Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Volcano Death March

(When I posted my 'ABCs of Me', I mentioned I hiked up a volcano, and got a few questions about that, so I thought I'd tell the story of it here. My apologies that the pictures were taken before I had a digital camera, so these are pictures of pictures. Otherwise, enjoy!)

I’m not a big fan of helicopters or small planes. I’ll fly in them if I have to, but only if there’s no other option.

So when my husband and I were picking the day trips for our our cruise to Hawaii, I didn’t want to do anything that involved helicopters. We knew we wanted to see one of the active volcanoes, and there were two ways to do that—take a helicopter trip, or take a hike.

“Let’s do the hike!” I said. “We’ll see our volcano and work off some of the buffet food at the same time! And we’ll get an authentic, real experience, see all different parts of the volcano, not just be dropped off at the top!”

It sounded like a good idea at the time, and we signed up for the volcano hike filled with optimism and joy, then held hands while we peered over the side of the ship into the sunset. Ah, to be so naive again.

On the day of the hike, they distributed waivers for us to sign as we rode out to the site. I’m pretty particular about reading everything I sign, and read through the extensive list of injuries that we might sustain, including death.


That’s a pretty intense word, and my husband pointed to it with eyebrows raised.

“They have to put that in there.” I said. “Even if it were a nature walk to look at butterflies, they’d make us sign that. Don’t be such a wuss.” He narrowed his eyes at me and shrugged.

A group of five guides met us when we arrived. The leader gathered us together and told us to listen up:

“If you have any injuries or heart problems, difficulty breathing, this hike is not for you. The bus driver will take you back to the ship and refund your money. If you think you’re in good physical condition, this hike will redefine your idea of what it means to be ‘in shape’. And if you’re not in good physical condition, this hike will help you find religion.”

Ha ha ha. Very funny. I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t take that seriously from a group of five guys who were all chain smoking.

“We normally work on a very tight schedule, and today it’s even tighter because your ship has to leave an hour earlier than usual. So we’ll be moving quickly, and you’ll have to keep up.”

Wait, what?

“You will be given a pack that contains five bottles of water and two energy bars. You will need to eat at the midpoints to keep your energy up. If you can carry extra water, please do so.”

Okay. At this point, I started to get a little frightened. But still, I told myself, I work out, and I know my body—I know when to eat and how to hydrate. Five bottles of water for a day hike will be just fine, thank you. Carrying more is just plain stupid.

We headed out; for about twenty minutes we hiked down a paved road that was almost quaint; surrounded by solidified lava flows on either side, you could see the remains of road signs here and there embedded where the lava had wiped out everything in its path. 

Seriously, this is what you're trying to freak me out about?? Come on. I can do this with one foot tied behind my back. 

This is what all the fuss was about? I began to scoff internally. My elliptical back home is way worse than this! What a bunch of ka-hooey!

And then $*^# got real.

The road ended, and was replaced by trails of lava that extended forward and upward as far as the eye could see. Over each ridge of lava was another ridge of lava, because the flows pile up on top of each other in dreadlock-style rivulets of textured rock. And you have to climb these, up, up, up, to get to the top of the volcano and the site of the active flows.

Looks like you just have to climb over this, right? Nope. It kept going like this for two hours. 

This development did not please me. When I think ‘hike’, I assume there is some sort of trail, not just clambering up endless piles of black, unforgiving, volcanic rock.

This is also when the air started to get hot. I know what you’re thinking—well, duh, you’re climbing up a volcano. To a place where there are active lava flows. Which are made of molten rock. Of course it’s gonna be hot!

You’re right. You are. And I have no idea why that never occurred to me, but it didn’t. So this is where I should probably mention that my body and heat do not get along. You know how every year something like four or five people die in Arizona of heat exposure? I’d be one of those people if I lived in Arizona, even if I never left the air-conditioning.

And, to top it all off, we didn’t get any real rest breaks, because we were racing to complete the ‘hike’ in five hours instead of the normal six.

To sum up: I was on a 2.5 hour Stair-master trip directly to hell, which was very confusing for me, since I had always been taught that hell was found in a downward direction.

Yet, I am nothing if not stubborn. There was no way I was going to let our guides be right—I was gonna make it up that volcano if it killed me. I’d show them.

So I climbed. I trudged. I stumbled. And as I did, I drank water almost constantly. At one point, my husband poured a bottle of water over my head and you couldn’t even tell, because my clothes were soaked through with sweat. There was no way my five bottles were going to last even until we got to the top, let alone the trip back.

By the two hour mark, I needed all my focus to continue climbing. My eyes fixed directly in front of me, constantly searching for the next places to put my feet. I lost track of my surroundings completely, saw nothing outside of my direct path of vision. With every step, my body told me I couldn’t go any further, and my mind had to keep lying to my legs: just one more step, we’re almost there.

By the time we reached the top, where the flows mostly leveled out, I was done. The heat was coming off the ground in waves you could almost touch, like we were inside a convection oven. About half of the group had given up and turned back long ago, and I was still in the first 20% of our group to arrive. But that didn’t matter right then; my body had had enough, and I sank down to sit on the ground.

My husband, who had been a little bit ahead of me, came back to my side.

“Don’t stop now! The active flows are right over there!” He said.
“I don’t care.” I said.
“No, seriously, not more than fifty feet!” He said.
“That’s awesome for you.” I said.
“You’ll never forgive yourself if you miss this!” Said he.
“Bite me.” Said I.

But he was right, and I knew it. So I took some cleansing breaths, and I reached down deep inside to I don’t even know where. I stood up on legs that felt like overcooked ravioli, and began to move toward the flow, forcing myself to take every step.

Then, a voice rang out.


I stopped, and looked around to see which idiot was doing what stupid thing.

Predictably, the idiot was me. I was so focused I hadn’t noticed the patch of silvery ‘rock’ that indicated a live flow that was only just starting to crust over. I had stopped only inches from stepping into molten lava so hot I probably would have literally pulled back a stump and nothing more.

The one I almost stepped on didn't have any orange, just that smooth silvery look. 

The heat coming off of these was so intense, it actually messed with my camera. 

In light of this, my husband decided it was a probably a good idea to walk alongside of me for a while, and I managed to make it safely over to the red-and-orange active flows. 

I could not get closer than this to the lava, it was simply too hot. Even this was too much--as soon as the picture was taken, I bolted away from it.

They were truly awesome, in the original sense of the word, as in 'awe-inspiring'. And in the distance, the trails flowed all the way down into the ocean, sending up huge plumes of steam where the water met the liquid fire. It was beautiful, it was amazing, it was a monumental demonstration of the power of nature and the wonders of this earth. It was worth every bit of the torture it took to get there, and I don’t regret doing it for a minute.

But next time I’ll take the helicopter.

©Michelle M. Chouinard, 2014. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The ABCs of Me...:)


Laurel of Wads Of Stuff recently did an 'ABCs of Me' post to share a little bit about herself, and she inspired me to do the same. So here are some facts about me, alphabet-style! As she did, I'm taking a couple of liberties with a few letters that I felt were not the best for me.

A- Age? Yes, sadly, every day I age a little more. Oh, this is about how old I am? Look! Over there! A squirrel on a spaceship!! 

B- Best day? The day I got my Ph.D. 

C-Craving? Chocolate. Always chocolate. Or cheese. That'll work, too.

D-Difficult? Losing the ones I love.

E-Embarrassed? I don't get embarrassed easily, but when I do, I turn about as red as a tomato. I do stupid things all the time, though, so I've inured myself to most of that. The fastest way to embarrass me is to say something nice about me in front of a group of people. I suddenly don't know where to put any of my limbs, or my eyes.

F-Fear? I fear spinning my wheels because I haven't learned lessons I'm supposed to learn. 

G-Gross? Scatalogical humor. Yuck!

H-Height? five-foot-seven. 

I-Interests? Reading, writing, genealogy, psychology, scrapbooking/paper-crafting, cooking, tarot, history, art, nail art.

J-Joy? Writing.

K-Kids? Four kitties and one puppy. The cats may or may not be plotting to kill me (ala The Oatmeal), but my puppy has mah back.

L-Likes? Pina Coladas and walks in the rain. Oh wait, that's a song...

M-Music? Anything that makes me feel good and makes me want to dance.

N-Never? I will never watch E.T. Don't ask, you don't want to know. 

O-Once? Once I climbed a volcano. Next time I'll take the helicopter tour.

P-Pet peeves? I have several grammatical quirks that drive me nuts. I hate it when people misuse 'literally'. I hate it when people say 'less' when they should say 'fewer' (things you can count = fewer. So you have less sugar, but fewer oranges--you don't have less oranges. That's just ungrammatical). I hate it when people say 'The proof is in the pudding'--no, no it isn't. The expression is 'The proof of the pudding is in the taste.', and if you think about it, you'll see that makes a lot more sense. Also, if you say you 'could care less', that means you do actually care. What you're trying to say is you *couldn't* care less. And, to round off my list of crazy, I hate it when people say 'You want to have your cake and eat it, too.'. Everyone has their cake, and then eats it. The trick is to eat your cake, and still have it. The expression is 'You want to eat your cake and have it, too.'. Yes, I do know how crazy this sounds and that the only other Americans who says it this way was the Unibomber, and it's one of the reasons they were able to figure out who he was. So no, I'm not proud of it, but it is correct, dammit!!

Q-Quote: "I'm not afraid to fall, it means I climbed up high. To fall is not to fail, you fail when you don't try."

R-Religion? Spirituality.

S-Siblings? I have one half-sister. Love you!!! 

T-TV shows? Right now, it's Walking Dead, Orange Is The New Black, House Of Cards, The Big Bang Theory, The Goldbergs, Masterchef, Project Runway, and, if I'm honest...Real Housewives of New Jersey. I'm not ashamed. Not at all. Maybe a little. Don't judge me!!

U-Unique: I'm probably the only person on the planet who has a Ph.D but can't figure out how to get the battery out of my laptop computer. 

V-Vacation: I love Europe, cruises, and more and more I like nature-related vacations, like hiking in Point Reyes. 

W-Web? I have a website and two blogs. (see the 'About Me' in the upper-right corner if you want to check them out :) )

X-X-ray? I've had pretty much every part of my body X-rayed. And I've had a several scans, as well. I've had a bumpy life, injury-wise!

Y-Why? Why not?

Z-Zoo Animal? Tasmanian Devil. Although I would have also accepted meerkat and mongoose.

So what questions would you add to a list like this, for bloggers to discuss about themselves?