I honestly had no idea what I was getting into when I decided to sign up for a trip to the Everest Base Camp. This had been a goal of mine for half my life. There was the elusiveness and beauty of the Himalayas that I couldn’t deny. I had trained, bought non-refundable tickets and obsessed over the packing. It was my time to go.
I wasn’t exactly sure what trekking in the Himalayas at such altitude was like. I was excited to have my first experience in high altitude and to be around the tallest mountains in the world. I was finally going to see first hand the mountains I spent so much of my life staring at in books and magazines. It seemed surreal that it was finally happening. There was nothing that could have prepared me for the richness of the experience.
As our flight took off through Himalayan mountain passes on our way to Lukla, the “gateway to Everest”, I was first gripped by the reality of the situation I got myself into. Our guide told us we would be trekking much higher than the plane was flying. I quickly realized that modest mountains of the northeast were no comparison to the Himalayas. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but this certainly wasn’t it. I quickly wanted the plane to turn back around to Kathmandu, but this wasn’t an option. I was committed.
After our stop at a tea house to check over gear, we were on our way. The trail led through small local villages and small fields where families worked. Quickly the trail started to lead upward, passing over rushing water of the river below, way below. Only slabs of wood, wire and rope, and of course, prayer flags kept us from peril. Looking up, the green, lush landscape slowly turned to coarse rock, snow and ice. Each stopping point gave us a greater view of how low we actually were and how much higher we had to go. The height we still had to climb, coupled with the lack of oxygen made base camp just seem like an improbable destination. Our group joked that there is no such thing as ‘down hill’ in Nepal. I’m sure this is true!
As the air became thinner, our walking (and talking of course!) became slower. Our pace slowed to what seemed a crawl. I had no idea I could actually walk this slow. On one of our many rest breaks, our guide had pointed upwards to where we were going to stop for lunch that day. It was about three hill traverses upward. The distance seemed like it would take us all day at best.
The doubt of my abilities started to creep in. I had no idea how it would be plausible to do this length of distance, upward and in altitude by lunch. Our guide assured us that this wouldn’t be a problem and we would easily get there in time for our daal and tea. So on we went. One step, then another and then a few more, and then stop to catch our breath. The slow, rhythmic pace continued on for most of the morning. Then there were no more hill traverses, only the rhythm of our steps to our breath.
Out of nowhere, tucked away on the mountain side, emerged a tea house and a small village. Our cups flowed with Darjeeling tea and our legs got a rest. Sitting, basking in the sun at its height, it was incomprehensible to me that we were able to trek the distance we did, while going so slow. I felt that I accomplished something huge that day, but the biggest lesson I learned was about how slowing down actual help us to move ahead quicker. Imagine if I hiked faster than my ability, I’d probably be hunched over a rock someplace lower down trying to catch my breath and feeling too exhausted to make it to the tea house.
Living in a world of rush, I couldn’t understand how slow actually got you somewhere. In our western world, fast equates to being first, getting somewhere, or doing something for optimal results. Going slow on the other hand usually equates to not getting anywhere or getting anything done. It made me reexamine what slow really means.
I could certainly think of more than a few times that I was late, and with my rushing, only slowed me down because I made mistakes or forgot something. There were times when I went too fast or did too much, only to burn myself out and feel frazzled at the end.
As someone that loves Buddhist philosophy and ways of living, I read and studied importance of mindfulness and focusing on the present. I remembered watching a documentary about Thich Nhat Hanh demonstrating the effectiveness of walking meditation and how to do this in our everyday life, not just as a meditation practice. He demonstrated this walking to different destinations in a city and showed how it is possible to be mindful and present even in a city getting from point A to B. I remember thinking how incredible this was and how it would be amazing to be able to apply this to my life. I never fully grasp this concept and ability to be so fully present in each step until this day. I I like to call it slowing down to speed up.
By slowing down our speed in our mind or physically, we are able to speeding up productivity, creativity, but also or amplifying enjoyment out of our experiences in life. It’s about knowing how to not just get through those busy days but in a way that you know you handle.
In the end, the trip was not about the destination at all. It was about my experience, a trail, and a lesson I needed to learn. The base camp came as an exciting experience, but the true experience was the one I had on the trail.
Kristin Bornstein is an adventurer at heart. She is a coach for women that have fallen away from their adventurous selves and want to reclaim this part of them. Kristin helps women create an adventurous life by reclaiming their strength and courage. Every woman is more capable than they realize. Kristin loves sunny mornings on the trail, running and surfing. Kristin is at the helm of The Brazen Adventuress, a place that helps women reclaim themselves through the outdoors. You can come adventure with Kristin here: Facebook or Instagram.