one step at a time

i want to go back to a time when i didn’t know about the jordan trail. a time when i wasn’t blistered, bruised, broken and beaten. a time when a toilet wasn’t a luxury, a time when water was readily available, a time when my toenails weren’t threatening to fall off.

but it’s too late. there is no hope for us. we have already begun. we’re seven days in. we have started the longest hike of our lives, carrying the most gear we’ve ever carried, walking in the hottest weather we’ve ever encountered, sleeping outside with snakes and scorpions, and hiking on an unmarked, nonexistent trail.

we started at the syrian border, and we will stop once we reach the red sea. we’re hiking forty days in the arabian desert.

there is a sixty mile section without any food or water sources, so we have to call some guy named habu to bring it to us.

i cannot count the number of times we have said to each other ‘this is not a good sign.’ like when we arrived in amman and walked for fifteen minutes without any bags and complained of being hot. like when the man at the outdoors store saw our gear and laughed. laughed, and looked very afraid for us. like when we both ran to the toilet after our first meal of jordanian food. like when we got lost immediately after starting the trail.

we’ve made a huge mistake.

when we tell locals what we are doing, they either look shocked, confused, horrified, concerned or amused. amused is my favorite – silly foreigners, what fools! they won’t last a day! regardless of the reaction, they all want to know one thing: would you like some chai?

and also: why.

we want to know why as well. we can’t figure it out. maybe because we feel we need to do something spontaneous, unplanned, and risky, for once in our lives (our host rajai tells us we’re boring because we like to go to sleep before ten). maybe because of lawrence of arabia (which i haven’t seen). maybe because it sounds cool and impressive (this is the real reason).

but i think it’s because of the past four months. everything we’ve done and everything we’ve loved and hated and everything we still crave – it has led us to this walk. (seriously, the other reason is the real one).

we know now that travel days – the days when you go from point a to point b with all of your stuff on your back and you’re sweaty and hungry and worried and wondering why you do this – these are the most challenging days. they are soul-crushing experiences that destroy even the strongest relationships (but not ours because we stay a safe distance from each other). so naturally we have to subject ourselves to forty days of them. it is the ultimate challenge.

we know now that the people we meet influence us more than anything – from the evil lady who so obviously cut us in line at the hermitage museum, to our georgian host nona who waited up until four in the morning to make sure we arrived safely from the airport. the family on the train who invited us into their compartment for lunch after i asked to take a photo of them, and how we were able to understand each other’s jokes for over an hour, without knowing a word of each other’s language. this is the stuff – the good and the bad – that changes me.

we know now that the lasting moments are the hardest ones – the moments we try so hard to avoid but somehow manage to find us. like when we broke the washing machine at our guesthouse, the item that is their livelihood. i can’t ever forget the tears in our host’s eyes, the ones that showed me how one broken piece of plastic could set back a family for months. we dedicated an entire day to that tough moment: seeking interpreters, calling electronics stores in the nearest city (three hours away), asking locals for repair options, researching replacement parts from the manufacturer in europe.

the past seven days have been a continual stream of the hardest moments. the shutter button on my camera – the most important button in my world – broke on day two. we somehow get off track and lose the trail at least once a day. the only relief i get is the split second when one foot is off the ground. seeing a tree in the distance is the most exciting thing in my life right now.

i am not great at living in the present – i am always worried about the future, about losing family and friends, about what i will do with my life and who i will become and what kind of mark i will leave on the world, if any. but this trail gives me no choice. as much as i try, i have trouble focusing on anything other than the aches in my back or the blisters on my feet or the scalding sun on my skin or the massive climb ahead. i can’t worry about much other than where i am going to get water and food and sleep. and toilet paper. the challenge is so difficult that i can’t even distract myself with a bit of self-indulgent future-freak-outs. it’s disappointing because i really love those.

with my return to new zealand just a few months away, the future is a dark dark threatening cloud. what if i don’t find a job? what if i don’t make friends? what if i find some proof that i’m not good enough? these questions are always there, and i don’t know if they will ever go away. but for now, none of this matters. i just really need some shade.

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