“Ain’t nothin’ but a peanut… ain’t nothin’ but a peanut…” I repeat quietly to myself as I manage half a step forward. In my next breath I repeat again and exert all the energy left in my weary body. I heard the story just moments ago from a fellow trekker – they know of an American weightlifter; who chants this as his mantra as he psyches himself up, ready to tackle his next enormous lift.
As I battle something more physically demanding than anything I have ever tried before, I too grasp onto the same saying; this track ain’t nothin’ but a peanut. I can feel my muscles scream in pain as I take the next step. My poorly fitting boot slips, struggling to grip on the loose rocks on the walking track. Ha- I wouldn’t really refer to it as a walking track, it seems as though referring to it as a goat track would be more appropriate.
It’s been a few hours since we set off from Tina’s Guest House, which sits precariously placed on the edge of a mountain overlooking the Jinsha River, also known as middle Tiger Leaping Gorge. I think back to those first steps that feel like a lifetime ago – “how hard can it be?” I think to myself, in a Jeremy Clarkson accent. After 15 minutes of steeply ascending the razorback and quickly gaining altitude I realise that I have foolishly embarked on something that I am physically not prepared for. I am far too proud to admit such ludicrous thoughts – plus, my walking companions who are twice my age can’t show me up.
I use that moment to take advantage of the spectacular view before me. At least one bonus of gaining altitude is expanding the spectacular vista before me. In all directions I see mountains. Looking down, Tina’s Guest House is merely a tiny white blur on the side of the road.
Booking a tour in South West China and spending two days hiking the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge seemed like a good idea at the time. I’m young; I thought I had a reasonable level of fitness; it was only 2 days; I had nothing to worry about… How wrong I was. I thanked our guide when he informed us that doing the hike in this direction was easier. We would instead go down the infamous 28 Bends rather than up. Gosh, I am so naïve.
As I come around a bend the path flattens and I can almost hear my calves breathe a sigh of relief. I look up and see one of the most spectacular sights that these 28-year-old eyes have ever seen. As you’re focusing on taking one small step in front of the other, its easy to have tunnel vision on the path – mind you this is rather important as one wrong step can see you disappear, never to be seen again off the edge of the sheer cliff. There she is – Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Not only is it a mouthful to say, but also I was so captivated by her beauty that all pain and exhaustion was temporarily gone.
As the sun beats down and I feel the sweat drip from my face, I am glad to know that from here it is a fairly flat path onto our Guesthouse for the evening.
It’s day two, and after a hearty breakfast of crapes, eggs and potato pancake it’s time to hit the path again. I’m full of confidence – you see, the ascent on day one is over; it’s now all smooth sailing from here. I’m looking forward to seeing these ’28 Bends’ that everyone talks about, and am so thankful that I’m not tackling this path in reverse. Our group sets off with a spring in their step- day one was full of incredible scenery and everyone has a sense of accomplishment. We’re 15 minutes into the walk and disaster strikes. Well, I might be a little dramatic. My boots are as tight as I can get them but I can’t prevent the blisters forming on my feet; it’s every hikers worst nightmare. With tears in my eyes quitting is not an option. I end up with an array of Band-Aids and even a sanitary napkin sticking to my foot, however none of these provide any relief. I was seriously mistaken if I thought day one was difficult. Walking on day two with large blisters that were quickly forming made each step agony. For a brief moment I consider turning back and not completely the trek. At that moment a familiar thought pops into my head – “ain’t nothin’ but a peanut”. With tears still in my eyes I vow to finish the trek, even if it means crawling over the sharp rocks on my hands and knees. I get progressively further behind the group – it doesn’t worry me because this is now a mental challenge as much as it is a physical challenge. I repeat again; “ain’t nothin but a peanut”. This is personal – I must prove to myself what I am capable of and how strong I can be. Everything around me says otherwise, but I know myself and that I don’t give up that easily.
The path is unforgiving. At last we reach the summit and take a rest before heading down the 28 bends. The time has come for our final hurrah. I must admit I am nervous – I’ve been trekking for over 2 hours today and every minute has been a struggle. The path is barely a path. I am so thankful that I took our guides advice and bought some trekking poles. Bearing as much weight on the poles as my arms would let me, I gingerly head downhill. Now keep in mind – this path is more like a steep rocky creek bed. Some of the steps are as high as my knees. Every step forward had to be carefully calculated as one wrong step could cause a major injury. I spent a day and a half gaining all that altitude, and I cringe as it all disappears so quickly.
Over 2 hours later I’ve never been so happy to take those boots off and throw them away. They managed to get me from A to B; barely.
I bet you think I am being over dramatic with my blisters and sore muscles, but I learnt so much about myself over these two days. Firstly, that I don’t give up. I am ready for a challenge and while that challenge may seem impossible, that I can defeat any situation placed before me; “ain’t nothin’ but a peanut”. I have discovered a love of the outdoors and of trekking (see ‘Journey to Nepal’), but most of all I am proud of my strength and resilience.
Next time you’re faced with a seemingly impossible challenge, just think of the American weightlifter and say to yourself “ain’t nothin’ but a peanut” (it helps if you say it with a American accent); think of me on that mountain where giving up wasn’t a possibility (literally, it wasn’t – I had no way out of there except by my own two feet – blisters or not); think of the feeling of accomplishment once finished, and the lessons learnt as you look back.
After all of this, it is easy to see how these two days became an unexpected highlight of my time in China. It changed me and it has built character in me. I think of the trek every day as I go about my daily life. Something new has arisen in me, and part of me has been left on that goat track at Tiger Leaping Gorge.
I’d love to hear from you:
Do you have a story of a challenge you’ve faced while you have been travelling? Or have you gotten yourself into a situation that you misjudged, like me? How do you mentally psyche yourself?
*In May 2016 I enjoyed my journey on Peregrine Adventure’s South West China trip.