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.
Last weekend, I cruised up the 395 for over ten hours, doing the slow and awkward tire chain dance every few miles between Bishop and South Lake Tahoe. By the time I arrived, my poor minivan was practically limping down the road to my mom’s place in a full-on blizzard, flailing its one remaining cable chain and sputtering like a parrot on too much caffeine.
“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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Day 4 – Chame to Upper Pisang
At 6am on the dot, I crawled naked out of bed to split the hotel curtains with my fingers and marvel at the lavender haze of sunrise as it stretched its illuminated arms around the upper Himalayan peaks. “It’s happening! It’s happening!!” I called to my lover, Brian, who lay groggy and confused beneath a pile of wool blankets, eager to hit the snooze button on the alarm of my voice. Conscious that the magical, rose glow outside would not last for more than a few minutes, I tripped over my boots as I struggled to quickly pull my socks, thermals, and hiking pants over my feet to run outside and greet the morning.