“Hey, I have an idea,” my partner said one day out of the blue. His eyes were wide and his tongue was just short of hanging out in a happy pant —a facial expression that reads: I’m about to propose something c-ray-zee!
“What idea?” I asked.
“Let’s do a trek in Nepal.”
“A trek?” I said. “You mean, like: a really, really long hike?”
“Not that long,” he said, turning his laptop screen to show me pictures of a place called Annapurna.”This one here is 12 days. You hike to the base of the mountain and you—”
“Hold up, cowboy,” I said, stopping him in his tracks with my outstretched palm. “12 days walking on foot? You’ve got to be kidding me! Do I look like a mule to you?”
2 months later …
We were on a plane to Nepal.
Our plane descended over a cluster of shanty towns surrounded by pumping arterials and dusty plumes. I braced myself for the chaos.
From the airport, a thousand honking vehicles led us into Kathmandu — a city of hagglers and careening rickshaws and very un-fresh mountain air.
After an exhilarating six-hour near-death bus ride along the crumbling twists of a sheer drop off, we arrived at the beginning of the trek. I felt sick with anxiety over the 12 days ahead of us. What will the terrain be like? I wondered, biting my lip. What if my body doesn’t hold up? Will we have to traverse along steep ledges and risk tumbling to our deaths? What if altitude sickness cause one of us start bleeding from the ear holes? Worry and me are fantastic friends, you see.
Our guide, Bharat (a Nepalese incarnation of Nick Lachey) sensed my anxiety and made a sincere promise: “Me? I take very good care of you,” he said. “Me? I make sure you safe.”
Our young porter, Kiran, strapped a 20 kilos bag of our thermalwear, books and spare undies to his forehead in the regular Sherpa fashion, while I battled internally with the moral dilemma of hiring a hard up 16 year old boy to carry the weight of our expensive gear. Kiran shot me a white-toothed grin, and I shrugged off the guilt.
Then, the four of us began putting one foot in front of the other up a jagged staircase, trailing at the ass-end of a line of mules. “12 days to go,” I chanted in my head, swallowing back the taste of fear.
8 days later …
We were at the base of Annapurna, struggling to breathe in the icy high altitude air. I’m in the Himalayas! I reminded myself with a surge of pride. I was covered in tingles to be so close to the peak of planet earth; a place where great people come to conquer the greatest mountains.
I looked down at my hiking shoes, standing higher than I’ve ever stood at 13,550 feet. With a swelling of tears, I realized I’d gotten here on my own two feet. My own two feet!
“Thank you for bringing us here,” I told my partner. “This is really amazing.”
And it was: nobody had fallen off a cliff-face, or hurt a limb or bled from a place they shouldn’t. It was all just spectacular scenery and clean mountain air and feelings of being on top of the world — literally.
Then, we began to descend.
4 days later …
We spotted a car for the first time in 12 days, and just like that, the peaceful mountain serenity was ripped out from beneath us. I craved the solitude of the mountains, the friendly, welcoming teahouse accommodations and the warm companionship of Kiran and Bharat playing card games with us each night as we stuffed pizzas and cokes into our carb-hungry mouths. We thanked Bharat and Kiran for taking care of us, and then we jumped in a taxi.
A thousand honking vehicles led us back into Kathmandu.
2 hours later …
Back in our hotel, I unlaced my hiking boots and peeled off my rank socks.
“I have an idea,” my partner said, looking up from the guidebook. His eyes were wide and his tongue was just short of hanging out in a happy pant.
“What?” I asked, eyeballing him.
“I was thinking … how about we do another trek? This one here looks really good. It’s 24 days long.”
I turned to him, aghast. “Do I look like a mule to you?”