It was raining and blustery and just above freezing as I shoved another translucent, blue gummy bear into my mouth. I was sitting at the top of Dead Woman’s Pass, 13,828 feet above sea level, waiting for the rest of my group to catch up and desperately in need of carbs. For a windswept, bedraggled hiker, I was in surprisingly good spirits. I watched the rain drip gingerly off my hooded poncho like a curious ant hiding beneath a blade of grass to stay dry as I gazed out at the misty cloud forest below, daydreaming about coca leaves and crimson orchids hidden in the deep crevices of towering trees. I had just completed the most difficult section of the Inca Trail in a downpour with a full pack on, and I was incandescently happy.
In July of 2016, I completed my first 3-day backpacking trip with a man I was terribly in love with. We ambled up rocky paths in the high country of Yosemite National Park and watched the sun rise with a shock of electric pink over granite domes that dotted the landscape like the hardened knees of some huge, mummified giant. On our last night out, we set up camp early near Polly Dome, allowing for ample time to dodge mosquitoes, smooch, and jump naked into an alpine lake. “1… 2… 3!” I yelled as I launched my sweaty, dirtbag body off a neighboring rock and into the water. Not two breaststrokes later, I yelped loudly, clutching my left leg. Careful not to sink too deep into the murky water, I examined my knee, noticing a flash of bright red that trailed through the lake like a miniature oil spill. “Are you ok, dude?” Asked my companion from his mindful perch along the shore. “I’m fine! I’m just bleeding!” I shouted back, laughing emphatically so that he wouldn’t make me get out of the water. I was happy and hurt and full of as much aliveness as a body can possibly muster. Instead of stitches, I found smiles.
Dear fellow badass,
You don’t need to adventure to impress a man; you are just as ruthless and rugged as they are. Your supreme beauty is matched only by your raw ferocity in the wild. You lick blood off your scabs and snot rocket while trail running. You peel dead skin off your feet and forget to shave your legs. You are a walking contradiction; one minute, astute and poised in heels at an office, the next, you’re tearing up your Civic on a backcountry dirt road, praying that it doesn’t get stuck in the mud. You are the glorious master of choosing conscious dichotomy. You are a fireball.
My anxiety is allergic to the outdoors. When I walk for hours along a wooded path or affix my limbs to a rock crag, I don’t think about my weight, or if he’ll call, or biting the inside of my lip. The sticky brain gunk that fuels my visions of destruction and self doubt are obliterated, and I focus intently on the task at hand. I breathe. I climb. I balance.
The first time I soloed a long trail, it almost broke me. Being naked and shivering inside my sleeping bag with nothing to shield me except a tiny backpacker’s tent quickly twisted my thoughts into a thousand worst case scenarios, my mother’s voice echoing loudly about hypothermia, snakes, and career-minded decision making. It was 42 degrees outside, and I could hear the percussion of rain lapping against my tent as I trembled in my down sack. Below my precarious perch on Saddle Peak’s mud-covered switchbacks, the constant whoosh of traffic pulled at me like a trail of breadcrumbs. Civilization was just a mile away, if only I would give up.
I’m standing in the middle of a closet-sized tomb, feet sunk into the muck of Canongate Kirk and the pale tremor of the supernatural upon my cheek. The tiny, stone room is crammed full of a dozen new friends from my hostel, and Olivia, our guide, beckons us to come closer. In the mud-thick dark of the new moon, she hisses, recounting the tale of the infamous Edinburgh serial killers, Burke and Hare. I take a sharp swig of whiskey out of my flask and gaze up at the beacon of stars through the cold, iron bars that crisscross above our heads, a relic to prevent corpse-stealing entrepreneurs in the 15th century. As the alcohol slowly begins to cloud my mind, I close my eyes, taking in the fuzzy damp of the graveyard through my nostrils. If ever there was a place to be a spirit, Edinburgh was it.
Ever the over-achiever, I did an enormous amount of research before embarking on my first solo trip to India. I jumped on phone calls and talked extensively with girlfriends who had been before, in addition to scouring top travel blogs and sites like TripAdvisor and HostelWorld. Below are the tips I found most helpful – many of which I discovered on my own, out in the wild. Part 2 can be found here. Enjoy!