One of the craziest and most rewarding things I've ever done: The Annapurna Circuit!
For this blog post, I’m sharing my personal journal during my time in the mountains. In here you will find insight on the trek, my mind when I'm off grid, love, pictures along the way and some Ram Dass words that resonate with me. Written in green are the distances I hiked each day and the village names of where I slept.
Day 1, April 17th
(13 km, Ngadi)
The Annapurna Circuit has begun! I’ve been eager to visit the Himalayas and do this for over a year now. I’m borrowing a few things (trekking poles, hiking boots) from a friend and I bought a rain jacket and some water purifying tablets in Kathmandu last night. I'm not super prepared but part of my adventure includes the ‘here goes nothing’ mentality and it has worked for me so far. This trek is 211 kms. Normally takes 2-3 weeks. The permit office gave me the holy grail of diagram maps which shows me distance, elevation and trekking time between all the villages along the circuit. I imagine I’ll be using the words circuit, trek, hike, trail and pathway-of-bliss interchangeably as not to sound redundant as hell in this journal. Back to things I know: I’ll be staying in teahouses, mostly for free as long as I eat dinner and breakfast there too. I’m writing this from my first one in Ngadi. Nadeya (friend from USA) and I took a minibus from Kathmandu this morning and arrived in Besisahar (the starting point) by noon. She’s doing a different trek, but our routes shared the first few hours of trail. I’m waiting for my dinner of Dal Bhat, the Nepali equivalent of an Indian Thali. Picture a huge portion of rice, curry, lentil soup, chapati and something pickled that I rarely eat. The only thing you really need to know about Dal Bhat is: unlimited refills. The secret weapon for hiking stamina.
Day 2, April 18th
(16 km, Chamche)
Today was HARD and I haven't even started the true climbing. My body is aching and begging to be horizontal. The hiking boots I borrowed are 2 sizes too big, making them heavier than I expected. I’m exhausted but really happy with everything. I walked 16 kms which took about 7 hours with my water breaks and looking around. I found an amazing cliff to rest at while listening to music. The winds swoops through the mountain valley just the right way to hit you in the face if you’re on the rock I chose. One minute I’m loving it and the next I'm still loving it but I’m crying. With the wind, came this grateful to be alive feeling, followed by forgiveness, washed away by love and then completely forgotten about when some young Nepali guys pulled up on motorcycles and offered me a joint.
The universe can be playful.
Day 3, April 19th
(15 km, Danaqyu)
My day started one of the best ways ever. A shy, fluffy dog started following me out of town staying close when other dogs would bark at us. One of the barkers joined us too so we became a pack of 3. Then a couple new dogs chased my dogs away so I figured they were gone. 20 minutes later, I'm passing a local who asks me if I'm alone and right then, all 4 dogs come running to catch up and I said "Nope, they're with me" and kept walking. The dogs hiked with me for almost 2 hours. It was lovely. They all took turns leading or falling behind, but it was obvious I was the nucleus and nobody would turn a corner for me to be out of sight.
Day 4, April 20th
(25 km, Dhukur Phokari)
I opened my journal and as I wrote the date, everything tunnel visioned to you. I'm with you today (your tomorrow). [Full entry has been removed]. Hope all of your creations are bringing you craziness, peace and self love. The scenery here is changing from jungle to pine forest; the pinecones are the length of my forearm. I also see snow on some of the mountains.
Day 5, April 21st
(21 km, Manang)
Woke up with the sun and spent all morning listening to Gale Song by The Lumineers. I was going to post the lyrics, but they can't stand alone as well as I do. Listen to it sometime.
One of my most memorable phone calls came at 4 am on a night I'd been working. You and I were over but we hadn't let go all the way. Fear. A little drunk I said something like "you know what. Give me 10 reasons why you and I will work out if we’re meant to be together" and to this day I still wish I had the recording of your excited voice and your answer. It was perfect. I vaguely remember the reasons you came up with now, but I do remember you pulling from all parts of your brilliantly wired mind to list all 10 immediately. Each one leading perfectly into the next like you'd been prepped when you hadn't. I took turns laughing and crying. I wanted to bottle and cork this passion of ours and keep it forever.
Parts of us got lost those years. We went to dark places, I know. But the two of us that were on the phone that night were the young, crazy in love, souls that truly believed in us.
When I travel through Asia, I have to block that part of me out. The ~ in love ~ chick. At first, I'd see her across the street watching me, or getting in the taxi behind mine. She would keep her distance and I'd be thankful for that. One day, she just stopped showing up. Maybe she got tired of following me or she's waiting up ahead. Or maybe neither phone-call-you or her know where to find me now. But if those two ever meet again, I'd love to hear about it.
Day 6, April 22nd
(Rest day, Manang)
Ah! After a tough and beautiful day yesterday, I'm in Manang (3600 m elevation ~ 12,000 feet). My Annapurna crew has formed. I met Joël (Canada), Camilla (Denmark) Lee (England) and Dylan (USA) at the top of the Ghyaru monastery climb. It was challenging but music helped me. We are taking a rest day here to acclimatize. Now that we are above 3000 m, it is best to only sleep 500 m above where you slept the night before. I still haven’t seen a living yak yet - only as menu items. We tried the local wine last night and it tastes like vodka.
Day 7, April 23rd
(12 km, Yak City)
Awesome day. We all met for breakfast and then a few of us climbed to visit a Buddhist woman living above Manang. She stays there alone, blessing trekkers for a safe travel across the pass. We were also given a string necklace and tea. Later in the day, Lee and I walked a few hours to the next town called Yak Kharka where we will spend tonight and continue to acclimate to the elevation. We are at 4000 meters - I don’t feel it too much, hopefully I sleep well. I've been waking up a lot during the night to resume breathing. It's weird. The weather changed a bit as soon as we left Manang but my gear kept me warm and dry enough through the rain. Loads of horses and goats around lately.
Day 8, April 24th
(6 km, Thorang Phedi)
We’ve made it to base camp! Sleeping at 4540 m (~15000 feet) tonight and we’ll wake up super early to pack up, eat and hopefully make it up and over the Thorang La mountain pass. It will be an 8 hour mission. I’m still feeling okay with the altitude, thankfully. People around me are going through the symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMC). We’ve seen 4 helicopter evacuations. I told my friends if I’m struggling, just throw me over a horse and send me back down the mountain. With no insurance, a helicopter out of here is $6000. That's like 20 of my paintings.
Day 9, April 25th
(16 km, Mucktinath)
Physically, this was one of the hardest days of my life. I’m proud and so happy its over with. The rest of the hike should be mostly downhill from here. Lee and I ate breakfast this morning at 3:30 am and set off in the freezing cold to climb a mountain using only our headlights. The stars were incredible. Vivid milky way above us, I felt like we were hiking on the moon. The altitude definitely slows you down and makes you feel confused. Lee would try taking pictures of the sunrise and completely forget what he was doing mid shot. We’re frozen. We’re tired. There are multiple false summits, horses carrying people across, snicker candy bars in rotation and eventually you reach all the colorful prayer flags saying you’ve made it to the Thorang La pass of 5,416 m (~17,769 ft) !!
Day 10, April 26th
(19 km, Jomsom)
Slept in this morning, much needed after yesterday’s intensity. Lee and I hiked to Lubra, a small village halfway between Mucktinath and Jomsom. We listened to podcasts and music on our own, talking once in a while. I love hiking with someone but also being in my own groove. We part ways after lunch, but not before playing with a bunch of baby goats, horses and cows. I wanted to make it to Jomsom before the storm came and the sun left. Lee wanted to look for a dark retreat that was possibly offered in this village. A dark retreat is like a Vipassana meditation course on steroids. You spend two weeks alone in a dark room or cave. Meals and such are handled for you. There are several stages to the experience but supposedly your brain will release DMT by the end.
Day 11, April 27th
(23 km, Kalopani)
I’ve been reintroduced to hot showers now that I’m at lower elevations again. 3000 meters and above, you either get a bucket of boiling water to wash with or you skip out completely. Sometimes its just too cold. I had crazy dreams and woke up this morning in a funk. I ate breakfast with friends but plan to walk all day alone. I need it. Its nice to follow Annapurna red + white markers and prayer flags across different types of terrain and be quiet. I love being out here. Finding waterfalls to filter water from, the overlooks, the other hikers, the flood of new thoughts, new appreciation for life, not having a phone. I have a few more hours to walk until I reach the village I plan to sleep in tonight. My body is tired, but my mind needs more wearing out.
Day 12, April 28th
(Rest Day, Kalopani)
I’m taking a rest day and eating everything possible. My lodge has a flatscreen playing the Mad Max movie. Some village amenities will surprise you. I'm connected to wifi for the first time on the trek. I wanted to call my dad because he is officially moving to Asia June 1st !!! I’m so proud of him and excited for his journey around this hemisphere. We talked a couple hours, going over all the details. Bank accounts, phone service options, where to live, vaccinations and so on. These things feel so natural to me now, I forget how much I know that others probably wonder about. I feel its easiest to just dive in and figure it out. If you, the reader, have questions about life on the road, read my Q&A post here.
Day 13, April 29th
(20 kms, Tatopani)
I've decided to catch a local bus back to the city and skip the Poon Hill portion of the circuit. I've walked 183 of the 211 kms. There are barely any trekkers lately, most people take a jeep or flight shortly after the pass. I'm ready to create more art. I have a few friends to meet in Pokhara and then I'll head to Kathmandu to start my paintings.
It has been extremely refreshing to disconnect for a couple weeks and return to the roots of why I travel. I love the mysteriousness, the adventure, the unreachability. I love the intimacy in every moment when I'm not distracted by other people, technology or things out of my control.
In this day and age, traveling the world is wildly different than it used to be. Technology is revolutionizing the way we explore. Social media reveals to us the most "secret" beaches or popular things to do and this drives more and more people to these places. Which is fine, I'm not one to roll my eyes when a place is full of tourists. In fact, I'm adding to this by having a travel blog. I think its important to consider this though when you contemplate traveling now or later. These places are changing. Physical maps are rare, we have apps for that now. Wifi is almost everywhere. Off grid is becoming impossible.
I'm traveling the world but I didn't disappear like I envisioned myself doing so in the beginning. I believe I'll eventually do this, completely disconnect, but for now my life is perfect as a hybrid. I love inspiring others to explore and create as I go about my journey. My art and blog are growing thanks to social media and I'm grateful.
I'm a student of the universe. Always learning. I'm thankful for the new thought patterns and perspectives I'm walking out with from my hike and I encourage everyone to unplug and spend some time in nature when you can. Maybe you already do this and that's wonderful.
I'm leaving you with a few Ram Dass words that I love.
"When you go out into the woods, and you look at the trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You see it the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn't get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don't get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree. The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying 'You are too this, or I'm too this.' That judgement mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are." - Ram Dass
Thanks for reading,