Sunday, June 30, 2013

Waterfall-ing

This weekend, I climbed a waterfall.  Literally.  Admittedly, I didn't totally know what I was getting into, but I am still giving myself credit for being adventurous and mildly crazy.  I've been making a conscious effort lately to get away from the computer (obviously not now) and commit myself to relaxing, enjoying life, and not worrying about e-mails, students, or anything else work-related.

I've realized in the past few months that when you work primarily from home, this is basically impossible.  Thus, the best way to accomplish this so-called "un-plugging" is to get my ass outside and into an environment where the digital world is wholly inaccessible.  And while I'm at it, I figured why not throw in some potentially life threatening rock climbing to really drive the point home?  Yes, I fully acknowledge this is a sad thing to have to manipulate yourself into relaxing, but so it goes.  And I have to tell you, it works quite well.  There's nothing like plopping yourself in the middle of nature to remember how insignificant most of our troubles are -- in a good way, not in a depressing "nothing matters so what's the point" type of way.

As I was looking for the next way to unplug, I was sifting through Hong Kong's many fun outdoor excursions and I came across this hiking blog which recommended a hike to Wang Chung stream (橫涌石澗).  There were several warning signs that this would be a new flavor of adventure, all of which I failed to notice.  My ability to read quickly sometimes results in a compromise on the comprehension of the details.  For example:

  1. I should have noticed that Waterfalls was a separate category on his blog.  He refers to it as "stream trekking" which is "more challenging than regular hiking".  
  2. I did read the note that said "Do not attempt to climb directly into the larger falls.  People did lose [sic] their lives there."  I thought, 'Um I'm not a fucking idiot... who walks directly into a large waterfall and tries to climb up it.  We'll be fine!'
  3. The directions begin with, "Take the steps down right by the sign that tells you not to enter."  
  4. Next, he says, "You will walk along the stream for a few meters then enter the stream proper."  

Anyway, hindsight is 20/20, but I'm glad I didn't fully process the potential danger of the situation
Green river.
because if I had, I might not have gone and it was pretty damn awesome.  We started out wandering along Bride's Pool Road trying to find previously mentioned "Do Not Enter" sign.  Should have been another warning sign that there were actually quite a few of them, and we ventured the wrong way a few times.  One wrong turn brought us to this dam and smaller waterfall where the water was so green it looked like an optical illusion.  I've never seen anything like it before.

There were several moments where we were tempted to just explore on our own instead of continuing to find this guy's directions, but ultimately we both opted to minimize the unknown and look for the beginning of the path.  Once we found the entrance he described (after a lot of debate and probably an hour of back and forth), we ventured down the steps and saw the falls and thought, "This can't be right.  There's no path."  We turned back, debated some more, and decided that indeed that was the correct entrance so it must be right.  Maybe we just missed the path.  This is when we realized that the directions actually did say, "Enter the stream proper."  And so it began.

We thought this was the top.
I've never experienced a place where it was so loud and yet so quiet.  The only sounds around were the stream, the distant, more violent falls, and my occasional whimpering.  There wasn't another soul in sight.  We started up the first set of falls.  Unlike my previous post about climbing the stairs, where you can't help but look up and marvel at how far you have to go, this type of climbing had a distinct requirement of only focusing on where you are right now.  This is because a) you can't see that far ahead because there are giant rocks and water crashing down right in front of you, and more importantly b) if you aren't paying attention you will fall over and into the waterfall. Sure, there is the occasional need to brace yourself and look ahead in order to avoid dead-ends and strategize which path will allow you to keep climbing, but you get what I mean.  As you can imagine, this is the perfect remedy for an unrelenting anxiety about life.  At some point when someone was trying to counsel me on how to "just relax" (good luck with that if you haven't tried it), it was said that fear is living in the past, and anxiety is living in the future.  Well, here you go: no choice but the present.

Although there were a few points where I looked down and said, "What the hell am I doing?" or "If my parents knew what I was doing right now, they'd kill me," I was generally pretty uninhibited by the task at hand.  It brought me back to the hours we used to spend as kids playing "hot lava" where you couldn't touch the ground.  It was so fun and carefree, hopping from rock to rock, trying to devise the most efficient and least life threatening way to climb higher.  No tactics or strategies were off limits; there was crawling, scaling, pouncing, grabbing onto moss-covered branches, using your arms to hang on as you swung between slightly too distant stones.  There wasn't a "right way" to get from one point or another.  It was about doing whatever worked to keep moving forward and upward.

But actually, that's the top.
My boyfriend provided the perfect amount of support, testing the water (literally, at one point) so he could turn around and provide me an extra hand whenever necessary, but also letting me climb ahead when I was feeling confident.  When I thought I had finally reached the top, I hoisted up onto a flat rock where I could comfortably relax and let my guard down, I looked up and was shocked to see... there was more.  Way more.  It was already a wonder to marvel at the medium sized fall, and even more breathtaking to look up and see something ten times as big.  It was just like reaching a different level in a video game, it remained hidden until you were at a point where you thought you'd conquered the game.  And then, there it was, a challenge that loomed aggressively above you, reminding you that you can never "win", and just how tiny, weak, and insignificant you are.

We obviously decided this was the end of the line for us, so we stopped for a minute for some water and to soak in the epic atmosphere.  Though my boyfriend had no problem relishing in the experience, after a few short minutes and a couple photos (included here), our little adventure finally caught up with me and my sense of self preservation kicked in.  How had we come this far, and how were we going to get down?  What if it starts raining?  Those clouds look dark, it would be better if we started our descent immediately.  Yes, the falls were great, but they were also scary and it was time to go.  My boyfriend wanted to relax for a few minutes, but I couldn't be convinced.  I went ahead and started the descent.

OK that was fun, can we go down now?
It's amazing to me to reflect on how genuinely I had enjoyed that climb to the top.  My mind was at once completely free and also wholly focused.  I was experiencing everything in real-time, instead of the delay that usually results from my habitual over analysis.  I was playful, joyful, and totally present.   There was no real "destination" or "goal", there was a drive to get to the top but a lack of clarity on what that looked like.  Yet, I instinctively knew when I had "arrived" and it instantly ceased being enjoyable.  On one hand, it is validating to realize that I had truly embraced an "It's about the journey, not about the destination" mentality, but shouldn't I also revel in the destination, even a little bit?

To take the analogy further, I am truly enjoying the experience of living abroad, of establishing a new business in a foreign place, of navigating the challenges that come along with it.  Though I have a vague idea and a motivating vision of what "ultimate success" would look like here, the fun part is figuring out how to get there.  I don't think "success" would necessarily make me any happier than I am now.  If anything, the pressure of that sort of "achievement" would ruin any corresponding sense of enjoyment.  In some ways, I have already fallen victim to this, as I don't think I have paused to properly acknowledge or celebrate even the little milestones I've reached in the past six months.  Sure, after each accomplishment there was a brief moment of relief, but then came the subsequent flood of new goals, concerns, and problems that were suddenly within reach.

Part of this lack of pause is simply my personal drive to "achieve", but perhaps another part of it is a bit of the "impostor syndrome" -- not believing I deserve my own success, but that I have merely tricked the world into thinking I am capable and as a result of my deception, I have accidentally landed in a good place.  So, I better keep going, keep taking things to the next level before anyone figures out that I'm not actually good enough to have done all this.

Whatever the reason, my new goal is to change this mentality (though I'm still a bit unclear on how) and try to step back once in awhile and feel good about what I've accomplished.  Enjoying the journey shouldn't mean the destination can't be great, too.