48 hours : A Quest For Life Amid Dead (Part II)

Click here for Part I

I fail to keep my feet warm. My toes are numb and temperature outside is still 20 degrees below freezing. As I lay in my sleeping bag, I’m thinking of time I spent in Vipassana Meditation where I’d stay in meditative state for 17 hours a day that lasted for 10 days, the last time I observed noble silence. I can feel the blood flow in my entire body, but feet. The awareness of my surroundings, every movement and every breath surprises me again, as I open my eyes and see the nylon walls of my tent brighter. Once we spend time in darkness, our eyes adapt to see even in darkness. May be, that’s why I can see things better. Vipassana talks about the three steps – sila, samadhi and panna. Sila is moral silence, that I took when I stepped in woods in morning leaving all luxuries with an addition of giving up on food and water to support the complete alignment to self. Samadhi is concentrational silence, that I took a couple of hours ago when I started concentrating on breath and then narrowing down to bodily functions. Panna is insightful wisdom that I’m seeking off this 48 hour long exile, we call Vision Quest – a part of many cultures worldwide.

A few seconds later, I hear sound of trampling sticks and someone twitches the rope of my tent. Walls of my tent are shaking. Is that Basko? This late in night? There is more sound of trampled sticks, and I hear someone sniffing. They are on all three sides of my tent. What is it? I am cornered now. After a long thought, I gather courage to gently slide the zipper, open my tent and the fly to sneak a peek, who’s there. I see a baby deer right outside my tent. Barely two feet, brown-hairy-skin, bright eyes, ears flapping. Instantly, the fawn jumps to the other deer and three of them distanced from the tent. It’s morning already, and getting brighter quickly.

I slip in my bag again only to realize my legs were off the mat for whole night, separated from over 2 feet snow just by a nylon sheet and compressed down feathers of sleeping bag. I giggle to myself, and decide to chase the deers. I wear the other pair of socks, wear a plastic bag on top of it (I had found while walking to Bromont) and somehow force my feet in shoes. I am out, and begin to chase to the deers running deep in the woods. Now, that’s why I brought my trail running shoes. But, they are not waterproof. So, whenever I would step in snow, my feet keep getting colder. Fortunately, they are dry, but freezing cold. I start climbing towards Iron hill and land in Andree’s neighbor’s backyard.

Realizing I am where I should not be found, I give up the chase and find myself on the road. I am probably the only one up so early. Temperature? Should still be around 25 degrees below freezing. To stay warm, I must move and burn calories. To burn calories, I must have food. To avoid hypothermia, I must hydrate myself every hour. But, I am stupid. I have decided to give up all and survive that day. I can not stay at one spot for long, I’ll freeze. So, I begin to move up the trail of Ski Bromont and other trails in Bromont hills in deep thoughts, solitude, silence, deep snow, nearly dead trees and an overcast sky. Soon, snow flurries take over the landscape and I descend towards the skiing area. I am not the only one up. There are kids skiing. I stop, and gaze them for hours sliding down the slop fast on their skis and snowboards, until I am asked by a snowmobile to give way. I do not return the greetings of that man and continue to walk towards the road.

Now, I do not know where am I. I don’t have a phone, can’t speak with anyone and not carrying a map. In simpler words, I am lost in white land on my own with absolutely nothing. I walk for hours on roads gazing tall silos of grain stored for winter, farmlands covered in snow for next 4 months and houses with beautiful christmas decoration. I am missing my family and stay with them in thoughts recalling some of the very warm memories with mom, dad, and my two annoying siblings I love. I reach a street on a hill with closely spaced houses and have a quick glance on clock through the rare transparent window I found without curtains. I have not seen a clock to know the time since yesterday. My glasses are fogged, so I take them off to clean and see the clock clearly. In my head, I tell myself “I should better hurry up if it’s already 3 pm. I don’t have much daylight left and running will be tough.” As fog clears off the glass, I get to see the time. 7.15 am! WTF!!

After all the getting lost thing, climbing, it’s just 7.15 am! I am still 30 hours away from exile. I realize my body movements have slowed down so much in cold and lack of energy, a few minutes had felt like hours. But, I was climbing at a decent speed. I continue walking in oblivion, deep in thoughts with episodes of running on icy roads, where I’d fall every now and then. After struggle for hours (this time, I mean it) I successfully locate myself as I see the Lac Bromont. I remember this from Bromont Ultra two months ago. I failed to finish that 160 km race, and had to settle with 80 km, 70 off which came on one leg. I severely rolled my ankle in 9th km and was never able to recover from that. Medical team was aware of my ankle injury, but, I deliberately kept it away from knowledge of Race Director Gilles Poulin, so he didn’t stop me from continuing unofficially, after I was officially declared DNF because I got lost in woods and had to take a 500 m long ride in car with race officials to find the nearest aid station. I am everywhere in thoughts about that failure and I can feel that disseminating in my entire body. I can feel the heaviness of these thoughts in my abdomen, my knees, my right ankle and my back. I stay with that heaviness for long, let it evolve inside of me, witness the intensity of the damage that failure had caused and spent rest of time in accepting it, befriending it and healing it.

Snow flurries mixed with raindrops begin to dominate the overcast conditions and I begin to run to reach Huntington Street, where Andree-Anne lives. I do not want to encounter Basko and Nanouk, who will be on loose, so I decide to entire through the same section, from where I exited in the morning. I find the entry junction to the woods and climb the hillock through neighbor’s front yard. Freezing rain gains strength and I am lost. Covered in white snow, everything looks so similar. I was backtracking my footprints from morning, but they took me to a completely different direction and after all struggle with couple of falls on face in ice, I am back at the entry point. This is not working. I must locate my orange MEC tent. Should I enter through the front door and face the dogs. Finding tent will be so much easier. But, I have absolutely no energy left, and that is good 20 minutes walk. And after that, a struggle with the dogs is something I do not want to encounter.

I take second chance in woods, as I am getting wet in rain. After struggle of what seemed like half an hour, actually may be 10 minutes, I locate my orange tent standing tall, protected amid trees and I jump inside of it. Remove shoes, socks, wet jacket and slide inside of sleeping as freezing rain strengthened. I am still a bit wet, which is a very dangerous situation to be in. It’s raining, everything is wet, so fire is again not an option. A couple of minutes later, in darkness I hear calls of Andree-Anne and Pat who wanted to check if I was doing fine. My whole body wanted to say, “I need help. I am hungry and thirsty and need some warm place to stay”. However, by the time this thought could find right words, subconsciously I answered “No, I am good. See you tomorrow noon.” Dumb!

After sitting still again in thoughts, I decide to lie down for a quick nap. In short while, rain has strengthened, and it’s falling ice. I stay lying down in sleeping bag, and I can hear chunks of snow falling on roof of my tent from top of trees. I saw  lot of snow deposited on trees in morning. But, I never imagined that snow could be dangerous too. As rain kept strong, snow, then leaves and small branches continue to fall on my tent from all the surrounding trees. I am scared if that will rip the tent. I am trying to sleep again, feeling very cold and scared as chunks keep getting bigger. Often, I support the nylon sheet with hand from bottom to bear the weight of falling objects. This continues for a while. And then, an entire branch falls on wall on my left. Now, it’s getting serious. It’s very windy and rainy outside. In my head, I’m recalling words of Leslie. What if I die tonight? How stupid will that read in newspapers. People will laugh at me.

These are the distractions I want to fight against through this quest and spend as much time in seeking self, and seek answers. Those were intense hours in day, and now is the test of my belief on nature to be my keeper. I am still in thoughts, questions and working around for their answers, when a hear a big bang. A tree falls down. I don’t know how far that is. Immediately, I turn ON the flashlight to check. Tree has fallen barely 3 feet away from vestibule of my tent. It could have fallen of my tent as well. It’s still just night, tree could fall on my tent when I am asleep as well. After lot of argument in my head, I decide to pack my sleeping bag, mat and bivvy sac, and leave rest of my stuff in the tent as I leave the site and head towards Andree’s home to find some sleeping space inside. May be, if they haven’t had dinner yet, I can join them for a meal. I am very tired, very hungry, very cold, dehydrated and thirsty. I do not want to wait for any more time before I eat something.

I knock the front door multiple times, nothing happens. I call out for names of Pat and Andree for 10 minutes. No one answers, other than two dogs. God, I don’t want to face them on my own. “Door of workshop is always open that leads to inside of house” Cool. I should try that. As I open the door through workshop, Basko rushes to the door and starts to growl. Scared, I immediately shut the door. I open the door just a little bit again, and start calling names of Andree-Anne and Pat, as I sip can of mixed berry juice. First meal in decades, it seems. So delicious and healthy, and probably good enough to quench the thirst. 30 minutes of calling and no answers. The cats and Basko are not interested in letting this stranger in. I try to sleep in the workshop, but, floor and workshop are much colder than outside. Should I return to tent? No, I really don’t want to go inside of it again.

Suddenly, I feel something weird in my stomach and I throw up. Everything I had consumed since past half an hour – mixed berry juice and maple syrup. Things are worse than I imagined. I keep knocking the door thinking what could be possible reason for no answer. Are they somewhere out? What time is it? 10.30 pm? People sleep early in Bromont. It gets dark by 5. That is like almost 6 hours into darkness. It’s so awkward if they’re sleeping. 10.30 pm is too late. I open the door again, and call out names one last time – very loud. A few seconds later, Pat answers and comes down. Andree follows. They are happy to see me and ask if I need anything. They were not expecting to see me before noon time tomorrow. In low-tired voice, I first ask for time. Pat and Andree are in their sleeping robes and look zoned out.

Pat looks at his watch and says 4.45 am. “Okay nice, 4.45 am! Wait, WHAT!? Four Forty Fi way yem!? Are you serious?” I exploded in surprise. Pat was correct. It was very early in morning. And I continue “Do you have anything to eat and drink? I am extremely hungry and thirsty” With all the love, they let me in, serve water, coffee and dinner left overs of their traditional christmas meal made of beef, pork, chicken and potatoes, as I sit myself on chair and both dogs sleep in calm. Cats are particularly annoyed by my presence. I explain all the things happened to both of them, apologize for waking them up this early in morning and sleep on the couch till morning.

Both cats, sleeping on my chest, wake me up as they jump over. Others are up, Basko is outside already, patrolling the backyard and Pat is working on breakfast. Pancakes and maple syrup. After breakfast, long chatter of my experiences off past two days and Bromont Ultra, I decide to set off to Montreal. Before I leave, Pat gifts month long supply of maple syrup he made on his own in previous season, canned, fresh as sunshine. Both of them drop me at bus station on main highway. Soon as they leave, I hop on highway, start walking towards Montreal and hitch a ride after walking for an hour.

Vision Quest was an intense experience. Although, I didn’t survive for 48 hours. So, one could say I failed. But, no one can ever fail in journey of self-exploration. Knowing self is a lifelong process. Staying outdoors for over 40 hours, on my own in 25 degrees below freezing for two nights, against all the forces of nature with no food, fire, water, stable shelter, was way too much of a risk and stretch of my limits. I was a moron, to put it simple. However, the insights of my heaviness that I got there, reaching out for that connection with my family back in India (I had not seen for past 6 months) and empathising with self made a lot of difference and provided much clarity to my understanding of self. Vision Quests are important in one’s life. I believe I was too late to take one. But, I did. I learned. I attained panna, that was authentically mine. Of my own. Knowledge that I generated and it can never be found in any book or be replicated. That’s the power of nature. I left Bromont to attain the fourth thing, sangha. Even sharing this story, is a part of sangha and metta that stand for spiritual community and unconditional love respectively.

As witnesses of all the five elements of a Vision Quest, you are free to choose your path, take a journey in to your soul, dig deep to see what lies inside and identify your needs to achieve those dreams hidden underneath superficial pleasures and materials. I extend my support, now and forever, to partner in the crime and help make this world one big community, that loves, lives and celebrates humanity, perhaps a reason to name this blog EGONOMICS! As SN Goenka would state in his terms

Sabaka mangal sabaka mangal sabaka mangal hoye re
May all be happy and blessed with goodness all the time

Tera mangala tera mangala tera mangala hoye re
May you be happy and blessed with goodness all the time

Drishya aur adrishya sabhi jivoh ka mangal hoye re jala ke thala ke aur gagana ke brani sukhiya hoye re
Beings living on the earth, in the water and in the air, may all be happy and without pain

Dasoh dishao ke saba prani ka mangal bhi hoye re
Creatures living in all ten directions, may they meet goodness everywhere

Nirbhaya hoy nirbaira banne sabh – sabh nirapad hoye re
May all be without fear and without ill-will, may all be without torment

Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam. Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam. Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam.

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