Before I traversed eleven time zones to reach China, I didn’t know much about the Great Wall. I had seen it meandering over most of northern China on just about every world map ever, so I knew it was large (and Chinese, I suppose). I knew that contrary to general opinion, you can’t see it from the moon (you can see it from a low earth orbit, but you can see lots of man-made things from there). And I had seen a photo of Richard Nixon standing on the Wall–the way I heard the story, when he paid his ceremonial visit, he made the keen observation, “This is, indeed, a great wall.”
In that Nixon picture, he was standing with a clot of dignitaries on the Wall. It looked wide enough to race Volkwagens on, and smooth enough that you wouldn’t wreck their suspensions. So when my wife and I planned a trip to China back in 2005, I thought hiking the Wall for three days would be a relaxing way to see the countryside. I was used to walking around New York City, and this seemed like it would be much the same: a historic sidewalk, albeit one that stretched for hundreds of miles. I convinced Men’s Journal to pay for an article on the adventure. (I then used frequent-flier miles for the trip, so I think our vacation turned a profit–which is why people get into travel writing, I suppose.)
The piece never ran; after I returned, Men’s Journal had its annual change of staff and direction, and the new editor-in-chief wasn’t keen on the idea. But you can read the article (and learn how the actual Wall comported with my expectations) here. The photo above is me standing on the Great Wall at dawn.