A rust-ravaged truck would take us to the base of Mt. Liamuiga. After the 45 minute drive through St. Kitts, our 2+ hour ascension hike would begin. Behind me lay the Adventure of the Seas with its hushed hot tub waters and attendant waiters, plush deck chairs, everlasting soft-serve ice cream cones…
What had I done?
Across from us sat a young, solid-looking couple. How can you tell a woman knows exactly what she’s doing in the wild bush? By the handkerchief expertly tied around her tightly braided hair of course. Best I could do was a half braid and a camouflage ball cap. Pieces of my unruly hair already stuck out like wild feathers. This couple read the reviews too; they’d run half-marathons, Tough Mudders, trail races, etc. I sensed oncoming disgrace.
Then another couple climbed in the truck. Surely they hadn’t read the reviews. Both were older, somewhat heavy, and the woman– her overlong, manicured nails would never survive the crags and crevices we’d have to grasp in order to heft ourselves to the top of the 3,792 foot volcano. I simply could not imagine her completing. Thank God, I thought. I won’t be last.
How does one have such ruthless, Darwinian thoughts on a cruise vacation?
Part of the fun of cruises is choosing your excursions. Amongst the taxi tours and beach visits, the volcano hike stood out as something different. We are lovers of different. The hike was labeled extremely strenuous, but on a cruise “strenuous” is taking the stairs rather than the elevator. So how bad could it be, this extremely?
Trip Advisor used phrases like “way harder than described,” “you are looking at the ground most of the time so you don’t die,” and “of the 60 [hikers] only 15 made it to the top.”
Or this, my favorite:
This is the hardest thing that I have ever done and I have biked a century, hiked mountains in Italy, Wyoming, and Montana. The best way to describe this is extreme hiking. Imagine doing Stair Treadmill for 2 hours and you are ready. Don’t take this for the scenic photo ops, no this is for people who love extreme challenges.
I took this tour from Celebrity cruise and they described it as extremely strenuous. That does not really describe it because you get the impression that this is just really tough exercise like running on a treadmill. No!! The elliptical machines don’t prepare you for this… – Krsna T January 5, 2017
I’m a review-reader because I believe in being prepared, whether I’m buying a product or putting my life in the hands of a St. Kittsian Bushman to guide me up a volcano. I like knowing what’s coming. In this case knowing what was coming struck fear into me that I wouldn’t be able to finish, that I’d fall and break a leg (that was in one of the reviews), that I’d have a heart attack or (more likely) a panic attack and stop up the whole group, that I’d have to hold my pee for inordinate amounts of time (also in the reviews).
These fears plagued me especially because of a previous, extremely-strenuous hike I took in West Virginia. My hiking company: Bob, a marathoner, Luke, a soccer player, and Gabe, a swimmer. The three of them bounded up the mountains like billy goats on amphetamines while I straggled behind, heaving and gasping and feeling like a zombie.
Though I run five miles regularly, a set of stairs winds me. A part of me thought maybe it was foolishness, this volcano. The opposite pull was the idea of letting Bob down, of looking a challenge in the eye and letting it beat me. Let me be clear: Bob puts zero pressure on me. Bob wants only my happiness but he’s often stuck because I’m happiest when I don’t feel like a wimp. What to do? I decided to train for my cruise vacation.
Before, I worked out with less-than-average intensity. With the hike looming, I became a fitness honor student. I Googled How to train to climb a mountain. I ran faster and harder and longer. I found HIIT routines and used weights. I even surprised myself by losing weight. “Good,” said Bob, “It’ll be less for you to pull up the volcano.” He was right. Much of the volcano is pulling your body weight up the rocky and root-infested face.
Excursion day. At first, Bob and I were in the slow group. When our guide called experienced hikers to the front of the pack, I could not in good conscience go. We were put in the second group, which was also the last group. At the first rest stop I had to use the “bush room.” This put us as the last two hikers of the entire group. I noticed the guide breathing as heavily as I, and it comforted me.
At the next rest, the lead guide said we were short on time, that we’d have to split up and he needed two climbers for the fast group. I raised my hand. Bob looked at me, wondering if I’d lost my mind. We were sized up and chosen to go with the experienced climbers. Was I afraid? Yes. But I was more afraid of missing the summit.
As the trail morphed into walls of rock and roots, I felt rather billy-goatish myself, though I breathed louder than a dragon. My walking stick became my best friend, grinding blisters into my palms but relieving some of the pressure off my legs. I focused on my next step and my next, and… bam! Rest stop. Bob and I, by placement of where we sat as we began the next leg, were in the front of the experienced climbers, right behind the guide. Now I really felt compelled to push. I didn’t want to hold up people behind me.
Can I tell you what a delight it is to do hard things I can do? Just like little Anna said that day at Whipp’s Ledges, when her mom offered a hand over the slippery rocks and Anna declined because she wanted the full glory of her accomplishment. I love vacation. I love rest. But unearned rest is sloth. I speak from both sides of this issue. I remember complaining to Bob about how awful running felt, the whole time.
“Try running harder for sections,” he advised.
“That’ll just make it even more awful.”
“No, that’ll make the other times feel easy. If you don’t ever push yourself, the whole run feels hard. Push yourself and you’ll get the reward of an ‘easy’ stretch.”
But I didn’t want to hurt. Hurting stinks, so I kept plodding along at the same slow pace for my runs– until Mt. Liamuiga gave me a reason to push myself. What I gave in extra effort, I got back in ease later. And the whole process was more fun. Yikes.
Truth: the hike down was harder for me than the hike up. I’d expended all my energy fighting gravity for 2+ hours, when it came time to pick my way over the slick roots and rocks, my legs were jelly. No one talked on the way down. Not only were many exhausted like me, but total focus was required “so you don’t die.” At the bottom of the trail we were cheered by the folks who’d turned back at some point. (That’s what all the extra guides were for.) Also waiting was a spam sandwich on white bread with iceberg lettuce. Bob had one.
The rest of the cruise was as you’d imagine… take one before you die. C.S. Lewis said it best: A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. …it [the experience] was nothing. Now it is growing into something as we remember it, what will it be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then – that is the real [experience]. -excerpt from Out of the Silent Planet, the book I’m working through with my 5000 Words class.