There comes a point in these expeditions in which a transition occurs from vacation to adventure. This takes place the first night on the trail when the daily comforts that westerners have grown accustomed to are stripped away. Tent camping is exciting. Using a headlamp to navigate the darkness is a novelty. Stepping the first foot onto the dusty path of the mountain’s base is invigorating.
This stage lasts approximately 48 hours. For those of us who aren’t mountaineers, it then takes the form of pure challenge, and it just happened last night to our group of 40.
In comes the filthy fingernails and grimy skin, the overheated afternoons and see-your-breath nights. The cramped legs from our improvised bathroom positions. We peel our bodies off our tent floors in the morning, giving ourselves a pep talk that we can do this one more day, partly for inspiration, partly as an excuse to stay in the coziness of our sleeping bags just a few more moments. For those with aged bodies or knee and hip replacements or past and present cancer treatments of all kinds, the aches and pains become harder to ignore. We’ve gone from telling ourselves back home that we can climb this damn mountain to telling ourselves we can get through today to repeating words of encouragement in our minds with every other step.
This is not to say the fun has ended or the beauty has disappeared or the magic has vanished. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. We need these things more than ever to combat the struggle. Not only has any hint of luxury been removed from the equation, the climb in elevation and the daily grind make any guards we have up evaporate into the thin air. We become beings at our most basic level. Wander. Find food. Seek shelter. Care for one another.
The laughter in the tent community at night grows and grows. The songs being sung are that much more meaningful. Any joke or helping hand, even if mustered up from some small space inside us, goes a longer distance than ever before.
We as people do our best to push on, but we are only human. The universe never fails us. Just as we wearily round that corner, we hear another bird’s tune or discover a new plant species or learn where the lava used to flow beneath our feet. As we reluctantly step outside at 3 a.m. to empty our bladders, we look up to witness an unfamiliar set of southern hemisphere stars shooting across the sky. When we wake with sleepy eyes we unzip our tent to see the sun burn away the fog and rise over Kilimanjaro.
As far as the magic goes, that is when both human and universe exist in perfect harmony.
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