I’m crumpled into a small heap on the ground, head between my knees, vision narrowed, mind spinning.
I hear the sliding of gravel as my guide runs down the trail to pick me up off the ground.
“You’re working way too hard,” he tells me.
I look up at the path in front of us, an endlessly zigzagging line that creeps up the face of the mountain. We’re already close to 16,000ft above sea level and we still have at least another hour of climbing. I have no idea how I’m going to make it up there with my pack loaded with photography gear and a sprained ankle that I’ve been dragging around for the past week. My guide sits down next to me and we stare off into the vast landscape below us. I’m contemplating walking back to where we came from.
After a while my guide breaks the silence. “You can make it if you keep moving, even if you go slow. Mountain pace will get you there.”
Still not quite sure of myself, I feebly stand up. Taking a deep breath, inhaling what little oxygen there is around me, I put one foot forward. Step by step I pull myself towards our destination. The only thought in my head is the words of my guide: “Just mountain-pace it.”
Going to Nepal was not my wisest decision, but it was one that I felt compelled to make anyway. At the time, I had just completed a three-year graduate program; I was in debt, with no stable job in sight. The reasonable course of action would have been to stay in place and wait until a job came my way. Something inside of me, though, was begging me to venture out.
I had spent the last three years preparing for a career I wasn’t sure I really wanted. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the opportunities I had or the knowledge I was gaining; I just didn’t see myself being fulfilled by the future I was heading towards. In addition to that, I had long felt that there was something else that I should be pursuing. And so, after finding myself without a job after graduation, I decided I would take a chance and act on my nagging desire. I picked up a camera and boarded a plane to Nepal with a plan to hike and photograph the Himalaya Mountains. It was my first step towards something that I really wanted out of life.
The plan for my trip was to go on a several week trek and create a series of landscape photographs. Through a friends recommendation, I found a guide in Kathmandu and within a few days of arriving, we were on our way to hike one of the country’s most iconic trails: the Annapurna Circuit. I had already done some research on the trail and knew that there would be no shortage of picturesque landscapes to capture – and find some of the most amazing scenery we did.
I realized that pursuing my own dreams and facing my fears required a similar approach to climbing mountains.
My guide, Bikram, was an experienced mountaineer and an ardent outdoor enthusiast who knew the trail and it’s beauty well. Through him I was able to experience the Annapurna Circuit in a way that many travellers do not. Not only did he know about which scenic trails to take, he also shared a great deal about the rich culture and history of the areas we hiked through. From the lush forests of the Himalayan foothills to the barren deserts and glacial landscapes near the summits, I was taken through an incredible journey of the Annapurna Mountains. I couldn’t have asked for a more astounding array of beautiful landscapes to photograph and ignite my creative energy.
DESPITE BEING INCREDIBLY INSPIRED DURING THE JOURNEY, I BECAME INCREASINGLY ANXIOUS AS OUR TRIP NEARED ITS END.
I couldn’t understand why I was feeling so apprehensive even though, by all accounts, the trip had turned out a success.
What I soon realized after the trek had ended was that while I was attempting to pursue my passion of landscape photography, I was also trying to escape personal issues in my own life. Paradoxically, the fears of not being able to find a job, not being able to pursue what I was passionate about, and not being able to support myself had also lent to my decision to go to Nepal in the first place. I had attempted to escape these worries by removing myself from my everyday routines, but the loop around the Annapurna Mountains had done nothing more than place me right back where I started, with the same hopes and fears.
The high I had experienced by traveling through the incredible mountain landscapes soon gave way to an all time low. What little money I had when I had started the trip was gone. Not only that, the photography career I had wanted to jump start through my photographs of the Himalaya’s seemed as far away as the summits of the tallest mountains in the world.
That’s when the voice of my guide came back to me: “Just mountain-pace it.”
During the most physically challenging part of the trek my guide had given me the most important advice of my life. I realized that pursuing my own dreams and facing my fears required a similar approach to climbing mountains. Trying to change my life through one trip, I realized, was the equivalent of trying to race to the top of a mountain. I was guaranteed to fail unless I slowed down and made each step deliberate.
I am still in the same place I was before I went to Nepal. I don’t have a stable job and I cannot support myself through photography. The big difference now, though, is that I’m okay with that. I no longer obsess about the end result and instead focus on the process of working towards my dreams. I work on my photography everyday and make sure that I’m progressing forward, even if it’s painfully slow.
For now, I just focus on putting one foot in front of the other so that I can keep moving.