Eight days, zero communication with the outside world. Here’s what I learned.
By: Rebecca Haber
Have you ever needed a break from the modern world? Had the impulse to hop a plane, just a toothbrush and a copy of Kerouac’s On The Road in tow? This past autumn, I was feeling overwhelmed with city life and found myself wondering – what does it take to truly disconnect? I pictured myself roaming the Himalayas, meditating above the cloud line with picturesque views of snowcapped peaks. So I packed a bag with just the essentials, and bought a plane ticket to Kathmandu.
I decided on the Annapurna Base Camp trek (ABC) in Nepal. Despite the fact that it’s very well-traveled, this would be by far the most off-the-grid experience I’d had to date. You’re at the mercy of the elements. If you get injured, there’s no easy way down. If there’s an avalanche, there’s nowhere to hide. If there’s a family emergency, you won’t know about it until you get back to civilization. Eight days, zero communication with the outside world.
Here’s what I learned
BACK TO BASICS
When you’re trekking for six plus hours a day, life is really whittled down to the basics. Eating, sleeping, drinking water and going to the bathroom. The logistics of everyday life seem to fall away — there are no plans to make, no emails to answer, no social feeds to scroll through.
At first, it seemed a bit strange. I would arrive at a teahouse (basic accommodation) with a few hours of daylight remaining…and had nothing to do. As a type-A New Yorker, relaxing has always been somewhat of a challenge for me. I found myself impulsively checking my phone, even though all communications were switched off.
But soon enough, I got the hang of it. I’d meet people, sit and talk. Share a meal, play cards, read or take naps. Oh, and I’d marvel at the 24,000-foot snowcapped peaks all around me. It wasn’t long before calm and simplicity became my new normal.
UPS AND DOWNS
While life became simpler, it wasn’t without hardship. During many days, there were points where I felt I couldn’t go on. My feet became blistered, it rained, I almost ran out of money, I took a few falls.
But then there was the constant changing landscape, a pack of baby goats, a colorful clothesline flapping in the wind flanked by gorgeous terraced gardens and deep valley ravines. I was surrounded by so much beauty that it was hard to be frustrated for long. Once I realized that the bad was only temporary, it didn’t seem so hard to endure.
ONE STEP AT A TIME
Many stretches of the trek were made up of stairs. Thousands of them, up and up and up. At times, it seemed never-ending. I’d be exhausted and frustrated and finally get to the top of a section, only to turn the corner and find more steps going straight up and out of sight. If I had ever stopped to think about what I was doing, the amount of climbing I had to embark upon over the eight-day span, it would have seemed impossible. But I found that if I took it one step at a time, eventually I’d get to the top.
In today’s tech-savvy society, we tend to want things right now. We want that job, or the house, or the car or the perfect relationship – and we want it now. Sometimes we’re so fixated on our goals that we forget about the work that goes into achieving them. When I got to the top of ABC for example, I noticed that there were helicopters flying people up for the views. I suddenly felt grateful that I had climbed all the way up on foot. The vistas were spectacular, sure, but the real reward was knowing that I had done the work to get there.
BACK TO REALITY
Despite the fact that I was only off the grid for eight days, coming back to the small town of Pokhara was still somewhat of a shock. When I turned on my phone I had over fifty new emails, and even ordering food at a restaurant felt overwhelming. Suddenly, the prospect of having to deal with everyday life felt like too much to bear. I had realized how little one needed to be happy, and was resistant to going back to the way things were.
Several months later I’m back in the city, and I’m back in a world where devices are simply unavoidable. I frequently find myself using a laptop or smartphone, watching TV or listening to a podcast. But now, rather than viewing technology as a necessity, I see it as a luxury. I don’t have to check my email incessantly, or answer every phone call.
Before the trek, I had allowed these daily stresses to get the better of me. I was weighed down by the responsibilities that a high-tech culture brings, but the burden I had been feeling was self-imposed. It doesn’t matter if we’re in a crowded subway in New York City, or frolicking at the top of a mountain in the Himalayas; we are all free. We just have to realize it.