When I returned home, having completed my expedition, I found that this part of my experience struck a chord with lots of people – what is it that keeps us going even when we know it is impossible to continue?
But traveling for the sake of traveling isn’t enough. It should be for an honest appreciation and willingness to learn from different cultures, not to tally up a travel list. And certainly not for the gratification of taking a yoga-pose picture with an orange sunset sinking into the horizon.
“The eruption has started,” says the Reykjavik Excursions guide as our bus pulls up to Landmannlaugar where we will begin our four-day hike on the Laugavegur trail. The bus passengers begin to exchange uneasy looks. Obviously, most of us do not hail from an ever-changing island made completely of volcanoes and lava fields, fire and …
“I need help,” I said, trying to keep my voice even, trying to jam my foot even harder into the mud so it would hold. It was hard to admit out loud, hard to say to the mountains, that I had reached a spot I couldn’t move from and would need someone else’s hand to pull me through.
As we were sitting, appreciating every sip of the ice-cold coffee, I had a moment to think this unplanned rest in our morning and what it meant to me as a traveler. In hindsight, perhaps, I later realized how sporadic those kind of moments are back home. I live, undeniably, in a culture where time is linear and worth is marked by accomplishment and the amount of one’s “doing.”
I pull my mud-splattered Subaru into the garage, my panting, wet dog sitting shotgun beside me. I can feel the satisfaction beaming from her. For the last two hours, Cholula has been bounding after squirrels and splashing through mountain creeks, wagging her white-tipped tail like it’s her job. I followed blissfully behind, lost in my …
The decision to go on the Outing Club’s illicit overnight trek to Mohonk Preserve definitely fell into the category of don’t think, just do. My pride for this decision was completely out of proportion to what I had actually achieved, but it didn’t matter: I’d finally found that who-cares and of-course-I-climb-mountains-at-night attitude, that healthy dose of stupidity that seemed so central to life in college.
For days I had been planning an evening ascent of the west slabs of Mt. Olympus; headlamps, cold rock and all. It seemed like a way to bump up the excitement level of 10 pitches of 5.5, to take a simple climb to the next level by ticking it off in the dark. It was going to be noteworthy, for certain.
But of all Nicaragua’s natural wonders, the Laguna de Apoyo remains my home base. Every time I go, I find something remarkable. I hear a new bird call, swim a little farther toward the center, learn new slang words from my friends.
The beginning—a 21-hour voyage to Hanoi, Vietnam—was strangely dreamlike. I guess I figured the hundreds of people surrounding me on the yawning aircraft were reassuring enough. Maybe, as we zombie-walked through the customs area, I thought that surely there was comfort in numbers. I wasn’t alone.
The city hires several trumpeters, and they take 24-hour shifts, he says. They stay up here by themselves with the radio for company, tolling the bell every hour and playing the hejnal once in each direction, stopping in the middle of that fateful note. I ask if he gets lonely. He says yes, occasionally, but that being the trumpeter of Krakow is a great honor.
Turning back at this point would be more dangerous than continuing forward–it wasn’t an option. Trying to click into my skis on this grade would also be too risky. The only choice was to keep moving upward, up over the lip of the bowl and onto the gentler slope of the snowfield above. I knew this, logically, but I still couldn’t move my boot up to the next foothold. The fear was visceral, and I felt pathetic. I was frozen.