Let me preface this with a note: To everyone who has ever suffered from an injury- I don’t care how small- and has or is working through it, this one's for you. This blog is also for Deo Tibba Base Camp Trek, which showed me my own strength again. As a true Texan would say, hang in there y’all.
I write this blog to all of you on July 27, 2018.
On July 27, 2017, one year ago on this day, I laid down, terrified (although I tried my best not to show it), on a hospital gurney for shoulder surgery and slowly counted down from ten into oblivion as Valium was pumped into my bloodstream. It struck with such immediacy- anaesthetising me to the world, to pain, to anxiety and to what had happened three weeks prior.
In a moment of human error, I had forgotten to re-attach my front bicycle brake wire before embarking on a steep mountainside descent, leaving me to uncontrollably accelerate, launch head-first off my bicycle and land in a ditch, unconscious for an hour with a broken shoulder and bleeding in my stomach.
Sounds fun, right?
Now, after doing nothing but my favorite thing, climbing mountains, skiing and adventuring, nonstop for months, I suddenly found myself unable to walk to the bathroom without the help of others, being put to sleep for shoulder surgery. I was weak.
I woke up in the sling that I would become very familiar with over the next several months.
I worried that I would never be able to do my favorite things again. Last week I was scaling peaks, and now I’m stuck. I was bored, I felt fragile.
I know this sounds incredibly dumb, but sometimes I would just look at my bandage-covered, sling-bound shoulder in disbelief and wonder where the heck mine went.
Then I decided it was time to stop acting like a lump. This, I realized, was not a time of defeat, it was a time of healing, rest and renewal. I was determined to live by the principle that a broken shoulder in no way meant I had to have a broken spirit.
As university lectures entered full-swing in the fall, I woke up at 5:00am several times a week and dragged myself to my physical therapy sessions which oftentimes left me exhausted and sore. I welcomed it. I knew it was all pushing me back to where I wanted to be- the mountains.
Fast-forward several months, lots of physical therapy and endless support from friends and family later (shoutout to everyone who tied my shoes and opened ketchup bottles for me), and suddenly here I stood post-graduation, back working full-time for Bikat Adventures.
First content assignment? Deo Tibba Base Camp.
I stood at the trailhead, looked up at the incline, looked down at my 20kg backpack (who I have lovingly named Florence) with camera equipment in it that I was about to throw onto my newly-reconstructed shoulder.
Here goes nothing.
I swung Florence onto my back, wrapped myself with buckles and hiked.
And hiked and hiked and hiked.
As we reached our first night’s camp of Chikka, it felt like my whole world had burst into life once more. The backpack wasn’t too heavy, it didn’t hurt to trek, I could use my body without fear.
I was back, and man, did it feel good.
The sites we spent our nights in were stunning and full of history. We spent our first night in Chikka 40 feet away from a supposedly 5,000 year-old rock from which an ancient king cobra allegedly slithered out of to worship Lord Shiva.
Priyank, one of the participants, mentions that this is his first trek ever.
I’m in disbelief. I know there has to, by the laws of the universe, be a first time for everything, but it’s hard to imagine life before trekking honestly.
“Are you hooked?” I ask him.
He looks at me slyly and says, “We’ll see.”
The valley you follow for Deo Tibba Base Camp is incredibly lush and chock-full of greenery, rare herbs, radiant flowers and a gushing river that accompanies you constantly.
In the early-afternoon sun, we reached Seri, our second campsite and a truly mesmerizing location to lay your head for the night. After a feast of maggi and chai, we spent a good hour getting an ab workout from laughing so hard. They were trying to teach me how to dance like a Punjabi, and I was playing George Strait songs, teaching those brave enough to volunteer how to do a good ‘ole fashioned Texas Two-Step.
Of course our urge to explore eventually got the better of us. A waterfall pounding the rocks below it could be seen off in the distance, so naturally we had to go and inspect.
Sprinting across the remarkably flat wetland that curves into the cliffs above, we hit the waterfall base and began to climb.
Pushing ourselves up with our thighs as we pulled with our arms, I again found myself looking at my shoulder in disbelief as I had a year ago, but this time at the fact that the muscles and tendons and bones were doing exactly what they are supposed to do.
In pure bliss, we let the spray of this mighty waterfall we had come to meet mist our grinning faces.
From Tainta, our third camp, we set off the following day for a day hike up to Mini Chandratal. Reaching this prayer flag-adorned bowl of mountains with energy to spare, Lalit, Chetram, Priyak, Aruna and I were feeling adventurous. Time to climb to what was rumored to be an even bigger lake about 500 meters above us. We begin to climb.
The way is not commonly taken, as people generally stop at the prayer flag point, but we were on a mission, and this massive rocky ascent was not about to stand in our way.
Slowly, meticulously, we climbed. I felt the tug of my backpack against my shoulders as I hoisted myself up boulder by boulder, and I felt my body hold firm and strong against it.
My grin became inconcealable, and we propelled ourselves upward, all yelling shouts of encouragement, warnings for certain unstable rocks and general sounds of fatigue mixed with excitement.
After 45 minutes had passed, we victoriously crested the ridge and erupted into unintelligible celebrations. Priyank dropped to the ground for a well-deserved snow angel, with a smile as big as Texas.
Then something happened that made my day just that much better. He looks right at me, and you know what he says?
I’m over the moon. I watch as everyone plays around the frozen lake before me and think about what this trek is doing for so many people. I think about how its beauty and sunlight encouraged us to be goofy, share cultures and dance styles and stories with tentmates late at night. I think about how, after 365 days, Deo Tibba was welcoming me back to this place that I feel home, showing me that I am healed and strong and ready to do the things I love. I think about how it’s welcoming Priyank in a totally different way, introducing him for the first time to this new world that he is quickly falling in love with.
And it’s no surprise, I think, as I look around at this breathtaking, confidence-restoring sight.
No wonder we’re all “hooked.”