“Are we halfway up now?” I sat on the rough bench, and Kevin, our guide for the climb up Gros Piton, looked at me pityingly.
“A quarter,” he said.
To be fair, I had been living on Barbados for a year and a half. The highest hill there is 343 m, and it is in the middle of the island, a long slow climb (drive) from the coast. I hiked to Chalky Mount, 140 m above the sea where we started, and the week before coming to Saint Lucia the Hash run started at Three House Park and went down to the eastern shore at Consett Bay, and back up, an elevation change of about 80 m. It felt pretty steep to us, who usually walk and run on the flat roads and beaches of the south and west coasts.
But we’d gone to St Lucia for the mountains. They have soft beaches and mild terrain in the north, but we headed to the volcanic peaks and jungle of the southwest.
It was a romantic getaway at Stonefield Resort, and we’d opted for all inclusive and no car rental, so we could just relax for four days. I’d brought books to read.
But of course, how could we miss walking inside a volcano? Then dipping into the sulphur springs and volcanic mud? And within walking distance of our accommodation we could see how cocoa was grown and chocolate made, plus taste the local rum. (Sorry, Saint Lucia, Barbados does it better.)
And then there were the Pitons. This World Heritage site contains Gros Piton and Petit Piton, two steep, dormant, volcanic plugs. Petit Piton sounded challenging, requiring technical climbing and a permit, so we just gazed at it from the resort. But Gros Piton? How hard could that be, for someone who had lived for years in mountains, who had hiked the Incan Trail?
Pretty hard, actually. A 750 m (2460 ft) climb over a few kilometres and, as I discovered, most of the elevation is in the second half of the trail. There were times I was gritting my teeth, taking photos I didn’t actually want as an excuse for an extra break. I was discovering being fit for surfing doesn’t cover all the muscles needed for steep hiking.
Once I started, though, there was no turning back, as I saw several people do at the halfway and even 3/4 way stops. I heard whining and saw a few tears on the trail, but they weren’t coming from me.
Because once I start something, there is no giving up. The Finns call it “sisu,” a combination of stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience and hardiness. (Wikipedia) Some call it stubbornness, pig-headedness, even foolishness.
It’s what kept me going on the Incan Trail, when I thought I couldn’t lift my leg for one more step. It’s what got me though sleepless nights of hard, hard labour during herring season when I worked on fish boats, and what made me take up and persist at surfing when I was already over 60. It’s how I lost two toenails in the Grand Canyon, and three while skiing in the Alps. It helped me persevere through all the challenges of privately sponsoring a refugee family to come to Canada. It’s why I can patiently explain a concept over and over, always trying new methods, until that student who “just can’t get it” finally sees the light.
Four and a half hours later we’d been to the top and, maybe harder, back down. We DID relax after that, for a whole day, possibly because even the three steps up to our villa were a challenge for tired and cramped muscles.
At the Castries airport, heading back to Barbados, a young couple we’d seen on the trail asked us how long the hike had taken us.
“Really?” she exclaimed, when I told her. “It took us 6 and a half! I cried! I could tell when we saw you that you were expert hikers!”
Scott, the other “expert hiker,” looked at me and quickly suppressed a smile. We tried not to limp as we headed across the tarmac to the little plane.
Because sometimes, it’s not what’s going on inside that counts. It’s what you do.