Marinel, with Brown Gal Trekker is quickly becoming one of my role models in the outdoor world. Recently I interviewed her for the Hike Like A Woman Podcast and she is knowledgeable, experienced has a zen-like approach to life and outdoor adventure that I appreciate. I think you’re going to love this story of friendship, this is exactly why we’ve asked her to be a Hike Like A Woman Contributor. Thanks Marinel.
“To cement a new friendship, especially between foreigners or persons of a different social world, a spark with which both were secretly charged must fly from person to person, and cut across the accidents of place and time.”
– Cornelia Otis Skinner
It was in October of 2014. I was in one of the most remote regions in China. Hence, I didn’t expect to meet other English-speakers on this solo trek in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) of the country. To be exact, I was on my way to Yading Nature Reserve from Siguniangshan National Park when I met May. May was from north Thailand. May was easy to talk to from the start and her knowledge of English was impressive. She told me stories of her prior experiences on the mountain trails. She trekked to Nepal’s Everest Base Camp in the past. When we met, she was traveling in China alone for a few weeks, like me.
May and I were on a shuttle bus en route to another city in TAR. From there, I had to take a bus to Yading. May wanted to go to a town called, Soda, to witness the sky funeral – a Tibetan ritual worth experiencing first-hand. However, somehow, May decided to join me in my plan to trek in Yading. Yading is a lesser known path to trekkers outside of China. In Yading, you can do a 30 kilometer holy pilgrimage trek at above 4,000 meters, circling the holy peaks of Chenresig, which rises to 6032 meters, Chana Dorje and Jampelyang, which both rise to 5958 meters.
I was going to do it solo until May decided to join. What was supposed to be an overnight trek turned into a long one day hike of 30 kilometers since we weren’t able to find tents to rent or buy along the way. Despite her passion for hiking, May hadn’t been trekking since her trip to Everest Base Camp at least 5 years back while I had been trekking overseas and locally back home for 10 years at that point. The notion of placing someone I barely knew in harm’s way was the last thing on my mind. I was nervous about May joining me knowing that most likely we won’t see any other hiker on this isolated trail and exit points from the trail were unavailable. Also, we were hiking in the month of October and snow had already started coming down.
May proved me wrong. Despite the coldness, the wind, and the snow, she trudged up the two summits along the trail without a problem. It took us 11 hours to finish the trek as we braved the winds and the snow that we encountered along the way to the summits. I was proud of May and was ever so grateful that we completed the pilgrimage trek safely. The trek lived up to its reputation for being a sacred place for walking where one could easily reconnect with nature.
As May and I ventured out to the small town of Daocheng after Yading, we enjoyed an authentic Tibetan meal as our last meal together while talking about the trek we just completed, life, love and the future. We bonded as hikers. We became friends.
The next day, we parted ways. I left for Chengdu and she headed to Soda. Later on, May visited me in Chengdu, just before I had to start my overland train ride to Lhasa. Four months later, we reconnected again when I visited May in her home in Thailand. At that time, without high mountains nearby, we ventured for a beach trip to the island of Ko Chang. The reunion with May felt as if we never parted. We simply continued on with the journey called, life. We exchanged stories from since the time we last met.
When I saw her in Thailand, I particularly shared with May my recent heartbreak from a short-lived romantic relationship on the road that ended abruptly. Whereas being on the road without close friends at a time of break up can be difficult, May was there to provide comfort. At that point in time, I knew our friendship has deepened further and is meant to last for a lifetime. At the same time, I told her about my trekking stories including my own trek up Everest Base Camp in Nepal, my adventures in Tibet and volcano hikes in the Philippines, Taiwan, Korea, among a few other off the beaten path places.
As I shared the more joyous part of my journey with May, I noticed that life for her was completely different. She had not been able to hike as much since our trek in Yading. She also expressed some concerns about the difficulty of finding a suitable mate. I then realized at that moment that our friendship was not only based on the joy of the trekking we did together in China. It also arose from May’s pain coinciding with mine. Life’s trajectory for us varied since we last met and yet we were sharing the same exact experience of pain at that moment in time. As to our trekking, back in her hometown, hikers are rare. For May to share her disappointment as a lone hiker in such a remote place in northern Thailand with a person like me who can fully relate to her passion was not a mere coincidence. Fate brought us together partly for May to express to the outside world her longing for something she loved dearly, even if it meant only for a fleeting moment whereby she finally felt understood.
It was the last time I saw May. However, since my return to America in August of 2015, May and I continue to write each other and speak fondly of our Yading trek. The mountains and the peaceful experience of being in Yading never left us. I think about May and her passion for trekking, as well as, her lack of access to the mountains to pursue her dreams frequently. I fondly recall May’s manner of speaking when it comes to mountain trekking. Her eyes glowed with excitement as she recalled her experience in Nepal; but when reminded of her inability to travel or trek in her hometown and beyond, her excitement rapidly transformed into a joyless state of being. There were no mountains to hike nearby in her town and funds for traveling were limited. It is an image that continues to emerge in my mind more often than I anticipated since being back in America.
Because of what I experienced on this journey, I decided to work on a film project that will include photos and videos of female hikers from all around the world. The finished product will be distributed to various film festivals in the U.S. and beyond. As to May, I plan to hand her a copy of the film myself as a gift and a token of gratitude for our friendship. I figured if May can’t trek up mountains given her location and lack of funds, I’ll bring the mountains to her myself, even if only through a video.
The journey taught me friendships can develop from any corner of the world, even in places that are least likely of all, and that taking a risk together to dive into an unknown path can further cement the initial bond of friendship. A smile can start the process while trust in the flow of the experience and in your newfound friend can build the bridge to a lasting connection, even more so when two people bond through love and pain, and everything else in between.
To learn more about the Yading trek that I did with May, read Off the Beaten Path: Trekking China’s Yading Nature Reserve
You can find out more about the film project by reading FILM PROJECT: Don’t Date a Girl Who Treks