When your instincts tell you you’ve had enough. Listen to them.
Yesterday was Deepavali, the Indian new year and a national holiday in Malaysia. So my Malaysian-Chinese boyfriend and his non-Indian friends invited me on a picnic in the forest. Excellent. How fun! Oh how I love a good picnic. Yummy food by a river, easy chats with good friends on a quilted blanket, maybe someone brought a harp. Well this was a little different…not really a picnic so much as an endurance hike…kind of a last minute surprise for my effete self expecting a basket of baguettes and little cucumber sandwiches by a babbling brook. My first clue was that we had to get up at 5 am to meet the group. Since when does a picnic start at 5 in the morning? Second clue: notice in the picture above how the gay boys (on the left side) are setting off with tote bags of food and beverages. Johnson (red shirt in the middle) even packed a battery operated fan, a grill for barbecuing, dried pasta and raw potatoes, a pot for cooking, and kitchen utensils for cutting up veggies. My kinda guy, right? Well, look at the other half of the trekkers: they’re wearing leach-proof leggings, carrying hiking poles and wearing backpacks filled with water. They knew what the score was…this was meant to be a hardcore dusk-till-dawn hike into the tropical rainforest about an hour from KL. So into the woods we went, gay guys with enough kitchen equipment to host a cooking show and the straight folks properly prepared to conquer the mountain…
The hike leader brought along a stack of paper squares to drop on the forest floor as trail markers for those of us lagging behind. I was annoyed that he was littering the forest floor with papers from someone’s office correspondence at Exxon-Mobil. Later on, I came to appreciate these little markers that gave me confidence as I trudged along, bringing up the rear…the hike leader long gone from sight. I had a feeling this was not going to be the picnic I had in mind. I began hearing the opening sequence to Gilligan’s Island in my head…”a three hour tour…a three hour tour…”
As the crowd disappeared ahead into the forest, I lagged behind taking pictures of gorgeous fiddleheads and ferns.
I’ve never been one to march quickly through nature — so much is missed by doing that. And so few people seem to understand why I walk slowly. It’s not just because I have skinny legs. It’s because so much beauty is missed in a hurry. I find most people have a hard time switching gears from city life to nature. They bring with them the hurried pace of their daily lives wherever they go. They talk loudly in the forest, step on bugs, whack the bushes with sticks. For them nature is to be tamed and dominated. I see nature as a chance to remedy that frenetic pace of urban life. A chance to relax. I like to go on a nice brisk sit in the woods — looking up, looking down, being quiet, listening to the birds, and in this case, the spooky sound of orangutans in the distance.
And when there’s the pressure of a group urging you to pick up the pace, it takes some courage to just trundle along at your own clip. But I refused to rush and took the time to capture some images of the gorgeous fiddleheads, mushrooms, and flowers along the way. I guess I was the only real tourist in the pack…not having been raised in or near a rainforest. I found the primordial foliage fascinating, and marveled at the size of the inch-long ants and the 8″ centipede.
After a couple of hours and probably about 4 miles uphill into the forest, I gave up. Chuan had long since gone on and finally I caught sight of him ahead to tell him I refused to go any further. I sat down on a rock and proudly showed my age. “Sorry, my love. My knee hurts and I’m tired. This was supposed to be a picnic and it’s turned into an endurance hike and they say there’s another whole hour ahead. Considering that we have to double back now there’s no way I can add another hour plus the return trip. I’ll just have my snack here and return to the car. You can go on without me if you like.” He stopped and looked at me a bit confused as to what he should do. He is Chinese after all, which means he has built into his genes, a desire to do things in big groups. And here I am forcing him to make a decision: Me or the Group.
He refused to leave me alone and ran ahead to the group to tell them that WE were breaking off at this point. I was touched by his devotion to me. So selfless. So we divided up the food with the other half and they went on without us. Unfortunately we didn’t make prudent food choices. The big bottle of water and the bulk of the food ended up in someone else’s bag and we ended up with a small bag of nuts, some pineapple chunks and one small bottle of water. Already delirious from exhaustion and tropical heat, I wasn’t thinking clearly and we let them go, taking what we needed the most: water.
Anyway, we headed down the hill, quite relieved to have time alone with each other and to walk at our own pace, holding hands and stopping for hugs and a rest at the river along the way down. Chu confided that he actually likes to do things one-on-one. Sigh.
We found a plastic spoon in the stream (thankful for someone’s littering), cleaned it off and ate all the diced pineapple, leaving one small piece for the stunning yellow and black butterflies to eat. We were down to 2 sips of water in the bottle and still another couple of miles to go. The day’s heat was rising and I was aware that it was monsoon season and so thunderstorms were likely.
The hike dragged on and my legs turned to jelly. I was tripping on rocks and roots. We were both overheated and getting progressively more dehydrated. Mild hallucinations are early signs of dehydration. Personally I think the entire Christian religion was built around some hallucinations by a few men in a desert a couple thousand years ago. Stop drinking and angels start coming around and your life flashes before your eyes. Bushes burn, snakes speak to you, God hands you some commandments and whamo you have a religion when what you really needed was a Big Gulp and a parasol.
Well this hike didn’t end in a crucifixion though I did have mild hallucinations and my body was shaking from the final repel down a very steep path, clinging to roots and branches. Chu proved himself to be the younger, stronger man and the one with the clear head in what was turning into a crisis. He asked for water along the way from some foreign workers at a hydro-electric dam but to no avail. So he led the way and we soldiered on down to the car, the road now in full sun and seemingly getting longer like a piece of taffy being stretched out. Finally we made it to a concession stand in the parking lot. Chu immediately bought us 100+ (Malaysia’s equivalent of Gatorade) and guzzled down 3 cans of this marvelous drink with much needed electrolytes. We washed that down with a bottle of water and panted at the concession table while people stared at us on their way to their riverside picnic and swim. What are ya looking at? Ain’t you never seen 2 dehydrated homosexuals? I was wondering why we didn’t just back the car up to the river like these people did and have our little barbecue there. They were all laughing and splashing in the water, and I’m wondering if I need a saline drip.
We finally made it to the car…about 3 hours after that point where I broke from the group. We figured they were finally reaching the end point of their hike and pulling out the barbecue and boiling up some pasta…running the fan. We left a note on one of their cars that we would be in the nearby town and to call when they were on the way. We stumbled into a restaurant in town and collapsed after eating some curry laksa and drinking several glasses of water. Chuan fell asleep at the table. Poor thing — he carried a huge amount of the food and traveling gourmet kitchen on his shoulder and never got to enjoy the buffet.
We waited for 2 and a half hours and no word from the trail. We were a bit concerned for them but decided to head home to KL since they had enough food and water and cars to survive. We finally heard from them a little after 7 pm (12 hours after the “picnic hike” began) when we were well on our way back to KL in a major monsoon. The text from Chuan’s friend said that we were smart to have gone back because the rest of the hike was long, dangerous, and unpleasant. I felt vindicated. Johnson apparently had to go to the hospital after falling on his face, needing to have his lip stitched. I was concerned that he had maybe gotten his hair caught in the fan or something. I don’t know if they ever got to have the barbecue or cook the pasta and boil the potatoes.
What I learned today: 1. If the picnic caravan starts at 5 am, it isn’t a picnic; 2. Only ever hike half as far as you energy for because DUH, you have to turn around and hike it back; 3. Stash water in your car; 4. Enlist the service of a good walking stick; 5. Having a young, sturdy boyfriend is always an asset; 6. Don’t trust urban gay men to have good sense when it comes to anything related to nature and endurance — they’re better off helping you find a good price for a pair of shoes in a mall. 7. Always listen to your instincts even if it goes against the group mentality; 8. If you have a tailgate party, you can bring the harp.
Here are some other photos from the day. (You can click on each one to enlarge and use the arrow to advance.)