Five years ago “type two fun” became part of my vocabulary, and something I am constantly jonesing for. On a NOLS trip the summer before starting college I vividly remember the first time I thought “If I broke my leg right now, would I be evacuated out?” It was the third day of our trip, hour 13 of hiking up hill in the snow, I was carrying a pack that was more than half my weight, and I wanted to cry more than I knew was possible. Just as the sun was starting to disappear and the depths of darkness were creeping upon us, we finally found our campsite for the night. Relief filled my veins and ecstasy burst out. I did not need to break my leg as a last resort to find comfort. I had done what I did not think was possible.
Now you might be wondering, why is this what I seek?
Think about something you choose to do that, in the moment, could not be more miserable. Perhaps it’s running that extra mile or waking up at the crack of dawn. You’re not necessarily happy about it, but you’re glad that you did it. Now imagine that you push for yet another mile, or an hour earlier. To do this, you must not only believe in yourself, but also in the outcome of your actions.
Type two fun takes that belief, turns it on its head, shakes it around a few times, and spits it back out. It is that thing that makes you question your whole understanding of reality. When you reach the end, your new reality feels a whole lot more convincing. All of the pain slips away in to a good story and all of your fears are transformed in to success.
The difference between five years ago and my latest dabble in type two fun is that on NOLS I knew the answer to my evac question was yes. In Indonesia, I didn’t have that ridiculous hope to comfort my deluded thoughts.
This past week was the last school holiday of my Fulbright teaching year, and of course, I had to make the most of it. I took Indonesia by storm. Four places in 9 days filled with scuba diving, yoga, healthy food, and good old fashioned exploring. But what I was most looking forward to was the 3 day trek to summit Mount Rinjani – Indonesia’s second highest volcano at 3,726 meters. It looms over a glistening crater lake which is home to a secondary, always active, volcano. The hike was rumored to be hard, but the sunrise unrivalled. I had to do it.
When Brendan and I began the hike bright and early Tuesday morning we became acutely aware of how mean we’ve been to our bodies this year. Apparently nine months of a rice-only diet cannot be conquered with one day of yoga and raw foods. Slightly emasculated by the porters we hired – with 20 kilos slung in two bamboo baskets over one shoulder and climbing in flip flops – we set off at a competitive pace. We took only short water breaks and smiled as we passed others on the trail.
But, if type two fun is good for anything, it keeps your pride in check. After the first 5 kilometers of slightly rolling hills we found ourselves at the base of an all-vertical climb for the remainder of the day. We had another 5 kilometers to go, but this time we had an elevation change of 1,500 meters. And let’s just say that switch-backs haven’t made it to this part of Asia yet.
While our porters continued to skip on ahead and gleefully shout words of encouragement in Bahasa Indonesia (similar enough to Malaysia that we could communicate), we proceeded to respond in less resounding huffs. I found myself resisting asking “berapa lagi” how much more simply because I didn’t want to know the answer.
Finally we reached the crater rim around 2:30 in the afternoon. Our legs were tired but our bodies swelled with joy. The clouds began to clear and we stared on in amazement at both where we had come from and where we were still to be going. We ate an early dinner watching the sunset over the crater lake and were asleep by 7:00.
All but seven hours later we were awake again, ignoring the screams from our hamstrings and calf muscles, and suiting back up into our very dusty trekking clothes. The dust came in part because it was dry season, but moreover it came from the worn-down lava that was looser than scree and had less support than sand. That was our trail all the way to the top.
For every two steps forward we slipped one foot back. Every rock I grabbed for support crumbled between my fingertips. I felt insecure in every step and a less than ideal mantra began playing itself on repeat in my head: “I hate this I hate this I hate this.” After an hour we reached the ridge, a false sense of hope, and learned there were 2.5 hours more to go. The path was still made of scree lava, except now the sides looked dangerously steep in the darkness. But there was no turning back. We made it this far after all, we were going to make it to the top.
But the top just kept getting further and further away. We watched the headlamps of those ahead of us and believed there was an end in sight. As our eyes began to adjust, however, we realized that those headlamps weren’t anywhere close either. We were all heading towards the sheer rock face.
The gentle slope of the ridge turned vertical again and I found myself unable to look ahead any more. I fixed my eyes on my boots. Every step was a risk I didn’t want to take. Every time I lifted my eyes I felt nauseous with fear. Every time I heard gravel slip beneath someone else’s feet my heart beat a little faster. Why was I doing this? Did I really need to make it to the top? Wouldn’t the sunrise be just as beautiful from here?
The conversations I have with myself, when type two fun has not yet become fun, expose a lot. They remind me that I am capable of defeat, and prove that only I can overcome it. When the what-would-happen-if questions fill my brain, I face the realization that maybe optimism isn’t my natural mode of operation. I discover what I truly care about, and what personal traits it’s time to focus on.
Because no, the sunrise wouldn’t be the same from the ridge. As I watched a thin line of red sneak its way across the horizon I knew I could not fully enjoy it from anywhere but the summit. Not because the sun would be altered, but because the way I experienced it – half assed or triumphed – would feel like a world of difference. Every step from there on out was a vow to push the doubts aside. Every slipped piece of gravel was the reminder of strength and commitment needed to move forward.
When we finally did reach the summit, it was more than worth it. The sun gleamed brighter than ever before. The active volcano bubbled happily in the distance as the sun began to illuminate the crater lake. The wind whipped at our faces, chilling us to the bones even more than the fright had. A few minutes of unequivocal ecstasy was enough to give us the drive to return back down the way we had just struggled so hard to come up.
Type two fun requires perseverance, focus, and resilience. The challenge is simultaneously intensely physical and deeply intellectual, something incomparable with day-to-day feats. It forces me outside my comfort zone and gives both body and mind the chance to surprise myself.
I was surprised by more than just how sore my legs still feel. As I continue to learn more about myself, and those who put up with my sense of fun, I am grateful for this opportunity to reflect and even more grateful to be safely back on solid ground. I owe a big thank you to Brendan for coming along for the ride, and for framing type two fun in his own intellectual light. With some more time to reflect (and a lot of time to relax) I hope to return to why we must put ourselves in danger to push ourselves to the limits of physical, emotional, and mental capabilities.