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"Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you're scared to death." -- Harold Wilson
|Episode 14: The Volcano|
@ Where`s Cherie?
Aug 05 2002 - 16:15 PST
cherie writes: The Volcano:
The Volcano ice-climb in Chile.
My first time with clamp-ons and an ice-axe.
I should have known. I should have known when I was handed the 35lb pack complete with ice-pick, gas-mask, spiky clamp-ons and other heavy ice-climbing gear. It was too much for me. When I saw the volcano, I knew I had seen it before. Some kid in my 5th grade class had made a replica of it for his school science project. Scraggly layers of heat rose and distorted the active volcano; made it appear to be breathing. A perfect mushroom cloud of smoke burped out of the top--the same cartoon puff from one of Wile E. Coyote's doomed Road-Runner induced falls.
I was gasping 15 minutes into the 9 hour trek. Falling behind, I was already sick of hearing my name screamed out,disturbing the silence: Was I ok? My breathing was so labored, I couldn't answer. I swallowed the air in gulps, though my lungs were convinced I was sipping it.
There were 12 people who hiked the volcano that day, two of them were our guides. Guide #1, who would ask me 23 times over the next 9 hours if I wanted to turn back, didn't appreciate me always lagging behind.
That's when one of the professional cyclists encumbered himself with my backpack (in addition to his own) leaving me 35 pounds lighter. I looked at him the same way I looked at that stranger when I was 6 years-old who let me save my allowance (45 cents) and bought me mypowdered-jelly-donut along with his order. Their reasons may have been similar: one, saving himself the frustrationof constantly waiting for me; the other, from the agony ofwatching me count 45 pennies into a cashier's open palm. Reasons aside, to me, they will always be angels.
The next seven hours are nebulous; private moments of higher consciousness suffused with pain. The world was put on mute as the volcano vomited steam...the sulfur wafting through me in waves. Battered and soaked I collapsed on the dried ribbons of asphalt 1 1/2 hours from the peak. I could make excuses (my sprained ankle...the altitude) but the fact was, I couldn't go on. And they couldn't stay. The sun was climbing down as we were climbing up, so I would wait there. Alone.
I found myself searching for a square of sun with the same urgency I had earlier searched for a square of shade. I sifted myself between the lava rocks and snow until my legs oozed into acleft it the volcano. The air stung my lips which were crackedlike the crust of a desert. As my jelly-muscles hardened into brittle crepes I thought about one thing: I paid for this.
I wondered if I had failed, and about my mind wanting to do something my body couldn't. And I decided that I was ok with it. There was only one moment when I regretted my decision. It was when I heard them screaming at the top, successful. It was all I could do to cock my head like a dainty bird to see the red dots they were; the cherries on top of a volcano sundae.
I didn't reach the peak, but I felt like I did. I wondered if this was what it was like when parents lived vicariously through their children. The sensation was mine, and I've never been so proud to accomplish something I didn't really accomplish.
When they returned, I balled up my trembling muscles and sled down the volcano on my butt, using my ice-pick as a brake.We raced the sun down, and once at the bottom, I witness a sunset that should have marked either the beginning of creation, or the end of it.
It became clear, as I watched the sun burn itself into a messy orange stain, that all those times I: held my breath through through a tunnel, lifted my legs over railroad tracks, closed my eyes when I saw a shooting star, blew a dandelion apart with my breath or flipped a coin into a well...I'd been wishing for the same thing. This: Pure life.
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