When you’re backpacking Southeast Asia, the flexibility of your plans make you prone to a host of unexpected adventures. My most notable albeit challenging thus far: climbing 3,726 m to the summit of the volcanically active mount Rinjani in Lombok, Indonesia.
After teaching in Bangkok, gallivanting around Myanmar, water-fighting my way through Chiang Mai, spending way too much time in Pai, traveling 18 hours on the road back to Bangkok, and getting reamed out by the head of immigration lady at Don Mueang Airport, the idea of spending a relaxing 5 days doing yoga in Ubud, Bali seemed very welcoming. Upon learning that my Phatthalung friends were passing through Ubud at the same time, I had an inkling those plans were apt to change.
Arriving at a hostel in Ubud, I caught up with Naomi, Rachel and Ciara for a late dinner and obligatory Bintang. At some point the conversation went something like this:
Me: “What are you guys planning on doing the next few days”?
Naomi: “We booked a ferry over to Lombok for tomorrow, we want to do this cool trek I heard about. Wanna join”?
Naomi and Rachel were soon moving to Australia so the answer to the debate between spending time alone or with them was obvious.
Me: “Sure! If I can still get a ferry ticket…”
Three days later, after bargaining with a handful of trekking companies and laying down almost 2 million rupiah each, we were on a 5am van winding through the rice patties and relentless rain towards base camp in Senaru Village. Indonesian coffee soon became my new best friend. We were greeted by our guide, Andy, our 4 porters, and fellow Trekkers; Felix from Montreal and a friendly Dutch couple. My friends and I had assumed primarily beach weather for our travels so we made sure to sign on with a company that would provide jackets and appropriate footwear. When we reminded them of this agreement, they tossed us some used sweatshirts, plastic ponchos and dilapidated hiking boots. Better than nothing I guess. We would realize over the duration of the trek that it’s the norm to plan and prepare for it sometimes years in advance(one climber I spoke to had been waiting 15 years). The climbers we saw on the chilly last leg to the summit looked like they were straight out of a Patagonia catalogue; headlamps, poles and all. Our slipshod layering of sweatshirts and elephant pants, and use of cell phone light paled in comparison.
Review of the trekking route and plan:
Day 1:Try and make it to crater rim by the end of the day if the rain let up and set up camp before sunset.
Day 2: Hike down into the crater, stop at the hotsprings for lunch, and climb back up the other side to pre-summit base camp.
Day 3: Wake up at 3am to make the 3 hour ascent to the summit for sunrise and climb back down before sunset.
I was just excited for a challenge so it sounded pretty reasonable to me at the time. When the rain let up just a bit, we tossed on our ponchos and began the trek. Signing my name in at the station, I looked at the meager couple hundred figure that represent the American climbers of 2014 and vowed to myself that I would make it( our guide, Andy, had his doubts about us). We all chatted cheerfully for the first hour or so but then dug in our heels as the rain came and our concentration shifted to keeping schedule. It wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. We continued on, occasional silence interrupted by our intrigue in the calf muscles of the tiny Indonesian porters casually hopping along in flip flops, cigarette in hand and carrying who knows how many pounds of camping gear on their backs. Our muscles began to burn and we decided that we preferred the earthen stairs to a gradual but slippery incline in the rain. As I got into a good breathing rhythm and the slope got steeper, I got lost in my thoughts of how I would power through all that was to come in the next few days.
I promise not to let myself down. I promise not to let my coaches down. BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, I PROMISE NOT TO LET THE GIRL BESIDE ME DOWN.
My mind wandered to my collegiate lacrosse career at Rollins College and my coaches, friends and teammates that I have been missing so much. I was frustrated with myself for not keeping better touch with them. As I continued trekking, I began to think about what the whole experience means to me. My frustration turned to nostalgia and then extreme appreciation as certain realizations dawned on me. It’s difficult to explain but I’ll try and articulate it the best way possible. Excuse me if I sound cliche…
I feel lucky to have been blessed with all the circumstances surrounding my four years with my team at Rollins. I don’t know the stories of the trekkers I saw on my journey up mount Rinjani, but I couldn’t help but feel that those four years had left me with and advantage, not just on the trek, but in life. In the afternoon of the first day, as the terrain got steeper and slippery close to crater rim, I made a conscious effort to encourage my trek group onward in the same way my Rollins teammates would. I was channeling Carol and Mo telling me you got this piggy on an 8 meter shot, Palaz patting me on the back and telling me to keep my head up on a lost possession, Pags putting me in a headlock(affectionate) at any achievement; I could go on and on. I was channeling this to my trekking buddies maybe not in the same manner but with the same intent. At crater rim, the clouds and rain suddenly gave way to the most spectacular sunset and scenery I’ve ever payed eyes on. I felt like we could have easily been in a setting from Lord of The Rings or Harry Potter. We snapped a couple group pictures and congratulated one another on a successful day one. While eating dinner at camp that evening, clustered together to keep warm, I felt the familiar sense of achieving some sort of challenge with a group again.
The italicizes words above are the chant that my teammates and I screamed out, hand in hand, in the huddle before every game. During the challenging part of the trek, those memories kept me going. And then I realized that the same thing had kept me going through every challenge I had encountered in my post grad life. The initial slump, figuring out my purpose/passions, studying for my health coaching certification, packing up and moving to Thailand, anytime I stepped out of my comfort zone.
Back in 2008, I sat down with my sister and Coach Short in his office on Rollins Campus. The team was a year old and had not been given much support nor recognition from the school. He emphasized the importance of the team as a family and when he told us of his plans to make it to the NCAA Championship in less than four years, I believed him and knew I had found my team. The years that followed presented not one but two trips to the NCAA finals and a wild and awesomly weird roller coaster of various obstacles, travels, victories, silly memories and countless hours spent sweating in the workout room and on the field. All the while beside my teammate/best friends/sisters. What resonates with me most–the life lesson that has stuck with me ever since is the power of team comaraderie. When you’re feeling down, when your legs/arms feel like they’re going to give out, nothing picks you up and keeps you going than doing it in the company of the people who support you most and are striving for the same thing; knowing that the success of the team is more important than any individual success. Our coach’s cheesy links on a chain metaphor is absolutely the truth. The tears, sweat, laughs and manic cheers I shared with that group of people are something I will never forget.
The second day, after a dip in the springs, we had things down. Felix was always powering on and urging us forward. Naomi, Rachel, Ciara and I would stick together and guide each other’s footing and hand placement on some of the difficult rocket parts; each of us taking turns as the lead. Day 3 was an early one with freezing conditions. We had coffee and tried to shake the numbness out of our toes(I slept in three pairs of socks) before Felix surged onward towards the summit. In the race through the dark to make it before sunrise, I lost my group and happened upon a group of 7 just in time before my cellphone light died. “We gained another, I think” someone said during a headcount. I shyly raised my hand and admitted I lost my group and light. They adopted me into their group with little hesitation and made efforts to focus their headlamps so I wouldn’t walk off a cliff. They even offered me biscuits when we took a break to crouch behind boulders out of the chilly wind. As the first ray of sun broke on the horizon, we powered forward. The terrain was a steep incline of dense dirt and it felt much like walking in sand. The support of my adoptive group and memories of my teammates pushed me onward once again…everything I knew they would be saying if they were right there with me. Just before the sun broke over the horizon, I reached summit and was pumped but not surprised to find that Felix had been the first to arrive. I’m not even going to describe the sunrise view at the summit because no words would do it justice. As more and more people arrived congratulations were exchanged, selfies were captured, and we all shared in basking in the succes and the view.
I don’t keep in contact with my teammates as often as I’d like, but part of the power of team comaraderie is knowing that they are always still there for me as I will alway be for them. No matter where we are and what we are doing. I know that if we were all magically conjured up in the same place together, we would pick up where we left off as if nothing had changed–as if we weren’t separated by distances and moving forward with this journey that is life. My teammates continue to do incredible things. Whether they are making careers for themselves, furthering their education, going on wild adventure(s/o to Cat Kelley completing the Appalachian trail last year!) or becoming amazing mothers/wives/aunts, I think I speak for all of us when I say…
We continually promise not to let the girl beside us down.