Sitting at Chimera, watching these always-burning fires, my hiking friend and trail angel Elena tells me a Russian fable.
Do I go left or right?
I don’t see any red and white trail marks to my right. Going right means going up another steep part. I have been climbing up steep parts for what seems like hours, but has translated to only a few measly kilometers.
Which way do I go this time?
Tbilisi. The sound of this word is a beacon for me. It’s an audio lighthouse blinking me to a safe haven where I can rest and recover, where I can feel normal for a little while.
The heat brings out the worst in me.
The sweat, the discomfort and the constant unquenchable thirst break my walking stamina, the little I have left at this point. My bad mood is made worse with sudden menopause-related hot flashes that make my head burn even hotter in the baking sun.
I quit this walk a hundred times a day. Really. Every single day.
I have conversations in my head all the time about how much I hate what we are doing, how I want my Barcelona life back, how I was happier then.
More often than I should, I count off all the reasons I want to stop, and all the things that make me tired.
“Look at the map. This dirt road may be a shortcut. We’ll avoid the main road and traffic, and maybe we’ll save a couple of kilometers.”
The sun is climbing over the horizon, the birds are up, and farmers on horses wave to us. The soft green rice paddies create the illusion of a morning hike out in nature, away from people and noise. We haven’t walked a trail like this for many months.
It sounded like a good option at 6 a.m.
We trudge forward. Hours drag on.
Each step brings us to another curve leading to a long stretch of alpine nothingness. It’s just us alone in the world, heads down and walking different paces alongside the Panj River that sometimes meanders a few meters below or rages through narrow gorges.
There’s comfort in solitude. There’s unity between the human spirit and the natural world. There’s also a simultaneous sense of bigness and smallness, being a speck in the shadow of mountainous greatness while having a heart large enough to notice the smallest rock sparkling in the sunshine.
It’s easy to get lost in these long stretches in between Pamir towns. The monotony invites a meditative calm, a peace that comes with moving at about three kilometers an hour. It often, too, stirs restlessness and a string of unconnected thoughts anxious for answers or impatience from feeling like we are going nowhere fast.
This a different kind of post from me. It’s a slightly edited email note I recently wrote to a group of friends in San Francisco asking about our walk. After re-reading it, I decided it could also work here. It’s very much what’s on my mind these days.
Finding a place to sleep has been one of our biggest daily challenges on this stretch of the walk. In our Daily Nest post, we highlight a few of the places we slept during the last eight weeks. This is one night’s surprise.
It’s about 3 p.m., time for us to start thinking about where we will sleep. In Burma, this is never an easy task for the kind of trip we’re doing. We cross our fingers, ask the universe to fix something up for us, and hope a dash of luck and a good amount of patience and preserverance lead us somewhere safe.
I roll over on the bamboo poles serving as tonight’s mattress. Tired, aching muscles clench both sides of my shoulder blades, and my hips don’t quite fit in the small spaces between the tied poles. I can only wish for more sleep, but it’s a wasted wish. It’s 3:50 a.m., a few minutes before our alarms go off.
I take a rushed and restless breath, and on the exhale, a single thought floods my brain and body. Thinking about it will consume many hours of many days, and eventually it will become one of my personal carry-on-warrior mantras: What would love do?