I barely slept at night. We slept corner to corner in our tent to approximate a flat area and to maximize what little headroom we had. The ground was hard and our tent neighbors were loud but what kept me up the most was making sure that I still had the ring in my pocket.
We had spent the whole day climbing; about 1500m of elevation over 6 hours to reach the rim of the volcano. It was a beautiful hike. Clouds floated in and out exposing a varied terrain. We started through a humid jungle broken up by plots of tomatoes, chilis, and cabbage. This opened up into broad fields that crawled up that mountainside hosting herds of cows and choruses cowbells. Once we started on our way up we climbed up until we reached the top. On the way up we found frozen lava flows and playful monkeys that would steal your lunch if you weren’t careful.
At night we just relaxed. Our porter, yes porter, set up our camp and cooked us a hot dinner. Foreigners are not allowed to make the trek without a guide and since we didn’t have any camping gear, a porter came along with us. It felt like cheating but it worked out well. We watched the sunset over the lake and went to sleep early; because the sun set before seven and because we would have to start climbing to the summit at 3am.
The camp was already buzzing when we woke. We poked our heads out of the tent to see every beautiful feature of the Indonesian darkness: the milky way, a purple fingernail moon, and dry lighting. After a quick “first breakfast” of coffee and biscuits, our anxious feet carried our sleepy heads passed the stream of sleepwalking trekkers. For some reason, our guide was dead set on being the first to the top. He must have known I wanted to be at the summit at sunrise.
Sometimes Lisa would lead and sometimes I would lead. Each step I took while in front of Lisa, I wondered to myself, can Lisa see the ring in my back pocket? Did she see it in my backpack when she reached in to get an electrical adaptor?
I had been asking myself many questions over the past year in Hong Kong; questions about commitment and readiness. I knew that, in the past few months, the fact that the questions seemed to arise less and less often that the time was right. An answer seemed to be more evident than questions.
We both challenged each other to push the pace of the ascent despite being short on sleep and oxygen. The climb to the top would best be described as a 100 story volcanic gravel pile. Each step gained one stride but lost half a stride as it transitioned to the next. We tried as best we could to borrow from the strongholds that leader’s steps had left behind. It was really fun. Such a challenge that it required the entirety of my mental energy to keep my steps moving forward. It was the type of meditation that is found in complete activation rather than relaxation.
It was especially hard for Lisa. Not even 24 hours before the start of our journey, on a motorbike trip to the beach, our bike slipped out from beneath us on a transition from solid cement to gravel. I flew off into a somersault and Lisa went down with the bike. For the most part, we were fine other than a few scratches, but we soon realized that Lisa’s left big toe was bleeding bright red. Not long after we dusted ourselves off, a local farmer came to us, chewed up some leaves and placed them on the cut. We were a bit shaken but mostly, concerned about what impact the missing flesh on Lisa’s toe would have on our climb.
A trip to the Apotek allowed us to find not only Ibuprofen but also Amoxicillin, this was a big win. Her foot remained relatively unswollen and completely uninfected. She was not completely unpained but lucky for us both, she managed to climb to the top. Perhaps the pain distracted her from recognizing the ring sized protrusion in my shorts pocket.
We reached the top before sunrise. We did not celebrate. We huddled alongside a rock to shield us from the crisp winds. We huddled and waited for the sun to rise and bring feeling back into our fingers.
We waited until the sun rose to the point that it shone down into the crater. Excitement grew as more and more climbers gradually reached the top. I was quite happy to wait at the top enjoying the anticipation of Lisa’s reaction. Lisa, on the other hand, was freezing and was not as keen to wait around. She suggested that we head back down and I told her, before we do that, I want to do something. Without hesitation, I got on a knee and slowly made out the words that I meant to say to her. I think she said “yes” but I’m sure that we were both freezing. We hugged vigorously – at least as much to keep warm as to express our gratitude for one another. But I guess warmth is just the beginning of what we have to offer each other.