…something I had to constantly tell myself while on our great trip to Mt Kinabalu last weekend.
Last weekend a group of 20, decided to pack their bags, leave their rat race and head to the land behind the winds to conquer South East Asia’s highest mountain: Mt Kinabalu (which originated from the Kandazandusun word “Aki Nabalu”, literally translated as Aki – ancestors, Nabalu – Mountain). They were: Bunny, Cass, Brandon, James bak, Christina, Jamie, Alex, Soh, Sallina, Alice, BK, Jesster, Annie Soh, Ivan, Annie Chee, Demi, William, Oneill, Arif and I.
The objective was fun in the sun, but Arif and I being the only triathletes in the group and the only ones that have been competing regularly found this very hard. It was extremely hard to suppress our competitive mindset and try to relax and enjoy to activities at leisure pace.
Here’s the funny part: neither of us wanted to admit to each other that we couldn’t help being secretly being competitive throughout the trip.
Here’s my share of secret competition:
Day 1: White water rafting
I slept most of the way there so I can’t really say I know where the location is or how our journey was, but I do know I occasionally woke up to see some extremely steep slopes which the group said would be interesting to see if we can pedal up on our bikes. And I do know we eventually ended up in a cold-water stream, which was extremely welcoming.
We were divided in groups of 5 per raft (arif and I together), and off we went. Our raft was the first out and I immediately intended it to remain pole position. Whenever the second raft came nearby I pedaled harder to break away.
I faced two problems breaking away:
1. Since I’m the only one in the raft that got the message to pedal harder, there isn’t much response in speed as the others were taking it easy.
2. It becomes even harder to move forward when I’m the only one pedaling while the others were resting (something that often happened after a row of rapids and the guide asks us to stop pedaling and relax to enjoy the scenery. Imagine a relaxed group and one hamster behind pedaling furiously just because her auto-competitive mindset kicked in when another raft approaches… hilariously stupid!)
Here’s another funny part: none of the other rafters and even those on my raft were racing!
Kept reminding myself “this is not a race”. Finally, the hamster got the message and I managed to relax but within seconds later, our raft hit the river wall and capsized. That was fun! Enjoyed the rest of the rafting after that, which was a pity because we capsized on our last 100m or so.
O well… perhaps Day 2 will be better
Day 2: Island hopping and hot springs/canopy walk
It was a nice hot day. Perfect for island hopping.
We marched to the jetty, got on a boat and off we went. The islands were serene with nice clear water (although the first island we went to had oily shores… euww). No competition here so I had a good time (and not much to write about either!)
After a couple of hours on the islands, we headed to Poring hot springs. Nice shady park where you can either dip yourself in healing sulfuric water or take a hike up to the canopy walk about 1km away. Seeing that we just had lunch, Arif and I decided to head towards the canopy walk instead of dipping in the hot springs.
Again, no competition here, just lots of trees and heights and swaying suspension bridges.
Day 2 a success!
Day 3: Climb up Laban Rata via Mesilau trail
We started the day nice and fresh. The air at Mesilau park was crisp and cool. All were joyful and excited…
Then we started trekking up.
Immediately, hamster power kicked in and I wanted to make my way to the front. It was difficult as the front pack was really full charged. Finally, one by one they stopped to rest and take pictures. Eventually, arif and I caught up with James, Jesster and Annie Chee who had stopped to take pictures. Passing them Arif said “ok, we’re in the lead now”. “How strange!” I thought, as I imagined I was the only one with the hamster power turned on. So we trekked and trekked ahead of the pack, happy and relaxed.
Few kilometers in, the trail started heading for a downhill.
Now, hamsters by nature have chubby bodies, short legs and a very small heart. Very much like me. Going downhill with such a built meant:
1) body too fat to respond quick to bends
2) legs too short to stretch for uneven downward stepping
3) heart too small to brave jumping down uneven trail.
As a result I got dropped. Very badly until nobody else was in sight. I trekked alone for a while till I saw arif just ahead, waiting for me.
The rest of the way was with arif. With no one else in sight the hamster power went on standby mode and I finally started to enjoy the scenery.
Then it started raining.
How horrid! We started getting drench and I asked arif to push off without waiting for me and we’ll meet at laban rata. Alone again, I started my slow trudge up the final 1.5km to laban rata. Slippery conditions made me lose my walking stick. It dropped and flowed downward with the rushing streams made by the rain.
Ok-ok.. that’s what I told the group and arif. Here’s what really happened:
1. I was trudging along till I realized that my cigarettes and handphone in my pouch could be getting wet
2. I stopped, placed my walking stick against a tree to check my pouch
3. My suspicions were right, they were getting wet
4. I relocated these items into my windbreaker pocket
5. I started walking again and slipped less than 2 steps away
6. Wondering how it happened, I realized that I left the walking stick leaning against the tree
7. I turned back and the stick was gone… :(
Shocked, soaked and probably suffering early stages of altitude sickness I stood there in the heavy rain puzzled over my missing stick. A porter was following me and I asked him “where’s my stick?”. He pointed downwards indicating it was gone. My eyes saw the action, my brain didn’t read it. I stood there, still in puzzlement. A guy passes and asked what I was doing. I looked at him and said “where’s my stick?”. “Gone down there” he pointed. Eyes and ears got the message, brain still blur. I asked again and this time he shouted in the rain “Gone! Your stick is gone! Move on!” Brain finally got the message.
I reached laban rata 30mins after arif did. Boy, was I glad to be there!
Well, not quite. I was quite the drama queen because:
1. soaking wet and freezing at 9.6oC
2. porter with my clothes hasn’t arrived
3. arif said my lips were blue
4. I had to remove my pants and sit wrapped in a towel to stay dry (didn’t help at all!)
5. after waiting more than an hour for the porter the stress and cold was too much, I started panicking, hyperventilating and crying, shocking everybody and ending up with 3 jackets, a pair of gloves, and a pair of socks. I looked like a Christmas tree with the mixed colours
6. more panic and tears when I found my clothes that the porter carried were wet! My water bottle cap popped off because of altitude pressure
One thing that did make me feel proud was that I was the 5th person to arrive laban rata. I know I know, this is not a race! And it’s even funnier that no one else even knew it was one, let alone wanted to race!
Day 4: Climbing to the peak and back down to Timpohon, Kinabalu Park
My tears dried up and clothes were returned to me dry from the makeshift laundry area they had at base camp. The night before, I slept with damp clothes and stuffed toilet roll to keep my skin away from the wet clothes. Even my toes were wrapped in toilet paper to simulate socks!
We started climbing at 3am to the peak. So many people lining up the winding steps! Hamster power was in full rage! “We’ll never catch the sunrise with all these mowers” it whined. Our porter skillfully guided us through slower climber and at last we were fast approaching the peak.
Well, not THAT fast…
The high altitude made it hard to breathe. I felt my heart rate going mad and I could even feel it in my ears! Every 3 steps forward, rest to lower the heart rate. It took us close to 3hours to cover the 2km walk to the peak.
At the peak, arif and I were relieved and rewarded by the most beautiful clouded sunrise ever. Colours of orange, blue and yellow filled the sky. Extremely romantic.
Having Soh propose and Sallina going “I want! I want!” made it even more memorable and sweet.
After awhile, we started our journey down to laban rata and eventually Timpohon park. By now it was close to noon and I had fallen 3 times enroute to laban rata. The first fall was so bad, the bruise recently won Most Ugliest Moment by James Bak.
Arif and I took 2.5hours to reach the junction of Mesilau (about 2km from laban rata). He was clearly upset. We had another 4km to go, we were last in the group and the restaurant at Timpohon closes at 5pm. Even more upset because he told the guide that we had planned to cover laban rata to Timpohon in 3 hours. To which the guide said “For you, no problem. But for your ah moi… very hard to say”.
“Babe, it’s now 2.30pm and we’re last. At this speed we’ll take another 4 hours to reach the park. I’m hungry and the restaurant closes at 5pm. We need to pick up speed..” he said in his ‘loving yet very firm and annoyed’ manner.
It helped that the terrain improved after that junction, we moved a lot faster. It also helped that arif started pointing out which route downward I needed to step. This cut my thinking time to zero because it was very visual to have him move ahead, turn around and point with his walking stick the rocks to land on. “Here, here, here” he would say as he pointed (but as his frustration of being lugged by a fat hamster grew, it later became silent pointing, no words. Very nazi-like)
I finally thought we could relax when we caught up with Jesster and Annie Soh and later BK and Alice and later still Christina, Soh and Sallina. But no, we marched on with full speed as if to see how far we could drop our friends. It was beginning to feel ironic that my mental chanting of “this is not a race, this is not a race” became a rhythm meter for me to move forward faster!
I later found out that Arif suffered the same mental torture and had tried to stay ahead of this particular couple (not from our group) that kept close distance to us on our last 2km! We both refused to slow down to let them past! And they seem to have the same thought because they speed up every time we did!
Finally reached Timpohon gates at about 4pm. 2.5 hours to cover first 2km, 2hours 15mins to cover last 4km. Hamster power!!
Day 5: Night at Shangri-la and home!
Ahhhh! The joys of a proper bed and hot shower at the Shangri-la..
I showered and washed everything twice. We had a great dinner and an even greater night’s sleep.
The next day, it was beach volleyball, bruise admiring, winning Ugliest Moment Award and heading to the airport at 2.30pm. What a great way to end the heavy weekend.
Or so we thought!
Arif and I took the 4.20pm flight while others like James and Christina, Annie Chee & Family, BK and Alice, Oneill etc took the 5.10pm flight on Air Asia.
4.20pm came and went and there was no sign of our plane. We finally took off at 5.10pm with two other Air Asia flights taxing behind us. “Wouldn’t it be funny if that was James’ plane?” Arif said as we took off.
True enough we landed at LCCT the same time they did although we were on an earlier flight. We exchanged pleasantries with them and went out to have a last cigarette before our long cab ride home.
While smoking, we saw the group appearing at the exit gate. I thought for a bit and told arif “you know, if we were in The Amazing Race Asia, we would have lost a positioning just by smoking here while the others hoped onto their cabs.”
Ah! But then again….. this is not a race.. :)
Footnote: I would like to thank everybody for the great time and warm clothes when I was feeling really tortured. You guys are great company and even greater traveling buddies. Special thanks to Bunny for organizing it and making all of us feel like we won something over the weekend. Great job guys! Let’s do Everest base camp next!