With more than 11 000 m of elevation gain over 220 km, running the Annapurna Circuit reflected the journey of my recovery.

Something happened naturally in Nepal that seems to have had a way of putting me at ease more so than any stop on my travels thus far. However, planning for fastpacking the Annapurna Circuit I was inundated with angst.  How would I possibly maintain a pace on the climbs and up and over 5 000m with 10 kg pack?  What if that 10 kg pack was missing something essential? What if the forecast changed and everything in my fastpack turns into a soggy mess? How would the technicality of the trails gel with my limited depth perception? How would my body react to the elevation gain? How could I possibly carry enough safe food for 8-10 days? What if the Tea Houses are full? Would the accommodations play havoc with claustrophobia? What if my insomnia runs rampant and I have to share sleeping quarters?

Day one began leaving the comforts of Pokhara with my pack heavier than hoped though my smile brightened along with the sun as it rose above the Annapurna range. The anticipation of the mountains, though littered with shadows of anxious uncertainty, brought with it an exciting sense that growth was waiting to happen while I climbed towards Thorung La.

An early start with intentions to get a full day of  running in following the 3.5 hour roller coaster race to Besisahar could not outrun the intensity of the Himalayan sun. Despite its powerful 35 degrees rays, I felt strong, smiling with each stride. With the circuit weaving  through lush rice paddy tiered valleys, across raging rivers, in and out of villages, among buckwheat fields, around tea houses and temples, while crossing porters carrying towering loads with the support of only a simple strap on their head,  my 10kg fastpack, at times seemed weightless.

The Himalayas, through the rice paddies, over rivers and in the smiles of the Nepalese, found a way to shelf the bureaucracy that became of all things accident related which on many a day overwhelms and instills such anxiety. The simplicity of mountain life,  its air and vastness instills the power of perspective I have yet to find elsewhere.

With more than 11 000 meters cumulative elevation gain over 220 kilometers, the journey from sound to silence, from chaotic movement of my busy brain to unlimited space and time on the Annapurna Circuit was movement mediation that metaphorically resembled the journey of my recovery. I reflect on the last 8 days analogously with the trail my life has taken since September 2014.

There were rocky trails in Annapurna as there were days and months following my accident. I had trips and falls and scarring to go along with, though have got back up on my feet, growing from the experience and working to embrace those scars.

Himalayan climbs at times felt never ending, like the months in hospital when it felt like goal posts were being moved.  Waiting for the brain to stop bleeding, waiting for the swelling to reduce, waiting for the blood in my eye to clear, waiting for the eye to open, waiting for electrolytes to balance, waiting to gain yet another kilo, waiting to get another opinion; yet despite its steepness and, at times my impatience, I endured with new perspective.

The fastpacking adventure came with times of feeling lost and in doubt when trail markers seemed to disappear or the path withered away. Being spoken to in an unfamiliar language, in a foreign hospital with a serious head injury started a journey of doubt and uncertainty wanting, at times to turn back or simply have it all come to an end.

There were times of heightened anxiety throughout the week. Post Traumatic stress disorder has led me to struggle with anxiety including feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness. With my  vision loss, I have developed agoraphobia leaving me feeling claustrophobic and hence avoiding places or situations that might cause panic and make me feel trapped, helpless, self-conscious and insecure. I fear being in enclosed spaces, standing in lines, or being in public gatherings which can all be found in busy villages along circuit. The fear can be so overpowering that I generally feel unable to enjoy public places and doing so, along with starring and questions from curious strangers, often leads to turning inward and playing havoc with my tarnished self-esteem. Arriving to a full guest house at 4562m resulted in inconsolable panic. Though deep within I knew things would work out, the fog created in my head makes for such moments overwhelming. With heartfelt empathy, the manager made magic happen. His magic comes with thoughts of the support team and cheerleaders throughout my rehabilitation and recovery, doctors, therapists, nurses, support staff, friends and family who believed and encouraged when I had nothing left to give.

Winds of change brought in an unexpected storm like the unanticipated way a ball abruptly changed my life. However, like the storm that raced in near Tamang, it too past, the sun rose again and, having survived, I am better for it.

Embracing the concept of change being constant, I am mindful that the trail up any mountain will not stay the same forever. Some sections will be easy, others memorable for the challenge they present. The only thing left to do is grow; grow from the Annapurna experience. Grow from all that has come in the wake of the accident. Reaching deeply inward, I work towards staying grounded through life’s ever-changing landscape.

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