Hiking the Great Wall of China

The sign didn't specifically say DO NOT ENTER. It was more like a suggestion to "enter at your own risk," with a brick barrier in place to discourage travelers from proceeding further. There was one problem with this, though. Beyond the sign and above the barrier, the Great Wall of China continued to rise. It wove along the mountain range, up and up higher still, fading into clouds another two miles off. We'd already come three or four miles; what's a few more? Thus far we had hiked a safe, restored, tourist-trap part of the Wall, and lying ahead of us was something else entirely. Dangerous, untamed, off the beaten path.

Hiking along the Great Wall of China

Did I say three or four miles? That was just on the Wall that day, but in truth, we had come much further than this. Ever since my buddy Tom first suggested we climb through the sewers back home in Carolina four years ago, we've been "backpacking" our way around the world with our friends. We've danced in the streets of Paris, hiked the English countryside, scaled Skellig Michael, swum with sharks on California beaches, and wandered the Smokey Mountains. Now my friends and I were exploring China for three weeks, visiting orphanages, speaking at schools, and climbing more mountains.

As we'd done before, we left my wheelchair home in the States. Three guys took turns carrying me in our custom backpack, giving us freedom to go anywhere and be part of anything, including this massive wall, whose construction began before the time of Jesus and can be seen from outer space. And at the end of our epic trip, we reached this barrier. I was on Tom's back, a long-legged man with broad shoulders and a propensity for trouble. So before I knew it, we'd found the lowest point on the barrier and were climbing over it. Tom was known among our team as "The Instigator," but in this case, he wasn't alone. Ben and Marcus (our two other carriers) were already over the barrier and lending a hand to help us with balance.

The guys switched off then, Marcus taking a turn to carry me, and we pressed onward, upward into the clouds. Being a less well kept part of the Great Wall, we passed only a handful of folks along the way. And while it was still decently wide and put together, bricks were missing here and there, and the rise of steps was more extreme. Marcus leaned deep into his steps, and the others came alongside with arms to support him. Every 200 yards or so there was a guard tower with shelter to rest, so reaching one of these gave us a much-needed break. As we snacked on sandwiches and caught our breath, Tom ran ahead to scope out the trail. He came back with news.

"If you guys will just amuse me," he said with a grin, "another 200 yards..."

We'd come so far already, I was tired, and I could see the team was worn down, too. I protested.

"What did you find?" I finally asked.

"What we came for," was his answer, which usually meant dangerous, impossible, and profoundly beautiful.

We went on, Tom carrying, and soon the Wall fell away to a strip of boulders woven through a shroud of mangled trees. The trees grew, the trail shrank, fellow hikers became more and more sparse, but we continued. At one point, the path was so broken, with rocks piled awkwardly on top of each other, that Ben and Marcus held themselves steady with tree limbs and long-legged Tom, with me on his back, used their shoulders for support as he climbed and crept across. Eventually, this wild garden opened up and the Wall came back together where a guard tower stood like a beacon of security. We paused here, taking in the view together. Above the clouds and beyond the clutter of tourism, we enjoyed clean air, sharp sunlight, and a vast world of green sprawling endlessly on every side.

Kevan's friends carrying him up the Great Wall of China

My friends and I have been doing this for a few years now; traveling, exploring, experiencing the world as God intended. It's a big, beautiful place, full of life and adventure, and we get to be part of it. The Great Wall of China is probably the highest point above sea level we've been so far, and potentially the most physically demanding. We like the extreme stuff! But whether it's the Great Wall or the English countryside or getting out of bed in Fort Wayne on a Tuesday morning, I couldn't do any of it on my own. I have a wheelchair, I have a backpack, I have a wheelchair-accessible van, and the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) to make things easier (a lot easier!), but in the end, the key is people. The true beauty in all of this is that my friends make it possible, they make my life possible, and the adventure is in seeing how that plays out every day.

About the Author

Kevan Chandler

In the summer of 2016, Kevan Chandler and his friends took a trip across Europe, in which they left his wheelchair at home and his friends carried him for three weeks in a backpack. They explored France, England, and Ireland, visiting places special to Kevan for their historical and artistic influence on his life. Kevan and his friends had the experience of a lifetime, unhindered by the question of accessibility and free to wander the world wherever their feet took them because of their creativity and courage in working together. The adventure received significant media attention, including CNN, CBS, NBS, ABC, FOX News, Huffington Post, Yahoo! News, RTL, People Magazine, NatGeo: Traveler, and Daily Mail.

An avid storyteller, Kevan is the author of five books, including a forthcoming memoir of the trip entitled entitled The View from Here. He speaks worldwide to schools (kindergarten through college), churches, and medical conferences about his unique life with a disability. He is the founder of We Carry Kevan, a nonprofit striving to redefine accessibility as a cooperative effort. This message is directed toward both able-bodied and disabled communities, as the effort must come from both sides in order to be effective.

Kevan Chandler grew up in the foothills of North Carolina with his parents and two siblings. The youngest of the bunch, he was the second in his family to be diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a rare neuromuscular disease. He has a Bachelor's of Arts in Counseling from John Wesley College. With this degree, he has served in prison ministries around the southeast United States. He currently lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Kevan's ride is a QUICKIE QM-710.

Most of the stories here on LiveQuickie.com were submitted by readers. Do you have a story to tell? We'd love to hear it. Submit your story here.

Date: 11/27/2018 12:00:00 AM

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