As we made our way up the valley towards Annapurna Base Camp, my cast of recurring characters had narrowed to no more than a dozen. I was beginning to get to know them all, as we struggled upwards, in mutual agony and awe.
Out of all of us on the trail, the diplomat was in the most agony. She was struggling visibly — slowing up the group, which had more or less decided to trek in one big family. This, despite the fact that she’d enlisted a porter to carry her pack. The young, 15-year-old kid carrying her pack made quick work of the trails that slowed her down so much.
“I felt kind of bad about it, you know,” the diplomat told me, “but look how slow I go already. I tried to keep my pack small, too. Look — it is not much weight. And I figure, it is a job for him.”
My own pack was heavy, with snacks and clothes and a very poor quality sleeping bag, but I liked carrying it. It felt right to be suffering, a little bit, in the mountains.
I knew the mountains; I knew that, like most things in life, they shouldn’t come easy.
This was part of the reason I’d chosen to walk with the diplomat for a few hours. As an experienced hiker, I didn’t mind going slow. I knew the trick was to keep her mind off the immense task in front of her, and focused on other, smaller things. This is why I like hiking — it’s a lot like life. One foot in front of the other, a bit of guidance and a bit of blind faith, and eventually — you end up somewhere beautiful.
Sometimes, somewhere beautiful is a place. Sometimes, it’s a state of mind — a blissful emptiness that overtakes one. That afternoon, in the Annapurna Sanctuary, hiking with the diplomat, it was both.
I walked slowly with the diplomat all afternoon, until we reconnected with her daughter, who was waiting atop a tall hill where the climb flattened out for a bit.
“Good job mom!” the daughter exclaimed upon seeing us. “You are moving fast!”
“He kept me distracted from the climbing by keeping me talking the whole time,” she said with a tired little laugh.
“I thought you hadn’t noticed!” I said, disappointed.
She smiled a wan smile at me. “Thank you.”
We rested for a bit, and when the diplomat suggested “Maybe you two should go on ahead for a while,” I didn’t argue.