By BRYAN LEE

I’m more or less the definition of a city boy. I was born in the city and raised in the city. My hobbies when I was a kid included computer games or watching television.

I had nothing to do with the outdoors. My mum was always nagging me to go outside and get some exercise. But I couldn’t be bothered.

Back in primary school we were taught about Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in Malaysia. Being a school boy, Kinabalu almost seemed like Mount Everest!

I imagined what the view would be at the peak and how the feeling would be like being on top of the world. Only the fittest “super human” could ever scale Malaysia’s highest peak, so I thought back in those days.

I was overweight or rather obese throughout my entire childhood right up to my teenage years. I was very self-conscious about my looks; I thought no girl would ever like a fat boy.

Then it dawned on me one day (ironically as I was doing a little jogging to prepare myself for a buffet dinner): why not lose some weight to attract the fairer sex? Little did I know that little cheeky idea would change my life forever.

Fast forward five years, and I had run my first marathon! I loved running and I even convinced my brother to join me. It released my stress and allowed my thoughts to flow freely.

However, road running became boring quickly and I found that it was not challenging enough. It was during this time that a fellow marathon runner invited me for his “cross training”, a hike up Gunung Nuang (in Hulu Langat, Selangor).

When he told me it took an amateur hiker an average of 12 hours to reach the peak and come back down again, my eyes almost popped out in disbelief! How could anyone hike for so long? And why would anyone do so?

Long story short, I joined him and completed the hike in slightly above 10 hours. Since then I’ve conquered several other mountains such as Gunung Tok Wan (Selangor), Gunung Ledang (Johor) and several others.

BEFORE: The writer (left) with his brother, James, before they got into the exercise and the outdoors.

1 The writer (left) with his brother, James, before they got into exercise and the outdoors. 2 The writer (right) with his brother James, with their medals from a marathon.3 The writer climbing Mount Kinabalu as a porter lugs a gas cylinder up the mountain in the background. — Photos: BRYAN LEE

AFTER: The writer (right) with his brother James, with their medals from a marathon.

Hiking is such a great way to meet friends and get to know them better. It was during a hike that I was roped in to join a few friends to climb Mount Kinabalu. I had almost given up before even starting but I thought to myself, “Wow, why not? At least I tried.”

Nevertheless, as the time for the climb drew nearer, I was so afraid of disappointing myself (in not reaching the peak) that I trained hard. Very hard. As a matter of fact, I actually ran a full marathon a week before tackling Kinabalu.

During the climb, I was so fit that I outpaced my two friends who came along with me. As the mountain guide had to be with the slowest member, he encouraged me to head up by myself. I almost did the whole mountain alone, overtaking other groups along the way.

I reached the peak along with my friends and the view was absolutely amazing – it was just as the school book pictured it in my youth. If you told that little boy back in school that one day he would be on the “top of the world”, he would have just stared and wondered if you were crazy!

Nowadays, I’m hiking regular trails around home and convincing others to join me. I even convinced my parents to take up hiking and now they’re doing short trails with me. However, my initial idea to lose weight and attract the fairer sex hasn’t really paid off despite all this!

For me now, it’s more about keeping healthy and appreciating nature. The great outdoors have changed me from a couch potato to a marathon runner to someone who has conquered Malaysia’s highest peak!

On a different tone, it really saddens me seeing the condition of certain trails throughout our country being littered with old lunch boxes, old shoes and all sorts of plastic wrappers. Everyone plays a role here, whether it’s picking up bits of trash when we see them and even gently telling a litter bug that what they are doing isn’t right. All hikers should respect the environment and avoid littering so that others can enjoy nature as well.

Note: This story was originally sent in for the Star2 Monthly Challenge for Adventure. This was before the earthquake at Mount Kinabalu on June 5 damaged climbing paths there. Sabah is hoping to re-open Mount Kinabalu to climbers by September, said Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment minister Datuk Masidi Manjun last week.