I had to be ready at 2am for the pickup. It would be almost a 2 hour drive and we needed ample time to trek up the mountains and make it to the summit by sunrise. I didn’t have any idea what to expect - a last minute decision I had no time for the usual google research prep. The only thing I anticipated was being cold, I was told it would be chilly at the top, but I packed light for this entire trip - all my clothes were summery. I did have one sweatshirt stuffed in my suitcase packed away after being worn just for the plane trip from LA. I retrieved it and pulled it on over my t-shirt, stuffed my cotton scarf, a bottle of water and a pack of cookies into my backpack and walked from my room into the dark and quiet night. Using the flashlight on my phone I made my way down the path to find my driver waiting for me at the gate with an actual flashlight and a smile . So the adventure began.
Apart from the driver there was a young couple in the van the girl leaning on the guy both fast asleep, I sat in the front. We began driving and before I knew it I was fast asleep too, waking up now and then to bright headlights or the abrupt honk of a horn. After about 90 minutes we pulled into a parking lot with many other people moving to and fro. This was the base where we would meet our guide who would lead us onward and upward. It was almost pitch black, but many people already had flashlights turned on so it was possible to see a little. Groups of about 4-5 people had a guide assigned. We were given a flashlight each and our breakfast consisting of one egg and one banana but the guide held it for us in her backpack. I don’t eat eggs, and I don’t like bananas at all but I didn’t expect breakfast in the first place so I was okay. I had a hearty diner the night before and the pack of cookies I had with me would be fuel enough, I thought.
The couple was from Sydney, Australia, and our guide was a girl in mid 20s, very energetic, and wearing a jacket that through my dim flashlight looked so warm it made me realize I was beginning to feel cold. The four of us started off, first walking about 20 minutes on fairly flat but stony ground. Even with flashlights we couldn’t see further than a few feet so I had no idea when we would start ascending or anything else of my surroundings. All I could see was the tips of my shoes and the rocky earth beneath my feet. After a while the path began getting more rocky with bigger stones and I was stepping on the balls of my feet instead of the usual way, flat - this meant we were going up!
The group was fairly quiet, I think we were all trying to adjust our eyes to the dark and maybe wake up fully. As the path started getting more and more steep I realized that the girl in front of me was wearing booties with a 4 inch heel! She said it was either those or flip-flops. For her, this hike was likely an unanticipated part of her holiday as it was for me. It was a bit amusing at first until she started getting really wobbly, like a newborn baby goat that doesn’t know how to walk yet and is testing out its legs, shaking and stumbling with very step. Being directly in front of me I realized that if she actually fell backwards she would fall on top of me and we would both go tumbling down the mountain. I was in no mood for this so when it was wide enough I stealthily got in front of her and breathed a sign of relief seeing the new person in front of me seemed to be fairly steady afoot.
I was able to relax again and just in time because the hike seemed to be getting more perilous with the rocks on the path increasing in size and and the dirt surrounding them getting more loose so that with each step my foot would slide a while before coming to a stop. Every now and then somebody would slip and scream loudly making me first chuckle at the dramatics and then briefly wonder if I was being careful enough and whether i’d be next to slip or fall. After an hour of steady trekking my flashlight was half as dim and though my eyes had somewhat adjusted to the darkness, I now could barely see a foot ahead.
Halfway up the mountain we stopped to rest, and I suddenly realized that it was cold, very cold! Adjusting my scarf tighter didn’t make much difference so instead I jumped up and down while eating two of my four cookies, trying to generate some heat while waiting for everyone to catch their breath. Some people decided to stay here instead of continuing onwards including the couple that was with me so just me and the guide set out again.
After maybe 45 minutes more of even more steep climbing - I slipped once but was able to recover and balance myself quickly so did not fall - we made it to the top! It was still dark and it would be a while before the sunrise but there was a little shack and some young men selling coffee and tea for an arm and a leg! I was so cold I went and bought a coffee but when I brought the glass cup to my lips and gingerly took a sip - it was like drinking dirty water. I saw the youth man actually making it so I knew it was some version of coffee. I decided to drink more of it to warm myself up but after about 4 sips I couldn’t manage anymore so threw it away in the bushes and returned the empty cup with a quiet ‘thank you’.
During the trek because I was able to keep up with the Indonesian guides who made it seem like a walk in the park! (my guide said she did this trek twice a week) while many of the other tourists were out of breath and visibly struggling, on two occasions people asked me if I was an athlete. Best compliment ever! Especially since a year and a half ago I was recovering from spinal reconstructive surgery and never imagined i’d be this fit so soon!
I think it’s important to recognize when you’ve done a good thing and congratulate yourself so I have to take a moment here to pat myself on the back and say 'well done!' I was surprised and really proud of myself this day. This was one of the hardest physical things i've ever done and for me it was more than just a hike up a volcano. You see, I always secretly think I am capable of more, but then am too afraid to live up to my potential. What if people think i’m being extra? What if people think i’m acting like i’m better than them, what if…. what if… Climbing that mountain in the pitch dark with just a dim light to know where my next step should be, I didn’t have any room for fear, I was too focused on the task at hand and when I had the choice to stop halfway, the reward at the end propelled me forward. Yes for a moment when when I thought the girl in front would tumble on me I was feeling stressed out, but all I had to do was change my position and continue along - simple! This sunrise trek made me realize how capable I am that with focus and determination I can accomplish anything I decide to.
You know that saying I think it was MLK Jr. ‘It doesn’t matter if you can’t see the entire staircase just take the first step’ this and similar proverbs are nice refrains when a boost of inspiration is needed but when you have the literal experience it goes from an adage to actual part of your psyche. It made me pause and wonder what can I really accomplish if I am able to transcend the bondages of fear.
After some time atop the summit shivering in my sneakers it began - the most beautiful sunrise i’ve ever seen, made me want to wake up at the crack of dawn everyday from now on if this was the magic that happened daily. This sunrise left me completely speechless. These iPhone photos are a travesty compared to the real thing.
Trekking back down the mountain was more like sliding as the ground was still made up of mostly lose dirt and rocks. It was so steep and looked SO dangerous that I knew if I hadn't done this hike in the comfort of darkness I would never have had the courage to do it. Imagine that. Also, in the daylight I realized that most of the people around were couples or groups of friends who would hold out their hands and help each other step down especially perilous sections, or warmly shout out ‘be careful!’ to each other. For a second I felt a twinge of sadness because I was by myself and there was nobody looking at me to make sure I was okay but then it occurred to me that I neither needed nor wanted this. If there’s always somebody besides you to hold you hand you might never learn that you are capable of steadying yourself and it’s sometimes annoying to have someone telling you to be careful as if you were a child when you are an actual adult doing just fine as you are.
If you ever have the chance to visit Bali, the sunrise trek up Mt. Batur is a must. My advice would be to wear warm clothes, relax, keep your balance, put one foot in front of the other and press on.