Preparing For The Big One
By Amal Ghazali
I just want to first and foremost apologize to my mother for the misleading title – no, I’m not talking about preparing for an upcoming wedding.
I’ve always loved hikes. Born and bred in a small, rural area in Kedah where there we more greens than the concrete jungle, the sight of unperturbed nature brings me the comfort of childhood memories. It’s the sunshine, the dirt, and even the armpit sweat that reminds me of the much more carefree years living in a kampong area. As a geologist, which is basically someone who studies the science of the earth, this only adds up to my whole appreciation of the natural outdoors. There is so much history into why these types of rocks are here or how those lands turned out the way they did.
So as an adult, it only makes sense why my idea of great travel often requires some form of natural exploration, usually in a form of hikes. It’s the best kind of freedom – you put on sensible shoes, carry only your necessities, and off you go for a nice walk that usually ends up with a spectacular view, on top of the world.
Soon, I would be embarking on another big one. It’s one of the Great Himalaya Trails, called the Annapurna Base Camp Trek. I know. I gulp when I think about it too. It was a rather impromptu decision on my part, as a result of my pledge to live as spontaneously as possible this year. It was only after I had officially signed up and paid for the trip that the reality actually sank in. A hike to the Himalayan Base Camp? Really?
Assessing My Own Capability
Here’s the truth: I am not a natural athlete.
Although I enjoy staying active, I don’ have the natural flair of athleticism. When I attend yoga classes I am that average student whose pace is much slower than the rest. I can run, but not with the steady stamina you see on the other runners at the park, who seem to always manage to look poised and stylish while pulling of 10km. Meanwhile you’ll see me pant, grunt, and hold on to my gut whilst dragging my feet. I tried HIIT but after that I was hit with a need to go to the nearest hospital for some drip.
So in the wake of me joining the hiking expedition, I knew I had to buckle up and ensure that I was really prepared for what’s going to come. I have this terrible imagery of me being a liability to the whole group, a picture of me being hauled by the donkey (which is supposed to carry hiking equipment during the trek, not humans) due to exhaustion, or even worse, in need of a helicopter evacuation. I did some research and found that the biggest concern for high elevation hiking such as these is the risk of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Although anyone is at risk to get this, research shows that people with lower fitness levels are more prone to the possibility of it. It was becoming clearer that I had to make sure I was physically prepared for this long-haul trek.
My two biggest challenges for the preparation are time and momentum. I signed up for the trip in June, which left me about four months to train. Like any other working woman in the city, I work a 8 to 5 job, and by 5 I mean 6.30, which means by the end of the day I am tired from working, and all I really want to do is go home, eat dinner and watch House of Cards on Netflix before I go to bed. But it wouldn’t be sufficient to only train on weekends, so there I was, after long days at work, huffing and puffing my way through kickboxing classes, yoga sessions or treadmill runs.
Staying on track with my training was a whole other problem. I needed to go for ‘training hikes’, but who wants to wake up supremely early on weekends and spend them going up the hills and mountains nearby to practice? I needed to eat well to make sure that I was properly feeding my body to pick up more physical demands, but there always seem to be some kind of excuse not to adhere to this – there’s Raya season (and who can say no to the buffet?), there’s Durian season (only once a year, so you have to), there are ‘Mom-is-in-town-so-you-have-to-eat-three-plates-of-rice’ weekends, and the list goes on.
You’re Your Own Enabler
There’s always an excuse to not stick to a health resolution. Even when there is a gruelling, physically-demanding Himalayan hike just over the horizon, like me. For some reason, there always seem to be this distant voice in the back of our minds that fills us with self-doubt and cynicism. I came across online blogs which claimed that training isn’t really necessary for the week-long hike. “I did minimal preparations and I was fine,” one person had said.
I thought about it. Yes, I could indeed choose to not do much about it, and when the time comes I could just ‘wing it’, so to speak. But what happens if I get really sick or tired due to my lack of preparation, and didn’t make it to the top? Of course, even with training one can still get tired or sick, but there is a difference in failing after giving it your best by training and preparing yourself, compared to failing without giving it much of an effort in the first place.
I think that whatever happens in the end, I would have a much better level of gratification if I try my hardest, instead of not even trying at all. Here’s hoping!