I wasn’t sure how I was going to get through another day of hiking…. or through the week. So I kept reminding myself, the way to Mt Everest Basecamp is by taking one step at a time.
Physically, you have to — the route is full of steep inclines, loose rocks, and fresh yak droppings. But mentally, it’s very easy for one’s thoughts to race ahead. I certainly found myself feeling snowed under the enormity of our mission very early into the trek. This is where completely stopping helped.
Routine breaks gave me a chance to slow my heart rate, appreciate my surroundings, and rather importantly… check my watch. It permanently displayed the word, “NOW.” Funnily enough, this cheap, long-forgotten impulsive internet purchase was now teaching me a valuable lesson in staying present.
On route, moods could fluctuate as much as the weather. I specifically remember one fellow trekker loudly venting, “Why did I sign up for this shit!?” In between fantasising about my next meal and taking my shoes off, I pondered the same thing — a lot.
“Uncertain as I was, I pushed forward, I felt right in my pushing as if the effort itself meant something.” – Cheryl Strayed
I believe we’re naturally drawn to new territories and things undiscovered — not only in the physical world, but also within ourselves. We want to know what we’re capable of. It’s great to feel victorious; to have overcome. And when life doesn’t throw us enough challenges in our day-to-day lives, we make our way to the battlefields. Sir Edmund Hillary himself did say, “It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”
Or as in my case, you get conquered by a common cold.
About a mere 4 hrs from basecamp, I had to turn around and eventually be taken back to Katmandu by a rescue helicopter. I was left frustrated and unfulfilled. I felt like I had failed despite the congratulations from those back home for just giving it a go.
Eventually my ‘peak experience’ and moment of triumph did come. It was at the airport leaving Nepal when my guide handed me my certificate of merit. Flimsy, creased and printed with limited ink, it instantly lifted my spirits.
I didn’t accomplish what I set out to, but I still accomplished something. I don’t have that iconic shot by the Mt Everest basecamp sign, but scrolling through my camera (or this blog’s photo gallery) it’s clear that I still had many memorable experiences. One particular moment being the first time the Himalayas revealed themselves. Our tiny aircraft, full of chatter moments before, suddenly fell silent out of awe.
I keep thinking about the cliche “it’s about the journey not just the destination.” My trip encouraged me to also reexamine my day-to-day life and how much I get caught up in the future; the next big thing on my list. Just think about the times you’ve said to yourself, “I’ll be really happy when….” Insert job title, location, partner, weight, purchase etc. Goals are great, but we’ve got to be careful not to compromise our enjoyment of where we are right now. We’ve also got to give ourselves credit for the effort we put it during those times we fall short.
If it was all about basecamp, I would have taken a helicopter straight there. I singed up for an experience and everything it entails — including admitting defeat on day 8. I’ll still remember everything that I overcame on day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Because every step and breath counts, and as this trip taught me, we can get quite far by focusing on taking one more of each.
“In the end only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of the things not meant for you.”– Buddha