Before we ever put on hiking boots, we had heard the worst. “If your students have asthma, or weight problems, or smoke, or aren’t fit, or complain, or have ever had injuries, they should just stay home.” Uh, what? “If you even have a cold, stay home.” In the pre-trip meeting, students were asked to raise their hands in front of the group if they have any health problems, something that would never be asked of them in America. Even after all this scaring, we were then told that children make the climb in flip-flops.
My day started out pretty rough and rushed, since there was an incident the night before and I found out just before leaving that I needed to write it up and turn in an incident report. That meant no time to buy tall socks, which meant I didn’t wear my hiking boots. Despite that, my flat feet did alright, and didn’t ache until Day 2. I didn’t even have sore joints on the hike down. I didn’t eat breakfast that morning, either, and we couldn’t eat lunch until we arrived at the lodge, some time around 5pm.
The “fast time” for Day 1 (the Easy, Everbody-Can-Do-This Day) was 4 hours. We didn’t even climb the first third of Day 1 before I was wheezing and couldn’t catch my breath. I felt like my throat was closing, but mostly I felt like an idiot. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to make it to the first lodge, that I would slow the entire group down, and that I would have to somehow get home even though the bus was gone. Of course that only made me panic more. Roxanne was awesome and kept offering to stay back with me, but I didn’t want to hold her back. I could tell she was loving the rustic setting and the chance to expend some energy, and I had to pretty much beg her to go forward. My fellow “slow” companion, however, had no such offers, and little to no concern from her groupmates. Just some comments about how can she not be in shape when she’s so skinny (meaningful glance at me, disgusted look at her).
Despite that weirdness, we slowed to a livable pace with two guides who treated us great. We listened to some Nordic death metal, took in the breathtaking scenery, and climbed steadily. The last 20 minutes made me feel like I would die, but in spite of it all we made it to the lodge in 4 hours. Hmm, wasn’t that the “fast” time? Why yes, yes it was. The main group had made it up in 3:20, with many a radio call back to us to see if we couldn’t hurry it up a bit. I’m still unsure as to why time was so important that day, since daylight lasted for several more hours after we reached the lodge, and especially since we still made it in the previously-allotted time.
Once we got there, I was more than happy to snuggle into all my dry layers and eat some food by the fire. We made forts out of the beds, wrapped ourselves in blankets, and got up to all the usual camping shenanigans. Hot cocoa, hot lists and talking about our lives before NUin. There were some ACT high schoolers who showed up, and I was so glad our kids didn’t behave like them. Dancing on tables, breaking glasses, getting drunk, and taking pictures with strangers when they weren’t paying attention. We, on the other hand, listened to someone play guitar, enjoyed the view, and took nose-dives off of bunk beds. There’s something relaxing (and freezing) about high altitudes, long days and early bedtimes.
On the second day, despite my previous misgivings, I got ready to go. I was then told that I would lead the group, so that everyone else could go, “as slow as [me].” Great. Another, more forgiving staff member said, “it was a nice sentiment, but it felt a little awkward in action.” But it wasn’t even nice in theory. The idea was that myself and another girl were the weak links, and if we insisted on joining them, we would be at the front and the course of the day would be our fault. After ten minutes of climbing an unclear path (I was ahead of even the guides, and one seemed so annoyed at my confusion over the barely-marked trail), I had had enough. I felt like an idiot for stopping, but I knew I couldn’t take it. The sad part was, it wasn’t the climb that was getting to me. It was the clicking noises, like one makes at a horse, that a guide made to encourage me to go faster. It was when they tapped my heels with hiking poles if I paused to catch my breath. It was the groans and eye-rolling from the impossibly skinny girl (a stranger) who kept calling me Sweety. The idea of spending so many hours that day feeling like a fat, slow weight around their neck was more than I could take. While the other “slow” girl and I conferred, the group started cheering and clapping for us, a misguided attempt to encourage us. Instead it felt condescending and put me even more in the spotlight than I wanted.
On the one hand, I’m the kind of person who hates to admit defeat, who hates to be anything less than hardcore. But I also don’t think it was a failure. I climbed Mt Olympus, or at least part of it. I really dislike the attitude that if you’re going to be slow, you should just stay home. Or that if you can’t do the entire hike, you shouldn’t bother to even do half. That idea that failing, or not being outstanding, is worse than not trying at all is terrible. The discouragement of all people who are not thin from exercise, and the oft-expressed need to lose 5 kilos, even the disparaging, “well by your American standards I’m thin,” all sent my body-privilege sensors into overload, in a way I haven’t encountered face to face in a while. I’m just glad that none of my students were treated the way I was.
I know some of my fellow climbers felt bad for me, but in the end I got what I wanted. I spent one day hiking, and another in a warm lodge playing backgammon and reading a good book. I listened to music, got closer with some students, and had a break from the city. When it came time for work on Monday, I was able to walk up and down the stairs without a problem, and my cold, though worse than before, was not as bad as it would have been if I had stayed outside the second day. I got some beautiful pictures and saw a great sunrise. I completed a grueling climb, even if some people see it as incomplete, and I’d like to think I helped make the weekend bearable for my fellow climber.