January 26th, 2020. I had spent most of the day hiking by myself through the Sacred Valley region of Cusco, Peru. I was out alone in unfamiliar territory, getting myself in often uncomfortable and potentially hazardous situations. But hey, I’m only 25 and I’ve got the entire rest of my life to live.
I finished up after a few hours of hiking and managed to catch a bus on its way back to Cusco. I paid the 25 cent fare and settled into a seat by an open window, letting the wind blow through my hair and cool the sweat off my face after another day of chasing adventures. The words “Kobe Bryant” caught my attention coming from the bus radio and I tuned in to try to catch the rest of the sentence. From what I could make out, Kobe Bryant had gotten into a helicopter accident.
And for some reason, it didn’t register in my mind that it meant he died. I didn’t have cell signal at the time so I had not heard the full news yet. But in my mind, Kobe was immortal. He was invincible. Having spent my entire childhood as a Celtics fan despising him and then the better half of my adulthood respecting the hell out of him, he was a figure that was beyond human to me, and to many of us. There’s no way even a helicopter crash could kill Kobe, right? I mean, I recalled a few years ago, Harrison Ford had gotten into a helicopter crash himself. And survived. Because he was Han Solo. He was Indiana Jones. He was a real-life hero, a myth, a legend. And legends never die.
But Kobe did. The bars of cell signal on my phone started to appear. First one bar of 3G, then two, and then finally, the news started flooding in.
Kobe Bryant dies in helicopter crash in Calabasas at 41 years old.
Forty-one. Kobe Bryant was supposed to live forever. Never has a celebrity death shattered my heart like this one. I got off of the bus 30 minutes before the terminal and tearfully walked my way back towards Cusco trying to process the news. This can’t be real, I kept thinking. This is a mistake. How could Kobe Bryant be dead? Maybe there was a mistake and they accidentally presumed him dead before they could confirm it. I was in denial and waiting for the news correction that would tell me otherwise.
But that correction never came. In fact, it got worse. His daughter was confirmed to be with him, and dead. Seven others, including other children with their whole lives ahead, dead.
It’s been a couple of days now and the shock has started to wear off, but the sadness has lingered. Others have said that Kobe Bryant’s death is so shocking to us because of how it makes us think about our own mortality. And perhaps that’s why I’ve been taking his death so hard. Beyond being an icon, an idol, and a role model, Kobe Bryant seemed superhuman. His mentality, passion, talent, and genius seemed impossible for the average human to achieve. If a superhero like Kobe could die at such a young age, then what hope do we have?
It is a depressing thought to think about, and one that has definitely kept me in a weird funk for the last couple of days. I love hiking alone. Especially on off-the-beaten-path trails where you will encounter hardly any other people. I decided to go on one of those this morning, thinking it would help me get back to my routine while traveling. Anything would be better than gluing myself to my computer screen and further depressing myself with reading everything Kobe-related.
But man, a death so sudden and unexpected like that can really shake one to the core. At 25 years old, I am used to still feeling invincible and indestructible. Sure, as I get older, I notice my injuries linger a bit longer but for the most part, I can still bounce back from everything just fine. But today felt weird. Hiking once again in unfamiliar territory, with hardly any other living beings nearby, I couldn’t help but feel powerless. Helpless to the elements or a bad fall. Things that I usually would never think about, I couldn’t keep out of my mind as I grew more and more panicked without seemingly any rhyme or reason. Things as harmless as a local giving me directions turned into reckless anxiety as my mind fell into the rabbit hole of “what if they’re lying to me and leading me into a trap to be robbed and killed?” Completely unfounded thoughts that I would have never given any weight to a few days ago.
No one ever expects to die, right?
This post might seem like it’s coming out of left field, especially since I write a travel blog, but this is something that I’ve felt like I should get off my chest for a little bit of closure. Traveling for so long at such a young age has made me feel invincible, constantly chasing adventures and new experiences, constantly upping the adrenaline factor and seeking new thrills.
I often come upon news about fellow travelers and fellow adventurers meeting their untimely deaths. Usually horrible accidents. Falling to their deaths, motorbike accidents, drug overdoses, getting lost in the wilderness, and so on. I always read them and afterwards always think, “oh damn. This wouldn’t happen to me, though.” But those people were probably thinking the same thing. That couple posing for an Instagram pic at the edge of Yosemite Falls definitely weren’t planning on dying that day. That tourist who fell into a violent rip current in Bali definitely didn’t have their last will and testament planned out. No one expects it to happen to them.
Death is a funny and cruel thing. Why do all of our hearts hurt so bad after Kobe’s death? I think a big part of it has been that it has forced us to come to terms with our own mortality. How quickly and unfairly life can be taken away, even those of our heroes that seemed larger than life.
Live your lives to the fullest. Take advantage of every day. Never miss out on the chance to tell your loved ones how much they mean to you.
Love you guys.