The Kids’ Cancer Project Trek & Travel Coordinator Kim Babbage joined three strangers for a common cause, walking the Great Wall of China and raising almost $40,000 for research into childhood cancer. Theirs is an incredible story of adventure, loss, and success. Kim shares her travel diary with Traveltalk.
[Day 1 – Travel]
Day 2 – Beijing
Two random women are waving their arms at me in the airport. I’m so excited to finally meet Ingrid and Gwen. For weeks we’ve talked and emailed about this trek. Laura will be joining us later. We are all striving to raise money awareness of children’s cancer research, but Ingrid and Laura have very personal reasons.
Ingrid lost her 22 year old daughter, Karlee, to a rare tumour in January 2014. Determined to keep her spirit alive, Ingrid started Karlee’s Army with a mission to raise awareness about childhood cancer and fundraise for medical research. Ingrid told me the trip would be the first time she’d have to herself since her daughter passed away. “It’s an opportunity for me to go somewhere in the middle of nowhere and look out and get some perspective on why I’m here and she isn’t,” Ingrid said.
Laura, on the other hand, was trekking for her little brother. Ross was diagnosed with neuroblastoma and died in 1981. Back then, brain cancer was quite literally a death sentence. Today, thanks to medical research, 50% of children diagnosed with neuroblastoma survive. “Childhood cancer saps so much,” said Laura. “Life as you know it is never the same. All of us ache for the future Ross will never have. It’s something no family should ever have to live through.”
This trip is set to be special not only for these remarkable women but also for the children they will help in the future.
[Day 3 – Travel day]
Day 4 – Start of trek
Mao Zedong once said, "He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man.”
It’s been a very long, hot and emotional day. Each person has a journey and the good thing is you are travelling with like-minded people who are there for you.
While we only trekked a bit over 5km today, it took us 4 hours. This area of the Wall is not a commercial area. It was amazing to be the only people walking it.
Day 5 - Exploring the 1,200-year-old Great Wall
It’s 5.47am. It still seems surreal that I’m sitting outside my tent and the remains of the Great Wall of China are behind me. The local farmers are around working the land.
The other weird thing is my mobile phone is working so I just took a call from my kids.
Today was full of rough terrain, slippery rocks, skinny paths. The wind picked up and so did the rain. The hike is quite tough at times but the experience of the wild Wall is worth the effort. The storm cleared the smog, and when the clouds in the evening lifted, we saw our first star.
Day 6 – Gubeikou to Jinshanling
Today was relaxing, in the sense of we had time to take in the views, the distance and the magnitude of this Wall. It stretches for more than 40 kilometres. There are 14 beacon towers, 143 watch towers, 16 strategic pass, three citadels and many other military constructions. As we ate lunch, we realised that more than 500 years ago a solider was sitting in this area guarding the tower.
Day 7 – Towards Simatai
Today we went up and down so many steps. We walked on vertical steps and though broken towers. This part of the trek has been very personal for all of us.
At our highest part of the Wall, the souvenir seller told us he had seen two leos in the bush near the wall the day before. We didn’t understand. What is a leo? Our guide Jimmy downloaded an image (as you do standing on an ancient wall). OMG it’s a leopard! To say I was a little nervous walking today would be an understatement.
I clearly didn’t drink enough water yesterday afternoon (was a little nervous about the walk to the toilet in the evening - very dark and too far away from campsite). My legs are cramping badly today.
Beijing Tower is built on a rock mountain. I’m lost for words on how they built this part of the wall on a cliff-face. It’s quite dangerous around the tower due to loose rocks.
Karlee's ashes were scattered and we had a tribute for Ross on top of the tower. We sat and enjoyed the silence of this magnificent world heritage structure made up of stone, brick, tamped earth, wood and other materials. It hugs the mountains, going up and down them; it changes in height and width. One million people worked to build the Wall. Thousands of them died in the process . If they could only see what they have achieved is still standing today and being enjoyed by thousands. The end has come and I feel a huge sense of achievement.
This trek has brought out something in each person. We’ve all changed. I haven’t written everything down. So much of it is personal.
I will miss the nightly conversations between our tents. I can’t remember laughing as much and as hard. We also cried, hugged, listened and supported each other.
The beauty of attaching a physical challenge to a fundraising activity is that it fixes your energy and emotions on a goal. The difficult terrain pulls your focus to walking, clambering and climbing. You start to think of fewer things, the noise of your everyday life is no longer there. It’s confronting and challenging but rewarding.
As a child, we take for granted that we will grow up. We live in moment, never suspecting that cancer might limit our life. Every child should be able to grow up cancer free. In my small way, my trek helped make that a reality.
To join The Kids’ Cancer Project on the next trek, visit https://www.thekidscancerproject.org.au/get-involved/trek-and-travel or to make a donation to childhood cancer research visit https://www.thekidscancerproject.org.au/donate