NatGeo: Explorer Moment of the Week

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“We Never Meant to Walk This High”

“I awoke at first light feeling the sun on my face and sleeping bag. There was something out of place— a sound like a vacuum cleaner— that drowned the typical wild melody of birds. I spot a pesticide tractor weaving a cloud of grey mist in the rows of grape vines, its mechanical whine echoing over the valley. I hate the sound and its control and dominance over a landscape I had come to see as free and wild. The group of hikers I joined agree that it is time to leave the valley. We walk through apple orchards with the trees transplanted in lines, their bodies restrained against posts and guide wire, their limbs trimmed, their buds sterile.

oil masked as vine
constrict, choke, and cleave the wild,
how sweet is our loss?

We leave the farm roads, dig our boots into the soil and quickly find ourselves walking through the bush again. Our erratic, spontaneous path takes us higher and higher until we are back walking the spine of the ridge line. We never meant to walk this high. The noise of the pesticide tractors is lost in the wind and the ground underfoot is now free from manicured perfection. Up here we find the scent of the clouds and the untamed inside us.”

**View on National Geographic’s Website

Embracing Vulnerability

jay simpson rim of africa

I remember the exact moment when I decided to break one of my few personal ‘rules’ on the Rim of Africa. My rule was to never walk into cloud cover on a mountain, alone. I knew it was not safe to walk without being able to reliably navigate (I did not carry a GPS while walking), but I felt I had no other choice. It was past 5pm and I was tired and wanted to set up camp, but I was on an exposed part of a mountain side and the wind would blow away any attempt at setting up my tent.

wind-and-cloud

That evening I walked into the cloud, and remembering that the wind was coming pretty much directly from the East (where I was headed), I just kept walking with my head down directly into the wind.

It was terrifying in a way because I had no guarantees. I had no idea what was ahead of me, if I was still heading in the right direction, or if I would be able to find a more suitable place to sleep for the night.

It was totally freeing in a way because I let go of doubt and worry. There was no other option and no possibility of having any control over what was happening. I surrendered to the wind, cloud, mountain and my journey.

It was magical in a way because I could feel the life in my viens racing to remain alert, to be listening and present in every sense of my body and mind.

And as this all happened, I found forgiveness in the cloud and wind. I didn’t realize it, but after years of carrying guilt, shame, and regret, I forgave myself for my mistakes and flaws. I found a deep respect, love, and a belief in myself that I never knew I had lost.

In the end it all worked out. I walked until it was too dark to see, stumbling into an rocky and thickly vegetated Afromontane forest. As I set down my pack the sun set with golden light piercing the clouds —from below. It was a surreal experience and my exhaustion made it all the more illusory.

This was just another moment, test, practice round of embracing vulnerability. The end of my 2012 brought many of these trials for some reason, teaching me a lesson I was not expecting to learn. Through listening to myself, my body, and trusting my journey I believe I passed the test. But the tests haven’t stopped, now instead of physical feats of climbing mountains I face important life decisions and emotional quandaries. It would be easier if these tests stopped, but I don’t think that would make my life what it is, what I strive for it to be, or remain true to the past I’ve created.

Weekend on the Rim of Africa

The Western Cape of South Africa is home to some very impressive mountains that stand as rocky monuments above the cape vineyards and farms. Connecting the Cederberg Mountains in the north to the Outeniqua Mountains in the south-east, the Rim of Africa trail has been born to lead hikers into this unfrequented mountain wilderness. Last weekend I followed the trail’s creators to witness part of the adventure of developing ‘a trail of no ordinary proportions’. Continue reading