It was 1:00 am as the light bounced off the full moon onto my path from the bottom of the craggy non-mountain.
The Bedouins call it a non-mountain because it's one of the smallest.
As I approached the earthen mound, it grew increasingly bigger – ahem, mountain-ish, mountain-like, or mountainous – you choose.
I've never climbed a mountain disguised as a non-mountain until now.
Real talk: if it's rocky and goes straight up – I hereby proclaim it a mountain.
I wanted to face my fear of going up & down a mountainy thing for my birthday, so why not do it in the dark for some extra zing?
I climbed a tree once - the fire department had to get me down. It wasn't my proudest moment, but no one's perfect.
Some people want birthday cake & ice cream.
I want to face a massive fear of climbing a mountain-ish rock in the darkness of the Sinai desert. My untimely death is a real possibility.
Yalla beena! Let's go!
Step by step focus
The Bedouin guide glided up the earthen mound, and my friend, the same but with more vigor.
I felt immediate resistance to the unnatural ascension of my body.
My breathing intensified as I gazed into the sky - acutely aware that my journey was alone.
The climb demanded the present - mind & body must work as one.
The mind must believe the body, and the body must trust the mind.
Senses in overdrive, I stabbed at the ground with my hiking sticks to stay balanced.
We snaked through unsteady rock formations, both large & small.
Every moment was a step into the unknown.
You're maybe going to die
Snapshot of my recurring thoughts:
You're going to die on the way down if you don't die on the way up.
Act natural, don't let them know you think you're going to die.
How are those fu**ers gliding up the non-mountain so fast?
I'm dizzy; I think I'm going to fall over.
If I do die on the non-mountain, it's a pretty cool ending.
The biggest challenge wasn't the mountain, it was balancing my thoughts.
The mountain was scary, but my inner dialogue was scarier.
The biggest challenge wasn't the non-mountain
I'm good at diving into situations before I overthink them to death and back out.
This mentality helps reduce fear, but you need a healthy amount of detachment to do it.
It made me understand that I can talk myself in or out of anything because my thoughts determine my experience.
My thoughts shaped my experience.
Discovering a rhythm
We climbed in the darkness as the moon whispered: this way...
I had a headlamp, but I didn't need it because the moonlight was full and strong.
I grew more confident as tuned in to the rhythm the rock path.
If I trust myself and focus on my connection with the ground, it will support me, I said to myself.
Every step was a lesson in trust because the other side is thinking I'm about to croak off the side of this non-mountain.
I created an alliance with the Earth.
What planet are we on?
The quiet of the Sinai desert calms me.
A canopy of stars & moonlight guides us.
"You are strong; you can do this!" – encouragement from my friend.
I appreciate the vote, but I'm distracted because this place doesn't look like Earth.
I'm mesmerized by colossal rock formations that must be thousands of years old.
Oh my god, I say out loud over and over again.
Oh my god...the beauty...otherworldly.
Destination: Umm Al-Saad's Garden
Around 5:00 am, I saw a stone house on the edge of a cliff, Umm Al-Saad's Garden.
Amriyah's home is where many hikers stop to relax on her porch overlooking the majestic Sinai mountains.
Our Bedouin guide took a nap while I sat down in contemplation.
I didn't slip or break an ankle. My legs were tired but still working.
Most importantly, I didn't die.
The silence of the desert quiets your self-talk and draws you into the Earth.
Looking up at the stars & planets suspended in the sky and I wondered why I choose to face a fear for my birthday.
I realized I'm tired of self-imposed limitations. Fuck that.
The idea of what you can and can't do is a construct of your mind.
Reality is yours to create.
Sunrise and a cup of tea
Amriyah greeted us upon the sunrise.
She lives here alone - no electricity, no plumbing, and my guess is she's around 87 years old.
Amriyah is a strong woman leading an extraordinary life - insanely inspiring.
We exchange pleasantries while sipping tea and taking in the view of a lifetime.
I doubt I'll see this porch again, but if I do, I won't be the same person.
The magnitude of the moment is etched on my heart.
Across the valley and down the mountain
Going up wasn't as scary as going down. If you tumble to your death while going down, you see what's coming, and that's terrifying.
At least if you slide to your death while trekking upwards, you have a pleasant view of the heavens.
Always think positive.
Going up is intuitive, but going down is gravity – every muscle on fire.
The hike back to the city was different because I gained significant confidence during the night hike.
Plus, it was daylight, so I could see where I was walking – a considerable advantage.
Crossing the valleys was fun as I began to add a little speed and grace to my steps.
We stopped for water breaks and plucked ripe, juicy purple figs off the trees for our enjoyment.
We reached the last stretch - all downhill from there – and it was, but the strength it required set every muscle on fire.
We stopped water break and the guys laid down on the buggy dirt ground without a care.
I was dripping sweat and covered in dirt. I felt amazing.
The old Wendy wouldn't sit in a buggy dirt pile, but the new me said fu** it, looks good to me.
I always wanted to be an outdoorsy girl, and now I am.
A new birthday tradition
I've pushed myself further in the last three and a half years than perhaps ever before.
When someone asks me what I like to do for fun, I say, things that scare me.
From now on, I want a birthday challenge every year.
Now my version of a good time is things that make me grow, not so much dinner and a movie.
Although I don't need birthday cake and balloons to celebrate my birthday, that's what I got in the middle of the Sinai desert.
My friend excused himself for a moment and reappeared with a small cake and a balloon.
I was shocked and moved—what a kindness.
When someone is a witness to your growth, it creates a bond.
He'd trekked this hike before, but for me, it was new, and it changed me.
I think he knew it would.
As I nibbled on the cake and gazed out into the landscape, I was already nostalgic for the time I'd look back on this moment.
The beauty of the desert and the majesty of the mountains reminded us that the most challenging paths are worth taking because, in the end, they make us better.