days ago, I began my Great Wall Adventure in Jiayuguan, at the Wall's western end. For many reasons, today was an especially-difficult day, beginning with the extreme heat.
With the shadows of darkness overpowering my last glimpse of daylight, I knew it was time to shut-down. My body was tired; I felt overheated; my body was trembling- shaking.
Back in Houston, with very-little time, I’d briefly studied the aerial maps of the Great Wall provided by NASA but, somehow, I’d overlooked the section of Wall that crossed the Gobi Desert.
For the past five days I’ve been overwhelmed with a constantly-glaring sun; unrelenting ankle-deep sand; while being ruthlessly ‘whiplashed” with dry, gritty winds.
From the map it appears that (barring any unforeseen accidents), I’ll be out-of-the-desert by late tomorrow afternoon.
I simply didn’t
have enough energy to open my tent tonight. Besides, with nothing but sand and high winds, I was afraid I couldn’t anchor the tent sufficiently. I couldn't take the chance that the tent might “fly away” with me in it!
“Unpacking” my body took almost thirty minutes: I wore a classic runner’s backpack; then, there were the 15 canvas packs of supplies tied around my waist;
plus multiple pairs of extra shoes--all looped together by shoelaces-- hanginng around my neck. Consider, also, that I carried a large,rolled tent in one hand and a full-sized sleeping bag—both bound securely in customized bags-- in each hand.
Taking out a large polyurethane bag from my backpack, I carefully placed my paraphernalia…including camera, sunglasses, and various medicines… inside, then folded it
several times before tying it securely with an extra shoelace. It was important to keep the outside elements away from my equipment, necessities, and limited food supply. My compass, whistle, Swiss Army knife, and small flashlight hung on chains
around my neck. Those items never left me, for any reason!
I had eaten an energy bar almost one hour earlier and now I eagerly drank one of my
thermos of water. Tomorrow, it was essential I find extra water. Only two 16 oz. Thermos fit in my backpack with very-limited room for any extra bottles of water and, that was all.
I hurriedly unrolled my sleeping bag and sat down, too exhausted to care that I was alone in the middle of a huge desert but, what did it matter? There weren’t any trees, or grassy areas, even sand
dunes to use for shelter. Besides, why would any wild animals or dangerous people choose such a wasteland for late-night exploring?!?!?!
barely removed my tennis shoes, tucked them in beside me...snuggled lengthwise in the bag before….I was asleep. Then, suddenly I was awake… but why?
Everywhere I looked was darkness. I’d never experienced such complete darkness and-- for a minute or two-- I feared I might have a panic attack then suddenly…there was activity around me. Cocooned in my sleeping bag, I definitely sensed
movement--as if small “things” were running up, down, and across, my wrapped body! Oh, no! Something is caught in my hair…oh, I must find my flashlight! This is so scary….
Struggling to unzip enough material to release one arm, I quickly grabbed my flashlight from under my chin, pointed it down the front of my sleeping bag and clicked.
It’s difficult to describe the horror of that moment. I thought my heart would stop because everywhere I looked, there were millions of white, albino mice-- jumping and running
across my sleeping bag!!!
Only later….would I learn these rare mice were documented night travelers on the Gobi Desert. Daylight blinded them
so they could only move-freely under cover of Darkness. Aiming my flashlight in every direction revealed the alarming facts: The Gobi Desert was alive with massive numbers of stampeding white mice and…for thousands of miles in all directions…
I was the only human.
Knowing this frightening nightmare would surely-end with the morning light, I grabbing a scarf from my down vest, wrapped
my head with my one free arm, and quickly tucked/zipped/ myself deep-down in the sleeping bag. I prayed for daylight to come quickly. I vowed that, regardless of what happened tomorrow… this would be my last night in the desert.
In the many days to come, I would always remember this night as the most frightening, most challenging night, of my Great Wall Journey….until… the night I encountered
The Black Leopard."
But--- I’ll save that breathtaking experience to share with you-- next time".