Escape from New York: Extended Travel

Lessons Learned from Loose Rocks in the Himalayas

By Tamar Izcovich, our guest contributor recently went on a 3-week hiking trek in Nepal.

Ever since I was little I had issues with balance – walking into glass doors, walking into people, backing up into poles (on my driving test nonetheless) and the list goes on. All of this to illustrate what a major klutz I am and how often my sight and balance have failed me. Perhaps that is a part of the reason I started hiking a few years back; I needed to prove to myself that I could walk on any terrain without falling or bumping into objects.

I fell on my hikes, so my friends tried to teach me different techniques along the way. One suggested “dig your heals in” another “walk with confidence” and one touted a “one, two, three” technique where you look at the next three rocks and then just skip through.Calm in Nepal

And so, I started hiking in the Catskills and Bear Mountain and even made it to some high peaks in the Adirondacks. I realized that being in nature helped me not only to overcome some fears, it pushed me to do things I would never have done otherwise like walk across rocks upright instead of awkwardly using a crab walk to get across safely.

My first extended trekking experience was to Machu Picchu. It was a good trek to do at that point in my life having just gone through a tough breakup.  Riddled with guilt and instability I had forgotten my strength and lost my core sense of self. I needed stable ground to help me feel grounded.  That trip to the Andes, which was a catalyst to a new relationship, also opened aspirations of tackling even higher mountains. I fell on that trip, but it was on that trip I also learned falling is ok.

Fast-forward two years, another breakup later and my trip to the Himalayas was booked and underway.  Everest here I come… actually Everest basecamp via three high passes and 36 hours of travel!

It turns out hiking in the Himalayas is Machu Picchu on steroids. The passes are higher, the weather colder and the rocks move whenever you step on them so not only did I fall, I slipped all the time. Slipping I realized was a fun little preview to falling. I say fun but I really mean to say an annoying, heart stopping, tense instance that happened every fifteen minutes but without the grand finale of falling, until I did fall which always came when I least expected it. The other interesting part about slipping on rolling rocks is that they make a very dramatic sound so every time I slipped my compassionate guide would turn immediately to make sure I’m ok. It reached a point that this sweet guide only walked with me because my trekking partner was significantly stronger on her feet. I realized after a few days that the attention I liked in the beginning turned to a hindrance in allowing me to learn to embrace the fall. I needed more independence and longer slack to be able to see if my muscles could keep me up.

While sipping lemon ginger honey tea, our guide would explaine each evening where we would be going, how long we would be trekking and mostly that it would be “up and down, up and down” and “a little easy a little hard.”  I have since adopted this as my new philosophy. Life is a series of ups and downs and its sometimes easy sometimes hard. In order to walk through the trek our guide used a Sherpa term “cole cole” which translates to “slowly slowly.” As a fast paced New Yorker I am used to walking “fast fast” so slowing down was a new venture for me, but I welcomed it and hey it decreased my falling probably by a whole 10%. Because I whole-heartedly embraced “cole cole” our wise guide also reminded me to “jam jam” which is a Nepali term to “let’s go”. I feared “jam jam” especially around the loose rocks. I needed to walk slowly because that felt safe.Hiking in Nepal

I learned that as fiercely independent as I think I am, when I needed help I wasn’t embarrassed to ask for it.  More importantly I didn’t see myself as weaker for it. That helped me tremendously, not only in crossing Kongma la pass at 5535m but at being able to then cross two more Cho-la and Renjo-la passes after.

I started this trip thinking it would be a kind of walking meditation; needing time away to reflect on my life. I thought I would come back with clarity about my next steps, that the mountains would reveal my future.  I wanted to have clarity about where to live, what I want to do and the right partner for me.  I thought I would know it all within the three weeks of this journey. I came back not knowing any of the answers but do know the following: When I climbed up to Kongma-la I repeated this mantra “If I can do this I can overcome anything” and I truly truly believe that. Everything now seems doable and so so small. I also learned there is no need to hurry and appreciate “cole, cole” slow and steady always wins the race! But, from time to time it’s equally needed to “go” so “jam, jam” on to the next adventure.

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