In this essay, Sadie Scotch shares her experiences of backpacking across countries as she discovers new people, new places, and new words while trying to discover the true meaning of life.
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I can tell you exactly where I was the first time I heard someone say, “YOLO.” Because I’ve traveled so much and moved around constantly, I just have to recall the order of the places from which I was coming and going, and I can pinpoint locations to my memories. The first time I heard the word, YOLO, I was hiking in Nepal.
Eating my lunch in the mountains, I watched as a young boy jumped on the back of a Nepalese man’s motorcycle, and as they were taking off in a procession of adolescents on tour, he shouted, “YOLO!” The Australian man, Brandon, I was hiking with for two weeks laughed and said, “Only the kids were using that expression.” I asked what it meant, and he looked a bit surprised, perhaps even a little embarrassed, like it wasn’t cool for him to know these things. He told me, “It means You Only Live Once.”
Exactly one year later, on October 14, 2014, a catastrophic snowstorm killed 43 backpackers and guides at the summit of the Annapurna circuit. By that time, I was back in Pennsylvania, having paid my deposit to move to Cape Town in a few short months, excited and expectant for the next adventure.
The first few nights of our trek, Brandon spent his evenings trying to find cell service to call home to sort through a bad situation. The day he flew to Nepal from Australia (unlike Brandon, I was already two years into a solo Asia backpacking trip), his girlfriend tried to kill herself by swallowing a bottle of pills. She did this because Brandon told her he would break up with her if he ever caught her talking to her ex-boyfriend again on Facebook. And then he found her talking to her ex again on Facebook.
I met Brandon on the first evening of our hike in the small village that contained a cluster of huts and restaurants in which trekkers could rest and replenish themselves. Brandon and I, along with a German couple, became friendly over dinner and we all set out together the next morning to continue the trek, and we stayed together the next day, then the next. The Germans often outpaced us during the day; their legs were far longer than Brandon’s and mine (despite being very cute, Brandon was a short king). This gave us plenty of time to get familiar with each other.
One day, after Brandon and I helped a cyclist get out of the creek she had fallen into while crossing on a mountain bike, I mentioned how I always thought death wouldn’t hurt but now I wasn’t so sure. The freezing cold water stung my legs as we bent to pull her up from the water, and I was trying to explore new conversation topics. Several days later, Brandon revealed one of his brothers had killed himself a few years back, and I immediately thought about my death comment. Then I thought about his girlfriend, or ex-girlfriend, who could do such a thing to a man who had been through something so tragic already.
Brandon and I eventually parted ways with the Germans but connected with an American couple and a Frenchman during the final week of our trip. I was immediately attracted to the Frenchman and Brandon helped me flirt with him during our last days on the descent out of the mountains. I think we both wanted to make it crystal clear we were “just friends,” despite knowing much more about each other than some of our closest friends back home.
After Nepal, I went to India and Sri Lanka, then on to Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. I picked up an English boyfriend in India and we flew to London together for a month before I finally returned home to Pennsylvania.
As I read about the tragedy in Nepal a year later, I thought about how Brandon and I would have held each other in the blackout snowstorm. We would have cried and consoled one another, perhaps even kissed, as we were buried underneath the blizzard. They would have found our bodies intertwined, and our relatives would have been left forever guessing what our story was.
Today, I don’t roam the world like I used to; I am occupied by the mundane things I do each day. I worry I’ll forget the stories of the people I met before. I hope Brandon is sharing life with someone he loves, living it to the fullest, whatever that means to him. You only die once as well, but before it’s over, you must let go of everyone you’ve ever known and leave them to history.
Sadie Scotch grew up in New Hope, PA, and became a Rotary International exchange student to Belgium in the 11th grade. She studied in Paris in college and worked in Brussels at NATO after studying at Lehigh University. After working around the African continent for three years and a two-year backpacking stint in Asia, she got an MBA from the University of Cape Town. Her essays have been featured in The Smart Set, Change Seven, Salty, Flash Frontier and Fertility Road Magazine. You can follow her on Instagram at #lanvife or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org!