I have had it easy. From being born in an upper-class family that has provided me with more than I have asked for, to never having experienced the pain of an irreplaceable loss, life has been a flow as smooth as waters of a river for me. But here’s the catch: for as long as the river flows without hindrances, it is effortless. Then emerge the uneven lands, the unwavering rocks and the unforgiving rapids- a metaphor for the quest for survival. The wilderness for me was that quest, an opportunity to survive the easy rivers so I could brave my way to the menacing ocean.
In college, far away from my family, I came to the realization that my privilege was beginning to sound a lot more like a sense of entitlement. Sure I was grateful, but because I was so used to getting it easy, that is how I expected everything to come to me — Easy. I had yet to realize that the real world, outside the bounds of my shelter, is in fact far from easy.
To lose this false sense of security is what it took to grasp that I am actually on my own, just as much as anybody, and maybe even less equipped than them, who have had to earn every bit of what they have. I realized that sometimes hardships are necessary — more than it. They should be embraced than disgraced.
But how’d I know that? Last year, my life took an interesting turn. I traveled to Nepal, my twelfth country, and hiked a section of the Annapurna Circuit. For having spent 18 years of my life in a concrete jungle and the other two at a prestigious university, this was my first time without internet connectivity days in a row and the first time I was fully immersed in nature.
If you know anything about wilderness, you’d know that it is nature naked as it could be, greater than us in any form, with an upper-hand in every way. Nature can embrace us or crumble us, and we are too little to be able to control that. In a spoon-fed life, to get submerged in nature was unlike my personality. But my curiosity was pure and affinity utterly mysterious and hence birthed the purposeful addiction.
Months later, my best friend Jessica Wirtanen in the US, who has experienced all but a sheltered life of privileges and whose passion is to wander in kind, hiked a section of the Appalachian Trail with me. Through my enduring experiences in the mountains in her company, nature embraced me and yet managed to teach me how little and non-impactful I am. There were times I so vividly remember, that I stumbled with a heavy backpack being dehydrated for miles in a row, or those where I had a light head and a blurred vision with certainty that I wouldn’t survive to the next campground.
To have made it out to the other side of fear and vulnerability of the non-shelter was an empowering experience. The lesson I learned having braved the wilderness was the rewarding realization that there is greater strength in having survived such tough situations. In other words, there could be gain without pain, but it isn’t half as rewarding. In pushing myself beyond my own limits, I in a sense expanded my limits altogether. Accompanying this "earned" strength came an optimism brimming with substance, a subconscious trust in the nature, and the knowing that I will survive anything upon persisting.