My body is encased in sweat and aches in places I never knew I had. My legs are wobbly. A lightheadedness threatens to engulf me. One step at a time, I keep telling myself.
Getting out of bed is no easy feat anymore for me and my fifty-six years. (Make that fifty-seven as of today!) Especially now that the tropical summer has arrived. Even worse, I have promised myself that once the grogginess dissipates, I will get ready for my morning walk; a superhuman effort given my current state.
The first order of business is answering Mother Nature’s call, an obligation that restores some confidence in my ability — as a member of the Homo Sapiens race — to walk upright. Then it’s time for the morning exercises which get the blood pumping, making the idea of venturing outside somewhat less daunting. As I work though my sit-ups and push-ups, grunting and panting, the force of habit, born from a lifetime of repetition, finally kicks in. Before I know it, I am tying my tennis shoes, tucking in my t-shirt and heading out the door into the sauna-like heat to begin my little adventure.
Although it is but a few minutes shy of 9:00 a.m., the temperature has already reached twenty-nine degrees Celsius (eighty-four Fahrenheit). And we are not talking a dry heat, either. But I grew up in the American Midwest and am therefore no stranger to overbearing heat and humidity. For the first five or so minutes, in fact, I feel pretty good.
My destination is a recently discovered entry ramp that connects to the middle of an overhead walking path — a strange, disjointed trail that originates next to a nondescript, narrow street, parallels a debris-littered canal, then dead-ends at busy Wireless Road a couple kilometers away. In America, such projects usually connect parks, Universities or downtown areas, giving people a reason to use them. But this walkway, situated in the middle of Bangkok, is an orphan and doesn’t see many users, making it a perfect place for a brisk, heads-down walk. No street vendors to navigate around; no motorbikes bearing down on the sidewalk to dodge. I am unshackled from the daily grunge of the city.
I ascend the ramp in high spirits, cross over a congested highway (are there any other kinds in Bangkok?), then descend the stairs to the canal. Seemingly unaffected by the Hot Season weather, I am cocky. Why, this feels far less miserable than the muggy, late-July rounds of golf I once endured back in the state of Iowa.
The problem, as I soon discover, is the extended exposure to the punishing heat. The enclosed path elevates as it crosses over Soi 4 (my home street), becoming a taxing mound of steps that I easily tackle on the way out. But on the return leg, I labor over it like a climber on Kilimanjaro. By the time I’ve made it back to the entry ramp, my mind is beginning to drift and I briefly pause to re-focus on the task at hand. I feel like I’m breathing molasses.
I won’t confess to staggering the final few blocks, but I do keep an eye out for fences and buildings I can lean (collapse) against should the need arise. Finally reaching the shady sanctuary of my apartment complex, I bend over with my hands on my hips, panting, feeling like I did back in high school cross country after completing a two mile run. But unlike those long-lost days, there is no sense of accomplishment, only survival.
I lurch into my apartment, peel off my clothes, and take an uncomfortably warm shower to scour away the equally warm sweat. I also make a note to myself to look up the symptoms for heat stroke on the internet. For tomorrow, unvanquished, I’ll go at it again.