We talk for about two minutes and from what little he gathers from our exchange – I am twenty-three, I have just finished a Master’s in Business Administration – he says Wow, it sounds like you have it all figured out. And I get why, because the soundbite or the elevator pitch or whatever it is makes it sound good, but it is so far off base I just shrug and smile akwardly and kind of flee. But it sticks with me, the way he said it, quietly impressed almost, and I think I am lost, but perhaps not as lost as I am afraid I am.
So are you travelling alone, she asks as we make our sweaty way back down the trail head, her music still playing softly out of her phone. Yes, I tell her, and I answer her questions about cities and hostels and hiking and safety. What about you, I ask afterwards, do you travel ? She smiles and shakes her head, says No, no. I am not as brave and adventurous as you, and it honest to god startles a laugh out of me. That is my line, I tell her. That is what I tell my friends; like when my friend J. told me about her trip to Jordan and how they couchsurfed in men’s homes and hitched rides in the middle of the desert and were invited at the last minute to a stranger’s wedding. She is the brave one. I am the one that plays it safe, the scaredy cat, the one that sticks to acceptable spots and books female-only dorm rooms. But I see myself through her eyes, and it hits me that I have been travelling alone for the better part of a a month and that I have just hiked a mountain all on my lonesome before I met her and yeah, maybe that is kind of brave.
It is the kind of hike that takes seven hours and is labelled as hard on the All Trails app; the kind that is just on the side of dangerous and confusing enough that you shouldn’t do it alone, especially if you do not know your way around the jungle pathways, so I contact a guide. Do you have a lot of experience hiking ? He asks. Are you fit ? Are you afraid of heights ? It feels like I am lying through my teeth when I tell him I hike some, because I only started sporadically hiking in the past month, and Yeah, I’m fit, because I’ve been banned from any form of physical activity until the old knee is healed, and yeah, I walk a lot but it’s been over a year since I’ve done any other sport. I keep my fingers crossed that I won’t hold them back too much. A few hours into it, though, one of them comes up to me and says, given that you’re the most experienced hiker between all five of us, how do you suggest we handle this ridge ?
I’m a mess, is the thing. But also, I am not. But also, I am doing good. Better than I think I am. It is OK. It is all going to be OK.