“How did you do this for six months, alone?!” I mused to myself as I shuffled awkwardly into my tattered, two-person tent, scraping mud on my sleeping mat with my dirty shoes on accident.
Cheryl Strayed is even more of a badass than I realized. She trekked alone for thousands of miles and here I was, shivering and wet from the rainy, eight hour uphill battle of the morning. My muscles were screaming at me to lay horizontal, my mind weary from the constant, steady pace we had kept. I shook my head in disbelief at what lay ahead…
After ravenously shoveling down some rice and tempeh that my porters graciously cooked for my group, I passed out. Light from the full moon woke me before my alarm did. A few sugar crackers and a cup of tea were provided before starting the three hour uphill battle to the summit of Mt. Rinjani, the second tallest volcano in Indonesia. I had set my sights on conquering it, the very minute I booked my ticket to Indonesia for the summer. I wasn’t going back down until I kissed the ground on the very tip-top of this tremendous mountain.
Meandering up volcanic sand, the color of dark chocolate, was tiresome. Each step was two steps forward, three steps back. Sinking into the sand and stumbling became the norm. I cursed myself for forgetting my headlamp, my dinky flashlight doing nothing more than providing insight only two steps ahead.
I let myself get lost in my thoughts, picturing all the things from the past year that I had carried atop my shoulders, just melting away. With each step, I vowed to let go. Let go of things I’d done. Gone through. Had happen to me. I let go of the things burdening me, the things I could no longer carry because they were prohibiting me from growing.
The sun began peeking through the clouds over my left shoulder, to the east. Over my right, the full moon was providing a spectacular view over the lake below.
20 more steps. My breathing turned ragged. The incline grew significantly, nearly at 45 degrees by now. Just 20 more steps. Rest. Repeat. I pushed and kept pushing, beginning to race the sun as I rose higher and higher.
The last 300 meters had me completely sapped of energy. I dug down deep, channeling all my strength into putting foot ahead of foot. Ignoring the cliff on either side of me, I saddled myself in the middle and buckled down. Just 20 more steps. 20 more. More. Go. Faster. It was so close I could taste it.
And there I was. A 360 view above the clouds, flying, floating at over 12,500 feet. I took a sharp inhale and chugged some water in celebration. I greeted the others that had braved the summit and we congratulated each other.
Survival mode took over. I forced some bread and crackers down the hatch, chugging more water to abate any altitude sickness. Out of ten of us, only half made it to the summit and I wasn’t going to let any sickness get in my way.
I couldn’t wipe the stupid-happy grin off my face, beginning to unwind and relax as I took in the view. I did it. The day was done, and I was excited to nap the rest of the day away.
The way down was slow and treacherous, rocks filling our shoes as we slip-slided down another 3 hours to the crater rim for lunch.
I shoveled down some banana pancakes and toasted my friends with my cup of tea. A power nap was all I could think about. Our guide didn’t understand enough English, so we never really knew what he meant. We were under the impression that the day was done.
Oh, how wrong we were. He pushed us to get going, down to the lake. A sharp decline of about 3 hours was in order. I reasoned that it was worth it, if only to soak in some hot springs at the bottom.
We stripped down, trying to wash away the dirt and grime in the bubbling sulphuric water. Ah, now I could relax. Wrong again.
Our guide pushed us again to get to the lake, walking the perimeter for an hour. As the sun began setting, providing an insanely picturesque view, we pushed to the top, promised that our tents were only an hour away.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
All too soon, we were stumbling in pitch black darkness, up a steep and muddy incline out of the crater. Thankfully, rusty old ropes had been placed to help us scramble up the wet ground. I cursed myself yet again for no headlamp, my hands not free to balance as I gripped my iPhone flashlight.
After another three hours, four of us reached the top, hooting and hollering as we emerged to the sight of tents.
Our guide was a good hour behind us, with the slower members of our group. I rapidly put on all the layers I had, wool hat and all.
I checked my Fitbit watch, shocked that we had gone nearly 21 miles in a day. I had nearly beat my record for farthest distance hiked.
But, we weren’t done yet. After people took pity on us, feeding us some mashed up KitKats from the bottom of their packs, our guide finally found us. He pointed to lights a good distance away and said, “this my porters. We go now.”
Moans and groans followed as we trekked down another hour to the tents below. Upon arrival, he realized they weren’t our tents. He left us at the bottom and hustled back up to find his porters, who had all of our food supplies and tents. About an hour later, near 10 pm, we heard them rustling about, hurriedly setting up camp.
I forgot about dinner, collapsing in the tent, falling fast asleep. The next morning, we had an easy 5 hour hike ahead until we reached Senaru, the village below.
Light hearted, despite our stiff legs, we kept a swift pace. A shower and good meal fueled us to keep pushing further and further. The last twenty minute leg, I looked down on the path and found a baby pup, eyes still closed, crawling along. She could fit in one palm, she was so tiny.
I looked around for her mother or other pups, finding none.
A local kid smiled and said, “you take. I give you!”
Um. What. I teetered on the edge of indecisiveness for a while, weighing my decision. I ended up taking her back with us, the full two hour bus ride into a bigger town, Sengiggi.
I named her Rinjani, spending the entire bus ride googling how to care for her and what vaccinations she needed to come home to Baku with me. It was impossible. And I was saddled with this responsibility to care for her, refusing to just leave her on the side of the road.
We stopped for an ATM next to a dive center and on a whim, I offered her to the woman and her daughter. Luckily, they cooed and hugged her the moment they saw her. She was in good hands now.
I sighed, said goodbye, and lumbered under my heavy pack to the nearest restaurant.
Rinjani was taken care of, the mountain had been conquered, and now it was time to nurse my wounds and get a nice, hot shower.