the bridge

‘I can’t do this,’ I murmured to no one in particular. ‘Is there an easier way?’

‘There…’ Sajan pointed to the waters. ‘We’ll follow Binod.’

The four of us trooped down to the waters and crossed the river on the rocks. Getting our feet wet just felt like a better option than falling off a rickety, wooden old bridge. Besides, we were exhausted from trekking nearly 1,000m up that one day and doing a balancing act just wasn’t something we wanted to face.

On our way back down from the Annapurna Base Camp the next day, we started towards the river again when I felt a strong, deep pull towards that bridge. It meant something to me. I didn’t want to come home knowing that there was something I didn’t do out of fear.

‘Hold on guys, I’m going that way…’ I pointed to the wooden thing. I climbed back up and stood there for a bit. Then screaming silently (although my friend swears I did it out loud), I started walking.

Images of me falling into the cold waters flashed across my mind.

‘I can do this…’ I muttered to myself as the bridge bounced under my weight. Halfway across, I nearly lost my balance and flung my hands out. Steady. Deep breath. My thoughts weren’t sentences anymore. They were fragmented ideas. I guess that’s where my mental scream became audible. Whatever.

‘Only a few more steps…’ I gritted my teeth, doing my best to ignore the rest watching from across the river. And then… ‘I did it!’ I screamed as I stepped on solid ground again.

Turning around, I watched as Binod (my porter) nimbly walked across in under 20 seconds.

‘Damn boy, you sure are a mountain goat.’ I said. He laughed. I’m not sure if he understood.

But there. I did it. The final bridge that I feared.

I was a finisher.

*

‘That’s my favourite mountain,’ my friend said, pointing at Machapuchre.

We looked at its fish-tail peaks, bathed in the morning sun’s glow.

‘I guess being quirky is a beautiful thing,’ I replied, thinking about more things than mountains.

*

Cradling heating packs in my pockets (yes, I am a wimp when it comes to the cold, especially my hands), we walked out to the back sides of the Annapurna Base Camp and were greeted with this amazing view.

Standing there as the clouds rolled and swirled all around us, I sighed. It was such an exhilarating feeling, knowing that I’d trekked all the way up there. I made it. My first time.

‘You know what sucks?’ my friend said, after a few minutes of silence.

‘What?’ I looked at her, puzzled. The view was fantastic and I was still high on the adrenaline (and lack of oxygen, possibly).

‘The fact that we have to go down the same distance we came up.’

Right.

I sighed again.

*

Would I do it all again? Definitely.

I’ve decided that every year, I want to conquer a mountain (or base camp, or bridge, for that matter) just before my birthday. It’s a symbolic act, to close each year of growth with an adrenaline rush. Because life just seemed that slight bit different, when I returned.

Or it could be though, that I was the one who came back changed.

[All pictures courtesy of Coralie, a lovely girl we met on our journey]

above | beyond

[Picture by Craig Mod]

I stood there beside Raphael, both of us silent in our own worlds, under a thick blanket of stars. Slowly, we spun around, our gaze constantly lifted towards the heavens.

‘Do you feel as small as I do?’ He asked quietly.

‘Yeah…’ I whispered back, afraid to speak louder than necessary, as if my voice would shake the stars out of their majestic placement in the sky. It was then that I caught the first trailblazer. ‘Oh my god… did you see that?’

‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘Did you make a wish?’

I barely had time to answer when I caught another shooting star, and then another.

‘This is better than the mountains!’ I clapped my hands and squealed, not caring about poise or deportment. ‘This is magic!’

Raphael chuckled in reply.

And there we stood. Two lone strangers in the Annapurna Base Camp. While the rest of the world was cuddled for warmth in their sleeping bags, we were the only fools brave enough to stand in the freezing cold because of the stars. It was only a matter of time though, before Raphael had a massive coughing fit (he was already not feeling well) and my knees began knocking out an uncontrolled syncopated rhythm.

‘I’m heading to bed,’ I finally gave in to the cold. ‘See you around, hey?’

‘Yeah,’ he coughed in reply.

I turned and walked away, giving the night skies one final look before ducking my head into my room. If there was a reason to trek up 4130m to a base camp, this was it.

The stars.

Tonight, 34 minutes before I turn a year older… I look up to the night skies again but I don’t see anything. The city lights have clouded my view but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. Somewhere beyond my naked vision, they twinkle for me. Perhaps, this is significant knowledge regarding my years ahead.

I can’t always see what lies beyond and there are times when it feels as though all majesty, beauty and magnificence in daily life has waned. But the years ahead are still glorious. They twinkle at me in my consciousness, the trailblazing years begging me to make new wishes, new promises, and maybe even pronounce new hopes.

What lies ahead?

I know what lies behind me. Like the endless trek and painful toil up Nepal’s steep angles, there were moments in the past 365 days since my last birthday when it was painful and tough. Times when I couldn’t bear to look up and see what was ahead for fear of discouragement at how much more there was to go. There were also times when I paused to take a breather, and was astonished at how far I’d come through.

One step at a time.

See the mountains.

One step at a time.

To reach the stars.

And for the first time in my life, I smile on the eve of my birthday.

I’m proud of how far I’ve come and the mountains of challenges I’ve scaled. Not everything is in its rightful place now and there are many changes I want to make in my life, changes that must take place. That said, I’m still proud of this little girl who has continued to plough through pain, disappointment, discouragement, fear and sadness.

A girl who refuses to stop dreaming about her stars.
A woman with the heavens woven into her nature.
A person who will choose to look beyond her failures.
A girl, her Dream Maker and a beautiful future.

Happy Birthday.

 

thanks for the cheer

Cherries in a plastic basket.
Hazelnut ice-cream.
Dark chocolate.
A phone call.
Text messages.
A banana muffin.
Email how-are-you’s.
Triple grande hazelnut lattes.
Promises of fruit tarts & pies from Oz.

I was encouraged by the many ways friends reached out to me, yes, even by the notes you left behind, dear readers. It gave me that little surge of power to continue on this leg of race called September. Your cheers yelled out, ‘You’re precious! You can do it!’

I can and I will.

Thank you for the pom-poms and dance. It meant a lot to me.

*

I’d ignored the weighing scale in the gym’s locker room for the past one week but today, I couldn’t resist. I took off my sneakers and climbed on.

‘What?!’ I cursed under my breath. The scale told me that I’d added another 1.5 kilos since the start of my intensive training. Don’t tell me it’s muscle! The tight jeans beg to differ and seriously, this weight issue is starting to grate on my nerves. Gah!

My overflowing closet continues to mock me every morning I choose to wear something. You see, I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I have gotten chubbier. 7.5 kilos in fact. This is NOT good.

Sulking, I nursed a bottle of water as I stared at my thighs. I contemplated returning out to the gym. Maybe I could run off half a kilo on the treadmill? Nah… My legs were already trembling from the crazy walk-lunges I did with weights. Any more and I would probably crumble in a heap at the foot of the machine.

It’s tough enough, walking into a gym. People there like to watch you as you do your workouts. I don’t get that. Why are they so unabashed in observing me sweat it out? The first time it happened, I thought it was my imagination.

‘Why are they seated around me, watching us?’ I whispered to Flex.

‘They’re cashing in on your lesson,’ he chuckled. ‘You paid for me to train you, and they, being free-loaders, are seeing if they can get any tips. I call it monkey-see-monkey-do.’

‘I want them to disappear,’ I managed to grunt as I hoisted myself up from the floor.

‘Wipe your sweat,’ he said before leading me to yet another metal machine. I took no offense. I perspire a lot and at the end of each session, am usually drenched. It’s embarrassing but what the hell… there’s no one at the gym to impress.

I’ve been working out at the gym for about a week and I must say, gym culture is very interesting. This is my first foray into the world of the body-beautiful and so far, I’ve already noticed a few regulars.

There’s the Indian girl who’s always on the treadmill. She runs with an amazing swivel-motion to her hips and I wonder if her knees hurt. It’s almost unnatural, as is her dedication to her goal – which I’m assuming is weight loss.

Then there’s Swing Lady – a petite, toned and limber female who swings on the rings in what looks like child’s play. Except that she’s always with a trainer too, so I’m guessing it’s actually exercise.

I’m just glad no one likes the Summit Climber. Each time I enter the gym, I head straight there. Being goal-oriented, I know why I sacrifice time to enter the sweaty place: I am training to climb up to the Annapurna Base Camp in one piece. Hopefully, with a smile.

The ticket is purchased and travel plans firmed. Now all I need is the right equipment to help get me up there without dying. First thing was the shoes. I did some research and nearly gagged at the trekking footwear they categorized as ‘stylish’. It was all very blah. Well, at least it’ll blend in with the mud I will undoubtedly encounter.

We’re traveling there during the final weeks of the monsoon season.

‘The good news is that you won’t see leeches!’ an experienced friend exclaimed.

‘What?! Leeches? Wait… are there insects on this trail?’ I asked.

‘Of course! That’s why you need to remember to keep all your bags tightly sealed. You don’t want them climbing in…’ she laughed. I didn’t.

‘What else do I need for this trek?’ I was starting to get a teensy weensy bit worried.

‘Get a walking stick, or walking poles. You will need them because on your first day there, the one thing you’ll be asking yourself is why. Why did you pay so much to suffer this torture? But after that, the view will be worth every bit of pain,’ she said.

‘Pain? I don’t want pain…’ I whined a little.

‘You have three weeks to train… that’s erm, very short to get appropriately fit. You are fit, right?’

‘Well…’ I smiled. I didn’t dare answer her. In my mind though, I began calculating how many hours I could put in on the Summit Climber.

‘I can’t help you with the altitude but if you work on this machine and can complete an hour, you’ll be in good shape,’ Flex told me on our introductory tour around the gym. Since then, I’ve managed to work up from ten measly minutes to 30. It’s sheer torture though.

‘I get bored…’ I confided in him. ‘What’s there to take my attention away while I climb the steps?’ I asked.

‘Think about how wonderful the mountain will be,’ he answered.

Right. That is NOT going to help me one bit. Maybe it’s time to be annoying and start observing the other people who work out at the gym. I guess I can conjure up stories about them…

Watch out gym rats.

The story-teller is let loose.