The seat belts pressed into our abdomen as the open-air Range Rover rocked to and fro as it wove its way through tropical vegetation. The six climbers were anxiously mumbling niceties amongst each other, waiting for the moment they would reach the entrance of the Gros Piton Nature Trail. The fear of the unknown gripped my stomach and mind, creating a ball of nerves apparent to anyone who cared to look. We did no preparation for this hike, unlike the other couples climbing the mountain with us. None. Nada. Not one bit. But we had been working out for this trip, really watching what we eat, and ensuring we were getting the muscle tone we had been craving — making sure our clothes fit just a bit better than they did in December. But cardio? Not so much…
With all of these feelings of inadequacy flying around in my mind, there was still a side to me that couldn’t wait to be one of the lucky people to climb to the peak of the mountain, and relish the feeling of accomplishing such a challenging hike. Full disclosure, the phrase “I did it for the gram” crossed my mind, but I wanted to wear this hike like a badge of honor for the rest of our trip. I wanted to lookout over the crazy views for myself and know that it was my eyes taking it all in, not someone’s post of it all. I wanted to look back on my own post in a few years and know that it didn’t really do it justice. Little did I know that it would be such a cleansing experience, a mind-altering self-esteem booster, a positive body image breakthrough.
Once the truck rumbled its way to the base of the mountain, we all climbed out of the back of the vehicle and slowly walked to the information center to meet our two guides. Two very fit men with walking sticks and backpacks explained the four-hour long journey to us: There would be four stops on our way up to Gros Piton’s peak, each taking about 30 minutes to complete. The first two were considered moderate in hiking difficulty and were about 1.25 miles in length, the last two stops were very strenuous (cue stomach flipping) and covered about 1,200 of the vertical incline of the hike. They warned that it was really important to pace yourself and ensure that you are drinking enough water and resting when we stopped. Then they lead us out to start of trek up,
Needless to say, the cardio component of the first half wasn’t unbearable, but it wasn’t easy. Our muscles were shaking, but it again, this part was doable. The first stop opened up to a beautiful view of a sandy, deserted beach with crystal clear waters, while the second outlook looked to the neighboring Petit Peton’s rocky faces. Then it was time for the second, more intense part of the hike. The third stop was in the middle of jungle vegetation, mosquitoes and flies in abundance with no view. Bamboo handrails where strategically located along the path to help people pull themselves up the stairs that were allowing us to gain extreme vertical height. When we finally reached the fourth and last stop we were greeted with expansive views that overlooked St. Lucia’s south and southeastern coasts, including the tallest peak on the island Mount Gimie, the airport, and the dozens of communities below. It was a spectacular sight and one that was worth pushing myself for, physically and mentally.
You see, the past few years, I have struggled immensely with body image. I had to give up running due to weak ankle, knee, and hip joints. The hobby was ruining my joints at a really young age. So I changed my workouts, yet I never felt like my running-less lifestyle would yield the body I once had. This hike of almost 2,200 feet in elevation, most of it being covered in the last half of the trek, proved to me that this body can deal with a lot — a lot more than I really gave it credit for before. It showed me that I can push myself to what I considered exhaustion, when I felt like I couldn’t go any further, and yet with some coaxing from my mind and others, this anxious doubt disappeared unveiling more energy and strength still left in the tank left to give. The experience proved to me that all the work I had done before this trip really did prepare me in a way. Strength is not only a physical quality, but a mental state as well. And by not quitting when I thought I needed to, I proved to myself that I have the ability to do what I set my mind to, physically.
While this self-realization happened internally, having someone else, someone who loves me and wants the best for me, witness this commitment to myself was that much more rewarding. Phil saw a side of me that he had never seen before. I’m not known for being all that coordinated and agile. But this hike required that of me. Not only did I make it all the way to the top and back down again, but I did it without falling, slipping, having a panic attack, or crying. My fears were nowhere in sight, and it felt liberating for Phil to also see this.
Who would’ve thought that this tropical vacation to a volcanic island, known as a great honeymoon destination, would’ve taught me so much about my body and myself as a person.