31 October: Mount Batur, Bali, Indonesia
4:00 AM is not a time I would ever expect to be hiking.
But at 4:00 AM, we got started.
We followed our handsome guide toward the trailhead equipped with headlamps for the dark and windbreakers for the surprisingly low temperature. The sky was embellished by a trillion stars and I tried to marvel at each one of them without losing my balance on the narrow path. By the light of the headlamp, the only space I could see was five feet in front and around me, which afforded me the opportunity to concentrate on feeling, hearing, and smelling everything. The more elevation we gained the sandier the terrain became. My running shoes sank into the softness and made each step 10% more challenging than the one before it. The path snaked around dips and ridges and, with a wrong step or turn, the sand would give way under your feet and you’d be sent sliding backward. Even though it hasn’t rained in four months on the island, most of Bali still exhibits the lush green you would expect. On Mount Batur, that curtain is lifted and shows the dry season for what it is: dusty. You had to be mighty careful to not follow too closely to the person ahead because if they slipped or picked up their feet too much, you’d get a mouthful of dust. I could already feel my hands getting the grimy feeling of having all the moisture sucked out of them.
Toward the halfway mark of the ascent, two of the Australian girls in our team had dropped to the back. Colleen was a little ways behind me, and I was following behind one Australian and the guide. Turning back to check on Colleen, I saw the first glow of red light appear on the horizon. We were only 10 minutes from the top and I increased my pace, looking back when I could to make sure I was just ahead of the sunrise.
And a sprint up the last hill to get to the summit.
I spun around and laid eyes on the most overwhelming beauty I had ever seen.
That first glowing band of red had birthed a gradient from deep red to glowing yellow to white to pale blue, all shrouded by the indigo night sky. In the distance Mount Agung loomed ominously over Mount Abang and in the morning light, the peak of a mountain on Lombok could be seen in the distance.
The rest of my crew was happily snapping pictures on the ledge below the summit but my moment of swell was right on top where the air was so crisp that it bit the tip of my nose and my cheeks hurt from the smile spread up into them.
We ate breakfast of eggs and coffee–both of which taste much better on top of a volcano–and watched the sun make its grand entrance on the world stage.
Things change in the light. The mountain on Lombok disappeared shyly under the spotlight and a dry, harsh terrain was revealed where we had just climbed. As we made our way down my shoes filled with sand, I had dust up to my knees, I was rapidly blinking grit out of my eyes, and my wide smile allowed dirt into my mouth, but I let my feet carry me down the mountain, skipping over roots and flying dangerously around corners. I had stars and sunrises in my eyes and my belly was full of mountain air and strong Indonesian coffee and as I witnessed the sun set that evening, I internally checked “watch the sun rise and set in one day” off my bucket list.
I wasn’t born in the mountains and I wasn’t shaped by them, but I grew up in awe of them and in the last several years I have allowed myself to get to know them: the harsh, blunt stone of the Rockies; razor-sharp peaks in Canmore; snow-filled fields in the backyard of my city; peaceful plateaus of the Tantalus; soft jungle floors in Ecuador and Malaysia, and now sandy, deep, uneven slopes of volcanoes in Indonesia. I like that, no matter what they’re made of, they tower over me asking me how much I can surprise myself, how strong I can be, how determined, how fearless. I learn that every time I reach a summit and every time I hit the bottom again. The mountains make me a whole person. Full and alive.