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CLIMBING ADAM’S PEAK IN SRI LANKA

CHICAGO, ONE WEEK PRIOR TO DEPARTURE

I pull-on my egregiously masculine hiking shoes, tighten them around my ankles for support. Secure my earbuds and start my How Was Your Week? podcast. Look at my watch. 7:07. Let’s do this.

13 steps up. 13 steps down. 13 steps up. 13 steps down.

My cats look at me suspiciously. That Lady has finally lost it.

Practicing Climing Adam's Peak on My Stairs

I am conducting a test run, here in my condo, of climbing Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka. Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada) is a mountain in Central Sri Lanka that is a holy site to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and Muslims: the large footprint at the top was left by either Adam, Lord Shiva or Buddha, depending upon who you ask. Climbing Adam’s Peak is an important pilgrimage for many Sri Lankans, especially Buddhists.

The trek to the the summit of Adam’s Peak is greater than 7,000 feet — over 5,200 steps. I’ve calculated that climbing my loft stairs (13 steps) 100 times is the equivalent of climbing one-quarter of Adam’s Peak. Minus the altitude change, not factoring in the freezing temperature at the top and overlooking the fact that it’s a consecutive 5,200 steps up.

Adam's Peak Sri Lanka

I finish my trial hike in around 30 minutes, a little winded but not entirely exhausted. I guess that’s that. I guess I’m climbing Adam’s Peak.

CHICAGO, DAY OF DEPARTURE

I have only one hour until my taxi arrives.

“What do you mean you don’t have knee braces?” I ask. REI, a massive, two-story shrine to trekking, sells every imaginable item a hiker would ever need. Except knee braces (my knees were a little tender the day after my stairs experiment). Instead, I buy special socks to protect my toes, a shirt that “breathes” and official hiking pants.

Crap! Parking ticket. I stop for one minute…

Run to Kaehler Luggage. No knee braces here. Dammit. Down to 20 minutes.

CVS! CVS has knee braces. I throw them in my basket, tossing in Pop-Tarts, Pringles and vodka as I jog to the counter. I’m going to need all of this stuff if I’m really climbing Adam’s Peak.

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ANDREW McCARTHY MAY BE MY SOULMATE

SOMEWHERE OVER THE BAY OF BENGAL, MIDNIGHT?

What the hell am I doing. What the hell am I doing? Chicago to Hong Kong: 16 hours; Hong Kong to Bangkok: 2 hours; layover in Bangkok: 1 hour; Bangkok to Colombo: another 3 hours. I can no longer keep track of time zones. Alone, in the dark, 35,000 feet above the ocean with doubt, regret and anxiety gnawing away at me, I clutch my iPad for comfort. Sri. Fucking. Lanka. Who in their right mind goes to Sri Fucking Lanka?

Bay of Bengal Map

My high school friends are spending a (sane, serene) Christmas with their grandbabies, my college friends are celebrating the (sane, serene) holidays with their children and my Chicago friends are enjoying a (sane, serene) seasonal dinner with their nieces and nephews. And I’m here. Seemed like such a bright idea 11 months ago perched in front of my trusty laptop, in the comfort of my office, back in chilly, windy Chicago, after drinking a couple glasses of wine. Crap.

“What are you running from?” someone once asked me. I don’t *think* I’m running from anything — I think I’m running towards something. I just don’t know what it is.

I will distract myself with some reading.

THE LONGEST WAY HOME by ANDREW McCARTHY

I downloaded The Longest Way Home (subtitled One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down) by Andrew McCarthy (yes, 40-somethings, The Brat Pack Andrew McCarthy) a few days before leaving for Sri Lanka. Description from Amazon:

Unable to commit to his fiancée of nearly four years—and with no clear understanding of what’s holding him back—Andrew McCarthy finds himself at a crossroads, plagued by doubts that have clung to him for a lifetime. Something in his character has kept him always at a distance, preventing him from giving himself wholeheartedly to the woman he loves and from becoming the father that he knows his children deserve. So before he loses everything he cares about, Andrew sets out to look for answers.

Hobbling up the treacherous slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, dodging gregarious passengers aboard an Amazonian riverboat, and trudging through dense Costa Rican rain forests—Andrew takes us on exotic trips to some of the world’s most beautiful places, but his real journey is one of the spirit.

I relate to this Andrew McCarthy, the introvert mistaken as aloof, the solo traveler at home at the ends of the Earth, the highly-functioning Aspie (itotko). I’m feeling better now, comforted by the reminder that others like me, right now, are strapped into silver capsules speeding across the stratosphere, by themselves, in the dark. There’s solace in knowing that I’m not the only one suffering from this compulsion.

Andrew McCarthy:

When I’m under jet lag’s spell I often feel as if I have the clarity to see between my thoughts, a clarity I usually lack. These insights invariably fill me with feelings of loneliness and melancholy [...]. I’ve tried to embrace this state, but when my jet lag passes my thinking is often revealed to be deeply indulgent and sometimes just plain wrong.

I’m hoping my present state of loneliness and melancholy is just that: misguided and temporary.

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WELCOME TO BANDARANAIKE, MERRY XMAS

play:

 

Christmas music? Seriously? I just flew 9,000 miles and 22 hours to Buddhist Sri Lanka hoping to escape The Holiday Madness and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer greets me just steps inside Bandaranaike Airport.

BANDARANAIKE AIRPORT

Bandaranaike is surprisingly bright and busy for 1:30 a.m. All of the stores are open and almost any minor appliance could be mine for a few thousand Sri Lankan Rupees at this moment.

My driver (arranged through the Hilton Residences for $50) awaits me with a sign reading my name. Dipak actually gets the spelling right, which is more than I can say for some of my co-workers of two years. Spelling aside, it’s a welcome sight. I await curbside at Bandaranaike, just this side of the drizzle, as he brings up the car.

Mumbai, Bangkok, Amman, Muscat, now Negombo — I’ve been “here” before. Enveloped in humidity, well after midnight, anonymous, surrounded by honking horns and swarthy men spitting and shouting. I guess this is my idea of fun or else why do I keep subjecting myself to it?

I am reminded of something Andrew McCarthy wrote: “I began to find comfort in the transience and invisibility of being a stranger in a strange place.” I find solace in the same transience and invisibility although it makes a lot less sense in my case, what with me not being a famous actor. I feel that I am a more interesting person when I’m in a foreign country. Or I have the potential to be, anyway. I could be a spy, or a famous author or a Legionnaire (whatever that is — it sounds cool) for all these people know.

BANDARANAIKE TO COLOMBO

Dipak and I conduct a nearly identical conversation to the one I shared last April on a midnight drive with my driver, Mohammad, from Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport to the Jordan Valley. I was/am curious about the blatant celebration of Easter/Christmas in a country that is primarily Muslim/Buddhist. Dipak’s nswer — much like Mohammad’s — is that celebrating holidays is fun for everyone. Period.

A vehicle on the left. The screech of rubber on wet pavement. An ominous thud. A flash of something tumbling befire the headlights jars me out of our sleepy, silly conversation.

“What just happened?!?” We had slowed down. We accelerate. I’m still processing everything.

“What just happened?” I repeat, kinda knowing now what just happened.

Dipak explains that the crazy driver attempting to pass us on the left struck a man weaving back and forth on his bike. In the rain. At 2:00 in the morning.

I urge Dipak to call the hospital, call the cops.

“It is the van driver’s problem,” he insists.

Did the van driver stop? Does Dipak even have a cell phone? Are there cops here in Sri Lanka?  Ambulances? Should I yell — demand — that he stop and go back? And do what? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. I don’t know what to do. I take pride in being a solo female traveler, I like my independence, but I want to be traveling with a man right now. I want to be traveling with a guy right now who will step-up and take control of the situation. Despite my control issues, I want so much right now to relinquish all control.

So what do I do? I go quiet and shrivel up into my seat, that’s what I do.

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