Packing my vest at 3:30am, it seems so clear - this is all just a betting game and I'm choosing to gamble on myself. Simply to get to the top and back down again, in the style I choose.
I always have my doubts.
A new place, a new type of mountain (volcano!), a new type of rock to scramble over - yet it all feels so familiar, so routine. Looking at the singular protrusion of the volcanic mountain, it looks straight forward; to keep things simple, I won't look at a map.
I'll plan on keeping the pace strong, giving myself the maximum opportunity to pull this off, and carrying as little as possible to facilitate this.
Running shorts (porno shorts, as my pal Ronny lovingly refers to them), t-shirt, and the trusty Houdini is all I'll bring. The cold won't be felt if I keep the pedal down far enough.
A liter of water will do, as there has to be trickles coming off all those glaciers up there. Just a couple of bars for calories, as I plan on being back by noon. A set of gloves, a buff for the ears, and a weed pen for the summit.
Everything feels so safe and sure, here in my warm vehicle. Finishing the last of my coffee, it's hard to convince myself to run out into the darkness.
The lava flows of pumice and "moondust" are new to me. The rock under the rubber of my soles is both beautifully textured and strikingly smooth. The moondust feels like running in a few inches of soft sand. My world exists in the small aperture of a headlamp, a lonely little spot of light in a lonely black, three dimensional canvas. It's a desolate feeling being on the side of a mountain in the cold and windy pitch-black darkness. It's also one of my favorite.
I think of the FS ranger telling me that I have no business trying to summit by myself without crampons or an axe, as I purchased the climbing permit. I think of the older gentleman in the parking lot yesterday, who looked at me like an idiot when I asked if he had to use his crampons to get to the summit.
It would be all too easy to turn around to the comfort of the van, where there's coffee waiting to be made and a warm bed to be crawled back into.
I struggle to push these thoughts aside and continue onward and upwards.
We are not creatures of the night - in the darkness lies the fears we've developed over thousands of years of evolution, fears used to help keep us alive. I remember this as the sun starts to peek it's head and immediately feel the accompanying morale boost.
Lightly bouncing between rocks and boulders, my confidence continues to soar. The balance and movements are familiar to my feet, the burn of each leg propelling me upwards familiar to my muscles.
On the Lunch Counter, I pass a tent with a singular head popping out of a sleeping bag, watching the sunrise. Running by in shorts and t-shirt, I catch the look in his eyes and the expression on his face.
A quick break behind a boulder at 10,000 feet, to watch the shadow of Mt Adams shrink across the horizon. I'll never tire of being at elevation during sunrise or sunset and having the opportunity to witness the shadow of the mountain I'm standing upon. I've looked forward to seeing this from a volcano, as the topographical relief is something I'm not often privy to. It did not disappoint.
Resuming again I feel disappointingly weak, my lungs heavy - whether it's the elevation taking effect or the weed pen, I'm unsure. When the going gets tough, the headphones come out and the volume gets cranked up. Instantly I'm rejuvinated. I'll dance my way up this goddamned mountain!
I hang around on the summit for as long as I can stand the biting wind and cold. The views of surrounding volcanoes and smoke from active fires are magnificent; the feeling of standing atop an icy summit on a cold, brutal morning is unbeatable.
And then I'm off, bounding down the scree trying to catch my body's warmth down there somewhere. The glissading was top-notch (3K'-4K'!), likely the highlight of the day.
Arriving back at the trailhead 5.5 hours later, that 2nd cup of coffee tastes amazing and returns some life back to me.
I'll drink beers in celebration and by noon, the morning will seem like a far-away dream. The negative thoughts and emotions from the adventure will be harder to access, the positives will be easily remembered.
It will be just another adventure, just another day.
I bet on myself again and won.
Such a selfish endeavor, yet one that continually provides an arena to test myself, to challenge and to overcome. But why, and what for?
I often wonder where the need comes from. Something from my upbringing, causing the need to conquer self-doubts, to seek self-affirmation?
On a good day, I'll tell myself I'm overcoming something great, I'm conquering challenges despite the difficulties.
On a bad day, I'll laugh at my foolish self for finding these achievements within my comfort zones. Physical and mental strength, areas that play towards my abilities. In a greater sense, is this actually overcoming anything?
The answers I seek will only be discovered through continued action.