Perseverance creates a reward that can only make one proud. To push yourself past what you thought was your breaking point, past your want to give up, in order to receive an amazing gift at the completion, helps to remind you, just how capable you are. I could not have been more proud of myself for such an experience. Climbing Mount Aging has, so far, been the most rewarding, physical challenge I’ve conquered. Mount Agung, as it is named, isn’t actually a mountain but a volcano. It is the top of Mount Agung that is the highest point on the island of Bali. I climbed this monumental colossus of nature in the middle of the night to watch the sunrise. Truthfully speaking, the adventure was absolutely and completely spontaneous.
After a fun afternoon drive to the beach and back with my new friend from Australia, Bonny, she prompted her interest in climbing the mountain as her last adventure before she flew home. Since her departure was about 36 hours from that moment, it was a ‘yes’ decision that could not be tamed. We had just enough time for a 3-hour nap before we needed to be ready for the drive and early morning trek up the mountain from Ubud. After gathering as many basic necessities for the hike as I could find from my place, a limited but energized sleep and without much more thought, we were ready for an interesting morning of self-motivation and determination. You could say it was kind of crazy for two women to be climbing this mountain after such an eventful day, barely any sleep, and no physical endurance preparation, but we did it anyway; our individual resourcefulness helping the other with as many materials as we each thought necessary and absolutely no self-doubt from either of us. From the 1 a.m. pickup from our residences, the hour drive helped with that lack of sleep we each needed to catch up on in preparation for our adventure. Upon arriving at the bottom of the trek, in complete darkness, we were faced with the first phase of this journey…stairs.
Though a little steep, the 3 levels of twisted and turned steps weren’t as bad as I thought they were going to be. A challenge, yes, but the first wave of relief after completion felt so good. I couldn’t wait for the big wave of accomplishment. Atop the stairs was the mountain’s temple. Our guide spent a few moments in prayer as we respectfully waited.
With absolute uncertainty about how to get to the top in the dark, what we could do with certainty was follow our guide and keep moving. Listening to the forest in darkness is a great teacher of self-awareness. As my body was focused on constant and repetitive movement, my mind was free in creative thought and Bonny’s motivational mantra was repeated in the open air, “I can do this.” In complete darkness with our portable lights and our guide, we climbed. I became so completely focused on simply moving one foot in front of the other that once I realized that we were above the clouds, it was like waking up. Standing above the clouds for the first time in my life, under the moonlight, I decided to make the rest of the hike under only the moonlight. As much as I wanted to spend time fascinated by the stars and watch the slow-moving rumble of the floating clouds across the night sky, there was still more to climb.
We had a goal.
We wanted to reach the peak.
We needed to keep moving.
Slowly on our right, as the first light of the sun began to peak over the clouds, still about thirty minutes away from the top, I knew I needed to push myself just a little harder in order to get there in time. In my mind, all I could think was “this was the last leg of the race.” I was literally racing the sun at that point. Bonny had fallen behind (though our guide was with her, I was periodically calling out for her to make sure she is okay), and I was doing all that I could to push myself to the top to win this race against the sun. With muscles beginning to ache in every step, my body seemed to burst once I saw the crater of the volcano and tears were flowing down my face a few steps later finally stepping on the top view point of the mountain. I could not spend any time in relief, relaxation, or recover as still more that I needed to do: Capture the moment.
The rising, colorful, crisp, clear sunrise was the best reward for determination and perseverance. To be present for that sunrise at that point of view was a treasure to behold. It wasn’t until the sun was completely above the horizon that I realized how cold and dry it was at the top. I was so proud of and grateful to myself for packing my trench coat and taking it with me on the hike.
As we faced the next phase of this challenge, climbing back down the mountain, I came to realize what kind of environment we moved through in the darkness. We began down the steep, barren, rocky terrain, towards the clouds, as the sun rising higher and higher in the sky, making it hotter with each moment. Once we were climbing down through the clouds, we faced a few unexpected obstacles.
Since our bodies released all the adrenaline from the relief of reaching the top and watching the glorious sunrise, we couldn’t move at the same pace going down as we did going up. It became harder for both Bonny and me to bend our knees and one of Bonny’s sneakers completely fell apart. We distracted ourselves from these added challenges with conversation while moving through the now cloud covered topical forest. Speaking with our guide, I learned about the unfair wages of being a trek guide of the mountain, leading people up and down the mountain versus being a driver who gets paid 5 times more for picking up and dropping off hikers. He also stopped several times to gather peas from neighboring trees in preparation for cooking his first meal of the day once we reached the bottom of the mountain. Bonny and I bonded over politics, spirituality, culture, life and the various resourceful solutions we created to help us get down the mountain.
With all of our difficulties, the one thing that I did not have to worry about was my hair. I kept my head wrapped while we were climbing the mountain. This helped to keep my head warm against the cool mountain air whenever we stopped for a break and definitely once we reached the top. In climbing back down the mountain, the sun’s heat made my wrap completely unnecessary. The clouds, however, were the best part. Being surrounded by moisture made my curls soft, light and fresh. I feel like it was the most relaxing experience for my hair; complete hydration without any physical manipulation.
I am so grateful for this spontaneous adventure and to our guide. He was such a helpful, thoughtful, and absolutely selfless man who never once showed any impatience about how much more slowly we needed to move down the mountain than his other climbers. The more experienced hiker could hike up and down this mountain in 4-5 hours. It took Bonny and I nearly ten hours. I was happily surprised by how little I ached the next day, my knees in particular. I did ice and soak them, and stretch and massage my muscles as soon as I got home. I was so proud of myself and Bonny for not surrendering to the challenge of the mountain, making it to the top and overcoming the obstacles in getting down. An adventure that I will never forget.
Spontaneity has a great way of creating unforgettable experiences that you would never have, had you not said ‘yes’. Thanks for asking, Bonny. I don’t think it would have been the same experience without you.