On Friday, October 27th, a large group of my fellow medical students and I headed out to the La Soufrière Volcano on the 39th anniversary of St. Vincent & the Grenadines’ Independence Day. At 1,234 m (4,049 ft), La Soufrière is the highest peak on Saint Vincent as well as the highest point in the island country of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Soufrière is a stratovolcano with a crater lake and is the island’s youngest and northernmost volcano. (Source: Wikipedia) I knew I signed up for a challenge, but lord oh lord I did not know what I just got myself into.
The first 15 minutes of the hike was normal. Some bushes and weeds, a little hill up and a little hill down. But then it got really serious. A “staircase” made out of bamboo sticks and mud would be my road to victory for the next 2 hours. Some steps were basic and others were steep. Considering the fact that I have low blood pressure, heart palpitations, and vertigo spells every now and then, I was not surprised for what came next.
The air most definitely changed as I got higher and higher up the mountain. I had to stop every 5 to 10 minutes in order to catch my breath. My legs didn’t feel tired. It was my heart that was struggling to keep up. Slow, deep breaths in and out were necessary for my heart. I drank some coconut water with the thought that it would both quench my thirst and give me some natural electrolytes. Low and behold my heart began to race even faster. I began to feel more light-headed. My idea seemed like it backfired on me. I needed to take a long break to give the side-effects time to wear off.
By this time, the pack was long gone. I was by myself on the trail. I thought to myself, “Perhaps you should just give up. Listen to your body, turn around, and go back to the bus. You cannot conquer this mountain. It’s too much for you. Quit while you’re ahead and just throw in the towel.” I was sad and disappointed that these thoughts were even entering my mind. All of a sudden a stranger comes up to me and says, “Get up. I will walk with you the rest of the way. You can do it.” Those words put a smile on my face. I got up and began to walk again…slowly. I paused for a second once I saw that next batch of stairs. Another person now came up behind me, “Remember these words young lady: PERSEVERE! I told you this climb will not be easy. Don’t look at how much you have left to go. Just focus on the progress you are making. Step by step you will get there with perseverance. Keep going! You will make it!” I turned around to see who it was telling me these words. It was the head of security at my school. He, too, decided to take on the challenge. It was his fourth time doing so. He made sure to be last on the trail so that he could encourage students like me who needed an extra push. The negative thoughts immediately left my mind. I said to myself, “Mind over matter. I will make it.”
Exhausted, sweaty, muddy, and hungry, I kept hiking. I will make it. I will make it. I will make it! My body, however, was saying otherwise. How could I ignore those palpitations? How will I overcome this feeling of dizziness? Lightheadedness? I paused for a second and my legs began trembling. The head of security told me, “Don’t pause. You must keep on moving or it will feel worse.” All I could do was laugh. At this point I felt like I was already at my worst. My mind was on the right track, but this hike was taking such a heavy toll on my body! Suddenly, the final message of motivation was sent to me.
I looked up and saw a man with one leg coming down the mountain on one crutch. He smiled at me and said, “You can do it, Princess!” My jaw dropped. I looked at him in astonishment. I then asked him, “Did you really make it to the top of the mountain?” He responded, “I sure did. And you will, too.” I could almost cry. Here I am complaining about a little rapid heartbeat, which would be expected since this was a grueling workout. Yet here is a man with 1 darn leg, using one crutch for assistance, coming down the mountain after he made it to the top. Now I had no more excuses. I was no longer whining. I decided to push myself to the limit and conquer this climb. There was NO STOPPING me now. i literally yelled out loud, “BRING IT ONNNNNNNNN, La Soufrière!!! I am on my way to the top!”
I crossed the riverbeds. I got soaked in rain. I slipped and wobbled but never lost my balance. Finally, 2 hours and 15 minutes later, I made it to the top of the mountain.
The takeaway from this experience for me was to NEVER GIVE UP! The trail may seem long and hard, or better yet it is very long and hard, however, that is no excuse to give up. All you have is time. Keep climbing. Keep pushing. Persevere! You will make it to your destination.