Zooming through the Fog to Kawa Ijen, Indonesia
It was a little late when I rolled off the ferry; dusk would set in within the hour. I wasn’t sure whether to keep going, but if I didn’t I’d lose an entire day. The sky looked grey but good enough to keep riding. Maneuvering the two-wheeled motorized vehicle through the outskirts of Java’s eastern-most city was quicker than I thought. With confidence, I started zig-zagging up the mountain. As the sun disappeared behind the trees, the first raindrops left the grey clouds above and found their way to the ground. I’d been using my phone as a GPS, but to save it from drowning, I had to take it off the handlebars. A small piece of wood nailed to a pole in the high grass at the side of the road told me that Kawah Ijen, my destination, was another 17 kilometers. Kawah Ijen is an impressive volcano and sulfur mine in Eastern Java, so naturally, the last 17 kilometers towards the top got steeper and steeper.
The higher I climbed, the thicker the clouds became. They closed in on me, just like the jungle vegetation around me did, as the road got ever steeper. Within minutes, all I could see was my high-beam hitting the water vapor, and two faint outlines of the white lines on each site of the road. Fear wrapped its hands around my neck and took control of my mind. There was no-one around me for the first time since entering Indonesia, 5000 kilometers ago. There were no villages, no houses, no little shops, no-one to tell me everything would be fine and to keep going.
I had three options. One, to turn around and roll back down the hill, back to the overpriced shabby guesthouse ten kilometers back. Two, find a place to camp in this dark, wet and unwelcoming jungle. Three, to keep going through the fog, drizzle and fear. As soon as options one and two were ruled out, my mind became clearer. All my cognitive capacity was now focused on getting up the mountain safely.
I started talking to myself: “There is nothing to be scared of, just keep going, keep that throttle open, don’t go too slow, don’t go too fast. You can do this, you are doing awesome. Keep going, it is just fog, forest and a steep road, all good, you can do this…” I played these affirmations on repeat. As the fog became thicker, I became more determined. Maximum visibility was around three meters, and the only means of navigation was to keep the front wheel in the middle of the road, keeping equal distance from the barely visible white lines at the side. There was no way of seeing corners before I was in the middle of them; no way of anticipating steep inclines until the bike was on a 30-degree angle, the revs decreasing and me anxiously shifting down.
Fear wrapped its hands around my neck and took control of my mind. There was no-one around me for the first time since entering Indonesia, 5000 kilometers ago. There were no villages, no houses, no little shops, no-one to tell me everything would be fine and to keep going.
Seven kilometers had passed; there were ten more to go. Usually, the scientist in me would estimate my time of arrival. Based on variables such as average speed over the final seven kilometers, I would reassure myself that it would only take so many minutes to the top. Not today, though. Today I just kept repeating my mantra aloud: “Just keep going, you are doing great, see already seven kilometers have past, you are doing awesome, just keep doing what you are doing…”
Two kilometers to go and the fog lifted a little, just as the road became less steep. My breathing slowed, still I clenched my handlebars as if I was strangling my worst enemy. Then a few lights reached my eyes. They became bigger and clearer as the bike crawled towards them. People, life, the top, this was it, I had made it! Now all I had to do was park my trusty steed in front of the little restaurant hut and all would be fine.
The owner of the roadside cafe came out, alarmed by the rattling of a 250CC engine on this dark, rainy night. In a state of utter disbelief over being alive and well, I followed his friendly face into the hut. I noticed another tourist; a tall, blond, pale-skinned male. Never before had I been this happy to see someone who could speak the same language as me. “Hello, hi, I uhhh… Well, I just came up here, through the fog…” He looked at me with a nice but questioning expression on his face, clearly unaware of the superhuman effort I had recently undergone. It didn’t take long to explain the whole story, and within no time he was checking out the bike. The owner of the hut explained, in his limited English, that there was food and that we could all sleep in the shack next door before climbing the last kilometers to the very top of the volcano on foot.
I realized that when you really set your mind to something, you can do so much more than you thought possible. Regardless of fear, adverse conditions or anything else that doesn’t go your way, the outcome will be warming, welcoming and rewarding.
Relief washed over me as I sat down on a log by the wood stove in the back of the hut. I caressed a plate of delicious fried rice and a mug of hot tea. The owner and his friends sat on the bed, smoking cigarettes, conversing in their language, while the five of us tourists gathered around the fire to keep warm and get to know each other. At three in the morning, in the dark, we walked the remaining kilometers to the crater. At the crack of dawn we were rewarded with a magnificent view of the yellow sulfur mine, the crater lake and the blue fire escaping the walls of the crater.
The seventeen kilometers battling through fog and fear marked a real change in my life. I realized that when you really set your mind to something, you can do so much more than you thought possible. Regardless of fear, adverse conditions or anything else that doesn’t go your way, the outcome will be warming, welcoming and rewarding. This night was one to remember, always.
Top image : calebwestwood.com