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.

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.

“STTTTTOOOOOOOPPPPPPP!!”

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.

73 comments:

  1. This is an amazing story. It was a joy to read.
    I can almost feel your pain on the trip, most likely cause I just did a similar (in hardship) hike myself.
    That feeling when you have to pull energy from the deep of yourself, and keep going. The tunnel vision.
    I know these things, cause I have felt them. Friday actually, when I hiked the Mourne Mountains in N.Ireland.

    You feel as if you have overcome not only a peak, but yourself.
    Thanks for sharing, hun.

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    1. Yes, exactly! Sounds like you had quite a hike there yourself! I want to hear about this...did you do it solo or with a group? Do you have amazing pictures?

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    2. amazing pictures? - not much, it was so foggy, but got a couple of good shots.
      I was hiking with my new hiking buddy from work, I will tell you ALL about that :)
      And hopefully get loads of pictures on FB soonish.
      New trip to the Mourne Mountains on Saturday, a two day journey to the third highest peak. The weather seems to be nice, so will get a lot more pictures this time.

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  2. This sounds absolutely incredible! I'm glad you documented both in writing and you showed the pics of pics- seriously cool to feel like I got to experience it with you!

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it! It's definitely one of those things that's great to do---once. :)

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  3. Thats insane! Looks like an incredible experience!

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    1. Insane isn't too far off, lol. The volcano was beautiful, and so glad I did it. :)

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  4. Wow...just wow. The pics, the experience, your will to persevere. I'd never in a million years go do anything like it, lol, I'd be like "nope, thanks, the view here from the beach is just lovely, thanks. And another [cocktail-of-choice], please."
    This is truly amazing.

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    1. I'm with you on the sitting-on-the-beach-sipping-mah-drink thing. Two years after the volcano hike, I did a hike up a glacier in Alaska; that was also not easy, but because the air was cold rather than hot it was much, much, much better, lol. So now I've seen fire and ice both, and it's time for me to retire to the beach! :)

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  5. that is soooo awesome! so glad you shared this experience with us. lava and volcanoes have always been interesting to me

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    1. They are really, really interesting. The thing that surprised me was that the flows move very slowly. For some reason I had pictured them running down the slopes at maple-syrup speed; I guess that's because you tends to think of eruptions when you think of lava. But in the course of normal events, they go about the same speed as a snail. So weird!

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  6. This sounds like a really cool place to go! I've never seen anything like it. I would probably take the helicopter haha!

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    1. I highly recommend the helicopter, lol!!! :)

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  7. What an amazing adventure! It makes me thirsty tho lol.

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    1. It's so funny you say that, because it made me really thirsty while I was writing it up! lol!!

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  8. I'm the opposite of you - I think it's because my Brother went in for a helicopter pilot license when I was younger. For my birthday one year he took me up in a helicopter and flew all around some farm land. It was incredible, and even though it was a long (long long long) time ago, I still remember it so clearly.

    LOL I love your step-by-step story about your hike. "And then sh** got real". What an awesome experience, though I'm not sure i'd hike it - my husband would be all over it.

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    1. I once tutored a person through his statistics class, and he offered to take me up in a plane as a thank you (he had a private pilot license). I said "I'll settle for a pizza." I probably should have done it, but...>.>

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  9. Amazing! The way you tell stories, it's just so captivating <3

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    1. Thank you so much, you completely made my week! :)

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  10. Crazy awesome photos! Thank you for sharing!

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  11. I feel frightened just looking at the scary lava. I would have hated that hike, but I love looking at it in your pictures. I would have probably passed out from fatigue and fear.

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    1. Ah yes, the word 'hate' went through my head more than once, lol. And by the time we made it back, I was so tired and so out of fuel I ate the food they gave us just so I could make it to the bus!

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  12. Okay that looks totally crazy and insane, but what a cool experience!

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    1. It's definitely a fun story to have under my belt, lol. :)

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  13. This is pretty cool! I think I would love this

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    1. I bet you would. If you can look at the pictures and be jazzed about it, you'd do fine. :)

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  14. Good for you! It sounds like an amazing adventure!
    xoxo
    The Accidental Mama
    http://theaccidentalmama.com

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    1. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. :)

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  15. Wow how cool! Love all of the photos and the lava definitions - lol!

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    1. LOL! I think they should have given us a picture like that before we started--'step here, not here!'

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  16. This story was awesome, I literally LOL'D ! I too will take the helicopter if ever asked :)

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    1. Yay, I'm so glad you enjoyed it!! And if I have convinced one person to skip the march, my job here is done, lol. :)

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  17. Wow, what a pretty cool experience! Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to read it! :)

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  18. Oh my gosh - what a crazy story! I am so glad you didn't burn your foot off!

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    1. I am also very glad of that, lol! I am very attached to both of my feet!! <3

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  19. Yikes! I'm pretty sure I would have been the one who accidentally stepped in the flowing lava... accident prone over here! SUPER cool thought!!

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    1. You and I must be soul-sisters, lol! I'm an accident just waiting to happen most days...

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  20. I'm glad you enjoyed your experience! This sounds like something we definitely couldn't do with our kids, haha.

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    1. No, I don't think you'd get too far with them...>.< But they'd love the helicopter probably!

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  21. Great post! Hiking volcanoes is hard work. My best experience has been being hiking at Tungurahua's lava flow when it started to erupt, again.

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    1. Holy moly!!! Okay, now I want to hear THAT story. Please share!!! That's a whole different level of 'adventure'...>.<

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  22. HOLY CRAP! That is the coolest/craziest story I have ever heard. I would have been 100% freaked out. But way to go. That is so cool

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    1. I think I was honestly too tired when it happened to be freaked out--I didn't fully grasp what had almost happened until later I think! :)

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  23. I have not been gripped by a story like i was reading this post in a while. felt like i was there, you guys are brave i think i would have found "religion" again if i had to hike lol

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    1. Thank you so much, that made my day!! I'm glad you enjoyed it. <3 I'm not sure about the brave part, if I had known what I was in for I'm not sure I would have done it, lol! :)

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  24. It sounds absolutely horrible and wonderfully amazing at the same time!! Congratulations on accomplishing it and thanks for sharing the pictures, because that's as close to climbing a volcano as I'm ever going to get lol

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    1. That is a really good summary, lol! :) And I'm happy to inspire/spare others, whatever may be the case...>.>

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  25. wow i would have been to scared to get near it! Props to you girl!

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    1. See, what had happened was? In my mind, there were like these cool vistas of flows of lava running picturesquely by while cool breezes blew in my hair. You know, like with an observation deck? I never really thought too much about the scary side of it...lol. Okay, I wasn't quite that bad, but still, I don't think I really had a clue...>.<

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  26. WOW!!! As brutal as I'm sure it was, it is such an amazing experience! I have always been curious about doing this. As weird as it is, (and no I would never do it), I wish the molten lava was safe to touch. It just looks so fun and squishy lol!

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    1. Yes!!! Thank you! Okay, so I'm not the only one. I really, really, really wanted to have some sort of special glove that would protect me from the heat but allow me to feel the texture and viscosity. I said as much and my husband looked at me like I was insane!!

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  27. I'm actually super jealous, but I would also be quite terrified. I love your caption's! Made me LOL.

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    1. Yay!! I'm glad you enjoyed it, I love it when I know someone got a giggle out of something I wrote. :) Yep, it was scary for sure, but luckily by the time it got scary I was too exhausted to feel anything, lol...

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  28. Hahaha, this was a really good read! I know I wouldn't do it, but kudos girl to you for doing it. Great pics and definitely I am sure it was a great experience.

    Thrifting Diva
    www.thriftingdiva.com

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it! I am definitely proud I did it, one of those times when my stubbornness did something good for a change, lol. :)

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  29. Really enjoyed this post! And note to self, TAKE THE HELI lol

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it! And yes, take that helicopter, for SURE! ;-)

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  30. What a cool experience! I'd probably be the person who'd almost step in hot lava too ;-)

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    1. ::does the sister-from-another-mister dance with you::

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  31. Oh my word. This is incredible. I've never been to a volcano before, so it's interesting to read your story! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. My pleasure, thanks for reading it! I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

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  32. Oh my gosh!!!!!! This is a crazy experience. I would have chickened out wayyy early - if I had managed to do it at all. I'm a complainer on hikes. I'm so proud of you for getting all of the way up there but I'm glad they stopped you from stepping in molten lava!

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    1. Oh, please don't get me wrong: I complained. A lot. I bitched. I moaned. Until about halfway through the trip up, when I started needing all my concentration to keep going, lol!! And thank you for saying that--when I do hard things these days, that's one of the things I tell myself: "girl, you climbed a volcano in a-million-degree heat. This stuff in front of you? Psh. Suck it up." And I bet you would have finished, too. <3

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  33. I would have totally burned my foot off! I have that kind of luck.

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    1. I hear you! I think there must seriously be an angel on my shoulder, otherwise I should have been dead ten times by now. >.< At least.

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