We’ve been trekking the Annapurna Circuit for a few weeks now and I’ve lost all sense of time. Have we been walking for one hour or four, for two miles or eight? It does not really matter. Our only objective is to arrive at a teahouse before sundown. So we walk.
The structure of trekking feels so deliciously right. To rise with the sun and sleep when it does, to move my feet and free my mind to wander. Ideas pop into my head and insights, sharp and visceral, flow like notes of music. With none of my usual distractions (email, Facebook), I find myself more inspired and aware than I have ever felt before.
In the midst of all this beauty it has taken me some time to learn a simple lesson: look up. Even while walking it is possible to rush and small things, wonderful things, go unnoticed. Only when I stop and raise my head do I see the slate-colored lizard clinging to the rock and the horned sheep, a whole herd of them, alive on the ridge right above me. How much have I missed?
Out here on this trail a milestone has passed for Brian and I: our official one-year anniversary of traveling. Today as we walk we talk about what we remember of leaving. Brian remembers packing the car like a warehouse and the dogs squished in the backseat. I remember the rain, the slosh and patter of a Monday morning and how I cried as our car pulled onto the highway. I felt as though an 8-year chapter of my life was coming to an end and, indeed, it was.
“How much you can do with a year!” I exclaim to Brian and we both fall silent thinking about it. One year has passed, twelve tidy months, and we have been transformed. I recall a sentiment that I read in a book called The Snow Leopard recently: This experience has moved me. As in, I’m moved in such a way that I can never go back.
The terrain on this trek is ever-changing. It starts in a humid valley where banana and mango trees grow and skirts along jagged, windswept cliffs, climbing slowly to Thorong La pass, 5,416 meters (17,769 feet) in the air. We summited the pass six days ago and today, having descended, we walk nearby the river. Brian points out a waterfall tumbling from a cliff across the valley. It flows and falls and is sucked up into the air again, turning to mist without ever touching the ground.
Between our trek to Annapurna Base Camp and this, our trek around the Annapurna Circuit, we have been walking for 25 days. Brian is as slim and as fit as I have ever seen him. I feel the same as always but know that I have grown stronger. My legs feel muscular and solid.
It has been good for me to remove myself from the mirrors and the magazines and the billboards and to live for a moment in unison with my body. Unable to see it or judge it I have only been able to thank it for the work it has done for me. Today it has carried me 14 miles over rocky riverbed and through dusty fields of corn and wild marijuana to this patched-together teahouse of stone and woodsmoke. I remove my shoes and ease myself down into a plastic chair, close my eyes and listen to the insects buzz and cackle in the humid evening air.
Later, tired and sleepy-eyed after dinner, I start my fifth book on the trail. I read half-asleep in my sleeping bag, my headlamp illuminating the page. A paragraph starts with this simple statement: On days when you feel out of love with your life… I stretch my tired legs out straight, feel the exhaustion all the way down to my toes, and flip off the headlamp. I curl up in this strange bed and think that in the past 365 days there has not been a single one when I felt out of love with my life. There have been hard days and loneliness, arguments and tough conversations, but always there has also been the undertone of blessing.
Soon we will finish the Annapurna Circuit and re-enter the world of emails and Skype and online banking, the honking mania of present-day Asia. But for now there is not a sound around. I look up in the darkness and begin my nightly ritual of prayer. I start by thinking of my family. I picture each of them in my mind and I ask for their happiness and safety. Then I ask for the tools to do what I want to do in my life. I ask for guidance and the wisdom to know when I am receiving it. And then I look up and say thank you.