Dear readers, before you build up an ‘young, wild and free’ image of mine, let me assure that I am still very much an indoor girl, just the way I always have been. It’s only last year that I got the will and opportunity matched to go on my first trek, all thanks to a dearest friend of mine who had to convince me for a whole hour. Trekking had been one of my secret wild dreams which I wanted to try just once in life. It seems no one thinks through when it comes to make bucket list. Because clearly you can’t trek just once, at least not if you are an obsessive compulsive planner and like to be well-prepared. And this happens not because of some irresistible thirst for mountains one expects to get. It’s for a simple fact that initial fixed cost of a first-time trekker generally exceeds the trek cost and one can understand where the economy of scale leads. Apparently, voluntary hardship is a costly business. This is the first lesson any romantic beginner must learn: think through, do your research, spend wise and make a good purchase because, as my brother laughingly says, trekking is when people pay for pain and struggle. But the pleasure gained from a trek is not exactly a masochistic pain-seeker’s pleasure.
Nature is both the origin and cradle of civilization: a fact we often tend to forget, and try to remind ourselves time and again by traveling, taking pictures, caring for animals, maybe planting a tree or two. Survival in wilderness, like trekking, is probably the most intimate reminder of this kind. And that ‘intimacy’ takes you to places: places inside you-untouched, unheard of or unfelt before, the rawest parts of your personality, your strength and weakness, likes-dislikes, desires. It gets everywhere, takes over your body and soul if you let them in and believe me, you’ll want to say ‘yes’ every time or you’ll regret for the rest of your life. Some remembers, some doesn’t, but no one escapes this psychoanalysis, not even the most urban indoor material-girl in town. So, apart from by-default beautiful photographs and the cheap thrill of feeling powerful and all-sorted for at least one week, this newfound form of self-love is the biggest (and only) motivation for me to go up in mountains. Let’s see what had turned me on so far…
I am stronger than I think I am
There is something I do all the time, we all do. We learn about people fighting and getting out of difficult situations, and curse ourselves thinking how strong they are and how weak we are, for we can never do something like that. But how can anyone know unless in those same situations? Mountain takes us to one-ways, where the only way is to move. There always comes moments where all the experience and preparations blow away and we stand in a trail of impossibility. And the next moment we find ourselves moving. Little things, sometimes don’t even get registered in our brain while walking, but powerful ones if we think about them and remember later. Except for those few with serious overconfidence issues , we all are generally stronger than we think we are in reality.
A possible empath?
Remember how in osmosis the solvents use to pass through a semipermeable membrane from a higher density place to a lower density place? Not a very technically sound analogy but similar process can take place up there with a mind forever immersed in chaos. Mountains are generally secluded and peaceful, so calm that you can hear the heartbeats. A minimum peace of mind sort of comes with the package. I don’t know about others, but what happens with my head is that it starts absorbing anything and everything around and mimics their vibes; the more conflicting they are, the faster they get in. So I become like a powerless Mantis (from GoTG) who feels everything around but can’t influence them or make them better.Thankfully the cities are crazy enough and I am not an off-guard fireball of emotions here, well not exactly.
I am not going to recall here how many times and in what manners I faked my reasons before my amazing teammates, some of whom I genuinely like, and did something out of pure irritation. Because no one else has any idea about it and I don’t want to feel more miserable than I already feel about them. Hence let me remember a happy one: in my last trek, the youngest member of our team was a 6-year old little man. On the second last day of walk our guide thought, ‘how about train the kid a little!’. So, for that day he took charge of the boy and decided to verbally guide him instead of holding his hand throughout. The delight and satisfaction of watching that kid walking on his own through the golden-green trail, thoughtfully stepping over some tricky part and breaking into laughter every time his feet slip, it washed away all my fatigue and stress (I was literally falling apart that day). That small fraction of the day when I walked with the kid, was my happiest and most stress-free time of the trek. It’s even happier than walking with that friend of mine who talked me into our first trek; she was as exhausted as I was but every time she would look at me, I would see reflection of my own excitement: can you Believe we are finally here!
Keep calm and learn to be the Weakling
Are you a ‘good kid’ specimen? Have you always been considered ‘decent’ at what you do? Have you always managed to be among the ‘above-average’ people, if not among the best ones? Then most probably you are also on the same boat with me: we can’t handle standing below average and definitely scared of finishing last. We don’t know how to get up after falling hard. Because we have simply never known failure. There will always be someone better and someone worse than me; therefore I can simultaneously stand at the top of some group and at the bottom of some other. ‘True words, but can’t be happening to Me!’-is what we will inevitably think if we ever feel like slipping down, no matter how true those words are. Basically falling below average for us is like a massive downslide with zero resistance; one slip and the next moment we are at the deepest of the pit. I could sense it every time someone passes by me and move forward: the worry kicking in, the anxiety of lagging behind building up. And if I am the last person of the queue, all hell breaks loose. Now the special appearance of altitude in this soap opera is that if I don’t get myself together, the downslide can get too literal. Hence it becomes a defense mechanism, a survival strategy, to consciously take my mind off other people and focus on self: self-improvement, humility and self-acceptance. Mountain uncovers our strengths but also shows our weaknesses and how, despite all of them, we are still amazing and lovable. Mountain helps me getting comfortable in every position of the queue (and needless to say, I am learning in my own time).
I remember a scene from the movie ‘Monte Carlo’: 18-year old Grace exclaims how she had dreamed of travelling to Paris and standing at the top of Eifel Tower since she was a little girl, and how different her life would be after walking along the Seine. To that her mother calmly replies ‘Honey, it’s not magic’. We often have such high hopes from ‘travelling’- exploring the world, making memories, getting enriched, meeting new people…And if it is something like trekking, the list goes to infinity. Why do people trek? Adventure, discover, movie-like friendship goals, perfect holidays, finding the lost self into the wilderness of mountains? Unless one is looking for some fancy feathers of achievement to add in their status, the general expectation from trekking is something life-changing and magical. But it doesn’t work that way. You won’t meet new people if you can’t make conversations with strangers. You won’t become adventurer if you’re generally not fond of surprises in your long-planned vacation. You won’t become explorer with one outdoor trip if you’re normally comfortable in the dark cozy corners of your room. And did you lose your lost self in wilderness? If you didn’t, ain’t gonna find it there either.
Escape in nature is a magnificently fascinating diversion from our problems. The rejuvenation it offers can be extremely temporary and sometimes simply evaporate once we’re back. Those strength, resilience, feelings, empathy, love, the people, the memories made and experiences gained – everything becomes complete stranger. Nothing may stay back except the scribbling pads and memory card and whatever recollection one can make from them. Trekking is no antidepressant. Life doesn’t get better overnight. People don’t evolve magically. It takes time, patience and continuous nurture. But if we put a little effort to preserve those memories and give ourselves a chance to revisit them sometimes, eventually they will help us in our path of healing. So let’s keep it humble and real, let the nature in. Who knows, nature might leave some traces behind and some day we will be wise enough to find them within.
(It’s my first blog post with photographs and not the usual hand-drawn illustrations. I was working on them and I thought they should get a separate post instead of being supporting images. I will post them soon )