April 22, 2020

3 Gifts I Gained from Trekking through Morocco (Hint: none of them are camels.)

In August of 2015, I clutched my bag and arrived at the airport.

I was clueless about what my journey to Morocco would have in store for me. Smiling politely at the other adventurers, hardly knowing each other, we all took the first steps toward a trip that would change our lives.

The aim: to trek Mount Toubkal. All 4,167 meters. 

The result: friendships, inner-strength, and some valuable life lessons.

The whole trip was intended to raise money for a charity. We accomplished our task while sleeping on rough ground, bathing in lakes and rivers, and using nature as our bathroom. 

There were many times my resolve was shaken. At times I felt as if I was staring up at an unreachable goal. Other times I was shaken a little more literally—being knocked down by a strong gust of wind or making the rookie mistake of looking down into an endless abyss. Then there were the slips and slides on rocky terrain or rivers. Hello, deep green and purple bruises. Let’s not forget that I lost all my toenails; it was a trip to remember!

Some might be thinking, that sounds awful! Here is what made my trip, pain and all, worth it:

1. Friendships.

I learned what it truly meant to connect with people. With no phone signal, no contact with others beyond our small group, three local tour guides, and mules, we were alone. We had no option but to talk and get to know each other. Let me say, we truly got to know each other. We spent hours talking, learning about our families, hobbies, and dreams. We spent nights by the fire bonding over past struggles and our hopes for the future.

The trekking was difficult. There were times when we all felt emotional and cried. We are usually afraid of being judged for our weaknesses, afraid we will not be understood. But here, when everyone was going through the same thing, we could be vulnerable. We knew people would understand. Especially our tour guides. Even with a cultural and language barrier, they always offered a smile, a hug, and dried apricots.

With the rest of the world and our lives forgotten, all that existed was our goal, the mountains, and our group. There was only the Now. When we stop worrying about the future, we realize that we can let go of needing to be liked. We only speak to truly connect with each other.

2. Inner-strength.

To climb this mountain—regardless of my asthma, lack of fitness, and (foolish) lack of training—was an achievement beyond my wildest dreams. I didn’t know what I was in for. If I had, I probably would have passed on the opportunity, believing I was incapable.

But, I proved myself wrong! Even when I thought I would give up, I didn’t. When I wanted to let the overwhelming dread consume me, I didn’t allow it. 

I needed to know that I was capable of more than I had ever let myself believe I was. I didn’t want my thoughts to be the thing that limited me.

Today, when I face other difficulties, and the nagging thought that I can’t do it sneaks in, I remind myself of what I achieved on that trip. I remind myself of how I trekked that f*cking mountain!

3. Valuable lessons.

The biggest lesson I learned was to take life one day at a time. 

Now, I had heard this phrase before. I acknowledged it as being accurate and then promptly forgot about it. However, I vividly recall waking up at two in the morning on the second day of the trip, thinking, “I can’t do this.” The previous day had been hard, and I was anxious about the harder days to follow. However, what happened next will stay with me forever.

I stepped out of my tent into a cold and crisp morning that was still in darkness. I couldn’t see anything yet but knew in my core that I was somewhere unique and beautiful. I knew it without needing to see it. And like that, I knew that I would be able to do it. It didn’t matter how; I just knew I would complete the trek.

When my thoughts began to intervene and say, “Can I do another four days of this,” I stopped them. Today is the only day I need to think about right now—the present. Nothing else matters.

Each day I awoke with the same mantra—one day at a time. And I got through it.

After all these years, when I remind myself of these lessons they reach me more profoundly than the last time. When I am faced with worry, I breathe in and speak the words that bring me strength: one day at a time.

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