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Cross the line – Get “Out Of Bounds”

A week before my birthday, Val asked me, “What present do you want for your birthday?” I thought for a while and whispered back, “Can I have anything I want?” Val’s head nodded an affirmative nod. I took a deep breadth and said, “I want to do the Santa Maria Volcano Full Moon Hike.”

I have never climbed anything before in my life. The Full Moon Hike is a 4 hours climb up and 3 hours back down. It starts around midnight and finishes at around 12pm the next morning. I checked every hiking website available about Santa Maria Volcano Hike, just to make sure I was not misinformed. The climb is labeled “DIFFICULT” on every single site.

Santa Maria Volcano standing at 3772m above sea level from afar

Santa Maria Volcano standing at 3772m above sea level from afar

“This sounds like pure torture to me. But I truly admire Tay’s sheer determination to do the things she wants; never mind experience (or lack thereof actually), difficulty or whatsoever. That is an example for me.”Val

So why did I want to “torture” myself and climb Santa Maria, something not a virgin hiker will do, much less do so at night?

“I have decided that I am going to do something I have never done before during my birthday each year. I am going to be 33 years old this year. I am currently traveling around the world. I have a bucket list of things that I want to do this lifetime. I do not know when this project is going to done. Do I want to wait till this project is done before I start ticking off this bucket list? Nope, not really. I might be 50 years old by then. So I naturally came to the decision that I should tick off this bucket list while I am on this project.”Tay

First thing that Monday morning, I went and made full payment with The Quetzaltrekkers.  Money paid, no turning back.

Although not as crazy as I am, Val said that she will support me as fully as she can…

2 days before the climb, Val soaked and prepared my Chia gel water with Panela to ‘activate’ the seeds for better assimilation

The big day itself, counting down to 3 hours before the climb, Val made sure I am energy ready.

After a scorching hot shower, Val made sure I remained all warmed up. She knew that feeling cold is my nemesis. And 3772m above sea level at 5am is going to be cold.

6 layers of clothes = ALL the clothes Val and I have, combined

6 layers of clothes = All the clothes that BOTH Val and I have, combined



Before I left the hotel, the idea of climbing a volcano in the middle of the night did not seemed so appealing anymore. I was scared. Scared of the unknown.

I arrived at Quetzaltrekkers, apprehensive, heart thumping nervously, “Am I going to make it?”

Set off - trekking shoes, headlamp, 2 litres of water & sleeping bag checked

Set off - trekking shoes, headlamp, 2 litres of water & sleeping bag checked

After about 2 hours of walking, our team leader said, “From here on, we are not going to take anymore group breaks. You will go at your own pace and rest whenever you need to.” I realized, the real climb had then, just begun.

I had a strategy, something a 72 year old veteran marathon runner taught me 3 years ago. I had the privilege to run my first ever marathon with someone who had ran marathons around the world. He told me that running a marathon is like living life:

The 1st 10km is warm-up, its our preparation phrase of life.  This is the time we get an education and learn different tools to prepare us for the society out there.  He told me, “Start slow, adjust to your body needs, less haste, a strong foundation is key.”

2nd 10km is like the 20s of our life.  We have the necessary education, time to build a career.  “This is where you build up speed for your run.”

3rd 10km is about consistency and problem solving. “You have built up a career, now is the time for you to gain experience and problem solve to become better at what you are doing.  Its the same during the run, you are going to start getting aches.  And you will have to keep yourself going.”

Last 12km is about a breakthrough in life. “This is the point where most first-time runners hit the wall. Here, you either make it through or you give up and quit.”

The “Marathon” of my hike

First phase of my hike, my foundation was to breathe.  In in out.  In in out.  2 breaths in followed by 1 breath out.  I kept to my breathing and walked at a consistent pace.

The hike was more difficult than I thought.  I underestimated the steepness of the climb and overestimated the length of my legs. The steps made up of rocks were high. Every single step was like a big stride, hands gripping onto the rocks at the sides or branches of trees to heave myself up.

The air got thinner, the temperature dropped lower and the steps only got steeper. I could no longer breathe the way I want to.  I began to pant.  I remembered what the veteran marathon runner said.  “Keep going.”  I fixed my eyes on the ground and began to count my steps.  One, two, three, four, five, six…

An Empowering Angel

Then Bryan appeared. He was one of the volunteer guides, and my guardian angel on the climb.  The muscles around my  knees were so strained, they had begun to cramp. I willed my legs to keep moving, determined not to stop.   “No chance, legs, no chance, we are already at the “3rd 10km” phrase, we are not going to stop and quit now.  You are going to keep climbing until I say stop.”  The cramps worsened.  I was forced to stop at one point to stretch my thighs because they had become so stiff,  it felt like I was trying to open and close a rusty pair of scissors. Every step took teeth grinding effort.

I was surprised that Bryan did not say anything. When I stopped, he stopped. Sometimes, he would ask how’s my leg doing. If not, he would just continued walking with me after I had finished stretching. Not once did he tried to cheer me on by saying, “Come on, you can do it!” He let me walk at my own pace and he never left me behind. He supported me in a very empowering way.  Not once did he take the hike away from me. He allowed me to do whatever I can, in whichever way my body could do it.

Becoming Desperate

At what seemed to be my millionth step, my hike had turned from a walk into a crawl and now into a standstill.  The muscles in my legs have gotten so stiff that it would not move anymore. It was as if if I tried to take another step, my tendons will snap into two. I panicked and broke out in cold sweat.  I am in the middle of a volcano, it’s either up or down. There’s no staying in between.

Yet I was stuck. My legs simply would not move anymore.

Unable to move

Unable to move

I believe human beings become really in tuned when they are truly desperate.  Because out of nowhere, I remembered a technique that our fitness trainer taught us before we embarked on this journey.  A technique that would help relax our muscles after a long day of cycling.  I calmed down and began working on the knots in my legs.  It worked.

The Wall

I thought the worst was over.  I was horribly wrong.  I forgot that a physical breakdown is nothing compared to a mental breakdown.  10 minutes after my legs regained its ability to move, I heard someone said, “If you continue to walk slowly but without stopping, you will reach the top in about 30 minutes.”  Instead of being motivated to climb the last leg, my mind became preoccupied with the idea of sitting down and not moving anymore.  This is what runners called, “Hit the wall“.

Hit the wall: a collapse of the entire system: body and form, brains and soul

Hit the wall: a collapse of the entire system: body and form, brains and soul

There I was, half an hour from reaching the top of the volcano. Yet all I wanted to do was to sit down and not move anymore. It was a brutal thought.

But not making it to the top, missing out on what everyone else was going to experience felt worst. I’d be honest and admit this – my Ego did not let me give up.

Pushed by (the Ego’s) demanding voice to keep going, I slogged my way through and eventually made it to the top.

It was well worth it. My knees collapsed onto the earth the moment I reached the peak of the volcano. They fell to the ground, not out of exhaustion, but out of sheer gratitude. A gratitude for everything that allowed this moment to happen…

20 minutes after I reached the top and caught my breadth, it was taken away again by the first peek of the sun

20 minutes after I reached the top and caught my breadth, it was taken away again by the first peek of the sun

The willingness to try something new, the willingness to put myself out there, is almost like a ritual to cleanse fear. And almost every of these experiences has tamed and humbled my Ego because I am reminded that Mother Nature is bigger, greater than I am. By climbing the volcano, it does not mean that I have scaled it, I have conquered it.

It means to me, that –
I have been given the permission to climb
I have been honored to be one with Nature

all the time allowing myself to be vulnerable to the unknown, to be afraid of failing, and finally…to just walk at my own pace.

View on the top

View on the top

If you are familiar with any ball games, there is always a boundary whereby beyond that, it is OUT of bounds”. The soccer ball rolls out of the field, the referee’s whistle goes off. “OUT!” The tennis ball lands beyond the line, the linesman stretches out both arms, “OUT!” Beyond the line, the game stops. You either lose a point or you lose time. The same happens in life.

When you choose a path less traveled, in the society’s eyes, you have gone out of line, out of bounds. Their whistle of rationality goes off and you are “OUT!”

To many people (and sadly, especially the authorities from back at home Singapore), we have gotten out of the boundaries of the “typical Singaporean life”  with this journey.  Because no one in Singapore has done the same thing. It is not trialed and not-yet proven successful. From being played out by MDA when applying for funding, to receiving Singapore-emails that tell us that we are “going to regret this”… we seemed to have gone seriously “OUT!”

A very exhausted and satisfied Tay

A very exhausted and satisfied Tay

Yet, be it taking the road less traveled, be it cycling around the world, be it climbing a volcano for the first time in my life, be it doing something I have never done before; I have learned that by going out of bounds, by crossing my own lines of limits; I have opened up new worlds, new perspectives and new opportunities. It made me realized, “Oh, I can do this…and thatand that!” It made me realized I am so much more.

It nourishes our lives.

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