There’s Always a “but” in Nature

The delicate purr of a hummingbird crosses your vision as you gaze out over the mirror-stillness of an alpine lake. It’s evening, and the low-hanging sun has turned the entire valley to coral flame. You crack a beer, flip open your camp chair, and settle in to watch the show in perfect solitude. Just then, you hear a high-pitched buzzing noise and start frantically looking around, darting your head from body part to body part. It lands on your right arm, and you thunderously SMACK your left hand against the skin, squashing the attacker to bits. You heave a sigh of frustration and shake your fist at the sky.

Mosquitoes have invaded your once-perfect evening.

Continue reading

The Failure Resume

My first-ever anxiety attack was on the north side of Red Mountain Creek. I slumped into a pile of dead leaves while sobbing manically and trying to shove a string cheese into my mouth. I was fed up. A week full of fears and self-doubt culminated in a ten-mile slog into avalanche terrain with a climbing partner who was as inexperienced as I was and somehow immune to worry. I was rattled to my core before we strapped on a single crampon, finally asserting that I would not be climbing Split Mountain after all. My nerves felt bruised against his youthful bravado, but at least I was learning. Beneath my panic and my trembling fingertips, I was learning how to say no.

Continue reading

In Defense of the Void

“Fuck you. You’re a wimp. You’re a hack alpinist.”

I feel like a sadistic acupuncturist is driving 10-inch needles into my thighs with a wooden mallet as I ascend the steep, north slope of Mt. Dana, ragged breaths punctuating my movements like a death cough. I take a gulp of the crystalline air, and suddenly my organs rebel; I am lost in spasm, propped up on hands and knees and retching the last of my peanut butter along with a teaspoon of phlegm onto the carpet of white snow.

Continue reading

The Perfect 10-Day Annapurna Circuit Itinerary

If lush Himalayan foliage, ancient Buddhist monasteries, and the opportunity to pet a big, fuzzy yak sound like the perfect vacation, then a trip along Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit should be first on your bucket list. The trail starts in Besisahar and navigates counterclockwise around the Annapurna Massif, a towering behemoth of granite and limestone, with crevasse-lined glaciers stretching between each peak like giant, frigid throw rugs. The trail snakes alongside the Marsyangdi River for dozens of miles before topping out on the Thorong-La Pass, 17,769 feet above sea level. This is not a trip for the faint of heart.

Continue reading

Learning to Sit Still

The door closes with a heavy thud and a deep, metal click before drowning me in darkness. My heartbeat instantly spikes up to twice its normal rate, and I am left naked, alone, and swimming in a salty, nebulous pool of infinite pitch-black. There are no sounds, no light, and no one to tell me what to do. I feel sick to my stomach and start fumbling for the door handle when, all of a sudden, a voice inside my head screams, “WAIT!”

Continue reading

The Life-Changing Magic of a Truck Stop Shower

I’m gross. Like, really gross. Like, so gross that there’s a bloody, half-smushed mosquito on my upper left arm and my fingernails look like they’ve been dragged through the trenches in ‘Nam. I need a bath. But how? I’m on day seven of a sleep-in-the-van road trip with two more days of driving before I get to my mom’s house in Tahoe.

Then, out of the darkness, a sign appears in bright yellow and red like a 1970s roller disco. “Love’s” exclaims the homey print, followed by a large cartoon heart. The sign looks and feels just like a hug, and I am drawn, mothlike, to its folksy flame. I’m about to experience the magic of my very first truck stop shower.

Continue reading

Befriending Anger

I’m going to level with you guys this week. There’s a dark numbness that has taken over my chest cavity, pressing firmly against my organs with the insidiousness of cold iron. Simple tasks like tying my shoelaces or making a cup of tea feel like an extraordinary effort. I feel as though a giant has seized my ribcage between his fingers and is slowly watching the life drain out of me for his own amusement. I feel claustrophobic and confused, enraged and heartbroken all at once. I have been fighting a lingering depression.

Continue reading

An Ultralight Packing List for the Annapurna Circuit

The Annapurna Circuit is, hands down, one of the great walks of the world. It’s a high elevation romp that takes trekkers from a tropical woodland paradise full of towering waterfalls and lush foliage up to a barren, glacially carved pass at an elevation of 17,769 feet above sea level before plunging back down into the arid rain shadow of the Annapurna Massif. The scale of the scenery would make even the most monolithic of humans feel small, enormous glaciers and jagged peaks jutting out as far as the eye can see.

Continue reading

The Annapurna Circuit – Part 3 – Yak Karta to Pokhara

Day 8 – Yak Karta to Thorong Phedi

I shot out of bed at 3:30 in the morning, restless and claustrophobic in my sleeping bag sarcophagus. It must have been about 20 degrees inside our room, and I tossed and turned like a petulant child as I desperately tried and failed to go back to sleep. I was sick of the cold, sick of the nausea, and sick of scanning my eyes back and forth for hours across the dim, blue glow of my Kindle screen. The electric buzz of my skin longed to touch the air without cringing again.

Continue reading