Part III: The Lone Mountaineer
It’s kinda hard to have an unprepared sleepover on a mountain.
Especially when it gets down below 30°F.
As we finished making our meager grass bed and fire, Adrian popped open the whiskey while Philippe, Chris, and I prepared the-everyday-European salami, bread, and cheese. We toasted, drank, and finally laid down on Adrian’s blanket to watch the stars.
I had never seen that many stars in my life.
“Let’s talk deep, guys” Adrian says to our group. “What do you struggle with every day?”
We all quietly think over this. I immediately think of what happened this summer, right before I hopped onto a plane to Spain. A breakup. A death in the family. Losing my virginity. Heartbreak. Then travel. Glorious, glorious travel.
“I think I suffer from depression” Chris softly says.
Adrian’s eyes becomes somber. “I tried committing suicide before this study abroad trip,” he admitted. “I’ve been suffering from depression for years.”
“There’s times when I don’t know what’s the reason to wake up for. It’s not that I want to die. There’s just times when I don’t understand what’s the point of living.”
“That’s the thing. The biggest daredevils, the most extreme mountaineers, the ones who risk it all like us right now – we are the ones who simply do those things to experience what living is like. We’re trying to find the point in living.”
Chris and Adrian spoke faster and more passionately. I merely listened. After the long talk, we all looked over to Philippe.
“What do you think, Philippe?” we ask.
“Eh – you speak too fast I do not understand a word of what you guys say, no.”
We all begin to laugh.
“But… I think what you guys say is that you are not happy, naturally. I think there is no need for big adventures like this to chase happiness. Happiness is found in little simple things, and this should be understood.” We become silent for a bit. Despite being very comical, Philippe is… pretty philosophical himself.
“I agree,” I finally join in. “When my cousin passed away two months ago, I couldn’t understand why I still felt joy and sadness at the same time.”
“How did she die?”
“Pneumonia. She was 23.” I felt a bubbling anger inside. “What I realized was that it is possible to experience both happiness and sadness at the same time. People always search for happiness, but that’s only temporary. It’s gratitude you need. Gratitude is the only thing you can control.”
“… I think you just helped changed my life, Jay,” Chris says.
“Yes, yes, that is a good answer!” Philippe exclaims. “Gratitude helps you find happiness.”
Adrian keeps staring at the stars.
We all got around 4 hours of sleep. Sharing a blanket between four people was a challenging feat itself – not to mention the bitter cold slapping us awake. If it weren’t for Chris and Adrian tending to the fire throughout the night, we’d be in serious trouble.
“I put on an alarm for 8:00 am,” Chris scoffs. “Why the fuck did I think I needed an alarm?”
“Yes, yes, last night was impossible to sleep! I wanted to jump in the fire” Philippe laughs.
“Yeah, what’s the worst that could’ve happened?” Adrian says. “We could’ve just frozen to death.”
Again, this group astounded me. Last night, I had felt a cold coming up in my system. The poor boys had to endure me mildly coughing 3 inches from their faces. Amidst the chilly and windy night, I swore that I would wake up with a fever that’d prevent me from continuing this journey. Instead, I awoke completely fine. The runny nose, sore throat, and coughs suddenly disappeared.
For some odd reason, this wonder gave me courage. Of course, no one should just climb up a mountain unprepared and get stuck there for confidence. Nonetheless, my human body, when forcibly placed in a tricky situation like this, showed adaptability. And capability. I wouldn’t have discovered this if I were with family and friends. Well… normal friends. These guys were here for the discovery and pleasure for themselves. Not for each other. Not for me. And that realization slowly made me recognize that I was here for myself as well.
We climb back down to the hostel where we quickly set out our breakfast – apples, bread, peanut butter, tortillas, you name it. The only thing we forgot was butter.
And one thing you should never forget when traveling with a Frenchman is butter.
“Miss, hay mantequilla?” Philippe keeps asking in Spanish to the hostel lady.
“No, I do not have any butter. Go away.”
“But… I think you do have butter. Can I please have the butter?”
“NO. GO AWAY. I will chase you out if you keep asking.”
“Miss, I need butter. I know you have butter.”
We give up and start eating outside as Philippe continues his argument. Ten minutes later, a happy Philippe skips back with travel-size packets of butter. “Ah, I knew she had butter!” he grins. “She is not a very nice lady, no. We should leave soon, actually.”
We all sit in awe. “God damnit, Philippe” Adrian chuckles.
The ascent began. 7,966′ elevation – I didn’t understand the meaning of this until my knees began to scream at my poorly planned actions. No trekking poles, no daypack, no energy bars or sufficient amounts of water. To top it off, this was my first experience at mountain climbing (no training prepped in the making of this climb).
The mix of heavy breathing and granny steps accompanied my trail. I was dead last – Philippe, being a long-distance runner, and Adrian, being an avid mountaineer, were both physically capable of this climb. Chris was slower than the two, but still had more energy and strength than I. I began to feel weak, mentally. Guilty.
I’m holding them back.
“Don’t worry about it,” Adrian answers my thoughts as I look up, a mess. He stayed behind and was waiting for me to reach him. Aren’t they getting impatient of me? They have to make multiple stops just for me. Philippe looks like he’s just about to fly off the mountain.
“Everyone starts somewhere,” Adrian reassures me. “No worries.” Calm my anxieties. I am okay.
“How’d you get that tattoo?” I point to his arm in hopes to quiet my thoughts. Adrian runs his fingers along with the ink. A black forest.
“I slit my wrists,” he told me. “My friend found me and saved my life. I went to an asylum before going on this study abroad and later decided to start anew. So I tatted a symbol of what I love over my most depressive state.”
“Yup!” he says with a smile. I stand there, amazed. The physical pain I feel in climbing the hike disappears. How is he even here today? It’s strange to think that I could have never met this now friend of mine. Death was that close to him – and still is. You can see the sadness he fights with in his eyes.
“How do you do it?” I ask as my breathing heavies. “How do you combat it all?”
“You just do,” he replies. “Just keep going, despite the pain.”
I nod my head. We all have demons to fight within us. This trip is showing us just that.
We continue the climb, Adrian patiently waiting for me the whole time.
Jay: Pyrenees Mountains, 2018