I'm not much of a hiker. I complain about my feet hurting and my shoulders hurting and my backpack being too heavy. I walk slowly and take lots of snack breaks. I get overwhelmed and angry when Preston tells me we still have 3 hours to go before the next stop. Sometimes I cry about it.
You'd never describe me as hardcore if you met me. You might say I'm stubborn and full of grandiose ideas--you might realize quickly the dangerous combination that that's created in me--but never hardcore. Probably not even "outdoorsy."
I'd only heard of the Annapurna Circuit once before I knew I was going to hike it. I didn't know when, but I knew that I would, and only a year later, I did. We hiked from Besisahar to Tatopani in 15 days before we hopped on a bus back to Pokhara. It was the hardest thing I've ever done and likely will always remain one of the most important. My first long-distance multi-day hike. It was both beautiful and humbling to carry everything I needed on my back and to use only my two feet to get me there. One foot in the front of the other. Baby steps, literally.
We hiked the Circuit both without a guide and without a porter to carry our bags. We weren't part of a tour group; it was just the two us following maps and hand-written trail signs, and sometimes I forget how big an accomplishment that is, especially for two people that had little hiking experience prior. I've included excerpts of the journal I kept on trail below and I hope they are able to convey the un-edited reality of what hiking for 15 days up to 18,000 feet feels like. It wasn't all pretty and it was very rarely "fun," but reading back through my journal, I find it poignant that I seemed to have found every single day on trail unbearably difficult and yet, I still look back on it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
In the least romantic way possible, those 15 days beat me down, reminded me I know nothing of the world and barely anything of myself, and then filled me up so full I was overflowing with humility, gratitude, and awe when we finally got on the bus back to Kathmandu.
DAY ONE: BESISAHAR TO BHULBHULE (3 HRS.)
Everything hurts. I feel completely out of shape. My backpack is too heavy and doesn't have enough support. By the time we made it to Bhulbhule, I didn't think I could walk another step. And this is supposed to be our EASIEST DAY!
DAY TWO: BHULBHULE TO GHERMU (6 HRS.)
Lonely Planet described the teahouse we slept in last night as "rickety and dingy" but we didn't know that because we don't have a Lonely Planet book (some other trekkers kindly informed us.) The description was fitting. The walls were covered with massive spiders. We were both paranoid to close our eyes, screaming every time we saw one, and cracking up at ourselves for being such babies. Eventually we tied ourselves tightly into our sleeping bags so only our noses stuck out and fell asleep.
Today we walked through villages and farms, huge hills of rice paddies, all the while following a massive, flowing river. We saw waterfalls and dams and had a nice long 3 hr. lunch break with a group of Canadians we keep running into. I tightened all my backpack straps and broke out the walking poles. Life savers. We made it to Ghermu around 5pm. My right shoulder is dead. I'm exhausted. Tomorrow we walk again.
DAY THREE: GHERMU TO TAL (9.5 HRS.)
We left Ghermu in high spirits and only about 15 minutes in, a sign appeared with 2 arrows. The left arrow said "LOWER WAY TO JAGOT (2-3 HOURS)" and the right arrow said "UPPER WAY TO JAGOT (5-6 HOURS) NO ROAD!!!" Although the Upper Way was double the time, we were swayed by the "NO ROAD!!!!"
Everything we read told us the scenery would be much better on the first section of the trek if we tried to avoid the road as much as possible. So at first we were quite pleased with ourselves. We kept saying, "this is so worth it" and "why doesn't everyone go this way? It's way prettier than following the dusty old road behind loads of trucks" and "wow all those suckers following the road are missing out." Pride before the fall.
About 3 hours in, after a million flights of tiny stone steps led us straight up the side of a mountain, we were like, what the hell have we done? We made it to Jagot in 6 hours (which would have only taken us 2 hours had we gone the other way) and still had a 4 hr. journey to Tal, the place we hoped to sleep. We stopped for lunch in Jagot. It was only 1pm and we knew, though we were tired, we could realistically still get to Tal before it got dark. We set out and suddenly the clouds got really dark. We pulled out our rain jackets and covered our bags with their waterproof shells and decided to keep going. By this point everything hurt. Feet, shoulders, back, legs. The next 3 hours to Tal were unbearably painful. It was pouring with rain and every time I stepped on even the smallest rock, the bottom of my feet would sear. Finally, we crossed the bridge that led to Tal and my eyes filled with tears. We chose the first teahouse we came across, used baby wipes to "shower" and changed our clothes. It’s only 7pm and I can't wait to get in my sleeping bag.