I’m not immune to depression. No one is. That DNF really hit me hard. My race calendar was built around the Mt. Ugo race. I planned to run (not necessarily finish, as I can also be realistic sometimes) my first ultra this year and just like that, the plan went down the drain. It’s bad enough that I have to travel to run decent trails, now I have to scour for races to accomplish this goal. Given the nature of my work and the need to reboot my training, I was not very hopeful. Thus, the sinking heart.
Without a finish line or cut-off time
Like her namesake savior, Christ, my sorority batchmate and overall personal bully, pulled me out of the rut. We had previously planned to climb Mount Apo, the country’s highest mountain peak, even before the Mt. Ugo fiasco happened. She told me that perhaps I should lie low with races for now and enjoy the mountains. She organized everything for the climb and bombarded me with photo tags and reminders that made me look forward to visiting the mountains again.
Sure, the rush of a race will not be there, but exhaustion, danger, and wonderment can still be expected. I am not one to back down on a challenge, so with just a day pack on hand, I escaped the bustle of the city and embraced the wilderness again. This time, no pressure. All just for fun.
Drowning the pain with more pain
On paper, the trail did not look intimidating. I’ve run greater distances and longer hours before, so how hard could this trail be? It also did not hurt to know that the trail is a “rainforest”… or so I thought. I pictured a Garden of Eden kind of atmosphere, less of the jungle survival type. This one, unfortunately, was the latter.
Getting to the jump off point was already very demanding. I thought Christ’s multicab will breakdown midway, but with a couple of offload-pushing, it unbelievably held on and went through the precarious terrain. What a prelude to our impending adventure. Goosies.
We initially planned to set camp at the plains of Lake Venado, but we did not want to trek in the dark, so we pitched our tents at the closer Bob’bong campsite instead. It had the last clean water source and I later wished that I had at least taken a quick bath there. Christ prepared a fairly sumptuous menu for the entire hike, all hearty and balanced meals. As we retired our exhausted bodies for the day, Christ and I had our usual conversation, which had become rare these days. When stripped off of all the conveniences of modern life, I believe people can express their thoughts and feelings in a more genuine fashion. Humanity is magnified. Appreciation is great and endless.
With just one more day to spare for a summit assault, the group decided to set camp near the peak. We obviously went there for the elusive Davao sunrise, so if we must hike four or five more hours that day, till dusk, to get to the Davao peak early the next day, we will. I did not anticipate the super cold temperature though. By the time I reached the outer crater, I could no longer feel my upper lip. I could not stop shivering. For fear that I might be in the early stage of hypothermia, my companions ducked me under layers of sleeping bags. After sipping hot soup and taking a shot of brandy, I was fine.
Truly, this mountain is the king. There is not enough superlatives to describe the experience. From the breathtaking sunrise to the stunning views, from the agonizing ascent to the detestable descent, the memories are so overwhelming. Mt. Apo made me forget my emotional pains by subjecting me to physical torture. There were moments when I wanted to stop and bawl and prayed for a chopper to save me. In those moments, I received various help from my companions — from Christ’s tough love to Joseph’s porterage to Jojo’s gait tutorials. My self-talk went from “What the fuck is this trail?!” to “Just one more step, Elaine.” Reflecting on the climb, I thought it was a metaphor for life: the journey teaches you a lot about the destination.
For 27 years I have looked at Mt. Apo from afar and it has existed without meaning. Now, its mighty silhouette reminds me that I can dig deeper and find the mettle to endure life’s challenges.