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The first thought that entered my head when I woke up on the third day of our Rinjani trek was a simple “I do not want to do this.”

We set off at 3:30am. By 4:00, I was in tears and growing more overwrought with every step. I knew I could not make the rest of the three-hour trudge to the summit of Rinjani. Justifications floated through my head like bonus bubbles in a video game.

• Unlike the rest of the hiking boot-clad group, I was wearing sneakers that did not handle the all-rubble terrain well. I was constantly slipping backwards and  had already fallen twice.

• My thigh and calf muscles were stiff and tight after two prior full days of hiking. I had been failing in my usual fitness routine before the trip and hadn’t trained for this whatsoever.

• My energy levels weren’t exactly at their peak after two nights of sleeping in tents and eating  noodles and rice.

• I was clearly the slowest in the group and felt guilty about slowing down the everyone down, who were already ages ahead of me.

• I was struggling with the altitude and short of breath after just one step.

• My anxiety about the dark was making me panicky, susceptible to hysteria, and unable to enjoy even a moment.

But truly, all of those are excuses and with enough willpower I could have overcome any of them. The only thing keeping me going was a sense of pride dwindling with every step, and the desire to make Anders happy. The real explanation is something much more difficult to refute.

I simply did not want to do it.

Mount Rinjani Summit

Not a single cell in my body desired to get to the summit. Okay well maybe a couple, but the overwhelming majority didn’t have the motivation. I had already seen incredible beauty — watched clouds rolling over the volcanoes of the far-flung islands of Bali and Sumbawa, spotted shooting stars flying atop our campsite, peered into the rim of an active caldera. I had already accomplished enough to be proud of — ascended over 8,000 feet on the first day, and scrambled hours downward into the caldera and hours back out to the rim again on the second (not to mention the hours of descent ahead to get back to sea level.) I had made precious memories with friends, witnessed scenes of unthinkable beauty, and pushed myself to my physical limit. The trip was already a success for me. I didn’t need to torment myself for five hours just to say I’d reached the summit and then head right back to camp.

And so after a tearful conversation with Anders and an anxious descent through the dark back to camp (thank God for the porter who escorted me), I was back at the rim of the caldera. While I felt a pang of sadness that I wouldn’t do a victory dance at the summit with Anders, it was far outweighed by the satisfaction I had from listening to myself and from the trip already.

Mount Rinjani Summit

I typed the above on my iPhone as the sun was coming up and I was waiting for Anders to descend. It is a true reflection of my in-the-moment thought process while I struggled with my decision to turn back from the summit. Reflecting back privately, and then with Anders, I realize how much my darkness-triggered anxiety disorder played into the situation. It is a good reminder to be very honest with myself about those limitations.

I did feel a pang of embarrassment when we returned to Gili Trawangan and I had to respond to every congratulation with a caveat, but I still believe I made the right decision for me. Those of our group who did make it to the summit returned around 9:00am, and we still had a long, hard day ahead of us (one girl, who Anders told me barely made it to the summit, broke down in tears halfway through the day as she was in so much pain and said she wished she hadn’t gone to the top!) Stay tuned for the final installment of this series — the story of our final day, as well as some words of advice, and a video!

Have you ever had to turn back from a desired goal? Were you able to make peace with it?

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53 Comments...
  • Steffi
    August 28 2013

    I hiked Mt Kilimanjaro last year and also didnt make it all the way to the top – i also felt embarassed about not having made it all the way to the summit. In the end you have to listen to your body! And the experience is what counts.

    • Meihoukai
      September 5 2013

      Couldn’t agree more, Steffi. I think we should stop being embarrassed by what we didn’t do and celebrate the part we did accomplish! Easier said than done, but it’s something I’m going to work on 🙂

  • Judy Fowler
    August 28 2013

    Meihoukai, I’m impressed with your decision. It is so important to listen to one’s body and soul. Your honesty is also very impressive.

    • Meihoukai
      September 5 2013

      Thanks Judy. It’s been very rewarding to share. All the wonderful comments and words of encouragement have helped me let go of any lingering regrets!

  • kate
    August 28 2013

    I know exactly how you feel! My husband and I hiked through Everest region 2 years ago and did the Jiri and Gokyo lakes trek. I got all the way to Gokyo but never made it up Gokyo Ri to see the view. We’d been hiking for like 15 days and that last day I just couldn’t do it. To be honest, I had a million breathtaking views throughout the trip and it wasn’t the end of the world. Next time I’ll break in my hiking boots! Your pictures from the trip look beautiful and I’m sure the memories will last a lifetime.

    • Meihoukai
      September 5 2013

      Wow! Fifteen day — hats off to you. And yes to breaking in hiking boots! I actually am about to hike the Inca Trail in only my sneakers. I know hiking boots would be better but I’d rather go in something totally broken in!

  • Amanda @ Adventure Year
    August 28 2013

    Reading about how you were honest with yourself and made the right decision for you was really inspiring. And the things that you were describing that you had experienced already…the clouds, the shooting stars! They completely gave me the goosebumps. Good for you for following your heart and your body.
    Amanda @ Adventure Year recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 5 2013

      Thanks so much Amanda. I really appreciate every kind word! And wow, those shooting stars really were amazing 🙂

  • Heather
    August 28 2013

    It’s disappoointing when I can’t follow through with stuff, but honestly if you don’t enjoy it, *don’t do it*. Seriously, that’s kind of the point! It’s a win for being honest with yourself and what you actually want do rather than what other people want/expect you to do. I say good job!
    Heather recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 5 2013

      You are so right, especially when it comes to something you are doing for your own enjoyment! I mean, hello… I paid money to do this. Why make it into something unenjoyable! Thanks Heather 🙂

  • Sally
    August 28 2013

    Another great instalment! It’s good to share experiences like these, I struggled to the top of Mount Rangitoto and felt embarrased because it was only a couple hours over volcanic terrain but I was completely out of shape and unprepared and didn’t make it. Next time I go though I can try again. At least you listened to yourself and didn’t end up in a worse situation because you tried to push yourself through 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      September 5 2013

      So true. And it was a really good and valuable lesson about being prepared, and a reminder to myself about the importance of staying healthy and in shape — so I can tackle things like this at a moments’ notice!

  • Melanie Fontaine
    August 28 2013

    Kudos to you for listening to your intuition – that’s what true mental strength is about! 🙂 Besides: I don’t think you have to stand on top of the summit in order to be able to say I hiked this mountain. What you did is an incredible physical achievement that you can and should be proud of! 🙂
    Melanie Fontaine recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 5 2013

      Thank you Melanie! I definitely feel proud of what I did here. Just getting to that crater rim (twice!) and back was no joke!

  • KiKi B
    August 28 2013

    Having an anxiety disorder myself I know how important (and difficult!) it is to learn when to push yourself and when to just take a step back, breathe, and accept that everyone’s made differently. It’s amazing in itself that you made it as far as you did and saw such beautiful things – I don’t think I could manage a hike that far! x

    • Meihoukai
      September 5 2013

      Thank Kiki. It’s always so nice to hear from someone who gets it. We all have our strengths and I definitely confirmed that nope — ascending a mountain in the dark is not one of mine. 🙂

  • Jacquie @ MFW
    August 28 2013

    Loved your honesty, you definitely did the right thing by listening to your body & mind! Don’t feel embarassed whatsoever you still completed an amazing feat 🙂 x
    Jacquie @ MFW recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 5 2013

      Thank you Jacquie! I really am so grateful for your kind words x

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    August 28 2013

    I have found that we long-term travelers tend to put really unrealistic expectations on ourselves about what we should be doing with our time when we travel. Really, that word “should” is such a killer as many times I find myself contemplating an activity or location, not because I really want to experience it, but because I feel like I am obligated to do so. Sometimes you really do need to take a step back and ask yourself how much you really want to do something, and I think in this instance you did the best thing you possibly could have and listened to yourself. Honestly, when Tony & I were talking about Rinjani, we both said we’d be up for trying it, but neither of us really had any interest in doing the summit, which all accounts made sound really dreadful. Like you said, by making it to the rim, you saw all the best parts anyway!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 5 2013

      Such wise words as usual, Steph 🙂 It is kind of a funny pressure that travelers put on themselves… have you even been to Athens if you didn’t see the Parthenon? Is your passport stamp to Peru valid if you don’t visit Machu Picchu? I’ve gotten way better at judging what I truly want to see and do over the years versus what I think I should, and it’s been so freeing.

  • Rika | Cubicle Throwdown
    August 29 2013

    Good for you for recognizing your limits! When I hiked to Laguna 69 in Peru (over 15,000ft) the tour operator told us it was a ‘moderate hike’ doable in ‘a few hours’. Well. NO. It was extremely difficult, crazy altitude and we rushed it because the van said they were leaving the parking lot at 4pm whether we were back or not. I made it to the top (barely… I was shuffling, in tears, with a splitting headache from the altitude) and the rest of my tour group, 8 Israelis, were dragging members of their group to the top who couldn’t walk any more. These people had altitude sickness and should have stopped and gone down, but they forced it, got really sick and missed the van back to town. It’s like diving – know your limits and stay within it!
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 5 2013

      Ha. I have learned to throw estimates from any source out the window. Guidebooks tend to WAY overestimate, while local guides way under. I’ll keep this story in mind if I decide to try out Laguna 69!

  • Maddy
    August 29 2013

    This sounds silly because you don’t know me, but I am so so proud of you for listening to your gut. That is the hardest thing to learn in life and it sounds like you have got it covered. 🙂 Big props to you for that!
    Maddy recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 5 2013

      It doesn’t sound silly to me at all 🙂 I love blogging because it allows us to see so intimately into the lives of people who would otherwise be strangers, and share in their trials and triumphs. Also because I’m really, really nosey.

  • Michelle
    August 29 2013

    Well done Meihoukai. Sometimes it is these moments that we are able to be honest with ourselves about our limitations that is courage, not defeat. I did rinjani myself and didn’t make it to the top due to a bout food poisoning which made the descent the worst day of my life. I considered doing the summit anyway and am so glad I didn’t!
    Michelle recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 5 2013

      Wow! I can’t even IMAGINE doing Rinjani with so much as a cold, let alone food poisoning! Kudos to you girl, you earned them 🙂

  • Kristen Noelle
    August 29 2013

    I have never done ANYthing like this, but I can’t help but think of my first real hike up Chiang Rai’s mountains and how much of a struggle it had been for me. Endless curses and “why am I here?”‘s replayed over and over in my mind like a broken record. I couldn’t even process intensifying this experience tenfold and you are amazing for taking on such incredible challenges. There is much to be taken away from your ability to make smart decisions and share your thought processes.

    With that being said… your photos from this hike have been absolutely surreal. The amount of natural beauty that exists is unbelievable, and thanks to you for capturing it so well, I’m learning about places I otherwise wouldn’t even know about!!

    Also… you and Anders just take the most adorable pics. EVER.

    • Meihoukai
      September 5 2013

      Thank you, thank you, thank you 🙂 That is all!

  • Sky
    August 29 2013

    Good for you. As everyone else seems to have noted, sometimes the best thing you can do is listen to your body. There is no shame in simply not wanting to do something and listening to your intuition.
    Sky recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 5 2013

      Agreed, and I’m going to remember these words of encouragement next time I’m in a similar situation. Thanks Sky (and everyone!)

  • Bryan Lowry
    August 30 2013

    That was an ambitious hike. Sometimes its just not you’re day and knowing that is far more important than getting yourself into trouble.

    • Meihoukai
      September 5 2013

      Very true Bryan… sometimes that old saying, “better safe than sorry!” really does apply.

  • Amy
    September 3 2013

    It sounds like it took a lot of guts to admit that you needed to turn back; I don’t blame you either, the climb sounds pretty horrific. Even without the final ascent you came away with some beautiful pictures and did some tough trekking though – well done 🙂
    Amy recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 5 2013

      Thanks Amy. It was an overall wonderful experience and writing this post helped me come to peace with any negativity!

  • becky hutner
    September 3 2013

    there you go again alex, reinforcing yourself as my favorite travel blogger. it’s natural to assume well-traveled, adventurous people are also fearless so to learn that they share some of the same fears you have (aka THE DARK, my #1 weakness) is definitely comforting! . appreciate your honesty. you’re still superwoman in my book.
    becky hutner recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 5 2013

      Thank you so much Becky! This comment made me smile a lot. There is nothing like being reminded that you are never alone in this world. Whatever weakness you have, there is someone else on this earth out there with the same ones, Googling the same shit you are 🙂

  • Randomjenta
    September 4 2013

    Sometimes you just gotta listen to your intuition!

    I climbed Huayna Potosi in Bolivia in May this year. The mountain is 6088 meters high, but we didn’t make it to the top. It had snowed earlier that day, and we had snow almost up to our knees some places. It was SO hard to walk! We also had tons of equipment on, and hadn’t gotten much sleep. At 5710 meters we decided that we had to turn back.. We were so sad that we didn’t make it to the top, but from the people who made it they said they were so tired they almost passed out. They had no views from the top either because of the bad weather. Because we turned back we got to see an amazing sunrise below the clouds (yet above others)a couple of hours before we were back at the high camp. So we didn’t make it to the top, but we had an amazing experience still.

    🙂
    Randomjenta recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 5 2013

      The bad weather would definitely make it easier to swallow 🙂 The views were stunning the day my group made it to the summit, but I was happy for them and glad to be able to see the beautiful photos. Sounds like we both made the right decisions for us!

  • TammyOnTheMove
    September 5 2013

    There i no shame in admitting defeat Meihoukai! Mountain climbing is NOT easy. especially at altitude. I also had to turn back one day before I reached Everest Base Camp due to altitude sickness and light hypothermia. I was gutted and still am to be honest, but as my husband put it blandly. I could have died if I had continued. Fact is, you just can’t know how you body is going to react. Some people will be fine, and others will struggle from the beginning. The experience in itself and seeing awesome scenery is an achievement in itself though, so don’t be too hard on yourself!
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 7 2013

      I’m still amazed by your Everest Base Camp trip! I was terrified of altitude sickness with the Inca Trail but was fine with Rinjani… so let’s hope that I’m okay in Peru!

  • gaurav
    September 22 2013

    sometimes body and soul guides you to the best,and i believe it always worths listening to that.

    • Meihoukai
      September 25 2013

      Beautifully stated. Thank you for commenting!

  • Steffi
    May 2 2014

    Im planning on doing the hike in May or June, which company did you go with?

    • Meihoukai
      May 2 2014

      Hey Steffi, if you look at the third post in this series I describe the shop I booked with on Gili T. Good luck 🙂

  • Whitney
    September 9 2014

    I had to back out of my first half-marathon a month before the race because I injured myself through over-training. It was embarrassing because I had already told a lot of people that I was going to do it and if I had trained properly the injury probably would not have happened. I could have pushed through the pain but I knew that I wanted to enjoy my upcoming travels injury-free so I backed out. It was humbling for sure but I knew it was the right decision. I’m not a quitter by nature but sometimes you have to listen to your body. I think you made the right call too, Meihoukai!
    Whitney recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 10 2014

      Sounds like you made the right call, Whitney. I think we both did! You know yourself better than anyone else ever can. And the marathon victory will be so much sweeter when it goes happen 🙂 Good luck!

  • Kim
    May 30 2016

    Sitting in GiliT currently debating the trek. . .We did the inca trail in January but that was coming from altitude in Colorado not three months at sea level with little physical fitness involved. I am a bit hesitant and advice!
    Kim recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 30 2016

      I know how you feel! I was living pretty sedentary when we went for it. I’d create a very motivating playlist and don’t make any plans for a few days after — I’ve never been so sore!

  • Amy
    March 9 2017

    Thank you for posting this up and for being so honest! I’m currently looking at doing this trek up Mt Rinjani in 8 weeks time and my fitness is far from optimum so I am very concerned about it. I would rather not break myself and spend the following week suffering therefore missing things like diving or enjoying milder treks. Seems to me you made a good choice!

    • Meihoukai
      March 20 2017

      Well if you do decide to do it, I think you could make serious strides in getting prepped in eight weeks! I think even just doing a basic 30 minutes of cardio a day would really pay off when tackling a major trek like this. Good luck with whatever you decide!

  • Hassan
    July 30 2017

    The three part blog post helped me a lot to climb Rinjani. The summit climb of Rinjani is by far the most difficult thing I have done in my life and we were under-prepared as hell but at least I was anticipating the difficulty thanks to your anecdote of the girl who broke down crying.

    • Meihoukai
      July 30 2017

      Ha, I was under-prepared too! Congrats on making it to the summit Hassan. Sounds like you rocked it!

      • Hassan
        August 1 2017

        Barely made it is more like it.. But i have found that being under-prepared makes for the best stories. If you have the time, I would love to hear your thoughts on my post about our misadventures 🙂