— This post is adapted from a letter I wrote to a lovely man called Carl, who received my book A Rum Run Awry as a father’s day gift. When I came to write up the story for my blog, I realised that my letter to Carl was close to being the best summary I was capable of writing, so here it is. —
The enclosed little bottle of honey rum isn’t the finest liquor on the planet. However, I carried it all the way home from Tenerife after I climbed Mount Teide, which is the highest mountain in Spain and highest volcano in the world, outside of Hawaii.
According to the legends of the aboriginal Berbers of the Canary Islands, the Devil (Guayota) once imprisoned the sun God (Magec) inside Mount Teide and plunged the world into darkness. Eventually the God of Tenerife (Achamán) freed Magec and used Guayota to plug the volcano’s crater.
I didn’t know that myth when I climbed the mountain. Nor did I know that all the routes had been closed because they were frozen over and invisible. All I knew was that it was a six hour walk to the top, which I figured was three hours at Guild pace (twice normal pace with thrice the bellowing).
Unfortunately, I didn’t have three hours. It was already mid-afternoon and the last cable car down the mountain was at 16:50. If I missed the cable car, I would have to walk back down again – by which point it would be nightfall. There was only one thing for it: I would have to run.
So it was that I attempted to sprint up the side of Mount Teide, highest mountain in Spain. When I discovered that the official paths were closed, I simply aimed at the peak and charged – determined to forge my own way through the ice and snow. Say a thing, do a thing. That’s the good thing about mountains, Carl: they go up. As long as I kept running upwards, I knew I was going the right way.
The next thing I knew, I was lost: waist-deep in snow wearing nothing but boots and shorts. The peak I had climbed wasn’t the actual peak. Tough luck! That was alright, though: I simply recalibrated and CHARGED TO THE PEAK! Except that it wasn’t the peak either.
That’s the bad thing about mountains, Carl. It turns out they have LOTS of different peak-like things, all of which go up. From below – with no map or idea where you are – it is very difficult to tell which one is the main one, or which one you are charging up.
Normally this means you might have to hike around an awful lot before you make it to the actual top of the mountain. No big deal. On this occasion, however, I was relying on the cable car at the main peak to get me back down the mountain, because I hadn’t left enough time to run up and back down again before sunset. By this point, my charging was also starting to falter. This was mainly due to the fact that I had spent most of the last hour leaping from volcanic rock to volcanic rock, dodging mud n’ snow slides, and trying in vain not to gash myself on the razor sharp spikes.
So there I was: lost on the side of an active volcano, simultaneously burning in the fearsome Spanish sunlight and freezing in the snow. The descent was too steep and the ice too sharp for me to head back down, even if I had the time and inclination to turn back – which I did not. The only way was up, and the only way to ascend was to wedge my boots in place, punch my fists through the ice to create handholds, kick my boots in a bit higher, and repeat the process until my muscles burned and the blood trickled down my hands and shins.
It was rough going and I had to stop every few minutes to catch my breath, give my limbs a break and suck on some snow for hydration. On one such rest break, I realised the sun was threatening to set and plunge me into the darkness from which Achamán had saved the world. Not for the first time in my life, I realised I was an idiot. Here I was trying to run up the side of a mountain with nothing except some tiny shorts, boots and a debit card, and no backup plan whatsoever. I felt stupid and I felt scared…but I also felt alive and human: aware that I was just a little creature scuttling around the enormity of nature and seeing what he could withstand. The spirit of adventure burned fiercely in me then, as I hope it always will.
Eventually, I made to the top. I manged to spot the cable car in the distance and aimed my feet for where it was heading. I arrived 45 seconds before its final descent, by faith-leaping across a deeply inconvenient gorge that stood between me and safety.
Oh you should have seen the faces of the swarms of tundra-jacket-wearing tourists, as I emerged from the sheer face of a frozen volcano – bleeding and haggard – and lurched over the barrier that separated them from THE WILDS, whence the Guild perpetually cometh.
My lips were too sunburned and my throat too dry to speak, but that didn’t seem to matter because nobody seemed keen on talking to me for some reason. Their awkward shuffling silence said enough: “Here is a thing about which we do not talk. That, children, is what lies beyond the barrier. Do not look directly at it or you too might be infected with the burning need for adventure…”
Of course, the official guides had a different look on their grizzled faces. “You, sir, are the bane of the mountain rescue.” I was under no false impressions. One day they may well be correct…but not this day.
I used my debit card to purchase a ticket on the final cable car of the day, and boarded with the others. There I stood, basically naked and literally steaming, burning with endorphins and fatigue, and quietly bleeding on the floor. I like to think that I’m in the back of some family’s photograph. I wonder if they would keep it… I doubt it; it is probably not as fond a memory for them as it is for me.
I spent the next week hobbling around and feeling rather lucky. Once I’d healed, I had my lower right leg and foot (the parts that spent the day buried in the snow) tattooed with an indefatigable Viking aurochs and magical bindrunes that represent each of the Nine Big Faces of the Guild of Adventures. They remind me who I am and why I do what I do.
I tell you all this for a few reasons, Carl. Firstly so you don’t think this is just a random bottle of honey rum – it’s a bottle with a story. Secondly because it’s legends like the story of Guayota, Magec and Achamán that inspired me to write my own stories, like the one you now possess. Thirdly, to give you a small insight into the authentic spirit of misadventure whence A Rum Run Awry came; it’s less of a work of fiction and more of a reimagining of my ridiculous real life experiences.
Thus the fucking Guild, my friends. I never said any of this was a good fucking idea.