Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Processing Pulag

Because this is how I deal with things I don't completely understand.

So. I joined the trek because I wanted to go see a mountain. I thought what the hell, people I know are going to Pulag, might as well join.

And so Mt. Pulag it is. The highest peak in Luzon, second highest in the Philippines, close to 3,000 meters above sea level. My buddies chose the other trail, the tougher one called Akiki because...well, some of them had trekked Ambangeg and thought hey, we want more pain! I don't know, I didn't really know what I was getting into.

So anyway, I don't want to talk about all the other details, like the ten-hour hike and how I discovered the worst and the best of me in those two days, and how desperately alone you can feel when you're standing in the middle of a dark forest at 3AM in the morning not knowing if you're really seeing lights in front of you or you're finally hallucinating because your body can no longer stand the cold and the heat and mixed emotions of wanting to get this over with and just wanting to die. (See what I did there?)

What I really want to talk about is one moment, at the part of the trek they called the grasslands which, when you hear about it the first time your mind conjures a flat plain full of knee-high grass and how easier that would be to traverse than everything that came before it (imagine stairs a foot high each, and then a thousand of those). It turns out that the grasslands was exactly how I imagined except everything was on a 50-degree incline (or more, actually).

It wasn't easy. It was the part of the trail that I really, truly gave up. I had just trekked mind-numbing hours through dry grass and trees and the crazy heat and I could feel my lungs giving up on me and the absolute discomfort of feeling too hot from sweat but too cold from the mountain breeze and I was just gripped with this insane desire to turn back. Whatever that means, considering I was in the thick of the trek and there was quite literally no choice left but to continue.

It's that moment when I lifted my head and took in everything around me. The sun was rising. My thoughts were a jumbled mess of self-hate and self-doubt and frustrations and all sorts of questions like what in the world made me think I was up for this kind of physical challenge and what if I died and what if I just laid down and let everyone else go ahead and leave me there to run out of breath and eventually die.

Then I saw the mountains.

They were so large and silent and imposing. And yet they looked friendly and comforting. I cried a bit. Not because I realized anything or had some grand epiphany about the meaning of life or what all of the shit in my life means but because it was just so damn beautiful. It was so beautiful the first words in my mind were "I'm not worthy."

I don't know where that thought came from, but it tells me a lot. And I'm not about to over-analyze myself into a corner again but there was just so much joy and humility in that one weird moment after I gave up that I had to write about it and make sure I never forget.

Of course I can tell you that the trail was a metaphor for the story of my life but then I'm not done living yet. What I can tell you is that none of the empowering, positive thoughts that I repeated to myself to motivate myself worked. None.

What saved me was getting out of my head and moving one foot forward. That's it. No magic tricks. As with life, you only get to exercise power in the task at hand. You can't control the past, you can't control the future, but you can take charge of what's in front of you. You get just one window to do something. So I guess the idea is to make it count.

I didn't take a picture of the moment I was talking about, but this was the mountain range

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