As an adventure traveler and long-distance walking enthusiast, Tracy Pawelski wants you to know she is just like you, with perhaps a slightly overactive sense of adventure.
“I’m not an elite athlete,” she said. “I’m not out there breaking world records. The adventures I take are attainable.”
Pawelski, who is the senior communications counsel at advertising agency PPO&S in Harrisburg, recently released her second adventure travel book, “One Woman in the Himalayas,” a look at her 2015 journey on Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit. Her first book, “One Woman’s Camino,” describes a 500-mile trek across Spain called el Camino de Santiago, which she took with her daughter, Juliet.
“Here’s the message: Don’t think you can’t do something before you actually give it a try,” she said. “Too many women cross an audacious idea off the list before ever trying it out. The subtitle of my book is ‘Not every idea is a good idea, but you don’t know until you try.’ You may find that you overshot your ability, even your courage, but at least you’ll know. And I suspect you’ll have a great story to tell about it, whether you decide to write a book about it or not.”
Pawelski discussed her new book, the Himalayas and the business lessons she learned along the way with Women in Leadership. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
What led you to adventure travel?
Curiosity about the world. Art, culture, people, history and beautiful places led me to become a traveler in the first place and later an adventure traveler. I’ve been traveling the globe since I was 20, and before that, I was an armchair traveler and was drawn to books about faraway places. I read about India, East Africa and the golden age of exploration.
I love cities that are great destinations just like everybody else, but in many of those off-the-beaten-path places, you get a real sense of a place and its history instead of what a tourist might experience. My husband and I love to get out and explore, and you can’t do that from the inside of a tour bus window.
What drew you to the Himalayas?
When my daughter, Juliet, and I walked el Camino, we met many like-minded individuals from all over the world. People are on the same path, sharing the same modest accommodations. They’re sharing the same break from a busy, distracted world. This kind of experience tends to make for deep and fast friendships. One friend from the Camino was an Irishman named Chuck who was actually training by walking for a return trip to Nepal. When Chuck invited me to join that trek to the Annapurna Circuit and walk in the shadows of the world’s highest mountains, how could I say no? The allure of adventure was irresistible.
Describe the journey you took.
You begin by flying to Kathmandu. This was 2015, which was the same year as a devastating earthquake that hit Nepal. In the Kathmandu Valley, an estimated 5,000 people died. That was in April, and we were going in October. We weren’t sure what we were going to find. We knew the Everest region had been hit hard.
When we got there, there was a boycott on the border between India and Nepal, impacting all the essential goods that Nepalese people rely on. A gas shortage makes moving around really difficult. Navigating all of these things, we started walking in a place called Besisahar, which is [at] about 3,500 feet, and you begin walking and climbing past rice terraces that are cascading their way down the hillside.
You start in the subtropics. After you get out of the rice terraces and lush green areas, we’re following a big river called the Marsyangdi River. We would cross on suspension bridges. Some of them were a little sturdier than others. You walk out of the lowlands into Buddhist country. There are free-standing prayer wheels. Our guide coached us to walk along the left side and use our right hand to spin the prayer wheels. You walk from there to an altitude of 9,000 feet into apple country. Meanwhile, we’re staying in tea houses along the way.
I can’t tell you how many times I had to ask myself, “OK, Tracy, now what are you going to do?” By this time, I was feeling pretty good. I’ve got this. I know what to expect. We were three and a half days into the climb when my Irish friend had some health issues that caused him to turn back. I continued on. I adapted my plans.
In “One Woman in the Himalayas,” the story is really about how to reach deep and carry on when things don’t turn out how you’ve planned. There’s certainly a fundamental business lesson, in fact a life lesson, to that. How do you adapt your plans? How do you pivot and find the courage to keep going in the direction you want to go when things don’t turn out how you’ve planned? You don’t have to aspire to walking in the Himalayas to relate to how you handle things when the unexpected arises.
What business lessons have you learned through your travel experiences?
If you wait until you think you’re ready, you may never act. If you wait to chase that promotion or that new job, the opportunity may evaporate. You have to have faith in yourself and not let fear paralyze you.
I talk about how on this trip a series of unfortunate events changed my plans. I had to make decisions in a hot minute and quite literally in thin air.
Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts. If you take enough adventures, you try enough new things, you’re bound to face a sliding scale of success. Sometimes your experience will exceed expectations. Other times it will fall short. If you’re striving for perfection, you’ll never go anywhere.
I learned that it’s OK to make mistakes. Continuing along that theme, if you’re afraid of making mistakes, you’ll never do anything. I want women in particular to know it’s OK to step out of your comfort zone, try something new and take a risk on yourself, however that may look. Like I say in the books, it’s never a mistake to take a risk on yourself.
|Get links to articles about women in business delivered to your inbox! Sign up for the free Women Who Lead newsletter today.|