Robert Loken, the Great Wall'ker
    2010-12-07 16:46:03      Web Editor: Duan Xuelian

The Great Wall has always been the greatest attraction to foreign travelers to China. Most of them wouldn't miss a chance to climb the Great Wall and be considered "a real man," as in Mao's famous quote. But few would go so far as to sell their houses and quit their jobs just to spend 600 lonesome and grueling days hiking the highs and lows of the whole length of China's Great Wall.

Robert Loken, a 42-year old Norwegian, has recently finished doing just that.


For more of Robert's adventures please go to his website:

You finished the walk just two days ago. With the experience still fresh in your mind, tell us exactly how you felt when you finally reached the end of your Great Wall walk?

Reaching the Hushan Great Wall was very special. It signified the end of a 600 day long journey that had taken me every step of the way from the first watchtower of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall outside Jiayuguan in the Gobi desert to where I was standing. Suddenly standing there by the Yalu river, it was over.

When I walked up the final watchtower, I was standing only a few metres from the border of North-Korea. That was special with regards to the troubles that have been on the Korean peninsula lately.

On a personal level, it is still hard to understand what I have accomplished, and it will take time to realize this. Since I have been alone on the Great Wall except for the first month and a half together with my brother, I think I will need quite a lot of time alone to let this sink in.

How did your emotions change over the course of the walk?

Now theres a good question!!   :-)

In the beginning I was apprehensive of how I was going to manage the walk. My Chinese knowledge was very limited, and I knew I had an enormous task in front of me. Because of this, I was very grateful when my brother a little later came to Jiayuguan, and together we walked for the first month and a half. He has lived in China for 3,5 years, and knows the language very well. That helped me get acquainted with the most important words for managing this walk.

In the first months, I had a lot of discovery to do. I needed to train my body for the walk, and be sure not to overdo things and get any bad injuries. I found out which food I liked, how the busses and trains work in China etc. I was optimistic and had lots of energy to 'discover China'. I took a lot of pictures, and every China experience was a new and unique one.

In the middle of the walk, I was enjoying the experience and just 'getting on with it'. I had two visits from my girlfriend, and one from my mother and sister. That meant a lot to keep my spirits up. I also walked a little with another Great Wall enthusiast.

Toward the end of the journey things changed a little. I knew I was getting closer to the end, and started to miss people and things in Norway more. Being alone for a year and a half in a culture that is so different to that of Norway is a challenge. I got tired - not so much physically, but mentally. At the same time I tried to stay focused, continued to write in my blog and take pictures that I shared with readers in China, and many other countries of the world.

What was the greatest challenge throughout the journey? Did you ever get disheartened by obstacles and feel like giving up?

Some things were hard. In Eastern Hebei, I broke a bone in my foot. It forced me to wait against my will for six weeks. That was a setback, because suddenly I was not sure if I would make the trip in time to get home to Norway before Christmas.

Another thing which took a lot of time away from the walking was that after the first half year here, I had to go to Hong Kong every third month to get a new visa. The visa lasted for a month, and could be renewed twice in China. This meant I had to do work with my visa once a month for a long time which was not very convenient.

The winter along the border of Inner Mongolia, and the summers in the Gobi desert and Beijing were very challenging. -23C and +43C are challenging walking conditions. This meant that my progress was slowed down a lot. So there were plenty of challenges along the Great Wall.

All in all though, I had very very strong motivation to finish the walk. It was an old dream from 1987, so I was sure that I was never going to give up!

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