The Demon Sled at the top of the Slidway.
I once picked up a GQ magazine to check out what kind of an audience they were writing to. I had heard that GQ paid like $5/word or some shit. At those rates, all you have to do is write, “Beer,” and you got enough money for a six-pack. So I was flipping through the mag and the first article that caught my attention featured a picture of an alcoholic beverage of some sort.
“Booze!” I thought. “I can write for these guys.” But then I started reading the article.
“Next time you’re in Italy,” the author began, “you gotta try this drink I found at a little dive bar on a side street near the Colosseum.”
Next time I’m in Italy? Who the fuck reads this shit? Everything about the author’s tone presumed that the reader saw a short jaunt over to Italy for a cocktail as completely normal. I quickly realized I would not be writing for GQ. There is nothing I could possibly say to the readers of GQ. (It’s like, what do you get Bill Gates for his birthday?)
Until now. I have some information the GQ man might be interested in. Because this is how the first sentence of this article should have begun:
“Next time you’re in China…”
Yes, next time you’re in China. What a douche bag.
Next time you're in China, steal a hunk of the Great Wall.
Anyway, next time you’re in China, and you’re going to go visit the Great Wall, you should visit the Matianyu section of the Wall. Most people visit the Bada Bing section of the Wall when they visit (I think it’s actually called “Ba Da Ling,” but I prefer Bada Bing) because it’s closest to Beijing. Thus it’s more touristy, really crowded, and, from what I understand, it’s not even the real Wall. Fake Wall! Fuck that shit. Matianyu, on the other hand, is only slightly farther from Beijing than Bada Bing, but it offers an entirely more pleasurable experience. For one, it’s out in the middle of nowhere, so there are few tourists. It’s also a real section of the Great Wall. And, best of all, there is a toboggan ride at Matianyu.
While there were less tourists at Matianyu, these four douche bags somehow managed to make up for the throngs of tourists we were avoiding back at Bada Bing. Since I'm obviously unqualified to write for Vice, I'm not even going to try a Dos and Don'ts here, but I will say that taking off your Ed Hardy t-shirt at the Great Wall of China and sticking it up your butt in the back of a pair of matching Ed Hardy shorts is definitely a DO!
The strangest thing about the toboggan run is that no one, locals included, seemed to know what we were talking about. A friend of ours had told us about it before we left, and we even confirmed its existence with internet video. We eventually convinced a small group of fellow travelers, including pro skaters Matt Milligan and Chad Bartie, to visit the Matianyu section of the Wall with us.
After a few wrong turns, we eventually made it to Matianyu, and it does indeed have a toboggan ride. Or, as it was called on some of the Engrish signs, “The Slidway.” We took a gondola up to guard tower 14 on the Wall. Then we hiked down—mostly down, but there were some steep ascents in a couple places—to guard tower 6, which is where the Slidway starts.
Walking the Great Wall is very nice. It is exactly as you would imagine it. The views are breathtaking, the architecture is stunning, and the sheer brute force required to build the damn thing is absolutely astounding. (Naturally I stole a little hunk of the Wall as a souvenir.) No less astounding are the little Chinese merchants hanging out in the shade of every guard tower imploring you to buy something, anything, from them.
Milligan is trying to barter a beer from the Mule Lady. She didn't want his measly 5 Yuan until he started walking away with his measly 5 Yuan.
They sold snacks, and beverages, even beer. Which, of course, meant they had to lug all that crap up to the Wall, and then carry it all back down again at the end of the day. It’s hard enough to hike that thing without a few cases of beer on your back. But we showed our appreciation for their mule-like strength by buying a beer every few hundred yards or so. We could have gotten a good buzz going up there, but we had read a warning on a sign earlier that said “drunkard and people who are insane” are not allowed to ride the Slidway.
Hannah, Chad Bartie, and Matt Milligan say goodbye before they descend.
At guard tower 6, you descend to the start of the Slidway. The track itself looks like a bunch of oil drums cut in half and stacked end to end. A bored Chinese lady stood at the top of the run with a train of sleds. Milligan, Bartie, and his wife, Hannah, decided to go first. Hannah got cold feet, but after some prodding, we got her into a sled. She lifted the brake and slowly rolled down to the first turn. We could still hear her cursing the Slidway in her Australian accent even after she had disappeared into the forest. “SHEET! SHEET! SHEET!” she kept yelling.
Matt takes the first turn before disappearing into the forest on the hillside below the wall.
Next Tania and I slid into a sled, which is nothing more than a plastic seat atop some large rollerblade wheels, and a hand brake. The lady instructed us to push forward on the lever to go fast, pull back to brake. She also said we should “rean” into the turns. I pushed off first, and after testing the brake, I pushed down on the lever all the way. I’d been on a toboggan run in Vail when I was a kid with my uncle. He told me I was a pussy if I used the brake. I could hear his voice in my head as I began my descent and I promised him I wouldn’t touch the brake. For a minute, anyway. Because that thing hauled ass. In hindsight, I think it can be done without touching the brake. I refrained from using it as best I could, but not knowing what was around the turns forced me to employ it a couple of times. Plus there were crazy Chinamen all along the track waving their hands in my face and yelling, “SLOW DOWN!”
“NI HAO!” (“Hello!”) I’d yell back.
They were also the cause of some unnecessary brakeage. “Maybe they know something about this turn I don’t know?” I’d think. I swear I got a little too high on one turn and caught a grind.
One of the best things about the ride is it’s super long. You know how a rollercoaster ride is about a minute long in reality, but it feels like forever? This thing felt like it just went on and on and on.
I opted not to video and concentrate on just hauling ass... mostly because the youtube video (below) gives you a pretty good idea of what I saw... just imagine Vans at the front of the sled... but Tania decided to try and film a little (above). I'm not sure how because as you can see, she's hauling ass.
“It felt like it lasted ten minutes,” Chad Bartie said at the bottom. I think in reality it’s somewhere between three and four minutes. ZOOM! For three minutes? So fun. It was seriously one of the best parts of the trip to China. And I want one in my backyard. Although it’ll never compare to the one we rode through the forests on the hillsides below the Great Wall of China.
And now I want to end this article—which is supposed to be about food—in the same douchey manner it began:
So next time you’re in China and you ride the Slidway down from your hike along the Great Wall at Matianyu, make sure to stop into the little noodle shop in between the souvenir stalls. The lady in there makes the best plate of chicken fried rice, and it really hits the spot after a gnarly Slidway session.