Beneath a shady canopy on a narrow ridge, 7,000 ft. up in the Annapurna Sanctuary, the mountain reached right out and bit me.
Actually, to be fair, I slipped on a wet tree branch and sent my mud-covered Merrill hiking boots airborne, my feet still hopelessly attached to them. Although I staged three separate efforts to recover my balance, I eventually came crashing back to Earth in the form of smashing my femur against a rather stoic rock. A monumental fall to say the least, what’s important is that nothing was broken. I did, however, create a massive hematoma on my thigh that resulted in a terrific amount of internal bleeding and a grimace-inducing amount of swelling. As I was still a 4 days walk from the nearest road, I really had no other option than to suck it up and keep on moving.
I could not, however, maintain my youthful athletic pace that had once accompanied me so deftly on the trail. For an entire day and a half I was relegated to the brisk speed of just above glacial, a thin piece of brown bamboo my pathetic excuse for a cane.
I won’t mince words. Being injured annoys me. It makes me angry, especially when I injure myself in such a terribly pedestrian and avoidable way. For the nearly two days that I was passed on the trail by everyone from Swiss grandmothers to Nepalese porters carrying 110 lbs. of stone slates or mattresses, I limped along in shame.
Now that I am (thankfully) recovered and seated riverside in the village of Birethanti, a cold Nepal Ice in hand while listening to the rushing Mari Khola river, I realize that some of the most authentic and genuine moments I had on the trail were during my excruciatingly slow days. Unable to rush along the trail with a ferocity usually reserved for large, important sporting events, I instead channeled my energies towards taking detailed notice of my surroundings.
Areas where I once noticed two waterfalls I now, in fact, counted seven. During one spell in which my leg was particularly throbbing, I stopped to talk with a local farmer about the strength of that year’s potato crop. Noticing my genuine interest, he proceeded to take me on a visual tour of every crop in his garden, which was a surprisingly fertile and varied plot that I never would have taken stock of had I been rushing along.
While surrounded by the magic of Annapurna Base Camp high up in the Himalayan interior, I was slightly perturbed that I had not seen any new and exotic wildlife while on my 5 day trek to the top. On the descent, however, ambling along at the speed of stone, I was able to notice four langur monkeys playfully frolicking in the high green treetops. Mischievous little creatures with white furry heads, their tail is a staggering three times the length of their body. I never would noticed these long-tailed primates mirthfully frolicking in the treetops had I been sprinting down the trail with usual athletic vigor.
There’s a good chance I never would have paid much attention to the elderly woman in the town of Sinuwa dutifully pounding her vegetables and hanging them to dry in the crisp valley sun. I most likely wouldn’t have notice a pack of at-rest sherpas playing a game of checkers devised from pebbles and sticks while waiting for their trekkers to arrive. I definitely would not have appreciated as much the labor it took for 17 people to spend 7 months building a new staircase made of stone I now ascend at approximately the same rate it took them to build.
So was my slip and fall onto the femur-shattering rock of annoyance the worst part of my trek? From a pain standpoint, absolutely. From an experiential standpoint, however, my eyes were opened to countless greater events occurring all around me, which when traveling in the most fortunate occurrence you could ever hope to ask for.