22 October 2017 – Afternoon
I’m sitting in a bar in Kuala Lumpur airport, a pint of Japanese beer before me, dripping condensation onto the used cardboard coaster. I think I hear my name being called over the PA system every few minutes. The accented pronunciation of Malaysia sounds very similar. A pleasant trill heralds every announcement.
I forgot to pack a brush in my hand luggage but only realised this after I had showered and washed my hair in the airport hotel. I’ve decided to embrace the ratty hair look. It’s fitting given the trauma I’m going to put it through over the next few weeks.
I’ve had too much sleep. I didn’t know it was possible while travelling. I slept much better than expected on the plane from Sydney but thought it still prudent to take advantage of my surprisingly soft hotel bed at the airport. Now I have a headache, a preview of what’s to come when I’m above 3,000m no doubt.
I had something like an anxiety attack on the plane. I’d finished watching Wild, and I had set myself up with two blankets and two pillows pilfered from the vacant seat next to me to sleep. And then it came. I’d close my eyes only to have them open a few seconds later, breathing hard. My body was agitated, like someone was poking me at random with pins. I felt nauseous but not sick. My hands and feet moved constantly.
I wanted to talk out loud, to get my thoughts out of my head, but I was travelling alone. I felt desperately unsettled. I took in slow, deep breaths in an effort to calm myself. I started to count, breathing in and out for four. It helped until I closed my eyes and the process would start all over again. I had already read my first letter from AndrewNotChris, one he had written me especially for the plane. I’d actually forgotten about it until halfway through the movie.
I had asked all my close friends and family to write me short letters or notes to help keep me motivated on the mountain. After Mt Kilimanjaro, I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope mentally, especially travelling on my own. It had been AndrewNotChris’s idea to use letters. I had been overwhelmed by the response from my friends and was excited to read them. AndrewNotChris had written me two – one for the plane and one for when I arrived in Kathmandu.
I’d paused the movie and pulled his first letter from my handbag, stowed under the seat in front of me.
I read it, full of expectation. It said everything I thought it would and not the one thing I had hoped it would. I felt nothing. Nothing tugged inside me, my heart didn’t ache. It’s taken me months but maybe I have finally let him go. But there was some sadness like I had been hoping for more.
When I woke from my sleep in the airport hotel and showered, I remembered I had D’s letter in my hand luggage as well. He’d dropped it off after I’d finished packing so it was easy to access unlike the 20 or so others. His letter made me smile, laugh out loud even. When I read it, I got the rush I had been hoping to get from AndrewNotChris’s letter. I’m not going to read into that too deeply. I’m not sure how I feel about it yet.
I know that this is the easy part, in transit, I haven’t yet had to deal with the pressures or challenges of true solo travel. An airport terminal, while foreign, is a reasonably safe place. I couldn’t get lost if I wanted to. I found an art exhibition, next to those massage chairs you pay for. It was unmanned, a sign declaring the stall was self-serve with money to be placed into a wooden box upon purchase. The pieces were cheap and I liked quite few, all of Malaysia, but it didn’t make sense to buy them on my way over. I’d get them on the way home.
But first, I had a mountain to climb.