Narrow steps, by both width and length’s standards, gave way before us. Down and down we went, waiting patiently for the elderly Sri Lankan women to continue their pilgrimage. Some might have seen two able-bodied youngsters and assumed the women were slowing us down, but they’d be wrong. Truthfully, we were looking for any excuse to creep slowly down Adam’s Peak, or Sri Pada, or Our Final Demise, as we had begun to call it.
Sri Pada, the locals’ name for the mountain, actually translates to ‘Sacred Footprint’. Adam’s Peak over the years has accumulated a massive amount of stories surrounding its origin and meaning. The original Buddhist story claims that the stone footprint at the top of the mountain is Buddha’s himself. Muslims, and some Christians, contend that it was Adam who planted his feet there. While other Christians say it was St. Thomas, the spreader of Christianity in the east. In any case, these all combine to create a trail in which thousands of pilgrims trek each year for spiritual reasons, and in no way accounts for the thousands that simply like to torture themselves in new and inventive ways. That does account, however, to why there were so many slow-moving elderly individuals currently traversing the slopes of Sri Lanka’s fifth highest peak every year.
Songs and chants wafted through the air as small groups of Buddhist and Hindu wayfarers sang their way calmly back towards Hatton… and flat ground. Janae and I listened but instead chose a quiet walk, if you can call it that. It was a really more of an awkward rotating slow dance. There were three ways we made our way down:
- Face the right side railing. Put left foot down first, then right, feet together, and then left again.
- Face the left side railing. Put right foot down first, then left, feet together, and then right again.
- Facing straight down and either taking one step at a time or taking steps as you would a regular stroll.
You might think, as we did initially, that you would be like one of those men I mentioned in Part 1 who had been carrying the elderly woman down the mountain at blazing speeds. You also might think that you could run a marathon because you walk to work every day. You’d be mistaken friend. Between the grade of the slope and the quality of the broken steps, that would be a mistake you would only make once. Even the best of ‘The Descenders” could only attempt that brisk pace for 25-30 steps before slowing down. We on the other hand took an alternating route.
We took 10 steps facing left, 10 steps facing right, then 2 or 3 in the middle. Why did we do so few in the middle? You try looking straight down a thousand steps and not get crippling vertigo. Despite the increase in tempo compared to our nighttime climb we were in no way moving fast.
Life is full of small challenges. Every day we start our day with the challenge of not hitting the snooze button. We are challenged with what to eat for breakfast and what to bring for lunch. We are challenged with being kind to those at work that rub us the wrong way. We are challenged by the day-to-day details that chip away at our patience. Our lives are filled with small challenges. Descending 5000 steps one-by-one however, and this is a big however, is most certainly not a small challenge. It is a BIG challenge. And what makes matters worse is when little 90-year-old granny over there booking down the steps is making you look like a chump. How did her muscles sustain it?
Our body has hundreds of muscles. The number of muscles in the human body varies from about 650 to 800, most of those muscles existing in the upper body. As for muscle use, studies show the average individual only puts daily vigorous strain on about 5 % of their muscles. As we lowered ourselves down Adam’s Peak step-by-excruciating-step we experienced what it was like to take what felt like 50% of our body and use them vigorously near 1,000 times their threshold. NOT RECOMMENDED.
At the point where Janae was hitting her physical wall I was hitting my mental and emotional wall. The new day’s dawn had awakened colors and sights we had little chance of previously noticing under the cover of dark. Janae on multiple occasions pointed out the beautiful world around the trail. The only problem was that I wanted none of it. With an hour left until the base, I was done. I just wanted to be finished. It reached a head when Janae pointed out a small frog that a group of people had gathered around to watch. I replied, “Uh-huh. Let’s keep moving.” Wrong answer.
I won’t go into the details but we had a very interesting conversation that led to the agreement that we should both stay silent for the remainder. We were tired on so many levels. Our exhaustion had transcended so much more than just physical pain. We began climbing this mountain thinking one thing, and now, in the depths of fatigue we realized how far off our thinking was. Finally, and quietly, we reached Niroshan – who after our eight-hour endeavor seemed to be a distant memory. We immediately fell asleep in the car.
Hours later, now fully rested, I was able to think back and reflect on the events of that morning: the highs, the lows, and the literal ups and downs. I was inspired by my future wife’s courage and dedication. I was heartened to think of what we had accomplished together. But most of all, I discovered two key things.
First of all, I realized the obstacles we plan for are rarely the obstacles that will inevitably challenge us most. The peaks we look upon and wonder how we could ever accomplish such feats will pale in comparison to life’s real struggles, life’s real pains. I hear so many people try and equate life to a marathon. ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint’, they tell me. In reality, it’s neither.
I know what they mean. They’re thinking that life is long, with many hiccoughs along the way, and we must endure. But it is an endurance we expect. We expect training for a marathon to be grueling. We expect it to take mental toughness. We expect to fail and fall and have to get back up again. But that is where the comparison between life and a marathon ends for me.
Some challenges of a marathon might be unexpected, but in the end, the mental and emotional toughness needed are all part of the plan. Compare that to Adam’s peak? The way up was my marathon. The way down was life. True life challenges you in ways you would and could never imagine. Real, authentic, inspiring, gorgeous life cannot be imagined. Which brings me to my second realization.
If on the way up we find ourselves – our limits and our ability to surpass those limits – then on the way down we find God. The physical, mental, and emotional duress experienced when we wade through everyday life matters little if when we stop and look around we aren’t surrounded by love.
Janae and I were able to accomplish something amazing in scaling that peak. It was truly a testament to her dedication that despite any and all fatigue, quitting was never an option. What truly mattered most, however, was that at the end of the trip – despite the frustrations and all else that happened – what was left was us. What was left was Janae and I, dead tired, asleep in the back of a silver Toyota… together.
On a side note, it is fitting to think, during this season of Easter, of hardships and ascension. Whether you are a Christian or not, we all agree that Christ’s walk to Calvary was one of the most harrowing ordeals anyone on this earth has ever suffered. But what’s interesting is that throughout His ministry he asks us time and time again, knowing full well what he will eventually endure, that he wants us to live for Him. He wants us to love and live in this gift of life. He challenges us not simply to endure the hardships or the challenges that each step may bring, but to live and do so in abundance. He gives us hope to live each day with joy and peace. He gives us a reason to still find beauty and light in this dark world. So in this time of joy, I pray we may all find that light at the end of the tomb.