Published on September 1st, 2012 | by Sky Barsch0
The Great Big, Very Small World | From Vermont Sports, September 2012
In this issue, some of our regular contributors and I write about active travel ideas. I hesitated about this story idea initially because it’s not about Vermont or Northern New England, per se. But I know our readers like to travel (you told us so in our annual reader survey), and travel is something I strongly believe in. Nothing can put your life in perspective like seeing poverty in a third-world country; struggling with a language barrier is a frustrating and humbling experience, giving us a better appreciation for foreigners in the United States who aren’t fluent in English; and seemingly mundane aspects of our way of life can be highlighted and juxtaposed when we encounter a culture that does things very differently.
Travel makes you examine yourself, your ideas, and your way of doing things, for better and for worse. Our differences, and our connectedness, are startling.
Last year, I had the incredibly fortunate opportunity to hike the Annapruna Base Camp Trek in the Nepali Himalayas. The trek, and time for exploring India on either end of my time in Nepal, meant I’d be away from home for about a month. I was excited, but I kept getting butterflies in my stomach when the reality of being away for that long hit me. A whole month away from home, and there was the added element of being away from phones, cars, Internet, and other modern technology while we were on the trail.
On the trek, I had a few moments where I really wanted to reach out and e-mail someone, to hear what was going on in Vermont (Tropical Storm Irene had recently hit, and I was anxious to hear how recovery was going), or to let my family know that I was still alive. My tales of avalanches, steep cliffs, and sketchy bridges hadn’t done much to make my loved ones excited about this journey. I kept wanting to let them know that I was OK. It was a learning experience for me to realize just how addicted I am to communication.
Somewhere on probably the fourth or fifth day, I had finally gotten into the groove where I wasn’t reaching to check my phone for calls or e-mail, and I was at peace with the idea that my friends and family back home would just have to trust that I was having the time of my life. Either that or I was just so exhausted I didn’t remember what a smartphone was. Sometimes when I’d lay down at night, I’d get a bit anxious, realizing that even if I wanted to go home, I couldn’t. There was no quick way out of where we were. I had to breathe and just “be here now.”
On day nine, we approached Annapurna Base Camp. The trail opened up into a vast valley, the peaks that had been so far up on the horizon they could be mistaken for clouds were now so close you could see their character: craggy lines and sheets of snow and ice. Toward the afternoon, we knew we were close when we passed Machhapuchhre Base Camp (somewhat of a misnomer now because it is illegal to climb Machhapuchhre, as it is the Hindu god Shiva’s home). Soon after, there was a sign about keeping the area clean. As the sign came into focus, I saw a symbol on a sticker that caught my attention. It looked like … the logo from First Trax, the bike/ski shop in Montgomery (I had designed an ad for Don, the owner, that summer, so I was intimately familiar with that logo). No, I thought. Can’t be.
A few more steps and I could make out the text. Yup, First Trax. I couldn’t believe it. Here, in Asia, in the middle of the Himalayas, nine days walk from where cars can drive, and there’s a sticker from the gear shop where I had bought my skis six months before. I told a passing stranger about the find, and he didn’t seemed fazed. “It’s probably a chain, right?” Oh no, I said. This is a little store, up in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, right where I live.
The world seemed so small then. I was an 18-hour plane ride from home, yet someone who I may have chatted with in the gear shop had walked these very steps before me. I immediately felt less homesick and ramped up for the last push up to base camp.
I learned countless lessons on the trek through the Annapurna region (for instance, chai masala tea is a lifesaver, leeches seem less gross after the 10th or so bite, a dead crow on a pole works well as a scarecrow, the Nepali alphabet is pretty much impossible to learn within a week’s time, and don’t walk behind someone after they’ve eaten dal bhat). One of the biggest lessons I learned is that it’s OK to let go of the constant barrage of communication. Even without a smartphone or computer, if the message is important, it will get to you.