Today is January 27th, 2019 and I am currently in Boquete a small town in Panama’s Chiriquí Province. While the town is nothing to write home about, it serves as the gateway to Panama’s highest peak, Volcan Baru.
I first want to point out that I am glad that I don’t need toes to type, because right now I lack feeling in both of my legs. It is 5:30 PM and 2 hours earlier I was crammed in a chicken bus on my way back to Boquete after successfully climbing Panama’s highest peak, Volcan Baru. I say it was a success based on the fact that I did it, and by no means was it stylish. However, every experience presents itself with learning opportunities. This won’t be a traditional blog as I have written before summarizing the days’ events but rather a reflection on today’s climb and how it both reinforces some of my beliefs and changes others.
I Travel Alone for a Reason- One of the questions that I am always asked by people who follow the website is “Why I never travel with other people”. The truth is, I am not a fan of being beholden to others’ timelines unless I’m getting paid for it. In addition, I hop around so much and cover so much ground in a single trip, I frankly don’t think others could keep pace. This belief was reinforced last night when I met a nice German couple who wanted to do the hike with me. Despite my preference to fly solo and even though they told me they weren’t in great shape, I figured it would be a nice opportunity to meet other people and I could save a little money on the taxi. I told them to meet me at the front of the hotel at 630 AM sharp the morning of the hike as I had arranged a cab to take us. Sure enough, 630 AM rolls around and the cab pulls up. However, the couple was no where to be seen. Being the nice guy that I am, I decided to look for them for 10 minutes. Eventually, the cab driver had to leave and so I left them and was stuck with a $20 USD cab ride. Ironically, I saw them 6 hours later as I was halfway down (they were still going up). They told me they were having their morning coffee in the kitchen and didn’t think I was serious when I said we were leaving at 630 sharp. That is why I travel alone…….
Not Every Mountain is Equal- So this isn’t the first mountain I’ve climbed, however I found out the hard way that some mountains are harder than others. The last mountain I climbed was Mount Halla on Jeju Island. Mount Halla also took me about 8 hours and was 9.6 km. However, most of it was via a steady incline and there were plenty of people on the trail. I took that mindset into this hike, and while I expected it to be long time wise, I wasn’t prepared for how difficult the hike was. I was sucking wind 1.5 km in and the ascent was 13.5 kms (with a return of that same distance). In addition, I was the only going up while those that were coming down were few and far between. The most important difference was the difficulty, out of the 27 kms (up and back) that I walked, 18 kms were on an incline of over 6% grade. I definitely would not have been able to do this hike 3 months ago (and I was barely able to do it now). Research is important, especially when it comes to mountain climbing.
Water and Food are Essential- I feel extremely embarrassed writing this one, but this is probably the number one reason why I had a miserable time on this hike. In my infinite wisdom, I brought only a liter and a half of water and a pack of Skittles on a 16-mile hike. I was fortunate that I didn’t have to deal with the full force of the Panamanian sun, or I probably wouldn’t be alive to write this. Historically, I been in such good shape that I am able to persevere with minimal water intake. The difference now is I’m almost 30 and I wasn’t going on 17-mile hikes up 3500-meter volcanoes. I found out today how important a sufficient water supply is given that there wasn’t even a creek to get dirty water out of in the whole hike. I was spoiled into thinking that there would either be food shacks at the entrance or locals hustling water and food along the trail. The point is, even in the United States, snacks and water bottles are cheap enough to where you should never have to rely on others to save you because you embarked on a hike unprepared.
You Can Get a Workout Walking- When I’m home in the United States, I live a pretty regimented lifestyle health wise. I average 2 marathons a month long-distance running, do CrossFit, and only eat fresh foods that I have specifically prepared. One of my biggest concerns about long-term traveling is that the life style will lose many of my “gains” I had worked for in the months prior. Although I try to do fairly strenuous activities when traveling, it doesn’t make up for running 20 miles a week or doing wall-balls on 6-minute rotations. My diet also tends to go down the drain on the road. However, I learned today that enough walking under strenuous conditions can leave you just as sore as one of the aforementioned exercises.
Satisfaction Stems from the Struggle- If you would have asked me at 1130 AM when I was struggling in the scorching Panamanian sun climbing 1 km at a 12% incline how I felt, I would have probably included a few choice four letter words in my response. Ask that same question after seeing a group of “hikers” drive down the summit in a four-wheeler, punches may have been thrown. It is true, that as with most circumstances in life, having enough money will simplify things. However, I can’t help but think (now that I am not worried about getting down alive) that the summit itself was nice, but it was going through the experience (and overcoming) that made it that much better. Sure, I could have paid $150 USD to get escorted to the top, but then would I be able to write this blog about the lessons I learned along the wat? Point is…. the easy way of doing something isn’t always necessarily the best way of doing it.