“…there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” –Bilbo Baggins

-photographer unknown

Although I was born and raised “up the holler*” I was told once that I will never truly be a West Virginian. This honorable status cannot be bestowed until your parents, and their parents are both buried in the hills somewhere.

We had our little spot on top of a hill, shaded by the lush green wooded acres surrounding the house I spent most of my childhood helping my dad build, help being the operative word. I played in the dirt, ran around without shoes, and fell asleep half way up a ladder.

We lived off the grid, powered by solar and generator, spring water, an outhouse, and a massive garden. Living was the adventure, my brothers and I built rock and tree forts in the woods, climbed the rocks (known to the outdoor community as bouldering), ate most of our meals right out of the garden, and made our way around in the evenings by candlelight. **

I must admit I wasn’t the easiest on either of my parents, stubborn and picky. Nor did I truly appreciate my upbringing until the last few years. Those adventures have made me strong and fairly confident that I can survive just about any environment.

I went back last week and sat out on the porch, listening to the whippoorwills, the owls, the hummingbirds, the wind breaking through the trees, the peace.

It will always be my home.

*: noun. Version of the word “hollow” in the southern dialect. A term meaning a small vee-shaped riverine type of valley

**there is now city electricity…and indoor plumbing.

Insha’allah, it will be done… maybe tomorrow

Do you want to go to Pakistan?”


“are you sure?”




“ok, don’t tell your mom”

That was how the conversation transpired. There was no evaluation, no contemplation, no hesitation, just yes. It is not often that people allow their lives to be changed in an instant. We base life decisions around the arbitrary plan we decided on when we were filling in dots on an interest exam at the age of 13. What adult takes life advice from a pimple faced tween?

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The media has us imagining a world with people rioting through the streets, buildings exploding, and rampant gun fire. Islamabad for the most part was a sleepy city, there were tent villages that had popped up along the streets, there were abandoned construction projects, there were bricks piled up high along the roadside; but there were also colorful balloon stands along the highway, elaborately decorated trucks, families of 6 piled onto the back of a motorbike driving along, women walking around in tank tops, children playing, men working…life.

Most westerners make their way to the Marriott compound: a barricaded concrete fortress with walls 20 feet tall, and 5 feet wide, enclosing the complex; swarming with guards, and a metal detector at the door. Our temporary residence was on a side street under the valiant protection of a man asleep on the porch with his AK-47, and a bug zapper.

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We exist in a culture of demands. Everyone wants something, and they want it yesterday. The three musketeers were voted off the island with their “all for one and one for all” mentality. We are a team of “I’s”, “me’s”, and “NOWs.” We are creatures of convenience. Which is one thing that perhaps may not exist in Pakistan.

Imagine a highway, strip way the multiple lanes, mile markers, guard rails, paint, asphalt; throw in a few nondescript rocks hugging the edge giving the driver enough time to realize they are going over the edge and no time to prevent it. You look up to the left a steep climb of loose barren rock; down on the right a steep drop into the deadly hydro force of the Indus River. There I was trying to hold down my breakfast as we wound along the Karakorum Highway; the original trade route connecting Pakistan to China (googlewikibing it if you want to know more)

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We left the highway at Chilas packed in, on, and around a slightly modified or rather “vintage distressed” jeeps carrying us deep into the mountain valley. What lay ahead? 4 days of hiking into Nanga Parbat base camp passing through the most remote villages, off the grid was an understatement.

Trees are in short supply in the region; rocks were the building supply with no shortage in sight. We journeyed through a rock hut system that the community in this valley would transition through at different times of the year. In the winter they would escape from the cold and snow to the lower elevations and in the summer head up to the mountain breeze blowing through the valley.

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We look down on these remote cultures as uncivilized and uneducated. If a bridge is out, all the men must report to repair it. When it comes time to move up or down the valley at the change of the seasons, no one is left behind, the young transport the elders. They are resourceful, things happen when they need to, not when we want them to. If our money driven society collapsed, they probably wouldn’t notice.

I can appreciate getting back to nature, living resourcefully, and confident that I could survive in any environment; but after pooping in a hole for months, there is something remarkable about a good ol’ American toilet seat.

Would I go back?


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