And so it ends. I have clamped the emotion down and I distract myself with work emails and book launch details and diary commitments that I need to be thinking about over the next month or more. But then, just before we are due to leave for the airport (to Kathmandu) Lila appears out of nowhere with a bag of prayer shawls and proceeds to drape one apiece around our necks, and to tie a loose knot. I am profoundly moved and can barely speak. Clearly we have made an impression on him. And then Ram turns up, his calm grandfatherly serene face beaming. As everyone climbs into the bus he echoes my ‘call’ – “Is everybody happy?” to which we chorus our reply “You betchya life we are’. He beams with pleasure – it’s clearly a line that has amused him. How easily we have knit our lives with these men. Sadly a quick flight to Kathmandu will shortly unbind them again, and these characters will fade from our memory, no matter our best intentioned hearts hoping to keep them close. How we touch each others lives is really about how much we want others to touch our own. I look around and know we have all been deeply affected.
Have these couple of hundred kilometres gotten this out of my system? I wasn’t really looking to get anything out. At least I don’t think so. Rather, I suspect I have only fueled a desire for more of this adventure. What’s just over that hill? And just to underscore that, the very competitive weighing of packs on the Avery scales while we waited for the airline crew to appear shows my pack tipping in at 24 kg. Add a couple of kilos for water and I have been managing Annapurna very comfortably with more weight than anyone else. Not that I was trying to outdo anyone but I feel fit and ready to tackle anything. But we board our J41 and are back in Kathmandu in twenty-five minutes and the dislocation is complete, and tackling something else will have to wait. But… in the dim hotel foyer this morning, an hour before anyone else stirred, I hit the internet looking for the most random adventure. Something on my own maybe. With a friend? We are planning Kilimanjaro in two years but I will not be waiting that long for another rush like this. But I wrestle with whether I team up or go solo.
Ken Kamler writes that he was wanting to understand the limits to which he could be pushed in his quest to climb Everest. I’m very blessed by being one of a few who have been pressed and pushed beyond the ordinary. Into the extraordinary even. So few of us have that opportunity and I am deeply grateful for it. I don’t have to prove myself to anybody, not even myself. At least not mentally, in which regard this trek was no challenge at all. No, something else drives me. The solitude perhaps, which is found in mountains like this? The connection with the people? Possibly? Yes? Maybe no. Or just the plain old homily of getting lost in order to find yourself holds good after all. Maybe that’s why I am so ready to start this trek again and to make my way anew to the Besisihar start point. My melancholy deepens, but I suspect my wanderlust is not its real seat.
Do these mountains shake loose our facades? Do we hide from anyone in these spare and remote places? This is the land of mountain goddesses stripped bare of anything natural and organic, the wind and ice denuding the heights and flaying open flinty hearts of stone over which we climb. These mountains don’t lie. What you see is exactly what you get. Have we done that with each other? Shown our true selves? To a little extent. We have forged together as a team but I sense now that it was to achieve an objective, hard and unyielding in prospect, soft and easy in the hindsight context of the warmth and comfort of Pokhara. Already we fragment and the frivolity speaks of a carelessness and artlessness of what an impact this has had. There has been little chance to bare my soul and in a two week span of busyness there was little opportunity anyway. Besides, as the trek leader, to whom would I confide? Leadership carries with it the responsibility of having things under control. Baring yourself hardly falls into that brief, no matter how inspired I might be to blurt something out.
And now, unequivocally, its over. We are still in Kathmandu. But I rise from a nap and find the team watching a movie. It had to happen. We couldn’t stay out here forever, lost in the magic of the mountains, treading the far horizons of our own minds, plumbing and examining the depths of emotions not felt before, or felt so honestly. We surface here to the banal, the superficial, the essential, the boring and the day to day which I need to accept, albeit under protest. I will ask the team tonight over dinner to reflect on the impact the trip has had on them but already I fear some of the power of the experience has been sluiced away by our two days in Pokhara and perhaps lost here a little in the laneways and markets of Kathmandu.
We took dinner in the ‘Garden of Dreams’ an oasis of tranquility obscene for its opulence in a suburb of grime. I asked, as planned, for my colleagues to reflect on the impact the trip has had on them. They jotted some notes and discussed these after we had eaten. Everyone spoke. Of their struggle with poverty. Of feeling confronted by the circumstances they found the locals living in. Of the dignity of lifestyles in remote and humble places. Of our comparative material wealth but the spiritual poverty of our own community. Of the discovery of mental reserves of toughness at time times when they wanted to give up. Of the depth of fraternity within the group when they needed support. Of learning to seek help – from each other and from God. Of the joys of testing their limits and the discovery that they want to do it again. Of wondering where God fits into our safe and incident free passage. Most confessed to keeping the deeper lessons to themselves and that is okay, for what I heard was profoundly gratifying. No one was just ‘trekking’ but all have walked communing with God, themselves and with each other. They trekked thinking and seeing and learning. I can ask for no more.
‘The trip is over’ is my thought as we leave the garden, a symbolic transition back into the filth of Kathmandu. I am immensely satisfied to hear how everyone has invested themselves into this experience. But I walk back into the crowds and have to accept that I am done. The magic is dissolved. Only the responsibility of seeing the off on the plane remains. I drift up the street weighed down by that dogging melancholy and I feel a loneliness wash over me that none here can cure. I need to move on to the next thing. Fast.
If you have a dream, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
(Johann Goethe (apparently))
Did I come here looking for answers? I think I did, but am still not really sure what the questions are. Did I get any answers anyway? Possibly, in the bleakest of places, in the most pared back hills where every step was laboured. Where the cloud closed in and the damp soaked through. Here, perhaps, the mind is focused on the critical things. Everything else falls away and the internal monologue and the dialogue with the creator of this place is all the nourishment I need. Here I felt alive and focused and inspired. But here too I came to understand how I fit in with this group. I’m yearning for the challenge to be extended by another week. Or by another 2000’. But mostly I unexpectedly found I was yearning for a kindred spirit that might resonate with all of that. None are here, though they are kindred in so many other ways. And therein lies part of the answer to a question I wasn’t asking. These desires, these aspirations, these mountain inspired insights to the soul can only be sought and heard on your own.
The solitude of the trek is part of my remedy and its perhaps in the solitude of these sorts of activities that I need to spend more pursuit. No one has really walked this circuit with me and it would be unfair to ask them to. Sure, they have stepped on the same stones and side stepped the same mule shit. But a journey of the heart is a very individual thing and I am thankful I have been as guarded as I have been. Still, I fear a little frankness I shared with some may come back to bite me. I’m in a group but this trek has only shown me how vast the gulf is between us and I am actually very alone. To be fair to them I’m in a fantasy land if I think these people have any real desire to connect. Too many years separate us and I come to realise that is the root of some of my melancholy. That, despite the fraternity there can’t really be any intimate connection. I realise too that I need them more than they need me. They have, and spark off each other in a way I’m not allowed. I suspect they think I don’t need to but, by God, I surely do. Rather, this trek has shown me I’m the catalyst for adventure. Do I resent that? I don’t know yet. I suspect there is a tiny piece of me that does. Maybe that’s why the next big thing I do will be on my own. But I know if I do that I will desperately wish them with me. But it helps me shape an answer to one of the questions I didn’t know I was asking. It allows me to better stand back and to return to what I know I do best – the solitary challenge. That, I hope, will suit me fine.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep.
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