Making The Most of The Time We Have

Join author, educator, and learner, Annmarie Kelly as she laughs, cries, and kvetches with the writers, musicians, entrepreneurs, and wanderers who inspire all of us to reach beyond our divisions and discover what it means to be wild, precious, and brave.

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Climb Your Mountain with Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

Climb Your Mountain with Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado climbs mountains. In fact, she is one of the few women in the world to complete the Seven Summits, ascending the highest peak on each continent. In this episode, Silvia and Annmarie talk about the healing power of mountain climbing and how women can work through trauma by putting one foot in front of the other and hiking far above the clouds.

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Titles Discussed in This Episode:

In the Shadow of the Mountain, by Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed

The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk

Trailers for Forrest Gump and Cast Away

Follow Silvia:

Instagram: @silviavasla

Twitter: @silviavasla

Facebook: @silviavasla

www.silviavasla.com

Annmarie Kelly:
Wild Precious Life is brought to you by Art Heals All Wounds, a podcast about artists transforming lives with their work. I don't know about you, but I feel like most of us have spent entirely too long in the season of brokenness, confusion and loss. As the sun finally tiptoes out from behind the clouds, I feel myself opening to the possibility of wholeness and healing. That's where Art Heals All Wounds comes in. Each week we hear from artists grappling with the problems we're all struggling with too. We discover self-compassion, empathy and common ground. One listener described Art Heals All Wounds as "vulnerable and wise." Others have called it "inspired and wholesome, like rediscovering the lost art of conversation." So if you are longing for transformation and ready to unlock your own inner artist, you can find Art Heals All Wounds, wherever you get your podcasts. And stay tuned at the end of today's episode, to hear a trailer.

Annmarie Kelly:
Wild Precious Life is brought to you in part by Lit Youngstown, a literary community, proud to support beginning and experienced writers who seek to hone their craft, foster understanding and share and publish their creative work. Read, write and tell your story at lityoungstown.org. And were brought to you by Mac's Backs, a proud Cleveland indie bookstore with three floors for browsing, great online service and chocolate milkshakes right next door. Find your next great read and shop online at macsbacks.com.

Annmarie Kelly:
What's the most dangerous thing you've ever done? I drove drunk once. I was young, 21, I'd had too much champagne, but convinced myself I hadn't. Another time I hit a trash can texting and driving, not my finest hour. What's the most physically difficult thing you've done? I had three babies without an epidural. I don't think those were actually the best decisions of my life either. I had this idea that I wanted to feel what my body knew how to do. But I think if I had it to do all over again, I'd probably take the drugs. What's the most mentally challenging thing you've ever endured? I feel like my list is a lot longer here. But again, largely due to lousy decisions I make, I'm always psyching myself out. You probably can't do this. Or somebody else is more qualified or talented or a better choice for X, Y, or Z. And then because I'm always psyching myself out, I need to psych myself back up too. This takes a lot of mental effort.

Annmarie Kelly:
Today's guest had me thinking a ton about what we are truly capable of and how much stronger we are than we realize. Silvia Vasquez-Lavado has embraced dangerous and difficult physical challenges and overcome quite a few mental ones too. She has faced down her demons, worked through trauma and hiked far above the clouds. Silvia is one of the few women in the world to complete the Seven Summits, which means she has climbed the highest mountain on each continent. She's a humanitarian, a mountaineer, an explorer and a social entrepreneur. Silvia is the founder of Courageous Girls, a nonprofit that helps survivors of sexual abuse and trafficking find their voice and cultivate both inner and outer strength, climbing mountains. Fortune Magazine has called Silvia heroic and she's been named one of the 20 most influential Latinos in Silicon Valley. Her debut book, In The Shadow of The Mountain is a gripping account of overcoming childhood trauma by climbing Mount Everest. Silvia Vasquez-Lavado welcome to Wild Precious Life.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
Thank you, Annmarie. I am so excited and thrilled and honored for this invitation. Thank you.

Annmarie Kelly:
I am delighted that you're here. I think like a lot of people my age, I first came to the modern story of Mount Everest via Jon Krakauer's book Into Thin Air. That's about the 1996 disaster in which eight climbers died on a single day. Your own hike, which you chronicle in your book, In The Shadow of The Mountain comes one year after the deadliest Everest season in 2015. At least 22 people that we know of were killed in an avalanche that destroyed part of base camp. I heard stories like these and I thought to myself, "Nope, that's probably not for me." But you heard a very different call. Can you tell us, Silvia, how did your Everest story begin?

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
Yes. Definitely unexpected because I come from a country that is known for its mountains as well. Maybe not as high as the Himalayas, but we have one of the highest ambient and mountain ranges in the world, the Andes. And Aconcagua in Argentina is the tallest mountain outside the Himalayan range. I always knew of mountains as scary places and mountain climbers as the most daredevil, the most badass people who could only attempt. And of course, very much you needed to be a white, not white... In Peru, we even knew about mountaineers who were very tough. And actually we didn't even have a lot of local mountaineers, but the perception is male dominated and you have to have this massive strength that I never flew.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
I love this photo that I have, when my parents, we did one of our few family trips into my mom's family, close to the most precious part of the Andes, Hauscaran and I'm about five and everybody gets out and we're trying to get a photo on this boulder, which is maybe about four or five feet high. And my family's climbing and I have a massive tantrum too, that I can remember because the fear of heights for me was unbearable. And so I love seeing this photo and you can just see me at the bottom. Totally. I mean a meltdown, because no way. It wasn't on my DNA.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
But so yes, the idea of Everest, and of course I knew what, what it was. It never really, I had never had any appeal to it. And it was literally until I had this powerful experience doing the [foreign language 00:07:16] with my mother and my father. And just to backtrack a little bit, unfortunately the reason I left Peru was a way to run away from my painful past. Just like, unfortunately, many, many, many women. The statistics have always been one in three, starting to be close to one in two women that have to experience some kind of sexual trauma violence in their lifetime.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
And so for me, I was sexually abused as a little girl but the trauma, the pain, the memories that I had tried to outrun and tried to disappear, caught up to me in my twenties. And I started dealing with it by becoming a raging alcoholic as a way of... I mean there was a lot of secrets in my family, so we always felt "Well, at least I can numb the pain." And then the coincidence in my own personal life, I realized I was gay and I didn't have a lot of support of my family. So you know, that part of my own community as not being accepting, I think only made kind of these vortex of self destruction, even bigger.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
So I had hit rock bottom and that was the very first time I asked for help. And my mother had me come down to Peru and do this [foreign language 00:08:39] session. And on this vision, I remember going into this session feeling that I was possibly going to encounter all the negative people trying to destroy my life. But instead I saw me as a little girl, the little girl who had endure abuse, the little girl that I had been trying to destroy as an adult. Anytime I would see any pictures of my childhood, it had this effect on me of shame, of anger. How could she even be... It's her fault. And then I see her just wanted to be held, just wanted to be protected. And in my heart, I remember just coming to her, protecting her. And as we are reconnecting, I'm feeling this powerful energy. And then we hear this noises and then vroom, this mountains form in front of us.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
And then my little girl, as we see this mountains, she pulls my hand and takes me walking into valleys. So that was the imagery that came on this [foreign language 00:09:48] session. That was power. It was enough for me to start using my logic and realizing, "Okay, well, if I need to bring this massive pain and walk into a mountain, why don't I bring it to the tallest mountain in the world?" And so that's the idea that started with walking to the base of Everest with a caveat that I had never walked to a mountain. Like I've never trekked in my life before. I just, I think... You're in a sense...

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
There was this part, I wonder who made the decision if it was me, the adult or my little girl, but it just felt like, well, just logic. And, and I just went in not knowing what to expect. I think I had been haunted by the memories of my abuse, by my own shame, that it somehow was... I felt as if I had nothing else to lose. And it led me into this journey. And when I got to the base of Everest, I saw the sunrise coming between Everest and Lhotse. And that was so powerful to put the seed for me. I remember seeing the mountain not as something to conquer, but I remember as something really spiritual, very powerful.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
I was raised Catholic and I have a lot of reverence for the Virgin, especially. I mean, I do have my private praying practice and I always pray to the Virgin. There's always this connection to the mother figure. And there was something really maternal about just this beautiful, I mean, the surroundings were just stunning and then you just see Everest almighty. And I remember one of the local guides telling me there that in Tibetan, Everest means mother of the world.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
So I think that connection, the symbology of it was enough to put that seed into me, knowing that even from that vantage point that I was, it looked scary and it looked something that only crazy people would do. But, I remember just that. But then my Virgos were kicked in and said, "I'm looking at making the promise." I'm like, "I want to come back one day and climb to and attempt to go to the top of Everest." But I have two conditions. I need to become a mountaineer because it looks scary. And I think becoming a mountaineer will likely make me a little tougher and I have to come back with a social cost because there was a way of giving back, just because of the impact of the experience. So that is how the whole thing started for me and that is what led me to this unique journey.

Annmarie Kelly:
I'm astonished by so much of your story. First off, that you are afraid of heights because I am also quite afraid of heights. And I've always used that as the reason why that's, why I won't become a Mountaineer, but now you're putting some light that idea. So you hiked to Everest, the first time, to the base camp. Which, for folks who've not learned Everest and who haven't read your book, that's the starting point, actually for the journey up to camp one, camp two, camp three, camp four, and then ultimately the summit. But you got to the base camp and you realized, "Okay, I will do that one day." And then you went back down and became a mountaineer. How does one do that? To go from not hiking to hiking? How many trips is that? Did you start with a smaller mountain? Can you take us through your journey?

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
Yes. And I should maybe put the disclaimer. Yeah. The base of Everest is close to 17,500 feet. So, yeah, just as a little disclaimer.

Annmarie Kelly:
That's not a starting... That's not like a train. You started with one of the hardest things ever. I guess we should start the... How hard was that? Were you out of breath? What did it feel like?

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
No, the very first time, and I think your being naive can take you places and just the whole... I think just what led me to even walk into the base of Everest, it was this curiosity, but it's also, I remember imagining this little girl in me and there was, I mean, I think the most powerful part that had happened to me was this beautiful, almost whole reconnection to, for me, to acknowledge and becoming hold again. I mean, I had been trying to destroy a part of me. And I think the fact that I was trying to do this trip by myself imagining this little inner girl in me, I guess that took a lot of distraction or it took me away from the getting in your mind like, "Oh, how am I feeling?"

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
And I was just simply also going without any expectations. I only had seven days the very first time I went into this trekk and it takes about two weeks to properly do. And I would highly recommend to anyone doing it, yes, do two weeks. I mean, when I look at just how everything turned out, I feel it was possibly this chance. The fact that I had been destroyed my life and almost a universe having compassion on me and being like, "Well, let's spare this one and give her a little reason or little hope." But I got to possibly the entrance of the Himalayas on my second day and when I saw the Himalayas for the first time, it was this boom, powerful encounter. For the very first time in my life, I felt a connection I had never felt before with any human.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
There was a sense of protection, a sense of welcoming, a sense of safety. And because my life had been lacking that, it inspired me. And if anything, I felt a sense of strength started to brew out of me. So I made it to the base of Everest in four days. I literally got too in... There was something about... I want to see more. I mean, just like anything in life, when you're having a great time, you don't want it to finish. You don't want it. You don't want things to end. There was this fire that came inside.

Annmarie Kelly:
I'm overwhelmed, just thinking about. I'm still stuck on the fact that you started with the trekk to base camp. So for folks who have not read your book, it's actually really two stories simultaneously. In, I would say, half the chapters, you are climbing Everest, and we are along for the journey with you. And in other chapters, you were talking about your life story, some of which was beautiful. And we learn about your childhood in Peru. And some of which, as you've mentioned is incredibly difficult. So first off, thank you for sharing that story. I know that putting those things out there surely must have been difficult sometimes, but I'm grateful that you shared, because I saw firsthand in the book, the way you sharing your trauma helped so many other people to begin to work through their own too. That's such a gift.

Annmarie Kelly:
So then when did you come to view mountain climbing as a form of healing? Because I feel like somewhere along the way it went from, "I am climbing these high things." To, "My life has been hard sometimes, and I haven't been able to choose those hardships, but I can choose this difficult thing. I can be in charge of it and I can walk through it. And I can look at the beauty and my strength." So I feel like there was a shift somewhere in your story. But when did you start to look at mountain climbing as healing?

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
I think there were signs from the very beginning. The biggest, I guess, discovery was how present I needed to be in the moment and how much connection to my body I needed to have. And when you, unfortunately, are a survivor, when you unfortunately go through an addiction, it's almost like we live with, we have a devil inside of us. We have these energy that is destroying to self destroy us, which unfortunately is us. And I would say, I possibly found the healing aspect in Aconcagua. I think especially I had had one of my hardest years. And I remember going with the idea that I wanted to kick the [inaudible 00:19:05] out of a rock. I was so mad at life. I'm just like, "I need to get it out. I just need to like express my anger."

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
And so I really wanted to just, get it out with nature. Almost like, "Well, let's get into this fight." And of course, the mountains have been in existence for millions of years. I'm just a little passenger of this voyage. And yeah, I mean, the mountain won and it definitely kicked the hell out of me, but it also pushed me to start feeling myself and developing self-compassion. That evening, the night before the summit at Aconcagua was so epic for me, because it was maybe the very first time that I was able to cry on my own and really let it out. I couldn't hide anywhere. And I think that's what I have really appreciated about nature if we allow it. I think unfortunately, because of everyday life we get too wired. It's almost, we are too caffeinated with distractions and we kind of stay on this box and we are, as of these little hamsters that are running around so it becomes this endless loop. Yet when you are in nature, and especially after a couple of days, 72 hours, it's almost a box opens up. And this is when we, if we allow it, we have a sense of kind of reconnecting to ourselves.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
And, and so for me at close to 21,000 feet that definitely, the pressure, changed quite a bit, but I remember it was then. It was possibly... That's what that emotional breakdown was so pivotal for me, because... And this is the other part that I have loved about this whole journey. You know, having a breakdown, feeling yourself at your most vulnerable. Doesn't mean that you're weak. If anything, it's meant the opposite. Those breakdowns the next day have led me to summits. I mean, that insecurity that whole part about I can't do this. I am done. I can't. It's fear and you just have to let go of that fear.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
So that was possibly the most pivotal experience for me on Aconcagua and it changed in my head, my whole narrative of actually what I was trying to create. And, and then I also got purpose of what I needed to start working and kind of bring in the young women. But I thought that was possibly... I thought that was the beginning of really seeing how nature could be healing and the connection. And it only has I mean, for the rest of my journey, I think it allowed me just to keep learning more through it.

Annmarie Kelly:
No, I definitely saw that in your story. And I love your definition of compassion. It's what allows pain and love to sit next to each other. I'd never thought about it like that, but what allows pain and love to sit side by side and allowing ourselves to receive the love and the protection. You talk about that when you are traveling. So for folks who haven't read the book, you went to base camp once, decided you needed to be a mountaineer, went back down and climbed other mountains, but then you go back and we pick up your story on a hike to base camp. You aren't alone, you're leading several other women, several other survivors, and you're not climbing alone, and you're not climbing quickly, right? The first time you climbed very, very quickly and you've mapped it out for the girls and you're climbing very slowly. Much, much slower than you had planned. Will you tell us about, you call them the courageous girls I know that for your organization, but will you tell us about the girls that you hiked to base camp with? And just tell us a little bit about that journey.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
I am bringing these young women on my way to attempt climbing the tallest mountain in the world. And most people try to focus, I mean, just focusing on trying to climb the tallest mountain in the world should be your sole focus.

Annmarie Kelly:
That's enough.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
Yeah. You know, just that should be enough for any normal human being, but for me, yeah. Let me bring novices who could potentially die and let me carry this massive stress and not knowing what's going to happen before I do this climb. Yeah. So I mean, where my mindset was. No, but there was something about promises and that's something, I mean, and I love, and hopefully we'll get back to this about what I said earlier in the book, it looks like a mountaineering book, but at the end of the day, it's not. I mean, it is. And I'll bring this up a little later, but so I remember putting the conditions and saying, I need to come back with a social cause and come back as a mountaineer. And the social cause came to me when I did Aconcagua about bringing other survivors from San Francisco, Nepal to the base of Everest so that they could have the opportunity of reconnecting to their courage and strength, the way that happened to me.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
And so that eventually manifested, and I worked. I mean, I ended up creating this nonprofit and almost having this guinea pig group of young women, because on top of this, as a disclaimer, there was no guarantee that this was going to work. I was following this vision that came to me at 22,000 feet, sleep deprived and feeling like, "Oh yeah, that's logical." The one aspect that was very important for me is that, and nobody when I was in their shoes at their age had really reached out to me. There was so much secrets in my family. It's almost like, "Well, you're in the US, deal with it." And so there was something important for me to see for these young women, what could have happened. And many of them, I mean, especially when I very first, when I met the Nepali girls, which was very difficult, even when we did one of our training hikes, they had never had a hiking shoe. They only walk with sandals based on their location. So for them, and even for them going to the base of Everest was cost prohibited. And it was always something that...

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
And they have in Nepal, in the Nepali culture and in some Hindu culture, they have these caste systems. It's almost well, if you are from this level, how can you dare attempting something higher? So it was interesting that for me, we had been training, especially here with the US and in Nepal. I was able to have a couple of friends who were helping me with the train of the girls, but it was the opportunity of having this experiment to all of us, attempting going to the base of Everest. And I kind of was playing their mom. I always being their mother figure, but there was no script. This had known... I mean, we just knew we were going to take our time and this is what I love about the journey. Because you can tell, I had a script that it's not going according to my script and all of a sudden it's like, "Oh God, what am I doing?"

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
But that's what life is. But it is powerful because I love how the roles turn. And ultimately it is these young women who teach me healing. My two favorite chapters rhythm and nothing we do is small is truly powerful because you actually, it's one of the very few times where you can see healing happening and healing, the vulnerability healing, which leads to a strength. And so that was just absolutely magical and just learning by them. But yeah, I think it's quite comical as how it goes about. It's almost trying to bring teenagers and just feeling that, "Oh yeah, everybody's going to really follow what you want." And not really.

Annmarie Kelly:
So you're climbing to base camp with these women, these survivors, but you're going to then, at base camp, meet your mountaineering team where you're going to go to the summit. So you've got a little bit of a timetable. And so I loved a part where you've you see that the girls need to sit. They need to really commune. And you've factored about 45 minutes. You factored a little bit of time. You're going to... Just let's go ahead and let's share our stories real quick and then we'll have a snack and then we'll keep walking. But you write some beautiful things about... Stories are complete however they come out and that they're not going to come out on your, Silvia's, timetable, right? These are women who've carried with them, stories of abuse and neglect and having been trafficked and sold into kinds of slavery and escaped. These are huge stories that they're going to come out when they're going to come out and it's not going to be according to your plan or even necessarily according to theirs.

Annmarie Kelly:
But when it comes to talking about trauma, the women you're hiking with, let out those details slowly. There's not a tidy beginning, middle, and end. And it's so true of the way that trauma work needs to happen. You don't get to say, "All right, I think I got it licked today. We fixed it. Check. Done." Right? You're going back. You didn't hike one mountain and decide, "Oh, I, Silvia, am forever healed. Done." Right? It's an ongoing journey. And there's some beautiful work you do in the stillness where you realize I need to stay in this room and I need to bear witness and we're all going to just... That's what we're doing today. I thought we were hiking and actually we're going to sit here.

Annmarie Kelly:
There were some beautiful, beautiful, vulnerable moments. And we were, I think you and I both raised to look at vulnerability as weakness and it is so the opposite. To be vulnerable, to share my softest parts with you and for you to share those with me is what an act of courage and strength and bravery to do that. And I saw you squirming sometimes in these rooms because you got to meet the group. You don't have time, but you make time because this was the important work of that moment. And there's some beautiful stories. I think it was Himana who said, "We're not ascending, we're transcending."

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
Having, I guess, the strength and the wisdom to create space and to let things unfold and that is what it is so pivotal. And that's what Nothing We Do Small, that chapter, in which we are able to really come together and just seeing. And I had never heard, I mean, I had visited Nepal by then multiple times I had been in connection with the girls and as much as I knew as much as I thought I knew them, I mean, it was the very first time that they were opening themselves up, that they felt safe enough to... They felt secure and safe. And I think, and the same with, with the girls that I brought from here, but it is what that support, that connection, that strength that...

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
I still, whenever I'm able to think back to that moment, it is just true truly magical. Is one of those powerful experiences that even at the end, by the time we were done with the circle, I remember feeling like this was it. This was our mountain. There's no... The pressure took away. I mean, because up to then I was like, "Oh God, are we going to make it? And what this is going to be? Are we even going to have a breakthrough and are something going to happen?" But it was quite humbling to see that healing takes its time. You can put the elements and you just have to trust and you just have to let it unfold. And the beauty, what can come after it, it's something unmatched.

Annmarie Kelly:
So for those of us who may never set foot on that mountain, can you just tell us what does a good day up there look and feel like?

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
I think in any mountain, in a beautiful day, you just have an obstructed views beyond anything. I mean, you can see... It doesn't... You don't need to go to something that tall. I mean, in most places there's some called hills but it is like the minute that you can get to the top, I love the vantage point. I mean, sometimes you have the gorgeous view of the endless ocean, but I think if you allow it to be in the span of a couple of days, there is something very meaningful. I think one of the most treasure moments for me at Everest was right before the summit. I think it's even before I saw the pyramid, when I'm seeing the transition from night to day. I had even seen a storm happening far away and I had been higher than the storm. Who can say that? I think that was just something like, "Okay, wow."

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
But then when the sun came out and you just have these incredible views and you're so high up and I think I had a perspective about, "Whoa, I brought myself here, my two little skinny legs got me this far." And, and there was a powerful appreciation. We already had been on this journey for close to six weeks and up and down, you do a lot of like, "Okay. We keep doing it, we're still in the running." But there was something of a beautiful perspective at that point, just because of the magnitude and you just have this infinite view. It doesn't stop and you just know how high you are, but it's a self appreciation. And so in a smaller scale, going to any mountain, that's usually what you get. And it's a powerful opportunity for self-reflection.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
I think I feel being in nature has allowed my self love to really grow. And that is to me what we, I think not to try to be too intrusive in anyone, but self-love has been the fuel that has allowed me to continue. Ego can take you so far, but just having that appreciation and I think that's what time in mountains coming nature has given me, is that opportunity of appreciating yourself and really just opening to new possibilities and to new ideas.

Annmarie Kelly:
Well, I'm not a mountain climber, but so much of the wisdom that you learned up there seemed 100% applicable to those of us down here, too. Right? Whether it's, we're going to have our bad days and we're going to lose sight of where we're going, that it would be wise to remember that those, those days usually do pass. They just do. You also talk about nobody climbs a mountain alone. It's not something that you do alone. No one does that alone. Not the first people. They didn't do that alone and not any. You are climbing with other people and whether that's a literal mountain or for many of us, a figurative mountain, you are not alone in your suffering. You're not alone. You don't have to be alone in your fear. And just like you experienced, sometimes it takes someone like Lydia or someone we know who says, "Yeah, that scary thing you went through was scary. That awful thing that happened was awful. And for you to feel afraid or despondent or unsure of whether you can go on, that's a completely normal response to that big thing that happened." And you're right. Just having someone validate that, say, "It's okay, and you're not by yourself." Makes a huge difference doesn't it?

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
Absolutely. And connecting this to the very first question that you asked me, when I remember getting to the base of Everest, I remember seeing this dream. I remember telling myself, "Okay, I'm going to come back and attempt to climb it one day." And even then by saying that I'm like, "I'm saying, I want to climb out Everest." I think up to now, there's up to only maybe 6,000 people in the world. No, actually I think there's 6,000 summits. And I guess I think there's been 6,000 summits in the mountain. It's about 3000 of us who have done it. And out of that, half of them, or more, most of them are Sherpas or local Nepalis. And if you start taking it, the number of women, it's less than four or 500, but I think Everest is a metaphor in terms of trying to climb it is this impossible dream.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
What I like about the connection with the book, that's a metaphor to any of our dreams. They always, this dream, anything that looks impossible is doable. And it is about what are the different tools? What is the community that we need to create that will help us supporting it? And then that's what I have loved. At the end of the day, I mean, the message of the book is it kind of is wrapped in a whole mountain experience, but at the end of the day, it's like, we all can achieve our Everest, inner Everest, outer Everest. We all have it. And yes, they're going to look impossible and they have to look impossible. But also knowing that we have, and the journey for us to reach to them will transform us, is what is actually going to put us in a different... Being a couch potato might, you might not be able to bring the couch there, but just even just that action of getting yourself out on whatever it is that we want to do can happen. It will happen.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
Yet it is going to be trickier to do it alone. It will be more frustrating, but you need to trust that it is in you. It's just taking that step, knowing that you will have setbacks. And that's kind of what I've really enjoyed about this whole journey. Yeah. I mean, the very beginning look impossible. It's like, "Oh one day I'm going to do this." And I just love as a metaphor, how we all have our inner outer Everest. And it's about the different tools and knowing how connected we are into each other and allowing, if we are able, to allow that space to come, I think it would only help us achieve and get wherever we need to go.

Annmarie Kelly:
Well, I felt incredibly inspired by your story from the opening dedication to the final lines. You write, "For all those who have yet to climb, you are not alone." I did. I took that literally and figuratively. You're letting us know that it's okay if we have not yet faced our mountains. It is all right if our toughest challenges are still ahead. If the shadows that you talk about are still haunting us. The journey will be there when we are ready and the healing is going to come as we move through it. A lot felt possible reading your story both on and off the mountain.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
Annmarie, that is exactly the dream that I had. And it's hard when you are on this side of the story in which you're putting it out there. And I always had... I remember when writing it, just knowing how honest, raw, and vulnerable and knowing too, that it wouldn't be easy to digest at first. And I know... And that's the one thing too, I had to, being on this particular journey... My main purpose with the book was to hopefully touch to someone who was feeling alone, who was maybe going through an addiction, who felt that what I went through as a kid was just unbearable and nobody has been there and I haven't read anything that anybody can has been that honest and vulnerable.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
So I remember feeling the opportunity of sharing the story in a way of saying things that are hard to say. I've had many family members who haven't read the book because it's hard. And I've had readers who've told me, "God, the first couple of chapters, they're really tough." And I've been respectful when talking through a lot of these, that people are enamored by the story, but they are like, "Hey, trigger warning." It can have some of these, but also I've loved whenever I see these gorgeous photos of scenes in which you just see the sun or the moon really high. And sometimes you see a little bit of clouds underneath, but you can just see how powerful they look. The book has its turbulences, we're going to have to go through turbulences, we're going to have to get hit, but just trust it because by the end of it, you're going to close it and you're going to get inspired. You're going to be at the peak with me.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
To be able to share this opportunity, is the biggest gift that I feel I have this opportunity to kind of engage. But no, I think, I mean, it's something that it's holding us and I tell people and when I say it, I'm not trying to exaggerate. When people see me, I'm no different from you. I even didn't start doing this until my thirties, it's not something that, yeah, my dad took me do this. Not at all. It started in the most unexpected ways and, but we all have it. One thing I do clarify, I don't have speed, so I don't do this. I never try to go and break a speed record. I just have endurance and endurance is taking your time. Endurance is simply...

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
I'm not having to prove anything to anyone. And I always go with a learning mentality and that's what I find how mountains can be so powerful than healing. And also I've never gone into them like, "Oh, I'm going to conquer this." I go into them just, "Wow." I'm almost going into a temple and just showing some kind of respect. And I think that has made my experience powerful and so it's an invitation for people to hopefully give it a little sip. I love my tea. So it's like just have a tiny sip of this and see what you might feel.

Annmarie Kelly:
Oh my goodness. I could listen to you talk about climbing all day. We always end here just with a few, I don't know, like quick questions. They're different than the conversation. So I'm going to ask you just like some multiple choice and you can just pick one.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
[crosstalk 00:43:56] I'm prepared. [crosstalk 00:43:56] I will do everything. Yeah. Let's...

Annmarie Kelly:
All right. So we'll start with a few multiple choice. Dogs or cats?

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
Dogs. I'm allergic to cats.

Annmarie Kelly:
Oh, all right. Coffee or tea?

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
Tea.

Annmarie Kelly:
I thought maybe tea. Yes. Yes. This is a funny one for you. Mountains or beach?

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
I wonder. Well, I've done a couple mountains and then I've gone to a beach after, but definitely a mountain.

Annmarie Kelly:
Are you an early bird or a night owl?

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
I'm a night owl. Yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
Are you loud or quiet?

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
I'm quiet.

Annmarie Kelly:
Isn't that interesting? I was going to guess that you would say quiet too.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
Yeah. Although...

Annmarie Kelly:
I can see the perception might be.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
Yeah. I still get shy every day. I go through events and I'm like, "Okay. Nailed it." But you know, I think I'm quiet. I love how sometimes people tend to underestimate me and I think it's fine but, it's almost like [inaudible 00:45:06]. You know?

Annmarie Kelly:
If you could time travel, would you rather go forward in time or back in time?

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
Ooh. Ooh, Ooh. Ooh. That's a very unique one. I would say, I have to say don't cry over spill milk so forward. I would love to find out once we are connecting to... I would like to see who is the martian Bill Gates or who is the martian Hillary Clinton. Interesting to meet them.

Annmarie Kelly:
I love it. Oh, all right. And these are a few short answers. What's something quirky that folks don't know about you like a pet peeve or something you like or love, or don't like, what do people not know?

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
I am a clutz. I am totally absentminded. The joke with my closer friends and my family, one of the things I've done well on mountain climbing is because I have actually my spikes on my crampons they hold me someplace. Oh yeah. I'm a total clutz. I fall constantly. Oh yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
So you're standing more than 20,000 feet in the air and the path is three feet wide and you're telling me that you are clumsy, that you're clumsy.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
I am incredibly clumsy. I'm a total clutz and the fact that I've been alive doing this, it's at the power of pray.

Annmarie Kelly:
Wow. Oh, what do you love about where you live?

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
Oh, San Francisco. God. I fell in love by seeing my first gay parade and I joke that I almost moved to New York, but I never saw a gay parade there because it was a wrong time I was visiting. So we know it would've been a different story maybe, but I love how accepting they've always been. The city has gone through a lot of transformation and I think there is so much. There is the culture part of it. There is the mountains around it. I love the mindset. People are incredibly open. So there is that aspect of inclusion. But no, I've loved how we lead the way in terms of, at least for gay rights, even though New York has been in the forefront of so many other places, but at the time when we had Gavin opening up and taking the bold step of allowing gay marriages, I think there's something and to me, it is my community. I did all my training, pulling tires and carrying weights in Marin.

Annmarie Kelly:
In San Francisco. Wow.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
In San Francisco. So it's just showing, I mean that, yeah. We have everything here to do it.

Annmarie Kelly:
I didn't know that. Wow. What's your favorite book or movie or both, or a favorite book?

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
Yeah, a favorite book. I'm a sucker for biographies or memoirs. I just I love... It's a way, I think is how I keep getting inspired by really powerful women. Well, I mean, Wild was, was quite a...

Annmarie Kelly:
It's a 10 year anniversary of that book. I was just looking at Cheryl Strayed posted about that.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
Yes. I think that was quite defining. I love books that have, for example, books that have changed my mind. The Body Keeps Score by Bessel van der Kolk. Highly recommended, especially for people with trauma. Incredibly powerful, inspiring story that I think would allow people to see things in a...I mean, to me, it was like, "Oh my God." As if somebody was showing me like, "Hey, this is a sunset." I'm like, "Wow, that was just incredible."

Annmarie Kelly:
That's a good one. That's a good one.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
Yeah. Films I have to tell you quickly Forest Gump. I just love. I feel at times I'm a version of Forest Gump. I keep going through life, like "Really, okay."

Annmarie Kelly:
We watched that recently with my kids and that holds up, that movie. You know how sometimes you're not sure if a movie that you liked before that you'll still like, but that holds up.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
That and Castaway actually have my two favorite films. I have one of my tires that I pull, I call it Wilson. I do all my trainings on my own.

Annmarie Kelly:
That's excellent. Oh, let's see. What's your favorite ice cream?

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
Oh, strawberry. Strawberry and passion fruit, but strawberry gelato, sucker for them.

Annmarie Kelly:
Lovely. All right. And last one, if we were to take a picture of you really happy and doing something you love, what would we see you doing?

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
Oh, you'd see me at the top of any hill. Yeah. You'd just see me, you know, with some tires. That would make me very happy. All sweaty and just like, "Hey."

Annmarie Kelly:
Wow. Well, thank you Silvia for coming on the show today and for reminding us what you wrote about "Our stories do not have a beginning, middle and end. They are a continuum. One person's story tumbles into and out of another person's. My journey continues with you and yours with me. And nobody climbs alone."

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado:
Nobody climbs alone. We're all here. And all of our dreams are achievable. Any single one of it, nothing is impossible. Even going to Mars for those who want it. Patience.

Annmarie Kelly:
Thank you. Folks our guest today has been Silvia Vasquez-Lavado a humanitarian and explorer whose book In The Shadow of The Mountain made me think a lot about courage and possibility and all we can do to do good in this world. Thank you Silvia for being here and to everyone who's listening, we're wishing you love and light wherever this day takes you. Be good to yourself and one another. And we'll see you again soon on this wild and precious journey.

Annmarie Kelly:
Wild Precious Life is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Special thanks to executive producers, Gerardo Orlando and Michael DeAloia. Producer, Sarah Willgrube and audio engineer, Ian Douglas. Be sure to subscribe and follow us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

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