One trekker of mine was waking up late, and then brushing his teeth when it was breakfast time. I told him that he could brush after having breakfast. He looked at me like I was criminally insane.
This is an example of having a preference – clearly, he preferred to brush before having breakfast.
While trekking, I learnt that I can live without my preferences. And I want to share this with you so you can think about it as well.
We all have our ‘preferences’ right? How many times have you heard things like:
“I prefer milk tea over black tea in the morning.”
“I like to have a soft pillow when I sleep.”
“Washing over wiping, always.”
And sometimes we have stronger versions too:
“I hate black tea.”
“I don’t sleep well without a soft pillow”
“I feel uncomfortable if I don’t use water”
And if you thought that was strong, there will always be someone going:
“I never drink black tea, and I never will.”
“I will not sleep without a pillow that feels like unicorn hair”
“I won’t go to the toilet for two days rather than dry-wipe” [True story].
I had pretty strong preferences too. I thought having groundnuts and/or jaggery/sugar in daal was blasphemy (looking at you, Gujarat). Then I went to a week long summer camp (6th grade) with such blasphemous Daal and other food-related outrages. I didn’t eat because I didn’t like the food. I was a picky eater at that age.
I fainted the next day.
I hadn’t had sufficient breakfast (or dinner, or lunch the previous day), and we were doing an intense physical workout.
I had to abandon my dietary preferences for the duration of that camp, and that lesson stayed.
I think trekkers often underestimate themselves. They think about their preferences – the kinds of stuff I mention above – and get uncomfortable when they’re not met. Especially some first time trekkers, especially on the first couple of days of the trek. They get shocked at some of the things I tell them:
“How can I brush after breakfast?!”
“How can I eat breakfast so early?!”
“How can I go six days without washing my face?!”
“How can I not change my clothes every day?!”
“How can I sleep in a sleeping bag that doesn’t allow me to move?!”
“How can I trek in the rain?!”
When you keep thinking about your preferences, you are putting yourself at a disadvantage already. This is because in the wilderness, those preferences are simply not going to be met. Your surroundings are absolute – they are not going to change to suit you. You are the one who needs to adapt. You are the one who needs to enjoy yourself on the trek!
Or as I have said to trekkers on treks – “This is your life now.”
Trekkers, you know what? You are stronger than you think!
Use the trek as an opportunity to discard every bit of your preferences, step by step, and see what remains.
For me, it felt amazing as I slowly, steadily, and even unconsciously discarded almost every single ‘preference’ I had. I felt empowered. I could wake up any day, on any slope, and be confident that I would be able to function well and be happy, no matter what the environment and living conditions I was in.
No access to packed goods for months? No problem!
No data or reliable phone connectivity for a month? No problem!
Cold toes while going to sleep? No problem!
The same meals for the whole week? No problem!
And this is something that I’m going to take home with me when I leave the slopes.
Put me in any environment, I will manage. More than manage, I’m confident that I will thrive. Any of my trek leader colleagues will. Why? Because we don’t have preferences any more!
That’s something I want every trekker to understand. To some extent – preferences are not real. Inside each of you is a badass minimalist. Preferences, requirements – yeh sab toh moh-maaya hai.
What do you think?