I’m half Chinese. I don’t speak Chinese, I don’t read it, I don’t understand it. I know more Thai words than I do Chinese, which slightly irks certain members of my family. But thanks to playing Mahjong, I am at least familiar with the Chinese characters for numbers one through nine. And as my sister said when trying to teach the numbers to her son Logan, the Chinese character for six looks the way it sounds. You know, six!! It’s an exciting word, it deserves a little dance! Cortney and I struck the six! pose at the beginning of Day Six. Sue was less enthused.
On this day we were biking from Pismo Beach to Lompoc. Every time someone mentioned Lompoc, I thought they were saying Lombok, as in an island of Indonesia. I almost died there, but in a great way. So I was having some traumatic flashbacks, but in a pleasant manner. In the end, the memories kept me motivated to keep going and to really enjoy our trip.
You see, there was this time in 2007, when I was working in Thailand, that I decided to go on vacation. My coworkers and I had to stagger our vacation time, so I was going off somewhere by myself. I decided to go to Indonesia. My friend Polly had been there earlier, and she said that that’s where she had gone on the best hike of her life. She highly recommended going on a trek up Mount Rinjani, an active volcano on the island of Lombok. When Polly says it was the best hike of her life, you better believe it’s an astounding hike. Let’s just say she’s done more than her fair share of hiking on this earth.
So I signed myself up. I went to an Internet cafe and chatted with Polly online. I told her I was leaving for the trek in the morning. “Oh good,” she typed back. “That was the hardest hike I’d ever done.”
Whoa whoa whoa. Best hike and hardest aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but this was news to me. I got pretty nervous, because again, if Polly says this was the hardest hike of her life, you better believe it’s a difficult hike! I planned on getting a good night’s rest, but somehow managed to stay up all night chatting and playing the guitar with some locals.
The next morning was really rough. Since I was a lone traveler, they just had me join another couple from Slovenia, who looked like they never did anything but run up and down mountains while singing songs and juggling fully loaded backpacks. I was hoping for a leisurely stroll up the mountain while stopping to take pictures, but instead they hopped out of the van, did a couple calf stretches, started their stopwatches, and started leaping up the trail. Our guides and porters, loaded down with all the gear and wearing only flip flops, actually seemed relieved. It’s probably understandable that they find little to no enjoyment in helping pudgy tourists limp up a mountain. They just want to get the trek over with and get paid. So they proceeded plodding along at a pretty remarkable pace and left me to fend for myself. Wearing my hiking boots that I’d barely broken in, since the only “hiking” I ever did in Thailand was with fourth graders, I desperately tried to keep up. And very quickly failed to do exactly that.
Looking back, there were some warning signs to which I should have paid some attention. The tourists all collapsed in the shade moaning and crying, for example. Or the two extremely fit guys who were coming back down and said that they only made it halfway up before turning around.
It was a day and a half of struggling up the volcano, followed by a day and a half of trying to maintain a controlled fall down the volcano. I lost all the skin from my heels. I lost four toenails. I could not wear my shoes anymore and had to go with the locals’ strategy of just wearing flip flops. That allowed all the fine volcanic ash to work its way into all the nooks and crannies of the gaping wounds I had on my feet. My quads, hamstrings, and calves didn’t work out of exhaustion, but really that was irrelevant because nothing worked anyway due to incredible thirst. When you sign up for a trip with porters, it’s true that you don’t have to carry much. But it’s also true that the people who do have to carry stuff aren’t going to volunteer to carry more than necessary. And water is really heavy. So you’re on a pretty meager water ration, made even worse if you can’t keep up with the porters due to all the missing parts of your feet. I constantly scanned the landscape, thinking there might be a stream or even a puddle with fresh water.
As I shuffled my way down the trail on the third day, all I could think about was that I chose to be there. I could have chosen to spend my vacation in my bed with the air conditioning, a ten gallon bucket of water on the floor, and a straw. Of course, I rationally knew that this would not have made me happy. But at the time, my lizard brain couldn’t understand why not. I thought of being at home and how I could turn on a tap and have water gush out at any time. I thought of how I could fill the tub and immerse myself in water. I thought of all the gleaming glasses sitting in the cupboard, and how each of them was designed to be filled to the brim with water, water all intended to be consumed. I thought of how lucky we are to be living in an age when clean water is delivered to us at a moment’s notice. We have so much water all the time that we’re bored with it. We put sugar in it and fizz it up to make it more palatable. I couldn’t believe that I never appreciated it. I thought I did, but I didn’t. I was furious at myself for being so spoiled and ungrateful as to walk away from all that water, thinking that I didn’t need it. How could I be so arrogant as to think that my vacation could be spent in the harsh grip of mother nature, where water is a luxury that must be earned?
When I finally stumbled off the mountain and met up with everyone else waiting to be picked up by our van, I almost wept to see a little store selling cold water. I bought two huge bottles of the stuff and drank. I rode the van to the beach, where, miraculously, my legs managed the big jump-and-hoist (I’d have called that a muscle-up if I was doing CrossFit in those days) to get into the boat to the Gili Islands. Once there, I bought more water and some cookies, which was all that I could afford with the small amount of cash I had. I would have to wait for the morning to get more and hoped that I could find a guest house that wouldn’t demand I pay right away. At least in that regard I was successful; I even found a guest house with tiny low-riser steps, which was all that my legs could handle. Knowing that this ordeal was at an end, my body was quickly shutting down.
I drank water and eased myself into the shower and tried to scrub the pounds of Mount Rinjani that were mashed into the burst blisters on my feet. I then sat on the bed and tried to stay as still as I could while drinking water and savoring the small amount of cookies I had. I also happened to have some cheese in my bag, but that’s a story for another day.
Several hours later, I slowly wobbled to another Internet cafe and found Polly online. I told her what happened. I had no skin on my heels. I was missing toenails. I couldn’t walk. I had a weird relationship with water that I wasn’t sure I was entirely comfortable with. I was on the Gili Islands now and wanted to go snorkeling but there was no way that could be possible. “Hahaha,” she replied. “That happened to me too.”
So back to this bike ride. We were riding to Lompoc, not Lombok. And besides, we later found out that it was pronounced Lom-POKE, nothing like Lombok at all! Regardless, the memories of Lombok made me appreciate my multiple water bottles and the civilization nearby and my friends and our support car. And my body, which was cooperating with me and not developing any weird blisters or chafing or losing any pieces! This ride was extremely pleasant, darn near luxurious, and I was enjoying every second of it.
This part of the ride was inland, so we mostly went through a whole lot of farmland. We saw lots of peppers, many of which were scattered along the road, I assume because they fall out of trucks. We had a number of hills to climb, which kept things pretty interesting and challenging.
Though we had decided that our most difficult day was going through Big Sur, Day Six was nothing to be sneezed at. We didn’t have quite as much distance or as many hills to cover, but we did have one major doozy of a hill on Harris Grade Road. This was close to the end of our ride and Sue was starting to feel a bit exhausted. I snapped this picture of her (she’s tiny and hard to see in the shade):
She wasn’t very happy about that and said that all the pictures I was taking of people biking looked the same. Maybe she has a point. But I’m going to take them and post them here anyway.
We finally got to the top of that last climb and looked down to the town of Lompoc coming up. We didn’t know what to expect from Lompoc, but excitingly enough, they have a wine ghetto. I didn’t know what that was, and I still don’t, but I’m proud to say that we went there.
We asked a local for recommendations for food, and we were quickly advised to visit Floriano’s for some Mexican food. I don’t think I would call it authentic Mexican food, but it’s the overindulgent fare that we craved. We got carne asada fries, as we were told to do, and a manwich burrito. This would not normally be on my list of Great Food I Enjoy, but it was perfect. We even had room for ice cream afterwards.
That evening I started to feel really sad. I didn’t want our trip to end. We had been looking forward to this trip for so long, and now we were nearing the end. There was only one more day until we reached our final destination. I tried to explain to everyone how sad I was. They assured me that our bike riding days will not be over anytime soon. And then we were all asleep again before 9:00.
TL;DR version: Lompoc is not the same as Lombok.
hmm – in retrospect I realize the Chinese 6 symbol should not say “six!” at all, but “lil” (or however one might spell that). And it doesn’t look like that at all. Well, at least we all remember it now.
Yup. Firmly locked into long term memory.