On Saturday I found myself in a car with two other women heading northwest. As usual, I had no idea where we were going until we were well on our way to Bukit Tabur. I have been there before. It’s a stunning ridge only 45 minutes from the Kuala Lumpur.
I had been there before. Before Everest Base Camp, before my steady hikes with the Happy Hikers, before India once and India twice. I had been there in and around trips that I have made to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Istanbul, Sri Lanka, Langkawi, the Perhentians, Cameron Highlands, Kuantan, Penang, Melaka, and numerous other hiking forays which I cannot pronounce.
But Bukit Tabur? Why?
The other side
The other side of Bukit Tabur, which I had climbed before, had closed within a month of my visit there because someone fell to his death. Bukit Tabur is a climb where I had to ignore the possibility that I could drop off a sheer rock face at any moment — one of those climbs with thick frayed ropes that provided dubious support —thick frayed ropes tied to saplings, as sturdy, inexperienced hikers trusted them not to break.
And these people climbing had probably signed up for the hike with no expectation, just as I had this day. Their friend had told them it was beautiful, or they saw a picture, or, if they were like me, they had to meet their weekly social quota (I spend an inordinate amount of time alone—almost hermit status). Whatever the reason, I was on my way to Bukit Tabur a second time with a woman who spoke Malaysian English, of which I understood one in five words and a Korean woman who had hiked once before in her lifetime.
Most of the time… but sometimes
The gist is that I love beautiful places like this. I love adventure. I love not knowing where I am going—most of the time. But sometimes the not knowing about my future is a constant test — a situation that I put myself in because I want to rewire my brain.
At some point in my life, a story formed inside me, telling me I had to be brave. I was the one who would slay dragons, leap tall buildings at a single bound, and conquer the world. I was the one who would do it all, and I only had a short lifetime to accomplish all of this.
The fact of the matter is that I don’t want to scale craggy cliffs with only frayed ropes dangling from strained saplings growing out of rock. This proclamation goes beyond the fear that this kind of climbing invokes. It surpasses the view that I see when I get to the top. It exceeds the missing exhilaration that I should feel because I accomplished something great and dangerous. It terrifies me at the same time that it pushes me to face my fears.
This Saturday, after we had scaled and descended a craggy, frayed-rope, sapling-anchored rock, I followed our leader as she continued down the trail. I was pretty sure that the rest of the day was going to be a continuation of stomach wrenching climbs.
So, I said no. No rocks, just woods, and jungle.
Our leader started to take us back to the car. Since we were only an hour into our climb, I think her plan was to take us somewhere else. Then it dawned on her that we could just continue through the jungle until we came to the next challenge and then turn around and come back. So that is what we did.
It was the most beautiful jungle hike, with such lovely company, flora and fauna lit by streaming paths of light, snack breaks along the way, and joyful conversation. When we got to the next rock face, which really wasn’t so bad, my friend SJ, whose legs were quaking with fatigue, said no this time. And we turned around.
When you journey as much as I have, you learn you can always turn around, and when you do, the return route never looks the same. You may have even had a chance to leap a tall cliff at a single bound or slay a fear-dragon. When I turned around that day, it was so simple, smooth, and accepting.
Soon I will turn around as I always do when I hop on a plane and return home. But I am not necessarily turning back. I am turning forward. Forward with fresh eyes.