“A man sits as many risks as he runs. For as long as a man is alive, there is a chance that he may die.”
-Henry David Thoreau
In swinging hammocks with grande sized beers in hand, my childhood friend Erik and I looked up at the soaring peak of Volcan Ometepe. Rising sharply out of the placid calmness of Lago de Nicaragua, the volcano looked impeccable, unconquerable- dare I say, Godly. “You can go up there if you want,” Erik told me, “but I am going to sit right down here drinking my beer watching your monkey ass climb that mountain.” I took this as a challenge, and Erik’s comfortable solace would soon come to a fallow end.
We drank a few more beers that night than our heads could steadily carry, and, in this state of folly, I coerced Erik into a pact to climb Volcan Ometepe with me the following morning. Upon waking at the crack dawn, I roused Erik from his rosy dreams with the unwelcome details of our pact of the night before. Like the righteous man that he his, Erik peeled himself out of his hammock and sleepily stuffed his feet into his hiking boots. I smiled. He groaned.
“But I’m hung over,” Erik whined as he blearily assembled his gear, “lets climb the mountain tomorrow.”
“Nice try, kid,” I spoke in my best Japhy Ryder backwoods logger voice, “but as soon as we get up into those heights not even your hangover will want to come down again.”
Erik groaned, again. He knew that it would not do him any good trying to get out of this one.
Soon our bags were packed and we made quick way on the trail up the volcano. I was smiling and singing little mountain songs to myself, Erik grumbled out the lines of a hangover chorus, and the rain began singing its own little tune down upon our heads. It was a beautiful day for mountain climbing in the tropics, I thought as I reached out my arms to embrace the gently falling rain. Erik soon began trailing behind a little, pulling up each leg as if he were an elephant in a forced march over the Pyrenees.
“Can we take a break?” he called out from behind, as the gentle sprinkle of rain was growing ever more robust.
We took shelter at a little switchback that had an amazing view over the surrounding countryside. Erik, who has been my best friend since the fifth grade and my compadre on previous climbing trips in the Andes, basked in the beauty of our position on the volcano.
“I don’t know if I am going to be able to make it this time,” he stated with a disappointed look on his face. Years of driving a delivery truck in the USA and a few too many beers the night before did not exactly leave him in prime condition for scaling volcanic peaks. “Lets just stay here for today and climb this mountain tomorrow when it is not raining,” he pleaded.
I was not receptive to such talk and looked up at the quickly blackening sky in defiance. The horizon was covered with a wall of ominous, dark storm clouds, and, as if my defiant sacrilege had provoked it, they suddenly bursted forth with the fury of a tropical storm.
“Lets go!” I yelled over the deafening roar of the pouring rain, and we began running up the mountain at full speed.
Erik plunged in for one last go and we braved the torrents of water that quickly began pouring down the mountain. Our deeply worn path soon transformed itself into the perfect drainage channel for the river of rain that was raging down to meet us. This torrential rapid was soon up to our knees and threatened to knock us off our feet at every step. We grappled for any vines, plants, and tree roots that we could hold on to, as we pulled ourselves up against the rapids that threatened to debunk us back down the mountain.
“This is crazy!” Erik yelled, “I’m going back! We can’t make it up there through this! We are going to be killed! This is stupid!”
It was stupid. But I was in the thorough of an all-encompassing bout of summit fever, and could not even think of turning back. Erik, utilizing his large supply of common sense, yielded on the side of discretion, and bided me a quick farewell. He took what then seemed to be the route of safety, and returned to his comfortable hammock and grande beer back at camp.
I on the other hand kept going up through the river of rain, and even the monkeys began yelling at me to turn back. They ran through the branches overhead, throwing mangoes and screaming at me the whole while. The timely words of Richard Halliburton then jumped into my consciousness:
“Yes, Blake was right: Discretion was nothing but a ‘rich, ugly, old maid wooed by incapacity’. How much more entertaining it was to woo Folly.”
With this reassurance, I continued on my upward surge and, after a couple hours of hard climbing, came upon the summit. The rain had by now let up and the storm clouds gave way to wondrous tropical sunshine. The beauty from the top of the volcano made the trials of the journey completely worth while, and the hardships endured through the climb conversely made the summit all the more beautiful and gratifying. But I could not fully enjoy it; my thoughts were of Erik. I wished only that he could have been up there with me, looking out over the entire span of Isle Ometepe and on to Nicaragua and the sparkling sea beyond.
I took in this beauty and soon made my way back to Erik down below, who I imagined to be safe and snug in his hammock, joking about how I tried to make him climb up a volcano in the middle of a tropical storm. When I got back to camp, I saw Erik all curled up in his hammock, looking as smug as I had imagined he would be. I ran up to him and excitedly began telling him of the splendors of the rest of the climb and how he should have stuck it out. But then I realized that he did not really seem alright and I asked him of he was OK.
He looked up at me with a big droopy set of eyes and a crack of a guilty smile on his lips, as he slowly revealed his elbow to me. It was beaten and battered, swollen up to three times its normal size, and had an enormous stitched-up gash that ran all the way over it. To add insult to injury, the cut perfectly bisected his tattoo of a heart that covered his elbow, making it look as if were broken in two.
“Oh no!” I exclaimed. “What happened!?!” I immediately thought that he had fallen on his way down the mountain, and I was suddenly overwhelmed with grief because I did not descend with him.
He chuckled slightly and then sheepishly said, “I slipped and fell as I was getting out of the shower.”
A man sits as many risks as he runs . . .
Now fellow wanderers, think of Erik the Broken Hearted the next time you are struggling to decide between discretion and folly. As sometimes, ‘wooing folly’ can actually leave you in better shape than taking a simple shower.