East, I felt like I’d been in a boxing match. My entire body ached and the first few steps on the tender soles of my feet were torturous. From then on, every morning, I had to accept the pain in my feet until it slipped from my mind.
The next few days were spent following a winding road through rocky hills, brown and bare after the harsh winter. The roads wiggled through basic brick villages garnished with pretty spring blossoms breaking the otherwise uniform bleakness of the land. I soon relaxed into the exercise and felt like I was taking my time despite walking 10 hours each day. Little sections of crumbling. Great Wall offshoots dotted the landscape and crenellated spines of the wall itself ran along ridges.
Nearing Mongolia, the rocky hills gave way to yellow grasslands. Horses hauled ploughs through sandy soil and shepherds drifted slowly behind ragged flocks of brown sheep. As I neared the edge of the Gobi Desert, the mercury crept higher and I began to walk later into the evenings.
Across the border was Zamyn Uud, a dusty frontier town. Once I left the town it would be over 150 miles to the next settlement. I fretted over the trouble I might have carrying sufficient water. There was no road and vehicles travelled the route infrequently. I anxiously stocked up with a week’s supply of food, plenty of fuel for my stove and 8 litres of water. I paused at the northern end of town where there was an abrupt end to the tarmac. Several whimsical tyre tracks snaked off into the enormity of the Gobi Desert, crisscrossing in their search for the firmest sand. Deciding to throw myself on the mercy of fate, I took a swig of precious water, picked a compass bearing, and strode on.
Blog by Charlie Walker @ cwexplore.com