4 Days From Civilization

June 19, 2015

I breathed deeply as I slowly rotated, taking in the depth of the valley tucked into a bowl of mountains in the Himalayas. We were on day 4 of our trek to the Annapurna Base Camp, well past vehicles, and now past where donkeys or horses might trod, or bring provisions. I felt relaxed and energized at the same time. The panorama continued to evolve, revealing the frosted peaks even as we remained clothed comfortably in pants and tee shirts.

It was a sunny day, illuminating tiny white flowers of early spring. We had not had rain since the beginning of our trek and the twigs and dried grass crackled slightly in response to our steps – quick but measured. Our guide, quiet by nature, was in the lead, keeping a careful eye on how we were doing, wanting our pace to hold steady without tiring us too greatly.

I was unaccustomed to being completely unavailable to my family and I struggled to keep even. 4 days.

We were not hurried as he had planned our walks each day and knew where we needed to be at what time. Our porter had long since passed this spectacular vista, his youthful 24-year-old strength carrying him quickly even with the bulk of our belongings tied up with his.

I began to hear a faint musical tune which I didn’t recognize. It was distant and I could not see even a single dwelling from where we walked. The music did not get louder as we walked, and somewhere I sensed the repetition of a pattern in the tune. My phone! It was the cell phone our contact had given to me in Kathmandu in case we needed to get in touch with him. I realized I had barely glanced at it, assuming I would know how to make a call should the occasion arise. Someone was calling me. I raced to slide off my pack and retrieve it from the pouch at the top before the call reverted to voicemail. Got it!

“Hello?” I breathed.

A distant voice asked, “Is that Meg or Kate?”

4 days from civilization, I received an urgent phone call.

“It’s Meg!” I shouted, now worried about the call. Before he could respond, the signal cut out and I was abruptly left trying to figure out how to call him back. That was not difficult but the call cut out again and I gathered it was out of minutes. Shiiiit! He called me back and we repeated the same frustrating process, getting no further.

The splendor of being four days walk from the road evaporated, and we were at least a few hours until we came to our lodging which we were told may or may not have internet which may or may not be working.

There was nothing I could do, a feeling which left me queasy and unnerved. Breathing deeply once again I worked to calm myself; the issue would have to be resolved without me for now. I was unaccustomed to being completely unavailable to my family and I struggled to keep even.

I knew that if Kate, my 17 year old who was by herself studying meditation and Buddhism at a monastery in Kathmandu ran into an issue, she would do everything she could to resolve it on her own before turning to either Jwalant, our contact, or myself. I worked to keep my heart rate under control as we walked on. I was no longer noticing the stunning vista around me, preoccupied as I was with the possibilities.

A few minutes later the clear sound of a ringing phone pierced the air. It was our guide’s! Praying he had more air time than I did, we all paused and listened as he picked up the phone and after a moment handed it to me.

I worked to keep my heart rate under control as we walked on. I was no longer noticing the stunning vista around me, preoccupied as I was with the possibilities.  4 days.

“Meg? Jwalant. Don’t worry. Not a big problem. We just need a copy of the other side of Kate’s student ID for her visa to Bhutan.” I blew out my breath. This was a problem I could not be of great assistance with, but it was also no tragedy. I told him how to reach my husband and also Kate’s school, and promised to try to get back to him later in the day.

I was in fact able to secure a few minutes with a functioning computer that evening. It required a hike back down to the bottom of the hill from the lodge where we slept and ate, but it was worth the twenty minute jaunt in each direction, even after seven hours of trekking.

I thought the call might leave me on edge, but in fact the opposite was true. It renewed my confidence in my family and the resourcefulness of those around us to help deal with any situation. I could once more relax into the semi meditative state that our trek inspired. Long days to immerse ourselves in the beauty of the culture and the majesty of the mountains. I could happily take my place in my universe at once vast and unbounded, and yet immediate enough to connect with those close to me, no matter the time and space between us.

About Meg Stafford

Meg Stafford is an award-winning author, and columnist for several newspapers, online magazines and blog sites. She brings over 30 years experience as a clinical social worker and training for organizational consulting to inform and expand her perspective about relationships, travel and small remarkable moments. Learn more about Meg by visiting her website.

One thought on “4 Days From Civilization

  1. Rachel Sales
    June 22, 2015

    Harrowing story. I felt the tension in your writing. Bravo!

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