I think most everyone I know has forgotten how to live, and maybe even I have, too. As I crest the hallowed hill of Annapurna Base Camp, I remember. Annapurna I, the tallest of the Annapurna mountains, towers above me at 26,545 ft. She is a great snow-capped goddess watching me from her place in the sky. If there is a physical manifestation of a supreme being, this mountain is it, and I don't even believe in god. She reaches up to the heavens like the hand of earth, grasping with wonder. A long, flat, wispy cloud dangles right below her summit, as if scared to dare block her greatness.
She is demanding of my attention; a forced presence. It doesn't matter that I currently have both Giardiasis and E. Coli or that I might not have a job when I return to the U.S. or that I am unprepared for the cold weather that awaits that night. I stumble up the stone stairs leading past the last few tea houses of the trek, their roofs mirroring the bright blue of the sky. Past the short buildings is a natural stone wall, likely pushed here thousands of years ago by the basal sliding of the glacier that has now receded so far below the wall that a sheer cliff drops hundreds of feet from base camp.
I fall down onto my knees on the top of the wall, placing my hands on the rough rocks and staring out into the Himalaya. I am suddenly and uncontrollably sad for myself, and tiny salty tears roll down my face and drop onto the ground. I am sad because I know that I am truly alive in this moment and the feeling is unfamiliar. Why the fuck don't I feel this way more often?
I came to Nepal because I read a book about a wild pack of woman who climbed a mountain here. The mountain, Annapurna I, called to them. And unable to resist her sweet song, they obliged. Two of them died in an attempt to stand atop Annapurna I, but not before several others summited, becoming the first Americans of any gender to do so. Many mountains have taken lives, but Annapurna I is statistically the most dangerous in the world. 130 people have successfully summited, but 53 have died trying. Kneeling below her on a sunny afternoon in November, I can feel her saying "I take as I please."
I tried to convince friends to come with me to Nepal, but eating Dal Bhat and walking for 2 weeks isn't most young adults' idea of a relaxing vacation. So I bought a ticket alone. Then, wholeheartedly unprepared, I got on a plane to Kathmandu with my passport and a 35L bag.
When have I felt most alive in my life? This sounds like an annoying journal prompt from a self-help seminar, I know. But I would like this question to guide my life. Is something going to either directly support the depth of my human experience or explicitly inspire a feeling of wild? If not, I’m out.
There are only a few moments that stand out when I ask this question, which is my I’m crying at the base of a mountain, alone, in the Himalaya.
There was the time a Rolling Stone photographer and I followed a live band around the mountain town of Telluride until 3 am. We skinny dipped in a frozen creek, snuck into a hot tub, and told stories to the sounds of guitar and accordion.
There was the day I climbed a sandstone tower in Moab. The wind whipping at the top couldn’t even quiet my elation as I stood on the giant red protruding rock, ready to crawl off the side and rappel hundreds of feet. I felt as if I could see the whole state of Utah.
And there are quieter, life giving moments too. Like the first time I uttered “I love you”, even though I wasn’t sure, and immediately took it back. Or the day in college when I pressed “submit” to self-publish my first book. Or laying under the stars in Oregon, feeling the presence of our galaxy and universe in myself. Stars are very life-giving if you didn’t already know.
But these moments seem few and far between. How long must I wait for the next one? Is life just a series of waiting periods until the next time I feel alive? Is it worse to have felt life rush through me like this, because now I know what I am missing?
I stay crouched on my knees until the tears stop. When my eyes dry, I see clearly that the cloud has drifted behind the mountains. I have made a significant amount of trouble for myself: I have E. Coli, an unstable job, and don’t even know how I am going to get to the airport in a few short days. I suppose making trouble is kind of what I’m best at and I must accept that.
Annapurna, in her strength and irreverence, laughs down at me. I am here. I am alive. It is enough.