She’s a “why not?” kind of girl. A journalist and the owner of a worm farm. Her least favorite book is Catcher in the Rye, but she loves The Power of One. She has nightmares that she says always start around the same time–4:47am—but she still says it is good to dream. She’s a self-described bully, and was a contestant on “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?”
“And no,” she says wryly. “I am not smarter than a fifth grader. I couldn’t spell ‘iridescent’.”*
Her name is Christie Peucker. Pronounced more like ‘Piker’ than ‘Puker,’ she says, despite the way it looks. I met her while walking into the lobby of the RJ Brown Hotel in Beijing. I was excited, because unlike many hotels in India I had been to, it was both impeccably clean and it had a bar. It was also very well located for exploring on foot—a five-minute walk to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It was a brand new place and I was ready to explore it.
As I talked with Christie, I realized that she too was ready to explore. She is 31, affable and boisterous, the kind of person who never has a problem making friends. And at this moment, she seemed like a kid who wanted to go out and play. I was happy to follow her lead.
Like me, she had come to China to race on the Great Wall. She was running the full marathon (I had opted for the half marathon, as running half as many steps seemed twice as appealing to me). It was her first-ever marathon, and it also happened to be one of the most difficult in the world—the incredibly steep climbs (including 5,164 steps ) challenge even the fittest runners. Perhaps the clearest indication how tough the race would be: The world record for marathons is about 2:05. The record at the Great Wall race is 3:15.
Though she joked about not being a fast runner, she was quietly confident about the race itself. Her tenaciousness is at the surface, masked in pleasantness but still easy to see. As she said to me later in her thick Australian accent, more philosophical than cocky: “I don’t like to fail at things. I don’t fail. It’s not really something I do.”
She had first decided to do the Great Wall Race in 2002, when she ran her first half marathon. “They gave me a flyer,” she told me from behind fashion-framed glasses. “I said ‘I’m going to do that one day.’” You can hear the pride in that last part, the realization that she’s on the doorstep of accomplishing that goal. She does what she says she’ll do.
And when she crossed the finish line, it would only be the beginning. Because Christie has said that she has 11 more challenges to go.
It’s called 30 Days for 30 Years. Every month for a year, Christie is going to do something she’s always wanted to do. A “bucket list” of sorts, to be accomplished well before most people think about kicking it.
Pearl farming in Australia. Eagle training in Mongolia. Visiting the Holy Land and Dollywood. “They are random things that I’ve always wanted to do but been too busy working to do,” she said. “People don’t take time to do those random things that can actually bring you quite a lot of joy.”
I was struck by the idea. It is so ambitious, specific, adventurous and most of all: gutsy. It is so cool. I peppered her with questions, most notably “Why?”
She was miserable, she said. Working too hard, unable to enjoy the life she’d created for herself. And then one of her best friends, at thirty years old, was diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly, it all came into focus for her. Quit her job, got a new one and moved in with her parents in her hometown of Adelaide. She made a detailed plan, created an itinerary and saved money. And now, she was in Beijing, at the beginning of a year-long trek without a single guarantee.
We walked around Tiananmen Square, the red flags waving everywhere, and we took pictures of the city-block-sized buildings swathed in gray-sky gloominess and the stone-faced, green-uniformed soldiers standing guard outside of their walls. Apart from the pall cast by the perpetual smog, the scene was impressive: the scale of the buildings and the square—the largest public one in the world—immediately remind you that you’re in an important place. But it was pallid and subdued; it felt like it was created to maintain an image rather than as a place for people to gather.