A Quarter of Mind: To fervour, false starts and second tries

A Quarter of Mind: The Night Niko Turned (Part III)
Winifred hMensa

Recently, I attempted a start of one of my longest life ambitions. It was something I had always wanted and waited to do since my early teens. Armed with vigorous fervor, I dove headfirst into the deep end, thinking I’d emerge downstream like a synchronized swimmer. I most certainly did not. I flailed my arms in the water, desperate for air. It was difficult to come to terms with this failure because customary to my people i.e. me, hopeless optimism and unrestrained zeal cancel out failure. Did you say failure? We speak not of such things.

It reminded me of the time I tried to do the walk up the Aburi mountain drive. It is a 4.2 km (approx. 45-minute) walk up a beautiful drive in Ghana’s Eastern Region. A friend had invited me to join their small group for the hike and I said, “Why not?”. I had never done it but had seen others do it and thought surely, I too can do it. You see, I was at that stage in my life where I wanted a do-over. That stage where you are suddenly reminded of the indestructible youth you once were and hoped you still are.

We planned to start the walk by 5:30 am and spend no more than 2 hours going up and down the drive. I was pumped!

This is me the night before: All ‘vimmed up’, laying out my workout clothes, making sure my alarm was set, putting my smartwatch on charge (you’ve got to count your steps), and generally making sure that I was ready to sprint up the drive at sunrise. I also decided not to eat the night before. Why? So I would be light on my feet the next day. I’m not sure how I came by that knowledge. Anyway, by 4:30 am, I was up and ready for the climb. We got there just before sunrise and thus our ascent commenced.

My friends who were regular climbers took off. I told them I had to stretch first and promised to catch up with them. Did they not know this? Did they even know what they were doing? Did they not realize the danger of going into a workout without warming up? I left them to their fate. In any case, I was going to catch up with them in a matter of seconds. Possibly even overtake them. Of that, I was certain.

Why was I so confident, you ask? Only because I was the captain of my football (soccer) and basketball teams in High School; also, a striker for my university’s football team, the handler for my university basketball team as well as the attacking midfielder of one of Ghana’s Division II ladies’ teams, and so on and so forth. I was made for this. The last 15 years I had spent behind an office desk didn’t count.

With my pompous self, I commenced my climb. I saw a few ladies who were taking it slowly and scoffed, “Ha! Weaklings.” I went past them in a hurry. Ten minutes into the walk, I still hadn’t seen my friends. Did I take that long to stretch? Unlikely. I had to double up. I didn’t want them thinking I was some namby-pamby.

After another 10 minutes, my chest began to tighten. It must be the weather up there, I thought. Everyone knows that the air gets thinner at higher altitudes. It didn’t occur to me that my untrained, de-conditioned, overweight body and hunger could be the problem. Hunger, you say? Who needs to eat before a workout? Food is for mortals. And I was Zeus — I came to conquer this mountain!

I believe the psychological term for this condition is delusion.

Another 10 or so minutes I still hadn’t caught up to my friends and I was beginning to worry. For them, of course. Who knows? They might need my help.

As I progressed, I seemed to regress; the tempo of my once before bouncy strut slowed. My legs felt borrowed. Was I tired already? No! It was the sudden slope that caught me off guard. And so, I kept at it, taking more deliberate steps now. After all, it wasn’t a competition. We all started at different times and eventually, we would all finish and be home in time for lunch.

Thirty minutes into the trek, I was breathing through my mouth! My heart rate had spiked (according to my smartwatch) and I started to feel light-headed and nauseous all at the same time. So I decided to stop for a few seconds and admire the view. The purpose of this climb is not only to work out but also to admire the beautiful landscape of Mother Nature. I casually propped myself up against the closest railing, trying desperately to steady my hazy gaze and push past my dizziness. It will soon blow over, I assured myself. World-class athletes go through this all the time. No big deal.

While taking in the view, I noticed the ladies I had previously zipped past walk steadily along. I shot them a glare that said, “There’s nothing to see here. I didn’t come here with you. Keep going and mind your own damn business.” A couple of men walking by took it upon themselves to encourage me, “Don’t give up. You’re almost there.” Bro, who sent you to come and motivate me? I choose to stand here. I will move when I want to. Or at least when I can feel my legs again. Another enthusiastic chap came from nowhere and decided he was the push I needed to accomplish my dreams in life. He offered to walk with me the rest of the climb. I obliged. For immortals must show no weakness.

If only I knew what was coming next.

This guy had me trotting for about 50 meters uphill, rapidly depleting all of my energy reserves, and before I knew it, gross darkness had covered the earth. I couldn’t see right before my very eyes. The world had come to an end. The Bible was right. My heart fluttered like an eaglet trying out its wings, my arms and legs tingled with pins and needles, confusion set in and my knees gave out.

My newly acquired personal motivator who was roughly 5 paces ahead of me turned back to see me measuring the dimensions of the pavement; flat on the floor in the way of other runners, walkers, or whatever they called themselves. I didn’t care. Everyone should just stop climbing. Who cares about healthy hearts when the world was coming to an end?

A couple of guys who saw what was happening to me gathered around and asked for my water bottle. I didn’t have one. Gods don’t drink water. Moments after, I felt a splash of cold refreshing water over me. I had never in my life been so grateful for water. Life began to return to me. The world wasn’t coming to an end after all. False alarm. Runners and walkers alike may resume their climbing. A healthy heart is a healthy life.

Sitting on the floor gathering myself, I encouraged my personal motivator to leave me behind and continue his run without me. He, in turn, suggested that I end the climb and go back downhill. I nodded.

For the next couple of minutes, I gave myself a new mission. I would take a census of the people that walked by. Did the government even know how many people came up to Aburi for this walk? Did the health ministry even care about the many hazards that could occur on this trail? And what were they doing about it? After listing out all that was wrong with the country, continent, and the rest of the world, I turned my focus on myself and reevaluated my life choices. I resolved to make better friends who would stretch with me before exercising. Because when you think about it, that fundamentally is the problem.

At this point, people were beginning to stare, and I could no longer pretend I was counting people for the government. I stood up, felt some degree of strength in my legs, and asked myself, “To go up or to go down?” I weighed my options and concluded that I could not accept this defeat. The thought of giving up halfway into my conquest was not the way of gods. I employed ancient wisdom and switched to tortoise mode. Slow, steady, and secure steps took me to the summit where I finally met my friends who had started to worry about me. I shared my near-apocalyptic experience as we walked downhill and we laughed. It was not so funny when I toddled around painfully for another 2 weeks.

My biggest takeaway from this? No matter how difficult a climb is, you will always make it back home in time for lunch, which we did. But on the real though, that experience made me painfully aware that what gets in the way of my goals isn’t some external obstacle but my over-enthusiastic self. I cannot say that I have learned to manage the expectations I have placed on myself, but I can say for a fact that my second attempt at the hike was incident-free. All hail Zeus!

>>>The author is a writer, poet, and pocket philosopher

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