It’s Just a Backpack   

It was day five of our trek on the Manaslu Circuit in Nepal. My daughter Talitha and I had been planning our July 2018 trek in Nepal for the previous eighteen months. We both like adventures that stretch our limits, so we couldn’t wait to hit the trail.

After a few days in the overwhelmingly crowded city of Kathmandu, we flew to Nepaljung. We were scheduled for a connecting flight to Juphal, where the Lower Dolpo Trek that we had originally decided upon would begin. Unfortunately, all flights into Juphal had been canceled for seven days in a row because of poor weather. After waiting two days, we decided to cut our losses, fly back to Kathmandu, and find another trek. Patience is not my greatest virtue.

Our Outfitter recommended that we try the Manaslu Circuit, even though this trail was officially closed because of the rainy season. The Manaslu Circuit is a 150-mile trek around the area of Mount Manaslu, the eighth highest mountain in the world (26,759 feet). Our guide was Rajiv, our porter was Bishal, and we hired a driver with a four-wheel drive SUV to take us along the narrow, rocky, high mountain roads to the beginning of the trek. Off we went!

Little did we know what was in store for us. With trekking poles and ponchos easily accessible because of daily rain (mostly at night), we set out. The trail was extremely muddy, rocky, slippery, and steep at times, so we had to take it slow. We crossed occasional streams, and, one time, Rajiv even carried me across a stream on his back!

There was one other slight issue. Eight days before we left for Nepal, I broke my left wrist after a fall while running in the Missouri prairie. I was wearing a splint that immobilized my left hand and wrist. Not being able to put any pressure on my wrist made it tricky to use my trekking poles, but I toughed it out. Advil helps.

Near the end of the first day, Rajiv recommended that Talitha and I consider turning around. “It’s going to stay muddy and slippery for four to five days until we get higher into the mountains.” Looking directly at me, he continued, “You don’t have to keep on going. Laurie. You can decide tomorrow what to do.”

Talitha and I glanced at each other, and I said to Rajiv, “Okay. We’ll think about it. But we’re pretty tough, and we’re probably are not going to turn around.” Which we didn’t.

Overnighting in rather primitive and often cold conditions, contending with mud and more mud, and not having enough to eat because the small family restaurants were mostly closed in off-season, were all challenges. At the same time, Talitha and I reveled in the beauty of Nepal and the joy of children, teenagers, and adults who all bowed, smiled, and greeted us with the word “Namaste” as we occasionally walked through small villages.

The trail dried out the higher we climbed, and on the fifth day we began making good time. I distinctly remember that we had pumpkin soup for breakfast, which didn’t satisfy because what our bodies really craved was protein.

The hike that day was shorter than some of the other days, but it wasn’t easy. We gained elevation steadily and had peeks of the green valley thousands of feet below. We did have to be careful, however, because we shared the trails with donkeys and were warned to stay on the mountain side of the trail.

About an hour and a half into the hike, we took a break, I took of my backpack, and left it at the edge of the path. The two previous days I’d been having issues with my pack not sitting properly on the back of my neck, causing some discomfort. As I turned to walk away, all of a sudden, I heard a “whoosh,” and my backpack disappeared over the cliff.

In a panicked voice, I yelled to Rajiv to come, leaned over and saw that my backpack was lying on top of a group of branches, with the valley thousands of feet below. Rajiv first tried using a trekking pole to grab the backpack handle, but the pole wasn’t quite long enough. Plus, we were afraid that one wrong movement might push my pack through the branches into the void. Then Rajiv laid on the ground and edged over the cliff. With Bashal firmly holding his feet, Rajiv was thus able to retrieve the backpack. Other than me or someone else on the team tumbling over the edge, it was my worst nightmare almost come true.

I apologized profusely and promised never to do such a foolish thing again. My hero, Rajiv, who told me that nothing like this had ever happened to him before, kept to himself for a while, recovering from the shock of what could have been. The rest of the day I was quiet, staying within myself and consid­ering the fact that this trek was difficult enough without making thoughtless mistakes.

The incident prompted me to ponder the nature of loss because it really wasn’t “just a backpack.” My backpack contained everything that was essential to trekking in Nepal. What would I do without my passport, cell phone, rain jacket, altitude sickness meds, snacks, water, and journal? I was so impressed by how Rajiv and Bishal handled the situation. They did not panic, they led calmly, and they used collective wisdom to solve the problem. It was a reminder of how important it is for leaders to be able to regulate their emotions in the midst of stress. Rajiv showed incredible grace to me despite my huge mistake. Do other people see the grace of Jesus in you during the course of your everyday life as you encounter a myriad of issues?

I also learned a lesson about always being prepared to give up the things that I cherish the most. If my backpack had broken through the branches, we would likely never have been able to recover it, and the trek would have been over. How can I learn to let go of my possessions so that if I lost everything important to me, I would still be able to rejoice instead of worry?

In Matthew 6 we read, “If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith? Therefore, don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ Gentiles long for all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:30-34)

This story is part of a book that I have written called Wandering into Grace; A Journal of Discovery and Hope. The book will published by Abingdon Press this month and is available in paperback and e-book. Wandering into Grace is ideal for small groups and contains study questions for each of the six chapters. You can purchase the book here. You can also listen to a podcast in which I share with Art McClanahan, the Communications Director of the Iowa Annual Conference, how wandering into grace has formed and shaped who I am as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Books will be available for purchase at most conference and district gatherings this winter and spring.

How might God be calling you to wander into grace during the upcoming Lenten season and beyond?

4 thoughts on “It’s Just a Backpack   

  1. What an incredible adventure and story! I will order the book – sounds fantastic. Also, good thoughts to take away from your tale.

  2. I really admire you for your perseverance, but it’s sure not on my bucket list. And your lesson from Scripture is most appropriate as they always are. Thank you!

  3. Look forward to the book. Yeah, “Wandering Into Grace” — it must happen all the time — the divine version of Rajiv and Bishal, eh? Blessings for your leadership in caring and sharing.

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