GUEST POST: ASHTON'S STORY
I met up with one of my best friends, Nathan Jackson, in Nepal to hike throughout the Himalayas for the entire month of April in 2016. We first hiked the Annapurna Circuit, which is roughly 127 miles, and then went to hike the Everest Base Camp Trail, which is roughly 84 miles. On April 25th, 2015, we were on our last day hiking on the Everest Base Camp Trail. We were about two hours away from returning to the town Lukla (which is the town you fly into to hike the Everest Trail) when the earthquake struck. We were in a small town called Phakding when, all of a sudden, a really loud sound started to come from the mountain on the other side of the valley. It was already raining, so I thought that it was just the storm picking up, but I quickly realized it was a sound unlike anything I have ever heard. I thought it was a multitude of different things, including The Rapture, Armageddon, ISIS attacking when a bomb had gone off, Yellowstone erupting, etc.
All of a sudden, everything started shaking ; the ground underneath, the buildings, the mountains, my vision, my knees, everything. You could hear landslides and rockslides triggering, and the building next to me started collapsing. I had to dodge the crumbling pieces. After about 45 seconds, everything calmed down. Nathan and I started to hike quicker back to Lukla. Along the way, we saw entire mountainsides that had collapsed, as well as destruction to the small towns along the way.
We returned to Lukla to find out that it had been a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. The flights got redirected for an entire week, for they had to go help people being evacuated in remote and dangerous areas. During this week, there were contact aftershocks, and you never knew when they were coming. Each time, you could hear more buildings collapsing, more avalanches triggering, and more mountainsides crumbling. It created an extremely high level of tension for an entire week. I was eventually about to return to Kathmandu a week later, and then fly back home to North Carolina the next day.
That summer, I began to show signs of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). I thought I was fine, and that I hadn't been affected too much, until a day in July when a huge military plane flew overhead and I freaked out, sprinting down the road. I realized that I needed help, and sought out a counselor. The counselor taught me some breathing exercises that helped me calm down after a panic attack... But nothing helped in preventing them.
Right when it seemed like there was nothing out there that could help relieve me of my anxiety and panic attacks, a friend recommended to me that I read Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I picked it up and began to read the book. The way Hugo artistically portrayed the themes of love, grace, and redemption began to bring me back to reality.
I started to write songs - which I had never done before - to express my experience and renewal. I only play drums, so I asked my best friends to help me compose an album that would allow people to step into my experience and relate to me. We recorded and released a 3-song EP called the Palace of Dreams (EP), and are currently in the process of recording our full-length album, Arcane. With eleven songs, this album comes as close as possible to fully expressing my experience in Nepal, as well as my rejuvenation from reading Les Mis and writing the songs.
Our Kickstarter is live now until June 18 (2016), and our goal is to raise $11,000. What I hope to do with this album is to spread the awareness of mental health issues, and to make music that people who struggle with mental health issues can relate to. I have already had an Iraqi War veteran reach out to me and tell me that my music has helped him in dealing with his own PTSD. Multiple people with anxiety that experience panic attacks, have reached out to me, saying that they can completely relate to my lyrics and experience. I hope that this outreach and connection will only continue the rest of my life, as I continue to make music to help people.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
My name is Ashton Caton. I was born in Boone, North Carolina, and have lived here my entire life. I graduated from Appalachian State University in 2013 with a BS in History, and I currently teach prive drum lessons, play drums for studio session work, and drive for a food delivery company in Boone called Boone Takeout. I am 25, as is my twin sister! She currently lives in California, and both of my parents still reside here in Boone. I am very lucky to call this place home, and to call my friends my family.