They say you never know if you’ve bitten off too much until you start to chew. Some mornings getting out of bed and putting socks on takes an awful lot of chewing, but if you don’t do that you don’t get to walk out into the sunshine. On go the socks and let the sweating, sucking in of big breaths and chewing begin.
To truly live life there are two sides to everything Joy/Sadness, Success/Failure, Pain tolerate/Pain overwhelmed, Adventure/Inaction, Fear/Courage, Growth/Stagnation, Love/Heart ache, Endure/Discontinue, Accept/Reject, Commit/Stop, Motion/Inertia.
Fear is a word, we all know the word. Once spoken each of us will have something lurking in our sub-conscious or perhaps right there in our conscious thoughts that we can bring to the forefront in an instant and let the demons of our imagination play the nerve endings like a child learning violin. Fear can gobble you up, or feed on you slowly devouring little parts of your flesh and consuming your very character, bleeding your strength to stand back up and your will to see things from a prospective or rationale. However the treasure we seek is often hidden in the cave we fear to enter. Going through the pain is that cave for me and the only way to improve pain is by going through it. So headlamp on, spare batteries packed as this may take a while. Off I go by putting one foot in front of the other until the headlamp can be turned off and the real walking begins.
2017 I was on a flight to Bali with my family and fear was slowly sapping my strength I was chewing like crazy but wasn’t sure if this time I’d bitten off way too much. It was a fear and doubt I’d been expecting. Does it make it any better? No definitely doesn’t change the sensation but you are ready. I knew why, over the previous 22 months I’d spent many hours going through rehabilitation in an endeavour to get back to basic health and movement and to a large extent I now had. So to me for the first time I was in a position that in my mind I actually had something to lose with activities and adventures. The risk vs reward was in a much different context, as before I was always in pain and it was only the depth that varied from agony to catastrophic. Now there was light in the tunnel so if I over did it or caused too much strain on any number of old injuries, I could be left with another long rehab and or lose of function. Writing this blog I know how it turns out however in the lead up I can say the doubts were piling up at my inner walls trying hard to flood over my defences and leave me sinking into the abyss.
Forks in the road. 3am and Dave’s smiling face comes into my headlamp beam.
“How you going?” he asked.
Dave isn’t in my very small inner circle but I definitely consider him a friend as you should always have a key to your dreams and adventure as a friend and Dave was well and truly that. However was he at that point in time. Hmmmm possibly not, more like the captain of my pain threshold at that moment.
This trip had been postponed for a few times due to volcanic activity once and also fairly traumatic injuries suffered in an accident almost 2 years previously. So this adventure had taken on a sense of resetting the benchmark and slaying a few demons that lurked far off in the hidden cupboards of my mind.
So here I was on the side of a volcano possibly close to an 8th of the way up though I’d told myself just before I saw Dave’s face appear out of the darkness I must be at least a ¼ or maybe even a 1/3 haha! How was I going?
Truthfully my ankle was killing me, the pain was firing through my body and making each step both painful and difficult as it was hard to develop power consistently for each ascending footfall and I was scared I won’t be able to do it. In all honesty at what point do you hit the “No mate I need to head back down this is too much for me!!!” Where do you reach the point of no return. Partly what helped drive me on is the fact I’m a paragliding pilot and part of the adventure was to trek up Mt Agung and then strap myself into a harness and let my glider float me down effortless to the fields far below near the coast.
At this stage it was that picture in my minds eye that drove me on. So I simply replied making a joke that I guess we were about ½ now and the rest of the trek will become easier. Dave laughed and said yeah we were possibly half way through the tree line but even that was exaggerating the truth a bit. He looked again at me and at moment we could hear most of the rest of the group up ahead stopping as the guides were making an offering. I smiled and simply said it’s funny how the least of my injuries from 2 yrs previously was now giving me the most grief but I’ll be ok. Definite male bravado kicked in and off I continued.
Hours and hours and hours later well and truly past the point of no return now. One more step one more. At this time the sun was coming up and we’d got past the tree line with an epic view of the mountain side coming into a light show just for us. At this stage I was with a group of flat landers as we liked to call ourselves. We had each grown up on the vast plains of Australia and as such our muscles (or as my core strength and fitness trainer Myles likes to tell me I thus have a pancake bum far from the bums of steel, which is what he’s working on developing) aren’t at all geared for up hill ascends rather for long open rolling stride that let you hold a continuous pace for hours in the hot sun and cover vast horizontal distances. There we were joking and pausing to look at the views and encouraging each other to keep going. “Only a little bit more!” God knows how many times we repeated that phrase! The mountain wasn’t breaking us we were breaking it. Mean while monkeys skipped past and giving us little attention unless we paused for food or water then we became a passing interest just in case something was left behind. I was too tired and fatigued at this stage to really feel the pain anymore. I’d added to my mental picture of the flight down and how proud my partner would be once I got back to the motel. All her hard work doing the long months in hospital and during rehab this would also be a reward for her not that she needed it to be pleased with the progress I’d made. She had always been generous well above the call of duty and hadn’t complained when my sleeplessness had effected her own for many months as she continued to work days and look after me all other hours of the day and night. This was for me but it was also to show those around me all their efforts had been worth while because look how far I’d come. Trudging up this bloody volcano with the sun rising and the terrain getting steeper. One more step, one more step makes you closer. The other huge advance I had was there was one from our group who was still further down the mountain. I’m not ashamed to admit I used his presence to help keep spurring me on. I don’t know what kept driving him on because in my mind he was my hero. He’d been struggling worse then me from very early on and during the dark hours I’d seen his headlamp below me still moving and during the day light hours I would see him coming around a corner or over a crescent and there he’d be continuing on no matter how weary he would seem at times he kept coming and that drove me on too. He’s not quitting so neither am I.
Then finally the rest of the group was there. Hooray I’d made it. Sit down and enjoy the fact the job is done. The view was breathtaking and that effort and risk was starting to wash away. All I had to do was take in the view and then prepare to get set up for a launch off the the mountain.
Expect of course that’s not what happened, the wind gods weren’t in our favour and instead of flying down towards the coastline below the decision was made to walk back down. This was both the greatest test of my resilience to date and the least. The first two hours or so was both scary and extremely painful. Side stepping, slipping, sliding, terrifying small gravelly stones that rolled the moment your boot was placed on them that sent a shot of sharp pain up the pelvis and spine, and crawling down on your bum so as not to fall off the mountain. To take my mind off the fear that was spreading through my body like a winter man flu virus I kept repeating to myself with every step. “It’s just like a big session with Myles (Core fitness and Strength trainer)” Could even see his smiling face and words of encouragement. “Buns of steel!” “Love the burn!” He is consistently telling me I have a pancake bum. Possibly this was one of those times big stable glut muscles would have been really handy, but alas this is what I have for now. Instead all I had was, what seemed like the burn from doing a million crunches.
So as all that raged inside my body and head. Can I honestly put one more foot down in front of the other. Can I risk it, do I want to risk it, how much will it hurt this time? The other side was coming up with the simple and truthful argument. Well actually this is the only way your getting out of this situation and the only way that’ll happen is by continuing to move. One bloody step at a time!! Life can be tough like that. As Winston Churchill once said ‘If you’re going through hell. Keep going!’ So onward I went. The trip down became tough and everyone was finding it so. I definitely wasn’t Robinson Crusoe in my suffering. Small groups of us came together to just be in each others company and laugh, joke and poke fun at our situation. We were all physically tired and our brains were fatiguing too. Which made for some very funny moments that only made sense to those on the hill at that time but to us they sparked the energy to keep going. Then sixteen hours from when we’d all left the motel I was back there. What had seemed like a life time was in fact less then a day. Less then a day of pain and yet the monsters that had swirled in my mind pre-trek had made it out to be suffering worse then the accident itself. I had thought my pain and story was the only one that mattered on that mountain and in a way that was true as I was the only one who could keep going, however it wasn’t the only one on the mountain. It fact apart from the huge sense of achievement in setting this goal and managing to see it through. I got to hear and see other people’s journey, be inspired by some and gob smacked by others. These guys all kept going when it was tough, some thrived, some went ballistic, most slogged it out.
This trip had it all a goal carefully laid out with strategies for different milestones and markers to reach. Things were ticked off and progress towards the end goal, however most of the time I wasn’t smashing the markers I’d set out, merely getting to them at best. That was frustrating at times and cause for more then a little anxiety at other times but progress was mostly going in the right direction so I needed to accept this is were I’m at. The effort both mentally and physically was being put in at times I could sustain without burning myself out so basically this was it for better or worse.
Set backs and hi fives from what seemed like nothing at all except to me. One of the big “OH YAY” events came just three weeks before getting on the plane I had a moment after a gym session where I wasn’t utterly exhausted from the session and I could walk back to the car without feeling I was surrounded by a painful fog. I finally had achieved a sense of stamina again at long last. Prior to that every session had come with a personal cost that never seemed to over lay the progress but that session was different. That session was a definite win for the home team, a boost to the confidence and let’s face it ego.
Five days before the climb my ankle had totally seized up and I couldn’t even walk up a slight incline without it giving me waves of stabbing pain. I was feeling very anxious and defeated. All that planning work and I won’t even make it to the base let alone the top. I had to get myself up and calm my thoughts which were in racing hyper drive, so I could solve the problem. Luckily we were staying in a motel with access to stairs and off I went to walk walk walk climbing up and down the stairs. The first two complete rotations of up and down required me to hold onto the hand rails and try desperately not to swear at least not out loud every time my foot hit the ground. By the third lap I wasn’t holding on and only swearing a little. Nearly two hours later and I was in a place mentally were the climb was back on. The ankle wasn’t great but it was acceptable and with good walking poles I felt I could pull this off. The risk vs reward had tipped in my favour just had to keep moving as much as possible between now and then. Life is so often about momentum even if you can just keep crawling, keep shuffling and stay engaged, though it doesn’t seem it, it’s a huge advantage over life’s complete stop. Wiggle a finger and blink and your still shuffling forward.
Does it get any better then that? Well for 3 to 4 weeks I absolutely floated on cloud 9 feeling proud and that huge sense of achievement, my body and mind felt clear and Fittish for the first time in years.. However then the crash came, I was exhausted. So tired and needing comfort food and drinks to make it into the afternoons. I re gained weight and skipped gym sessions finding excuses. I needed a new goal to help me get back on track. Nothing came to mind and I bounced around for ages getting frustrated and waves of motived and de motivated. Unrealistic challenges and others that were cancelled outside my control. Drowning in tiredness from being a rudderless ship, feelings of being pathetic in not being able to land on a direction or find a path. The mind can be harsh and impatient at times. Sometimes order can’t always be demanded from the chaos of daily life.
Finding a meaningful goal after doing something epic is difficult at times. Especially when your not in some form of cycle. A sport’s person on Olympic 4 year cycle or season to season build up etc. Time just rolls on, not caring if yesterday was epic or just getting out of bed worthy it only matters to you. Still we all won’t mind some marching in the streets fanfare at times for our own Personal Bests, as that’s what life’s about. Achieving our own PB’s. Getting socks on under 10 minutes without being drenched in sweat. Reading two or three sentences on a page without getting a headache and remembering what you just read, five minutes later which is what brain trauma feels like.
Until I came to the conclusion I didn’t need an immediate big goal I needed to be in the right position to be open for an opportunity when it arrives both mentally and physically. Now I had something to sit with.
“Getting knocked down is tough. Getting back up is hard, but sometimes the greatest battle you face is staying up..!”
The simple goal of relaxing keep progressing myself and remaining open and exploring different avenues for possible adventures then being ready to line up and take them. 6 months later three opportunities started to fall into place all at once and now I can plan my next big adventures and keep looking for something beautiful and interesting in every day that
I draw breath.