We’re told that the best time to see animals is in the morning, so we get an early start on the day and head to Hells Gate National Park. Our guides, Simon and Marcus, tell us that we’ll bike to the park and then walk through the canyon.
I haven’t been on a bicycle since I was 11-years-old, when I broke my leg riding. Getting on a bike for the first time in 10 years is absolutely nerve-wracking, but after a few attempts, I manage to pick it up again. The 13-km bike ride to the park is pleasant, and I tell myself that I’ll make it a goal to take up cycling again.
Then, however, we’re told that we’ll bike through the park. Unlike the smooth tarmac of the main road, the path in the park is rocky and mountainous. It becomes exhausting and painful to bike, and the 7km to the edge of the canyon are downright brutal. We’re all hot, exhausted and dehydrated.
When we’re finally able to dismount from our bikes, we’re told that we’ll hike through the canyon to see the hot springs. This is where the movie, Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life was shot. But the Hollywood movie, with its multi-billion dollar budget, doesn’t do this place justice. We rock-climb, tumble over rocks, and jump over streams, in order to make our way through the canyon. Our muscles are burning and we still have the bike ride back.
We finally make it to the lookout point, and as physically drained as we feel, we are stunned by the view. Mountains, waterfalls and babbling brooks fill the landscape. It’s hard to believe that places like this exist in the world.
We hike back through the canyon and get back onto our bikes. It’s 4pm and we haven’t eaten since breakfast. We’re lightheaded and our sit-bones are in excruciating pain.
For many of us, today’s events proved to be the hardest physical test we’ve ever had to endure. But as we sit around the campfire – tired and sore – we feel bonded knowing that we went through it together.