Psych'd To Go:
I have done very little hiking in my life, and what I have done; I would consider "light" hiking. At 27, I am in good shape - I play hockey, ride my mountain bike about 20-40 miles once a week, and exercise my fingers on the keyboard at least 8 hours a day. When I decided that I would make a stop in Boquete with the intent of hiking Volcan Baru, most of my friends thought I was nuts.
I read very little about the hike before I went – a little from the Lonely Planet guidebook (which turned out to be pretty faulty information) and a little online, but not enough to scare me off. So despite the pleading of my mother, and the criticism of my co-workers, I decided to do the hike. In an attempt to "force" myself to make it to the top – I told as many people as I could about what I was setting out to do. This way, I could rely on the old "don’t want to look like a wimp" if I hit the wall on the way up.
Pushed By Fear
Leaving at midnight, hiking by flashlight, alone, with all the jungle sounds you can imagine gave me a little extra boost on the way up. It seemed like every time I started to slow in an attempt to provide a little relief for my legs I was spurred on with a rustle in the jungle behind me. The slope is relentless, with very, very little downhill sections. I would equate the hike to about 4 hours of quick-paced stair climbing.
Stopping twice on the way up was absolutely necessary, and I would have stopped more if I wasn’t in such a hurry to get to the top to see the sunrise (and wasn’t so scared of the puma I was sure was hunting me). Each time I stopped, when I started back up the volcano my legs groaned in stiff pain, reminding me that I was using muscle groups that I don’t normally use. Hockey is rough on the calves, but this hike was rough on the whole leg.
"Going down has got to be easier", I said before leaving the states, discussing the hike with my friends. "You’ll see", they responded – boy did I ever! I passed the rest station about half a mile down from the peak and thought to myself "nah, I don't need to rest". Well, let me tell you - going down hurt. I mean hurt! It seemed like each knee-popping, toe-jamming, hip-jarring step would be the last one taken before collapsing and trying to roll the rest of the way down. My pace going down matched the pace going up, not because it was at all monitored and controlled – the slope and trail condition dictated the pace.
About 3/4 of the way down, I stubbed my toe bad against the front of my boots, winced in pain, but kept moving. When I reached the bottom, to my horror I realized that the hike was not yet finished. Finding the shortest route back to Boquete, I headed out searching desperately for a ride to the bottom. The long road back to Boquete was paved and had a steady downward slope that didn’t help with the pain in my legs. Amazingly, I found sweet relief in a short section of uphill walking! I found myself wishing that I was going up, instead of down.
The Pain Train
I stopped along the side of the road in the farmland area outside Boquete and sat on a log for 5-10 minutes giving my legs a rest and my toe some downtime. When I arose and started back down the road I realized that I would not be able to stop again before I reached my hostel – my legs were killing me! I was actually scared that I would not make it back and I knew at this point that I was looking at hours if not at least a day of rest before I could walk without a heavy limp.
Determination set in to replace the fear of not making it back to that wonderful uncomfortable bed in Hostal Boquete that I was now longing for. I became like a robot, ignoring the painful electric bolts that accompanied each step I took. I focused 10 feet ahead of me and did not dare try to guess how many miles were left.
Light At The End Of The Tunnel
I soon noticed that people were around me, and I was back in town. I made my way across the square at my robotic pace and turned into my hostel. Funny thing is, after all that, I now had to climb up the ladder-type stairway leading to my room. Getting my legs to move in the manner my brain was telling them to proved almost impossible as I tried to climb that stair. I was so glad the housekeeper of the hostel was not there to laugh at my attempt to make it to the room.
I closed the door, dropped my pack, and collapsed on the bed – waking up hours later to painfully remove my boots before again falling into sweet, deep slumber. It will be a long time before I get more satisfaction from sleeping in a bed than the one I slept in after that Baru hike!