It was a clear, cold night on the Annapurna Circuit, and I couldn’t sleep. Maybe it was due to a slight bout of altitude sickness and the fact that my body couldn’t relax at 16,000 feet. But the main factor was nerves: In a few hours I’d head over Thorong La, the 17,769-foot pass at the crux of the Circuit and a daunting prospect for a solo backpacker who’d never been above 14,000 feet before this trip.
I’d grown up hiking with family and friends, but the 120-mile route through the Himalaya was my first time going it alone. Initially, the thought of winding through the world’s biggest mountain range had thrilled me. Yet after a couple more sleepless hours at the foot of the pass, when it finally came time to lace up and set out into the dark, I cracked. Trekkers around me prepared their kits and started to head up, but I stood still, rooted to the spot by churning apprehension.
I looked around, searching for something to fortify me against the cold and the unknown. That’s when my eyes landed on my boots, and I realized I had a friend along after all.
I was wearing a pair of Vasque Breeze 2.0 GTXs that I’d owned for four years. The boots had been on my feet for every hike during that time, over mountains, through knee-deep mud, and across hundreds of hard miles. They were the same in the Adirondacks or around Annapurna, I realized, and so was I. Putting one foot slowly ahead of the other, I began to climb.
The path was arduous, and my steps slow. But walking is walking, and after a few hours my boots and I reached the top. I snapped a few photos and headed downhill, fueled by adrenaline and the prospect of a hot cup of chai at the bottom.
I finished the Circuit with a newfound confidence in my hiking ability. Now, whenever I head out into unfamiliar terrain, I know that my experience—and my gear—will be there to help me through whatever I might encounter. All I need to do is keep my feet on the ground.