Climb Every Mountain – The Early Days

I now had one-and-a-half years to prepare for Mt. Rainier. Well, we had.

“Plenty of time!” said David. “Don’t worry. We’ll get you there.”

I wanted to believe ‘cos I was so nervous and unsure. This really was going to be the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. Did I really say I wanted to climb a mountain for my 40th?

The first order was to have our fitness assessed so the team can design an individual training programme for TH and I. “Oh joy,” I thought. Not only will I have to embarrass myself in front of supreme athletes, I’ll also have it on record about how poorly I’m doing. TH, on the other hand, was all pumped. He saw it as a chance to further improve his fitness and get some handy tips on how to work his ‘problematic’ calves.

On the day of the assessment, I was feeling edgy. Not because of it but ‘cos BDE was taking part in a Singapore Specials contest and she’d have to show a talent. I had no idea what this was going to be as BDE only knows a few basic commands and she’s not liable to do them on command. I was plagued by the thought of standing on stage in front of a crowd addressing a dog determined at times to do her own thing. I’m not sure if that affected me but the assessment didn’t end well. Everything was fine till I completed a set of back extensions. I stood up and the room spun. Then I started to feel nauseous and my head started throbbing, my saliva thickening. I was finding it difficult to swallow. It felt like the onset of a migraine but I knew it wasn’t. I didn’t know what it was though. I told our trainers I wasn’t well and we wrapped up. Thankfully, it didn’t take long to get home, as I was feeling worse by the second. I took some painkillers and climbed into bed clutching my head, trying to breath normally and whimpering. I wanted to chop my head off! Exhausted, I fell into a fitful sleep, all the time worrying about the contest. After a couple of hours, I managed to recover sufficiently to take BDE for her competition and to our surprise and delight, she took first prize. First prize!

BDE looking cool

BDE posing with her trophy

We were so proud of her, so extremely proud of her. Best! Dog! Ever!

Till this day, I don’t know what hit me. I think it was a combination of things.

I'm marginal

I’m marginal

When we received the report from the team, I was classified as ‘marginal’  and my goal was to reach good or high performance. I had 11 strength training exercises of 3 sets each with 8 – 12 reps on top of cardio work. Back extensions were part of it but I’ve never done them since.

Looking at the programme, life, as I knew it, wasn’t going to be the same again. For a start, I’d have to exercise consistently. In fact, the right word is train. I would need to factor in the time and really block it off, no excuses whatsoever. I would need space in the wardrobe for a whole new set of clothes. There will be sacrifices and pain. I had to develop healthy living habits – eat better, sleep earlier. I needed a new life!

Once I thought it all through, I was psyched. I felt ready to embark on this great big adventure except no one sent the memo to my body. My first gym workout was a disaster. I could barely run for more than 10 minutes and I was lifting weights that felt heavy though in reality read 3lbs. It wasn’t even the pain after the session or how tired I felt that killed. It was the pain the following day and the day after that, and after that. And somehow I had to motivate myself to do it all over again?

I moaned and whined to TH. Fortunately he understood and patiently explained the ins and outs of starting a training programme, especially for novices like me. You know what I learnt at 38 years old? That everyone feels pain, even pro athletes. They’re not immune contrary to what I always believed. Honestly, I found it comforting. I don’t know how or why I thought that people were either born able to do all this sports stuff or not. It never occurred to me that people struggle initially. Anyway, TH suggested ways to better manage each session and egged me on.

The gym became my second home

The gym became my second home

So I kept at it. The first few weeks were difficult. I couldn’t see the benefits of training and I wasn’t feeling any buzz from exercising. Where’s that feel-good factor that everyone talks about? Then one day, snap. Without realizing it, I was running longer and feeling less tired, I was able to complete my weights training comfortably and I felt goooooooood. Slowly, I was able to increase the weights too, one bar at a time. But I won’t lie; it wasn’t all up, up and away. Some days were rough and my training went back to square one. Groan. TH assured me that this was perfectly normal.

We were reviewing our progress with David and Ed one day when they said: “We think that you guys should climb Mt. Kinabalu this year. It’s a good test for your fitness and adaptability in high altitude. It’s 4095m, close to Mt. Rainier. July will be good.”

What?? It’s now March.

“There’s time. Don’t worry,” David said calmly.


(Note: Timelines are off for this series of posts as they were meant to be published in the last quarter of 2013)


Climb Every Mountain – The Big Bang Moment

“Climb every mountain!” implored Julie Andrews in Sound of Music.

Thanks, but no thanks, Julie. I want to climb just one mountain.

Two years ago, I made the decision to celebrate my 40th birthday with a bang. But this wasn’t going to be an ordinary ‘bang’. No lavish meals, extravagant holiday or pampering day at the spa. It had to be a big Bang. I ran down a list of things I had never done before and came upon mountain climbing or what I thought would be walking to the top of a mountain.

I assessed the idea for a few minutes and felt I’d hit the nail on its head. It’d be awesome, right? Challenging, tranquil, fulfilling, far, far away. BANG!

I chose Mt. Rainier immediately. Mount RainierIt was an obvious choice to me for several reasons. I wanted to visit the Pacific Northwest in the summer, we’d be able to spend time with friends, I found it familiar from years of watching Grey’s Anatomy, TH mentioned an ex-colleague who had climbed it and I thought if she can, so can I, and lastly, I saw ‘Climb Mt. Rainier’ on one of those list of things to do before you die.

See? Obvious.

What was not obvious to me at that point was what it really meant. In my head, a summer climb = a trek up. Walking shoes, trekking poles, bag with food and water. Period. Then I did some research and realized my bag would need to weigh about 18kg and it may be summer, but there’d still be snow. I panicked. Big time. Years hunched over a keyboard staring at a computer screen have left my neck and shoulders permanently sore. I can barely carry a shoulder handbag now. And what do I know about snow? It falls when it’s cold, it’s white but can turn brown or black from dirt and it can be slushy or icy.

What do I do? What do I do? I had already declared my ambition in a note on Facebook and friends had commented on it. Yeah, but who’s going to remember a silly FB note? Nobody. I could even delete it and there’d no longer be any evidence of it. The only problem is I would remember. I would know what I did one summer. I had made a commitment to myself and I knew that if I didn’t try, it’d eat away at me. So really, what was I to do? Sign-up with a mountaineering guide service of course – this part was easy. But how do I go from zero fitness to mountain fit? You know back in school when you had to do a yearly physical fitness test? Every year, I either failed or was awarded the bronze cert, and the only way I managed a bronze was when I cheated. This part would require herculean effort, and I could only think of one person who might have a clue.

I hadn’t seen my high school friend, David, since errr…high school. In the 20 years that had passed, I had contacted him only once to get the phone number of my ex-roommate whom he dated for a few years after we left school. How would I find him? And then I finally realized how useful FB can be. Not only would I be able to find a lost acquaintance, I could hide behind a message and not deal directly with the awkwardness of seeking help from a stranger.

As luck would have it, David and his friend were just embarking on a venture – an adventure consultancy that takes clients on incredible journeys (incidentally also the name of the company), and their specialty? Mountaineering! Among their many accomplishments, I learned that David was part of the Singapore Antartica Expedition, and his friend and business partner, Ed Siew, was the first Singaporean to summit Mt. Everest. I found the right help, and I was relieved.

When I met up with them, the magnitude of what I was trying to achieve hit me. This was no Mt. Everest to be sure, but it wasn’t going to be some walk in a national park with a trek up a mountain like I thought.

I was awed and terrified; and this was just the beginning.

(Note: Timelines are off for this series of posts as they were meant to be published in the last quarter of 2013)