We are young and fit and barely hungover. How hard can it be?
With a single phone call, two friends of my wife and I are awarded a job in Tasmania. They are leaving the following weekend. The group has often discussed a walk to the top of a nearby mountain, but never quite found time to complete it. Allegedly, stalking 500 metres up sheer rock together will be good fun. We would all like to tick climbing the mountain off the bucket list.
It is decided we will go the next day. My wife and I gallantly race down the coast that evening to join our friends before they leave forever (approximately 6 weeks).
“Are you sure you want to do this walk?” I ask my wife in the car. My wife is a self-confessed hater of walks, although I hope to convert him one day, like I did with swimming. He claims he does, unconvincingly. I love a good walk. I am not daunted. In fact, I am enthused.
Almost all of us wake up hungover on the morning of the hike, so we don’t get to the base of the mountain until 2pm. This is convenient for my wife, who now cannot come due to work. Almost no one is wearing appropriate footwear.
It is Hot out. Usually I’m very game for a challenge, but this is a Big Hill. Five minutes in I’m already panting. A bead of sweat rolls down my nose. I can feel my heartbeat against the chest strap of my trek-appropriate bag. The boys are drinking beers and everyone else is very jovial. There is a not-inconsiderable scramble over mounting boulders. I am ashamed to be outpaced by people drinking cans of Toohey’s as they go. One of the party is smoking, amazingly. My lungs feel ready to give out as it is.
I have never been the slowest before, not since I tried to join the women’s rugby team at university. I am truly perplexed: is my bag weighing me down? My hat overheating me? I am not one of the hungover people, and I am wearing the appropriate footwear — if anything, my hiking boots are too appropriate: I look like quite the mountain goat. Is it precisely because I don’t have a hangover? For a moment, I am very glad my wife didn’t join us: any sourness he may have harboured over this whole “walking” business would have certainly developed into glee at my personal struggle. In the end, I am forced to assume my difficulties stem only from my own fitness. Living in a van leaves little room for HIIT. Also, I have just been on holiday.
Eventually the route flattens out. My mood lightens considerably. The people near the front start singing. It is very wholesome, in theory, except that they’re singing Baby by Justin Bieber. I complicate my walking-breathing task by trying to eat snacks while I stumble along. Eventually the path gets steep again and everyone falls silent.
The final ascent is so steep metal ladders have been attached to the rock. The ladders are very tall and gridded, so when you look down you can see all the way through them to your inevitable death. The top is very beautiful; we can see for miles. Plus, we reward ourselves with time for lunch. Everyone else consumes the fruit or pastries they have brought. I have a three-course picnic and a sit down that truly revives me.
On the way down the mountain, we have to descend the ladders backwards. Half the group are fighting off panic attacks. I can hear someone below me softly talking themselves out of vomiting.
“Who’s stupid idea was this?” someone mutters. A friend, down the bottom, raises one hand.
“My apologies,” she says.
Once we’re past the ladders, the way down is considerably nicer. We pass a woman on her way up. “You’re just coming to the extra steep bit!” I tell her, charmingly. She smiles.
There’s a light, fresh breeze. We’ve emptied our packs of lunch, and we’re going downhill. The woman who we met going up overtakes us going down. She is old enough to have been my age before I was born. “Enjoy the views!” she trills as she scurries past. I struggle not to be personally affronted by her overtaking-enthusiasm. I’m not unfit, just out of practice. My knees feel like they’re grinding themselves into chalk. My entire back is sticky. There is a large splash of mud that looks like an oil slick all up my right leg.
Finally, and unexpectedly, the path gives way to the car park. The car smells of sweat. I am immensely tired. The mountain recedes into the trees behind us. We swerve along 4WD tracks towards home. We walk into the house and all sit down hard.
“Wow,” says my lively, un-sweaty wife looking up from his laptop and at our weary bodies. “I didn’t realise it was actually a mountain. I thought it was just a big hill.”
“You and me both,” I say. “You and me both.”